After reading about the seven “seal judgments” and then the seven “trumpet judgments,” this chapter prepares us for the “bowl judgments.” John does give us some hint of their chronological sequence, informing us that these are the final plagues. We will discover in the next chapter that those seven plagues culminate with the battle of Armageddon.
By this time, those who refused to worship the antichrist or his image, and who refused to take his mark, are found worshipping in heaven (15:2-4). Whether they are there as a result of martyrdom or a rapture, we are not told. In any case, no one can argue against the fact that they were on the earth during the rise of the antichrist and his persecution of believers. And nothing is said about them being Jews who were born again during the tribulation, as some who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture of the church like to think. For this and other reasons, I think believers are much safer if they don’t count on being raptured before the antichrist “wages war against the saints,” something which God foretold Daniel (Dan. 7:21; 13:7). Better to be prepared for the worst.
Will there be any believers still on the earth during the final seven plagues of the bowl judgments? We will read in chapter 16 that when the first bowl is poured out, the result will be “loathsome and malignant” sores “on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshipped his image” (16:2), perhaps indicating that some on the earth at that time will not have the antichrist’s mark or have worshipped his image. Moreover, after the sixth bowl judgment, which results in the gathering of kings for the battle of Armageddon, Jesus is then quoted as saying, “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame” (16:15). If every believer was in heaven by this time, there would seem to be no need for such admonitions for people to remain ready for Jesus’ coming.
On the other hand, as we read through the seven bowl judgments, it is difficult to understand how some of them will not affect everyone who is still alive on planet earth. So, once again, we’re left scratching our heads!