The Seven Last Plagues
January 13th, 1963 @ 10:50 AM
THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Revelation 15, 16
1-13-63 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Bible these many, many years, we have come to the Revelation. In our preaching through the Revelation, we have come to chapters 15 and 16. The message this morning is an exposition of chapters 15 and 16: The Seven Last Plagues, for in them is filled up the wrath of God. Fast and furious is this ultimate denouement and consummation of time and history. There will be a sermon delivered on the scarlet woman, [Revelation] chapter 17; a sermon delivered on the fall of Babylon, [Revelation] chapter 18; then [Revelation] chapter 19 is the coming of Christ; [Revelation] chapter 20 is the millennium; [Revelation] chapters 21 and 22 I pray will bring us to some of the most happy and celestial and heavenly of all the series of messages this preacher has ever prepared and our people have ever heard, as we preach about heaven, and the New Jerusalem, and the glory that is yet to come. Then is finished, after more than eighteen years, our preaching through the Word of God.
Chapter 11 of the Revelation brought us to the end of the world. Chapter 14 of the Revelation brought us again to the end of the world. But before the millennium and before the descent of the New Jerusalem, and before the planting of the tabernacle of God in this earth, the Lord, in that awesome period before the final intervention of God Almighty, the Lord draws aside the curtain that we might see some of the details of that final end. God would have us know, for example, what is the end of the trinity of evil; the dragon, and the beast, and the false prophet. God would have us know what is the end of these religious systems in this earth. God would have us know what is the end of that great city called in the Revelation, “Mystery and Babylon.”
Before the blessing of this earth [2 Peter 3:13], there is a purging, and sin, and death, and unrighteousness, and blasphemy, and rejection are swept from it [Matthew 13:41]. And in the place of what we now see—the briers, and the thorns, and the brambles, and the hate, and the greed, and the war, and the bloodshed [Matthew 24:6]—God shall establish a kingdom of holiness and of righteousness [2 Peter 3:13]. And in that incomparable celestial and forever dominion of Christ the Almighty, we shall be fellow citizens and fellow heirs [Romans 8:17; Philippians 3:20].
The fifteenth chapter and the sixteenth chapter go together [Revelation 15:1-16:21]. They are a part of the same vision—15 and 16—describing the seven last plagues, in what is called in the last part of the eighth chapter of the Revelation, “the last woe,” the third of the three. This section of 15 and 16 is also the judgment of the last trumpet; the seventh trumpet that is sounded in the last of chapter 11 [Revelation 11:15]. In chapter 11, a temple of God was opened in heaven [Revelation 11:19], and that temple is seen now in chapters 15 [Revelation 15:5], and 16 [Revelation 16:1]. In that eleventh chapter, the elders announce that the great day of the judgment of Almighty has come “and the nations are angry, and the time is come that they which destroy the world should be destroyed” [Revelation 11:18]. And that delineation is found in 15 and 16 [Revelation 15:1-16:21]. In the last of the eleventh, the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” [Revelation 11:15]. And that ultimate and final preparation is found in this vision of the seven last plagues [Revelation 15:1-16:21].
“And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up with the wrath of God” [Revelation 15:1]. There are three of these signs. In chapter 12, “There appeared a great sign in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun” [Revelation 12:1]. In the third verse, “And there appeared another great sign in heaven; and behold, a red dragon” [Revelation 12:3]; then this third one, “And I saw another sign in heaven; great and marvelous, the seven angels having the seven last plagues” [Revelation 15:1]. And the emphasis is upon that “last” plague—echontas plegas hepta tas eschatas—your word “eschatology,” the doctrine of “last things” comes from that—“having plagues, seven, the last; for in them is filled up the wrath of God” [Revelation 15:1].
