May 10, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy LIV: Armageddon & Exodus Flashbacks

Chapters 15-16

Wrath Exhausted

The saints will glorify God and the Lamb for their incomparable attributes demonstrated in the Winning of redemption and judgment (15:1–4). Up to Revelation 14:20 only six visions of the sevenfold series  have been presented since the beginning of the series in Revelation 12:1. The seventh vision does not come until 15:2–4. The presentation of the seventh vision is interrupted by the introduction of the seven bowl angels in Revelation 15:1. The best explanation of verses 2–4 is that they serve both as a conclusion to 12:1–14:20 and as part of the introduction to the bowls.

Transitions between the Apocalypse’s major segments have an “interlocking” function with respect to the preceding and following sections. The song in verse 2–4 praises God’s justice as it is expressed in the judgments of Revelation14:6–11, 14–20. It also focuses is on the saints’ victory over the ungodly as well as the judgment of their opponents.

The background of the exodus provides the thematic link between the bowl judgments and the song of Moses and the Lamb. The seven bowls are obviously modeled on the exodus plagues, and the song in 15:3–4 is an imitation of the song of Moses after the Red Sea victory in Exodus 15.

The reference to a new, final exodus victory in Revelation 15:2–4, concludes the segment of Revelation 12:1–14:20, and it inspires a recall in chapter 16 of the exodus plagues leading up to the final victory. Accordingly, the “seven last plagues” could correspond to  the ten plagues God brought against Egypt. It appears the exodus judgments will be enacted against the world at the end of history when Israel would again be redeemed. These OT and Jewish antecedents provide a typological and eschatological background against which the inherent idea of “last” in Revelation 15:1 may well best be seen. This background makes plausible the suggestion that the plagues in Revelation are “last” in the sense that they occur in the latter days (after Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension), hence “seven eschatological plagues”) in contrast to the former days when the Egyptian plagues occurred. Based on this understanding, John and the NT writers believed that the latter days were  inaugurated with Christ’s first coming and will be culminated at his Parousia or second-coming.

Accordingly, the bowl plagues would extend throughout the course of the latter-day period, from Christ’s first to second coming. In Chapter bears out clearly that the bowl plagues are typological equivalents of the Egyptian plagues, as do the Red Sea imagery and context of 15:2–4. In Jewish and Christian literature the exodus plagues were also understood as typological of later plagues to come on subsequent generations of humanity.

Alternatively, “last” could explain how the wrath revealed in the seals and the trumpets reaches its goal. This has some merit, since the bowl judgments, in contrast to the other seven-fold series, have more explicit statements  about the purpose of divine judgments. The bowls are “last” in order of presentation of the visions “because in them has been completed the wrath of God.” The bowls complement and round out the portrayal of divine wrath in the seals and trumpets. It is in this fuller presentation of punishment in the bowls that it can be said that God’s wrath has been “completely expressed” or “has reached its completion and is exhausted for those here on earth. The bowls are generally parallel thematically and temporally with the trumpets and ultimately with the seals. This obviously is a further development of God’s “cup of wrath” filled with “the wine of wrath” in Revelation 14:10.

Sea of Glass

The sight of what appeared to be “like a sea of glass like crystal” could be an allusion to the reflection of the laver in Solomon’s temple and to the heavenly splendor of God’s holy separateness. The most vivid picture that comes in mind is the heavenly analogy to the Red Sea in connection with the New Exodus.  This identification is confirmed beyond doubt by the following mention of the new song of Moses, which is the last day counterpart of Moses’ song in Exodus 15. Compound this with the (v.6) “plagues” and the (v.5) “tabernacle of testimony/covenant law” and the parallel is undeniable. This sea is also parallel to Daniel 7 too. In fulfillment of Daniel 7, the Lamb’s “overcoming” has also paved the way for the saints’ “overcoming” of the beast at the sea which is the focus in 15:2. They are victorious only because the Lamb has conquered and granted them a share in the effects of his victory. Therefore, the Lamb is praised in 15:3 because he has judged the opponents. In the world’s eyes the people of God are defeated but they have won a spiritual victory by maintaining their faith and separating from any compromising alliances. Hence the idea of persevering through suffering early on in Revelations in the letters to the seven churches as they are prototypical of all churches both good and bad. That the saints are “standing on the sea of glass” shows that they themselves have been involved in the battle against the sea beast and have fought in the midst of the unbelieving world, where the “waters” are defined as ungodly masses of people in the world (Revelation 17:15).

The saints’ weapon has been their fiery, faithful testimony which the beast and his allies have tried to extinguish. The saints now stand before God’s throne in heaven. Their song is a hymn of deliverance and praise of God’s  attributes just like Moses song in Exod. 15:1–18. Later OT interpretations of the first exodus have been selected to explain the new exodus, which has happened on a grander scale than the first, to praise God for the redemption and the implicit scene of judgment pictured (Deuteronomy 28:59–60) which predicts that Israel’s future judgment will be patterned after the Egyptian plagues. Ultimate redemption through Christ has brought to supreme expression how he demonstrates his justice. Those trusting
in Christ have the penalty of their sin paid for by his blood but those rejecting the divine
provision will bear their own penalty for sin.

The Seven Bowl Judgments

Here God punishes the ungodly because of their persecution and idolatry and we see the resumption of the introduction to the seven bowl judgments (15:5–8). The temple now mentioned is “the tabernacle of testimony” as the heavenly equivalent of the tabernacle that was with Israel in the wilderness, continuing the exodus context of vv2–4. The “testimony” referred to is the Ten Commandments, which Moses placed in the ark of the tabernacle (Exodus 16:34; 25:21; 31:18; 32:15 in relation to 27:21 and 40:24) Therefore, the Law of the Lord is his testimony, which reveals his just will. The tabernacle sanctuary was placed in Israel’s midst because God was to “dwell in their midst.” The tabernacle with the ark also represented the grace and mercy of God, since substitutionary animal sacrifices were offered there to atone for (or cover) Israel’s sin and to reconcile the nation to their Lord. But now for John the tabernacle witnesses no longer to divine mercy but to judgment, introduced in Revelation. This “testimony” in Revelation15:5 includes not only the Law but “the testimony of Jesus,” who embodies the OT  “commandments of God” in himself. The point is that God is about to reveal his just will from his heavenly dwelling place by in the form of judgments on the earth against those who reject his testimony. They rejected Jesus Christ.

John now sees the seven angels introduced in v 1 coming out of the temple after it has been opened. The angels have the “seven plagues,” which must mean that they have been commissioned to execute the seven bowl judgments that follow in chapter16. These images of bowls comes partly from the OT, where “bowls” are mentioned in conjunction with the priestly service at the altar in the tabernacle or the temple. The bowls were probably used to carry out the ashes and fat of sacrifices. These bowls are sometimes directly
connected with “the tabernacle of witness”. Now, angelic priests minister with the bowls at the heavenly altar of the tabernacle of witness. The destructive nature of the bowls is stressed by their characterization as “plagues” (v.6, 8) and as being “full of God’s wrath.” The concluding statement of ch15 underscores the fact that the bowl afflictions do not come ultimately from the seven angels or from the four living beings but only from God. God’s presence is so awesome in expressing wrath that not even heavenly beings can stand in his midst. The unapproachability of God in both the OT and Revelation could be due to the awfulness of his revealed presence. God himself is executing the trials and “no one was able to enter the temple until” he has completed the task through “the seven plagues of the seven angels.” No one is able to hold back God’s hand when he decides to execute judgments.

Some Observations on the Trumpet and Bowls Judgment

Some commentators argue that the trumpets are different judgments from those of the bowls because the first four trumpets appear only to affect nature, whereas the first four bowls affect wicked people. The first six trumpets are said to be partial in their effect, whereas the bowls seem to have a universal effect. The similarities between the trumpets and the bowls overshadow the differences. What the trumpets state in a highly figurative manner is stated more directly in the bowls.

Both trumpets and bowls present the plagues in the same order: plagues striking (1) the earth, (2) the sea, (3) rivers, (4) the sun, (5) the realm of the wicked with darkness, (6) the Euphrates (together with influencing the wicked by demons), and (7) the world with the final judgment (with the same imagery of “lightning, sounds, thunders, and earthquake” and “great hail”). The overwhelming likeness of the trumpets and the bowls is a result of both being modeled on the exodus plagues. Each woe in both series, except the sixth trumpet, alludes to an Exodus plague. Further, in each series seven angels execute the seven plagues. Therefore the trumpet and bowl series are probably parallel literarily, thematically, and temporally.

Examples: In trumpet 4: A third of sun, moon, and stars are struck. Darkness results for a third of a night and day. Bowl 4: A bowl is poured on the sun, which scorches people with fire. Trumpet 5: The shaft of the pit is opened. Sun and air are darkened with smoke from which locusts emerge to torment people without the seal of God. Bowl 5: A bowl is poured on the throne of the beast. His kingdom is darkened and people are in anguish. Trumpet 6: Four angels bound at the Euphrates are released, with their cavalry of two hundred million, which kills a third of humanity. Bowl 6: A bowl is poured on the Euphrates, which dries up for kings from the east. Demonic frogs deceive the kings of the world to assemble for battle at Armageddon. Trumpet 7: Loud voices in heaven announce the coming of the kingdom of God and of Christ. Lightning, thunder, earthquake, and hail occur. Bowl 7: A bowl is poured into the air, and a loud voice from God’s throne announces “It is done.” Lightning, thunder, and an unprecedented earthquake occur, and terrible hail falls.…

Obviously, there is not a one-to-one correspondence between each corresponding trumpet and bowl. But they are vivid similarities and enough to be considered parts of the same overall program of divine judgments occurring during the same general period. Just like the trumpets, the bowls are God’s further answer to the saints’ plea in Revelation 6:9–11 that their persecutors be judged. Those undergoing the judgments of the bowl plagues are punished because of their identification with the beast and not with the Lamb. This also leads to an interpretative conclusion that involves tensions revolving around divine sovereignty and human accountability, that all stem from either repentance or a failure to repent.

In the preceding chapters we saw the rise of the dragon in chapter 12, followed by the beast in chapter 13:1–10, the false prophet in 13:11–18), and finally Babylon in Revelation 14:6–11. In Revelation 16 we see a segment that reverses the order of the careers of these evil beasts. Babylon is mentioned first in the explanation of their demise (16:17–21; chs17–18), followed by the beast and the false prophet (19:17–20) and finally the dragon himself (20:10). This reversal is chronological in sequence in the Apocalypse. The four foes are eliminated simultaneously, as is evident from the repetition of wording and OT allusions in the descriptions of their defeat as seen in Revelation 16:14; 19:19; 20:8. 

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