Do you ever feel like prayer is pointless? Do you ever wonder why you do it? When you’re hurting and struggling through life, praying your eyes out for change, do you ever wonder if your prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling?
When you pray for the persecuted church throughout the world, does it ever seem hopeless? Maybe the enemies of Christians will just keep getting away with their hateful, murderous violence? Besides, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), right? So isn’t all violent persecution just helping Christians get to heaven faster, thus answering Jesus’ prayer in John 17:24?
I desire those You have given Me
to be with Me where I am.
Then they will see My glory,
which You have given Me
because You loved Me before the world’s foundation.
Is this a right way of looking at it?
In our passage today, John emphatically disagrees, explaining the critical importance of Christians’ prayers, showing that God hears them and will answer them in His perfect timing.
Then I heard a loud voice from the sanctuary saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”Revelation 16:1
This single verse accomplishes all I set up for it in the introduction, especially when we read it in light of the rest of the book. In so doing, we must take note of two important things. (Next week we will dive into the consequences of the individual bowls.)
The Prayers of the Saints
The origin of these bowls is critical. We saw these bowls last week, and we were reminded, “Ten chapters earlier, we saw that the prayers of the saints are likened to bowls of incense (5:8).”
Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints.Revelation 5:8
Each one refers to the “four living creatures and the twenty-four elders.” However, the heart of Revelation is bracketed by references to these bowls, so while the creatures and elders were collecting the prayers for God in 5:8, it is clear that by 16:1 God has divided our prayers into seven specific bowls to be returned to the earth.
In other words, the prayers of the saints will be answered when God pours out His wrath on the unbelieving enemies of God’s people. We see a portent of this in Revelation 6:9-11.
When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the people slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice: “Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer.
When the heart of Revelation starts, we see that God is collecting our prayers (5:8). Those who are collecting them call out for God to exercise His authority over the world (5:9). Christ shows His sovereignty over the world in Revelation 6:1-8:6 (11:19?) by opening the seals. One area in which Christ shows His sovereignty over the world is by telling believers to wait for God to answer their prayers in the most complete way possible (6:9-11). Then, finally, in Revelation 16, God pours out His wrath on the unbelieving world, and He does so by pouring the prayers of the saints on the world.
The more we are persecuted, the more we will pray. And the more we pray, the stronger the mix of God’s wrath will be. The unbelieving, unrepentant world only makes their misery more severe by persecuting God’s people. (Perhaps this is why twenty-eight were holding the prayers of the saints, and only seven bowls get poured out; some enemies become brothers [e.g., the Apostle Paul], and other prayers are for other things.)
Regardless, God hears our prayers. He sees our struggles. he knows our pain. When the wicked seem to get away with their wickedness, when they seem to be ramping up their wickedness, God knows. He sees. He cares. All wrongs will be made right on the last day.
The Unity of Revelation
Second, as we have already hinted at, the bowls described in Revelation 16 are parallel with both the trumpets of Revelation 8-11 and the seals of Revelation 6-8.
This does not mean that the trumpets follow the seals and the bowls follow the trumpets. While there is some indication that the trumpets do grow out of the seals (cf. 8:1-6), John is clear that at the seventh trumpet, the end has come.
A close inspection of the trumpets and the bowls reveals that they are practically describing the same thing. The specifics will be discussed as we get to each of the bowls in the coming weeks, but for now, it is worth noting that the seals indicate God’s sovereignty over the world, the trumpets indicate God’s reclamation of the world (five and six are outliers; we described why in their individual posts), and the bowls represent God’s wrath being poured out on the world.
Because these are describing parallel realities, the time to trust in Jesus is now! Stop saying, “I’ll think about religion when things look dim.”
We already experienced 2020, 2021, and most of 2022. How dim do things have to get before you decide to trust Jesus?
If you wait too long, you could be dead, and it could be too late (cf. Hebrews 9:27). Trust Him today!
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
The next entry can be found here.