Revelation 15:1 "Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished."
Over the course of this past month we have been periodically exploring the second half of the book of Revelation - namely Revelation 12-14. For the sake of review I will point the reader to the blogposts that featured those chapters:
In these particular series of blogs I have been attempting to explore Christmas' revealed King in Revelation. We've witnessed the King's cross, cradle and crown in Revelation 12, followed by the King's conquering Gospel in Revelation 12:10-14:20. In today's post we aim once again to explore more chapters in the book of Revelation - a particularly large block of chapters: namely Revelation 15:1-18:24. Having studied the theme of God's wrath over the most recent days, today's study comes with what we just studied about God's wrath with the hope of understanding what is happening in Revelation 15:1-18:24.
How the wrath of God relates to the tribulation period in the Book of Revelation
Over fifteen times we find reference to God's wrath and judgment in the book of Revelation, with the overwhelming majority of those references occurring in Revelation 12-18. The question surrounding when exactly the wrath of God begins in relationship to the final seven year tribulation period has been a subject of continuing discussion.
For this blogger, these past several months of serious study in the Book of Revelation have led to the conclusion that the wrath of God mentioned in Revelation formally begins at the beginning of the seven year tribulation period. Paul D. Feinberg makes this important point: "Christ alone has the authority to take the scroll and break its seals. Every judgment from the first seal to the last judgment comes as the retributive wrath of God. The early seals relate to the breaking of the seals of the scroll given to Christ. It is the Lamb, Christ, who breaks the seals before the wrath proceeds (Rev. 6:1,3,5,7,9,12). To identify the wrath of God simply with His direct intervention is to overlook the fact that primary and secondary agency belong to God."1
With Revelation 6:16-17 first mentioning the "wrath of the Lamb" and its connection being with what the Lamb does at the beginning of the chapter, then undoubtedly the wrath of God mentioned in the remainder of Revelation is but the culmination of that wrath. In other words, as one studies the wrath of God revealed throughout the remainder of the Book of Revelation, though its main focus is on the final 3 1/2 year period of time (called by Jesus "the Great Tribulation" in Matthew 24:21), yet what is underway had its beginning in the first half of the tribulation as we see in Revelation 6.
What the book of Revelation reveals about the nature of God's wrath in the final seven years of the tribulation
As one studies the occurrences of the word "wrath" throughout the book of Revelation, some themes emerge.
1. The primary revelation of God's wrath will change location - from heaven to earth
For one thing the nature of God's wrath that has been in operation since the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 continues into the Tribulation period both as it has been but with a different location. Romans 1:18-20 reminds us that the wrath of God (Greek word "orge") is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men. As we saw in yesterday's post, the sinfulness of man, stretching back to the fall of Adam and Eve provoked the wrath of God. God's wrath is His settled, steady hatred of sin and all that is opposed to His Holy character.
What is going to mark a change in the way God's wrath is revealed is in how he reveals it. The point of Revelation 6 is to show that the wrath of God revealed "from heaven" or indirectly in the consciences of men in general revelation will become manifest "on earth" in the form of seals, trumpets and bowl judgments. Thus in the major section of Revelation 6-11 we read in 11:18 "And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”
2. The intensity of God's wrath will dramatically increase in the tribulation.
From Revelation 12-18 we see the focal point of John's visions occurring particularly in the last half of the seven year tribulation period. Other than Revelation 16:19, a different Greek word (thumos) is used eight times to describe the intensification of God's wrath that will characterize the tribulation period. The Greek word "thumos" is defined by Joseph Henry Thayer as: "passion, anger, heat, anger forthwith boiling up and soon subsiding again. Indignation that has arisen gradually and become more settled. A glowing ardor."2
3. God's wrath will reach a boiling point that will result in a final outpouring before Christ's return at the end of the tribulation period.
In having studied the wrath of God over the past several days, as well as looking at the pattern of other words used for wrath in the New Testament, it would appear that this stage of God's wrath will occur when all other measures of mercy and grace have been exhausted by man in his rebellion and persistent rebellion against God. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance lists Revelation 14:8,10,19,15:1,7,16:1; 18:3 as containing the occurrences of this word and contexts in which the final stages of God's wrath in this age will be poured out on the wickedness of men.
4. There is only one way to avoid the coming wrath of God - faith in Christmas's Revealed King, Jesus Christ.
In seven particular spots we find words of encouragement either to church-age saints now who will be exempted from the tribulation period or reference to the future tribulation martyrs who will be shielded from the escalating wrath of God that will occur in the second half of that future period. The only way in which you can escape the wrath of God is through faith in Jesus Christ, His finished work and soon return. Consider the seven texts below as proof:
1. Revelation 7:16 "They (those future tribulation martyrs) will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat."
2. Revelation 11:18 "And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”
3. Revelation 12:11 "And they (could apply either to Christians now or the later tribulation martyrs) overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death."
4. Revelation 14:12-13 "Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they mayrest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”
5. Revelation 15:2-4 "And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. 3 And they *sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and marvelous are Your works,
O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! 4 “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed.”
Today we have explored the patterns of God's wrath that will be poured out in the tribulation period as revealed in Revelation. Whether by indirect means (cosmic disturbances, figures such as the anti-Christ) or direct intervention (the wrath of the Lamb - Rev 6:17 for instance), the entirety of God's wrath will be poured out in a steady pattern that will escalate in the latter 3 1/2 years of the tribulation. John is given seven passages throughout Revelation 6-18 that comfort saints now and/or will bring encouragement to those saved during the tribulation period. Only in Jesus Christ by faith can a person find exemption and protection from the wrath of God to come.
1. Stanley N. Gundry & Gleason L. Archer. Three Views - The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post Tribulation. Zondervan. 1996. Page 62
2. Joseph Henry Thayer. A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament. Regency Reference Library. Page 292