The book of Revelation has 22 chapters, but by the end of chapter 14 we have seen the major part of the action in the story that it is telling. Through a series of visions, God reveals to John through Jesus what will be the outcome of the struggle between Rome and the church. In his visions, John sees:
- Jesus speaking to the churches.
- God displaying His various powers to defeat the enemy.
- The way that the struggle will take place (a preview): the church begins quickly, Satan crushes it temporarily, the church survives and grows, Satan and his servants are defeated.
- Satan's attacks against the Messiah, the throne of grace and God's people.
- Satan's allies, the beast (Rome), the false prophet (emperor worship).
- God's final judgment of both the faithful and the unfaithful.
In the following verses John provides more detail about God's dealings with Satan and the 144,000.
The conflict continues – Chapters 15 & 16
In chapter 15, after announcing the ultimate victory in the future for Christians and the church, John goes back to describing God's attack on Satan himself. The final set of woes that will be unleashed on Rome is revealed, as well as a vision of the victorious martyrs in heaven.
I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God's wrath is completed.
- Revelation 15:1
John sees more of God's power being paraded. The final destructive power God will use.
2 And I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God 3 and sang the song of God's servant Moses and of the Lamb:
"Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations 4 Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed."
- Revelation 15:2-4
The sea of glass and fire is a cosmic reference to evil, the place where the dragon dwells, a place where the saints must cross in order to reach their heavenly reward. The saints have survived the evil (sea of glass and fire) and have made it to the other side and are now singing praises to God in heaven.
The book of Revelation is about Christ, but it is also about Christ and His people: the seven churches, the 144,000, the temple measured, the woman, the children of the seed, the ones clothed in white and the multitude. All of these refer to Christians, and the book constantly speaks of their plight, salvation and future, as well as the impending doom of Satan and his servants (Rome).
5 After this I looked, and I saw in heaven the temple—that is, the tabernacle of the covenant law—and it was opened. 6 Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues. They were dressed in clean, shining linen and wore golden sashes around their chests. 7 Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. 8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.
- Revelation 15:5-8
Now that he is finished describing the victory of the saints and their place in heaven, he goes back to describing how God will destroy the enemy.
- Sea of glass – cosmic symbol of evil.
- Temple of tabernacle – the holy of holies of heaven; the source of the judgment and power.
- 7 angels, plagues, bowls – the complete (7) destruction of the enemy and the impenitent.
- Dress of angels – similar to priests in Old Testament, servants of God on behalf of the people.
- 7 golden bowls – golden vessels indicate service to God (I.e. implements in temple made of gold).
- Forever – how long His wrath will be on the wicked.
- Smoke in the temple – God's presence.
- None able to enter – God's judgment is set, no changing, no more opportunity for mediation.
The judgment was announced before (6:13-17 – 6th seal) and paraded (7 trumpets), but now the vision shows the final judgment to be carried out and what will be the results when it finally happens.
The trumpets were a kind of warning for men to repent, this is why only 1/3 of the earth is destroyed. Without repentance the bowls will be emptied and this time all will be destroyed. No more warnings, the judgment has come.
The appearance of Christianity, the preaching of the gospel and the reaction of Christians under persecution in the Empire – all of these combined with the natural problems Rome was suffering provided a witness and encouragement for them to turn to God.
History shows that they did not. Constantine, the first Roman Emperor, was converted in 312 AD on the eve of battle and he established toleration of Christianity throughout the Empire but this was too little and too late to avoid its judgment and final fall in 410 AD. It continued as a political force but was soon displaced by other nations as a world power and ultimately became the center for the Roman Catholic Church in the 7th century and the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century.
When John is speaking, however, Rome dominates the world and is officially seeking to destroy the church, and for this God announces that it will be defeated and destroyed. Complete destruction does not mean every building burned to the ground, but rather it will lose its dominance, be defeated, never to regain its status. Today it is only the 3rd largest economy in Europe, behind Germany and France.
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, "Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth."
- Revelation 16:1
The voice from the temple is God's voice, He is the only one in the temple. God is pronouncing judgment.
The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.
- Revelation 16:2
First bowl, land destruction, punishment of the wicked specifically (no overlap to Christians).
The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.
- Revelation 16:3
Second bowl, maritime destruction.
4 The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5 Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:
"You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were; 6 for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.
7 And I heard the altar respond:
Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.
- Revelation 16:4-7
Third bowl, land and water destruction. The image is that the enemy has made the martyrs drink the cup of wrath and now the enemy will drink destruction as well. All of this as a response to the prayers of the saints.
8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.
