Reading for Monday, Dec 3: Revelation 16
Chapter 16 continues the vision that began in the previous chapter, describing the bowls of wrath poured out by seven angels. Each of these bowls represent some sort of “plague” (15:1), which, as we noted earlier, alludes back to the Exodus narrative. As in Egypt, these plagues are to be understood as God’s judgments. Human rebellion has infected and enslaved all creation. In order for the world to be renewed (as we will see at the end of Revelation), it must first be judged.
The images of judgment are especially vivid here: boils and sores upon those who bear the mark of the beast; seas and rivers of blood; a scorched sun, charring the earth and all who curse the name of God and refuse to repent; darkness; lightning; earthquakes. John is pulling out all the stops. We should understand this as a description of cosmic and complete judgment at the hands of God. We sometimes ask ourselves, “Who’s really in charge here? Is God sovereign? Will He right all wrongs in the end?” With these images, John is giving as an emphatic answer to our questions.
It is also worth mentioning that those who suffer these judgments are fully culpable, bearing the mark of the beast, refusing to repent, refusing to give God glory (v2, 9, 11). Those who worship the beast and give in to his seductions will receive the ultimate end to which these choices are directed.
Emerging out of these plagues is a voice: “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (v15). This takes us back to the words of Jesus spoken at the beginning of Revelation. But this comment is right at home here, reminding us to live faithfully amid troublesome times. We live in readiness. We orient our lives toward this future reality — God’s final and ultimate act of judgment and, consequently, redemption. The voice of Jesus reminds us of this, just as surely as it reminded John’s original audience.