Understanding Revelation / Chapter 4 — Rich Kelsey

Half-moon photo taken by Rich Kelsey

Chapter Four The Final Woe:

“I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed.” (Revelation 15:1)

Could this wrath of God, ending with the battle of Armageddon, be the hour of trial[1] that Jesus Christ promised he would keep his faithful from? Apparently, the rapture of the church takes place right before these plagues are poured out.

All of heaven is looking forward to this event, for with it the promise of the Creator will be expressed in His creation. Mankind will come into the pattern for which we were designed: the image of Christ.

The Voice Commands Come Up Here:

As the seventh angel raises his trumpet to his lips, a great voice from heaven cries out the command,

“Come up here.” (Revelation 11:12)

Out of the dust, millions of souls are raised and begin to ascend; then we who are still alive become as light as a feather. As we take on the wings of eagles[2], we are transformed from this earthbound body into a glorified form. Instantly we understand where we’re going, our thoughts are focused, our senses are sharp; as we stream through space, we’re overjoyed. We are standing on the threshold of eternity.

The victory is ours. The curse is far behind. Death no longer reigns. We are free. As we finish up the inaugural feasts and celebrations, our attention shifts back to earth, where Satan and his entourage have been stirring up trouble.

Angels, Pour Out Your Bowls:

Jesus leads us to the house of God where seven bowls lie waiting. Stepping out from the smoke of the incense, seven angels appear:

“Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.'” (Revelation 16:1)

As the suffering escalates during the final weeks before Christ returns, it will be like hell on earth. Some may wonder how a loving God could be so cruel. This is not the case; it’s out of mercy that these plagues fall. If God had decided to kill the wicked instantaneously, that would be far less humane. Our loving Father is reaching His hand out, even during earth’s midnight hour. Some will come to their senses during this time, reflect upon the gospel message, repent, and find salvation.

A Testimony Rejected:

Nothing good will come from this trial for the obstinate malefactors; going through these days without opening their hearts will only add to their judgment. For the wicked, this will be a day of punishment. By this time, the population of earth will have heard the gospel warning from many sources, because through his collective body (the church), Christ will have warned them. The Creator made a provision in his plan for people to find the door of Christ and escape the wrath to come, but they ignored his message. Therefore Christ will trample them as one who treads in the winepress:

“I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come. I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground.” (Isaiah 63:3–4 & 6)

The First Bowl—Painful Sores:

“The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.” (Revelation 16:2)

This plague is spiritual in nature: it only affects people who have the mark of the beast and worship his image. As we have noted before, the terms land and sea, which are used multiple times in Revelation, represent multitudes of people and nations in political and religious realms. This plague is not aimed at the soil we walk on, ungodly people are the target of this woe.

In the last days the torment from the underworld and the judgment from God will transcend spiritual bounds and cross over into our physical realm. There’s little doubt people will be stricken with boils and see the welts rise up as the locusts are stinging them. However, the most oppressive torment which man will endure is torment of the mind. Spiritual torment is coming. Like in a nightmare which one suffers, not understanding they are dreaming, people will suffer greatly with unknown forces haunting their imagination.

“Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger. These double calamities have come upon you—who can comfort you?—ruin and destruction, famine and sword—who can console you? Your sons have fainted; they lie at the head of every street, like antelope caught in a net. They are filled with the wrath of the LORD and the rebuke of your God. Therefore hear this, you afflicted one, made drunk, but not with wine.” (Isaiah 51:17 and 19–21)

The Second Bowl—Blood and Death in the Sea:

“The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.” (Revelation 16:3)

This bowl plague is similar to the judgment accompanying the second trumpet, yet instead of just one-third of the creatures in the sea dying, with this plague every living thing dies.

Earth’s natural sea is a vast body of water that mingles with many other bodies of water; it’s heavily salted, making it undrinkable. This water holds no nourishment for mankind unless it’s purified. From a spiritual viewpoint, the sea could represent all the world’s religions outside of Christ, religions that have been salted with false teaching.

At this time, the one world order established by the Antichrist will have married many false religions into a one-world prostitute religion. This false church, which is depicted as both a woman and a great city in Revelation, will come under spiritual judgment. It’s written concerning her,

“Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remem¬bered her crimes. Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup.” (Revelation 18:4–6)

The Lord isn’t going to kill every living thing in earth’s natural oceans. The fish in the sea aren’t rebelling against their Creator. Man is. This is a spiritual judgment upon all the men, women, and children who have rejected the true God and His Christ and have served the false christ instead.

Speaking of Antichrist’s world religion:

“By your magic spell all the nations were led astray. In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.” (Revelation 18:23–24)

The Third Bowl—Fresh Water Turns to Blood:

“The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: ‘You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.'” (Revelation 16:4–6)

This plague is figurative of judgment on a major scale. Many parallels are drawn from water in Scripture; fresh water is the wellspring of life. Rivers and springs depict the spirit of God, which nourishes our spirits. Yet with this final plague, the spirit, which once sustained man, is bringing death to all the people who have sinned against it.

The Fourth Bowl—Crank Up the Heat:

“The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.” (Revelation 16:8–9)

We have already noted that the sun in Bible prophecy depicts Jesus Christ in glory. While we could continue to pursue a figurative explanation of this and the following plagues (understanding that some figurative analogies do apply), we would probably be missing the message to ignore a physical application. There’s too much evidence in the Scriptures indicating that the natural forces of our environment will run to extremes. So, at this point in time, man will probably endure severe physical suffering from natural forces.

