What have the following got in common? Independence Day. The Day
After Tomorrow. Deep Impact. Outbreak. Armageddon.
Yes, they’re movies. And they’re all doomsday movies. You know
the kind. Humanity faces a massive threat. A disaster that’d end
the world. Then a hero steps up. And saves the day.
Revelation reads like a doomsday movie. With a couple of
It’s not make-believe. Revelation is full of symbolic …
pictures and colours and numbers, but it’s real history.
The other difference is the threat. In the movies it’s aliens or
a meteorite or a climate catastrophe. In Revelation the threat to
the world is posed by god himself. The threat is God’s
Ironically, the hero, the only hope is again god Himself. The
threat. God’s judgement. The hope. God’s salvation.
The coming judgement serves as a flashing red light on the
dashboard. It’s an early warning system. It alerts us to the
problem, that is evil. And urges us to heed the warning by trusting
Jesus who stepped into the world to rescue.
Now for a moment put yourself in the shoes of first century
Christians. Who’ve heeded the warning. They’re marked out as
followers. They belong to Jesus. And as a result they’ve been
driven out of business. Driven out of the city. Scattered as
refugees. They know injustice ‘cos they’re loving Jesus in a world
that hates Him.
As ambassadors for Jesus we’ll feel the scorn and hatred of the
world. The injustice. The ridicule and rejection.
And, like the Christians John’s writing to, don’t you long for
justice? Christians don’t fear the coming judgement. We long for
it. We pray for it as the saints do in chapter 6. That God would
put the world right. And welcome us home.
This letter is written, not to confuse but to make truth clear,
and so to encourage Christians to persevere. To keep living for
Jesus in a world hostile to Him.
The way these chapters encourage us is by assuring us that god
is just. And judgement is coming.
Chapter 15 verse 1. John sees “another great and marvellous
sign.” Another vision.
Apocalyptic literature, that’s Revelation, is full of visions.
In order to understand them we need to stand back. Get the big
If Revelation was a painting, it wouldn’t be photorealism with
fine details you can put under a microscope. It’d be abstract.
Something you need to stand back from in order to take it all in
and get the message.
And the visions are rich in imagery, colours and numbers that
are all symbolic. And need to be interpreted. Which isn’t guesswork
‘cos the book of Revelation itself, and the rest of the Bible,
gives us clear clues as to how to interpret.
So here’s a vision of seven angels with seven bowls containing
In chapter 6 seven seals are opened. In chapters 8/9 … seven
trumpets are blown. Now in chapters 15/16 … angels pour out seven
bowls. Seals, trumpets, bowls.
These all have to do with god’s judgement. The seals warn of
God’s plan to judge. The trumpets announce the judgement. And the
bowls deliver it.
With the seals and trumpets judgement was partial, incomplete.
But, verse 1. “[with the bowls, with] the seven last plagues,
[they’re] last because with them God’s wrath is completed.”
It’s full and final. And it’s destructive. Creation is un-done.
The heavens and earth destroyed. Which clears the way for the new
Judgement, wrath, destruction all wrapped up in the bowls with
When you hear ‘plagues’, what do you think of?
The Old Testament story of God’s judgement against the
This new Testament letter needs to be read against the backdrop
of the old Testament. The key to understanding Revelation is not
the newspaper. This isn’t a coded book that needs modern events to
be deciphered. The key to understanding Revelation is the old
So, a backdrop to this great vision here is the Old Testament
story of God’s judgement against the Egyptians.
So, before we look at Revelation 15-16 let’s back up to the book
of exodus, second book of the Bible. And refresh an old history
lesson. The story of Israel in Egypt and the Exodus.
Israel were slaves in Egypt. Collecting mud and straw and baking
bricks so that the superpower of the day could build pyramids. It’s
hard labour. And prison labour.
Israel’s crushed. They cry out to the Lord. ‘Save us! Deliver
God hears. And sends Moses. Who fronts up to Pharaoh, saying.
‘God demands. Let my people go.’
Pharaoh laughs. He refuses to repent. And persecutes the
Israelites even more. Forcing them to make more bricks with less
So then God punishes Pharaoh and Egypt with plagues.
