November 1, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 17:10 in the audio file.
Or, Par for the Curse
Series: Just Conquer Part 43
How we do things communicates along with what we say about the things we’re doing. This is more than about body language, though that’s an example. We’ve talked a lot over the years about how liturgy affects us, the patterns and repetitions and attitudes along with the words. The same is true in good fiction; C.S. Lewis cared about the assumptions he could get his readers to carry with them as they followed the arc of the plot. We can’t read the Chronicles without feeling, if that is the apropos word, that certain things in the Narnian world are true.
The Apocalypse likewise weaves threads into the fabric of our worldview. All of God’s Word does, actually. There is never an argument God’s existence, it just begins with that reality and moves forward. The book of Revelation takes us to the other end of world history, and how it does so forms not only expectations about the future but also what sort of world we live in now. We are knit with weltanschauung whether we like it or try to work around it.
It’s been a great year for thinking about things we can’t see. Modern society has grown bad at that; our greatest invisible irritant is weak WiFi. But this year has provided perfect lessons on unseen things, like viruses, sure, but even the decision-making process of our political overseers. We’ve been given pause, especially when we were told to stay home, to question the cause of all this. When the greatest argument against conspiracy is incompetence of the presumed conspirators, you know we’re examining just what sort of world we live in.
It is good to look at more than just the things that are seen. It could go wrong, get too far-fetched, but Screwtape warned Wormwood not to let his subject think too much about what could be “true.” Distraction is much better demonic work, at least for now.
This circles us back to the book of Revelation. Revelation removes distractions. There are ways to be confused about it, but most of the confusion comes from wishing we lived in a different world that wasn’t so consequential. “Just let me be, man.” You don’t get to just “be.” There’s no neutrality; it is conquer or be compromised, even for professing Christians.
Working through John’s visions at this pace is sort of relentless; as Coach Boone once said, it’s like novocaine, just give it time. John’s visions leave no room for materialists who believe all we see is all there is. The visions leave no room for syncretists, who believe you can choose from the buffet of religious options. The visions leave no room for sentimentalists, who believe that people are pretty good and nice to each other if you just let them be. No, these are visions of heaven and hell, of faith and martyrs’ blood, of sun and moon and stars, of false teaching and fiery trials and even hotter fires of judgment. There may be a time to sing “This is my Father’s world,” but when angels sing, they sing about how the Almighty is true and just in all His judgments.
What kind of world do we live in? A world full of angels and demons, a world full of hatred toward God, a world trending toward a final conflict with God, a world that will be weighed in God’s righteous balances.
John introduced us to the “seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (15:1). He heard a great choir of conquerors, and then saw “one of the four living creatures” give “to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God” (15:7). All seven bowls are emptied in chapter 16, quickly and mercilessly. As with the seals and the trumpets, a pattern of four and three can be discerned. We will consider the first of the final four judgments this morning.
As with the trumpets, the seven angels of the last plagues all receive their bowls of recompense at the same time. Unlike the trumpets, they are ordered to pour out their bowls without much if any delay between them.
John “heard a loud voice from the temple,” which could only be God. John saw in 15:8 that the glory of God and His power filled the temple with smoke so that “no one could enter it until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished” (15:9). God Himself gives the orders. “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” It reminds us of the psalmist:
> How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? > Will your jealousy burn like fire? > Pour out your anger on the nations > that do not know you, > and on the kingdoms > that do not call upon your name! > Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors > the taunts with which they have taunted you, > O Lord! > (Psalm 79:5–6, 12, ESV)
This judgment affects men directly, bodily, rather than secondarily. “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 worshipped its image.”
I’ve been interested in a book titled, The Body Keeps the Score. Mo started listening to it and is giving me highlights so far. The idea applies to what’s happening here.
They bore the mark of the beast and they bore boils on their skin like beasts. The judgment is eye for an eye, mark for a mark, infection and infliction for iniquity. There will be no “flattening the curve,” there will be no medical relief, there will be no rest. They are still in pain when the fifth bowl is dumped (16:11).
Satan struck Job with sores like this on round two of his afflictions (Job 2:7-8). The word “harmful” (ESV) gets all sorts of attempts in translation. It’s one of the Greek words for evil (κακός). What’s an evil ulcer look like? “Ugly” (NET), “loathsome” (NAS), and “noisome” (KJV) is interesting because it’s not about moaning but about an extremely offensive smell, so “foul” (NRSV). The second word “painful” is another basic Greek word for evil (πονηρός). It has nuance of vicious, virulent, and so “festering” (NIV), “malignant” (NAS), “grievous” (KJV), or even ulcerated. These are swollen, red, raw, running, angry, septic sores.
The sixth plague on the Egyptians was boils (Exodus 9:8-12). Moses took soot from the kiln, threw it into the air, and boils broke out on men and beasts. The magicians couldn’t even stand before Pharaoh to try to replicate it, the boils were so bad. In Revelation it’s targeted on men who went along with the crowd.
I’ve heard a number of people use the phrase, “like trying to boil the ocean” recently. It illustrates an impossible task. This bowl accomplishes an impossible obstacle. “The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse.”
This is similar to the first Egyptian plague, except that it was only the Nile rather than the sea (Exodus 7:20-21). It is also similar to the second trumpet, as something like a mountain was thrown into the sea and it “became blood.” There, though, only “a third of the living creatures in the sea died” (Revelation 8:8-9). God is not limited to partial pour-overs.
In the second bowl “every living thing died that was in the sea.” What percentage of the earth’s surface is water, and what percentage of living things live in the water? It’s a lot.
And if previously the blood was like fresh blood, as in, more fluid, this judgment made the water like “blood of the dead” or “blood of a dead man” (NAS). “Corpse” (ESV) is what we call a dead body. Blood coagulates after death, meaning that it changes to a semisolid state. It also starts to stink. Forget taking a boat through this water with two-hour-old oatmeal consistency, and certainly not living in it. The oxygen is gone, life is gone, all is blood-clot rot.
This messes with the food chain, and it messes with the economic channels. A third of the ships were destroyed with the second trumpet, but those that remain can’t move much at this point. In chapter 18 the sailors will mourn and cry that their wealth is destroyed.
This judgment receives special attention, with the implication that it could be seen as too much, too drastic, perhaps unfair. “The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water and they became blood.” Again, this is similar to the first plague in Egypt and also to the third trumpet, though with the trumpet a star named Wormwood fell on the rivers and springs and turned the waters bitter. Here they become blood, and it implies that this is all of the freshwater.
This leaves no clean water with which to wash the sores, or clothes, or dishes. There would also be no water to drink, leading to dehydration and death, and also questions about reasonableness. There is no such thing as neutral water; men are not free to drink it without giving thanks to God.
Is this right for God to do?
We meet a new character: “the angel of the waters” (or, ESV, “the angel in charge of the waters”). We’ve already met angels holding back the four winds (7:1) and another angel over the fire (14:18). This is the Water Messenger, He offers no cushioning, let alone complaining, he breaks out in praise.
“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was.” There is no more “and is to come” because, at this point, the future has arrived. God is just “because you brought these judgments.” The reason why the judgments fit is “because they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink.” The angel calls them bloodthirsty, so God fills their order.
The final line of the angel of the waters summarizes: “It is what they deserve.” The word “deserve” is typically the word translated “worthy” (ἄξιος axios), so the KJV: “for they are worthy.” The word brings to mind a two-sided scale and weighing something in the balance. Something that is worthy is something that matches, that corresponds, that is appropriate or equivalent. This punishment fits the crime.
John then “heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments.'” The divine, omnipotent warrior does what is right, never what is erratic or undue. Indeed, this is a doxology of deserved judgment.
The boils were an immediate problem, the seas and springs were a commerce and consumption problem, and the fourth bowl is close again. “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire.”
Nothing happened like this in Egypt or with a trumpet, actually, the opposite. The 9th plague in Egypt brought darkness such that, other than the people of Israel, no one could see each other and they had a dark-quarantine for three days (Exodus 9:21-23). The fourth trumpet struck a third of the sun and moon and stars so that “their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining” (Revelation 8:12).
The fourth bowl is a solar flare, a scorching, burning, painful heat. “It was allowed” means God is behind it. God does it, because they deserved it.
While the previous three bowls upset life on earth as it had been known, and while they are apparently poured and piled on top of each other, this fourth bowl gets a particular reaction. Their fury is more unbelievable than the fire, and, in some ways a greater catastrophe. “They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over the plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.”
They “cursed,” which could be translated as blasphemed. They spoke evil about God. They complained and criticized and cast defiant blame on God. In the book of Revelation, blaspheming comes from the beast (13:5-6) and now from those who had given themselves in service to the beast. It’s not that they have no sense of what is right, they believe that God is the one who is not right. They have become like who they worshipped. They are beasties.
So it is par for the curse. We are staggered by such burning resentment and also not surprised. They get what they deserved, they believe it is God’s fault, they confirm the sentence against them by their reaction to it. They defend the beast against God-the-bully, and give glory to the rebel rather than to the truly just and Holy One.
These things are not just amazing that they happen in nature at all, but that they do not happen to all. The judgments fall only the beasties, not on the believers. Get your mercy while you can. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.
> “Only when the anti-Christian power has exerted its greatest force and unfolded all of its unholy potential will the final battle be worthy of Christ; then He will celebrate a suitable victory after destroying that power in its full deployment.” (Pro Rege, 421)
This is relentless and catastrophic. This is also fitting. The blasphemous empire of the beast will be deservedly deconstructed and then remade into the kingdom of the Lamb.
Christian, your sores have been cleansed. Your hearts have been made true by the One who is true. Be steadfast, cling to hope like your life depends on it. Hold onto hope like He who promised it is dependable.
> [S]ince we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:21–23, ESV)