Two Gospels in Revelation (Bowl Plagues 5)

The three angels of Revelation 14:6-12 together proclaim the final gospel message to the entire world. It is the “everlasting gospel” to every nation, tribe, language and people (Rev. 14:6). “Everlasting gospel” means that while it arrives in the special context of the End-time, it is not a different gospel than the one that was taught by Jesus and the apostles. It is a call to worship the creator (Rev. 14:7) rather than the beast or his image (13:4, 8, 12, 15). This gospel produces the faith of Jesus (14:12), a trust in God grounded in abundant evidence of His character. At its simplest, the gospel can be summarized as “What we could not do, God did.” And at the heart of the gospel is the truth about what God is truly like, God’s character. He is infinitely powerful, yet infinitely gracious. While He is all-powerful, He chooses to resolve the issues in the universe without violence, without force or intimidation of any kind.

What many readers of Revelation have missed is the counterfeit gospel also proclaimed to the world in Revelation 16:13-14. The dragon, the beast and the false prophet (the counterfeit trinity of Revelation 13) each produce an unclean spirit like a frog out of their mouths (Rev 16:13). According to verse 14 these frogs are the “spirits of demons” who go out to the kings of the whole inhabited world to gather them for the final battle of earth’s history, Armageddon (see also 16:16). Demons are evil angels, thus you have three angels presenting the gospel of God in chapter fourteen and three evil angels presenting a counterfeit gospel in chapter sixteen. Both “gospels” go out to the entire world (Rev. 14:6; 16:14).

The proclamation of the gospel, therefore, is mirrored by the worldwide proclamation of a counterfeit gospel at the end of time. Just as the genuine gospel centers on the character of God and what God has done, the counterfeit gospel offers in its place a human construct of reality grounded in a different picture of God. At the core of Satan’s lie is a picture of human ability to save one’s self and a picture of God as very much like Satan, arbitrary, judgmental, deceptive, and cruel. Satan provokes his followers to portray God as deceptive and demanding. This counterfeit picture is described also in 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12. It is a battle between truth and lies. Those who do not rely on the words of Scripture will be deceived in the final crisis. These will accept a false picture of humanity (“you are worthless and hopeless”, yet somehow “you’re not so bad, you can make it on your own if you try” [false hope]) and a false picture of God (with a character like that of Satan).

The Meaning of the Euphrates River in Rev. 16:12 (Bowl Plagues 4)

Does the Euphrates River in Revelation 16:12 represent the literal river, the territory through which the river flows, the ruler of that territory, or something else? Through the years I have heard many interesting but implausible interpretations. The drying up of the Euphrates means the drying up of Middle Eastern oil. It pointed to death or removal of Saddam Hussein from power. It represented the nation of Iraq. In these interpretations, the Kings of the East would often be Iran or Russia. When I was much younger, it was taken literally and the Kings of the East represented the armies of Japan or China who would one day invade the Middle East. All of these interpretations are interesting, but they are contemporary speculations. If John himself defined what the Euphrates River means, we should not look elsewhere for the meaning. We need not remain in doubt on any interpretation when the text itself defines a symbol.

In Revelation 17:1 an angel introduces an explanation of one of the bowl plagues, and that bowl plagues has something to do with water. Of the seven options, three of the plagues have something to do with water; the second is poured out on the sea, the third is poured out on the rivers and springs of the earth and the sixth is poured out on the Euphrates River. Which of these three plagues is the one in view in Revelation 17:1?

I would conclude that the plague being interpreted in Revelation 17 is the sixth plague, the one which mentions the Euphrates River. First of all, the woman who sits on the water in the first verse is later called Babylon (Rev. 17:5) and the Euphrates River flowed right down the middle of the ancient city of Babylon. The reference to “many waters” in verse one is an echo of Jeremiah 51:13, where the Euphrates River is described as “many waters.” So you have a strong allusions to ancient Babylon and its position on the Euphrates River in the first five verses of Revelation 17.

The explanation of the vision of verses 1-5 (Rev 17:7-18) goes in other directions for a while, but returns to the image of verse one in verse fifteen. The meaning of the river is defined in Revelation 17:15. According to that verse, the waters of verse 1 represent “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (ESV), in other words, the civil and secular powers of the entire world. These powers give their allegiance to Babylon for a short time (Rev. 17:3, 12-13), creating a worldwide, end-time confederacy in opposition to God and His end-time people.

This makes sense of the sixth plague. All the other plagues are massive in their effect, most of them affect the whole earth (Rev 16:1-2). But then along comes the sixth plague, but it only effects a medium-sized river in a dry part of the earth. The plague does not seem in proportion to the other six. But if the Euphrates River represent the civil, secular, economic and military powers of the world, then it plays a huge role in the final events. The drying up of the Euphrates would mean the withdrawal of support by the secular powers of the world for the great religious confederacy called Babylon in the last days of earth’s history. At some future time the religious and secular powers of the world unite to counter the work of the gospel in the world. In the middle of this brief grand union, the civil powers of the world come to realize they have been deceived and turn on the religious authorities and institutions that have deceived them (Rev 17:16). Thus is End-time Babylon destroyed and the people of God delivered.

Why Plagues When No Repentance Will Result? (Bowl Plagues 3)

A very challenging question that people ask about Revelation 16: What is the purpose of the seven bowl/plagues if they are after the close of probation and therefore no repentance can be expected? I think there are a number of considerations to keep in mind.

First of all, Revelation makes clear that God is not the author of death, pain and destruction (Rev. 7:1-3). Satan is the destroyer (9:11). Because freedom is essential in order for genuine love and trust to exist, it is crucial to the peace and security of the universe. But if people are free to love, they are also free to hate, rebel and harm. Respecting freedom means not only allowing creatures the freedom to choose, but allowing them to experience the consequences of their choices. A God who constantly intervenes to prevent negative consequences is not a God of freedom. So God allows Satan a certain freedom of action in the course of history and at the End, after securing the righteous, God allows Satan to more fully demonstrate what his kind of government would look like. One purpose of the seven last plagues is to convince the universe that Satan’s alternative to love and trust in God leads to total disaster. This will help convince free beings in the universe to never choose that option again.

Second, even Satan’s worst actions can be used by God to fulfill His purposes (17:17). The deceptions and plagues of the final crisis expose the truth about Satan and those who follow him (2 Thess 10-12). It is not God’s fault that the wicked are unredeemed, neither the grace of God (Rom 2:4) nor the plagues of the End (Rev 16:9, 11, 21) bring about any repentence. They are hardened in the course they have chosen. Thus, even the destruction of the wicked glorifies the character of God in the end (Rev. 15:3-4). They have made themselves unsafe to save and God sadly lets them go (Hos 11:7-8). Even after the millennium and a clear perspective on God’s character, nothing in their character has changed (Rev. 20:7-10). The plagues expose their settled unfitness for eternity and vindicate God’s judgment in each case.

So even though probation has closed, the seven last plagues serve a purpose in preparing the universe for a free, loving, safe and secure eternity.

God’s People Named by Many Names (Bowl Plagues 2)

I have noted earlier that there is evidence in Revelation that the multiple names for God’s people all refer to the same end-time group rather than multiple end-time groups. For example, we noticed in the blogs on Revelation 14 that God’s faithful end-time people are called remnant in 12:17 and 144,000 in 14:1. The allusion to Joel 2:32 in Rev. 14:1 made it clear that John sees the two groups as the same. But this is not the only place in Revelation where two different expressions for the people of God are clearly parallel.

We noticed in Revelation 7 that the 144,000 and the Great Multitude appear to be opposites. One group contains a fixed number of people drawn from the twelve tribes of Israel. The other group contains an uncountable number from every nation, tribe, language and people. But these two seeming opposites are drawn together by the fact that John never sees the 144,000, he only hears about them, when he turns to look he sees the Great Multitude. So these are also two ways of describing the same end-time group (see Rev 5:5-6 for the literary pattern).

Another, similar instance is in the latter part of the book. God’s end-time people are called 144,000 in Rev. 14:1 and “saints” in Rev. 14:12 and 17:6. So God’s one end-time people are called by many names in Revelation: 144,000, Great Multitude, Remnant, and Saints. They stand by the sea of glass (Rev. 15:2), they are the ones who keep their garments (16:15) and are the called, chosen and faithful followers of the Lamb (17:14).

So the visions of Revelation are not intended to identify many various versions of God’s people at the end-time. The people of God are seen as a whole, although that whole can be described in a number of different ways. The primary path to God has not changed. Claims to total uniqueness are probably exaggerations of reality. The people of God can rejoice that they are sealed, but should never be proud or arrogant on account of that fact.

The Seven Last Plagues (Bowl Plagues 1)

Revelation sixteen describes the seven last plagues (Rev. 15:1) of earth’s history. Included in these plagues is the only mention of the word “Armageddon” in the Bible. This section (Rev 15-16) begins with the end-time people of God standing by the sea of glass singing the song of Moses and the Lamb, an allusion to the Exodus (Rev. 15:1-4). Then the seven plagues are introduced with a vision of the heavenly temple emptied because of the glory of God, a reversal of the original inauguration of the Mosaic sanctuary (Rev. 15:5-8; Exod. 40:34-35). This is close of probation imagery. Seven angels were then told to pour out bowls of wrath upon the earth one by one (Rev. 16:1-21). I will explore this part of Revelation through the following themes”

1. God’s People Named by Many Names. Evidence of the text is that names like remnant, 144,000 and saints all refer to the same end-time group.
2. Why Plagues When No Repentance Will Result?
3. The Symbolic Meaning of the Euphrates River in Rev. 16:12.
4. Two Gospels in Revelation. The three angels (Rev. 14:6-12) and the three frogs (Rev. 16:13-14) are contrasting symbols of the gospel.
5. Cyrus the Persian and the Second Half of Revelation. A pagan king foreshadows the Messiah.
6. The Meaning of Armageddon.

The final blog in this series on the seven last plagues explores how the description of the Battle of Armageddon in Revelation (Rev 16:14-16) promotes spiritual preparation for the End-Time.

Q and A on Revelation 14 (Fourteen 8)

Why do you think judgment is an unpopular concept among many Christians today?

Judgment today is often seen as cold and harshly legal. Courts are places you want to avoid, if possible. But in the biblical sense, judgment is something for God’s people to look forward to. It is a time when all the wrongs of earth will be made right. If there is no judgment at the End, there will never be any justice in this world.

But biblical justice is as much positive as it is negative. It is the basis of reward as well as negative consequences. Jesus said that even something as small as giving a cup of cold water to a child will be remembered in the judgment (Matt. 10:42). It provides great meaning in this life to know that every good deed, every kindness shown, matters in the ultimate scheme of things.

Why does the Sabbath play such a central role in the final events of earth’s history? What difference could a day of the week possibly make in the ultimate scheme of things?

God placed the Sabbath at the center of all His mighty acts as a remembrance of Him. When we keep the seventh-day Sabbath we are reminded of creation (Exod. 20:8-11). God created us free, at great cost to Himself (we were free to rebel), so we could truly love Him back and also each other. Not only the Sabbath, but the whole of the Decalogue was designed to promote freedom (Jam. 1:25; 2:12). So the creation side of Sabbath reminds us of the loving, freedom-giving character of God.

The Sabbath also reminds us of the Exodus (Deut. 5:15), God’s great act of salvation for His people. He is a gracious God who acts mightily in behalf of His people. The Sabbath also reminds us of the cross. Jesus rested in the tomb on the Sabbath between His death and His resurrection. The cross is the greatest revelation of God’s character and the Sabbath is a reminder of that.

The Sabbath also looks forward to the future salvation at the End (Heb. 4:9-11). Those who truly trust God find in the Sabbath a down payment on the rest from sin that the whole universe will experience in eternity.

So the placing of the Sabbath as an important issue in the final crisis is a constant reminder of all that God has done and will do for us. And for those who appreciate the substitutionary role of Jesus Christ in salvation, Jesus kept the Sabbath perfectly throughout His time on earth and His perfect Sabbath-keeping is ours by faith. Jesus never kept Sunday or any other day of the week, so His faithfulness does not complete our Sunday-keeping. The Sabbath, therefore, is not legalism, it is a reminder of the gospel of what Christ has done for us.

The First Angel and the Fourth Commandment (Fourteen 7)

The message of the first angel contains a direct allusion to the fourth commandment of the Decalogue. This is evident for three major reasons. 1) There is a strong verbal parallel between Rev. 14:7 and Exod. 20:11. Both passages contain the words “made,” “heaven,” “earth,” and “sea.” They also contain a reference to the one who created. While similar language can be found in Psalm 146, that Psalm does not play a consistent role in Revelation the way that the Ten Commandments do. It is likely that Psalm 146 and Revelation 14 both allude to Exodus 20, Revelation is not primarily referencing Psalm 146.

2) Rev. 14:6-7 contain references to salvation (14:6), judgment and creation (14:7). All three themes echo the First Table of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:2, 5-6, 11). While thematic parallels by themselves are the weakest evidence for an intentional allusion, this triple collection of thematic references is quite remarkable and in conjunction with other evidences makes the allusion to the fourth commandment almost certain for Revelation 14:7.

3) There are multiple references to the Ten Commandments throughout this section of Revelation. There are direct references to the commandments as a whole at the beginning and end of the section (Rev 12:17; 14:12. We have earlier noted the counterfeits of the first four commandments in Revelation 13. In addition there are the verbal parallels in 14:7 and the thematic parallels cited above. It seems clear that there is a strong structural parallel to the Ten Commandments in Revelation 12-14. There is little question that the final call of God to the world is in the context of the fourth commandment.

In conclusion, note the narrowing of focus as you read through Revelation 12-14. First, there is a reference to the commandments as a whole in Revelation 12:17. Then in chapter thirteen the focus zeros in on the first table of the commandments, as the beast counters each of the first four commandments. Then in Revelation 14:6-7 the multiple references to the first table of the law focus in on the fourth commandment alone. It is a powerful literary way to focus the readers attention on the fourth commandment and its role in the final crisis over worship.

Revelation 13-14 and the Ten Commandments (Fourteen 6)

The beasts’ (all three of them) calls to worship (Rev. 13:4, 8, 12, 15) come in the context of multiple counterfeits of the First Table of the ten commandments. The first commandment forbids worship of any other God. The beast, on the other hand, demands worship (13:4, 8). The second commandment forbids idolatry. The land beast sets up an image to be worshipped (13:15). The third commandment forbids taking the Lord’s name in vain. The beast, on the other hand, excels in blasphemy (13:6). The fourth commandment is the seal of the covenant, containing the name of the ruler (Yahweh), the territory He rules over, and the basis for God’s rule (Exod. 20:8-11). In contrast to this seal of God, the world is offered the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16-17).

This entire section of Revelation is centered in the commandments of God (12:17; 14:12). But in chapter 13 the focus narrows down to the first table of the ten, the four commandments that deal specifically with our relationship to God. These four commandments concern who to worship, how, what not to do, and when to worship. In their words and actions, the dragon and his allies counterfeit each of the first four commandments. This sets the table for the decisive allusion to the fourth commandment in the first angel’s message (Rev. 14:7, cf. Exod. 20:11). The references to the ten commandments in Revelation 12-14 move from the general focus (12:17; 14:12) to the first table of the law (Rev 13) to a specific focus on the fourth commandment (Rev 14:7), which I will elaborate on in the next post.

Revelation 12:17 speaks of a war that the dragon will wage against the remnant. In chapter thirteen the dragon goes to the beach and calls up a pair of allies to help him in the conflict, the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth. The language of this conflict is military—“make war” (Rev 12:17). But a careful look at Revelation 13 makes it clear that this is not primarily a military battle, it is a “war of words” like the war in heaven portrayed in chapter twelve. The surface impression of Revelation is that it is all about the grand political schemes of the world’s nations. But closer examination shows that there is an overarching spiritual purpose in this apocalyptic vision. The unholy trinity seeks through deception and intimidation to shake the loyalty of God’s people and draw them away from faithfulness. The purpose of Revelation is to empower God’s people to resist all such encroachments.

How Is Judgment Related to the Gospel? (Fourteen 5)

In the New Testament generally, judgment is closely related to the gospel and it comes in three phases. First of all, judgment occurred at the cross (John 12:31; Rev. 5:5-10). The entire human race was judged in the person of its representative, Jesus Christ. At the cross, human sin was condemned in the suffering and death of Christ (Rom. 8:3). Then at the resurrection, the entire human race was approved in the person of Christ and raised from the dead (Acts 13:32-33). So the Christ event delivers two messages regarding the human race. One, the entire human race is condemned on account of its rebellion and sin. Two, the entire human race is acceptable to God in Jesus Christ. These two messages together are the sum total of the gospel. One without the other is unbalanced and leads to discouragement or licentiousness.

Second, throughout the New Testament judgment language is closely associated with the preaching of the gospel. Whenever the gospel is preached people are called into judgment based on their response to what Christ did on the cross. The preaching of the gospel is judgment hour (John 3:18-21; 5:22-25). People see how impossible it is for humanity on its own to be acceptable to God. At the same time they see how the death and resurrection of Jesus (the essence of the gospel—1 Cor 15:1-4) removes all barriers to full acceptance with God. If both these things are true, the preaching of the gospel is the most decisive moment in anyone’s life. In my view, this is the background to the four horsemen of the seals (Rev. 6:1-8). They portray the going forth of the gospel, the victorious response of those who accept it and the increasing consequences of rejection. The gospel is the supreme reality of the whole Christian era.

Third, there is a judgment at the end which ratifies the judgments we passed on ourselves in response to the hearing of the gospel (John 12:48). This is not double jeopardy. The end-time judgment ratifies the judgments we made on ourselves when the call of the gospel came to us. While the book of Revelation references the first (Rev 5) and second (Rev 6:1-8) phases of judgment in symbolic terms, it reserves the language of judgment for this end-time phase (Rev. 11:18; 14:7; 17:1; 20:4). In Rev. 14:7, the second and third phases of judgment outlined above occur together. The close of probation occurs when the final proclamation of the gospel (Rev 14:6-12) has divided the whole world into two camps (Rev 12:17). The second phase of the judgment (in the preaching of the gospel) is completed at the same time as the third phase. That is what we call the close of probation.

The Central Issue of Revelation 13 and 14: Worship (Fourteen 4)

The central issue that arises over and over again in Revelation 13 and 14 is worship. Seven times in these two chapters there is a reference to worship of the dragon, the beast or the image to the beast. Five of those references are in chapter thirteen. The dragon and the beast are worshipped in Revelation 13:4. All who dwell on the earth “will worship” the sea beast 13:8). The land beast forces the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast (the sea beast—13:12). In 13:15 the image of the beast desires that all who refuse to worship it will be killed. Two more references to negative worship occur in chapter fourteen. Revelation 14:9 warns against worshipping the beast and his image and in 14:11 those who worship the beast and his image have no rest day or night.

So there are a total of seven references to worship of the dragon, the sea beast and the image of the sea beast. The overall story in these two chapters concern a counterfeit trinity (the dragon, the sea beast and the land beast), which invites the worship of the entire world in the place of God. This invitation helps to precipitate a worldwide contest regarding the character of God and whether He is truly worthy of worship. This is the central theme of this part of the book.

Ironically, while there are seven references to worship of the dragon and his allies in Revelation 13 and 14, only one time in the same narrative is there a reference to worship of the true God, and that is the call to worship the Creator in Revelation 14:7. That single reference cements the impression that worship is the central focus of the entire section. And since Revelation 13 and 14 is at the very center of the book, it is likely that the call to worship the creator states the central point of the entire book.

This call to worship is given in the language of the Sabbath commandment of the Decalogue (Rev. 14:7, cf. Exod. 20:11—this point will be elaborated in a future blog). This reference to the fourth commandment in the context of the final proclamation of the everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6), makes the Sabbath the crucial issue in the final crisis of earth’s history.