28 December 2018

Multiple Final Judgments in Revelation?

Battle of Armageddon
Final judgment scenes occur several times in Revelation. For example, each seven-fold series of judgments (seals, trumpets, bowls) ends in a final judgment, as well as terrestrial and celestial upheaval (6:12-17; 11:15-19; 16:17-21).
     This becomes problematic if Revelation’s chapters are laid out in neat chronological order. And it leads inevitably to the conclusion that the future holds multiple “final” judgments. If the book is not in a strict chronological sequence then the several judgments point to the same final event, though perhaps from different aspects.
     Chapter 6 describes what happens when the Lamb breaks open the first six seals. The first four unleash four horsemen with limited judgments that harm “a fourth part of the earth” (6:1-8). The fifth seal reveals the souls of martyrs kept save under the “altar” (6:9-11).
     The sixth seal produces “a great earthquake…the sun becoming black as sackcloth of hair and the full moon as blood”; terrestrial and celestial upheaval. This is nothing less than the Day of the Lord, the time of God’s and the Lamb’s wrath. It will be characterized by “a great earthquakeevery mountain and island were moved out of their place.”
   This last description may parallel the scene before the Great White Throne of judgment when, “I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his face the earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.”
     All men cower in fear and seek to hide under mountains and rocks. “The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awful Day of Yahweh” (Joel 2:30-32; Isaiah 2:10-22). In fear men cry out, “the great day of their wrath is come and who is able to stand!?” This last clause alludes to Joel 2:11, “It is the great is the day of Yahweh and awful exceedingly, Who then shall endure it?”
     The Seven Seals culminate in the Day of the Lord, a time of judgment and universal upheaval. The transition from the series of Seven Seals to that of the Seven Trumpets is marked by “voices, thunders, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” (8:5).

The Seven Trumpets
     Seven angels sound the Seven Trumpets in the next series. The first four affect the natural order and commerce; vegetation, oceans, fresh water supplies and darkening of sun, moon, and stars (8:7-12). The last three trumpets are distinguished from the first four by the voice of a “flying eagle” that warns of three imminent “woes” upon the “inhabitants of the earth” (8:13-9:21). An interlude occurs between the sixth and seventh trumpets during which the sanctuary is measured, the Two Witnesses prophesy and are killed (10:1-11:14).
     The seventh trumpet sounds and loud voices in heaven declare, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign unto the ages of ages.” As with the sixth seal God and Christ appear together at the climax of the series.  The twenty-four elders proclaim thanks to the one “Who is and He who was, because he has…become king”.
     Previously God was the one “Who is and Who was and Who is coming” (1:4). Now “he who is coming” is dropped from the declaration; the time of his arrival is here. The kingdom of God has come to fruition and He is declared king over all. It is time for the righteous dead to be “vindicated and given their reward,” but the wicked that were “despoiling the earth” are themselves “despoiled.”
     This is not an interim stage in a long series of events that precede the end of the age. This seven-fold series closes like the previous one with “flashes of lightning and thunders and voices, and an earthquake and great hail.”

The Seven Bowls of Wrath
And the seventh poured out his bowl upon the air. And there came forth a loud voice out of the sanctuary from the throne saying, ‘It is Accomplished!’ And there came to be lightning and voices and thunders; and a great earthquake took place such as had never taken place since men came to be on the earth, such a mighty earthquake so great; and the great city became divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell; and Babylon the Great was brought into remembrance before God to give to her the cup of the wine of the wrath of his anger; and every island fled, and mountains were not found. And GREAT HAIL as talents COME DOWN out of heaven upon mankind; and men blasphemed God by reason of the plague of hail because the plague thereof was exceeding great.”
     The Seven Bowls of Wrath are labeled the “last plagues” in which “the wrath of God was concluded” (15:1). Seven angels are commanded to “pour out the Seven Bowls of the wrath of God unto the earth.”  The first three contain plagues that affect the earth, sea, and fresh waters of the earth. An angel declares, “Righteous are you He Who is and He Who was” (16:5-7). Again the refrain is used as in the seventh trumpet with the third clause omitted, “he who is coming” (1:4; 1:8; 4:8; 11:17).
     The fourth bowl affects the sun, which parallels the fourth trumpet that caused “the sun to be smitten” (8:12).  The fifth bowl is poured out on “the throne of the Beast” and brings darkness to its kingdom.  This parallels with the fifth trumpet with the smoke that “darkened the sun” (9:2).
     The sixth bowl dries up “the great river Euphrates” so the kings of the east can invade, just as the sixth trumpet loosed four angels from “the great river Euphrates” to wreak havoc on humanity (9:13-15). Three demonic spirits are released to gather the “kings of the whole habitable earth to the battle of the great day of God the Almighty,” Armageddon.
     Unlike the Seven Seals and Seven Trumpets, there is no “interlude” between the sixth and seventh Bowls, events proceed rapidly to their inevitable end.
    The seventh bowl is poured out and a voice proclaims, “It has come to pass” (16:17). Babylon and all the cities of the earth fall. This last bowl produces “flashes of lightning, voices, thunders and a great earthquakeevery island fled away and no mountains were found.” This is remarkably similar to the description of the sixth seal. The reference to a “great hail” parallels the seventh trumpet with its addition of “great hail.” 

Final Judgment of Satan
     Satan is released at the end of the thousand years and “gathers together the nations to the battle,” Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38:1). The Satanic army “surrounds the camp of the saints and the beloved city.” No actual battle takes place. As soon as the saints are encircled “fire out of heaven comes down and devours” the forces of Satan, then the Devil is “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where both the Beast and the False Prophet are” (19:17-21; 20:8-10).
   This is followed by the Great White Throne of judgment. Before the one sitting on the White Throne, “the earth fled and heaven, and place for them was not found” (6:14; 16:20; 20:11-15).  The books are opened and the “dead were judged out of the things written in the books.”  At this time “Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire,” the “second death.”  Anyone whose name is not written in the book of life is cast into the lake of fire.

Conclusions
     There are too many verbal links between the several “final” judgment scenes of Revelation to be coincidental, all three series of sevens climax in the final judgment. The Seven Seals and Seven Trumpets both culminate in the destruction of the wicked and final vindication of the righteous.  The Seven Trumpets, Seven Bowls and the release of Satan all result in a final climactic battle between the forces of Evil and the Lamb.
     There is one final judgment in Revelation, not several.  The series of seven seals, trumpets and bowls are not consecutive but on some level concurrent.
    Reading Revelation as a sequence of events laid out in strict chronological order does not do justice to the material and raises several difficulties.

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