After the seals were the trumpets; after the trumpets were the bowls of wrath [Revelation 6:1-8:19; 15:1-16:21]; and after the bowls of wrath [Revelation 16:1-21], there is finished the judgment of God in the earth [Revelation 17:1-19:21], and the kingdom has come [Revelation 20:1-6]. But before God describes here those great and final and ultimate days of the visitation of His judgment [Revelation 15:1], first of all, God gives us an incomparable vision here of the immortality, and the safety, and the salvation of His people who are standing by the fiery sea:
And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire:
and them that had gotten the victory over the beast…
And they sing the song of Moses…
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.
What an incomparable vision! In the fourth chapter of the Revelation, when God is taking His saints up into heaven, John saw before the great throne of the Almighty a crystal sea, a sea of glass, calm and beautiful. Those elders that are there by the side of that quiet and beautiful and crystal sea are we, God’s sainted children of this day and of our age [Revelation 4:6-11]. But when he sees this sea there before the throne of God, and by its shores standing the saints, he says this sea is a sea of glass “mingled with fire” [Revelation 15:2]. That is, these saints have come out of that great trial and tribulation. “And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” [Revelation 15:2-3].
That is why I had you read the song of Moses in Exodus 15; on the further shore of that sea, delivered from the enemies that oppressed them, the children of Israel sang the song of Moses [Exodus 15:1-18]. And on that ultimate and final shore beyond the fiery sea, there shall gather in immortality, in glory, in heavenly salvation God’s tribulation saints [Revelation 15:2-3]. And they are singing the song of infinite and glorious redemption—the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb—the song of the Lamb who brought us a victory over sin, and over death, and over the grave. They sing the song of Moses and the Lamb. You know, it is an unusual thing here, the first recorded song in the Word of God is this fifteenth chapter of Exodus—the one we just sang, the one we just read—the song of Moses [Exodus 15:1-18].
And the last recorded song in the Bible is the fifteenth [chapter] of Revelation, the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. “And to these were given the harps of God” [Revelation 15:2]. There are three groups in heaven to whom God places in their hands, to whom God gives the harps of heaven. In the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation—to these who were raptured and taken up to glory—they have harps from God [Revelation 5:8]. In the fourteenth chapter of the Revelation, the one hundred forty-four thousand gathered to the Lamb on Mount Zion possessed the harps of God [Revelation 14:2]; and this third company, standing on the shores of the fiery sea, having the harps of God and singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb, a song of triumph and heavenly deliverance [Revelation 15:2-3].
Then he sees the vision of the opening of the temple in heaven, “I beheld, and the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened” [Revelation 15:5]. John saw into the very innermost shrine of deity itself, into the very heart of the sanctuary, into the center of the Holy of Holies. And what he sees coming out of the very heart of the temple of God is not the great Mediator, the High Priest, not ministering servants of mediation and grace and mercy; but what he sees is this unusual and remarkable and astonishing vision of seven angels—priest angels—dressed like priests. And they are the seven angels of the seven last plagues [Revelation 15:1, 6].
“And one of the four cherubim gave unto these seven angels seven golden,” you have it translated here, “vials” [Revelation 15:7], as though it were bottles. Well, the Greek word is phiale, but the Greek word spelled “vial” in the English language did not mean a “bottle”; but the Greek word phiale, “vial,” the Greek word refers to “shallow pans.” We call them “censers” in which the coals were placed from off of the altar. And on top of the coals, the incense was placed to burn unto God. These seven angels, by one of those cherubim—remember back there in the sixth chapter of Revelation they are the instruments of judgment—one of them said to the first horseman, “Come,” and the white horse, and then the next one, “Come,” and the red horse, then the black horse, then the pale horse [Revelation 6:2-8]. It is one of these cherubim that speaks and says to these seven angels, “Take these seven censers.” And when they did so, and the seven angels received those seven censers, “The temple was filled with smoke from the glory and power of God; and no man was able to enter into the temple, until the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled” [Revelation 15:7-8].
That is, the great and final interdiction of God has come. As God has set a boundary for the restless sea—thus far can the tides arise and no further, thus far can those waves beat and no more [Proverbs 8:29]—so God has set a boundary to the evil of the nations of the earth. And when that time comes, known to God, all mediation ceases. All intercession ceases. The great and final unpardonable sin has been committed [Mark 3:22-30], and no man can enter that temple [Revelation 15:8]. It is shut and has become a temple of indignation and of wrath and of judgment until the seven plagues have been poured out into the earth [Revelation 15:8].
Then chapter sixteen is a description of those seven visitations. “And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to those seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the censers of the wrath of God upon the earth” [Revelation 16:1]. [Do] you remember the sermon in the eighth chapter of the Book of the Revelation? Before the sounding of those seven trumpets, there was an angel that came out of that same temple. And he took coals of fire from off of the altar and placed them in the censer. And he flung it up to God. And the smoke of the incense of that censer, the Bible said, the Revelation 8 says, is the prayers of the saints ascending up to God. Then the angel turned and flung that censer down into the earth [Revelation 8:3-5]. And the fire and the fury and the judgment of God burns in the earth [Revelation 8:7-13]. [Do] you remember the sermon on that? That is the same thing here [Revelation 16:1-21]—the holiness and the fragrance of the prayers and the intercession of God ascends up from His people [Revelation 15:2-4], but to a people who will not turn and who will not repent and who will not believe the Lord Jesus, everyone of those censers, every fragment of its smoke, every prayer of its intercession, every, every facet of its holiness becomes one of damnation and judgment!
It is the judgment of God upon those who tread underfoot the grace of the Son of God, who despise the blood of the covenant wherewith He was sanctified [Hebrews 10:29], who say “no” to the wooing of the Holy Spirit and the calling of the Almighty. All of those things turn into condemnation and judgments. That’s one of the laws of God that is fearful to look upon. When God does a gracious thing for us, He sends His Son for us and Christ dies for us [John 3:16; Romans 5:8], and He raises up a God-called preacher to preach to us, and that preacher opens the Book of God and pleads for men to come in repentance and in faith to Jesus, and a wicked and a rejecting and a blaspheming unbeliever says, “No, I will not turn, I will not believe, I will not accept,” then ever gracious deed God has done turns into a fury and a judgment upon that Christ-rejecter. That is this, that’s this. These are holy instrument censers that are used in the holy service of God in the temple [Exodus 30:1-9; 1 Kings 7:50]. And now, spurned and blasphemed and rejected, the grace of God becomes fire, and indignation, and judgment, and fury. So they take these censers, each one of the seven angels, and they are poured out into the earth [Revelation 16:1-21]. Now, heretofore, when the seals were broken, there was deliberation [Revelation 6:1-8:5], and when the trumpets were blown, there was deliberation [Revelation 8:6-11:19]. But as this thing moved toward its final climax, it moves furiously and fast, and immediately these things come to pass. For example, you have it translated here in the authorized King James Version: “And the third angel,” “And the fourth angel” [Revelation 16:4, 8]—no, not so in this Greek. Only these ordinals are used—just one right after another: ho protos, the first; ho deuteros, the second; ho tritos, the third; ho tetartos, the fourth; ho pemptos, the fifth; ho hektos, the sixth; ho hebdomos, the seventh [Revelation 16:2-17]. Just like that. When the thing finally comes, it comes in a fury and in a storm—one right after another.
