Revelation 15: Introduction to the Plagues of Revelation

REVELATION 15:1

The seven last plagues are poured out in Revelation 16. Revelation 15 serves as an introduction to these plagues.

Then I saw another sign in heaven,
great and marvelous,

The previous great signs which John saw in heaven were the woman clothed with the sun (Rev 12:1) and the great red dragon (Rev 12:3).

seven angels who had seven plagues,

The angels had the plagues. In Rev 15:7, they also receive “bowls full of the wrath of God.”

Rev 14 ends with Christ’s return (Rev 14:14). That does not mean that the plagues are not poured out after His return. The seven last plagues form a new main part of Revelation and each such main part ends with the return of Christ.

which are the last

Rev 21:9, similarly, refer to the seven plagues as the “last.” As explained elsewhere, these plagues end in the return of Christ, as described in Revelation 19.

because in them the wrath of God is finished.

The warning of the third angel, namely that anyone who receives the mark of the beast “will drink of the wine of the wrath of God” and that “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Rev 14:9-11) is often taken as proof of eternal torment.

However, according to Rev 15:1, with the seven last plagues, “the wrath of God” will be “finished.” The smoke rising “forever and ever” does not mean eternal torment. Similar to Babylon’s smoke that “rises up forever and ever” (Rev 19:3), it means that their torment will always be remembered.

REVELATION 15:2

And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire,
and those who had been victorious over the beast
and his image and the number of his name,
standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God”

WHO ARE THE VICTORIOUS PEOPLE?

The beast, his image, and the number of his name refer back to the end-time persecution described in Rev 13:11-17. The “victorious” people are those who refused to worship (obey) the beast (Rev 13:12) or to accept its mark (Rev 13:16).

Rev 13:16-14:3 identifies both the mark of the beast and the seal of God as names on foreheads. This implies that that end-time persecution will divide the world into two groups:

        • Those with the mark of the beast and
        • Those with the seal of God.

The people “who had been victorious over the beast” (Rev 15:2) are described by Rev 14:1 as the 144000 with the seal of God on their foreheads (Rev 14:1). The “victorious” people of Rev 15, therefore, are the same as the 144000.

WHEN DID JOHN SEE THEM?

Since their number seems to be complete, it is implied that John saw them at the end of that persecution. Since he saw them before the plagues are poured out in Revelation 16, the plagues are poured out after that persecution. The time of this vision, therefore, is between the Rev 13-persecution and the seven last plagues.

WHERE DID JOHN SEE THEM?

The “victorious” people stand on the “sea of glass,” which is before the throne of God (Rev 4:6), which is in His temple (Rev 16:17) in heaven (Rev 11:19; 14:17). It, therefore, may seems as if they are in heaven. However, they are the same people as the 144000 “standing on Mount Zion” (Rev 14:1). In Revelation, “those who dwell on the earth” refer to evildoers (Rev 6:10; 11:10; 13:14; 17:2) while God’s people are presented as if they are in heaven (cf. Rev 11:1; 12:1).

END-TIME PERSECUTION

Since the plagues are poured out immediately after the end-time persecution (Rev 13:15) and since the plagues fall on the people who accept the mark of the beast (Rev 16:2), it is appropriate to say a few words about that persecution:

THE BEAST FROM THE EARTH

That persecution begins when a second beast comes “up out of the earth” (Rev 13:11). It “had two horns like a lamb” (v11), which means that it appears Christ-like, for Jesus is called the Lamb 28 times in Revelation (e.g., Rev 14:1). But it “spoke as a dragon” (Rev 13:11), which is a symbol for Satan (Rev 12:9). For that reason, the earth-beast is also called “the false prophet” (compare with Rev 16:13; 19:20). It “deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform” (Rev 13:14). These symbols identify the beast from the earth as a Christian organisation.

THE IMAGE OF THE BEAST

Christians who accept the mark of the beast, to enforce their views on all Christians, they would need the strong arm of the state. Therefore, the false prophet will deceive “those who dwell on the earth … to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword” (Rev 13:14). The image of the beast represents civil authorities under control of the religious authority. This is confirmed by the following:

  • This is an image of the beast from the sea (Rev 13:1, 3), which symbolizes the Church of the Middle Ages. The image is a replica of the system of government during the middle ages when the church used the State to persecute God’s people, for example, the massacres of the Waldensians.
  • ??? People create the image of the beast (Rev 13:14).
  • ??? The image kills God’s people (Rev 13:15).
  • Demon spirits, coming from the dragon, the beast and the false prophet, gather “the kings of the whole world” (Rev 16:14). These are the same four role-players as the end-time persecutors of God people (Rev 13:11-12, 14), but the “image” has been replaced by “the kings of the whole world.”
  • Signs and wonders are instrumental in both the creation of the image and the gathering of the kings (Rev 13:14; 16:14).
  • At the return of Christ, we again find the same four as God’s enemies (Rev 19:19-20; 20:2) and again the “image” is replaced by “the kings of the earth” (Rev 19:19).

THE DRAGON AND THE BEAST

The false prophet and the image are the main characters in the end-time persecution. The beast and the dragon are in the background. The beast received its authority from the dragon (Rev 13:2) and the false prophet exercises the beast’s authority, but it is the false prophet that gives life to the image (Rev 13:15) and it is the image that persecutes God’s people (Rev 13:15). This because the dragon and the beast represent historical worldly powers that no longer exist as such during the end-time persecution. For an identification of the dragon and the beast, see also the identity of the beasts with seven heads.

PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS BY CHRISTIANS

Since the beast represents the Church of the Middle Ages and since the false prophets appears Christ-like, it will be persecution of Christians by Christians. Both groups will appear to be Christians. Both groups attend church, study their Bibles and claim to be God’s true people. But the Christians who persecute other Christians show by their intolerance that they have Satan as their father. Their desire to prescribe what others should believe, and their desire to punish those who do not comply identify them as the end-time Pharisees:

You, too, outwardly appear righteous to men,
but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness

(Matt 23:28).

You are of your father the devil,
and you want to do the desires of your father

(John 8:42).

A true Christian does not insult or injure any other person:

Whoever wishes to become great among you
shall be your servant;
and whoever wishes to be first among you
shall be slave of all
” (Mark 10:44).

God gave our Master “all authority … in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:17) but He never used His power to benefit Himself. Even when He hang on the cross, suffering the most excruciating torment and pain, He did not use His powers to benefit Himself. Thus He demonstrated God’s character, which is the opposite of ours.

HISTORICAL PERSECUTION

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. Some of the emperors were Arians and banished Nicene Christians to the other ends of the empire. Other emperors adopted Nicene Christology and persecuted the Arians. This practice continued and escalated into the Middle Ages when the church used the state to persecute those who rebel against her blasphemous practices. Revelation 17 symbolizes this relationship as “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast” (Rev 17:3, 18).

In recent centuries, the church, to a large extent, due to the modern principle of separation of church and state, has lost its power over the State and therefore its ability to persecute those who oppose its teachings. However, the beast’s fatal wound will heal (Rev 13:3). That will happen when the false prophet deceives the people of the world to create an image of the beast.

??? The false prophet will “give breath to the image of the beast” (Rev 13:15). Then this image would kill “as many as do not worship the image of the beast” (Rev 13:15).

THE MARK OF THE BEAST

It is not the purpose here to identify the mark of the beast but only to describe certain characteristics:

(1) VERY OLD

It is the mark of the beast that comes up out of the sea (Rev 13:1, 12). That beast looks like a leopard, has characteristics of a bear and a lion and it receives it power from the dragon (Rev 13:2). These are the four animals in Daniel 7:3-7. The dragon represents the Roman Empire. For that reason, the beast has been identified as the little horn of Daniel 7, which is another symbol of the church of the middle ages. The mark of the beast, therefore, is something for which the church of the middle ages is particularly well known for. It is a fundamental teaching of the church over many centuries and not something new that will be invented in the end-time.

(2) FROM THE ROMAN EMPIRE

The dragon gave him (the beast from the sea) his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev 13:2). In the context, the dragon represents the Roman Empire. The church of the middle ages was a continuation of the authority of the Roman Empire. This implies that the beast received its mark (the mark of the beast) from the Roman Empire. What teaching the church retained from the Roman Empire I will leave for the reader too work out. You will find it on the pages of this website.

In the fourth century, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, and the Emperor became the real head of the church. In that century, the church adopted the practice of formulating man-made creeds and persecuting people that taught contrary views. This pattern continued throughout the Middle Ages and will be re-enacted . 

(3) ADOPTED BY PROTESTANTISM

Since all Christians will be forced to accept the mark of the beast, it is something that is already accepted by most Christians and something which the protestant denominations accepted from the church of the middle ages.

