As symbolized by the golden bowls of Revelation 16, the support of the Most High and his angels is withdrawn, and human civilization collapses.
Picture of the Hindu sun god, Surya, by Nomu420 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32740938
Because we are thoughtful, people worry about the future. John’s Revelation is fascinating, in no small part, because it promises to reveal the future. Before John enters heaven, a voice like a trumpet offers “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”
John needed the comfort of prophesy, as did all the Christians during the years of persecution. But John’s road to that knowledge was not straight. It passed through the rocky ground of “Why? Why does it hurt so much to love?” To answer that question, heaven first taught John about the history of life on Earth.
This gift of knowledge is valuable to us, for it answers the two great criticisms of faith. The scientific attack on faith was removed when we combined Genesis and Revelation to show that they describe the record of evolution thousands of years before science did. Science does not contradict scripture – it confirms it.
The other great attack is the evidence of evil, which atheists argue a loving, all-powerful god would never allow. Our response to this is “It’s not that simple.” While God could eliminate evil, that could only be done by destroying things that he loves. God is a healer, not a dictator.
But if we look to Revelation for knowledge of the future, we’ve gone through twelve chapters and not found much prophesy. For certain, the big picture is clear enough: love wins. But how? How are we to help? Can we trust our leaders to take us in the right direction?
It is our hunger for predictions that has led most interpreters of Revelation to read the eleven chapters we have covered as part of human history. They’re simply giving people what they want: reasons to hope that they will go to heaven.
The Apostles also sought those answers, but Jesus did not satisfy them – as we see in Mark 13, for example. Why was Jesus so coy? Because the motivation of the Apostles was selfish – they wanted to know that their sacrifices would be rewarded. Unfortunately, the lesson of Jesus’s ministry – both in word and deed – was “Stop worrying about yourselves! The way to heaven is through loving others.”
The authority that Jesus cited was the Most High. Clearly, the Apostles had trouble accepting that – perhaps in part because the Most High is remote and mysterious. They wanted authority that they could understand. But to have faith in our own understanding is fool-hardy, for nothing on the Earth can fulfill the promises made by the Most High through Jesus. Our comfort can only be found in proof of the power of the Most High.
Our reading of Revelation has provided just that proof.
We might still worry that we are not important to the Most High, that we are not worthy of his concern. That worry is relieved by the writings in the last seven books of Revelation, beginning with Revelation 16. Here, at last, we find events that are clearly of our age.
Those events should be frightening to any well-meaning person. Terrible things come to pass. And here the power of the Most High, the devotion of angels that serve Him, his never-ending patience and forgiveness – the proof of these in the earlier chapters should be a source of comfort. God’s promises will be fulfilled. He is worthy of our faith.
Again, science provides evidence of this commitment. At Reasons to Believe, a team of Christian scientists study the recent geology of the Earth, and point out how unlikely the events have been that allowed humanity to create its great civilizations. One point is the Earth’s temperature. For much of the Earth’s history, temperatures swung wildly from year to year. This made large-scale agriculture impossible, because no one knew which crops would grow in the next season.
But then, as humanity spread across the globe, the temperatures suddenly stabilized, remaining in a narrow 4-degree band for the entire history of human civilization.
Why would this have happened?
I don’t like to talk about my visions, because they cause people to argue against the message I have been given to share. But I will make an exception here, because I want people to understand how much power is given to those that care for life.
In this vision, I woke from sleep to find myself in the middle of a diffuse, glowing ball. I didn’t understand how I could serve in this situation, so I simply waited. Finally, a presence that had stood aside took me by the hand. We left the glowing ball and travelled across a great distance to a tiny mote. Grieving, the presence told me: “This is the most precious thing in my realm, because only here is life found. I want to help, but if I make the smallest error, everything will be destroyed. I need people to guide me.”
So I believe that the Earth’s temperature stabilized because people prayed to the sun for good weather. This started with people because they understood the relationship between the sun and plants. No other animal would have prayed in this way, because they lacked that understanding.
But there is a lesson here: civilization survives only because of the active involvement of the Most High and his angels. They answer our prayers. If that support is withdrawn, terrible things will happen.
That is the story of Revelation 16. Our civilization, begun simply as a banding together of people to survive, has become a practice of violence and privilege. To continue to support it would be evil. So God withdraws his support, and the world breaks under the burden of selfishness.
