Revelation 15:1 – 16:21 // The seven bowls of punishment // David Hill

(NOTE: Unfortunately we had problems with the audio recording. The full sermon text can be found below)

Theme sentence: God will fully and finally punish sinners one day.

Aim sentence: We need to take the warning seriously and make sure we are ready of the final day of judgement.

  • Smoking causes lung cancer.
  • Slippery when wet
  • Mind the step
  • Caution contents hot
  • Warning: Trespassers will be prosecuted

We are surrounded by warning signs – warnings of health risks – warnings of potential danger areas – warnings of hot contents in a cup of hot coffee you have just bought.

We are surrounded by warnings.

They are there for our good.

Do you listen to them?

The letter of Revelation is full of warnings.   

They are there for our good.

Are you listening to them?       

Many years ago my dad ran a saw mill.

One of his machines was used to cut big logs – it was full of safety features.

How it worked was you would push the log into the machine – and push a foot switch.

That activated a safety clamp which came down on the log before the circular blade came up to cut the log.    

The machine had warning signs everywhere.

Warning you to keep your hands away from moving parts.

One evening I remember sitting at home when the phone rang – one of the night shift guys had been cleaning.

He had stuck his arm inside the machine to clean out the sawdust.

While his arm was inside he accidently stepped on the switch.

In a moment the safety clamp came down and the blade removed his hand.

He survived but has been one hand short ever since.

He ignored the warnings and he has to live with the consequences.

The warnings in today’s scene are far more important than the warnings on that machine.

If you ignore these warnings – your eternal destiny is at stake.

This is a warning our world needs to hear.

The warning starts with a description of God’s inescapable wrath.

God’s inescapable wrath

Have a look at 15:1, “I saw in heaven another great and marvellous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed.”

This verse introduces us to what today’s section is about.

It is about God’s completed wrath.

But then in 15:2 – 4 before we see the wrath of God poured out – we are given a picture of God’s victorious people SAFE in heaven.

SAFE and SINGING.

Look at their song in 15:3, “Great and marvellous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. 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.”

As we work our way through the picture of God’s wrath being poured out – we mustn’t forget this song.

God’s wrath against sin is part of His great and marvellous deeds.

His wrath against sin shows that His ways are just and true.

God’s righteousness is revealed in His wrath.

What we are looking at today should both grow our view of God – but also grow our love for Him.

If God did not pour out His wrath against sin and rebellion – He wouldn’t be a God worth worshipping.

Sin is a very big problem.

And in LOVE God will one day fully and finally deal with sin.

A few weeks ago in chapters 8 – 11 we heard the 7 trumpets of warning – they were devastating – but their effect was limited.

Here in chapters 15 and 16 the warnings are over – in these chapters we see God’s wrath being poured out on sinners – and it is inescapable.

In 15:5 John is looking at an ominous scene.

Seven angels come out of the temple in heaven with seven plagues.

They are commissioned by God and are given bowls filled with the wrath of God.

These bowls are going to be poured out.

God’s wrath – his white hot anger towards sin – is going to be shown.

The writer, John, was a Jewish man – he would have known his Old Testament very well.

As he saw these bowls of God’s wrath it must have sent shivers down his spine.

Passages like Jeremiah 25 would have flashed into his mind.

In that chapter we read a long and terrifying description of the wrath of God being poured out.

God’s wrath is an alarming thing.

John is about to see it poured out – How would you be feeling if you were in John’s shoes?

I would image that John would have wanted to call out “STOP!”

But look what he saw in 15:8: “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.”

No one could enter the temple.

The wrath of God is about to be poured out and nothing can stop it. 

This is God’s wrath on those who have rejected Him – those who haven’t accepted His free gift of salvation.

For those people, they will face God’s wrath.    

On the final day it will be too late for them.

Listen to these terrifying words in 16:1 “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.”

This is God speaking – The warnings are over – God’s wrath is being poured out on all who have rejected him.

Think for a moment about someone you know and love who doesn’t know Jesus as Saviour.

On the day of judgement it will be too late for them.    

They will not escape God’s wrath.

It is a terrible reality.

It is gut wrenching.

As we look at God’s wrath poured out, we mustn’t forget the song in 15:3–4.

This is God showing that He is just.

He cannot leave sin unpunished.

Can you see how urgent this message is?

God’s wrath – his white hot anger towards sin – is inescapable.

And as the bowls of God’s wrath are poured out we see God punishing sinners.

The punishment is total.

The punishment is total

When we looked at the trumpets of warning a few weeks ago there was a repeated phrase – A third of the land – A third of the seas – A third of the stars.      

Those trumpets were a partial judgement which served as a warning – they were calling people to turn back to God.

As we come to the bowls of punishment – we don’t see a partial punishment – this is the complete final punishment of God’s enemies – this is God’s punishment on all those who did not listen to the warning.

In the year 1348 the Black Death or Bubonic plague – wiped out at least a third of the population of England – it was devastating – it hit rich and poor alike.

That year some suffering person scratched these words into the wall of a church – it says, ‘Wretched, terrible, destructive year, the remnants of the people alone remain.’

Millions died.

Back in those days many may have thought that it was a sign that the end of the world had arrived.

It hadn’t.

In 2020 we have faced our own pandemic.

It has been horrible – but it hasn’t been as terrible as the Black Death.

And yet, many think it is a sign that the end of the world is imminent.

Let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly.

This is part of the trumpet blasts.

God is still sounding His warning.

Today’s passage shows what it will be like when the warnings are over.

This section shows the full and final judgement.

There are a few things that are important to remember.

What we see here are PICTURES to help us grasp the severity of the judgement.

Also remember that 7 in Revelation is the number of completeness – so these 7 bowls of judgement are the complete judgement.

And although they are divided up here for us to view one at a time – the force of this judgement will actually happen all at once.

The Old Testament backdrop for the judgement we see here – is the plagues that God sent on Egypt in the days of Moses.

That was a partial temporary judgement.

This is total, terrible and eternal.

As bowl 1 is poured out festering painful sours brake out on the people.

Like the plague of boils in Exodus – it is an awful picture.

A few years ago I got bitten by a sack spider on my leg – my leg ached for weeks from that festering sore.

I don’t even want to imagine those kinds of sores covering me.

Although this is just a picture in Revelation – it is a picture we can attempt to imagine – even though we would rather not.

As bowls 2 and 3 are poured out they remind us of the plague of blood in Exodus.

But it is not just the Nile River.

All the water is now turned to blood.

Blood bringing death – blood to drink.

Again, although this is just a picture – it is a picture we would rather not imagine.

God’s judgement as a result of sin will be awful.

As bowl 4 is poured out the temperature gage on the sun is cranked up – and the heat is absolutely unbearable.

Like being in the hottest place on earth – all the time – with nowhere to hide.

Terrible.

Who here has ever experienced a really bad sunburn?

Crank that up a whole lot.

It is an awful picture.

And then as the 5th bowl is poured out – there is darkness.

Darkness so thick you can feel it.

In C.S. Lewis’ epic story “The voyage of the Dawn Treader” in one chapter the ship, called the Dawn Treader, and her crew visit Dark Island.

They find a desperate man who has been trapped in the darkness for years.

In one scene the man says this, “This is the Island where Dreams come true.”

“That’s the island I’ve been looking for this long time,” said one of the sailors. “I reckoned I’d find I was married to Nancy if we landed here.”

“And I’d find Tom alive again,” said another.

Fools!” said the man in the darkness, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I’d better have been drowned or never born.

Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams— dreams, do you understand—come to life, come real.     Not daydreams: dreams.”

There was about half a minute’s silence and then, with a great clatter of armour, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before. For it had taken everyone just that half-minute to remember certain dreams they had had—dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again.”

The darkness of Dark Island was terrifying.

The darkness of judgement as the fifth bowl is poured out is excruciating.

Have a look in 16:10: “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 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.”

An awful reality is shown here.

As sinners are justly punished by God for their sin – they respond by cursing God – they will not turn to Him and acknowledge that He is God.

The severity of the judgement shows how serious sin against God is.

And even in judgement people who didn’t repent in this life – will not repent in the next.

A few years ago a pastor called Rob Bell released a book called “Love Wins”.

His main point in the book is that God’s love is irresistible in the end.

He says that in the end all people will end up in heaven because God’s love wins.

As appealing as that may sound – it turns God into an unjust God.

God in his justice promises to punish those who will not turn back to him.  

And that is exactly what we see happening here.

If people don’t listen to the warnings in history – they won’t have an opportunity to turn to God in eternity.     

And they won’t want to – THEY REFUSED TO REPENT!

In the end LOVE DOES WIN.

For those who cling to God’s love and mercy shown in Jesus, His love wins.

We will see this in technicolour brilliance in the passage we are looking at in 2 weeks’ time.

Don’t miss it.

But people either embrace God’s love OR they reject it.   

For those who reject it – God’s wrath is inescapable.

As the sixth angel pours out his bowl the scene is set for a great battle.

We see powerful enemy kings setting themselves up against God and His people.

In verses 13 and 14 we meet three evil – frog-like – spirits.

The job of these evil spirits is to deceive people into thinking that they can stand against God.

Deluding them into thinking that they can defeat the Lord God Almighty.

Even on the day of judgement sinners will be thinking that they can continue as they have in life – rebelling against God.

But it is a delusion.

All these spirits are really doing is leading people to certain death.

In the midst of this battle scene there is a change.

John hears the voice of Jesus.

Jesus is speaking to those who have already been victorious – He is speaking to Christians.

And look what he says in verse 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.”

What Jesus is saying is – “Don’t worry – this battle scene may look scary – but I have already won.”

“Make sure you stay awake – make sure you are ready – make sure you hold on to your hope in Me – because I am coming soon.”

