“Prophets” have been claiming Jesus would come back in their lifetimes for hundreds of years. Certain groups have had to “receive updated revelation” to make up for their previously incorrect predictions. I remember when Harold Camping predicted Jesus would return on May 21, 2011 (please be kind, as I haven’t watched this video in over ten years); if I remember correctly, I was at Six Flags Magic Mountain on May 21, 2011.
However, in the days of the Bible, the preferred claim was that Jesus was never coming back. Peter writes as follows in 2 Peter 3:3-7,
Be aware of this: Scoffers will come in the last days to scoff, living according to their own desires, saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? Ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation.” They willfully ignore this: Long ago the heavens and the earth were brought about from water and through water by the word of God. Through these waters the world of that time perished when it was flooded. But by the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
And up to this point in Revelation, we keep seeing the same things over and over. It helps us understand the claims of first-century scoffers. Earthquakes, wars, celestial strangenesses; abusive world powers, martyred Christians, the Church’s faithful witness; spiritual darkness, idolatry, atheism. Our world today might be more scientific than it was in the first century, but we still live in the same fallen world, with the same pain and confusion. When will Jesus return?
In our passage today, John shows us that even though history often seems like it is repeating itself, the world will one day come to an end:
Then the seventh poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the sanctuary from the throne, saying, “It is done!” There were flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder. And a severe earthquake occurred like no other since man has been on the earth—so great was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the Great was remembered in God’s presence; He gave her the cup filled with the wine of His fierce anger. Every island fled, and the mountains disappeared. 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.Revelation 16:17-21
Much like last time, this passage is easily comparable to the trumpet and seal judgments. However, unlike last time, a voice is the primary result of this bowl being poured out. Whose voice is it? It is likely Jesus (cf. John 19:30 [since it is specifically “from the throne”]), though it could also be Christians (cf. Revelation 6:9-11 [the fifth seal] or 11:1-2 [the “sanctuary” there was understood as the Church]).
Another difference from last time is connected to the fact that, as I explained last time, “most of the sixth seal is actually better equated with the seventh bowl.” In what follows, I will draw out these connections, ultimately highlighting that John wants us to believe in Jesus NOW. Let’s not wait any longer to repent!
Bowl of Finality
This bowl is the end of time. As we get into chapters 17-18, starting next week, we will see specific reasons why God is pouring out His wrath on the earth. But for now, it is enough to know that world history will eventually come to an end. And we need to be ready when it does. We don’t want to be caught with our pants down, like the people described in 16:21, “they blasphemed God for the plague of hail because that plague was extremely severe.” By this point, God has appeared, and people are still foolishly blaspheming God.
Lightning. Lightning occurs three times in Revelation prior to this verse (4:5; 8:5; 11:19). In each of these occurrences, it is referring to God’s presence (with the possible exception of 8:5). So whether this is specifically focused on the source of the voice (which is highly possible), or God’s presence striking earth, John doesn’t make it clear. Regardless, John is making clear that the readers are in the presence of God.
Thunder. Thunder is similar to lightning, and is likely referring to the same thing since it occurs in all the same passages. However, thunder also occurs in 6:1 to describe the voice of the four living creatures; it occurs in 14:2 and 19:6 to describe the voice of the redeemed (a rumbling, loud, victory cry); neither of these occurrences affects our passage today.
Thunder is also referenced in 10:3-4, referring to a judgment that God had withheld. It is possible (though by no means necessary) that this is why John emphasizes thunder here; it wasn’t time at first, but now it is.
Earthquake. Earthquakes are a regular part of God’s Judgment in Revelation. In addition to our passage today, earthquakes occur in the sixth seal judgment (6:12), the seventh seal judgment (8:5), and the seventh trumpet (11:13, 19). This would imply that there is significant overlap between all of these judgments, making the creation of end-of-the-world timelines unhelpful and unnecessary.
Islands and mountains. Islands and mountains disappearing is also a feature of the sixth seal judgment (6:14). This could be a dramatic way of rewriting Isaiah 40:3-5,
Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness;
make a straight highway for our God in the desert.
