The Seven Last Plagues
January 13th, 1963 @ 8:15 AM
Angels, Bowls, End Times, Eschatology, Moses, Plagues, Seven, Revelation 1961 - 1963 (early svc), 1963, Revelation
THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Revelation 15:1-8; 16:1
1-13-63 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message which is an exposition of chapters 15 and 16 in the Book of the Revelation. The title of the message is The Seven Last Plagues. And if you would like to follow the message in the Bible, you can easily do so if you will turn in the Apocalypse to chapter 15, and then chapter 16. In our preaching through the Bible for these many years, we have come at last to the Revelation. And in our preaching through the Revelation for over two years, we have come to this middle part of chapters 15 and 16.
And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.
And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.
Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before Thee; for Thy judgments are made manifest.
And after this I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:
And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles.
And one of the four cherubim gave unto the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever.
And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no one was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled.
And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God upon the earth.
[Revelation 15:1-8, 16:1]
Then the remainder of that chapter 16 is a description of what happens, as each angel, in his turn, pours out the censer of the wrath of the burning fury of God upon an unbelieving, and a rejecting, and a Christless world [Revelation 16:2-21].
This chapter 15 and chapter 16 belong together. It brings—once again, it brings us to the final end and consummation of this world. In chapter 14, the message last Sunday morning, the harvest and the vintage brought us to the end of this world [Revelation 14:14-20]. But before the millennium [Revelation 20:1-6], and before the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2], and before the tabernacle of God is pitched among men [Revelation 21:3], the Lord would have us know some of the details that attend the final end of this world. So chapters 15 and 16 are added [Revelation 15:1-16:21]; then chapters 17 and 18 [Revelation 17:1-18:24], that we might know of some of these things that characterize the end of this world.
Chapters 15 and 16—the revelation of the seven last plagues [Revelation 15:1-16:21]—those chapters constitute the third woe of the end of chapter 8 [Revelation 8:13]. These seven last plagues are the seventh trumpet of the end of chapter 11. At the end of chapter 11, the seventh trumpet [Revelation 11:15], the seer saw a temple opened in heaven [Revelation 11:19]. That is the temple that is opened here [Revelation 15:5]. He heard the elders there describe the final judgment of the indignation of God [Revelation 11:16-21]. That is the final judgment of the indignation of God written here in the seven last plagues [Revelation 16:1-21]. There is announced the end and the consummation of the world. This is the detail of that vast announcement. The seven last plagues is the judgment of God in the seventh and the last trumpet [Revelation 11:15-19].
So the chapter begins: “I saw another sēmeion” [Revelation 15:1]. That’s the third sign that the seer says that he has seen. In chapter 12, there appeared a great sign in heaven: “a woman clothed with the sun.” Then skipping a verse: “And there appeared another sign in heaven; behold a great red dragon” [Revelation 12:1, 3].
Now in chapter 15, is the third great sign he sees in heaven. “Great and marvelous,” he describes it, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God [Revelation 15:1].
This is the final judgment of God upon the earth. The seven seals [Revelation 6:1-8:1] are followed by the seven trumpets [Revelation 8:2-11:19]. The seven trumpets are followed by the seven bowls of the wrath and indignation of God [Revelation 15:1-16:21]; but the seven bowls are followed by nothing except the coming of our Lord Christ in triumph, in glory, and in power [Revelation 19:1-21].
The sign that he saw: seven angels “having the seven last plagues” [Revelation 15:1]; and the Greek text of that is very emphatic: echontas plēgas hepta tas eschatas: “the plagues seven, the last”—that is where you get that word eschatology, the doctrine of last things: tas eschatas, the last. “For in them is filled up the wrath of God” [Revelation 15:1].
Then before these seven angels are introduced, with their seven bowls of the judgment and indignation of the Almighty [Revelation 15:1-16:21], the seer saw a vision of the redeemed of the Lord. “I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and I saw them that had gotten the victory over the beast. . . . And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. . . .” [Revelation 15:2-3].
Before the Lord allows a single angel to pour out those bowls, those censers of the wrath and judgment of God upon the earth [Revelation 15:1-16:21]—before that awful and final day—the Lord carefully steals away and takes to Himself all of His saints in the earth [Revelation 15:2-3]. And before the terrible and final visitation of the Lord Almighty, first God gives the seer a beautiful, glorious, incomparable vision of the redemption, and the safety, and the salvation of those that have placed their trust in Him. And what a glorious vision it is. “And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire” [Revelation 15:2].