(4) CONTRARY TO GOD’S WILL

Since God’s people refuse to accept the mark of the beast, it must be something that is contrary to the will of God.

(5) VISIBLE DISTINCTION

Lastly, to enable the persecution of people who refuse to accept the mark of the beast, there must be some issue that makes a VISIBLE distinction. If history is anything to go by, God’s people will rebel against unscriptural doctrines and be persecuted for their rebellion. If we say nothing to oppose such teachings, we will not be persecuted. But we must testify. Satan will be overcome “because of the word of their testimony” (Rev 12:11). Underneath the altar, John saw “the souls of those who had been slain … because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev 6:9). God’s people must protest, and that testimony will identify them as the enemies of the false prophet.

IN SUMMARY

The mark of the beast is an age old but erroneous teaching or practice of the church – received through the Roman Empire – for which the church of the Middle Ages was particularly known, but which was also adopted by the protestant denominations, and which will be used by the persecutors as boundary marker to determine who are inside and who are outside the church. 

Since the mark of the beast is something which the church of the middle ages is particularly known for, the people that accept the mark of the beast are traditionalists. Over the centuries, Satan has guided church leaders to formulate many doctrines that contradict the Bible. It is important to understand that very few people study the Bible to form their own opinions. Rather, people learn their (often erroneous) doctrines from their spiritual fathers. Then they INTERPRET THE BIBLE TO FIT THEIR DOCTRINES, rather the other way round. Consequently, once a doctrine has become accepted by a denomination, it is almost IMPOSSIBLE TO CHANGE it. For example, the doctrine of eternal torment has been established for many centuries, and although very sound argumnets have been proposed against this view (e.g., The Case for Annihilationism), the inertia of denomination prevents them from changing their official dostrines.

REVELATION 15:3

And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

This is a single song, joining the two main figures from the Old and New Testaments. In Revelation, “the Lamb” refers 28 times to Jesus.

“Great and marvelous are Your works,
O Lord God, the Almighty;
Righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the nations!

This is example of parallelism which essentially says the same thing twice. God is praised for His “works” and His “ways.” As is stated in the next verse, “for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

This is the song of Moses and the Lamb. This, therefore, is what Jesus Christ sings to His Father. In other words, Jesus refers to His Father as “Lord God, the Almighty.” This is consistent with the statements earlier in Revelation that the Father is Jesus’ God (Rev 1:6; 3:12). In Revelation, only the Father is God and only the Father is Almighty.  In His prayer to the Father, He described the Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3).

REVELATION 15:4

“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy;
For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU,

FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.”

Previously, His “works” and His “ways” (Rev 15:3) were hidden in mystery, but now His “righteous acts have been revealed.” In particular, “true and righteous are Your judgments” (Rev 16:7; cf. 16:5) and “His judgments are true and righteous” (Rev 19:2).

Christ’s return is delayed until certain things are revealed. The article series on the seven seals showed the following:

The principle of God’s government is that, “if anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35; cf. 10:44; Matt 18:4; 23:11).

Satan was probably the most beautiful and most talented of all of God’s creatures (Exek 28:12-14, 17), but refused to “be last of all and servant of all.” Instead, he said, “I will raise my throne above the stars of God … I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa 14:13-14).

Therefore, God condemned Him. In own his defense, Satan accuses the people that God has elected to eternal life (Rev 12:10), showing that they all use their talents to their own advantage.

The Son of God defended God’s elect and God’s judgments but Satan was able to create doubt about the trustworthiness of God’s unique Son, arguing that, under the right circumstances, the Son of God would also use His powers to His own advantage.

For that reason, Jesus Christ, “although He existed in the form of God,” took on “the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-7).  “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

God created the universe through His Son. As a human being, He was able to perform many miracles that amazed the people. Throughout His earthly life, Satan tempted Him to use His powers benefit Himself. The hours of His death were the most extreme temptation possible. But, throughout this all, the Son of God did not use His infinite powers to benefit Himself. Therefore, He was declared “worthy” to break the seals (Rev 5:9)

Revelation symbolizes the book of life, due to Satan’s informed accusations against God’s elect (Rev 12:10), as sealed with seven seals (Rev 5:1). The intelligent beings of the created universe were unable to refute Satan’s charges against God of unfair judgments. However, after Christ’s worthiness has been revealed by His death, Jesus is regarded “worthy” (Rev 5:9) to break the seals of the book, which means to refute Satan accusations against God’s elect by revealing the deeds of God’s people. This was done throughout history, but will be particularly revealed during the final persecution involving the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16-17).

To finally confirm the perfection of God’s judgments, the purpose of the seven last plagues is to show that the people with the mark of the beast, although they appear to be Christians, are hardened beyond repentance (Rev 16:9, 11).

In summary, the Son of God became a human being to be tested and His life, but particularly His death, understood as His final hours, revealed Him to be “worthy.” Thereafter, the evil history of this world was allowed to continue to reveal that God’s judgments are perfect; both His judgments of those that will die the second death (Rev 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8) and those who will eternal life (e.g., 1 John 2:25).

REVELATION 15:5

After these things I looked,
and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened,

Tabernacle” means tent. In modern language, we may understand it as home. In this instance, it is where God lives. “The tabernacle of testimony” is an Old Testament expression for the temple in the wilderness. The “testimony,” when connected with the temple, refers to the Ten Commandments (e.g., Exo 31:18; 32:15), which was placed in the ark. Therefore, the ark was called “the ark of the testimony” (e.g., Exo 25:22).

There is no literal temple and no literal Ten Commandments in heaven. The reference to the Ten Commandments symbolizes that that God’s judgments, as reflected in the plagues, are based on His law.

REVELATION 15:6

and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes.

Rev 15:1 said that the angels are in heaven. It was not specifically said that they are in the temple. But now they come out of the temple, which implies that John, previously, saw them in the temple.

Their clothes symbolize and reflect the purity of God. They have the same “golden sashes” as Jesus (Rev 1:13).

REVELATION 15:7

Then one of the four living creatures
gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls
full of the wrath of God,
who lives forever and ever.
because in them the wrath of God is finished

The four living creatures are always in close association with the throne of God (Rev 4:6). They seem to be the main connection between God and the created universe. That means that they received the golden bowls with the “wrath of God” from God.

Bowls are temple vessels associated with the altar of incense (Zech 14:20; Num 7:84; Rev 5:8). In Revelation, bowls symbolically carry God’s wrath (Rev 15:7) from the temple to earth.

The seven angels already previously had the seven last plagues. Now they also receive “the wrath of God.” As discussed under Rev 15:1, “the wrath of God is finished” in the final events, concluding the Christ’s return.

In Revelation, only “Him who sits on the throne … lives forever and ever” (Rev 4:9; 10:6).

REVELATION 15:8

And the temple was filled with smoke
from the glory of God and from His power;
and no one was able to enter the temple
until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

In the seventh seal, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Rev 8:1). The article on the seventh seal interpreted this as the sorrow in heaven when the lost are put to death at the return of Christ. In the current verse, “one was able to enter the temple.” If nobody is in the temple, there would be silence in heaven. As stated, the seven last plagues are understood as the first stages of the return of Christ. This implies a relationship between the seventh seal and the seven last plagues. 

This will be a major turning point in the history of mankind. In the preceding period, the persecution of God people by the image of the beast (Rev 13:15) and the proclamation of the eternal gospel by the three angels (Rev 14:6) has divided the world’s population into two camps; those with the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16) and those with the seal of God (Rev 14:1; 7:1-3). 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. The question, why does God send plagues on people after their eternal destinies have been sealed, will be addressed in one of the final articles in this series; The Purpose of the Seven Last Plagues

REVELATION 16:1

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.

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 Rev 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.

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.

SUMMARY

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.

NEXT:  The First Four Plagues are non-specific.

Revelation 16 – The first four plagues target the earth, sea, waters and sun.

PREVIOUS ARTICLES

PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS WHO REFUSE THE MARK OF THE BEAST.

The seven plagues in Revelation 16 are actually part of the series of events that we refer to as the Return of Christ. The end-time Christian on Christian persecution (Rev 13:11-17), will precede the seven last plagues.

The persecuted Christians “have not been defiled with women” (Rev 14:4). That means that they will not be involved with Babylon’s daughters (Rev 17:5). In other words, they will be doctrinally pure. For that reason, they will refuse the mark of the beast.

But they will be persecuted by Christians who do accept the beast’s mark. The latter group will display Satan’s attitude of force and persecution. They will be orthodox Christians for they will accept the doctrines that have been developed over the centuries and classify and persecute other Christians as heretics.

The same doctrinal controversies which we see today in the church will form the basis for that persecution. The difference, compared to today, will be in how much power GOD ALLOWS Satan to persecute His true people.  (See Introduction to the Plagues of Revelation 16.)

