Sons of the Kingdom.

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables;
    I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” – Matthew 13:24-43 ESV

Continuing to speaking in parables, Jesus let the crowd know that He was expounding on the kingdom of heaven – God’s divinely ordained kingdom. But because He was using parables, they were unable to discern the meaning behind His words. To them, these stories came across more like riddles, leaving them wondering what it was Jesus was trying to say. Even His own disciples said to Him, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field” (Matthew 13:36 ESV).

In this section of Matthew’s narrative, he records a collection of Jesus’ parables that all have to do with the kingdom of heaven. And much of what He had to say is, as He put it, was a mystery or secret, previously undisclosed and unknown. Much of what Jesus was having to deal with was the existing perceptions and expectations among the people of Israel regarding the coming kingdom. Their longings for the coming Messiah were accompanied by dreams of liberation from Roman rule and restoration of their status as a world power. The kingdom they were hoping and longing for was an earthly one. The Messiah they were waiting for was to be a warrior-king just like David had been.

But with these parables, Jesus provides an as-yet-undisclosed aspect of the kingdom that was in direct conflict with their expectations. Remember, the parable of the sower or the soils was about the receptivity of the people to the message of the kingdom. Many would hear the good news of the Messiah, but refuse to believe it. Others would get excited at the prospect of the Messiah’s arrival, but then discover that His kingdom was associated with persecution, trials and difficulties. Their expectations of the kingdom having been unmet, they would fall away. Jesus has made it clear that there will be many who hear the message of the kingdom, but who refuse to accept it. And yet, in these parables, He discloses that the message will take root among “the sons of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38 ESV). And while the initial number of those who hear the message and believe will be small, it will grow exponentially.

Like a tiny mustard seed that eventually grows into a massive tree, the kingdom of heaven will start small, but greatly expand over time. Its influence will be like that of leaven or yeast on dough which, in time, eventually permeates its way through the entire batch. In these parables, Jesus is revealing an aspect of His kingdom that is far-distant in its focus. He is speaking of the millennial kingdom which will come at the end of the period of the Great Tribulation. It will be at His second coming that Jesus establishes His kingdom on earth and its influence on the earth will be all-pervasive. He will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem and it will be a period marked by perfect righteousness and justice.

But until that day arrives, the Son of Man will continue to sow the good seed within the world. And, as Jesus made clear, the good seed are the sons of the kingdom, those whom He has redeemed as His own. The period in which we live is the church age, when Christ-followers find themselves co-mingled with unbelievers. The sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil are forced to co-exist until the harvest, which Jesus said will take place at the end of the age. Jesus will continue to sow His seeds – His sons – in the world, and their influence will spread. But they will find themselves surrounded by the sons of Satan, those who have rejected the message of the Gospel. But rather than despair, the sons of the kingdom are to recognize that God’s redemptive plan is not yet done. He is going to send His Son a second time, when He will bring a permanent end to the forces of wickedness and the one who stands behind it all – Satan.

But in the meantime, we must realize that this phase of God’s plan will allow the kingdom to remain relatively hidden, but far from inactive. Like yeast, it will continue to spread. Like the tiny mustard seed, it will continue to grow. And while the weeds will continue to sprout up all around the sons of the kingdom, the day will come when God will call for a harvesting, which will include the separating of the wheat and the weeds. And while the weeds will undergo judgment, the sons of the kingdom will “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43 ESV).

At present, the righteous and the unrighteous live side by side on this planet. And, at times, it appears as if the kingdom of heaven is being overrun by the weeds of the enemy. Sometimes its difficult to tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that this was to be expected during this phase of His kingdom plan. This is the period for sowing. And, in spite of the presence of the enemy, the kingdom will continue to grow and spread. 

Then, the day will come when God will send His Son back to gather all those He has sown in the world and set up His kingdom on earth. None of this was what the Jews expected. Even Jesus’ disciples would have found this news to be surprising and somewhat disappointing. Like every other Jew, they were expecting the Messiah to rule and reign from the start. They still had expectations that Jesus was going to set up His kingdom in their lifetime. That’s why James and John would later make the bold request of Jesus: “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left” (Mark 10:37 NLT).

But Jesus had come to establish the kingdom of heaven, not earth. He had come to sow sons of the kingdom throughout a world permeated by the presence of the enemy. And that kingdom, made up of men and women who would be citizens of heaven living as aliens and strangers of this earth, would continue to grow and spread. In the meantime, we are to place our hope and faith in the return of Christ. As the apostle Paul reminds us:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. – Philippians 3:20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Something Greater.

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” – Matthew 12:38-42 ESV

These events have been arranged by Matthew thematically, not chronologically. He is not following a hard-and-fast timeline, but attempting to place these stories in an order that allows him to continue his proof of Jesus’ divine nature and Messianic credentials. The word “then” is meant not as a link to the previous paragraph, but almost as if to say, “on another occasion.” Matthew is relating yet another confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. These encounters were increasing in frequency and intensity.

On this particular occasion, the Pharisees were joined by the scribes. This was a group of learned me whose job it was to protect and preserve the law of Moses. As their name implies, they would scribe or copy the law, using painstaking methods to ensure that there were no errors in their transcriptions. They would count letters and spaces in a line of text to check for errors and guarantee accuracy. These men were considered experts in the law and were most likely invited by the Pharisees in order to spot any violations of the law that Jesus might be committing.

The request they made of Jesus was most likely not spontaneous, but prearranged. They wanted to see Jesus perform a sign. These men had seen Jesus perform many miracles, but they had concluded that He did so under the power and influence of Satan. Their request for a sign was something different altogether. The Greek word is sēmeion and it refers to a sign by which anything future is pre-announced (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). In essence, they were requesting that Jesus perform a particular type of miracle, something far more difficult than even a healing. In their minds, if Jesus was divine, He should be able to do something out-of-the-ordinary and impossible, predict the future. They were asking Jesus to make a prophetic prediction, knowing that the Scriptural command regarding anyone who prophesied by the name of God falsely was death.

20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. “ – Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV

But Jesus saw through the nature of their request and responded with a stinging indictment.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” – Matthew 12:39 ESV

These were men who took great pride in their righteousness and faithful adherence to the law of Moses. So, for Jesus to address them as evil and adulterous was a nothing less than a verbal slap in the face. Not only that, Jesus refused their request for a prophetic pronouncement and, instead, announced a sign of coming judgment. The story of Jonah would have been very familiar to these men. But Jesus gave the story an intriguing new twist. He tied it to His future death, burial and resurrection. Just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the great fish, Jesus predicts His own 3-day long interment in the tomb. And just as Jonah had been sent by God to bring a message of repentance and salvation to the people of Ninevah, Jesus, by His death and resurrection, would make possible the salvation of all those who hear and accept His offer of justification by faith.

In a way, Jesus was answering the request of the scribes and Pharisees, but not in a way that they would have recognized. He was predicting the future, clearly indicating the manner of His own death and the means of salvation it would make possible. But He was also predicting the fate of the scribes and Pharisees, as well as all those who refuse to accept the salvation that Jesus’ death will make available.

