Pastor Scott Andrews | March 5, 2023
Many have heard of it; most don’t know what it means. Google the word Armageddon, and you’ll get over 45 million hits. But it’s interesting, most of the first couple dozen hits refer to a movie released in 1998 by that name, Armageddon. It was a star-studded cast, to include Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, and Liv Tyler.
You may remember the plot of the movie – a rogue comet dislodged asteroids from the asteroid belt, sending them hurtling toward earth. Several major cities were destroyed during the catastrophe: New York, Shanghai, Paris. But, that was nothing – there was an asteroid the size of Texas on its way, only 18 days out. Not to worry – NASA with the help of other nations put together a mission, to include a team of well drillers, to land on the asteroid and blow it up with a nuclear bomb. Long, sappy story short, mission successful, crisis averted. Kind of interesting, in less than 18 days, some Texas well drillers were trained to be astronauts. You see, when people come together to face a common foe – a big rock threatening the end of human existence – humankind in all its omnipotent glory wins. In fact, that was Bruce Willis’ last line in the movie to his daughter back on earth, “We win, Gracie.” The enemy is literally crushed because of human ingenuity and strength – we win Armageddon.
The only problem, of course, is the battle at the end of time is not against a random, space-hurtling, lifeless, purposeless rock. It is against the One who created space and rocks and stars and earth and people. It is the culmination of an age-long cosmic battle between the omnipotent, righteous God of the universe and the forces of evil – buttressed with fallen humanity – earth-dwellers – who refuse to repent and choose instead to side with the beast. The stuff of movie lore, or the truth of the ages? I guess that’s for you to decide. My problem with the movie is simply its title, suggesting that humanity can come together and do something about the coming disaster. And they cannot. You can stick your head in the sand, ignore it, deny it, fight against it, but Armageddon is still coming.
Yes, I know it’s just a movie with a catchy title – but in the future, everyone alive will be participants in the cast – and the end of those who side with the dragon is most assured. Fallen human ingenuity and even worldwide unity will not deter the wrath to come. It’s one of the main themes of the book of Revelation. Grant Osborne in his commentary on this last book of the Bible suggests the following repeated themes:
- The retribution of divine judgment, which reaches its high point in Revelation 16 where God gives the earth-dwellers a taste of what they have done to His people. It’s what they deserve – it’s called lex talionis – you reap what you sow.
- The sovereignty of God over creation and the forces of evil are put vividly on display – He is in control of His world and will punish the rebellious and ungodly.
- God allows evil to come full circle and participate in its own destruction – the battle of Armageddon.
- The judgments of God throughout the book, culminating in the bowl judgments of chapters 15-16, provide yet more opportunity for repentance. Meaning, God’s redemptive mission to the world continues to the very end.
- But yet again, the total depravity of humanity is also put on display as three times in chapter 16, instead of repenting, they curse God and blaspheme His name.
- And so finally, the progressive dismantling of creation continues to the end as God’s creation is finally released from its bondage to decay – and participates in God’s judgment of sinners – through scorching sun, earthquakes, hailstorms, and blood-polluted waters.
Meaning, there will be no Texans coming to the rescue. No Navy Seals, no Special Forces. When the end comes, God’s wrath against rebellious humanity will be unabatedly released.
The last time we were together in our study of Revelation, we were in chapter 15. I told you chapters 15 and 16 go together. Chapter 15 was an introduction to the third septet of divine judgments. The first two were the seal and trumpet judgments; this third is the bowl judgments. Seven angels appear with seven plagues or bowls, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. The eschaton is upon us. Those standing on the crystal sea of heaven, holding harps of God, sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb, saying,
3 “Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the ages.
4 Who will not fear you, O Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
(That’s the question, isn’t it? Who will not fear the Lord and bring glory to His name? We find the answer in chapter 16.)
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
In the context, those righteous acts include God’s judgment of the wicked and His rescue and vindication of His own, the righteous, made so by the blood of the Lamb. But it is the question of the ages – who will not fear the Lord God Almighty, and bring glory to His name?
At the end of chapter 15, the ominous display of the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple. One of the four living creatures gives them the seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God. And they stand ready to pour out their judgments. The last verse of chapter 15 told us, the temple in heaven – the place of God’s presence – was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues were finished. We read about them in Revelation 16.
Some suggest that each set of judgments is actually the same, just stacked on one another – the term is recapitulated – told again from a different perspective. That’s possible, given the similarities and the way that each set seems to bring us to the end. But, there are some significant differences which seem to indicate these are three separate sets – each following the other – the seals, then the trumpets, then the bowls. One significant difference is, they seem to get increasingly worse. The seals destroy a quarter of the earth and the trumpets a third. The bowls, conversely, will affect the entire earth. Further, while there are some similarities between the first four judgments of each set, the last three are quite different in the bowl judgments. There are other differences, we’ll leave it at that. Let me give you the easy outline of the text:
- Bowl Judgments Poured Out on the Natural Realm (1-9)
- Bowl Judgments Poured Out on the Beast’s Throne [preparing for Armageddon] (10-21)
Now, we’re going to make our way quickly through the bowl judgments, but there are three very important asides which we need to note, and also three responses of the earth dwellers. So let’s start with the first three bowls in verses 1-4. John says he heard a loud voice from the temple. Remember the end of chapter 15 said no one was in the temple except God, so most suggest this is the voice of God, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” Which means, all this cataclysmic judgment is at the command of God.
So, the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and we notice right away the target of the judgment is people, specifically those who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. Notice, those who had received the mark of the beast as a sign of allegiance to him will now bear in their bodies the marks of God’s judgment.
Notice also, followers of Jesus still on the earth are not affected by the judgment. As in Egypt, a distinction is made between God’s people and those who opposed God’s people. Loathsome and malignant sores afflicted the people, just like the sixth plague in Exodus 9. Again, we find similarities between these judgments and the judgments of Egypt in the book of Exodus. There, God was pouring out His wrath on the Egyptians for their mistreatment of His people, and for worshiping false gods. The same here – the earth dwellers have persecuted believers, in some cases killing them, shedding their blood. And wholesale, they have worshiped the beast instead of the true God – so judgment has come, in the form of painful sores or boils.
The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man, and every – not a quarter, not a third – but every living thing in the sea died. In a culture where life was dependent on the sea – trade and food – this would be devastating. Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and the spring of waters, and they became blood. The second and third bowls together are just like the first plague in Egypt – water to blood – but not just the Nile, all the seas, all the rivers, all the springs. Meaning, there will be no source of fresh water.
This is hard to hear – this is wholesale judgment, catastrophe, devastation. It’s okay to be bothered, upset by this. It might even cause some to say, whoa, this is getting to be too much. John and the Spirit inspiring John seem to understand that, which brings us to the first aside in verses 5-7. And I heard the angel of the waters – we’ve already seen the angel of the winds back in chapter 7 and the angel of the fire back in chapter 14. Jewish understanding at this time, seemingly affirmed by Scripture, is there were angels over the four primary elements: earth, wind, fire and water.
So, the angel of the waters says – and we need to listen very carefully – “Righteous are You, who are and who were [notice, no who is to come because He has come], O Holy One, because You judged these things.” Yes, it is seemingly harsh judgment – but God is righteous and holy – and all His judgments are measured and right and appropriate. Why? Verse 6, “for they poured out the blood (don’t miss the play on words), they poured out the blood of saints and prophets (holy ones of God, some of whom were prophets like the two witnesses), they poured out the blood of His people, and so You have given them blood to drink.” It is the law of retribution – lex talionis – They deserve it. They poured out the blood of God’s people – blood they wanted, blood they’ll get. Literally, of this they are worthy.
Hard to hear, I know. Verse 7, And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, (one of the John’s favorite names for God – important in a world that has rebelled against God, going their own way, worshiping the beast and persecuting God’s people, to the only Almighty the voice from the altar) says, true and righteous are Your judgments.” Hard to hear, but they are true and righteous judgments from the righteous and Holy God.
Bringing us to fourth bowl – also poured out on nature. The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun – just like the fourth trumpet. But when the fourth trumpet was sounded, the sun became dark for a third of the day. But this is different. When the angel poured out his bowl on the sun, it was given to the sun to scorch men with fire. People were scorched with a fierce heat, literally, scorched with great scorching. Much worse than the worst sunburn you’ve ever had. Something will happen, perhaps solar flares or the atmosphere which protects us from the sun’s rays will be removed. And people will be painfully scorched with fire – a precursor to the lake of fire.
As a boy I lived in Phoenix for a year or so. Dad was stationed at Luke Air Force Base. I remember on Christmas Day, our neighbor kids had gotten pogo sticks for Christmas, and that day – December 25 – we went outside in shorts and tee shirts jumping on pogo sticks in their driveway. I said to my Dad once – Phoenix was great. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “you don’t remember. From about April till October, you couldn’t go outside from 10:00 in the morning till 6:00 at night – it was too hot!” That will be nothing compared to the fourth bowl. It will scorch people with intense heat. Now remember, they are already covered with painful sores. And we notice these bowls are poured out one right after the other – there doesn’t seem to be much time passing. This is horrible.
Look at the rest of verse 9 to see the first response of the earth-dwellers, the unbelievers, to these first four judgments. “…they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.” This is the first of three of the saddest, most disheartening, crushing verses in all Scripture. These people know from whence the judgments come. They know God has the power over the plagues. And what do they do? Like Pharoah of old, they harden their hearts and blaspheme the name of God. They do not submit to His lordship, to His sovereign right to rule their lives. They blaspheme His name – in some way they speak against all He is and all He is doing. They mock His name through idolatry and reject Him. Their anger flares, and they speak against their Creator.
Further, they do not repent – that is, feel remorse for their sins of which there were many, to include worshiping the beast and taking his mark. They do not change their ways – that’s what repentance means. To do so would lead to saving faith and giving Him glory. No, they refuse. This is evidence, as I’ve said in the past, that hell, in all its furious, eternal torture, is locked from the inside.
Again, through this text, we see three times they refuse to repent and turn in faith to God through His Son. While repentance is still available, there is no evidence at this point, this third set of judgments, that anyone repents. Perhaps the time for repentance has passed. We have reached the climax of God’s true and righteous judgments. Please understand, there will come a time when repentance will be no more – when it will be too late. People will be hardened in their sin and rebellion and suffer just consequences.
Which brings us to our second point, and the last three bowl judgments in verses 10-21. The fifth angel will pour out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom – this fallen world will become darkened. Just like the ninth plague in Egypt – darkness over all the land – but here, it is over all the earth. From scorching heat to dread darkness. And the people will gnaw their tongues because of the pain. Does that mean the darkness is painful? Certainly, psychologically so. But we’ve all experienced some injury or illness and know that it is felt more acutely at night. That seems to be the idea here – their pain from their sores and from the scorching heat is felt intensely.
And their response? Verse 11, for again, they blaspheme the God of heaven because of their pains and sores; and they do not repent of their deeds. Again, we see it is not enough to be sorry, to feel remorse over sin. You must repent or turn from your deeds, and they do not. They stay hardened in their sin and continue to blaspheme the God of heaven – because they know He is responsible for their anguish.
The sixth angel poured out his bowl and the great river, the Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. In the sixth trumpet, a demon horde is released from the Euphrates – here, it is dried up. We know the Euphrates was the eastern-most boundary of the nation of Israel and the eastern-most boundary of the Roman Empire. Beyond were the kings of the east, to include the dreaded Parthians, whose name struck fear in the hearts of people. The point is the way for the kings of the east and their armies are open.
The way being opened, the unholy trinity of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet proceed to call the kings of the entire world to a battle. The language is descriptive – coming out of their mouths are uncleans spirits like frogs, which were declared unclean in the OT – and we are reminded of the second plague in Egypt – the plague of frogs. These, however, are spirits of demons performing signs – false miracles – so as to gather kings and their armies from around the globe to the great day of God, the Almighty. Prophecies throughout Scripture speak of the awesome and terrible day of the Lord. And now, we are getting closer to Armageddon.
But first, we have another quick aside in verse 15. This time, Jesus Himself is speaking, and He says, “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”
Near the end of these judgments, Jesus issues a call. Please notice, there are still believers running around in the tribulation. Living through this period will be most difficult, and some will be tempted to walk away. Paul talks about the great apostasy that will come when the Antichrist is revealed. Don’t walk away – stay faithful. We see people walking away today when there is no cost for being a follower of Jesus. Imagine the temptation to forsake it all when the cost is great – even to the laying down of lives. So as the eschaton approaches, the judgments are great, when the enemy of our souls is about to be defeated, when unbelievers blaspheme our God and threatene our lives with persecution or martyrdom – what will we do?
Jesus calls us, encourages us to faithfulness. Behold, He reminds us He is coming. His coming will be like a thief, that is, when it is not expected. So, expect it. Be ready. And we read of the third of seven blessings offered in this book – from Jesus Himself – blessed is the one who stays awake. It’s a call to preparedness, to readiness, to faithfulness. Stay faithful, be ready, Jesus is coming back. Don’t be caught with your pants down, unaware is the idea. Stay clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Don’t walk away. Keep your hope and eyes fixed on the Eastern sky, because He is coming back.
You see, verse 16, the summons from the unholy trinity has gone out, and the armies of this world will gather to fight a fruitless battle against God Almighty – the emphasis reminding us how fruitless the battle will be – they will fight against the Almighty. And they will gather in the place in Hebrew which is called Har-Magedon. What we call Armageddon.
The word itself is challenging since it means, the mount of Megiddo. There is no mount of Megiddo. The closest mountain is Mount Carmel, where Elijah defeated the false prophets of Baal. There was the ancient city of Megiddo, but it was built in the plain of Megiddo or Jezreel or Esdraelon. It’s a bit of a challenge. Some suggest it refers to one of the mountains surrounding the plain. Or it could be that such significant battles have been fought there throughout history that it is a mountain of a battlefield. Lots of guesses, in the end we don’t know.
We can simply guess where it is, and it is here the armies will gather to fight against the Almighty. We will read about the battle more clearly in chapter 19. But the final stage has been set; the end of all things is here. The eschaton is upon us. So, the seventh angel pours out his bowl upon the air – remember, earth, wind, fire and water – and a loud voice out of the temple from the throne – the voice of God Himself – saying, It is done. This is the third aside if you will. The first declaring God’s judgments are true and just, the second reminding us to stay faithful, and now the third saying that God’s bowls of wrath – His judgments are complete. And so now we read the result of the seventh bowl poured out on the air:
There were flashes of lighting and sound and peals of thunder, and a great earthquake. We have seen this phenomena at the end of each of the sets of judgments – at the end of the seal, trumpet, and now the end of the bowl judgments. The earthquake is such as has never been before since the beginning of time – so great and so mighty. We just saw weeks ago the devastation an earthquake caused in eastern Turkey and Syria, where the death toll exceeds forty thousand. This earthquake will be worldwide, many times greater.
It will cause the great city to split into three parts – which city? He goes on to tell us – Babylon the great. God remembers her and gives her the full measure of the wine of His fierce wrath. It’s possible this speaks of Babylon itself, which has been opposed to God since early Genesis at the tower of Babel; it could be a euphemism for Rome; it could be speaking of all cities of humankind which sit in rebellion against the true and living God. Notice, it is split in three which speaks of total devastation. Further, the earthquake will be so great that every island will flee away, and every mountain will be brought low so as not to be found.
And that’s not all. Huge hailstones weighing about 100 pounds each will be unleashed on the earth. And we are reminded of the seventh plague against Egypt. Hailstones were often seen as God’s instrument of warfare against His enemies. Here, the storm is unlike anything ever seen before, and they will come down from heaven upon people. Some have suggested for a hailstone to weigh that much, it must be a foot and a half in diameter. The largest hailstones on record weighed a little over two pounds and fell on Bangladesh, and killed 92 people. These will weigh 100 pounds – can you imagine the destruction. That is what we are supposed to imagine.
And their response? For the third time this chapter, men will blaspheme God because of the hailstorm. They will know it is from Him – the plague will be extremely severe – and they will refuse to repent and blaspheme God yet again.
Our choice seems clear. You can choose to view this book as mere fanciful myth, or you can believe that its images point to the awesome, awful, righteous judgment of God. To dismiss it to side with the beast and suffer consequences; to believe it is to repent and declare your allegiance to the God of the universe, who demonstrated His love toward us by sending His own Son. Which will you choose?
I asked today concerning this message of the coming great day of the Lord with its prophesied destruction – is it the stuff of movie lore, or the truth of the ages? I suggested it’s for you to decide. Which will you choose?
You see, every month – on the first Sunday of each month – we observe communion. It’s an ordinance, a practice given to the church, to remember the death of our Christ for sinners. And each month, I remind us, this practice is to be observed by Christians. If you’re not yet a Christian, I respectfully ask you to not participate. But of course, I say, you can choose to believe. Choose to believe the gospel – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, for sinners. You can believe that, ask God to forgive you, to submit to His lordship and His right to rule your life, and you can participate.
So again, which will you choose? Is this the stuff of legend, myth? Or is there coming the great day of the Lord, when He will rightly judge those who have rebelled against Him. Which will you choose? You say, I’ll do it later. And I say, if there is a later. Because there is coming a day when it will be too late to repent and turn in faith to Christ. And so, I plead with you, to turn from your sin, and believe the gospel.
If you are a believer here this morning, we participate together in this practice called communion.