You see, in the first vision, in chapter 4 of the Revelation—when he was taken up into heaven and he saw the throne of God [Revelation 4:2]—there he saw a sea of glass, clear as crystal [Revelation 4:6]. That represented, of course, the life and the estate of all of God’s children in this age who have been taken up, who have been raptured up into glory [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. And we are those elders who are seated on thrones around the great, central throne of God [Revelation 4:10]. And the sea of glass is quiet and as clear as crystal [Revelation 4:6].
But this sea: “I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire” [Revelation 15:2]—this is a burning sea, through which these tribulation saints have gone. And it is described for us—spelled out for us: “this sea of glass mingled with fire.” Fire is always a picture of trial: “the burning sea of glass mingled with fire” [Revelation 15:2], and these are those saints who have gone through that terrible tribulation, and they’re spelled out. It is they who have “gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name” [Revelation 15:2]—they are standing by the sea of glass, mingled with fire. “And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” [Revelation 15:3].
All of that is a picture of the triumphant Israelites, who coming out of the darkness of the land of Egypt, on the way to the Promised Land, were delivered at the sea called Red [Exodus 14:1-31]. And on the farther shore of that sea, they sing the song of Moses, a song of triumph and deliverance [Exodus 15:1-21]. And that is the image that lies back of God’s sainted children here, who are standing by the sea mingled with fire [Revelation 15:2]. “And they sing a song of glory, and of victory, and of triumph”—only thing added to the song of Moses is the song of the Lamb [Revelation 15:3], the song of victory over sin, and over death, and over this world.
And it says, “They have the harps of God in their hands” [Revelation 15:2]. Brother Till, that’s the only musical instrument mentioned in the Apocalypse—is a harp. I’ve been trying to get you to get a harp here in this church for as long as you’ve been here. And I succeed intermittently; once every year and-a-half, he’ll get him a harp; but I want one here all the time. The only thing you are going to have in heaven is a harp.
And there are three groups in the Apocalypse that are described as having harps: first, there at that sea, clear as crystal, all of us raptured up into glory and before God [Revelation 15:2]—in the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, all of those saints—and that’s we—all of those saints are described as having harps [Revelation 5:8]. Then in this glorious fourteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, the one hundred forty-four thousand who were gathered unto God and the Lamb on Mt. Zion, they are described as having harps [Revelation 14:1-2].
And then this third group here, having gone through the fire of the tribulation, and standing on the shore of the glassy sea, singing the song of Moses and the Lamb; they have the harps of God in their hands [Revelation 15:2-3]. And I’ll tell you another thing, Lee Roy. You’d better get you a class down here to teach us how to play them; because we don’t want to lose any time in glory, do we? Just going right on, going right on.
Then after that incomparable vision of the sealing, and the saving, and the protecting and shepherdly care and keeping of Almighty God, then we have the vision of this last and final judgment day of the Lord; “After this I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened” [Revelation 15:5]. Into the very heart of the very holiness of the central innermost shrine of the Lord God Almighty, he sees there the Holy of Holies opened in heaven.
But instead of coming out of that holy, indescribably celestial sanctuary— instead of seeing coming out of that sanctuary the great high priest, or one of the ministering priests out of the Holy Place—he sees seven ministering angels of judgment, the angel priests of the seven last plagues. They are dressed like priests with long white ephods, linen robes, girded about the breast with golden girdles [Revelation 15:6].
And one of the four cherubim gave unto those seven angels the seven golden—you have it translated here “vials” [Revelation 15:7]. Well, the Greek word is p-h-i-a-l-e, which in our English: p-h-i-a-l, a v-i-a-l, a vial to us has come to mean a bottle. Ah! There is no such idea as that. These phiales—phiales were shallow pans. They were censers in which the coals were placed, upon which incense was burned unto God.
In the eighth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, before the blowing of the trumpets, you have an angel coming out of that same Holy Place with a censer in his hand; and he flings it unto God. And the smoke ascended upward [Revelation 8:4], which is said in the Revelation to mean the prayers of the saints [Revelation 5:8]. Then he flung that censer into the earth. And there were judgments, and lightnings, and earthquakes [Revelation 8:3-5]; that is, holiness spurned becomes damnation and visitation and judgment.
So these seven holy angels coming out of the presence of the innermost sanctuary of God have in their hands those golden censers, upon which the prayers of the saints ascended unto God [Revelation 8:3]; but those prayers have been disregarded by a Christ-rejecting earth. The blood of the covenant wherewith He was sanctified has been trodden underfoot [Hebrews 10:29]. The Spirit of grace that pled with their hearts has been rejected; and now rejected mercy and despised grace has turned into the fury and the wrath of the judgment of Almighty God [Revelation 16:1].