Now, in the brief moment that remains, I will show you, if you are interested in the Word of God, how a thirty minute period will pass just like you snap your finger. I don’t know anything more rich than for us to look at what God says. In the moment that remains, I want to speak of just one of those. “And the sixth poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the waters thereof were dried up, and the way of the kings of the East were prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs”—creatures of filth, and dirt, and slime, and of the night—“I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and the beast, and the false prophet. They are the spirits of evil ones [devils], working [miracles] . . . going forth unto the kings of the earth and the whole world, to gather them to the battle of the great day of God Almighty. . . And he gathered them together to a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon” [Revelation 16:12-16]. One of the things, if I put it together, you will notice it. One of the things you will find in the Word of God, that wherever the thing starts, and whatever the section may be discussing it, it always ends in that great final battle of the Lord God Almighty called the battle of Armageddon. Back there, this thing went on and went on and continued and it continued, and in the fourteenth chapter of the Revelation, it ended in that great battle of the day of the Lord [Revelation 14:14-20]. And here in the fifteenth and the sixteenth chapters [Revelation 16:13-16], it does the same thing again. It ends in the great battle of the day of the Lord; and in the next section, 17, 18, and 19, the nineteenth chapter ends in that same great battle of the day of the Lord [Revelation 19:19-21]. God’s Book says that time, and history, and government, and preparation inevitably moves toward a great and final and indescribable conflict in this earth.
Now the strange thing about it, as you read the Bible, is that all of these armies and all of these leaders are gathered in Palestine. They are all there—how could you get the armies of the earth there? For example, the sixth seal says one of those armies numbered two hundred million men [Revelation 9:16]. It is a fantastic, astronomical number! There in the battle of Armageddon are the armies of the earth, and the leaders of the earth, and the chiefs of staff of the earth. How is it they are all there? Well, no strategy on the part and no wisdom on the part of government and armies and people would ever do a thing like that. That is the reason he explains—he stops at the “I saw three unclean spirits come out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet . . . and they went forth unto the kings of the whole earth . . . to gather them to the battle of the great day of God Almighty” [Revelation 16:13-14, 16]. You have an illustration of that same thing in the story of Ahab in 1 Kings the twenty-second chapter. God said, “Ahab is going up—that vile and vicious servant of evil, Ahab—is going up to Ramoth-Gilead and die there, be slain there.” Well, how is he going? And the Spirit said, “I will put a lying testimony in the mouth of his prophets. . . . And they will persuade him to go up” [1 Kings 22:22, 23]. So Ahab was persuaded to go up to Ramoth-Gilead by the spirits of evil and of lying. [Do] you remember the story? A man drew back his arrow at a venture, without aiming it, and the thing sped and entered in a joint in his harness. And his blood flowed out in his chariot, and they carried him to Samaria, dead [1 Kings 22:34-38]. That is what is going to happen, God says, in this last great battle. The spirit of evil, out of the dragon, out of that trinity of evil, is going to persuade these armies and these leaders to gather in Palestine, and there that great battle is going to be fought [Revelation 16:13-16].
There is a strategy here that is unusual. And I asked about it one time. I was changed on a plane. The one I was preparing to go on from Los Angeles to Detroit—I was changed to another one. And I ran out there and just came up the ramp in time to go through the door before the thing took off. I looked around hastily, panting, wasn’t any seat except one up there toward the front. So I dashed up there and plopped down and fastened the safety belt. When I got my breath and the thing had taken off, I looked around. Over here was a full colonel. Over there was a brigadier general. Over here was another one. And a couple of them right there in front of me—just all around. And I looked over here with a fellow about whom I was seated, and he had five stars on each shoulder—five of them. I looked around there in that fellow’s face. It was General Omar Bradley. No wonder he is seated over there by himself! Nobody would be sitting there either but just this preacher. I never had a more blessed—more blessed visit with a man in my life. We fought the Korean War all the way through from top to bottom, back and forth, on sheets of paper. We ran the chief of staff. We talked about his family. Remember one time I mentioned this I think one time when I came back. I asked him if he had a family. Yes, he had a boy. And his boy had some little children. And his boy was a test pilot flying jets. And his boy had been killed not long before. And he was rearing the little grandchildren, filled up as he told me about it, looked a long time out there in the window, then looked back at me, and he said, “You know, I am kind of an old man to start over again with those little children.” He has got a heart in him.
