Plagues (Revelation 15-16)

The crowd are singing noisily “Going up, going up, going up.” Then against the break of play, the opposition striker gets through, one on one against the keeper, he calmly slots the ball into the bottom left corner.”

Silence falls on the ground. Then the away fans begin to chant “You’re not singing anymore” and “You only sing when you’re winning.”

It’s Sunday morning.  We stand to sing. You open your mouth and nothing comes out. You are just too overwhelmed, crushed, weary. How can you sing this morning when there’s so much trouble and uncertainty in the World? How can you sing after the week you’ve had, after your neighbour said what they did to you …and after what you said back?  How can you sing when you think about what is coming up this week -another one of your colleagues is going to be bullied out of their job because they are too old, senior and therefore too expensive? You’ve seen it coming for a while and you know it won’t be long before they come for you. How can you sing when you’ve watched the news and seen a Christian politician bullied by an angry interviewer demanding that they own up to believing something in the Bible that our world considers offensive? There’s another 7 weeks to come of politicians parading their self-interest?

How do we respond to persecution and opposition?

In the first scene, those who have overcome the beast sing “The song of Moses -and the Song of the lamb” (15: 1-4). They are gathered on a “glassy sea” or crystal pavement. The imagery is of the people of Israel gathered on the other side of the Red Sea.

These are the ones who have won or overcome against the beast. In John’s immediate context would be those who would resist the pressure to reject Christ and bow down to the imperial emperor cult. The bigger picture is of all those who throughout the ages withstand pressure to conform to this World and its ways.

The Temple is wide open but not to welcome in. In fact people cannot enter in until judgement is completed (15: 5-8).

There are 7 angels with gold bowls that ae filled with plagues representing God’s wrath (15:7). The bowls of wrath are poured out as judgement (16:1).  These are:

  • Painful sores on people on those who have the mark of the beast and worship his statue (16:2)
  • The sea becomes like blood -everything dies (16:3)
  • Rivers and springs become blood -everything dies (16:4)
  • The Sun scorches everything with fire (16: 8-9)
  • Darkness falls on the Beast’s kingdom (16:10-11)
  • The Euphrates dries up so the Eastern kings can invade
  • Hailstorm (16:17-21)

The imagery is from Exodus and the plagues on Egypt again, blood, boils, darkness and even a reference to Frogs. It includes natural disasters, sickness and human conflict. The sense is of a world that is under judgement but that these judgements also anticipate the final judgement (Fee links the heat from the sun to the eventual heat of the Lake of fire).

It is important to stop and pause here.  There is a message about how we respond to those who persecute us and who oppose the work of the Gospel. How do we respond to gossip, slander and accusation? What do we do when we have been let down or treated unjustly? God tells us that vengeance belongs to him.  He is the one who will judge sin, punish evil and defeat his enemies. 

As much as our experiences may at times cause great anger and an understandable desire to “get even.”  We should leave those things that belong to God with God. We can do that knowing that he will bring true justice. 

This means that we don’t duck the difficult doctrine of God’s wrath. It is very clearly revealed here.  Biblically, God’s wrath is expressed in three contexts

  • A Creation that is already under judgement where sin has entered
  • The final judgement where those who continue to rebel against God will face eternal separation from his loving presence and eternal punishment in Hell.
  • On the Cross.

How does this help us?  Well, let me just stop and take an extreme example that I hope none of us have to face in the future. Many years back, friends of our family were visiting Eastern Europe on mission. They were attacked and beaten in their campervan and the husband died. The wife when she recovered was interviewed by a national newspaper and insisted that she forgave their attackers. How was she able to do this?

Our society expects and understands vengeance. I found this out first hand many years later when we got the shock news that my Great Aunt had been mugged, knocked to the ground unconscious and left for dead. She didn’t come out of the coma but died in intensive care the next day.  Several people at work expressed their feelings as they empathised with me. They were very clear the attackers should be punished in the most painful (and unrepeatable manner). Yet whilst it was right that they were arrested and brought to justice, this extreme vengeance was not what we as a family wanted.

I believe that it comes back to those points about wrath.  We have to keep reminded ourselves that God is the one who brings justice. Those attackers already live in a world where sin brings its painful consequences but more than that, there will be justice. That justice will either be served on them at the end of time or has already been served on Christ who has stood in their place.  I need to remember that. Furthermore, if I find it difficult to accept that God might declare them innocent and say that Chris has died in their place then I need to remind myself of the seriousness of my own sin and rebellion. Though I stood against God’s goodness and rejected and despised His Son, he has forgiven me.

So, how will I face, trials, persecution and trouble this week? I will do so by reminding myself of the Gospel:

  •  By looking back to what Christ has already done for me on the Cross (past grace)
  • By finding safety and security in knowing He is with me now through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Present Grace)
  • By looking forward to what Christ will done on that day when we are raised (present grace)

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