Fred was a practical joker, who enjoyed pulling some crazy pranks at each of his three friends’ weddings. Then Fred got married, and he was worried. He was sure they would retaliate, but nobody interrupted the minister. Nobody sent naughty telegrams, and nobody hid his suitcases. There wasn’t even a cake fight at the reception.
When the honeymoon began, Fred’s car started easily. There were no flat tires. There was nothing strange in the trunk. In fact, no one had even tied any tin cans to the rear bumper. Fred and his bride, very much relieved, left for their motel.
The next morning, Fred picked up the phone, dialed for room service, and ordered breakfast for two. Then from the closet came a voice: “Hey Fred, make that breakfast for five, Okay?” (Paul Harvey, For What It’s Worth, September 25, 1987)
Just when he thought he was safe, they got him, and they got him good! So it is with many people in our world. They think that they’re getting away with their sin. After all, nothing bad has happened to them so far. But there is coming a day when God will get them, and He will get them good.
That day is described in Revelation 16, and if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to that chapter. Revelation 16, Revelation 16, where we learn about God’s payback system.
Revelation 16:1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” (ESV)
These are the last seven judgments of the Tribulation. They will come in quick succession, one right after the other, and they illustrate the nature of God’s judgment on sin. They show us what God’s payback system is like.
Revelation 16:2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. (ESV)
These are the people who worship the antichrist by accepting his mark. They bow down before his image. And as a result, they break out with painful sores that ooze with puss.
It is the same kind of thing that happened to the ancient Egyptians, who enslaved God’s people for hundreds of years. God pays them back with ten plagues. Exodus 9 describes the 6th plague, where it says Moses and Aaron “took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast. And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians” (Exodus 9:10-11).
That’s what will happen to those who persecute God’s people during the Tribulation. Their sores will be so severe; they won’t even be able to stand. That’s the nature of God’s payback system. That’s what God’s judgment is like. It is no walk in the park. On the contrary…
GOD’S JUDGMENT IS VERY SEVERE.
It is very painful. It is very unpleasant. Look at verse 3.
Revelation 16:3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea. (ESV)
This 2nd bowl judgment is like the 2nd trumpet judgment in Revelation 8. There, the sea became blood and a 3rd of the sea-creatures died. Here, ALL of the sea-creatures die! And that’s the way it is with the rest of these bowl judgments. They are like the 7 trumpet judgments, only much more severe. Don’t be fooled. God’s judgment is severe!
Janine Brooks was a dental student when a man ran into her car and drove away. Having the car fixed put a severe strain on her student income, but she managed to survive and finish school. The man never returned to pay for damages or even to apologize.
Ten years later, Janine Brooks, the former student, was now a dentist, and guess who came into her office needing his tooth pulled? He did not recognize her, but she recognized him. She told him it wouldn’t hurt. She lied. (Associated Press, April 9, 1990)
Don’t ever let anybody tell you, “God’s judgment won’t hurt.” Don’t you believe it for one second, because God’s judgment is very severe. God’s payback system is very painful. More than that…
GOD’S JUDGMENT IS SUITABLE.
It fits the crime. It is exactly right.
Revelation 16:4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. (ESV)
That’s all the drinking water. In the previous judgment, all the sea water turned to blood. Now, all the fresh water turns to blood, as well.
Revelation 16:5-6 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” (ESV)
Or more literally, “It is what they are worthy of. In other words, the punishment fits the crime. They shed blood, so they are made to drink blood. It is only fair. It is only right. And the martyred believers themselves agree!
Revelation 16:7 And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” (ESV)
The altar is a reference to those “under the altar” in Rev. 6:9. These are those who were slain “for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne.” These are people who were killed just because they believe in Jesus, and they agree: God’s judgments are “true and just.” God’s punishment is exactly what it needs to be.
In Exodus, Pharaoh ordered that all Jewish male babies be drowned. In the end, he and his army drown in the Red Sea. In Esther, Haman builds gallows to hang Mordecai. In the end, they hang Haman himself on that same gallows. Here, in Revelation, godless people shed the blood of innocent believers. In the end, those who shed blood are forced to drink it. God’s judgments are perfectly just. They are exactly right.
Several years after inventing radar, Sir Robert Watson-Watt was arrested in Canada for speeding. He had been caught in a radar trap. After that, he wrote this poem:
Pity Sir Robert Watson-Watt,
strange target of his radar plot,
and this, with others I could mention,
a victim of his own invention.