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it… – Matthew 12:41 ESV

The pagan, Gentile people of Ninevah heard and responded to Jonah’s message of repentance and were saved from destruction. But the scribes and Pharisees, like most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, would refuse Jesus’ offer of salvation, choosing instead to rely on their own self-made righteousness. And Jesus made it clear that, at the judgment, the people of Ninevah would stand as witnesses against the Jews for their refusal of God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible by Jesus’ death on the cross.

Knowing the great respect these men had for the Scriptures, Jesus made an interesting statement that would have further incensed them against Him.

something greater than Jonah is here – Matthew 12:41 ESV

He was referring to Himself and that fact would not have escaped them. Jesus was placing Himself on a higher plane than their own Scriptures. He was claiming to precedence over the stories of Scripture, because He was the ultimate fulfillment of those stories. Jonah had been nothing more than a foreshadowing of Jesus Himself. Jonah had been just a man, and he had fulfilled the command of God reluctantly. His “death” in the belly of the great fish had been a form of judgment for his own disobedience. But Jesus would prove to be a faithful and obedience Savior, willingly giving His life so that others might experience eternal life.

And Jesus used another familiar Scriptural account to drive home His point, claiming to be greater than the wisest man who ever lived: King Solomon. The queen of Sheba had traveled all the way to Jerusalem to see for herself the great wisdom of Solomon. But Jesus claimed to be greater and to possess a wisdom that far surpassed anything Solomon ever hoped to know.

The apostle Paul would later describe the superior nature of God’s wisdom as displayed in the life of His Son, Jesus.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. – 1 Corinthians 30 NLT

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT

And Jesus predicted that the queen of Sheba would join the people of Ninevah in witness against the Jews when the coming day of judgment arrived. Jesus was going to die, be buried and rise again from the grave, and all those who placed their faith in His sacrificial death on their behalf would receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. But when that sign finally appeared, the majority of the Jews, including the scribes and Pharisees, would refuse to believe the truth. They would refute Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and refuse His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. And they would stand condemned.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus became a man so that He could do what the law could not do. He was better than the law. He offered a better way, something the law was never intended to do.

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

And the author of Hebrews will go on to state that Jesus is better than Moses, greater than Abraham, and greater than the high priest. He surpasses all the characters of Scripture, acting as the final fulfillment of God’s promises to mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Specks, Logs, Pigs and Dogs.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.– Matthew 7:1-6 ESV

This is one of those passages that has been taken out of context far too often, and used to justify a wide range of faulty assumptions. First of all, to understand what Jesus is talking about, we have to keep it within its context. He has been talking about everyday practical matters such as giving, praying and fasting. In regards to these outward spiritual expressions, Jesus warned about practicing them as an external sign of righteousness, in order to get the praise and recognition and men. But as always, Jesus, knowing well the hearts of men, knew that what He had just said would lead some to judge others. He realized that their natural tendency would be to make snap judgments regarding the motives behind each other’s public prayers, fasting or alms-giving. The Greek used here is krinō and it refers to “those who act the part of judges or arbiters in matters of common life, or pass judgment on the deeds and words of others” (“G2919 – krinō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). This is a judgment complete with a determination of guilt or innocence and, in the case of guilt, a passing of appropriate sentencing. In other words, the kind of judgment Jesus is speaking of is when someone decides to act judge, jury and executioner. But the problem with this kind of judgment is that all Jesus has been dealing with are issues of the heart, and we cannot know another person’s heart or motives. It is impossible. There is no way for us to know if someone who prays publicly is doing so just to get noticed. We have no insight into whether a person who gives is doing so to garner attention. So, we are not to judge them. If we do, Jesus warns, we will be judged by God according to the same strict standard. Rather than judge others, we are to take a close look at our own hearts in order to determine the motives that prompt us to do what we do. Once again, Jesus is issuing a warning against hypocrisy. He very bluntly warns: “How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4 NLT). Self-examination is essential, because it is far too easy for us to point out the faults in others while looking past the glaring sins in our own life. Exposing the sins of others is almost cathartic for us. It makes us feel better about ourselves. But Jesus would have us focus our attention on our own transgressions, and make sure that we have dealt with those areas that are out of step with God and His will for us. And yet, it would be false to conclude that Jesus is teaching a complete ban on judgment of any kind. To reach that conclusion would require a complete disregard for other passages in both the Old and New Testaments. Take this interesting and often ignored passage found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NLT

In this portion of his letter, Paul was dealing with a situation going on within the local church in Corinth that involved a sexual sin. It seems that a man had been having a sexual relationship with his stepmother. And the worst part of it, as far as Paul was concerned, was that the congregation knew of this affair and had done nothing about it. Paul had told them, “You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship” (1 Corinthians 5:2 NLT). Their pride was based on what they believed to be their tolerance for this couple’s behavior. And Paul was forced to remind them of a previous letter he had written them that had told them not to associate with those who commit sexual sin. But in this letter, he clarifies what he meant by telling them “I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin” (1 Corinthians 5:11 NLT). This was a case of clear-cut sin and they were to deal with it in a forceful manner. Paul emphasizes that it makes no sense to judge the lost world. In fact, he claims that we no right to do so. They are under God’s judgment and He will deal with them in His time. But as far as those who claim to be our brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul is emphatic: “it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning” (1 Corinthians 5:12 NLT). And the kind of judgment Paul has in mind here has nothing to do with acting as their judge, jury and executioner. It simply means that we are to expose their behavior and call it what it is: sin. Then we are to deal with it in a godly manner with restoration as our ultimate goal.

Paul dealt with this very same topic in his letter to the Galatian believers:

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. – Galatians 6:1-3 NLT

There are behaviors that are off-limits for the Christ-follower. We do not have carte blanche to do whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it. As sons and daughters of God, we represent Him on this earth, and our behavior is to reflect our beliefs. We have been set apart by God as holy. We are to live distinctively different lives, in keeping with our status as His children. So there will be times when we must judge one anothers’ actions and be willing to do the difficult thing: Call one another to account and repentance.

Verse seven is a difficult sentence to understand. It appears to be a somewhat abrupt change in topic, having little or nothing to do with what Jesus has just said. He goes from talking about judging another person unjustly, failing to see the sin in your own life, and then suddenly starts talking about giving to dogs what is holy and casting pearls before swine. What is He talking about? And who is He referring to? In the Jewish culture, dogs and pigs were both considered unclean. It was common for the Jews to refer to the Samaritans, whom they considered half-breeds, as dogs. And pigs were off-limits to all Jews. So, for Jesus to refer to these two types of animals, He is obviously trying to make a point. And He juxtaposes pigs with pearls and dogs with what is holy.

There is an interesting story found later on in the book of Matthew, where Jesus encounters a Gentile woman, a non-Jew. She approached Jesus, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely” (Matthew 15:22 NLT). After initially reacting in silence, Jesus gave her a surprising response: “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 NLT). But she begged all the more. And Jesus said to her: “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26 NLT). As shocking as His words may have sounded to her, she simply responded: “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27 NLT). And Jesus, after commenting on the greatness of her faith, granted her desire.

He referred to her as a dog: A Gentile or non-Jew. It is important to remember that the audience to whom Jesus is addressing this message was predominantly Jewish. His disciples were Jewish. And so it would seem that He was making a statement about the people of God judging the Gentiles harshly because they did not live up to their so-called religious standards. By casting pearls before swine, Jesus is saying that we are not to take what God has deemed precious and of great value, the law, and hold those outside the family of God to that standard. They will not respect it. They will trample it under their feet. And we are not to take what is holy, the law, and give it to dogs, the ungodly and unrighteous, expecting them to live up to it. How easy it is to take the holy standard that God has placed on our lives as believers and demand that everyone live up to it, especially the lost, when we can’t even do it ourselves. The lost are slaves to sin. We are not. They can’t do anything but sin, because it is their nature. But we have been given the Spirit of God and He makes it possible for us to say no to our sin nature. Rather than judge the lost, we are to judge our own. We are to see to it that the faith community to which we belong, lives in keeping with our calling as God’s children. The apostle Peter would have us remember:

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? – 1 Peter 4:17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Come, Lord Jesus!

12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.  Revelation 22:12-21 ESV

For the second time in this passage, Jesus assures John of His imminent return. In verse 7, John recorded Jesus’ promise, “behold, I am coming soon.” And here, in verse 12, Jesus repeats that same phrase, but adds the warning, “bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” He is coming back. For some that will be extremely good news, while for others it will mean payback time. In a sense, Jesus is promising a coming payday for all. The actual Greek word John uses is misthos, and it means “dues paid for work.” But it can also refer to the fruit that naturally results from our efforts. In other words, we reap what we sow. We get what we deserve.

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. – Galatians 6:7-8 NLT

The return of Jesus to the earth, in the form of His second coming, will be for the purpose of judging the nations. According to the prophet Jeremiah, Jesus alone has the capacity to discern the nature of each man’s heart, examining not only his outward behavior, but the inner condition of his character.

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV

The judgment that Christ warns about will not be works-based or focused solely on outward behavior. He will judge the hearts of men, because, “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19 NLT). The external actions of those whom Jesus will judge will simply indicate that their hearts are far from Him. They will have no relationship with the Son, so they will have no relationship with the Father. Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is” (John 14:6-7 NLT). The presence of sin will not be the basis for Jesus’ judgment. It will be the absence of a relationship with the Father, made possible through faith in His Son.

Back in the gospel of Matthew, we have recorded the following statement by Jesus, regarding those who attempt to enter into His eternal Kingdom based on their efforts. Some will offer up examples of their “righteous” deeds done in the name of Jesus, but will be surprised to hear their confession of good works met with bad news.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” – Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

In spite of them doing what appear to be good works, Jesus will expose them as workers of lawlessness, because they will lack a relationship with the Giver of the law. Psalm 50 provides us with a very stark reminder of how God views the deeds of the wicked and why Jesus will judge their behavior so harshly when He returns to the earth.

16 But God says to the wicked:
“Why bother reciting my decrees
    and pretending to obey my covenant?
17 For you refuse my discipline
    and treat my words like trash.
18 When you see thieves, you approve of them,
    and you spend your time with adulterers.
19 Your mouth is filled with wickedness,
    and your tongue is full of lies.
20 You sit around and slander your brother—
    your own mother’s son.
21 While you did all this, I remained silent,
    and you thought I didn’t care.
But now I will rebuke you,
    listing all my charges against you.
22 Repent, all of you who forget me,
    or I will tear you apart,
    and no one will help you.” – Psalm 50:16-22 ESV

Jesus gives John with a list of His divine credentials that provide Him with the authority and right to judge. First of all, He reminds John of His eternality: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13 ESV). He is the source of all things and, as such, He is sovereign over all things. Just a few verses later, Jesus states His royal pedigree and divine right to rule as King of kings and Lord of lord.  “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16 ESV). He is the rightful King, not only of Israel, but of all the earth. He is the morning star, a sign of a new day coming on the earth. His Kingdom will be greater than that of David. His reign will be righteous and holy in every way. His domain will stretch throughout all the universe, and nowhere in His Kingdom will be found sin, rebellion, or unrighteousness of any kind.

In His Kingdom, only “those who wash their robes” will “have the right to the tree of life” (Revelation 22:14 ESV). They alone will be allowed to “enter the city by the gates.” Everyone else, all those whose hearts were found to be wicked and unrepentant, will find themselves outside of the Kingdom of God. “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15 ESV). Their destination will be the lake of fire. Jesus made that point quite clear in the previous chapter.

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:8 ESV

With this stark reality in mind, Jesus offers both an invitation and a warning. First He offers an invitation to “come.” He calls out to all those who will read John’s book, extending to them an incredible opportunity: “let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17 ESV). Jesus is offering eternal life. But it is available only through a relationship with Him. His words echo those recorded by the prophet Isaiah and written hundreds of years earlier.

1 Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live. – Isaiah 55:1-3 ESV

Entrance into the Kingdom of God comes with a price, but not one that any human being can meet. Our money and our human effort cannot gain us entrance into God’s Kingdom. It is made possible only through the blood of Jesus Christ.

18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT

All we have to bring is our thirst, and Jesus provides the living water. We simply bring our need and Jesus satisfies that need with His abundance. This is all in keeping with the words of Jesus found in His Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6 ESV

They echo the words of Jesus, spoken to the legalistic, works-focused Pharisees.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

But Jesus also extends two warnings to all those who read the words recorded by John in his book. First of all, if they add to them in any way, they will experience all the plagues that John saw and recorded. Secondly, if anyone takes away any of the words written in John’s book, “God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city” (Revelation 22:19 ESV). These are serious warnings, and they convey the gravity of God’s attitude toward His prophetic word. No one is to tamper with the content of this book. No one is to add to it or take away from it. Jesus is so serious about it, that He warns that even if a believer should treat the contents of this book with contempt, they will forfeit their right to the tree of life. Remember, this is a warning. It is meant to dissuade anyone from doing what is being mentioned. The threat of losing access to the tree of life and, therefore, eternal life, should be enough to keep any believer from tampering with God’s prophetic Word. And yet, how often have well-meaning Christians attempted to add to the words of John through vain speculation and what amounts to be little more than idle conjecture. We must be careful to refrain from explaining away the truth of what God has revealed, by allegorizing its message or spiritualizing its meaning. While we may not fully understand all that is found on the pages of John’s book, we must treat it as the Word of God and nothing less.

Finally, Jesus offers John one final reassurance. “Surely I am coming soon.” It is a done deal, fully guaranteed by God and backed by the One who is trustworthy and true. He is coming. And John responds with the simple, yet profound words, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Those should be the words that come from the mouth of every Christ-follower, each and every day of their lives, as they eagerly and expectantly wait for His return. May we be those who, like the apostle Paul, pray for the day when our Savior comes again.

“…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  – Philippians 3:20 ESV

He is coming. Do you believe it? Better yet, are you ready for it?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Great White Throne Judgment.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15 ESV

John now receives a new part of his vision. He is shown a great white throne upon which someone is seated. John does not provide us with the name of this individual, but it is safe to assume that it is God. More significantly, it is probably Jesus, the Son of God, as the second member of the Trinity, who is prepared to judge the world. Jesus spoke of this very moment to His disciples.

25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” –  John 5:25-29 ESV

We can also turn to the words of Jesus, spoken to the church in Laodicea.