Judgements/punishments to force them to let His people go. Plagues.
Lots of them. Rivers turn to blood, frogs, boils, hailstorms,
Pharaoh laughs it off. Repeatedly. Refuses to repent.
Finally. Last plague. God threatens to kill the firstborn of
every family. The Israelites get a special mark – the blood of a
lamb, sprinkled on their doors. And God passes over. But everyone
else – everyone without God’s mark, everyone without the blood of
the lamb – come under God’s judgement. And their eldest sons are
At last Pharaoh gets the message, and lets them go.
Backpacks on. Israel set off into the desert. And promptly
arrive at the Red Sea. That’s wide and deep. No way through.
What’s worse is, in the meantime, Pharaoh has a change of mind.
And sends his army to get his slaves back.
The Israelites are terrified. They’re sitting ducks. They’re
At which point Moses pipes up. ‘Don’t be scared. God will save
you.’ And He does. He divides the waters of the Red Sea and Israel
walk through on dry land.
Then He makes the waters come crashing down. And the mighty army
of Egypt is swept away.
Israel, saved. Israel’s enemies, judged and destroyed.
Which is cause to celebrate. Moses bursts into song. And leads
Israel in praising God. “I will sing to the Lord [Exodus 15 verse
1] … He is highly exalted. Both horse and rider He has hurled
into the sea. The Lord is my strength … my defense … my
Moses sings on. Praises God for His justice. His holiness.
So here’s Moses. And the Israelites. Standing by the Red Sea.
Singing a victory song. About God their Saviour.
That happens at the beginning of Israel’s history. And it’s the
backstory to Revelation 15-16 which is the end of all history. And
it’s another exodus. And it’s déjà vu.
In Revelation you’ve got another crowd, verse 2, standing by
another sea. This sea is one of crystal fire. And it’s another
salvation. ‘Cos this crowd is standing victorious. Over the beast,
his image, his number. This crowd is again safe. And again, they’re
singing, verse 3. The song of Moses – a cover version. But there’s
also a new song. The song of the lamb.
In the Exodus Moses led them to safety. Now it’s the Lamb who
So they play harps and raise their voices. “Great and marvellous
are your deeds, [verse 3] Lord God Almighty. just and true are your
ways, King of the nations. [Verse 4] who will not fear you, O Lord,
You alone are holy. all nations [everyone] will come and worship
before you… “
John’s first readers were to bow before Caesar, to worship his
image. Some lost their lives for refusing.
For Christians in such danger what would comfort and encourage?
A view of the future. A vision of Christians, in heaven, safe
beside the sea, singing. God alone is holy, just, true. A vision of
judgement. Justice done, enemies destroyed. A vision of the King,
not just of Rome but the whole world, being worshipped. Whether
through gritted teeth or with grateful hearts God will be
acknowledged as god.
Isn’t that an encouragement? He who created the world and rules
the world … will judge the world. And He will do so with justice
A suffering persecuted Christian may leave earth looking like a
loser, yet they enter Heaven victorious.
The vision then moves from the sea to the temple, verse 5. The
temple or tabernacle was a symbol of God’s holy presence. And,
verse 6. “Out of the [presence of God come] the seven angels with
the seven plagues. [The dress code is] clean, shining linen [with]
The angels are given, verse 7. “seven golden bowls filled [with
Some think of God as a grey-haired grandfather who gives cuddles
and treats. Who’s harmless. Easy going. And never angry. “[But
these] seven golden bowls [are] filled [to the brim] with the wrath
of god… “
If you think God quietly looks the other way, think again.
Chapter 16 verse 1. From the temple God’s voice thunders. He
commands the angels. “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath
on the earth.”
Seven bowls that contain seven plagues. As God punished the
Egyptians with plagues, so here His judgement is poured out on the
unrepentant. “People who [verse 2] had the mark of the beast and
worshipped it’s image.”