And those seven angels come forth, and the temple was filled with smoke from the glory and the power of the Lord, and no one was able to enter into the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled [Revelation 15:8]. The day of intercession is past. The day of mediation is past. The day of forgiveness and mercy is past. The unpardonable sin has been committed, and no man can even enter that temple to pray to God until those seven plagues have been poured out upon an unbelieving, and rejecting, and gainsaying world. Ah, what a scene! [Revelation 15:8].
Then the sixteenth chapter is a vast delineation of the pouring out of those seven censers of the wrath and judgment of God upon the earth [Revelation 16:1-21]. You know, when you have the revelation here of the seven trumpets [Revelation 8:2-11:19], it will say, “And the first angel sounded, and the second angel sounded” [Revelation 8:7, 8], and so on through all of those seven angels. But you don’t have that here, in the sixteenth chapter. In the King James Version, you have, “angel,” “angel” [Revelation 16:2-4, 8, 10, 12, 17]; but that’s not the way John wrote it. In that Greek there is nothing but just the ordinal, and that’s all. The thing that comes to pass under this seventh trumpet, under these seven plagues, happens quickly and rapidly [Revelation 16:1-21]; for this thing is coming to an immediate consummation.
And the way he wrote it here is these ordinals: ho protos, then ho deuteros, then ho tritos [Revelation 16:2-4], then ho tetartos [Revelation 16:8], then ho pemptos [Revelation 16:10], then ho hektos [Revelation 16:12], then ho hebdomos [Revelation 16:17]—one, two, three, four. The thing, when it comes to its final denouement and consummation, comes rapidly and immediately. The Lord may delay a long time before its final arrival, but when finally it comes it comes furiously and rapidly.
Now another thing about these seven last plagues [Revelation 15:1-16:21]. When the seals were opened, it was a fourth of the earth that was destroyed [Revelation 6:8]. When the trumpets were sounded it was a third, a third, a third in each instance of the world that was destroyed [Revelation 8:7-12, 9:15, 18]. But when these seven angels of the seven last plagues pour out the indignation of God on the earth, there is no limit [Revelation 16:1-21]. Wherever there is evil it is searched out, and no one escapes.
We haven’t time, of course, to follow through these seven plagues. I point out the last two. “And the sixth angel”—Revelation 16:12—“And the sixth poured out his censer,” his bowl, “upon the great river Euphrates: and the waters thereof were dried up, and the way of the kings of the east is prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs”—creatures of slime and of the night. “I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet” [Revelation 16:12-13], the first time he has been identified; that second beast here is called “the false prophet.”
This trinity of evil: the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet; the devil, and the Antichrist, and the false prophet. And, “They are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” [Revelation 16:14]. “And he gathered them together unto a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon” [Revelation 16:16]. Isn’t it a strange thing how all of this leads up to that battle? Wherever you start in the Revelation it finally leads up to that great battle. In this fourteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation—the harvest and the vintage—it leads up to the great battle of the judgment day of Almighty God [Revelation 14:14-20]. And in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, it leads up to the great battle of the judgment day of Almighty God [Revelation 19:17-21]. And chapter 16, these seven plagues, they end up with a great judgment day of Almighty God [Revelation 16:13-16]. And after the millennium [Revelation 20:1-6], that time of the deception of Satan again leads up to a great battle of Almighty God [Revelation 20:7-10]. The whole Apocalypse steadily moves on with that prophecy that there is going to be one great final battle of Almighty God, called the battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:16].
Now it says here that the Euphrates was dried up, that all the kings of the east might come [Revelation 16:12]; and then, the kings from the north and south, and the east and the west; they all converge in that great battlefield in Palestine [Revelation 16:12-16]. Well, how could such a thing be? How could it be? How could you gather together the leaders of the world in one place? And in a situation like ours, when atomic bombs can destroy and obliterate all who are in one place, how could that be?
Well, the Lord God Almighty, seeing this day when powers of destruction could be in our hands, such as the hydrogen or the atomic bomb, He explains: they would not be there except that the evil spirits of the dragon, and the beast, and the false prophet are conspiring in the permissive will of God to bring them together! [Revelation 16:13-16].