“The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” – Revelation 3:21 ESV

Matthew also recorded the words of Jesus revealing this coming moment in time.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. – Matthew 25:31-36 ESV

So, in this scene, it is likely that the one seated on the throne is Jesus Christ Himself. We know this, that His eminence and power are so great, that John describes the earth and sky as fleeing away from His presence. We cannot be sure exactly what John means by this phrase, but we know from elsewhere in Scripture, that God is going to completely destroy the old heavens and earth and completely remake them.

…the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. – 2 Peter 3:7 ESV

…the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. – 2 Peter 3:12-13 ESV

This fits in with the words of Jesus revealed in the very next chapter of Revelation, and spoken from the very same throne.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:5 ESV

His throne is white, signifying His righteousness and justice. The psalmist provides us with insight into the nature of His throne and why He is the one who is worthy to sit in judgment on the nations.

1 The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
    let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. – Psalm 97:1-2 ESV

It is important that we note the difference between this scene and one described by Paul in his second letter to the believers in Corinth. In his letter, he was encouraging them that, while they must suffer in this life and undergo the ongoing decay of their mortal bodies, there was a day coming when they would received new, resurrected bodies. In the meantime, they were to be of good courage, to walk by faith and to live their lives in order to please God.  And then Paul told them, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV). This is a different scene altogether from the one John is seeing in his vision. The Greek word Paul used to describe the seat or throne upon which Christ will sit in judgment of the Corinthian believers was bēma, and not the word, thronos that John uses. The Bema Seat of Christ refers to the time and place from which He will judge all those who are part of His bride, the church, immediately after the rapture of the church. The apostle Paul told the believers in Rome, “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10 ESV). Paul also told the believers in Corinth what would happen on that day, when they stood before the Bema Seat of Christ, immediately after their rapture from the earth.

12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. – 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 ESV

The Bema Seat will be a judgment reserved for the church. And it will be a judgment of a different sort. Rather than judgment of our righteousness,  it will be a judgment of the works we have done on this earth as followers of Christ. This will have no impact on our salvation. It will not be used to determine our worthiness to enter into God’s presence, but will reveal “what sort of work each one has done.” Paul goes on to tell the Corinthian believers, and us, that Jesus will “bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5 ESV). All will be saved, but we will be shown just how many of the works or deeds we did in this life were not done in the power of God and for the glory of God. Those unworthy deeds will be burned up, leaving only those things that God did through us by the power of His indwelling Spirit.

But back to the great white throne. This is a different time and place. This scene takes place at the end of the 1,000-year reign of Christ. And John describes seeing “the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened” (Revelation 20:12 ESV). It would appear from the context, that these individuals represent all the evil or unbelieving who have ever lived and who died in their sins, apart from God. Upon death, their souls were sent to Hades, a holding place for the wicked. The reference to death in these verses has to do with not just their physical death, but their spiritual separation from God. Those who die outside of Christ, do not go to be with Him in heaven, but their souls are sent to Hades, where they remain until the Great White Throne Judgment. As John sees in his vision, at this judgment, the millions upon millions of unbelieving dead will appear before God, with newly resurrected bodies.

There are at least two books mentioned as being integral parts of this scene. One is called the Book of Life. And much like the Bema Seat Judgment, this judgment will involve a judgment of works or deeds. But in this case, the wicked who stand before God will be “judged, each one of them, according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:13 ESV). And because they had no indwelling presence of the Spirit, all of their works will be tainted and marred by sin. There will be no works of righteousness. And, as a result, they will have no inherent merit or earned status of righteousness by which to gain access into God’s presence. And John provides us with a sad reality concerning this scene of judgment. Not one single person will find their names written in the book of life, because they did not accept God’s free gift of salvation, made possible through the gift of His Son. And John makes it painfully clear that, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15 ESV).

One day, when Jesus was speaking with a group of Jews who had been following Him, He told them:

27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:27-29 ESV

Notice that they wanted to know what they must do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus made it clear that they must believe in Him, the One whom God had sent to be their Messiah and Savior. That is the one work that must be present at the Great White Throne Judgment in order for anyone to find their names written in the Book of Life. And, according to John”s description of the account, there are none found standing before the throne whose lives were marked as having done that one required work: Expressing their belief in Jesus Christ.

The one thing that seems to be missing in this scene is the judgment of those who are alive at the time, but who have placed their faith in Christ during the days of the tribulation. We also are given no indication of when or how those who have died as martyrs during the time of the tribulation and those believers who die natural deaths during the 1,000-year reign of Christ are judged. The time, location and specific nature of this judgment, which most certainly will happen, is not given to us in Scripture. But the Great White Throne Judgment will be reserved for all those who have died apart from Christ and without having accepted the free gift of grace made possible through His death and resurrection.

One of the most enlightening passages of Scripture concerning what we see happening in this vision was provided to us by John himself in his gospel account.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:16-21 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Faithful and True.

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.  Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

revelationofjesuschristpicFor most Christians, the second coming of Christ is the penultimate climax to all things. It is what we long and hope for. In fact, one of the most oft-quoted verses in the entire Bible is found just a few chapters later in the book of Revelation. John hears the words of Jesus, promising that He will indeed return and accomplish all that John has seen in the book of Revelation: “Surely I am coming soon.” And John responds to this promise with the words, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 ESV) We all long for the Lord’s return. And the entire book of Revelation is a preface to that very day. But, interestingly enough, when He does return, it will not be the end. In fact, it will just the beginning of the end, because there are at least six more things that take place after His return. This includes the capture and imprisonment of Satan, the setting up of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom on earth, the release of Satan and his final confinement to the Lake of Fire, the last judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and earth, including the New Jerusalem. With His return, Jesus will set off a chain of events that will mark the last phase of God’s plan.

And John describes seeing the heavens open revealing a rider on a white horse. He is called “Faithful and True” – a reference to His trustworthiness and the reality of His essence. Unlike the false prophet, this individual is true. He is the genuine article. He is not the Antichrist, a false messiah and pseudo-savior, but the one-and-only King of kings and Lord of lords. And the name by which He is called is “the Word of God.” This designation must have struck a chord with John, because it is reminiscent of the manner in which he described Jesus in the opening lines of his gospel.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

The logos, the Word of God is coming again. He is the light of the world and He will break forth in glorious brightness, illuminating the darkness of the fallen world, which will have been dominated by the forces of Satan and virtually devoid of any righteousness during the dark days of the tribulation. And John says, that “in righteousness he judges and makes war” (Revelation 19:11 ESV). One of the things we must recognize is that Jesus is making His second entry into the world and, this time, He is not coming as a helpless, innocent infant, but as a conquering King. And this aspect of Jesus’ mission is absolutely necessary for the full scope of God’s redemptive plan to be completed. With His first coming, Jesus took on human flesh, lived a sinless life, and died a sacrificial death as payment for the sins of mankind. And His resurrection was proof that His sacrifice had been acceptable to God. It satisfied the just demands of God’s holiness and justice. And then Jesus returned to His Father’s side, where He has been waiting for the very moment John is describing in this chapter: His long-awaited return, to finish what He started.

There is a day coming when Jesus will return for His bride, the church. And when He takes His bride to be with Him in heaven, one of the results of our departure from this earth will be that the Holy Spirit will leave with us, because He indwells the church. The apostle Paul tells us what happens as a consequence.