(“To Illustrate,” Leadership journal, April 1, 1986; www.PreachingTody.com)
That’s often the way God works in judgment. He gives people a taste of their own medicine, and they become victims of their own inventions.
For years, Lance Armstrong was praised as a hero, having overcome a potentially fatal testicular cancer to win seven consecutive cycling Tours de France victories from 1999 to 2005. He even founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation (now the Livestrong Foundation) to assist other cancer survivors. Yet, during all this time and beyond, he used performance enhancing drugs and terrorized those who might “blow the whistle” on him.
Lance Armstrong kept it all a secret. He even made an anti-doping commercial for Nike in 2001, during which he strongly disavowed using illegal drugs. In the commercial, Armstrong boldly states, “This is my body, and I can do whatever I want to it. I can push it. Study it. Tweak it. Listen to it. Everybody wants to know what I'm on. What am I on? I'm on my bike busting my [butt] six hours a day. What are you on?”
In 2006, during sworn testimony in a dispute over his $5 million bonus, Armstrong said he wouldn't take drugs because he had too much to lose. He said, “(The) faith of all the cancer survivors around the world. Everything I do off the bike would go away, too … It's not about money for me… It's also about the faith that people have put in me over the years. So all of that would be erased.”
He sounded so heroic. In fact, I remember using his story as a sermon illustration after he won his 2nd Tours de France victory.
However, the truth finally came out; and in October 2012, Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tours de France victories. On top of that, he was permanently banned from cycling and any World Anti-Doping Agency sanctioned events. According to Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Armstrong’s team “ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” It was “professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage…” (YouTube, “Lance Armstrong Nike Commercial, 2001”; “USADA to ban Armstrong for life”, Sports Illustrated, 8-24-12; www.Preaching Today.com)
The Bible says, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). No one gets away with their sin. Oh, it may take time for the crop to ripen, but everyone reaps exactly what they sow. God’ judgment is severe. God’s judgment is suitable. And #3…
GOD’S JUDGMENT HARDENS PEOPLE.
It confirms them in their sin and solidifies them in their unbelief.
Revelation 16:8-9 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. (ESV)
Instead of turning to God and begging for mercy, they curse His name.
Revelation 16:10-11 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. (ESV)
Someone once said, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” When people are afraid, they turn to the Lord. But that is not always true. Some people reject Christ so long that they come to the point where nothing will move them towards God. Nothing will cause them to seek Him. Nothing will melt their hard hearts, not even the fierce heat of God’s wrath.
It happened to the Pharaoh in Egypt. God sent ten plagues on his land, and with each plague, Pharoah hardened his heart. God’s judgment did not cause him to repent. Instead, it just hardened him in his unbelief. Even after God killed his first-born son and all the first-born sons of Egypt, his heart was still hardened. He went after the children of Israel and ended up drowning in the Red Sea.
You see, if people are not won by grace, they will never be won. The Bible says, “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance” (Romans 2:4).
If God is speaking to your heart today, if God is dealing with you about some issues in your life, please, don’t wait any longer to respond to God’s mercy. Don’t wait until God has to get tough with you. Otherwise, you may find your heart too hard to respond, and some of you may find yourself drowning, not in a sea, but in a lake – the lake of fire.
Don’t be deceived. God’s judgment is severe. God’s judgment is suitable. God’s judgment hardens people’s hearts. And finally…
GOD’S JUDGMENT IS CERTAIN.
It is sure, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.
Revelation 16:12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. (ESV)
The Euphrates River was the eastern boundary of the old Roman Empire, and it is still the dividing line between east and west today. This is what is going to happen when the angel pours out the sixth bowl of God’s wrath. The barrier between east and west will be removed, and the nations of the east will invade the west. Nations like China will come west to conquer, drawn out by demonic forces.
Revelation 16:13-14 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon (i.e., Satan himself) and out of the mouth of the beast (i.e., antichrist) and out of the mouth of the false prophet (i.e., the antichrist’s PR man), three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (ESV)
Skip down to verse 16
Revelation 16:16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. (ESV)
Demonic spirits will gather the nations of the world together in a place called Armageddon. That’s a vast plain in Israel – about 14 miles wide and 20 miles long. It is the place where three continents come together – Africa, Asia, and Europe. It is the crossroads of the world, and world rulers have fought over this piece of real estate for 3,000 years, including Alexander the Great and Napoleon. Napoleon himself called it “the most natural battlefield of the whole earth.”
It is strategic, because the one who controls Armageddon controls the world! General Allenby, the British military leader, led the last cavalry charge of the First World War in this vast plain, where he defeated Ottoman Turks. They had dominated the Middle East for 400 years, but they were forced to surrender it all after losing to the British at Armageddon.