FIRST FOUR PLAGUES ARE NON-SPECIFIC.

Revelation has seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowl plagues.  Some interpreters spend more time on the first four of a series than on the last three. This article proposes that the first four of each of these series of seven are general and should NOT BE INDIVIDUALLY INTERPRETED. But the last three in each series are specific and individually interpreted.

In each of the series of seven, we also find an interlude between the sixth and the seventh elements. These interludes provide essential background information that explains the entire series.  (See The First Four Plagues are non-specific.)

REVELATION 16:2

So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth;
and it became a loathsome and malignant sore
on the people who had the mark of the BEAST
and who worshiped his IMAGE.

In Revelation 13, the people of the earth, on demand of the false prophet, establish the IMAGE OF THE BEAST (Rev 13:14).  This image then attempts to compel all people to worship (obey) itself and to receive the MARK OF THE BEAST (Rev 13:15, 16).  The people “who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image” are therefore not two different groups of people, but one and the same group.

While God’s people are still being killed because they refuse to worship (obey) the image (Rev 13:15), the plagues start to fall, but ONLY on the worshipers of the beast (Rev 16:2, 10). God’s people do not suffer from the plagues. The worshipers of the beast must now realize that they are working against God. How do they respond? Will they repent? This is discussed below.

REVELATION 16:3

The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea,
and it became blood like that of a dead man;
and every living thing in the sea died.

Here, God destroys His creation.  That which God so lavishly created on the fifth day, He utterly destroys with the second plague. We can’t help but think of how pleased the Lord was when He made all the plethora of sea life for man’s pleasure and benefit:

“God created … every living thing …
with which the waters abounded, according to their kind
… And God saw that it was GOOD
“ (Gen 1:20-23)!

REVELATION 16:4

Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers
and the springs of waters; and they became blood.

REVELATION 16:5

And I heard the angel of the waters saying,
    “RIGHTEOUS ARE YOU,
who are and who were,
O Holy One,

     because You judged these things;

Revelation often describes God as “Him who IS and who WAS and who is TO COME” (Rev 1:4, 8; 4:8). This identifies God as eternal. But Rev 16:5 omits the “is to come”-part because, as concluded in a previous article, the plagues are part of the RETURN OF CHRIST. Fortunes are being reversed. When the plagues start, God’s people are persecuted, but when the plagues come to an end, the worshipers of the beast are dead, as explained below.   

The seventh trumpet (Rev 11:17) similarly omits the “is to come”-part, describing God only as He “who are and who were,” for at that point in time Christ has already come:

The kingdom of the world HAS BECOME
the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ
” (Rev 11:15). 

This is consistent with the principle that each of the main sections of Revelation end with the return of Christ. For a discussion of this, see Are the events in Revelation in a strict chronological sequence?

REVELATION 16:6

for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets,
and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.”

Later in Revelation, we will read about the harlot Babylon, the mother of harlots

She is “drunk with the BLOOD of the saints” (Rev 17:6).

In her was found the BLOOD of prophets and of the saints,
and of all who have been KILLED on the earth
” (Rev 18:24).

God’s enemies have shed the blood of saints and prophets throughout history (1 Kings 18:4; 19:4; 2 Kings 24:4; 2 Chron 24:21; Psa 79:1-4; Jer 2:30; 26:23; Lam 4:13).  Jesus mentioned this in His parables:

The vine-growers took his slaves and BEAT one,
and KILLED another, and STONES a third.

(Matt 21:35-36)

Since the rejection of Messiah Jesus, 2000 years ago, the toll of the shed blood of the saints has escalated dramatically.  Yet, the persecutions of history will pale in comparison with that which befalls the saints in the crisis when the beast (Rev 13:7, 10) and his image (Rev 13:15) slaughter the saints during SATAN’S FINAL ATTEMPT to overthrow God’s plan.

REVELATION 16:7

And I heard the altar saying,
‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty,
TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS are Your judgments.’

This is essentially a repeat of what the angel has said in the previous verse (Rev 16:5-6). Both the angel and the altar confirm that God’s decisions are “true and righteous.” This relates to the purpose of the plagues, which is to serve as “demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26).  This is discussed below.

ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING

One does not normally expect altars to speak, but in apocalyptic literature, anything is possible. There were two altars in the Jewish temple area. Both are mentioned in Revelation:

Golden altar: The “golden” altar (Rev 8:3), from which rises “the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints” (Rev 8:4), is also called the altar of incense. It was INSIDE the Jewish temple.  In Revelation, this altar is “before the throne” (Rev 8:3) and therefore “in the temple” (Rev 16:17), which is IN HEAVEN (Rev 11:19).

Altar of burnt offerings: In Revelation 6, John saw “underneath THE ALTAR the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9). This “altar” was symbolized by the Jewish altar of burnt offerings, which was OUTSIDE the temple. It represents the martyrdom of Christ and His people. This altar is ON EARTH because that is where God’s people are persecuted and killed.  

The altar in Rev 16:7 is probably the altar of burnt offering because it is not identified as “golden” and because it responds to the statement in the previous verse about the pouring out of “the blood of saints and prophets.” 

JUDGING AND AVENGING OUR BLOOD

In the fifth seal,

The souls of those who had been slain …
cried out  … How long, O Lord, holy and true,
will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?

(Rev 6:9-10). 

The plagues are the answer to this request. In the plagues, the long delay in God’s judgment comes to an end, and the third plague-angel says,

They poured out the blood of saints and prophets,
and You have given them blood to drink.
They deserve it
” (Rev 16:6).

REVELATION 16:8

The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun,
and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.

Normally, the sun warms and cheers men, stimulates plant growth, and regulates climate and many other processes necessary to maintain life. But now it sends forth an excess of heat that torments men and destroys life.  But, somehow, God’s people will be protected from this scorching fire (Rev 16:2).

REVELATION 16:9

Men were scorched with fierce heat;
and they BLASPHEMED the name of God
who has the power over these plagues,
and they DID NOT REPENT so as to give Him glory.

The sins of the people that worship (obey) the image of the beast include that they persecute God’s people (Rev 13:15). Since they refuse to repent, it means that God’s people are still being persecuted.

PURPOSE OF THE PLAGUES

While the angel of the water and the altar praise God for His final judgments (Rev 16:5-7), the worshipers of the beast curse Him.

As discussed, the beast of Revelation is the mainstream church of Christendom. The people with the mark of the beast, therefore, are not atheists; the Christians, but equivalent to the Pharisees of Christ’s day. When the plagues start to fall, but only affect them (Rev 16:2), the people with the mark of the beast should be able to see that the despised heretics do not suffer because of the plagues. They must realize that they themselves are opposing God. But they have become hardened beyond repentance (Rev 16:9, 11, 21). Even in the face of the devastation around them, their hearts are set against God in such hatred that all they can do is to continue on their evil ways, and curse God. 

God knows that nothing will convince the people, who accepted the mark of the beast, to repent. God’s creatures, however, do not have His infinite knowledge.  The PURPOSE OF THE PLAGUES is to prove to all intelligent beings in the universe whom God condemned to the second death have passed an invisible point of no return, and are unable to repent from their hatred, even under the most severe circumstance. 

The plagues will, therefore, show that God is right when He destroys them, which He will do in the last plague. 

MARK OF THE BEAST

That is actually the meaning of the MARK OF THE BEAST.  Rephrased, a person who has become unable to repent is said to have received the mark of the beast. Because Revelation says that they refuse to repent (Rev 16:9, 11), we must assume that the opportunity to repent still exists; even at this late hour.  God’s hand of mercy is still being extended, but these multitudes will have none of it.  It is not that God does not want to forgive.  It is that these people have become unable to change.

SUMMARY

God is identified as He “who are and who were” because the plagues are part of the RETURN OF CHRIST.  These are the LAST plagues.  When they end, all the people with the mark of the beast are dead.

The first four bowls target the earth, sea, waters, and the sun, but God’s people are protected from the plagues.  The people with the mark of the beast can see this, but they have become so entrenched in their ways that they are UNABLE TO REPENT.  Even in the face of the devastation around them, their hearts are set against God in such hatred that all they can do is to continue on their evil ways, and curse God. 

Both the third angel and the altar—a symbol of the martyrdom of God’s people—confirm that God’s decisions are “true and righteous.”  This is the PURPOSE OF THE PLAGUES, namely to demonstrate that God is just, namely to prove to all the universe that the worshipers of the beast are unable to repent from their hatred, even under the most severe circumstance. The plagues will, therefore, show that God is right when He destroys them, which He will do in the last plague. 

That is actually the meaning of the MARK OF THE BEAST.  God is always willing to save, but a person who has become unable to repent is said to have received the mark of the beast. 

Next: Fifth Plague

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the excellent Pineknoll website.