- Revelation 16:8-9
Fourth bowl represents the destruction of the normal functioning of the heavenly bodies. Note that these first four bowls parallel the first four trumpets, but now they are intensified. Also, not even the bowls of wrath could motivate these evil men to repent: a justification of God's judgment.
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 agony 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.
- Revelation 16:10-11
Fifth bowl, complete collapse due to internal decay and evil. The throne of the beast which is his power source, is affected. This does not turn them toward God but rather intensifies his blasphemy and evil 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 Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.
15 "Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed."
16 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
- Revelation 16:12-16
Sixth bowl, complete destruction by invading armies. Euphrates is the land of the enemies of the Empire. The river dried up suggests that there is nothing between the enemies of Rome and the seat of power, not even the most northern natural barrier, the Euphrates River. The way is clear for the enemies to enter the land.
Historically, the Parthians, who were from the region of Iran, ultimately invaded Rome.
At this point John takes another break and explains how Satan and Rome are not going to go down without a fight. John tells us what they do. Out of their mouths come three unclean spirits (frogs). Since there is an army under God's direction coming to battle with them, Satan and the beast will also marshal forces to meet them. The unclean spirits are possibly evil propaganda and alliances that Rome will form in order to defend itself (which it did), many of whom turned against her in the end. They complete their deceptions in organizing a defensive force and are ready for battle as they gather at a place called HAR-MAGEDON. We do not see the battle yet, but we will get the results of the battle in chapter 19.
Historically we know that as the Empire grew weak, it became vulnerable to outside attack which occurred as the Goths, Visigoths and Barbarians began to overrun the city in the 3rd and 4th centuries. This is the vision of this final defeat.
HAR-MAGEDDON or ARMAGEDDON. Literally, Mount of Megiddo was a city of the Manassites in the great plain of the tribe of Issachar, about 75 miles northwest of Jerusalem. In the Old Testament this place was a strategic military fortress for Solomon. A place where many great battles were won and lost: Gideon, Deborah, Saul and Jonathan as well as Ahaziah and Josiah.
In the Hebrew mind it was a place of significant military history. Today we would see it like "met my Waterloo", "remember the Alamo", "Gettysburg". It was a symbol of struggle, defeat, and battles of epic proportions.
The point is that Satan is not going down without a fight. He will gather his forces and wage an all-out war in resistance to God's judgment. It will be like the Alamo, Iwo Jima, Dunkirk, Battle of Britain, Berlin wall, Orange revolution, etc.
Har-Mageddon, or Megiddo, or Armageddon is a place that symbolizes struggle in resistance against God's judgment.
The chapter begins with God's final judgment being carried out as the bowls of wrath are being poured out. This scene is interrupted as Satan and the beast respond by gathering its forces for battle and resistance against this judgment. When the trumpets were sounded in chapter 9, the sixth trumpet announced a series of wars and battles. But now under the 6th bowl it is the war, the final battle (the mother of all battles).
From a secondary prophecy perspective, this would refer to Rome's final defeat where she would no longer rise to prominence or world power. From an ongoing prophecy perspective it refers to any ungodly nation or entity that resists God's call or judgment. The final result: defeat (I.e. Napoleon, Hitler, USSR, even US if it abandons God). From the final prophecy perspective it is when Jesus will return to give the final blow to death.
Now that he has explained Satan's reaction to God's final judgment represented by the bowls, John will describe the final bowl.
Verses 17 to 21 – Seventh bowl. Final judgment on Rome, despite its resistance, symbolized by Har-Mageddon.
The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, "It is done!
- Revelation 16:17
The same voice that announced the judgment announces its completion. The bowl is poured out in the "air." Satan is the ruler of the powers and principalities of the air (Ephesians 2:3). The judgment is on Satan himself.
Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake.
- Revelation 16:18
The natural disasters always refer to the passing of a nation. The greater the disaster, the greater the nation. The greatest earthquake ever parallels the passing of the greatest human empire ever, Rome.
19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found.
- Revelation 16:19-20
John reveals that the beast is a city and the city's symbolic name is Babylon. In the next chapter he will give more details as to who this Babylon really is.
That it is split into three demonstrates its utter destruction; the nations and islands are its allies who are destroyed. This is no coincidence, all these military and natural calamities are the way God is judging (drinking the cup) Rome and her servants.
From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.
- Revelation 16:21
Hailstones show that it was not just a destruction of the government or leadership, but the entire nation suffered defeat and punishment in the judgment. Again as justification of God's acts, the people curse God despite their judgment. They are defeated, destroyed, but not annihilated. The culture survives but not as believers. Israel, when punished, repented and returned to God, but not these people.
In the next chapter, John will be describing in more detail the beast (Roman Empire) but using the imagery of a harlot to describe the symbol or the heart of the Empire which was the city of Rome itself.