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 ESV

In this passage, Paul refers to the Spirit as “he who now restrains.” With the church gone, the world will discover what it is like to have the presence of God’s Spirit no longer available to hold back the forces of evil. And the book of Revelation has given us a disturbing preview of just how bad things will get. The seven years of the tribulation reveal what will happen when the Spirit is removed and Satan is given free rein to rule unconstrained and unrestricted.

But Jesus returns. That is the beauty of this chapter. He shows back up on the scene, but this time as a King, leading behind Him an army of heavenly hosts. And Jesus will come with “a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15 ESV). And that sword is described as coming from His mouth. That presents us with a rather bizarre and disturbing image, but it reflects the sovereign power of the Son of God. Not only is He the Word of God, His words carry the power of God. He simply speaks and things happen. And from the way John describes the arrival of Jesus, it would appear that all the fighting that will take place upon His return is to be done by Him. Yes, Jesus is accompanied by “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure” (Revelation 19:14 ESV), but they are not carrying any weapons. It is with His sword that Jesus will strike down the nations. He will rule over them with a rod of iron. He will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15 ESV). What takes place after His second coming will be completely up to Him. It is likely that those who accompany Him back to earth and who make up part of that heavenly army will be the church. They are described as wearing “fine linen, white and pure.” They are riding on white horses, symbols of victory and righteousness. But they will not be fighting alongside Christ. They will simply watch as He accomplishes the final phase of God’s judgment on the earth.

Jesus spoke of this very day. He told His disciples that He would return and what would transpire when He did.

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. – Matthew 24:30 ESV

What a contrast between His second coming and His first incarnation as a helpless infant. The first time Jesus came to earth, He did so with little fanfare. Except for a few lowly shepherds and some visiting travelers from a distant land, there was no one who even realized that God had come to earth. But that will not be the case when He returns the second time. It will be an epic occasion that will instigate a series of events like none the world has ever seen. The King of kings and Lord of lords will show up and everyone on earth will know it. And the full and final wrath of God will be released upon the inhabitants of world and on Satan and his minions. Their days will be numbered. Their fates have been sealed. And He who is faithful and true will see that righteousness reins and justice is done.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

God Has Given Judgment.

And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas! Alas! You great city,
    you mighty city, Babylon!
For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.

14 “The fruit for which your soul longed
    has gone from you,
and all your delicacies and your splendors
    are lost to you,
    never to be found again!”

15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

16 “Alas, alas, for the great city
    that was clothed in fine linen,
        in purple and scarlet,
    adorned with gold,
        with jewels, and with pearls!

17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”

And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,

“What city was like the great city?”

19 And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out,

“Alas, alas, for the great city
    where all who had ships at sea
    grew rich by her wealth!
For in a single hour she has been laid waste.
20 Rejoice over her, O heaven,
    and you saints and apostles and prophets,
for God has given judgment for you against her!”  Revelation 18:9-20 ESV

 

detail-of-a-lion-found-along-the-processional-way-from-ishtar-gate-into-the-city-of-babylon-the-ishtar-gate-was-constructed-around-575-bc-by-king-nebuchadnezzar-iiKings, businessmen and commercial shippers will all mourn the loss of Babylon. The fall of this great city will have devastating implications on all who live on the earth. But the question remains as to whether John is seeing a vision of the fall of the literal city of Babylon or merely its commercial, political and religious representation. Some commentators turn to passages like Isaiah 13:19-22, which prophesies the destruction of Babylon, indicating that it will become uninhabitable.

19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
    the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
    when God overthrew them.
20 It will never be inhabited
    or lived in for all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there;
    no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there. – Isaiah 13:19-21 ESV

This passage, taken out of its context, makes it sound like Babylon was to soon be destroyed and never rebuilt or re-inhabited. But if we look a few verses earlier, we see that the prophecy indicates that its destruction is tied to “the day of the Lord.”

Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
    as destruction from the Almighty it will come! – Isaiah 13:6 ESV

Just a few verses later, Isaiah expands on the nature of that day.

Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
    cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
    and to destroy its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
    will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
    and the moon will not shed its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
    and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
    and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. – Isaiah 13:9-11 ESV

The use of the phrase, “the day of the Lord”, is almost always tied to the end times or the final days where God intervenes directly into the affairs of mankind, bringing judgment on the earth for its sins. Jeremiah 51 is another Old Testament passage that prophesies the fall of Babylon and it infers that its fall will be sudden and unexpected.

Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken;
    wail for her! Jeremiah 51:8 ESV

And the prophet makes it clear that it will be God who brings about the fall and destruction of this once great city.

12 “Set up a standard against the walls of Babylon;
    make the watch strong;
set up watchmen;
    prepare the ambushes;
for the Lord has both planned and done
    what he spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon.
13 O you who dwell by many waters,
    rich in treasures,
your end has come;
    the thread of your life is cut.
14 The Lord of hosts has sworn by himself:
Surely I will fill you with men, as many as locusts,
    and they shall raise the shout of victory over you.” – Jeremiah 51:12-14 ESV

But this event has yet to take place. The city of Babylon has never experienced the kind of sudden fall and complete devastation outlined in these verses. Babylon was eventually overtaken by the Assyrians, but they did not destroy the city. They simply re-purposed it for their own use. The city of Babylon remained in existence for generations. It was the nation of Babylon that fell. The city itself simply became the property of those nations that ruled long after the fall of the nation of Babylon. This included the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman, and Sassanid empires.

The sudden and final destruction of Babylon has yet to happen, and that is exactly what John is seeing foretold in this vision. John is seeing the aftermath of the great city’s eventual fall at the hands of God Almighty, and he is told that it will take place suddenly.

For in a single hour your judgment has come. – Revelation 18:10 ESV

It seems evident that the city of Babylon will be rebuilt and repopulated during the days of the tribulation. Located in what is today the nation of Iraq, the rebuilding of Babylon began during the long reign of Saddam Hussein. There is no reason to doubt that the Antichrist might not choose to locate his government in this significant geographic region. And with the vast financial resources at his disposal, he will have more than enough money to complete the rebuilding process.

There will be much mourning over the sudden loss of this prosperous and powerful city. The rulers of the earth will have benefited greatly from their association with the Antichrist’s government. The merchants of the earth will weep over the loss of revenue as a result of the city’s fall. Even those who ship goods, including the sailors on the ships, will mourn her loss, saying:

“Alas, alas, for the great city
    where all who had ships at sea
    grew rich by her wealth!
For in a single hour she has been laid waste. – Revelation 18:19 ESV

But it will be another matter in heaven, where there will be rejoicing over her demise.

“Rejoice over her, O heaven,
    and you saints and apostles and prophets,
for God has given judgment for you against her!” – Revelation 18:11 ESV

In fact, in the opening verses of the very next chapter, John hears the following words emanating from heaven.

1 “Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
    for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
    who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” – Revelation 19:1-2 ESV

The prophet Jeremiah foretold of this great day and the rejoicing in heaven that it would bring.

47 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming
    when I will punish the images of Babylon;
her whole land shall be put to shame,
    and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her.
48 Then the heavens and the earth,
    and all that is in them,
shall sing for joy over Babylon,
    for the destroyers shall come against them out of the north,
declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 51:47-48 ESV

This passage makes clear that the destruction of Babylon will be sudden and complete. Three separate times, John is told that it will all take place in an hour.

For in a single hour your judgment has come. – Revelation 18:10 ESV

For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste. – Revelation 18:17 ESV

For in a single hour she has been laid waste. – Revelation 18:19 ESV

In just a matter of minutes, God will completely and utterly destroy this great city and remove from it all the trappings of wealth and prosperity for which it was known. He will eliminate its political and military power, transforming it into a smoking wasteland.

In his first letter, John warned his readers to not fall in love with the things this world offers. He described them as “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV). Each of those are representative of the city of Babylon, which God destroys in the last days. It becomes the icon for worldliness and immorality. But John also warned his readers to remember that “the world is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17 ESV), and that is exactly what we see happening in this 18th chapter of Revelation. The world system, represented by the physical city of Babylon, will be destroyed. All that mankind has placed its faith and hope in will be destroyed in less than 60 minutes of time. The luxury, wealth, power, prestige, and god-like successes of man will be laid waste by the God of the universe – “for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her” (Revelation 18:8 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

It Is Done.

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. Revelation 16:17-21 ESV

199-001On the cross, after having endured the wrath of God against the sins of man, Jesus spoke His final words, “It is finished.” He had been persecuted, ridiculed, rejected, spat upon, and tortured to the point of death. And just before He breathed His last breath, He declared that His work was done. He had completed what He had come to do. With His sacrificial death on the cross, He would make possible the redemption of sinful mankind by providing a means by which they could, through faith in His substitutionary death, have their sins forgiven and their relationship with God the Father restored. The apostle Paul provides us with the unbelievable significance of Christ’s sacrificial act.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. – Romans 5:10 ESV

Just a few verses earlier, Paul stated that “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 ESV). But not every ungodly person accepted the free gift of salvation made possible by God’s grace through Christ’s death. There were many, including the majority of the Jewish population on earth at the time, who refused to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They preferred to remain in their sins. As John writes in his own gospel account: “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). The work of Jesus, to make salvation available to all men, was finished on the cross. There was nothing left for Him to do. Except return to the earth one day. And all that John has been and will be shown in the visions recorded in the book of Revelation, are meant to be the preface for Christ’s second coming.

But it is interesting to note the words used to signify this last of the seven bowl judgments. John hears a loud voice coming from the temple in heaven and from the very throne of God. It shouts the three simple words, “It is done!” It is likely that these words came from the mouth of God Himself. He is declaring that the final judgment has come. The end of the tribulation period is getting ready to come to a close. There is more that will happen on earth after the seventh bowl is poured out, but this portion of God’s plan for earth and mankind is complete. Now the Messiah can return and set up His Kingdom on earth. But even more than that, His statement sets up an ever great moment that will take place at the end of the millennial reign of Christ on earth: The arrival of the New Jerusalem. John’s vision of that reality is recorded later in his book, and it envisions the days immediately after the completion of Jesus’ 1,000-year reign, the Great White Throne Judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. John is allowed to see the arrival of the New Jerusalem, as it descends from heaven to earth, and on the throne sits God Almighty, who declares, “I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 ESV). And then John hears those three simple words yet again: It is done!

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:6-8 ESV

The pouring out of the seventh plague from the seventh and final bowl was not the end, per se, but it represented the completion of one thing and the beginning of another. God was now ready to send His Son back to earth. And this news is accompanied by remarkable signs and wonders:

flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. – Revelation 16:18 ESV

These are all signs of God’s divine judgment. But they also represent His holiness and almighty power. These same signs had all been evident when God descended upon Mount Sinai in the wilderness.

16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. – Exodus 19:16-18 ESV

God was in their midst and it was unmistakable. And now, with the pouring out of the final judgment, it was also clear that God was behind all that was about to happen. This was the work of the almighty, all-powerful God of the universe. And all these fantastic sights and sounds were more than just a divine pyrotechnic show. John immediately sees “the great city” split into three parts. This is most likely a reference to Babylon, which John mentions just a few verses later. Babylon is the poster boy for all cities on earth, representing the age of the Gentiles and man’s rebellion against God. Babylon’s sordid history goes all the way back to the time of the tower of Babel, when mankind refused to obey God’s command to spread across the earth. Instead, they determined to build a high tower and a great city, from which they would create a great nation – all in open rebellion against the will of God.

“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4 ESV

Their arrogance and pride led to God creating multiple languages, making it impossible for them to communicate with one another. As a result they dispersed and gave up their building project. And yet Babylon would continue to exist as a city, becoming the icon for man’s pride and rebellion against God. And John sees this great city split into three parts, most likely as a result of the great earthquake. “God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath” (Revelation 16:19 ESV). God has a long memory. He doesn’t forget and always remembers to repay those who have stood opposed to Him and His people. But Babylon is not alone. John indicates that “the cities of the nations fell” as well. The age of the Gentiles is coming to an end. The domination of the Gentile nations over Israel is being brought to a close. And Jesus spoke of this very day.

Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. – Luke 21:24 ESV

It is interesting that the seventh bowl is mentioned as being poured out in the air, and yet the results of this judgment all take place on earth. Perhaps this has to do with Satan’s dominion over the air and the earth. Paul described Satan as “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2 ESV). This bowl is poured out in Satan’s domain and impacts the world over which he has been allowed to have dominion. John says that “every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found” (Revelation 16:20 ESV). Evidently, there will be dramatic changes to the topography of the earth. There will be cataclysmic changes to the earth’s crust, causing never-before-seen alterations to the seas and the land. As always, there are those who try to minimize or simply eliminate the literal interpretation of this passage, choosing instead to view this as a symbolic destruction of the political systems of the earth. But there is no reason to doubt that God could not or would not do exactly what John is seeing take place. The very stability of the earth is at the mercy of God Almighty. Nothing will remain as it once was. Mountains and islands will be removed. All that mankind has come to know as reliable and unchangeable, will come to an end.

And then, the 100-pound stones fall from the sky. This devastating and obviously destructive event will leave people cursing God. The death and damage caused by this divine display of God’s power and wrath will be unprecedented. Buildings, animals and people will be destroyed. Everything man has built will succumb to these massive stones falling from the sky. It is interesting to note that stones were used to build the tower of Babel and here, God uses stones to destroy the cities of men. And back in the gospel of Matthew, we have recorded the words that Jesus spoke to the Pharisees.

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” – Matthew 21:42 ESV

And Jesus goes on to tell them, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:44 ESV). God is bringing His judgment upon the world. He is raining divine destruction upon the earth and all those who live on it. And “the plague was severe.” God will literally stone all those who have blasphemed His holy name. This is the penalty prescribed by God Himself for all those who blaspheme His name.

“Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him.” – Leviticus 24:14 ESV

As we will see in the very next chapter, God will begin to deal specifically with the religious and political systems of the earth. He will mete out His divine wrath on the Antichrist and his kingdom, as well as the false prophet and his apostate church. Amazingly, after all the devastation and destruction brought by the seven bowl judgments, mankind will still oppose God. The Antichrist will still maintain his control over the nations of the earth. And the people of earth will still bow down to his image, giving glory to him that was rightfully owed to God alone. But those things are quickly coming to an end. Because, as God has said, “It is done!”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Unrelenting, Yet Unrepentant.

