The plagues are poured out in Revelation 16, but introduced in Revelation 15:
“Then I saw … seven angels who had seven plagues,
which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished”
Next, John saw
“those who had been VICTORIOUS over the beast
and his image and the number of his name,
standing on the sea of glass” (Revelation 15:2).
They have refused to worship the beast and to accept his mark. Now they stand victorious on the sea of glass, which is before the throne of God (4:6), which is in the temple (16:17) in heaven (11:19; 14:17).
RETURN OF CHRIST
Revelation 14 ends with the return of Christ (14:14). Does that mean that the plagues are poured out after He returns?
Since John saw the victorious ones before the plagues are poured out, the plagues are poured out after the image of the beast has been established and after it enforces the mark of the beast (13:15). The plagues, logically, also poured out after the proclamation of the eternal gospel by the THREE ANGELS, for the purpose of their message is to warn against the beast and its mark (14:9).
In 21:9 the plagues are similarly called “the seven LAST plagues.” As will be explained, these plagues continue until and include the return of Christ, as described in Revelation 19. Or perhaps it will be more accurate to say that the plagues are part of the Return of Christ.
THE FALSE PROPHET
The plagues are preceded by a period of intense persecution of God’s true people by the image of the beast (13:15-17). This image was established by the peoples of the world (13:14) on demand of the “beast coming up out of the earth” (13:11-14). That beast “had two horns like a lamb” (13:11). In Revelation, Christ is many times identified as the Lamb (e.g. 14:1). The earth-beast, therefore, will be Christ-like. But it is also called “the false prophet” (e.g. 16:13). This title confirms that it is a religious entity, but a false one. “He spoke as a dragon” (13:11). He, therefore, speaks the same language as Satan, for Satan is represented as a dragon in Revelation 12:9.
PERSECUTION BY CHRISTIANS
It is important to realize that the earth-beast is an organization of CHRISTIANS. They appear to be upright, conservative Christians. They regularly go to church, study their Bibles and claim to be God’s true people.
The difference between them and God’s true people lies in the heart. Their HATRED for Christians, who do not believe the same as they do, shows that their hearts are actually inspired by Satan. They have accepted Satan’s lies and believe God to be a tyrant; cruel and demanding. Therefore, they behave like their god, who is, in reality, Satan. They are the modern Pharisees:
“You, too, outwardly appear righteous to men,
but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mt. 23:28).
What makes them worshipers of the beast is not their doctrines as such, but their lack of love. Their DOCTRINES, however, reflect their hearts, for in their doctrines, as in their thinking, God is not love, but rather full of wrath and anger.
The people with the mark of the beast are TRADITIONALISTS. Over the centuries, Satan has guided church leaders to formulate doctrines that contradict the Bible. It is important to understand the human psyche with respect to church doctrines. Each generation does not start with the Bible only and develop their doctrines afresh. Very few people study the Bible to form their own opinions. Rather, people learn their doctrines from their spiritual fathers. In this way, people also inherit erroneous doctrines from their spiritual fathers. Then they INTERPRET THE BIBLE TO FIT THEIR DOCTRINES, rather the other way round. People with other views are classified as heretics. Even when a person arrives at different conclusions by reading the Bible without preconceived ideas, such a person is soon sidelined as a heretic.
This is how the TRADITIONS OF THE SCRIBES came to exist in Jesus’ time. The same happened in Christianity over the last two millennia. Doctrines are like living organisms. They evolve slowly as talented persons add their own wisdom, and as influential people steer the thought processes. But doctrines are still the work of fallible humans, and they are not constrained by Bible revelation.
Once a doctrine has been developed, it is almost IMPOSSIBLE TO MODIFY it. Denominations are formed by charismatic and talented people that have developed a certain set of doctrines. When the denomination is established, these doctrines are cast in stone, and they will not change. These doctrines become like barricades behind which Christians hide, and from where they fire cannonballs at other denominations.
The Christians members of the beast from the earth will proclaim the traditional doctrines of the Church as truth, and, to the extent that the law of the land allows them, persecute those Christians who proclaim different interpretations of the Bible. They regard such Christians as dangerous heretics. But it is exactly their desire to prescribe to others what they should believe, and their desire to punish people that do not go with the stream, that makes them as worshipers of the beast.
Persecution of Christians by fellow Christians is NOT NEW. In the third century, the church became the only legal religion in the Roman Empire, and the Emperor became the de facto head of the church. In that century the church adopted the practice of formulating man-made creeds and persecuting nonconformists. This pattern continued throughout the Middle Ages. In the more recent centuries, the church, to a large extent, lost its control of the State and therefore lost its ability to persecute those who understand the Bible differently. However, the beast will recover (13:3) and the final persecution will be worse than ever.
