Revelation now carries us to the end of thousands of years of human history. God has allowed an unseen power, Satan the devil, to influence a world willing to be deceived (II Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; Rev. 12:9). That epoch is almost over. God is about to completely shatter the tool of Satan — the political and religious power that has dominated the world. We have come to the seventh and final trumpet. John writes: "Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete" (Rev. 15:1).
Seven last Plagues Heralded
Several introductory themes come before Revelation's description of God's final assault on Satan's human forces. These are found in the 14th and 15th chapters. Here are some quick sketches of John's visions recorded in these chapters: • The 144,000 represent those who are obedient and faithful to God. They "follow the Lamb wherever He goes" (Rev. 14:1-5). This group is granted eternal life. They take part in Christ's earthly rule. • An angel has "the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth — to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people — saying with a loud voice, 'Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come"' (Rev. 14:6-7). The angel announces that the system of evil, called "Babylon the great" is about to fall (verse 8). • Another angel pronounces swift punishment on anyone who worships the beast and its image or has its mark. Those who continue to follow and trust the false system "shall be tormented with fire and brimstone [sulfur] in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb" (Rev. 14:9-11). • John then sees "One like the Son of Man" coming on a cloud (Rev. 14:14). This is an obvious reference to the returning Christ. He thrusts his sickle in the ground and begins to reap the harvest of the earth. This s5rmbolizes his wrath and coming rule over the nations. Chapter 14 briefly moves beyond the storm on earth. It looks ahead to the time when God's servants — pictured by the 144,000 on Mount Zion with Christ — will inherit their eternal reward. But, then, the reader is brought back to the tumult and commotion on the earth. God has warned the world for the last time. Whoever has the mark of the beast — whoever is part of this world's corrupt system — is about to suffer the final wrath of God. The seven last plagues are about to ravage planet earth. The 15th chapter of Revelation is a prologue to the seven last plagues. John writes, "Out of the temple came the seven angels having the seven plagues" (Rev. 15:6). One of the four living creatures gives them seven bowls. These contain the seven last plagues. A voice commands the angels, "Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth" (Rev. 16:1).
Plagues Poured Out
The entire 16th chapter describes a horrendous series of natural catastrophes from the hand of God. These seven last plagues comprise the seventh and last trumpet (Rev. 16:1- 21). They recall the plagues which God poured out on Egypt, virtually destroying the nation (Exodus 10:7). The end time plagues or afflictions fall on those who refuse to acknowledge the government of God. • FIRST PLAGUE. A deadly pestilence strikes those who have the beast's mark (16:2). • SECOND PLAGUE. The sea turns into blood and kills every living creature in it (16:3). • THIRD PLAGUE. The rivers and springs of water become blood (16:4-7. God's judgments, though fearsome, are said to be "true and righteous." • FOURTH PLAGUE. Increased solar radiation horribly scorches humans (16:8-9). • FIFTH PLAGUE. Total darkness covers the headquarters of the world-ruling "beast power" (16:10-11). • SIXTH PLAGUE. The waters of the Euphrates River dry up so "that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared" (16:12-16). • SEVENTH PLAGUE. An immense earthquake shakes the planet. It is "such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth" (16:18 — see also Isaiah 2:12-19: 13:6-13; 24:1-20 for further details about this series of planetary upheavals). As the earth convulses, islands disappear beneath the sea. Mountains are leveled. A great hail shatters everything in its path. The cities of the nations are flattened into rubble (Rev. 16:19-21). The world's political and economic system is in total ruin.
Trumpet and Seven last Plagues Compared
The reader will notice some similarity between the seven last plagues of Revelation 16 and the first six trumpet plagues of Revelation eight and nine. Some assume that Revelation 16 is just a restatement of what happened earlier. The parallels between this final series of judgments (the seven last plagues) and the trumpet plagues of chapters eight and nine are there. of course. In both series. the first four destructions are visited upon the earth, sea, inland waters and heavenly bodies respectively. There are, however, distinct differences between the two series. For example in the trumpet plague series, only one third of the affected part is destroyed. No such qualifier is used for the seven last plagues. The destruction in the sea is complete, for example, as a result of the second plague (Rev. 16:3). The fifth trumpet plague is the vision of the locust armies emerging from the bottomless pit (Rev. 9:1-11). However, the fifth of the seven last plagues shows darkness and painful affliction enveloping the seat of the beast power (Rev. 16:10-11). Apparently, the trumpet plagues of Revelation eight are meant as a warning. They are a sample of the destruction yet to fall on those who refuse to repent of their evil deeds. This final destruction is pictured by the seven last plagues of the 16th chapter.
Armies Gather to Fight the Messiah
Revelation now introduces the reader to "Armageddon." The word Armageddon is found only once in the Bible, here in Revelation 16:16. "And they [the demons] gathered them [the kings and their armies] together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon." Armageddon refers to the "hill of Megiddo." It lies in the modern state of Israel, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Jerusalem, and about 15 miles (25 kilometers) inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Megiddo itself is a huge mound with a commanding view of the long and fertile valley of Jezreel. Armageddon will merely be the staging area for these immense armies. The Bible does not say that a "battle" of Armageddon is to be fought. The actual war will be fought farther south, in the valley of Jehoshaphat. Today, it's called the Kidron Valley. This valley borders Jerusalem on the east. (Read Joel 3:1-2, 9-14 and Zechariah 14:l-15 for details of this climactic battle.) In the biblical account, evil spirits controlling "the beast" and "the false prophet" go out to deceive the nations (Rev. 16:13). They influence "the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (verse 14). Contingents of armies from all nations will converge on Jerusalem to fight the returning Christ. Might they consider the Messiah and the resurrected saints to be invading aliens? Perhaps they will assume an army with staggering and yet unknown technologies of flight and military might is poised to strike. The confrontation between these armies advancing on Jerusalem and the Messiah will result in "the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Rev. 16:14). The result of the battle will be inevitable. The supernatural Christ will lead his army of resurrected saints to total victory (Zechariah 14:1-15). These harrowing times occur during the "wrath of God" as the Messiah puts down all opposition to his rule. Christ must replace the world's political, social, religious and economic systems so that he can begin all things new (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:1-5). Standing in the way of these remarkable changes is "Babylon the great" — a symbol for all that is evil in the present world. The book of Revelation now takes up the story of how this Babylonish system is exterminated.