Just as with the seven days of creation and the seven trumpets, the seven bowls of God’s wrath progress, each one building on the evil that preceded it. And just as with the seventh trumpet, the last bowl brings us to the end of God’s work on earth.
The process begins with a bowl of wrath poured out on the land. The land that gives us food is poisoned in many ways. Irrigation cakes clay on soil, causing rain-water to run off, and the land to go barren. Sheep graze down to the root, killing plants on sandy soils, leading to erosion that causes the land to go barren. To grow crops on barren land, we till the soil and add fertilizer. To make those practices profitable, we grow high-calorie grains that can be processed to produce flour and sugar. When people live on such a diet, they suffer from diabetes and other dietary ailments. Eventually those ailments lead to skin sores.
The second bowl poisons the sea. Rain falling on grain fields carries silt and fertilizer to the ocean. The fertilizer causes algae blooms that are followed by bacterial mats. Both algae and bacteria poison the water.
Along with grain production, we also exploit the land to extract minerals and metals. When mines are left exposed, metals seep into our fresh water supplies. When mine water becomes stagnant, bacteria produce cyanide, another poison. On top of this, for many years people disposed of hazardous waste in open pools, by injecting it into the ground, or by dumping it directly into our rivers. Those dangerous chemicals poison our fresh water. Indeed, with the pouring of the third bowl, Revelation 16 says that the rivers and springs of water are poisoned.
After the angels voice their support for the judgments of the Lord God Almighty, the fourth bowl picks up the pace of disaster. The sun grows hotter every year, and to keep the planet from over-heating, life converts carbon dioxide into coal and oil deposits. To support our civilizations, we have extracted and burned those deposits, returning carbon dioxide to the air. Carbon dioxide traps heat, and as temperatures rise, our skin burns more readily in the sun.
To keep ourselves cool, we use more energy. Because fossil fuels are easy to extract, we selfishly continue to burn them, causing even higher temperatures. Eventually, though, we can’t produce enough energy, which is now even harder because fossil fuel reserves are falling. With the fifth bowl, power outages will occur, plunging our cities into darkness. Even today this happens during the summer in equatorial countries: power runs out in the hottest part of the day.
But the higher temperatures cause an even greater disaster: drought. This is the disaster foretold by the sixth bowl. While this will affect the entire world, the book specifically calls out the “River Euphrates,” and prophesies that all the kings of the world will gather to fight there. We have seen this three times now: the first two Gulf Wars, fought for oil, and now the Syrian rebellion driven by drought, providing an opportunity for ISIL to form its caliphate.
Jesus foretold that he would return as a thief, and these words are now repeated. What follows must describe the effects of his return. That is supported by the echoes of his final words on the cross: “It is finished.” The two moments are tied together by his loving will. I won’t describe the science of the seventh, greatest disaster, but it is related to the harvesting of souls described in Revelation 15.
As the bowls are poured out, at every stage the people that place their trust in human institutions cry out against God. I encounter this in many scientific circles: atheists complain that faith is irrational, and so must be the reason for the poor decisions made by governments in Christian states and Islamic nations. This is a direct attack on the Most High. This is why, as described in Revelation 15,
The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues…were completed.
Only the Most High could resist falling into anger against the people on the Earth.
The atheist’s claim is also hypocritical, for it is not in scripture that one finds the design of the machines that we use to exploit nature. Those machines are designed by engineers, and purchased by people seeking profit. Clearly, science provided the means to destroy God’s creation, but not the strength to avoid that destruction. That strength is found only in love, which is the message of Scripture.
Let’s summarize today’s study.
Sin is selfishness. The commitment and determination of the Most High know no limits as he seeks to free us from sin. That includes suffering with us when the selfish abuse their power. The 144,000, the Holy Mother and Lamb all serve to gather us into love when the grip of sin is loosened when the wages of sin turn against the sinner, bringing their privileges to an end.
Revelation 16 recounts how the wages of sin turn against the cultures driven into violence by the rage of the dragon. These disasters are occurring around us right now.
The oppressed will be redeemed, not openly, but with stealth.
Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.
[NIV Rev. 16:15]
Take comfort, you blessed, for you know who you are.