In the first century the worship of Caesar was the key to
success in business. Here, the worship of Caesar is the mark of the
beast. It’s anyone who seeks security in the things of the world,
and not God. Anyone who trusts in something other than God. Anyone
who refuses to worship Jesus.
These, like Pharaoh, are the hard-hearted. People who, verse 9.
“[refuse] to repent and glorify [God].”
You see, if you’re not for Jesus, you’re automatically against
Him. It’s one or the other. Either your name is graven on His
heart, or you’re branded as belonging to God’s enemy the devil.
If you belong to God you’re safe. ‘Cos judgement is reserved for
those who refuse Jesus.
Like Pharaoh, some laugh off judgement. They say punishment will
be a slap on the wrist. That you’ll be sent to the ‘naughty
But friends, mark God’s Word, judgement will be horrendous.
As in Egypt, so in the end.
The Egyptians were afflicted with boils all over their skin.
Now, here, verse 2. The first bowl. “ugly, festering sores broke
out on the people”
Moses struck the water and it turns to blood. Now, here, verse
3. “the sea [turns] into blood like that of a dead person, and
every living thing in the sea died. [Verse 4] the rivers and
springs of water [became] blood.”
In Egypt there’s a plague of darkness over the whole land. Now,
verse 10. The fifth bowl. “and [the] kingdom [of the beast] is
plunged into darkness.”
In Egypt God sent a frog plague. Now here, verse 13. “[we see]
impure spirits that looked like frogs”
In Egypt God sent a hailstorm. Now here, verse 21. “From the sky
huge hailstones, each weighing about a forty kilograms fell on
people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail,
because the plague was so terrible.”
Bowl after bowl, plague after plague. As in Egypt. So now, here.
It’s judgement on the unrepentant!
No-one likes the idea of punishment. I’m sure you know those who
scoff at the thought of judgement. Classmates or colleagues who
laugh it off.
But final judgement is no laughing matter. It’s real. It’s
eternal. And it’s absolutely awful.
And yet it’s absolutely fair.
Our judgements are impulsive, vindictive, unmeasured and bathed
in our own self interest. But God never over-reacts. He never
oversteps the mark. He’s holy and righteous and just.
God’s absolutely fair. ‘Cos, you see, actions have consequences.
Choices have costs. if you choose not to bow your knee to Jesus as
king if you choose not to worship him then you ‘cop’ the
‘Cos. Verse 5. “[God is] just in [His] judgments”
The punishment will fit the crime. It’s fair. God gives people
exactly what they deserve. Verse 6. “they … shed the blood of
your holy people and your prophets, [and so God gives] them blood
to drink as they deserve.” The bloodthirsty will have their blood
So, the verdict is, verse 7. “Lord God Almighty, true and just
are your judgments.”
Suffering, tragedy are times to turn to god. CS Lewis, a famous
author, wrote. ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our
consciences, but shouts in our pains. [Suffering] is [God’s]
megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’
So it’s troubling that in the midst of tragedy people remain
deaf and hard hearted. When there’s a car accident or losing your
job or a broken relationship or an illness or a family crisis. In
such times people should turn to God. Yet so many blame God.
Verse 8 and 9. People scorched with fire, seared by intense
heat. And, verse 9, what do they do? “they [curse] the name of God,
… they [refuse] to repent”
“[People] plunged into darkness. [Verse 10] People … in agony”
Yet what do they do? Verse 11. “[they] [curse] the God of heaven
because of their pains and their sores, … they [refuse] to
Huge hailstones fall. And, verse 21, what do they do? “they
Suffering is God’s megaphone to wake us up and warn us. The
arrogant and foolish rage against him. The humble repent. They turn
to Jesus. Run to Him. Worship Him.
God is just. Judgement is coming. And Armageddon is part of
that. Which some see as the last big battle.
Now Armageddon is a trigger for a whole host of dis-information.
A Google search shows over 35 million results! Which is striking
‘cos it’s only mentioned once in the Bible!
So what’s it actually all about.
The great river Euphrates traditionally served as a boundary
between Israel and their enemies. And we’re told, verse 12. “[that]
the great river Euphrates [dries] up to prepare the way for the
kings from the East” These kings, verse 14. “[are] the kings of the
whole world, … [who] gather … for the battle on the great day
of God almighty.” Global powers gather to do battle against
So, where does the battle take place? Verse 16. “they gathered
the kings together to the place … called Armageddon.” Which is a
place on the plains of Megiddo, the most famous battleground in
Israel’s history. Now this isn’t to be taken literally. This
earthly location represents a battle between God and the enemies of
His people. It’s a spiritual battle. In verse 13 there’s impure
spirits and a dragon and a beast. It’s symbolic and spiritual.
And when does this battle happen? Verse 14. “the great day of
God almighty.” That is, the ‘day of the Lord.’ Which in all
Scripture is both a day of wrath. God’s enemies punished. Justice
done. And a day of victory. God’s people saved and safe.
Once Jesus comes this day is split or stretched into two. It’s
the day of Jesus’ death/resurrection. And the day of His return. In
between it’s the ‘last days’.
What’s clearly in view here is Jesus’ return. The last of the
last days. For which Jesus has sent a calling card. But it’s got no
‘date stamp’. Verse 15 echoes His words. “I come like a thief! …
[stay] awake … [remain] clothed [be ready], so [you won’t] be
So, what actually happens at Armageddon? At this last battle?
This end battle?
You’ve got all the kings gathered in all their power and worldly
mighty. You might expect a massive battle. But, verse 17. It’s over
in a moment. “The seventh angel [pours] out his bowl [verse 17],
and out of the temple [comes] a loud voice from the throne, [and
God says], ‘it is done!'”
It is finished. It’s the biggest anti-climax. All earthly powers
gather. The seventh bowl pours out. And God says, ‘It’s over!
Done!‘ victory won.
God pours out His justice, verse 19. And as a result there’s
lightning and thunder and an earthquake. “The great city splits …
, … the cities of the nations [collapses]. God [gives] Babylon
the cup filled with … the fury of his wrath. [Verse 20] Every
island fled … mountains [disappear]. … huge hailstones fell.”
Babylon, a symbol of God’s unrepentant enemies, … is forced to
drink the cup of God’s wrath.
So, Armageddon is the last battle. But it’s no contest. That’s
‘cos Armageddon isn’t the big battle. The big battle doesn’t come
at the end. It came at the cross. Where there was also an
earthquake and thunder and darkness. At the cross Jesus drank the
cup of God’s wrath. He was judged in our place.
And that’s the real exodus. Not out of slavery in Egypt. But out
of slavery to sin. Rescue, not by Moses. But by the Lamb of
So we, like first century Christians, have no need to fear the
‘end’. ‘Cos the decisive battle that secures our future was fought
in the past. On the cross Jesus conquered sin and Satan. On the
cross Jesus cried out in victory. ‘it is
finished.’ ‘It is done.’
We follow Jesus who, in the past on the cross, won the victory
for us. So that in the future we’ll stand by the crystal sea and
sing the song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb.
So, as we wrap up. god is just. judgement is coming. And there’s
two groups in the world.
All of us at one time were part of the group that stubbornly,
hard-heartedly, refused Jesus. Marked by the Beast, we worshipped
the things of the world, we worshipped anything except for the Lord
Perhaps you’re still in that group. In which case, God in His
Word in love warns us. doomsday is ahead. judgement is coming.
Please heed the warning. Repent! Run to Jesus. He saves.
And for us who are saved, who’ve been rescued from His wrath. Be
encouraged. Jesus is coming. Be comforted. justice will be done. Be
confident. Look back to the cross. Where Christ won the victory.
And secured our future. We are safe, we belong to Jesus. We are
marked by him, in Him who was marked for us.
Whose hands were pierced. Whose blood was shed. Who drank the cup.
Punished in our place.
So then. Until He returns let’s be encouraged. Let’s keep living
for Jesus in a world that hates Him and us. Whatever you’re up
against God is for us. The big battle has been won. The last battle
will be over in a moment. And we’ll be gathered in glory beside the
crystal sea and we’ll sing the song of Moses. And we’ll sing the
song of the Lamb.