It’s very likely that from the beginning of Creation, the hand of God has set these coming events in motion. Earth’s population may have a ticking bomb looming above in the form of the sun. Modern science holds that our sun is too small to explode as in the case of a supernova. What it can do as it ends its lifespan is shift into a nova condition, expanding in size and increasing in temperature, which would cause intense heat upon earth. If the sun began to go into the early stages of a nova, that could explain the nature of the fourth bowl plague. It would also provide a sign in the heavens above, as it is written,

“There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” (Luke 21:11)

However, anything is possible with God; we should not rule out the possibility that some plagues may be a result of divine intervention.

The Fifth Bowl—Darkness:

“The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” (Revelation 16:10–11)

The darkness to come will be far worse for mankind than what Egypt suffered in Old Testament times. It’s recorded in Scripture that the lack of light they endured merely obscured people’s sight. Egypt’s darkness was merely a physical model of the spiritual darkness to come. Armageddon will be man’s darkest hour: The sun shall withdraw its light and then the end will come. Revelation paints a picture of people staggering around in gross darkness because they have rejected Christ. Revelation’s pages contain images of underlying forces tormenting men and women and influencing them to accomplish their will.

“The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.” (Thessalonians 2:9–11)

Let’s look at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ for an example of the dark hour to come:

“From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’—which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God.'” (Matthew 27:45, 50–54)

Tremendous signs were brought forth, and they all occurred during and as a result of our Savior’s death. Some in the crowd repented during that hour. The earth had shaken; the sun had withdrawn its light. People were raised from the graves. Many had witnessed the heavy curtain in the Temple tear from the top down (this was a sign from heaven), meaning from this day on, the most holy place in the Temple (the place where God dwelled) was open to man through the sacrifice of His Christ.

It’s interesting to note the different reactions among men and women who witnessed Christ’s death; for some, their lives were never the same. As they watched Jesus die, they beat their chests in remorse, realizing they had put to death their long-awaited Redeemer. Others simply went about business as usual, closing their eyes to the strange darkness, earthquakes, and other manifestations. These people allowed a veil to cover their hearts, easing their consciences.

The Sixth Bowl—Prepare the Way to Armageddon:

“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. Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” (Rev. 16: 12–14, 16)

The Euphrates River runs through Syria and Iraq; Iran is to the east of it and Turkey is to the north. Any army coming from the north or the east would have to cross the Euphrates before it could attack Jerusalem, and those coming from the north would have to dogleg to the east as they approached Israel.

Now let’s ask the question, is it physically possible that the great river Euphrates could run dry during the last seven weeks before Armageddon? Some may wonder why we should now lean toward a literal interpretation of a passage in Revelation when up until this point, we have interpreted nearly every verse figuratively. Here’s why:

It’s very likely that in a book written in symbols, there may be some conventional narrative. For example, in other places in Scripture, such as when reading the parables of Christ, there are cases where the meaning of the parable is given. And, from a strictly geographical standpoint, it makes sense: armies coming from the east would have to cross the Euphrates river just like the Scripture states.

This understanding also coincides with Old Testament prophecies showing that Iran, Libya and Turkey will come against Jerusalem in the last days.

“Charge, O horses! Drive furiously, O charioteers! March on, O warriors—men of Cush and Put who carry shields, men of Lydia who draw the bow. But that day belongs to the Lord, the LORD Almighty—a day of vengeance, for vengeance on his foes. The sword will devour till it is satisfied, till it has quenched its thirst with blood. For the Lord, the LORD Almighty, will offer sacrifice in the land of the north by the River Euphrates.” (Jeremiah 46:9–10)

This last passage was originally written about a war between Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and Egypt, yet we are not taking the passage out of context by using it as a reference text for Armageddon. Many Old Testament prophecies start with a limited historical application and then end up speaking of the end of time.

The Judgment upon Israel:

Israel has killed almost every prophet God has sent to them, including Jesus Christ. Prophets shall be sent at the end of the age, and these, too, will be killed. Israel will choose a hard path with God and a hard path they shall receive. God loves Israel. Nevertheless, Israel is God’s covenant people, and part of the covenant which was handed down to them calls for a divine curse when they walk away from Him. At this point in time, Israel will have wandered further away from God than at any previous time. Religious peace between Israel and the surrounding nations through the coming world order will be shattered. God often uses wicked forces to bring about His judgments:

“The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose.” (Revelation 17:16–17)

The Final Weeks:

Jesus said men’s hearts would fail them for fear of what was lying ahead. This is the hour when the fury of God’s wrath is poured out upon mankind; such severe wrath that Christ’s church is whisked off the planet!

It is written in the Scriptures,

“For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.” (Matthew 24:21)

Violent hailstorms, thunder and lightning storms, and raging seas are on the horizon. Woe to the nations in the Middle East and to the men, women, and children who remain in Jerusalem during Armageddon, that land will become an eerie scene with thick darkness, blood, fire, and death, with the earth shaking and men walking around in a state of delusion.

A Holy Slaughter:

Underlying forces, hell-bent on destruction, will stir people into delirium. Armageddon will be a war fought with tremendous rage. This holy slaughter will commence with emotions running wild and common sense taking a back seat. Israel’s neighboring countries will come to their limit of pain. The masses may believe the great wonders in the sky are a sign from heaven to take back the beloved city. They may also think the plagues are a result of the city’s Jewish occupation. Nations will come together and fight to extinguish the Jewish people. In all this madness, the factions at war against Israel will most likely engage in some nuclear exchanges. According to Scripture, blood, fire, and vapors of smoke will fill the battleground.

The Seventh Bowl—a Severe Earthquake:

“The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’ Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.” (Revelation 16:17–21)

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[1] “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (Revelation 3:10)

[2] “The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.” (Revelation 12:14)

Note: Revelation 12:14 is not a direct reference to the pre-wrath rapture of the Church, yet the words,

“The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle”

depict people ascending to heaven none the less. (Please see Chapter 9 The Woman of Revelation 12 for context)