Every valley will be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled;
the uneven ground will become smooth
and the rough places, a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will appear,
and all humanity together will see it,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Islands are similar. With the ocean in the way, it prevents people from hearing about/seeing God. Now there is unfettered access to God. It is also worth remembering that God isn’t going to destroy the earth, but He is going to recreate it; when the sea is no more (cf. Revelation 21:1), there won’t be any more islands.
Hailstones. Hail is also mentioned in several prior places in Revelation. It is a component of the first trumpet (8:7) and the seventh trumpet (11:19). There are three applicable Old Testament passages that refer to hail. The first is in Job 38:22, when God asks Job if he knows where God keeps His hailstones. The next is in Isaiah 28:17, where God declares:
And I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the mason’s level.”
Hail will sweep away the false refuge,
and water will flood your hiding place.
This was written to the Jews, but it is still applicable to Babylon in Revelation. God demands justice, and judgment will follow on those who fail to do justice (cf. Revelation 18). This is a challenge to any religious or political system that abuses those under their care. God promises hail to break down their hiding places–they know that God has them in His sights. Also, those who trust in false religions will find that their false religion is gone too–on that day.
Haggai 2:17 is another applicable verse, though not as immediately relevant. Here, God declares:
I struck you—all the work of your hands—with blight, mildew, and hail, but you didn’t turn to Me”—this is the Lord’s declaration.
Hail is supposed to get our attention. If we fail to repent, God will strike us with even worse hail! Don’t wait too long.
But maybe you think that God is full of empty threats–especially due to thinking like the scoffers in 2 Peter 3. John covers his bases there too, pointing back to Revelation 14 and drawing a direct parallel.
Babylon the Great was remembered in God’s presence; He gave her the cup filled with the wine of His fierce anger.Revelation 16:19
If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger.Revelation 14:9-10
This is huge. Don’t call God a liar by failing to believe in Jesus.
It’s common in certain circles to think that Babylon will literally return at the end of time, even though there are verses saying Babylon will never rise again (Jeremiah 51:64). The whole of the seven bowls (16:2-21) is proof that Babylon is found throughout the whole world. Wherever people are anti-God or anti-Christ, there is Babylon–even now. This judgment is coming on the world, if they persist in blasphemy instead of repentance and faith in Jesus.
The One Who Took the Bowls for Us
As we wrap up today, it is fitting to return to Peter’s words from the introduction:
Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief.2 Peter 3:8-10
In other words, don’t fall into the trap that says that Jesus will never return. Peter’s last words here match Jesus’ promise of blessing in the midst of the sixth bowl (16:15): “Look, I am coming like a thief.”
This warning occurs in the midst of the sixth bowl because wars and rumors of wars (cf. Matthew 24:6) are what should make us long for His return. At some point, it’ll be too late to repent and you will end up cursed.
But the amazing news is that Jesus drank the bowls of wrath for us:
- Luke 22:42
“Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”
- John 18:11
At that, Jesus said to Peter, “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?”
You must believe that this was His purpose on the cross so that you can escape. If you were guilty of speeding through a school zone, and you accidentally murdered children in the process, and the Judge was about to sentence you to life in prison, and someone stepped in and offered to take your place in prison, wouldn’t you take it? Or would you say, “No, thank you; I want to suffer for my crime myself”?
This is what we do when we refuse to believe the Gospel. We are all sinners. If you doubt this fact, look at Exodus 20:2-17 and see if you have ever broken any of those laws. Jesus died on the cross in our place. To refuse to believe in Him is to commit another sin, in fact, it’s to break the first and second commandments (20:2-6); to refuse to believe in Him is also to say you want to suffer for your sins yourself. I promise you–and I’m begging you to listen–that you most certainly do not want to suffer for your sins.
Trust Jesus today! We are not guaranteed tomorrow!
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
The next entry can be found here.
I must give credit where credit is due: The comparison between Revelation 16:17-21 and 2 Peter 3:3-10 I owe to Dr. Rodney Reeves during my time at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri.