Breaking Open the Word: Revelation Ch. 15-16

Sunday, December 16th, 2018 – Revelation Chapters 15-16

At first glance, these chapters seem to be just another dizzying series of plagues sent by God on the unrepentant. However, a closer look reveals many spiritual “gems” worth praying over!

We began with the striking image of the victorious saints standing on “something like a sea of glass mingled with fire.” (15:2) While fire is typically associated with the punishments of hell, here it represents the exact opposite – the joys of Heaven! One Sister brought out how the same image could work for two such different states: the fire of God’s love will be a torment to us if we refuse it, but an everlasting joy if we accept it. This verse also brought to mind the stirring words of St. Catherine of Siena: “our nature is fire.” Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, the eternal Fire of Love, and are called to unite our small flames with His blazing furnace!

It may come as a surprise that, in our following discussion of the bowls of wrath, we were actually drawn to admire God’s infinite mercy! It began when one Sister, referencing a Scripture commentary, noted that this is the first time John actually describes a series of plagues as God’s “wrath.” In earlier chapters, the various punishments were “chastisements” or “warnings,” expressly designed to move the wicked to repent. It is only now, after such a prolonged period of mercy, that the actual judgment comes.

But even at this last stage, God still seems to be leaving the door open for conversion! A Sister noted that, though there are seven bowls, the text only says three times (after bowls four, five, and seven) that those punished “blasphemed the name of God . . . but they did not repent or give Him due honor.” (16:9) This pattern immediately reminded Sister of the revelations to St. Faustina, when Jesus says He gives each soul three final chances to repent. The true tragedy in this case is, then, that the wicked reject the threefold mercy of God even at the last possible moment. However, this should move us to be more fervent in our prayers for the dying, since no soul is beyond the reach of grace!

We also spoke briefly about the interesting line, “Then I heard the altar cry out.” (16:7) In discussing the possible meaning of this verse, several Sisters referred back to the martyrs beneath the altar in Chapter 6. These holy souls could be identified with the altar, since it was the shedding of their blood in sacrifice that called out to God for justice. Another Sister was reminded of Christ’s words on Palm Sunday: “If they were to keep silence, I tell you, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40) Here it is the stones of the altar “crying out” in response to the wicked who refuse to glorify God.

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.
— Luke 2:13-14 (NAB)

Finally, one Sister was inspired to do a brief study on the angels in Revelation as compared to the angels in the Gospels. The former seem to be fearsome harbingers of doom, whereas the latter are usually associated with joy and “good tidings.” In her prayer and pondering, however, she came to see that the difference is not so much due to angels being “nice” or “mean,” but rather to how we respond to their messages. If we trust, as did, for instance, Mary and the shepherds, then great joy will be ours; if we doubt or reject, then the angels will certainly appear in all their fearsome power!

We’re glad to have you here with us as we study and pray with the Book of Revelation! Be sure to check next week when we discuss Chapters 17-18!