Anyway, this is what I want to know. You see it says here in the Bible about these armies, armies. And I live in a day of jet bombers, and atomic fusion, and thermal nuclear warfare, and hydrogen bombs that can blow out the earth. Yet the Bible speaks about armies—armies. So I asked General Omar Bradley. I said, “Do you think that the foot soldiers, the infantry, the army is archaic, antiquated, never be used again?” He said, “Oh, listen.” He said, “However we may develop instruments of destruction and however we may progress in the art of terrible warfare,” he said, “there will never come a time, ever, in any development foreseeable, there will never come a time when you do not have to have the slogging foot soldier and that infantry and these armies.” And he said, “I will give you two reasons for it. One, whenever you conquer a country, somebody has to be there to possess it and to control it and to guide it. That means you have got to have soldiers. If you are ever victorious, you have got to have somebody there to occupy the land.” “Second,” he said, “the biggest reason why you’ll always have to have an army is this: you have got to have an army”—and then he took out his sheet of paper again—“you have to have an army to push others together.” For he said, “Atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs are of no use whatsoever if the army is deployed over the face of a continent, for if you exploded it here you might kill ten soldiers. You explode it over there and you might kill fifty. The only way that an atomic bomb is ever useful and profitable,” he said, “is when you have a concentration of the enemy so you can drop it on them.” And he said, “In order to push those people together and in order to push your enemies together, you have got to have an army to compress them so you can drop your bombs from above.”
And that is what this is talking about. How come these vast armies are in Palestine? How come these great leaders of the world are in Palestine, where this awful thing can happen, blood two hundred miles long [Revelation 14:20], flowing, a river of destruction? “I saw three unclean spirits, and they went forth unto the kings of the whole world to gather them together to the battle of the great day of God Almighty” [Revelation 16:13, 14]. For you see—and right here is a little sentence, and you wonder, well, why is that there? Right in the middle of that, for they are the spirits of evil going forth to persuade. “Behold, I come as a thief” [Revelation 16:15]. Why is that there? Why, it is very simple. If a man will not hear the voice of God, he lays his heart open and his life open to listen to the voice of destruction and evil and judgment and damnation! When the kings of the earth and the people of the earth and the armies of the earth won’t listen to God, then, of course, they lay themselves and their people open to listening to the persuasive voice of the spirits of darkness and evil [Revelation 16:13-14]. And that is why the little verse: “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that is ready” [Revelation 16:15]. Oh, listen to the voice of God! Listen to the voice of God!
And then this chapter closes—and I hate to close. Then the chapter closes: “And men blasphemed for the plague was great” [Revelation 16:21]. Wouldn’t you think they would turn? O God, the galling government! O God, the oppression! O God, the darkness! O God, the judgment! Save us! Isn’t it remarkable? They just blasphemed God the more [Revelation 16:21]. Isn’t that what you see in the world today? Oppressed and in chains and in slavery, turn to God? Call on the Lord? No. No. No sign of revival. No sign of appeal. No sign of repentance. No sign of turning. It is the spirit of depravity in the world. Oh, that the Lord will bless our people with an open heart toward God! Remember us, mercy upon us, Lord, and upon Thy people. Save us, Lord, now in this day of opportunity, golden and precious, and in the world that is yet to come. And that’s why the preaching of the gospel, and that’s why these services, and why this invitation for you and for our people. God be good to us and merciful to us and save us. And in that great salvation numbered among those who stand by the sea, singing the song of Moses and the Lamb, would you come and be one with us?
Would you? Giving your heart to the Lord; putting your life in the fellowship of the church, while we sing the song, while we make this appeal, would you come? Would you make it now? Is there a family to come, you? Is there one somebody to come, you? A couple to come, or just you, while we sing the song, while we make the appeal, come today. “Here I am, preacher, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God.” Or, “We are coming into the fellowship of the church. This is my wife, these are our children.” As the Spirit of Jesus shall open the door and shall lead in the way, make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.