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Revelation 16:17–21

“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 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” (vv. 19–21).

Revelation 16 escalates the same kinds of judgments poured out in John’s earlier visions of the era between Christ’s ascension and return (see Rev. 6; 8–9; 11:15–19). No longer do these disasters affect only a portion of mankind; rather, all the impenitent suffer. We are seeing a miniature picture of the final judgment that anticipates the fuller description of this judgment in chapters 17–20.

As we consider this judgment, we need to keep in mind that we are not necessarily getting an exact view of the end as if we are watching a video recording of what will happen. The flexibility of the symbolic language, such as referring to a Mount of Megiddo—Armageddon (16:16)—when no such mountain exists indicates that we are not likely seeing a literal sequence of events or what will actually happen in the natural world at the consummation of God’s plan. At least some of it, of course, might describe what kind of upheaval will actually take place, but we must take care not to try to develop a detailed order of final events. One of the purposes of symbolic language, after all, is to keep us from doing just that. It is more important to grasp the big picture: all those who are outside Christ are willing to unite to oppose His people (v. 12); God’s judgment will fit the crimes of humanity (vv. 4–6); the justice of the Lord on the last day will inspire worship (v. 7); and those who suffer the wrath of our Creator at the end will not “repent of their deeds” (vv. 8–10).

The final judgment will transform the natural order. We see this in today’s passage, where there is an earthquake unparalleled in human history (v. 18). This earthquake and the attendant judgment of the world’s cities cause the islands to flee and the mountains to disappear (v. 19). Overall, the picture is of a shaking so great that it causes Babylon—a figure of the leading power opposed to God and His people—to fall and to take the nations with it. The unified opposition to the Lord and His plan that makes the unconverted nations look like such a great threat at Armageddon also serves as the opposition’s weakness. These wicked nations are so intertwined that to destroy their head is to destroy them all.

Other texts such as Hebrews 12:25–27 tell us about the great shaking at the end that will transform the earth and leave remaining what cannot be shaken—the Lord’s people. But even when that happens, the wicked will not repent and recognize the justice of God. They will continue to curse Him (Rev. 16:21).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

People who are suffering are sometimes more open to hearing the gospel. However, such openness does not guarantee that they will believe. A changed heart is essential. Take time today to pray for an unbeliever whom you know, regardless of whether that person is suffering. Pray that God will give that individual a heart to trust in Christ.

For Further Study
  • Exodus 8:1–15
  • Joshua 11:18–20
  • John 12:36b–43
  • Romans 5:5

Assembling the Nations for Battle

Babylon Rides the Beast

Keep Reading The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus

From the December 2020 Issue
Dec 2020 Issue