You can see why the rulers of the world would be attracted to this place. They will come together for war, incited by the forces of evil themselves. Satan’s forces will bring them together to fight each other and to fight Christ as He returns. However, Christ will use that as an opportunity to judge the nations. Satan will think he is thwarting God’s plan, but he will actually be accomplishing it by his own actions.
Author Philip Yancey writes: In high school, I took pride in my ability to play chess. I joined the chess club, and during lunch hour could be found sitting at a table with other nerds poring over books with titles like Classic King Pawn Openings. I studied techniques, won most of my matches, and put the game aside for 20 years.
Then, in Chicago, I met a truly fine chess player who had been perfecting his skills long since high school. When we played a few matches, I learned what it is like to play against a master. Any classic offense I tried, he countered with a classic defense. If I turned to more risky, unorthodox techniques, he incorporated my bold forays into his winning strategies. Although I had complete freedom to make any move I wished, I soon reached the conclusion that none of my strategies mattered very much. His superior skill guaranteed that my purposes inevitably ended up serving his own. (Philip Yancey, “Chess Master,” Christianity Today, 5-22-00, p.112)
That’s the way God interacts with his own creation. He gives us the freedom to rebel against his will, but even as we do so, we only end up serving His own purposes.
None of us can stop God, not even Satan himself. Satan thought he had defeated Christ at the cross, but the cross was the very thing God used to defeat Satan. Colossians 2:15 says, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [the cross].” (See also Hebrews 2:14.) Satan couldn’t stop God at the Calvary, and he won’t be able to stop God at Armageddon.
Revelation 16:17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” (ESV)
Literally, it has come to be. No matter what men and demons will do to try and stop it, God’s judgment will indeed “come to be.” It is as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise.
Revelation 16:18-21 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. (ESV)
That’s what it’s going to be like when Jesus comes. In Zechariah 14, God says, “I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle… Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward” (Zechariah 14:2-4, ESV).
Satan will think he is gathering the nations to Israel; but he is only a pawn in God’s hands to gather the nations there, so Christ can judge them at His second coming. When he comes, there will be an earthquake so severe, it will split mountains, destroy whole cities around the world, and submerge every island.
For those who oppose Christ, it will be a terrible day. But for those of us who trust Christ, it will be a great day, because that is when Christ “will be king over the whole earth” (Zechariah 14:9), and we will begin to rule and reign with Him.
Which will it be for you when Jesus comes – a great day or a terrible day? If you trust Christ as your Savior, it will be a great day. If you refuse to trust Christ, it will be a terrible day, and there is nothing you or anybody can do to stop it.
Don’t let anybody deceive you. God’s judgment will be severe. God’s judgment will be suitable. God’s judgment will harden people’s hearts. And God’s judgment will be certain.
Are you sure you’re ready for that day? Look at verse 15, the verse I skipped. It’s the point of the whole chapter. In verse 15, Jesus says…
Revelation 16:15 “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (ESV)
Are you ready for the coming of Christ?
When Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States, he spent a weekend in Denver, Colorado, where his wife, Mamie, was raised. On Sunday, he went to a Presbyterian church, where he learned about a little guy who was dying of cancer. His name was Paul Hanley, Jr., and Eisenhower decided to pay him a visit before he left Colorado.
So on a Sunday afternoon, unannounced, President Eisenhower in his limousine arrived at the modest little home of the Haley’s. When Paul Hanley, Sr. answered the knock at the door, he was surprised to see the president and his wife standing on his doorstep. Paul Hanley, Sr., had not shaved that morning. He had not combed his hair, and he was wearing a faded, old pair of blue jeans and a dirty t-shirt.
Eisenhower, ignoring his appearance, said kindly, “I heard that little Paul is sick. I stopped by to see him. Is it all right if I come in? I have a little something for him.”
At the end of his visit, the president took little Paul into his arms and carried him out to the limousine so he could sit in it for a moment. Then he took him back to the house, returned to his car and left. The whole visit lasted only 20 minutes, but in that short time a crowd had gathered.
Everybody in the neighborhood was talking about how exciting it was to have the President of the United States drop by. Everybody, that is, except Paul Hanley, Sr. All he could say was, “Think of it. The President of the United States, and here I am without my hair combed, unshaved, wearing a grubby t-shirt, and this pair of old, faded jeans.” (Moody Founder’s Week Messages, 1978, pp.10-11)
When Jesus comes, it will be sudden and unannounced. Please, don’t be caught with your pants down.