Welcome to the “Plaguelands” of Revelation 15 and 16. What makes the Plagueland chapters so strange is how they challenge and defy our imagination. Surely, when God sends the seven last plagues, He will finally let heaven’s special effects team loose, right? We expect explosions. We expect asteroid artillery.
God is done with evil.
What we find in the Plaguelands is so different. Those looking for zombies or post-apocalyptic wastelands will have to wait for Revelation 20 because everything about the seven last plagues is wrapped in the imagery of worship. And that seems totally out of place.
The plague-bearing angels come from the holiest of holies in the heavenly temple—God’s very presence (Rev. 15:5, 6). They wear white, priestly clothes. The temple is filled with the glory of God while the redeemed praise God’s “righteous acts” and ask: “Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name?” (verse 4, NIV). After the third angel turns the rivers to blood, he, too, pauses to praise God: “You are just in these judgments” (Rev. 16:5, NIV).
The strange thing about these plagues is that there’s actually more praising than plaguing going on here. How is it that earth’s darkest moment shines so bright and holy in heaven?
If I were writing this scene, I’d have God quietly kick the angels out of heaven, saying something about needing to be alone right now. He would dim the lights before facing His rebellious children below. The whole wayward story of woe would be summed up in a single tear that ran down His face. Then, and only then, would He stretch out His hand. Yet, before He can summon the word of death, He would have to look away. This was never part of the plan.
That’s how I would have written the scene: a solemn, strange, reluctant justice. Never would I have imagined this as a moment of worship. That the angels are singing while the world is burning seems to feed the prejudice of Christianity’s critics.
Yet look more closely at this worship: the angels praise God because the justice so long prayed for has finally come. The angel of the bloody waters says God is just because “they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve” (verse 6, NIV). These plagues represent the end of God’s longsuffering with sin. No more will He tolerate murder. No more will He have to watch His children being raped, disfigured, or killed by drunk drivers. These lonely centuries have been spent in blood. However one interprets the plagues (literally or figuratively), the goal of the plagues is clear: God is done with evil.