November 8, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 22:45 in the audio file.
Or, Blasphemy Such as There Has Never Been
Series: Just Conquer Part 44
It seems possible to know something truly and yet be deceived, whether by one’s own sinful anger or by supernatural propaganda. The people who experience the final plagues know exactly who sent the plagues that are destroying them and yet they refuse to humble themselves, which you’d think would be the reasonable response. Many of them even gather to fight against Him, and this is a ridiculous response.
We are down to the final three bowls of judgment. Seven angels were given seven bowls which are the seven last plagues, and all seven are poured out in Revelation 16. The first four appear to affect individual men more directly, with sores and scorched skin and with blood to drink and clotted-blood clogging up the seas. The final three bowls affect persons, but are targeted at a higher level of cities and the anti-Christian systems.
God remembers all the faithlessness and fraud and idolatry and immorality of men. God remembers His people and His promises, and this is good news for the faithful; in fact we need to remember His faithfulness not to forget us. But here, “Babylon the great was remembered by God,” and they will wish He was forgetful. They will blaspheme His lack of forgetfulness, and it will be blasphemy such as there has never been.
The fourth bowl brought intense heat from the sun that caused burns on men, the fifth bowl causes darkness far as the curse is found. “The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness.”
There was a plague of darkness in Egypt that shut down everything under Pharaoh’s rule for three days (Exodus 10). This apocalyptic darkness targets “the throne of the beast,” the center of the Antichrist’s authority. The throne was a gift from the dragon, that is, from Satan, to the beast (Revelation 13:2). With visible irony, the darkness and blindness which come about from the beast’s deceiving work comes back onto the beast’s seat and extend throughout his dominion. While he wishes he could be the Logos of light, he can’t even keep the lights on over his throne.
A lot of bad things are done in darkness, and this is bad darkness. We can imagine the confusion and chaos of the dark; think of the response of the riffraff in a busy casino that loses power. At this point, it’s hard to imagine a bunch of compassionate idolators trying to help out their neighbors. They have become like who they worshipped, terrible in selfishness.
More time in the dark gives them more time to think about their favorite subject: themselves. And it’s a planet-wide pity party. “People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain(s)/sufferings and sores.” It’s strange that in English gnawing one’s tongue and biting one’s tongue do not mean the same thing. Biting your tongue means being quiet, gnawing your tongue means grumbling and whining in complaint. If there is any connection between people, it’s like rocks banging into each other in a bag about how mean God is.
John says they “blasphemed the God of heaven,” which means that they know the throne and kingdom of the beast is inferior. They know, and they hate what they know. So, they lie about God. Even now, with nothing else to do but consider their obligations to the Sovereign God who had come so intimately close in judgment, “they did not repent of their deeds,” deeds such as murders and sorceries and sexual immorality and thefts (9:21).
This bowl is a scene-setting bowl. This judgment gets the pieces put on the board in the right place, so the bowl is poured out here and will be finished later.
“The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east.” Of course it’s possible to do a lot of interpretive Pilates and bend around the Euphrates River into seeing something that isn’t the Euphrates River. It is pretty specific to be merely symbolic.
The Euphrates was the fourth river mentioned in Genesis 2. Historically the Euphrates River was the eastern border of both Abraham’s promised land (Genesis 15:18) and likewise of the Roman Empire, a natural protection from the (feared) Parthians. Herodotus (Histories 1.190-91) recorded when Cyrus attacked Babylon by having his army reroute the Euphrates so that he could cross, a precursor in some ways to this apocalyptic battle.
Four angels were bound at the Euphrates and then released when the sixth trumpet was blown, along with mounted troops with killer horses, to kill a third of mankind (Revelation 9:13-15). What is more picturesque is that the kings who are coming are “from the rising of the sun,” not just from the “east” (ESV). There are at least fifty different identifications for these kings (Mounce).
But why are these kings coming? Verses 13-16 give some detail.
“And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs.” The unholy trinity are connected together in a concert of deception. The dragon is Satan (12:9), the beast is the Antichrist, and the second beast is specifically called “the false prophet,” the one who made the image of the beast for all to worship. “Frogs” were one of the plagues in Egypt, but here they are used as an analogy (though interestingly, Moses explicitly told Pharaoh that frogs would get into his bedroom, Exodus 8:3-4, see also Psalm 105:30), the “unclean spirits” are “like frogs,” and verse 14 explains more.
“For they 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.” One might think that rulers of nations would know better than to listen to slimy frogs. But these are supernatural war-mongers, and they are successful. They come not bearing gifts but “performing signs” of some sort that validate their message. In a similar way, a lying spirit caused false prophets to convince Ahab into a losing battle as well (1 Kings 22:19-22). They go throughout the beast’s kingdom to “kings of the whole world,” and call them to join in Operation: Freedom.
It is a war (τὸν πόλεμον), the war, the War of the End (Beale), the Great War.
Ezekiel (38-39) and Zechariah (14) Joel (2-3) prophesied a great war of ungodly nations. This is the final fulfillment of Psalm 2.
