We are continuing to work through the Book of Revelation with a focus on four major views of the so-called Apocalypse of John. You may read the commentary to date by clicking here.
Whether you’re a preterist, who sees the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the Christian era, a historicist, who views the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history, a futurist, who sees most of Revelation as yet unfulfilled, or an idealist, who sees Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil, there are important truths the Lord reveals to all of us in this book.
We would do well to approach Revelation with caution — and with great anticipation, knowing God will fulfill all His promises to us. We also should be comforted by the fact that Revelation is the only book in Scripture specifically promising a blessing to those who hear its prophecies and keep them.
With that in mind, and to make it easier to keep our notes together, we have captured the commentary into single Adobe files (pdfs) that you may download, print and share. Click on the links below to capture notes on chapter 15. If you missed the link to notes on any other chapters to date, links are provided as well.
Rev. 16:20 – Every island fled, and the mountains disappeared. 21 Enormous hailstones, each weighing about 100 pounds, fell from the sky on people, and they blasphemed God for the plague of hail because that plague was extremely severe. (HCSB)
Every island fled
Verse 20 reads, “Every island fled, and the mountains disappeared.” Some translations say the islands “disappeared” or “vanished.” There is a similar image from the sixth seal in Rev. 6:14. We are told that “every mountain and island was moved from its place.” All of creation is shaken violently in preparation for its renovation into new heavens and a new earth, although some see this in figurative terms as the dramatic end to the times of the Jews and/or the Roman Empire.
Those who see this passage as a prelude to the return of Christ note that Rev. 21:1 tells us that the first heaven and earth have passed away and the sea exists no more.
Isaiah pictures a day when the Lord of Hosts is coming “against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up – it will be humbled – against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up, against all the oaks of Bashan, against all the high mountains, against all the lofty hills, against every high tower, against every fortified wall, against every ship of Tarshish, and against every splendid sea vessel. So human pride will be brought low, and the loftiness of men will be humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted on that day” (Isa. 2:12-17).
Rev. 16:8 –The fourth [angel] poured out his bowl on the sun. He was given the power to burn people with fire, 9 and people were burned by the intense heat. So they blasphemed the name of God who had the power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give Him glory (HCSB).
And people were burned
The fourth angel pours out his bowl on the sun, resulting in intense heat that burns people. While the first three bowl judgments are directed toward the earthly elements – namely, the earth, sea, rivers and springs of water – the fourth judgment is aimed skyward, toward the light-bearing and warmth-giving orb that interacts with the earthly elements to sustain life.
This angel, like others we have encountered, is granted authority over some part of the physical universe. In this case, he is given the power to burn people, and he uses the fusion-powered heat of the sun to carry out his task. (Some versions, it must be noted, render the word “it” rather than “he,” indicating that the sun is personified as in Ps. 19:1-6.) At its core, the sun is 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. Even the coolest part of the sun – the sun spot – is 6,700 degrees Fahrenheit, several times hotter than the lava from a volcano (www.planetfacts.org).
The earth is about 93 million miles from the sun. As the earth circles the sun in an elliptical route, the distance between the two varies from about 91 million miles to 94.5 million miles, contributing to our seasons. While that fluctuating distance seems to leave a lot of wiggle room, the fact is that if the earth passed much closer to or farther from the sun, life would be far different here, if possible at all. God created the earth and the stellar heavens to support His special creation on earth, and He holds all things together (Col. 1:17).
If the fourth bowl judgment is to be taken literally, perhaps the Lord empowers the angel to move the earth and the sun a little closer together. Or, he may simply crank up the process by which the sun generates heat. In any case, people on earth feel the impact and are burned. It appears that the people burned are those who worship the beast, for we see that they blaspheme God and refuse to repent.
Rev. 16:3 –The second [angel] poured out his bowl into the sea. It turned to blood like a dead man’s, and all life in the sea died. (HCSB)
The sea turned to blood
John records that the target of the second angel’s bowl of divine wrath is the sea, which turns to blood like a dead man’s. There are two key questions to be addressed here. First, what is meant by the “sea?” And second, what is the significance of the sea turning to blood “like a dead man’s?”
As we have noted in previous chapters, Bible scholars interpret the meaning of the sea differently in Revelation:
- Some understand it literally to mean the salty bodies of water that cover much of the earth’s surface. The seas turn red by the hand of God, or as a result of divinely orchestrated human battles; some argue that a bacterial “red tide” may be the cause of perishing sea life. The widespread death of people and/or animals in the sea would create a putrid environment that clogs the waterways with coagulating blood like a dead man’s.
- Others argue for a narrower but equally literal view, saying John is referring to the Mediterranean Sea, or to the waters between Patmos, where John is exiled, and Rome; this would include not only the Mediterranean Sea, but the Aegean, Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas. This presupposes that the bowl judgments are poured out on the known world of John’s day rather than on all the earth’s seas.
- Many preterists contend that the Sea of Galilee is in John’s view since that is where the Roman armies inflict a particularly horrifying slaughter of the Jews during their first-century rebellion against the empire. In fact, the result of the battle is that the sea becomes a floating tide of corpses, severed limbs and bloody pools.
- Some historicists say the sea depicts the ocean centuries later as the navies of France, Spain and Portugal suffer bloody defeats while defending a corrupt papacy. Matthew Henry suggests the bloody seas may describe “the whole system of [Papal Rome’s] religion, their false doctrines, their corrupt glosses, their superstitious rites, their idolatrous worship, their pardons, indulgences, a great conflux of wicked inventions and institutions, by which they maintain a trade and traffic advantageous to themselves, but injurious to all who deal with them…. God discovered not only the vanity and falsehood of their religion, but the pernicious and deadly nature of it – that the souls of men were poisoned by that which was pretended to be the sure means of their salvation” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, 16:1-7).
- Still others take a symbolic approach, contending that the sea stands for the Gentile nations, or the restless mass of humanity in general.
Whether this vision is to be understood literally or figuratively, the sea turning to blood “like a dead man’s” conveys the idea of massive and complete death. The waters swell with putrefied corpses. Life’s blood has been spilled beyond the hope of healing. Death, destruction, and decay assault the eyes and inflame the nostrils. This is graphic, violent, sense-numbing death. Even if we take John’s description symbolically, the corruption of people, nations, and institutions is complete. The false doctrines are a stench in God’s nostrils. The corrupt practices of people, governments, and religious institutions are beyond repair; like corpses, they must be discarded. John seems here to be telling us that God’s punishment fits the crime. The wicked are so depraved nothing short of death will vindicate His holiness.