BASIS FOR PERSECUTION
If we know what to look for, we are able to see the contents of a person’s heart in external behavior. Whenever we witness a Christian persecuting another Christian, by insult or injury, we witness the work of the beast. A true Christian does not insult or injure any other person, but is HUMBLE AND IS WILLING TO SUFFER for God like Jesus did, without complaining. A true Christian accepts Christians with different views as brothers in Christ.
But for one Christian to persecute another, there must be some issue that makes a VISIBLE distinction.
The first official persecution of Christians by Christians, through the power of the State, was in the fourth century. The main matter of controversy, in that century, was whether Christ is equal to God the Father. On the basis of that controversy, Christians—on both sides of the controversy—were excommunicated in that century and killed in later centuries. In later centuries also, Christians were persecuted and killed over many other disputes, such as the Sabbath and baptism.
Similar controversies will form the basis of the end-time persecution. In fact, THE SAME CONTROVERSIES which we see today will form the basis for persecution when the image of the beast becomes alive. (When the beast from the earth “give breath to the image of the beast” (13:15).) The difference, compared to today, is not that new controversies will develop, but the INCREASED POWER which Christians will have to persecute other Christians through the strong arm of the State.
GOD ALLOWS SATAN
This depends on the intensity of persecution which GOD ALLOWS SATAN. Just as God allowed Satan to torment Job and to persecute Jesus through His fellow Jews, God will, in the end-time, allow Satan freedom to persecute His people. As will be explained, these things are all necessary before God will be able to make an end of sin.
It needs to be emphasized again that the real difference between God’s real people and the false prophet does not lie in their doctrines, but in the presence or absence of love. The doctrinal controversies merely provide opportunities for people, that are motivated by hate, to exercise their desire to control people.
RECEIVE THE BOWLS
Next, John saw the seven angels receive the seven last plagues and leave the temple. The plagues were contained in bowls:
“One of the four living creatures
gave to the seven angels
seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God”
Since Revelation also refers to “the seven last plagues” (21:9), this website uses “bowl” and “plague” as synonyms.
NOBODY MAY ENTER
“The temple was filled with smoke …
and no one was able to enter” (Revelation 15:8).
This will be a major turning point in mankind’s history. In the preceding period, the persecution of God people by the image of the beast (13:15) and the proclamation of the eternal gospel by the three angels (14:6) has divided the world’s population into two camps; those with the mark of the beast, and those with the seal of God. When the last person makes his or her final decision, the temple will be filled with smoke, so that nobody is able to enter. This signifies that, from this point forward, NOBODY WILL BE SAVED. The eternal destiny of every human being is now permanently fixed. Nobody will switch sides.
The plagues start to fall as soon as the last person makes his or her final choice between God and the beast. WHY does God send plagues on people after their eternal destinies have been sealed?
“Then I heard a loud voice from the temple,
saying to the seven angels,
‘Go and pour out on the earth
the seven bowls of the wrath of God’” (16:1).
Revelation 15 describes events in heaven. Revelation 16:1 is still part of this heavenly scene, for the voice comes from the temple. As from 16:2, the focus shifts to the earth, describing the outpouring of the seven bowls upon the earth.
NOT SEVEN LITERAL BOWLS
Obviously, the angels do not pour a literal chemical from literal bowls upon men who had received a literal mark imposed by a literal beast.
Bowls are temple vessels associated with the altar of incense (Zech. 14:20; Num. 7:84; Rev 5:8). Bowls are used in Revelation as symbols. They symbolically carry God’s wrath (Revelation 15:7) from the temple to earth.
Nor is the number seven to be understood literally. In Revelation, the number seven signifies the COMPLETION OF A PROCESS. It is based on the first series of seven in the Bible, namely the seven days of the creation week. In any series of seven in Revelation, the second follows after the first, the third after the second, and so forth, and the seventh is always the last. The number seven is therefore symbolic of a ‘completed process’. Other symbolic numbers in Revelation do not imply a SEQUENCE.
When applied to the plagues, the number seven simply means that an undefined number of plagues will be poured out until God’s purpose has been achieved.
The seven plagues are part of the Return of Christ. They are preceded by Christian on Christian persecution, instigated by the false prophet. The difference between these Christians is not their doctrines but in their hearts. In the thinking of the persecutors, God is not love, but rather full of wrath and anger.
The people with the mark of the beast are TRADITIONALISTS. They accept doctrines that have been developed over the centuries. They interpret the Bible to fit their doctrines and regard other Christians as dangerous heretics. But it is exactly their desire to control and punish non-conformists that makes them as worshipers of the beast.
The same controversies which we see today will form the basis for persecution. The difference will lie in how much power God allows Satan to persecute His true people.
The plagues start to fall as soon as the last person makes his or her final choice between God and the beast.
These are not seven literal bowls. It is an undefined number of plagues will be poured out until God’s purpose has been achieved.