Same kind of a thing as you have in the story in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of 1 Kings. God said, “Ahab is going to die,” and Micaiah the prophet pronounced it [1 Kings 22:19-23]. This is the way that it came to pass. “How will we get Ahab to go up to Ramoth Gilead and there be slain?” And an evil spirit said, “I will be a lying tongue in the mouth of his prophets” [1 Kings 22:22]. And a lying spirit in the mouth of the prophets persuaded Ahab to go up to Ramoth Gilead, where a man drew back a bow at a venture, without aim, and it entered one of the joints in his harness, and his blood ran out into the chariot, and he died [1 Kings 22:34-38].
That’s how that is going to be in gathering these leaders of the earth, and these armies of the earth, into that great battle of Palestine, which is described here in the fourteenth chapter as being so bloody that for two hundred miles blood ran up to the bridles of the horses [Revelation 14:20]; the most indescribable slaughter this earth has ever seen or shall ever seen, the great final battle of Almighty God.
You know, it’s just like this: getting all those people together, which is an astonishing and a phenomenal thing in our age—could I illustrate it? I was changed on a plane, out in California, in Los Angeles. I was going to Detroit to speak to a national convention, the Conservative Baptist Convention, in Detroit. And they changed me from one plane to the other, and made me late. And I made a mad dash to catch the one that they finally placed me on, ran up the ramp when the thing was just about to take off. There was a seat up there kind of toward the front, the only one I could find. I rushed up and sat me down. And the thing took off. After it took off, why, I began to look around. There was a brigadier general there. There was a full colonel here. There’s a lieutenant colonel there, another general there. And I looked over here, and the fellow I was seated by had five stars on his shoulder. No wonder he was sitting there by himself. [laughter] Five stars.
There I was, seated by him. I looked over and it was General Omar Bradley. That was one of the most meaningful of all the journeys I ever made in my life. We went through the dismissal of General MacArthur, who had just been dismissed. We went through the campaigns of the Korean War. There, seated on that plane, he took out pieces of paper, sheets of paper, and drew all those campaigns.
Then I asked him a question. “Do you think that the atom bomb and missiles will ever do away with the need of infantry, of armies?” Because the Book says, “armies” [Revelation 19:19], and it interested me. I said, “Do all of these gadgets of modern warfare do away with the need of the infantry foot-slogging soldier—the armies?”
He said, “No, nor will anything of high explosive power ever do away with the need of the ordinary, slogging foot-soldier, the infantry, and,” he said, “I’ll tell you why.” Then he got him out another piece of paper. He said, “For one thing, whenever you occupy a country, you’re going to have to have soldiers. You’re going to have to have an army to do it.”
Then he said, “Mostly, the answer lies in the tactical maneuvering of war.” He said, “As long as an army is scattered over the face of a continent, an atomic bomb is useless! Because you might drop it, it will kill fifteen or twenty of them.” He said, “The only way that atomic warfare will ever be feasible will be in the use of armies to push other armies together, and to congregate all of the enemy into areas where they are close together, and on which your bombers can drop their lethal loads of destruction.”
How are you going to get those people together, like it says here, at Armageddon? “And I saw three unclean spirits: the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet” [Revelation 16:13]. They are the spirits of the evil one, and they persuade the kings of the east, and the north, and the south—their presidents, their chiefs of staff, their armies—the lying spirit of evil. And they are persuaded to come together in that last great battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:14, 16]. There the great and the mighty of the earth are in one vast—that sixth trumpet says that army numbers two hundred million [Revelation 9:16]. These things almost overwhelm our senses, the vastness of the deluge that brings the end and the consummation of this world.
We’ve gone beyond our time. We must cease. Then he speaks of the great Babylon. And in the seventeenth chapter—which will be our message next Sunday morning—one of the seven angels that had the seven vials, the seven bowls, said, “Come here; I want to show you that great city of Babylon—mystery, the mother of harlots” [Revelation 17:1, 7]. And that will be our message next Lord’s Day morning.
I close with an invitation. Why do those spirits of evil have opportunity to persuade the armies, and the nations, and the kings, and the leaders of the earth to come together in that awful day of the Lord? [Revelation 16:13-16]. “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth” [Revelation 16:15]. If a man will not listen to the voice of God, then he listens to the voice of evil. If a man will not give his heart to God, his heart is open to the entrance of evil.
And the appeal in that little verse [Revelation 16:15], stuck in between that awful and final battle [Revelation 16:13-16], is an appeal to hide ourselves in the love [John 3:16], and mercy [Titus 3:5], and grace of God [Ephesians 2:8]: to be ready, to be faithful when He comes [Revelation 2:10]. And that’s our appeal to you. While we sing this one stanza, on the first verse of the first note, somebody you to give his heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], somebody you to put his life in the fellowship of this precious congregation, would you make it now? Would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?