This passage is about the contrast and importance of God and His judgment and grace. They go together and both are essential. The wicked and those who are in apostasy are deserving of their judgments; they bring it on themselves freely as they ignore and refuse God’s offer of grace. This passage is about worship—pointing us to the One who is in control so those who are His can take hope and comfort in Him. These plagues of judgment are reminiscent of the ones with which God challenged Pharaoh to let His people go. God offered peace and grace, but Pharaoh kept hardening his heart over and over, just as the recipients of the bowls of wrath do. Just as God delivered Israel from oppression in Egypt, He will deliver His faithful. This becomes all about God’s faithfulness and glory, and how His plan will triumph. So, John’s readers, as well as we today, can take hope in the realization that there is no reason we should not trust in His sovereignty and plan (Ex. 7-12; 40:34-38; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Dan. 7:9-10; John 3:17; Eph. 2; Rev. 4-5).
This passage also starts John’s fourth cycle of visions, this time focusing on the bowls of God’s wrath to those who are evil doers. If you are not evil and manipulative, but are loyal to Christ, you have no worries here (15:1-16:21). These bowls are nothing esoteric or cryptic; they symbolize God’s wrath. The point is, just as God delivered the Israelites from oppression using the plagues against Egypt, so He will deliver those who belong to Him! The other significance of this is that it sets up the world for the Second Coming of Christ (Is. 51:17-22; Jer. 25:15-29; Lam. 4:21; Ezek. 23:31-34; Hab. 2:16; Rev. 14:10; 16:19)!
These bowls are very similar to the Seven Trumpets and first Four Bowls, but the first judgments affect one-third (1/3) of the areas; these new ones effect all. Thus they result in more stern judgments after a very clear warning and time for repentance! These judgments can be applied as they were written to the Roman Empire as well as for a time yet to come. Remember, Hebrew logic is not “either-or;” rather, it is “both-and!” Thus, these themes were for John’s readers, for us, and for a crisis-tribulation time that is yet to come. The bottom line is not what theories we read in to the passage that tantalize us; rather, it is what God is seeking from us, namely our faith, worship, and faithfulness versus what he is mad at—evil. You can get a list of that from Romans chap 1.
This passage testifies to the fact that a hardened heart refuses to learn, obey, or submit. God accepts us; it is we who have trouble accepting Him! Such a mindset will not recognize pride or sin’s folly, nor will it learn from past mistakes. This mindset refuses the things of goodness and God, rather preferring depravity or its own pride and agendas. It can even trick itself that these things are right and good and those who represent the Truth of God are in the wrong. Yes, God still cares and offers Himself to them until the time is up and judgment is poured out. The contrast for the faithful is this; while the wicked refuse to learn or grow, we can take comfort we can be anchored in Christ and be encouraged and then learn from them—learn of the evils and depravity of sin so we can guard ourselves, and do as much as we can to help others get out of it, as our Lord showed us.
The other aspect we can glean from this passage is that God protects and cares for us. God is right and never acts with spite or in unfair anger.
Questions to Ponder:
- What images could console you in times of stress? How would you describe peace and hope to someone in distress?
- How and why does a hardened heart refuse to learn or obey or submit? What can you do to prevent such a mindset from encroaching on you? How does not recognizing pride and sin’s folly or learning from our mistakes fuel sin and problems in our lives?
- Who is in control of your spiritual life? What needs to take place for you to take more hope and comfort in Christ?
- What can you and your church do to praise Christ—who is glorious and worthy—more passionately and faithfully? How would this help you and the people in your church be more victorious against the evils of the world and the stresses of life?
© 2007 R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries http://www.intothyword.org