Flashes of Lightning, Peals of Thunder – Revelation Bible Guide Day 21
March 19, 2018
8and 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 ended.
Day 21 – 5th Monday
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of he wrath of God.”
2 So the first angel went and poured his bowl on the earth, and a foul and painful sore came on those who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped its image.
3 The second angel poured his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing in the sea died.
4 The third angel poured his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of the waters say,
“You are just, O Holy One, who are and were,
for you have judged these things;
6 because they shed the blood of saints and prophets,
you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”
7 And I heard the altar respond,
“Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty,
your judgments are true and just!”
8 The fourth angel poured his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire; 9 they were scorched by the fierce heat, but they cursed the name of God, who had authority over these plagues, and they did not repent and give him glory.
10 The fifth angel poured his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness; people gnawed their tongues in agony, 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, and they did not repent of their deeds.
12 The sixth angel poured his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up in order to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 And I saw three foul spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. 14 These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not going about naked and exposed to shame.”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmagedon.
17 The seventh angel poured his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a violent earthquake, such as had not occurred since people were upon the earth, so violent was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. God remembered great Babylon and gave her the wine-cup of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found; 21 and huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, dropped from heaven on people, until they cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague.
Points of Interest
- “seven angels” – They’re back. In the long middle section of Revelation, we’ve had seven seals, then seven trumpets, now seven bowls. The bowl plagues aren’t entirely new – they’re at least in part a recapitulation of the material covered with the trumpets.
- “seven bowls of the wrath of God” – There are at least three ways of understanding the wrath of God generally, and so these bowls in particular. The harshest read is that people are basically awful and deserving of whatever hellish punishments God can dream up. God’s angry with you, so Jesus chooses you to rescue you from that anger or… good luck! You can maybe tell I’m less sympathetic to that understanding. A second read is that much as God loves people, God sees clearly the great evil and injustice that humans and human systems perpetuate. God punishes people and societies sooner or later, and those that don’t turn away from their evil and seek forgiveness will be punished eternally. That hatred of evil and resultant punishment is the wrath of God. This is also a very common perspective, and I think a reasonable view: the one I most used to hold. Increasingly, I’m inclined toward a third perspective that’s also been held by many Christians. That is that the wrath of God is a metaphor for the consequences we bring upon ourselves when we turn from God and choose evil. God isn’t angry per se, but has designed a universe in which evil catches up and turns back on us eventually. We reap what we sow. Regardless, the point of this chapter – and of the idea of God’s judgment in general – is that God will judge unrepentant evil. It’s God’s job always, not people’s, and it is good news that evil can’t endlessly harm and destroy without consequence.
- “every living thing in the sea died” – Each of these seven judgments are against various crimes of human empire, and the judgment is often inherent to the crime. Humans exploit each other and exploit the earth, and so despoil the earth. Stretches of sea where nothing can live are not hard to imagine.
- “You are just…. It is what they deserved.” – At the center of this chapter, a witness – personified as “the angel of the waters” proclaims God’s absolute justice. However we understand God’s judgment, no fair observer will consider it to be biased or harsh.
- “did not repent of their deeds” – As we saw in Chapter 9, punishment does not seem to be effective as motivating people to turn around. Judgment is a consequence of evil and a means of stopping it, not a tool for change.
- “who go … to assemble them for battle” – Late in the bowls, as with the trumpets, things get funky. A drought creates conditions for war, as droughts often do, and demonic frogs make things worse with their propaganda. Helpful to remember that people who stir leaders up to war are in the service of evil.
- “Harmagedon” – This word, spelled differently, has become famous, attached to what I consider a bad interpretation of this book. Some readers have understood this chapter – and the whole middle section of Revelation – as predicting the events that lead up to a catastrophic end of the world. In this reading, Armageddon is the place of the last great, bloody battle. However, scholars can’t agree on where this place is or what it means, or even how to spell it. Best as we can tell, it represents a place where earth’s leaders destroy themselves, either in a war that ends an empire, or perhaps in all war.
- “Flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder” – This is the stock language of theophany, the dramatic appearance of God. As we’ll see over the next two chapters, John assures his readers that God will make sure all human empires that exploit and harm – Rome included – will come to an end.
This week, in light of the judgment on all human systems that resist God and God’s good and humane ways on earth, we consider the command to, “Come out” and turn away from the evil baked into human societies, our own included. Today, ask God to reveal some aspect of violence or injustice in your nation, your city, or your ethnicity that you participate in through your actions or thinking. Ask God for ideas on how to turn away from that and for the courage to do so.
A Direction for Prayer
Pray for your six, that any who have had exposure to a harsh or arbitrary view of God’s justice will find hope that God is motivated not to hurt or harm but to bring an end to that kind of behavior.
The Bible Guide
This blog post is part of a Lenten journey through the book of Revelation. Every year during the season of Lent, we take a focused look at a portion of Scripture as part of our communal spiritual practice. This year, we are exploring what it means to be Children of God in a Fractured World, with Revelation as our lens. On Sundays, we’re exploring this with our sermons; on weekdays, we’re doing so with our bible guide. The bible guide series starts here.