Chapter 16 starts with the voice of God Himself starting the beginning of the end, ‘“Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”’ We know it is the voice of God because this voice comes from the temple, and chapter 15 ended with the words no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. So, nobody is allowed in, but a voice comes from within authoritatively announcing the wrath of God is to be poured out. The only logical conclusion is that this is God Himself.
1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels,
“Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”
2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.
3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.
4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood.
5 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,
“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
for you brought these judgments.
6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”
7 And I heard the altar saying,
“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
true and just are your judgments!”
Ironically, those who worshiped the beast and bore his image are to be marked by God, too, but not in the way those faithful saints have been. We read that those who had taken the mark of the beast now bear harmful and painful sores…not the kind of mark we want, is it.
Two more angels pour out their bowls, into the sea and the rivers respectively and both cause death and destruction. This mirrors the image given to us in chapter 8, verses 8-11; God judging the fallen earth by impacting the sea and the freshwater sources. Before those chastisements were aimed at bringing people to God, to affect repentance. Here, punishment for not doing so before Jesus’ imminent return…and it is imminent (both in this book and in life!).
So, how can this be just and holy? How can bringing judgement on rebellious people be pure?
For God to be so just, holy, pure, and perfect, He cannot accept sin, rebellion, evil. If He did, He wouldn’t be just, holy, pure, and perfect, would He? He created and sustains life on earth and as Sovereign creator is free to tell His creation how things should be done, no? Surely it is not up to us to dictate to our maker how things should be? (Isaiah 45.9).
On a basic level, this all comes down to the choices we make; do we choose God’s path, or do we choose our own? Do we seek my will to be done, or thy will be done? Choices. The people we read of here have made choices to do their own will again, and again, and again…
So, God has to act on this prolonged rebellion against Him and His ways, but, He is patient, He is kind, He is long suffering, He is love, He wishes that none should perish but that everyone call on the name of Jesus and be saved unto eternal life.
And, to be fair, there have been plenty of warnings along the way. Like a road that falls into a cliff up ahead, God has laid out signs, sent workers to warn people, maybe even diverted the road a couple of times, but yet we still find our way back onto the road that disappears.
Friends, let us do our best to stay on God’s road, let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide us when we cannot see the road, and let us take comfort and encouragement from the fact that Jesus has walked this road before us, removed all the obstacles, and waits at the end of the road for us.