1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”

So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.

The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,

“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
    for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”

And I heard the altar saying,

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
    true and just are your judgments!”

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.

10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. Revelation 16:1-15 ESV

199-001The seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out in rapid succession. It seems that at this point on the tribulation timeline, things are moving at a rapid pace. We have already been told that these judgments “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1 ESV). But while the last, they are certainly not the least. These judgments are unrelenting in their intensity and quite specific in their application. There has been an escalating aspect to all of God’s judgment so far. First, there were the seven seals and out of the seventh seal came the seven trumpets. Out of the seventh and final trumpet came what we are seeing now: The seven bowl judgments. And these seven bowls contain seven different plagues, the visible manifestations or outpourings of God’s wrath against mankind. These plagues are widespread and all-encompassing, impacting the entire world, but in some cases, they are very specific and directed at certain regions and against particular people groups, such as the worshipers of Antichrist. Here is list of the seven bowls and the plagues they contain:

First Bowl – sores on the worshipers of the Antichrist

Second Bowl – seas turned to blood

Third Bowl – fresh water turned to blood

Fourth Bowl – scorching heat from the sun

Fifth Bowl – darkness and pain within the kingdom of the Antichrist

Sixth Bowl – drying up of the River Euphrates

Seventh Bowl – earthquakes and hail

With the first bowl, all those who bear the mark of the beast and who willingly worship the Antichrist, find themselves suffering from unbearable sores. The Greek word is helkos, and it refers to some sort of ulcer. But this is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill ulcer. They are described as kakos and ponēros, two Greek words that both can be translated as “evil,” but that speak of the severity of these particular sores. The first word makes it clear that these sores are “of a bad nature; not such as it ought to be.” They are out-of-the-ordinary. And their effect is described by the second word. They are extremely painful. And it’s interesting to note that God chooses to inflict all those who have taken the mark of the beast, a visible sign that was placed on their hands or foreheads, with a highly visible plague that covers their entire bodies. Their sign was most likely obscured by sores. And yet, all those who refused to take the mark of the beast or bow down to the image of the Antichrist are spared. They are protected by God because of their faithfulness to Him.

With the second bowl, God pours out a plague that is far more universal in nature. This time, the waters of the sea become “like the blood of a corpse” and the end result is that every living creature in the sea dies. We are not told whether this is a reference to the Mediterranean Sea or to all the seas and oceans of the earth. But it would seem that God is expanding His judgments and that this particular plague is worldwide in scope. Unlike the second trumpet judgment (Revelation 8:8-9), which only impacted a third of the earth’s oceans, this one is all-encompassing, and the devastating outcome of such a disaster defies the imagination. The stench alone would be unbearable. The effect on the world-wide food supply was be unimaginable. The potential for the spread of disease would be off the chart. While we find it difficult to imagine the oceans of the world being turned into literal blood, we have to keep in mind that these are supernatural events. They can’t be explained by normal or natural means. These are the works of the God who created the entire universe in six days. Nothing is too impossible for Him. And His decision to turn the waters of the oceans to blood makes much more sense when you consider the words He spoke to the people of Israel concerning His prohibition against consuming blood.

23 Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. 24 You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the earth like water. 25 You shall not eat it, that all may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord. – Deuteronomy 12:23-25 ESV

The blood is the life. What are irony to consider that God is going to take the waters of the oceans, which contain the source of life for much of the world, and turn them to blood and fill them with death and decay. And it is important to remember that this particular plague is universal in nature, impacting all those who live on the earth, including all the unrepentant, unbelieving Jews who are alive at this time.

With the third bowl, God delivers an even more devastating blow to mankind, by turning all the sources of fresh water on the earth to blood. While there are some who choose to take these plagues as symbolic in nature, there is no apparent reason for us to do so. While they may seem too fantastic and far-fetched to believe, that does not mean they cannot and will not happen. We have to keep in mind that these are the final series of judgments and they represent the full wrath of God being poured out on a sin-stained earth and a stubbornly rebellious humanity. If we can accept the fact that there is a real place of eternal judgment reserved for all those who refuse to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, we should have no trouble believing that God’s anger against sin show up in unbelievable, never-before-seen ways that defy explanation and imagination.

The angel who pours out this third judgment has a few words to say as he does so.

5 “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
    for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!” – Revelation 16:5-6 ESV

He wants us to know that God is just and right for what He is doing. These judgments are well-deserved and the people of earth are receiving their just punishment. They are not innocent. They are not victims. They have played a major role in the deaths of countless tribulation saints who refused to take the mark of the beast and who chose to follow the Lamb (Revelation 14:4). And the angels words are echoed from the sanctuary in heaven.

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
    true and just are your judgments!” – Revelation 16:7 ESV

God is completely just in doing what He is doing. His motives and His actions are not to be questioned. He is the just and righteous judge of the universe, who is delivering a sentence upon the world that is right and without fault in any way.

The fourth bowl somehow causes the sun to become more intense, delivering scorching rays that make life on the earth unbearable. The unbelievers, those who have taken the mark of the beast, curse God, but more importantly, they refuse to repent and turn to God. Even the increased intensity of the sun’s rays and the pain that results from its effects will not cause them to confess their sins and turn to God. Imagine the suffering they will have to endure as a result of the lack of fresh water and the unbearable heat. But in spite of all this, they will stubbornly continue to reject God.

And then God will turn His attention to the kingdom of the Antichrist. Because the Antichrist will be the world ruler, this is a reference to all the earth. But the description makes it clear that this is a direct attack on the Antichrist’s rule and reign. His kingdom, the earth, will be plunged into darkness. Now, along with all the pain, suffering and agony the people of earth have had to deal with by virtue of the first four plagues, they will find themselves in perpetual darkness. The spiritual darkness of their lives will be accompanied by physical darkness. And John describes them as gnawing their tongues in anguish. The very tongues they used to worship and praise the Antichrist will be parched for lack of water and chewed raw because of their pain. And yet, they still refuse to repent. The words of the apostle Paul seem appropriate here.

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9 ESV

But rather than use their tongues to confess, they will gnaw them in agony.

The sixth bowl is the most specific of all. When poured out, it results in the drying up of the River Euphrates. While this judgment has no immediate ramifications for the people of earth, it will have long-term implications. Because it will ultimately set the stage for war. The River Euphrates is one of the most prominent and well-known rivers in the world, and it has a long and vital history in the Scriptures. We know from the book of Genesis, that the Euphrates was one of our rivers associated with the Garden of Eden.

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. – Genesis 2:10-14 ESV

And it was also associated with the nation of Babylon. And it also formed the eastern boundary to the land that God promised to give to Abraham and his seed (Genesis 15:18). With the drying up of this great river, God is preparing the way for the kings from the east. He is removing a natural barrier and setting the state for a future war that will be waged during the final days of the great tribulation. And John is shown three frogs, which are defined as three demonic spirits, who will cause the kings of the earth to join in an alliance to do war against God. This event is called “the great day of God the Almighty” – which is also known as the battle of Armageddon. And John is presented with a parenthetical statement, delivered from the lips of Jesus Himself.

