Revelation 16: Bowls of Hell
by Joseph Franks
Thus far we have reviewed seven churches, seven seals, and seven trumpets. God’s trumpeters have been calling men to take notice, fear him, repent, bow the knee, and swear allegiance to the King of kings. Hell is coming, and there is still time for rebellious men to respond properly. Jesus Christ is still the friend of penitent sinners. Whoever believes in him will not perish; they will immediately begin the process of enjoying everlasting life.
However, while Christians immediately receive everlasting life, we are destined to endure a season of tribulation and persecution. We are not totally removed from Satan’s realm; apostasy and distress are to be expected and experienced. However, while we are buffeted by the world, our sinful flesh and the devil, we are simultaneously safeguarded and nourished by God who knows our name and seals us with his Holy Spirit. Absolutely nothing could separate believers from the love of God – not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, death, angels, rulers, things to come, powers, height, depth, or anything else in all creation. Nothing is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8) We are hurting in this present evil world, but we are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us so.
However, while believers are found suffering in chapters 1-15, they are not found enduring the curses of Revelation 16. Just as Lot was removed from Sodom and Gomorrah before God utterly destroyed these towns, so Christians appear to be rescued from these plagues. There is some hell which Christians must endure on earth, but this is an entirely different level. God’s bowls of wrath are designed, not to discipline, but to damn the incorrigible sinner who continues to harden his heart.
Revelation 16 describes the final judgment of God. So what do we learn from the bowls of wrath, or the bowls of plagues, or the bowls of hell?
We see that the bowls of hell are an expression of God’s justice. Mercy is expressed when God does not give that penalty which men deserve. Grace is expressed when God gives blessings to men which are undeserved. In Revelation 16 we see neither mercy nor grace, but justice and fairness. These Satanic followers are breaking the first and second commandments; they are worshiping other gods and images. They are presented as breaking the third commandment. With their mouths they curse God and take his name in vain. Throughout this chapter, they have no desire to repent. Mercy is given to many who break the commandments of God. Grace is given to many who have worshiped Satan. All who bow the knee can find the warm embrace of Christ. However, like Pharaoh, these sinners stiffen; they refuse to read the signs, kiss the Son, and beg for grace. Therefore, they are reaping that which they have sown. They are receiving their due wages. They are getting exactly that which they deserve. (16:5-6)
Second, we see the pouring out of the bowls of hell is a matter for worship. While the bowls are being emptied, John sees the saints in heaven praising God. For some time, they have been offering prayers for the persecuted and martyred saints. Perfected saints in Glory have been waiting patiently for God’s longsuffering posture to change. They have been presented at the altar supplicating for the vindication of God’s honor and Satan’s humiliation. Finally, they see the Almighty stretching his powerful hand. The rod of iron is being unsheathed. The white horse is coming out of its stable. Satanic knee crushing is at hand. Therefore, while it is a sad and terrifying day for incorrigible rebels, it is a glorious day for former rebels who have been saved by the blood of the Lamb. For years, in the churches and in heaven, they have been praying, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Victory is at hand; it is time to sing.
Finally, we see the bowls of wrath are future. They have not yet been poured out. When are they coming? No one knows, for Christ is coming like a thief in the night. However, just as Christ once said on the cross, “It is finished,” so he will utter these words again. (16:17) When he does so, the civilization of man will be utterly decimated as she drinks the cup of God’s wrath.
Where do you stand? Will you be found drinking or singing? Has Christ drunk your cup of hell for you, or do you still have one with your name on it? It is going to be bad — really bad! This sort of damnation has been designed for Satan and his angels. You do not want justice. You do not want fairness. You do not want to remain insolent and unrepentant. Friends, on that particular day, I plan on singing the praises of God as I escape the cup of wrath. Then later, in Paradise, I plan on enjoying the cup of blessing which will be given me by the strong and loving hand of Jesus Christ. I want you to experience this with me.
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