Revelation 15-16. The wrath of God is poured out on the world, culminating in the great Day of the Lord.
The first plagues to be so designated are the fire, smoke and sulphur associated with the sixth trumpet. The seven last plagues bring the total up to ten, as in the Exodus, and they are evidently sequential. The disasters of the earlier trumpets are also severe enough to be regarded as plagues (11:6) and as an expression of God’s anger, but the sense is that these last ten are even worse.
The Lamb is both a new Moses (Deut 18:15) and the substitutionary sacrifice for Israel’s first-born. His song, in chapter 5, celebrates the greater Exodus of a people drawn from every nation. The bringing together of the two songs makes explicit the parallel between the judgement on Egypt and the final judgement. Some of the words come from Jeremiah 10, where it is emphasised that God created the heavens and the earth: the worship of idols is therefore folly. The redeemed in heaven rejoice, first-fruits and main harvest alike, and add to the sound with lyres (citharas – also 5:8, 14:2). It is an interim state, for when Christ returns, they will return, and then every knee will bow before Almighty God (Ps 22:27, 86:9, Isa 2:3, 45:23, 66:23). He is the king of the nations. When they understand that, they cannot but fear him and glorify him.
In heaven the temple (naos) and the tent of witness, or tabernacle, are one and the same. The Mosaic Tabernacle was a ‘tent of witness’ (the Greek rendering of ‘tent of meeting’) because, in its preservation of the tablet inscribed with the commandments which were the basis of God’s covenant with Israel, it witnessed of who God was and what he had done. Indeed, it was where he resided: “I will tabernacle among you,” (Lev 26:11) in a mobile house clothed with the skin of animals. Eventually, that witness was given by Christ: ‘the Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us’ (John 1:14). After him, it was his body on earth, his Church, that gave witness, pointing to the true light and the Word written, and willing to die for his sake. Spiritually, she is the tabernacle in heaven (Rev 13:6).
The temple is closed. God will no longer receive pleas for mercy. ‘Anger’ is thumos, a word with an earlier meaning of ‘emotion’ or ‘passion’, distinct from orge, specifically ‘wrath’. We have emotions because we are made in God’s likeness, and he has emotions. Uncontrolled anger is rarely good, and we should not give way to it (Eph 4:31, Col 3:8). God himself continually exercises makrothumia, ‘patience’ (Rom 2:4), for he does not will that anyone should perish, but that they should repent (II Pet 3:9); were it not for that patience, we should have died the moment we became acquainted with good and evil. Judgement is deferred to the end of life and to the end of the age. “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:48), but ultimately judgement must come. Thus, in Romans the ‘wrath’ of God especially refers to the ‘day of wrath’ when God reveals his righteous judgement, and when ‘anger and wrath’ are the fate of those who do not obey the truth but unrighteousness (Rom 2:5-8). In this sense it equates with ‘death’, the judgement of God on sin. ‘Being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved by him from wrath’ (5:9). A temporal ruler who orders capital punishment stands in the place of God and exacts his wrath (13:4). By nature we are children of disobedience (Eph 5:6, Col 3:6) and therefore children of wrath (Eph 2:3), because in Adam all die (Rom 5:19, I Cor 15:22). But this first death is not the end. Although we must all die once, whoever is in Christ will rise to eternal life. The general resurrection at the end of the thousand years is of all who are not in Christ, but in Adam. Judged according to their deeds, many will be condemned and their sentence of death confirmed. Ultimately that is the wrath of God.
The call was to ‘worship him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of water’ (14:7). Man enjoys all that God has created for him, but shows no gratitude, refusing even to acknowledge him. Now he learns that these things cannot be taken for granted. The bowls of wrath are poured on these parts of the created world one by one, beginning with the earth.
In the sixth plague of the Exodus, the boils that broke out on people’s skin were apparently caused by a fine dust, as it settled on the land. The angel’s pouring of the bowl’s contents on the earth suggests something similar: a toxic powder originating from outer space. The plague is part of the torment referred to in 14:10f.
An animal is a being that has the breath or spirit of life (Gen 1:21, 30); ‘living soul’ is an example of pleonasm, for a soul is necessarily living. The judgement of the second trumpet was restricted to a third of the ocean. Now the whole ocean is affected.
Again, in the catastrophe of the third trumpet, only a third of the rivers became polluted. By implication, this judgement is global.
Outside of grace, God’s concept of justice is not fundamentally different from man’s. “As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head” (Obad 15). “By the judgement you judge by, you will be judged, and with the measure you measure with, it will be measured back to you” (Matt 7:2). The beast and his associates poured out the blood of the saints and the 144,000 prophets; now God pours out his anger on them by giving them blood to drink. ‘Worthy’ is an ironical echo of 5:9. The voices from the altar are those of the martyrs themselves (6:9).
Previously only implied (8:7), the sun is now explicitly the source of the fire, as it spews forth superhot plasma. But although it is the proximal cause, people are aware that the ultimate cause is God. Unlike Job, who suffered innocently, they curse God. They do not heed the call to ascribe glory to him who is holy, and acknowledge their failure to be like him (14:7). Fire purifies, or it destroys.
Thus, eventually, the remnant of Israel take part in the day of vengeance (also Isa 41:15, Obad 18, Zech 12:6).
The interjection – “Behold, I am coming like a thief!” – recapitulates warnings given to the churches at Sardis and Laodicea, apposite here because it is the day of the Lord that comes like a thief (I Thes 5:2, II Pet 3:10). The interruption is as unexpected as the event itself. The day has a double reference, for it is also the moment when the Lord comes for his own, to harvest the wheat rather than burn the tares: “Stay awake, for you do not know at what hour your Lord is coming. Know this, that if the master of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into” (Matt 24:42f). Jesus exhorts us to make sure we do not get left behind.
Lightning, noises and thunder have been going on in the background since the first trumpet. The earth- quake is the same as that at the opening of the sixth seal. The waters roar and foam, mountains and islands sink into the heart of the sea, the earth melts (Ps 46, Lu 21:25). As God lifts his voice, not only the earth but also the heavens shudder (Joel 3:16) and Zion becomes the highest of the mountains (Isa 2:2). The sun becomes black as sackcloth. Celestial bodies fall to the earth like figs shaken from a tree. The first ‘great city’ was the tripartite conurbation of Resen, Nineveh and Calah (Gen 10:11), which took three days to cross (Jon 3:3). Now it is global – the cities of Europe, Asia and America together – and it splits into three.
How the armies at Megiddo meet their end is not expressly stated in Revelation. The great day of the Lord is the day when they are slaughtered, and they cry to the rocks and mountains, “Fall on us, and hide us from the wrath of God!” (Rev 6:16). They are killed on the battlefield by a hail of meteoroids. However, the final battle will be at Jerusalem (Zech 14). The nations will besiege the city, capture it and send half of its inhabitants into exile. Then God will strike its assailants with a plague, so that their flesh rots while they are standing, and they panic and fight each other.
The anger of God is done. The following chapters (17-19) portray ‘Babylon the Great’ in more detail, uttering a lament for her fall, and contrasting the fate of those deceived by the beast and his prophet – now mere carrion – with those in heaven about to celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb.