Then one of the four living beings handed each of the seven angels a gold bowl filled with the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. The Temple was filled with smoke from God’s glory and power. No one could enter the Temple until the seven angels had completed pouring out the seven plagues. (Revelation 15:7-8 NLT)
Oh, sure, dive into The Revelation. You lose a bunch of potential readers just by that and then a bunch more who start to read it and leave when they realize you’re not following their favorite “end times teacher” and haven’t called Trump or Obama or whoever the Antichrist in the first paragraph.
We have angels loading up with bowls of divine wrath. The bowls are made of gold – that’s odd right there. Munitions should come in some baser metal, not precious material.
The one who outfits the angel squadron is “one of the four living beings.” In traditional Christian iconography, the four beings represent the Four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – that is, the four tellings of the words and deeds of Jesus that are recognized as authoritative, that is, directly inspired by God.
If that association is more than symbolic, can it be that the angels are being armed not with holy napalm but with the Word of God, which in and of itself inflicts judgement?
Jesus (in John’s Gospel – perhaps John is the one loading up the angels with golden bowl bombs), warns (emphasis added),
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:47-48 ESV)
And the words won’t just judge, they will execute, and do so as “the wrath of God,” as though in liquid form (in golden bowls?)
From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. (Revelation 19:15 NLT)
This is unsettling imagery, because we speak of Christ, the Word of God, as Good News. Perhaps we are onto Luke’s (there’s another of the four living beings) strange description of the preaching of John the Baptist (emphasis added),
John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people. (Luke 3:16-18 NAB)
The Word is Good News and wrath all at once. Even in the midst of incendiary “last things,” those who those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit (Mark – another living being before God – 4:20 NKJV), are in the midst of Good News fulfilled,
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28 NIV)
We need not wait on spectacular phenomena when the Word is in our hands, before our eyes, in our ears, on our lips and, God willing, in our minds and hearts. To get Matthew, the other living being, into this, I’ll close with the simple symmetry of his parable of the sheep and goats,
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:34, 41)
The seven plagues, in whatever form they manifest, are just the inevitable consequences of accepting or rejecting the gracious Good News of God in Jesus Christ.