“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” – Revelation 16:15 ESV

The apostle Paul warned about this coming day:

…the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. – 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 ESV

Each of these six bowls and their associated plagues, are simply setting the stage and preparing the world for the return of Christ. And while the plagues themselves will be unrelenting in their intensity, they will have little impact on the unbelieving world. They will remain unrepentant and stubbornly opposed to God and His Son. So much so, that they will choose to wage war with God rather than bow their knee to His Son and honor Him as King of kings and Lord of lords.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Great and Amazing.

1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
    O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
    and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
    All nations will come
    and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. Revelation 15:1-8 ESV

199-001When reading the book of Revelation, one can begin to feel as if the onslaught of judgments coming on earth and its inhabitants will never come to an end. It seems as if each new chapter brings with it yet more devastating news of unbelievable and unbearable trials that will befall mankind. But in these chapters, Even in this chapter, John is given yet another sign in heaven, one he describes as “great and amazing,” that will involves seven plagues. These are the seven bowl judgments. But John is informed that these will be “the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1 ESV). There is a certain finality to this vision. He is being provided with a much-needed reminder that there is an end coming to all of God’s judgments upon the earth. There will be a climax to all that John has seen and that will be the second coming of Jesus Christ. The seven seals, the seven trumpets and the seven bowl judgments are nothing more than a preface, preparing the way for return of the Son of God. And He will bring with Him the final phase of God’s judgments, completing that portion of the divine plan for the redemption and restoration of the world. Christ will return immediately after the seventh bowl has been poured out.

John is being given a much-needed reminder that this seemingly endless wave of judgments has not only an end, but a purpose. None of what he has witnessed has been indiscriminate or arbitrary in nature. These are not the actions of a petty and impetuous deity who simply enjoys taking out His anger on the weak and defenseless. These are the acts of a holy, righteous and sovereign God who is obligated by His very nature to deal with the insurrection raised against His rightful rule and reign. We have seen over and over again the unrepentant nature of those who find themselves suffering under His righteous anger. He brings well-deserved judgments upon them, but they refuse to repent and acknowledge Him as God. They stubbornly cling to their false god, willingly worshiping the Antichrist, giving to him the glory only God deserves. John has been shown the gracious and merciful nature of God as He provides 144,000 Jewish converts to Christ who spend their entire lives during the tribulation, spreading the good news regarding Jesus Christ and God’s offer of salvation made possible through Him. But the vast majority of the people of earth will refuse this offer. They will turn up their noses at God’s gracious gift, choosing to remain in open rebellion against Him, rather than humbly turn to Him in humble repentance and submission. So, the seven bowls will be poured out and the final judgments of God will be meted out. But His judgments, like His patience, have an end. As we have seen repeatedly, the number seven is the number of perfection or completion. Just as there were seven seals and seven trumpets, there are seven bowls containing seven plagues. They represent God’s perfect and complete judgment against mankind. This is not a case of overkill on God’s part. Everything He has done and will do is perfectly righteous, without fault and in keeping with His blameless character.

John sees a sea of glass, like the one he saw in chapter four, but this one is mixed with fire. The sea of glass, that extends before the throne of God, is meant to reflect the glory. of God. But here, John sees God’s glory mixed with fire, a symbol of judgment. The seven plagues are “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.” You cannot separate God’s glory from His wrath and judgment. A holy and righteous God cannot and will not tolerate insurrection and insubordination on the part of those He has created. He is obligated by His very nature to deal with the blatant rebellion of mankind to His sovereign will.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
    evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
    you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
    the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. – Psalm 5:4-6 ESV

God does not view man’s sin as simply an alternative lifestyle or a decision to take a different path than the one He prescribes. He knows that sin is not only rebellion against His will, but an act of self-destruction, leading to death, not life. And sin, like a communicable disease, is contagious and deadly. It spreads like a cancer, infecting everyone with whom it comes in contact. It damages and destroys, and there is no end to its destructive influence. So, God must act. He must eliminate sin once and for all, and John is being reminded that this is exactly what God is going to do.

John sees, standing beside the sea of glass, a crowd of individuals who most likely represent all those who will come to faith in Christ during the days of the tribulation and suffer martyr’s deaths as a result. They are described as having “conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name” (Revelation 15:2 ESV). Having refused to take the mark of the beast and worship the Antichrist, they were executed. But now, John sees them, holding harps in their hands and singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. These are most likely two different songs, but both containing praise for God’s salvation and redemption. In Deuteronomy 32, we have recorded one of the songs of Moses which speaks of God’s power and deliverance of His people.

For the Lord will vindicate his people
    and have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone
    and there is none remaining, bond or free. – Deuteronomy 32:36 ESV

“‘See now that I, even I, am he,
    and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.’” – Deuteronomy 32:39 ESV

One of the things recorded in the song of Moses found in Deuteronomy 32 is the reminder that God is righteous and just.

“The Rock, his work is perfect,
    for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
    just and upright is he. – Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV

He always does what is right. He never acts unjustly or reacts to His people undeservedly. And that is exactly the message John hears in the song being sung by the martyred saints.

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
    O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations.” – Revelation 15:3 ESV

These saints vindicate the actions of God, proclaiming His righteousness and ascribing to Him holiness. They sing, “your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:4 ESV), an unapologetic defense of all that God has done and will do. All the world will ultimately come to fear and worship Him for who He is, because He alone is holy.

And then John sees the seven angels carrying the seven plagues, coming out of the sanctuary of God. This is yet another, not-so-subtle-reminder, that these judgments are coming from the very throne room of God in heaven. They are divinely ordained and ordered. And one of the four creatures, who stand around the throne of God, give each of the seven angels a golden bowl containing the “full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever” (Revelation 15:7 ESV). It is a bit confusing that the angels are described as carrying the seven plagues, but are then given the seven bowls. And the bowls are described as holding the wrath of anger of God. As we will see in the very next chapter, the seven bowls will be means by which the plagues are poured out on the earth. So perhaps, what John is being shown is that the angels walked out of the sanctuary of God, holding the form of God’s judgment – the plagues – but were then given the means by which those judgments would come – by His anger. The plagues would flow forth, mixed with the anger or divine wrath of God. Again, the song of Moses, recorded in Deuteronomy 32, speaks of this wrath of God coming upon all those who stand opposed to Him.

“Rejoice with him, O heavens;
    bow down to him, all gods,
for he avenges the blood of his children
    and takes vengeance on his adversaries.
He repays those who hate him
    and cleanses his people’s land.” – Deuteronomy 32:43 ESV

God’s righteous anger will be “poured out” in the form of seven very real and very devastating plagues. The wrath of God will take concrete and recognizable form. And like the people of Egypt, who suffered from the plagues that God poured out on them, the people of the earth will know that God alone is God. They will unmistakably recognize the power of God Almighty as He makes His anger both felt and known. And John ends this chapter with the statement that “the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished” (Revelation 15:8 ESV). Access to God is completely cut off until the full extent of His judgment on earth is complete. This is a vivid and sobering reminder of God’s holiness. He is not to be trifled with. He is not to be treated flippantly or contemptuously. The sanctuary in heaven will be off limits to all until the full extent of God’s wrath is poured out and the final portion of His judgments are meted out.

And in the very next chapter, John will see each of those seven bowls poured out on the earth and its inhabitants. The focus will turn from heaven back to earth. The final days of God’s judgment have come and the return of His Son is closer than ever before.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson