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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

October 29, 2014

Revelations 16:1-21

  1. In today’s lesson we are going to see a summary of the judgment that will come on the Roman Empire. Chapters 17 and 18 will give more vivid detail on the empire’s fall, but this chapter will give a brief summary of the empire’s fall. Today we will go on a little history lesson to see how the scriptures were fulfilled with regards to the fall of the Roman Empire. The time in History that we need to study today is known by historians as the Crisis of the Third Century. The Crisis of the Third Century, also known as Military Anarchy or the Imperial Crisis, (AD 235–284) was a period in which the Roman Empire eventually collapsed under the combined pressures of invasion, civil war, plague, and economic depression. It is easy to see how so many could read the book of Revelation and be totally confused. Without a proper understanding of ancient history one is left without the correct interpretation tool. When the book of Revelation is filtered through the lens of ancient Roman History the mysterious symbols come to life. The main issue in churches all over is that the study of the book of Revelation has been taken out of the context of history and placed in the context of fantasy religion and pseudo-Christian ideas. This book was written to a persecuted people who needed comfort to hold on and assurances that their enemies (Jews and Romans) would be dealt with in time. We know Israel fell in 70AD, but what about Rome. Rome’s fall was not as quick, but it was complete. It took several centuries for the fall of Rome to take place. The empire crumbled due to invading armies from all directions, civil war between various groups, disease, and the collapse of their economy due to inflation and other market factors.

  2. Verse 1-2. In the last chapter we saw the seven angels each receiving a golden bowl full of the wrath of God. Bowls of wrath is an image used by Isaiah to describe God’s wrath coming to punish sinners (Isaiah 51:17,22 ). A loud voice (GOD) commands the seven angels to pour out their bowls of wrath on the earth. As we read the bowls of wrath consider the similarities to the plagues poured out on Egypt in the days of Moses. The first bowl brings harmful and painful sores on those who have the mark of the beast and worship its image. The lack of description about this plague tells us that we are not to find literal details or meanings in these symbols. This chapter is simply revealing the pain and suffering that God is unleashing on those who are worshiping the beast rather than the Lamb. The sores parallel the painful boils of the Egyptian plagues. Between 166 and 266 AD the Roman Empire was hit by two separate plagues, each one nearly as deadly as the more famous Black Death of the Middle Ages. The first one, known as the Antonine Plague lasted eighteen years and killed millions of people all over the empire. The second Plague broke out in 251 AD and raged for fifteen years right in the middle of the dreadful 3rd Century Crisis which it may well have started or at least deepened. It is believed that the two diseases were Smallpox and Measles, both virulent killers though which order they came in is not known. The result of these plagues was the removing taxpayers, workers and recruits necessary to maintain the Roman Social Order and it's army.

  3. Verses 3-7. The second bowl turns the sea to blood killing everything living thing in the sea. This judgment reminds us of the Nile turning into blood in the Egyptian plagues. The third bowl turns the rivers and springs of water into blood. The second and third bowls probably picture the economic and military devastation that God’s wrath will incur. One of the reasons for these judgments is given in verses 5-7. They are killing God’s servants and this wrath is deserved. What we know is that at the height of the empire Rome controlled the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and all the rivers all the way from Africa to England. Slowly but surely the empire lost control of the shores and the rivers. In time, battle after battle for these prized locations destroyed the Roman Army. As the empire lost military control, they also lost the ability to trade which sent ripples through their economy. Over time the limited supply of goods caused he rich to hoard wealth, inflation to rise, and high unemployment. It was during this time that slavery and indentured servitude rose exponentially. The Empire was “bleeding out.” The empire has shed blood, now they will see their life blood (the military and their wealth) bleed out. The irrigation methods of the Romans led to land becoming unproductive, and food bowls and cups were made of lead which seeped into food and water eventually killing many. John hears the sound of an Angel declaring the empire’s just punishment and the response of the saints declaring God is just.

  4. Verses 8-9. The fourth bowl pours out pain on the worshipers of the beast. The picture is that the Sun is made extra hot. What normally gave off just light now gives off intense heat. Romans were a people who enjoyed basking in the Sun and enjoying beautiful weather. God is going to take away their times of relaxation and turn it into times of intense labor. It is one thing to sit in the sun it is another thing all together to work all day in the sun. With the failing economy many of the Roman Citizens were forced to work as slaves in the heat. Rather than repenting, the people curse God. They did not repent or give God glory. Thus, the judgments continue. Most likely this refers to the idea that many in the empire continued to look to their pagan Gods for help.

  5. Verses 10-11. The fifth bowl pours out judgment on the throne of the beast. It is “lights out” for the Roman Empire. The kingdom is plunged into darkness. Its day in the sun is over. Rather than repenting, the people curse God all the more and did not repent. The Sun has gone down on the empire.

  6. Verses 12-16. The sixth bowl is the first bowl that gives us any details. The brevity of the first five bowls is astonishing. The sixth bowl gives us more information about the judgments to come. The sixth bowl dries up the Euphrates River. This is an imagery of a coming war and being overthrown by a rival nation. The drying up of the Euphrates River is how Cyrus conquered Babylon (Isaiah 11:15; 44:27-28; 50:2; 51:10). The kings coming from the east also have a couple prophetic references in Isaiah (Isaiah 41:2; 46:11). The sixth bowl envisions a nation coming from the east to battle. Verse 13 shows the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet will do everything for survival. The unclean spirits remind us of the deceptive nature of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. The unclean spirits also remind us of their immorality through their paganism, idol worship, and Caesar worship. These three are full of uncleanness. The imagery of demons (unclean spirits) is used in the New Testament to speak of idolatrous worship (1 Corinthians 10:20–21). Verse 15 therefore gives a call to preparation for the people of God. God’s judgment will come like a thief. Be prepared. Stay awake. Do not be caught by surprise. Finally, we see in the sixth bowl the assembling of the kings of the earth at the place called Armageddon. This is the only place in scriptures where the word Armageddon occurs. Many false teachings have been made about the event of Armageddon. However, all that is revealed is that this is the place they will gather. The text does not say that there will be a battle there. So what does Armageddon mean? It literally means “mount of Megiddo.” Now there is not a mount of Megiddo but we do read in the scriptures about a valley of Megiddo and cities of Megiddo. When we go through the Old Testament we see that several decisive battles occurred at Megiddo. Most interesting to me is the reference to the kings who went into battle and died. In 2 Kings 9:27 we see that Ahaziah, king of Judah was slain. In 2 Kings 23:29 and 2 Chronicles 35:22 King Josiah is slain in battle. Judges 5:19 speaks of kings fighting by the waters of Megiddo but failing to take the spoil. When we put all of these images together, we see that the work of Satan through the Roman Empire and its religions will dry up and fail. They may assemble for battle but it is a decisive loss for Satan and the Roman Empire. Gathering in Armageddon is a symbol of the defeat and drying up of the Roman Empire.

  7. Verses 17-21. The seventh angel pours his bowl and GOD makes the important declaration: “It is done!” The end has come for this world power. God’s cataclysmic wrath has come. A great earthquake describes its desolation (broken in pieces from the foundation) since that is the way many cities were destroyed in ancient times, sometimes never to be rebuilt or inhabited again. The great city falls and the cities of the nations also fall. God fulfills his promise, making the nation drink the cup of God’s wrath full strength. The empire has fallen. The devastation was great and the people curse God from the plagues.

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