The Plagues of Revelation
This page, on the plagues of Revelation, is part three of a study of Revelation chapter 15. Go back to part 2.
"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." (Rev 15:6)
The seven angels came out of the place of judgment. One meaning (metaphorical) of the Greek word here translated as "girded" is "to equip one's self with knowledge of the truth."
"Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;" (Eph 6:14)
The "armor of God" is often described as including the "belt of truth."
Is it possible that the seven last plagues could be poured out and God could be seen as just in finally removing His protection from those who have rebelled against Him because now the truth has been fully revealed by the judgment process? And, in this verse, the angels are described as having the truth in their hearts (really, their minds) because the judgment has been completed and God is seen to be "just and true" (verse3).
"And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever." (Rev 15:7)
The seven angels are described as already having the seven plagues in verse 1 and, in verse 6, they are pictured as coming out of the temple again already having them. Then, in verse 7, they are given vials full of the wrath of God. It seems like, grammatically, it could be written like this:
"One of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels who had the plagues seven golden vials full of the wrath of God."
An obvious question is: are the plagues the same thing as the vials full of the wrath of God? From order of the narrative, it would seem not. A closer look at the meaning of the wrath of God will help here.
In verse 1, the angels have the plagues and "in them is filled up the wrath of God." "Filled up" is translated from the Greek word "teleo" from which we get such words as "telomere;" a telomere being the ending piece of a strand of DNA.
The word in the Bible is translated "finish" (8 times), "fulfill" (7), "accomplish" (4), "pay" (2), "perform" (1), "expire" (1), misc 3. It has the meanings "to bring to a close, to finish, to end."
The plagues are often thought of as punishments being poured out by a wrathful God; by God who couldn't be more angry with sinners. But is this the correct understanding of God's wrath? Other pages on this site document that the Bible clearly teaches that God's wrath is His act of leaving sinners because they have turned from them. He is honoring their choice to not have anything to do with Him. Indeed, I believe, the vials are not poured out as a direct act of God but - quite the opposite - they happen because God is not there. He has withdrawn His protection from those who don't want it. He is leaving sinners to reap what they have sown, to receive the natural consequences of their actions and choices.
Take note that the vials full of the wrath of God are given to the angels, not by God, but by one of the four beasts who are around the throne as witnesses ("... four beasts full of eyes ..." Rev 4:6). The heavenly court has made a decision that God has been just and righteous in all His dealings with man and is justified in leaving them to their chosen fate. Really, they are giving the angels authority to withdraw their protection from the earth and, as a result, the vials are poured out and destruction follows. Note the similarity in this logic to the four angels of chapter 7:
"And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." (Rev 7:1-3)
There is a similarity here to the sounding of the trumpets in Revelation chapter 8:
Action by God
||vial poured out
The "following events," in each case, are not God's doing (He merely allows them or does not act to prevent them) but, rather, the work of the destroyer, Satan himself, or the forces of nature which angels have previously held in check.
The common understanding is that each plague is somehow an expression of the wrath of God. However, the Bible is clear that the phrase "wrath of God" is used to describe situations when God is not involved. Each plague "judgment" happens not because God is busy personally inflicting punishment but because He is not there to prevent them. The Bible has many examples that illustrate a correct understanding of the wrath of God. This is one of the most important and most misunderstood concepts in all of scripture. Romans 1:18, discussed on the first page of this Revelation 15 study, also explains it. Please make sure you understand what the wrath of God is.
The more logical meaning of the pouring out of the plagues then would be that God has finally removed His restrain and protection from sinners who do not want Him to be at all involved in their lives. They have rejected God and want nothing to do with Him. God then (reluctantly) honors their free-will choice and leaves them.
"And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled." (Rev 15:8)
The meaning of verse 8 is not entirely clear. It could be that "no man was able to enter the temple' is a reference to the fact that, at this, time probation has closed, intercession is finished and therefore every case is closed.
Chapter 16 will describe the pouring out of the vials and each resulting plague.