09 October 2020

Revelation 15-18

Revelation 15

The final outpouring of God's wrath begins in chapter 15. God gathers his people onto a "sea of glass" and they give praise to God. God then sends his angels to deliver his wrath upon those who have rejected God and who continue to curse him.

It is notable that here, as throughout John's revelation, it is not the role of God's people to deliver God's wrath, nor even to preach his word to the nations. Rather, they stand as an example, praising God always, and enduring every suffering not spared them by an act of God. John shows what it is to be a Christian in the tradition of the martyrs, not in correct words or unknowable theology, but in the action of love, community, and patient endurance.

God does not send his people, his "army," to deliver his wrath, but his own messengers, the angels. While God's people sing praise, seven angels are given seven bowls filled with the wrath of God. Everyone on Earth has heard the Gospel: it was preached by an angel in the previous chapter. Following the Gospel was another angel which made God's will known. Before God pours out his judgment, he calls to him as many as will come.

Revelation 16

There are no innocents at the final outpouring of God's wrath. Everyone present has chosen their side, and God's people are gathered, untouched by the outpouring of his wrath. God's wrath is reserved for those "who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image" (16:2).

The first four bowls of God's wrath are poured out onto the natural world. The land brings plague, the sea, and then the rivers, turn to blood, and in the sky, the sun scorches people with fire. The fifth bowl is poured out on "the beast an its kingdom," which would be Rome itself. In response, people curse God, "but they refused to repent of what they had done" (16:11).

When the sixth bowl is poured out, it dries up the river Euphrates, to allow the kings of the earth to gather. this is perhaps the worst of the bowls, even though it does nothing directly. All it does is pave the way for those who have rejected God and who curse his name to do as they will. In other words, this is the bowl of God giving up on saving people. He has tried words, he has tried self-sacrifice, he has given martyrs, he has given signs, he has loudly and repeatedly proclaimed the Gospel, and all the while he has preserved and protected his Church. After all this, he pours out his wrath as a final reminder that the time for redemption is now. Then the sixth bowl is poured out with an apathetic, do what you will.

The kings of the world are gathered by the false prophets of the beasts at the Valley of Meggido or "Armageddon" to wage war against God. However, there is no war. God's angel pours out the seventh and final bowl of God's wrath. An earthquake shatters the "great city" of Rome and the cities of all nations. The islands and mountains, places of refuge, disappear and all are crushed by hailstones.

Revelation 17

There are five chapters left in Revelation, but you might wonder who is left to read them. God destroyed all those who would make themselves his enemies at the end of chapter 16. Chapter 17 starts with God condemning the very idea of "empire." The Roman Empire is likened to a prostitute, specifically Jezebel of Babylon. Rome, as Jezebel, is called "the great prostitute, who sits by many waters" (17:1). Rome's imperial power was exercised though the local puppet rulers who were either allowed to retain power or replaced with someone who would give their fealty to Rome, which is why John tells us that "with her the kings of the earth committed adultery" (17:2). The kings had an honest duty to their people, which they surrendered to Rome.

While John's language is metaphorical, it is not impossible to understand. In verse 7, an angel offers to explain the vision. In verse 9, John once again appeals to our knowledge of Roman history with the phrase, "this calls for a mind with wisdom." The woman is Rome itself, and the beast upon which she sits are the Roman Emperors. Five are the emperors from Augustus to Nero (whose name is the mark of the beast).

These five are said to be "fallen." At the time of Nero's death, no one knew if there even was a ruler still in Rome. That year, four emperors came and went. When Titus, who had led the siege of Jerusalem arrived in Rome, he was sent back to Jerusalem by Vespasian who was the fourth emperor to hold the title that year. Vespasian (head number 6) ruled for 9 years and when he died, Titus (head number 7) took the throne and ruled for only two years. John then predicts an eighth head, the emperor Domitian, who he says "belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction" (17:11). Finally John predicts that Rome's fall will come from within. In an act of self-cannibalism the "horns" (subservient kings) will tear apart the "prostitute" (Rome).

Revelation 18

After Rome has fallen, and the kingdoms of the earth are free from its domination, John predicts that they still will not turn away from evil. Instead, they mourn over the death of the empire (18:9). Merchants also mourn Rome's death because they can no longer easily buy and sell across borders (18:11) as do sailors that transport their cargo (18:17). An angel then predicts that Rome will never rise again.

In the next chapter, God gives his answer to the problem of authoritarian power. The old is washed away, and God makes something new.

Until next week,
Peace be with you.

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