> The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast their cords from us.” (Psalm 2:2-3)
The frog-demon-men either hide the fact, or they bring false confidence about the fact, that this is a fight against “God the Almighty.” This is what the dragon has been after since the beginning. He wants to be the Pantokrator, and convinces a depraved world to sacrifice themselves to a lost cause. The dragon couldn’t even keep one man in the grave, and many will go to their graves because of him. He is the great loser, and will be remembered as such. This will not be the dragon’s “great day.”
Verse 15 is a parenthesis, even translated with parenthesis in the ESV. Let’s come back to it in a moment.
Verse 16 identifies the battleground. “They (the frog-like-demon-men) assembled them (the kings) at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” Armageddon is well known as a name, and strangely so, since it is very debatable in terms of location.
John gives the “Hebrew” name, as he gave us some Hebrew a few chapters earlier (9:11). Har Megiddo seems to mean Mount Megiddo, and Megiddo is in the region of Jerusalem, but as a city it is not near a mountain, let alone built on one.
The general location has already hosted some great combat; it is where Sisera was defeated (Judges 4-5), where Gideon fought the Midianites (Judges 7) and Saul fought the Philistines (1 Samuel 31). Apparently Napoleon saw it and thought it was a perfect site for war. To host the kings, and their armies, of the “whole world” seems like too small a field, but things could center here and spread out.
In between the assembling is an admonition to stay awake from Jesus Himself. “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” The placement in the paragraph is unusual, though the word picture sounds like Jesus.
Coming “like a thief” means coming when not expected, which implies immanence at least indirectly. It could be any moment, so be watch for Him. The seventh and last beatitude is here: “blessed is the one who is alert.” Don’t miss it. In the analogy, you need to wear your vigilance pajamas. The modifier to awake-ness is “keeping his garments on,” which may have been a reference to those on temple guard duty. If a guard was found sleeping, he would be stripped of his clothes and sent home in obvious shame (Osborne). That’s the “naked” and “exposed” and disgraced.
The bowls are the last series of seven plagues, and here is the final plague of the seven. “The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out from the temple, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!'” The effects aren’t finished, but the final causes have been initiated, like entering the event horizon; there’s no going back. Jesus said something similar on the cross (John 19:30), and this bowl is the consummation of God’s wrath for all those who would not believe in Him (Revelation 15:1).
As is usual with the seventh seven, “there were flashes of lightening, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake.” Great is the emphasis of this judgment, as the word “great” is used seven times just in this paragraph (though only translated as such five times in the ESV). This storm belongs with the de-creation work of the God of heaven, God the Almighty. To be clear, this earthquake is unlike any that humanity has experienced under the sun, which also indicates that this is not part of a cycle. This is the end.
Such a shaking affects more than one geographical location, even if there is one epicenter. “The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.” I understand the “great city” to be Jerusalem, and the split into three was prophesied in the OT. In addition to Jerusalem, many cities all around the world were destroyed. “All the world’s cultural, political, economic, and sociological centers” will be decimated (Beale). And in particular, Babylon, at least as a nickname for the seat of the beast’s authority, “was remembered.” The construction is passive, “Babylon, the great, was remembered before the face of God.” This is not when you want to be remembered.
Babylon will drink to the dregs the cup filled with wine, the wine which is wrath, the wrath which is furious, the fury which is God’s.
“And every island fled away,” they were as fugitives on the run, “and no mountains were to be found.” Here is the only indication of any kind of egalitarianism on God’s part; He levels every high place, flattening everything. Previous topographical distinctions are lost.
“And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people.” This is not large boulders launched from catapults, as Preterists interpret flung over the walls of Jerusalem, or Rome. These are hailstones that fall from heaven, amidst thunder and lightening and many cities falling. A hailstone weighing a “talent” was 125 Roman pounds, and each pound was about 12 ounces each. According to The Guinness Book of World Records the largest hailstones ever recorded were 2.25 pounds in Bangladesh in 1986. It’s been estimated that a 100 lb ice-lump would be 17.6 inches in diameter (Osborne).
The people know where the hailstones come from: “they blasphemed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so great.” This is blasphemy such as there has never been.
Chapters 17 and 18 give an extended description of the fall of the beast’s empire. But it all comes crashing down.
> “[A]ll temporary manifestations of secular power the entire structure of human opposition to the kingdom of God will come crashing down in defeat. In the mind of the apocalyptist this will happen not by the gradual turning of people to the truth but by the dramatic and sudden return of the warrior Christ.” (Mounce)
This hope reminds us that we live in a moral universe. The God of heaven remembers, and God the Almighty will have His great day.
Remember that apart from grace—God blessing us with unearned blessing—we would be in the great crowd of those rejoicing in elected representatives who are committed to murdering babies, to questioning male and female biology, and to making naughty lists of all who disagree. Soon there will be legislation to live by moonlight only during the day, because the sun has for too long had too much privilege. But for grace, we would eat our folly like chunky vomit. Yet, Christian, you have been saved by grace. By grace you do not walk in the course of this world any more. By grace you have been created in Christ to see the children of wrath and still to do good works.
> For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And > > “If the righteous is scarcely saved, > what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” > > Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:17–19, ESV)