The purpose of the plagues is not to save or to punish. But then the question remains, why does God torment men with the fearful plagues?
Revelation uses the literal Egyptian plagues as symbols for the end-time disasters. This implies that the Egyptian plagues can teach us about the end-time plagues, namely:
God will right all wrongs. We complain that life is not fair, but God will ensure that life is eventually fair, except that God’s people receive mercy which they do not deserve.
The plagues are a judgment on false religions.
That the purpose of the plagues is to teach. God purposefully hardened Pharaoh’s heart for His purpose was to teach the Egyptians and the nations about the true God. The end-time plagues will also serve as a lesson.
The plagues in Revelation 16 teach three lessons, namely:
That the people with the mark of the beast, although they appear to be Christians, are hardened beyond repentance, even WHEN THEY KNOW that they oppose God; This shows that, for the happiness of the universe, the only solution for them is the second (eternal) DEATH.
That the repentant sinners—the people with the seal of God—would rather die than to disobey God, and are worthy of ETERNAL LIFE.
Consequently, God’s judgment (assessment) of people, as to who will inherit eternal life and who will suffer the second death, is without fault.
These concepts will now be discussed in more detail.
PURPOSE OF THE PLAGUES
Not to save – The purpose of the plagues is not to save, for nobody will be saved during plagues. This is indicated by:
- The empty temple (15:8), which symbolizes that salvation is no longer available; (See Introduction to the Plagues), and by
- The repeated mention in the plagues that sinners do not repent (16:9, 11, 21).
Not to punish – Many believe that the purpose of the plagues is to punish, without any saving purpose. In other words, God will punish the wicked simply for the sake of punishment. This website does not support this view, for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16). He loves even the people with the mark of the beast.
Why then torment? – But then the question remains, why does God torment men with the fearful plagues if nobody will repent? The plagues start to fall after the eternal destiny of every person has been permanently sealed. (See Introduction to the Plagues) Why will Christ not return and end the reign of sin as soon as all destinies are fixed?
Both the plagues on ancient Egyptian and the end-time plagues in Revelation 16 include sores, water turning to blood, darkness, and frogs (Ex. 7:17-21; 8:2-13; 9:8-11; 10:21-23). In fact, the disasters in Revelation 16 are called plagues because Revelation uses the literal Egyptian plagues as symbols for the end-time disasters. This implies that the Egyptian plagues can teach us about the end-time plagues.
We can learn the following principles from the Egyptian plagues:
- That God will right all wrongs;
- That the plagues are a judgment on false religions; and
- That the PURPOSE of the plagues is to teach.
GOD WILL RIGHT ALL WRONGS
Israel was enslaved and subjected to harsh treatment in Egypt. In the same way, in the end-time, the persecution of God’s people (13:15) will serve as a catalyst for the end-time plagues. Revelation contains a strong theme of avenging the blood of the martyrs:
“The souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God” cried out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?” (6:9-10).
After the first three plagues, “the angel of the waters” commented, “they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it” (16:6).
After Babylon was judged (17:16), “a strong angel” declared, “in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:21,24). And the “great multitude in heaven” rejoiced, saying, “He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her” (19:1-2).
These statements imply revenge or punishment, but only the living wicked will suffer this punishment. Therefore, this should rather be understood more generally as that God will correct all wrongs. We complain that life is not fair, but in the end, God will ensure that life is fair, except that God’s people receive mercy which they do not deserve.
JUDGES FALSE RELIGION
The Egyptians worshiped the sun, the river, and many other things, and the Egyptian plagues were a judgment on their gods:
‘I … will strike down all the firstborn …
and against all the gods of Egypt,
I will execute judgments”
Similarly, the end-time plagues will show how futile reliance on false religion is:
But the real main purpose of the plagues is to teach God’s creatures.
In redeeming Israel from Egypt, God chose to act very visibly. But when He liberated Israel from ancient Babylon, but He acted invisible, except as seen through the eyes of the prophets. He sent pagan armies against Babylon and arranged these forces to be favorable towards Israel. Why did He act so visibly in Egypt? God purposefully hardened Pharaoh’s heart for His purpose was to teach the Egyptians and the nations about the true God:
“I will harden Pharaoh’s heart …
and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.”
(Ex. 14:4; see also 7:3, 7; 4:21; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8)
The deliverance from Egypt was to serve as a visible lesson to the peoples of the world. In His mercy He wanted them to learn about His existence and power:
“I raised you (Pharaoh) up,
to demonstrate My power in you,
and that My name might be proclaimed
throughout the whole earth” (Rom 9:17).
The end-time plagues will also serve as a lesson, for God will not let people suffer simply for the sake of punishment. But the question is: What is the lesson? To discuss this is the purpose of the current article. The next article discusses the questions: For who is the lesson and why do they need these lessons?
The plagues in Revelation 16 teach three lessons, namely:
That the people with the mark of the beast, although they appear to be Christians, are in reality committed to Satan’s principles and are unable to repent, even when they know that they oppose God;
That the people with the seal of God would rather die than to disobey God.
Consequently, the plagues reveal that God’s judgment (assessment) of people, as to who will inherit eternal life, is fully accurate.
MARK OF THE BEAST
Three times (16:9, 11, 21) it is said in the plagues that the people with the mark of the beast blaspheme God and do not repent. This implies that the purpose of the plagues is to see whether they would repent.
WHEN THE PLAGUES BEGIN
When the plagues start to fall, the people of the world are divided into two clearly demarcated groups. For example, the people with the mark of the beast are allowed to buy and sell; the others are not (13:17). Just like the seal of God is not a literal mark, the mark of the beast is also not a literal mark, but somehow it will be possible to determine to what group each person belongs, for the one group will persecute the other.
Both groups are Christians. See, the throne of the beast is Christian religious authority. People often ask what the mark of the beast is. That question is unnecessary. Irrespective of what the mark of the beast is, when we see a Christian persecuting another person, either physically or by verbal abuse, we see the spirit of the beast in action.
The plagues only target the large group with the mark of the Beast (16:2). These people must, therefore, become increasingly aware of some sort of supernatural support for the hated minority. In the fifth plague, the mighty angel of Revelation 18 destroys Christian authority. Through the plagues, therefore, the people with the mark of the beast increasingly realize that they themselves are opposing God.
But instead of repenting, they curse Him even more bitterly than ever before (16:9, 11, 21) and become even more resolute in their opposition. They refuse to admit that they are wrong, even in the face of these severe judgments.
One purpose of the plagues is, therefore, to show that the people with the mark of the beast, although they present themselves as Christians, are hardened beyond repentance. The plagues serve to reveal the spirit of rebellion that controls their hearts.
Sin changed people. There is a point where it becomes impossible for a person to turn to God. That is the point at which the person receives the mark of the beast. It means that that person cannot be saved; NOT because God does not want to save, but because something has changed in that individual which makes it impossible to become one with God again.
The plagues, therefore, are not some arbitrary punishment. It has an eternal purpose. Through the plagues, God provides abundant proof of the inability of the people with the mark of the beast to repent. They confess to being Christians, but the plagues will show what they really are; unalterably committed to evil; that the only solution, for the happiness of the universe, is the second death (e.g. Rev. 2:11):
“The wages of sin is death, but
the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:23)
SEAL OF GOD
The second lesson from the plagues that the people with the seal of God are willing to die rather than to disobey God.
“They overcame him (Satan)
because of the blood of the Lamb
and because of the word of their testimony, and
they did not love their life even when faced with death”
The plagues follow and continue the period of the most intense persecution of believers in history. Under the extremely difficult circumstances created by the plagues, the persecutors continue to blaspheme God (16:8, 11) and continue to persecute the saints. God will withdraw His restraining Spirit, to allow the persecutors to do whatever they please with God’s people. This will thoroughly test the characters of the saints, but they will rather die than disobey God. It will show the changed nature of repentant sinners who were washed clean with the blood of Christ; that they are worthy of eternal life.
In the plagues, God is frequently praised for the righteousness of His judgments (15:3-4; 16:5-7; 19:2). This implies that the third lesson from the plagues is that God judges righteously. The plagues prove to the intelligent creatures of the universe that God’s distinction between the people that will receive eternal life and those that will die is without error:
It proves that the people with the mark of the beast are hardened beyond the possibility of repentance, even under the most difficult circumstances.
The plagues also prove that the people with the seal of God are not willing to disobey God, whatever the cost.
Together, these issues prove that God judged rightly. This is, actually, the only purpose of the plagues.
An article that is related to the current article asks why the Euphrates has to dry up to prepare the way for the kings from the east. That article also concludes that the purpose of the plagues is to teach that God’s judgments are right, but it comes to that conclusion by analyzing the symbolism in the sixth plague specifically.
The current article does not explain why it is necessary for the accuracy of God’s judgments to be confirmed, and who needs that information. Those questions are discussed in the next article.