These are words of encouragement in the midst of a battle.

In verse 16 we return to the battle scene – the enemies of God stand ready for battle in a place called Armageddon.

Armageddon is a figurative place – it is a picture of the battle ground where the final battle will be fought.

Have a look at verse 17: “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!””

Those words are final – IT IS FINISHED – IT IS DONE.”

The enemies of God are ready to fight Him – but there is no contest at all – because God speaks – and the world as we know it crumbles.

The scene in verses 18 – 21 is of a terrifying storm and earthquake – creation in chaos.

It is the end of the world as we know it – & those who stand against God are anything but fine.

Look at verse 21, “From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about 50 kilograms (that is like hailstones the size of a bag of cement), fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.

If someone was able to accurately paint the scene described in these chapters – we would all turn from that painting in horror.

The reality of God’s judgement against sin is hard to stomach.

It is meant to be gut wrenching – Horrific – Terrifying.

These verses make it very clear that there is no future for us here.

The world as we know it will be destroyed.

This scene shows that God’s wrath is inescapable – God will punish sinners – they will be cut off from Him forever – this evil world will be judged.

Now what?

How should we respond to all this?

These pictures are hard to stomach because they show the reality of the judgement that all sin deserves.

As we look at this terrible picture we mustn’t forget 15:3 – 4.

God’s wrath against sin is part of His great and marvellous deeds.

His wrath against sin shows that His ways are just and true.

God’s righteousness is revealed in His wrath.

If God didn’t judge sin – He wouldn’t be a loving God at all.

Think about this for a moment in human terms.

Rene is a magistrate. She makes judgements all the time.

Imagine someone is standing before Rene – on trial for murder.

Imagine if Rene said, “He is a first time offender so I’m going to let him off the hook this time – In love I’m not going to judge him.”

We know that Rene would never do that – because that is not how justice works.

The punishment needs to fit the crime.   

In a similar way, if God didn’t judge sin – He wouldn’t be a loving God at all.

He would be unjust.

We find these chapters hard to stomach because they show us the seriousness of sin.

This is the judgement I deserve because of my sin.

Sin is a very big problem.

And as we grasp this – as Christians it should grows our love for God.

Because as a sinner – the judgement I deserve was taken by someone else.

These bowls of God’s wrath were poured out on Jesus – for me.

The weight of this picture of judgement is massive.

But the weight of Jesus’ love and grace towards us is even greater.

What a saviour!

The full fury of God’s wrath was poured on Him –so that those who trust in Him can go free!

Earlier we sang:

On that cross, as Jesus died,
The wrath of God     WAS    satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.

These are remarkable words – We can sing them with confidence because of Jesus.

But what about those countless multitudes who do not know King Jesus as Saviour and Lord?

When you look at the world – at your neighbourhood – at the shop assistant – at your work colleagues – Do you ever think of the judgement that is waiting for them?

The gut wrenching judgement described in these chapters is awful – we should never get used to hearing about it.

It should affect us – drastically – even physically – we should feel the weight of it.

Earlier I asked you to think of someone you know and love who doesn’t know Jesus as King.

All of us will have a friend or family member who doesn’t know King Jesus.

Perhaps a brother or sister – a parent – grand parent – cousin – friend.          

Can you think of someone?            

As you think of them – what impact should this passage have on you?

It should impact us as it says – “Look at the destiny of those who don’t know the love and grace of King Jesus.”

Their destiny without Him is awful.

Will you out of genuine love and concern for them warn them while you still can?

Perhaps you will be the only person who ever loves that person enough to warn them.

Pray that they will trust in Jesus and the salvation He died to win before it is too late.

Some of you still may be sitting here thinking, “How can God pour out His wrath like this – I find it hard to believe in a God like that.”

I want you to know that God has written this word to us in LOVE.

He wants to warn the world before it is too late.

The warning has to be realistic.

If God sugar coated His just judgement that wouldn’t be loving at all.

No – God tells us exactly how severe His wrath towards sin is.

Sin must be punished.                    

But then hear this.

As just and awful as this judgement is – there is a way in which no person ever has to face it.

Because in love Jesus faced it.

The full wrath of God was poured on Him as He died on the cross – and the wrath of God was satisfied.

None of us have done anything to deserve this great mercy – but in Jesus God shows us grace and mercy.

It is not unjust for God to pour out his wrath on sinners – we all deserve to be punished for our sin.

What is far more amazing is that I get to go free – I know my heart – I deserve to face God’s wrath!     

But in Jesus God’s wrath is satisfied!

This passage – as dark as it is – should cause us to love Jesus even more!

May we hold fast to the wonder of this truth.

Christ faced God’s wrath for us.

And may we – in love – hold out this truth to the world around us.

So that others might hear the warning before it is too late.

So that they too might trust in the grace of Jesus that satisfied the wrath of God – so that sinners like you and me can live.

Oh the wonder of the reality that Jesus took this punishment FOR US!

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