The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath
16 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.” 2 The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. 3 The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died. 4 The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5 Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:“You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were; 6 for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” 7 And I heard the altar respond: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”
The loud voice from the temple is likely the voice of God as no other being could enter the temple until after the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed as instructed in the previous chapter (15:8).
In the trumpet series there was a break between the first four trumpets (8:7-12) and the last three; signaled by a flying eagle announcing three more “woes,” (8:13). In the bowl series, as in the seven judgments of chapter 14, the break is between the first three and the last four, signaled by a solemn exchange between the angel of the waters and the altar.
The first three bowls parallel the first three trumpets (8:7-12) in that they affect, in sequence, the earth, the sea and the fresh waters. Yet the bowls do not merely repeat the earlier series. First, the intensity is greater and has global implications. The trumpet series affected one-third of the earth, sea and fresh water respectively; as well as a third of the sun, moon and stars, while the judgments introduced by the bowls have no limitations.
Second, in contrast to the earlier series, humans are affected from the start.
The humans who suffer from these plagues are specifically those who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. Still another difference, reflected perhaps in the fact that all seven judgments are repeatedly called “plagues” (15:1, 8; 16:9), is that they correspond more closely to the Exodus plagues than do the judgments introduced in the trumpet series.
The first bowl brings ugly and painful sores on those who bear the beast’s mark (see Ex 9:8-12); the second turns the sea into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea dies, while the third turns the fresh waters to blood (see Ex 7:14-25). In the trumpet series there were no sores or boils; only a third of the sea was turned to blood, but as only one detail among several (8:8-9); and fresh waters were poisoned but not turned to blood (8:10-11).
Here, the angel in charge of the waters comments on the judgment of the fresh waters introduced by the third bowl, and with a response from the [another out of the,KJV] altar provides a momentary pause in the action. The pattern of a pronouncement followed by a response introduced by yes recalls the earlier exchange between a “voice from heaven” and “the Spirit” about “the dead who die in the Lord” (14:13), also following a series of three angels and preceding the appearance of four more.
Taken together, the angel’s pronouncement and the [another out of the, KJV] altar’s response form a kind of hymn that begins and ends with an acknowledgment of the justice of God’s wrath displayed on the earth: You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged, and Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments . Like “the song of Moses . . . and the song of the Lamb” (15:3), the angel’s hymn addresses the Lord God Almighty and echoes such lines from the previous song as “just and true are your ways” (15:3), “for you alone are holy,” and “your righteous acts have been revealed” (15:4).
The heart of the judgment hymn is the pronouncement in verse 6: for they have shed the blood of your holy people, or saints, and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve. This song has God forcing unrepentant unbelievers to drink blood to avenge the deaths of the martyrs.
Here the reference to holy people speaks to those who are set apart because of their relationship with Jesus Christ. In Revelation saints can be Christians in general or those believers facing persecution and martyrdom.
Prophets may refer to all of God’s spokesmen who have been killed as a result of persecution. Or specifically to the two witnesses who prophesied for 3 1/2 years (11:3-13, 18)
8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.
Unlike the first three, this plague is not a direct parallel to the plagues on Egypt. The sun, instead of being darkened, as in Exodus 10:21-29, was intensified and was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, just as the beast himself did (13:5-6) and they refused to repent and glorify him. The accent on fire recalls the first three trumpets (8:7-11) with their recurrent theme of fire from the sky. They cursed, literally blasphemed, the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but the unbelievers refused to repent and glorify him .
The Good News of Christ is still in effect even just before His return but it is apparently rejected by all the unbelievers who are still alive.
10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.
This time the bowl is poured out specifically on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. The plague of darkness marks a return to the theme of Exodus, when there was darkness over Egypt, “darkness that can be felt” (Ex 10:21). A kind of cumulative effect of the first five bowls sets in as people gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores. The verdict after five plagues is the same as after four, as the unbelievers continued to refuse to repent of what they had done.
12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13 Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. 15 “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” 16 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
The common feature between the sixth trumpet and the sixth bowl is the great river Euphrates (9:14). Here, instead of 200 million cavalry (9:16-17), John sees the kings from the East coming across the Euphrates, representing the kings of the whole world assembled for a great battle. These kings and their armies correspond to the cavalry of the earlier vision and, like those demonic forces, bring trouble to the earth in threes: three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur in the earlier instance, and here three evil spirits that looked like frogs; coming out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. The comparison between these spirits and frogs is the only link between this plague and the plague of Exodus (Ex 8:1-15).
The evil spirits of this verse are described as impure spirits, the same phrase used in Mark for demons (Mk 1:23; 5:2). John, after telling what he saw, now speaks as a prophet to confirm the identification of the spirits as spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and to interpret kings from the East as the kings of the whole world.
Twice he states that the evil spirits “gathered them” for battle, giving first the time and then the place of the great final conflict. The time is the great day of God Almighty, and the place is the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. I found it interesting that Armageddon is not a battle, but rather a place. I think most people interpret Armageddon as the final battle; I know I did .
In giving the time, John gives away the outcome. The great day of God Almighty defines the day God Almighty is victorious. There is no question about how the battle will turn out, and further examples confirm the inevitable in chapters to follow (17:14; 19:17-21).
Between the notation of the time and place of the battle, Jesus himself, speaks. It is the first time Jesus has spoken directly since dictating the seven messages of chapters 2 and 3, and his words sound very much like words from those messages: Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and shamefully exposed (3:2-4, 18). This word of warning to the book’s readers comes very abruptly in its context. Probably the reference to the great day of God
Almighty suggests the image of “the day of the Lord,” which in early Christian instruction was said to come “like a thief in the night,” a tradition known to both Paul and his readers in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (also Mt 24:43 and Lk 12:39). For John’s readers the words represent a hopeful time shift from that near future day, when, too late for repentance, the world moves inexorably to its doom, back to a present in which there is still time to “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die,” so as to walk with Jesus “dressed in white” (3:2, 5). When the battle at Armageddon comes, the day of grace will be over. Either we are on God’s side—the victorious side—or we perish with those who are deceived by the dragon, the beast and the false prophet.
The word Armageddon conjures up images that are mostly foreign to the book of Revelation. The term in its immediate context refers not to a battle but to a place. Armageddon was as strange to the book’s original readers as it is to us today. It is a Hebrew name in a Greek book, given without a Greek translation. The word literally means Mount of Megiddo.
With all the reference to the time and place of this seemingly impending battle, no battle is actually prophesied in connection with the pouring out of the sixth bowl. Troops are assembled to the place, but no battle ensues.
17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21 From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds,[a] fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.
The seventh bowl is the climax of all of Revelation’s judgments. The plagues come to an end with a proclamation from God, “It is done”. God’s final act of judgment before Christ comes. The voice calls forth the same phenomena we have seen three times before in John’s visions, flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. However, no earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake of the seventh bowl. Each time John had seen and heard these things more was involved; first at the throne of God, lightning, rumblings and thunder (4:5); then at the beginning of the trumpet series, all these plus the earthquake (8:5; 6:12; 11:13); finally, at the end of that series, all of the above plus a great hailstorm (11:19).
With the seventh bowl, the earthquake is described in much greater detail. It seems to be wreaking havoc on the cities of the nations; world wide. The great city splits into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapse. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. The hail is also detailed; from the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds (45 kilograms, or a talent), each fell upon men. And they cursed God for the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.
This earthquake is a grim counterpart to an earlier one in which a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven (11:13). This one is focused on Babylon the Great, and no glory is given to God. Instead, the prophesy of 14:8 comes to fulfillment: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great.” Babylon is given the cup filled with the wine of the fury of God’s wrath (14:10).
Who or what is Babylon? Why does John consistently refer to Babylon as “she” or “her” (v. 19; 14:8)? Ironically, “she” has been destroyed without ever being formally introduced. Her introduction will come in the next chapter.
Along with Babylon, John also sees the cities of the nations fall. These cities are probably meant to correspond in some way to “the kings of the whole world” assembled for battle at Armageddon. Whatever was in store for the respective Christian congregations in each of those cities, John’s vision revealed that the cities themselves were doomed to share great Babylon’s fate.
As for the plague of hail, it recalls for one last time the biblical plagues on Egypt (Ex 9:22-26). The statement that those on whom the giant hailstones fell blasphemed God explicitly confirms the responses at the end of the fourth and the fifth bowls, and it serves as a final verdict on the entire series. Like the plagues of Exodus and like the trumpets (9:20, 21), the “seven last plagues” do not bring repentance.
a Revelation 16:21 Or about 45 kilograms