When I taught this series of lessons on Revelation to my Sunday School class, they really enjoyed the illustrations various talented artists in our congregation had come up with to help them understand. The picture for this lesson was of an angel pouring a bowl of judgement out over the earth. The angel had a single tear falling from his eye. It was a powerful image, one that has stayed with me ever since. It is truly tragic that judgement for sin is necessary, and it’s good to mourn for those who must experience this judgement. I anticipate the end of the world with joy, since I know it will mean the end of sin and suffering; but I don’t really understand those who express glee over the judgement of sin. God’s wrath has already been poured out upon His Son. If only everyone would accept Christ’s atonement, rendering these bowls of judgement unnecessary! As I studied the Scriptures in preparation for these lessons, I grieved for those who refuse to come to their Loving Father; who would rather perish without Him than live forever with Him. This lesson is taken from Revelation chapters 13-16.
There are many things in Revelation that are very difficult to understand. The images are intense and interesting, but it is hard to know exactly what these images mean. Many people have very strong opinions about these prophecies of the end times. But the fact is, no one really knows for sure what some of these prophecies really mean. God does not give us prophecies so that we’ll know the future. It isn’t our business to know the future. The reason God gives us prophecies is so that when the prophecies come to pass, we will know what’s going on. We can’t really understand the meaning of a prophecy until it happens. Men had studied the Old Testament prophecies for centuries, and many of them thought they knew what the prophecies about Jesus’ coming meant. But no one ever dreamed of what those prophecies really meant! No one ever understood that the words of David and Isaiah and other prophets meant that the Messiah, the promised Savior, would have to die a horrible death on a cross and be raised from the dead. Only after Jesus died and rose again did the meanings of the prophecies become clear. It will be the same way with the prophecies in Revelation. We should be familiar with them so that, when they come to pass, we will recognize them and understand them for what they really mean.
While John was in heaven looking at the different images God was showing him, he saw something that looked like a beast rising out of the sea. This beast had ten horns and seven heads, and seven crowns on his heads. John had a hard time describing this terrible beast; he said that the beast looked kind of like a leopard and kind of like a bear and kind of like a lion! He also said that one of the seven heads had been killed, but had been healed and was alive again. Keep in mind that things in heaven look different than they do on earth. Remember that when John saw Jesus, Jesus looked like a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes. Jesus didn’t look like that on earth, did He? This beast that John saw from heaven will probably look like an ordinary man on earth. He will probably be a ruler of some kind who does something impressive that gets everyone’s attention all over the world. All that we know for certain about this frightening monster is that, when he appears, the whole world will worship him. John says that the beast will become the ruler over every tribe, people, language and nation. That pretty much covers everybody in the whole world. If you ever hear someone talk about the Antichrist, this is the person they are talking about. John says that the special symbol of this Antichrist is 666. Some people freak out when they see this number, and now you know why! We don’t know what this number means, but it is worth while to be aware of it.
This world ruler, the Antichrist, will persecute God’s people. John says that the beast will make war against the saints, those who believe in the one, true God. “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints,” John observes. The Antichrist will control the world with the help of another beast. John says that this second beast looks like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon! This second beast forces the people of the world to worship the first beast or be killed! He also forces all the people of the world to take a mark on their hands or foreheads. If they don’t have this mark, they can’t buy or sell anything, not even food. Why would God allow such beasts to take over the world? Because the people of the world want them! God gives people free will, and if the people chose to have such a ruler over them, God lets them have it!
God has given the world thousands of years to turn to Him. But there has to be an end to sin once and for all eventually. John now sees how God finally puts an end to sin on the earth. He gives seven angels seven bowls of judgement to pour out upon the world. These bowls contain the consequences of man’s sins. You know what consequences are, don’t you? If you disobey your mom or dad, you have consequences, right? Maybe you don’t get dessert with your dinner or get grounded. There are natural consequences to sin, too. For example, if you disobey traffic laws and speed, you might lose control of your car and crash into a tree! If you disobey the law of gravity and jump off a 5 story building, you will go splat! The people on earth chose as their ruler this horrible beast, the Antichrist. As a result, many terrible things happen to them. When the first angel poured out his bowl of judgement, the people who worshiped the Antichrist and took his mark on their hands or foreheads got a painful disease. The second bowl turned the sea to blood and the third bowl turned all the rivers and streams to blood, too. The fourth bowl turned the sun’s rays very hot–global warming maybe? The fifth bowl brought a time of darkness. The sixth bowl dried up the Euphrates River and at that time the Antichrist releases three terrible demons to get the earth ready for war against God and God’s people.
I can imagine that pouring out these bowls of judgement made the angels sad. But as they did their jobs, they sang this song to God: “You are just in these judgements, You Who are and Who were, the Holy One, because You have so judged; for they have shed the blood of Your saints and prophets.” God must judge sin. He is completely holy and cannot allow sin to go on. He has allowed the earth to continue in sin for thousands of years so that as many people as possible will have the chance to repent and turn to Him. But an end to sin must come sometime! The very end comes when the seventh angel pours out the seventh bowl, and the Antichrist gathered his armies for war against God. This is called Armageddon, and guess who wins? But we will talk about this next week!