The Seven Bowl Judgments
Chapters 15 and 16 show us the seven bowl judgments.
It is the last series of judgments. We have seen the seal judgments and the trumpet judgments.
John introduced this new series of judgments in verse 1. He saw “another sign” in heaven. It must have been spectacular, for John said it was “great and amazing” and he had already seen things I would call amazing. This sign was the appearance of seven angels with seven plagues. The seal and trumpet judgments also contained plagues, but John some how knew these were the last. They were the last because, with them, the pouring out of God’s wrath on the people of earth who rejected him would be finished and complete.
Verses 2-4 contain an interlude showing the saints in heaven worshipping God. We looked at that last week, so we will not discuss it here.
The Source of the Plagues
John told us in verse one that the bowls represented a final pouring out of God’s wrath. In these verses he shows us what he told us.
John saw the sanctuary of the tabernacle opened. The angels came from there. Who is in the sanctuary? God the Father. We are shown that in the Old Testament Tabernacle, where God dwelt in the sanctuary between the cherubim. These angels are also dressed to show holiness and purity with pure, bright linen robes and golden sashes. This is the same clothing as the angel who appeared to Daniel, whose appearance and speech was so awesome it made Daniel pass out. (Daniel 10:5)
John is clear about the contents of the bowls. They are filled to the brim with the wrath of the Eternal God.
To further emphasize that this is a picture of God himself in action, John is shown the smoke from the glory of God and his power filling the sanctuary. (8) In fact, it was so full of the glory of God, no one can enter it until he is finished pouring out his wrath.
This is a direct reference to instances in the Old Testament where God’s glory filled the sanctuary and no would could enter. First, we see the dedication of the completed Tabernacle at the end of the book of Exodus. The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle, and covered it, and Moses was unable to enter. (Exodus 40:24) Second, when the priests put the ark in the sanctuary of the newly completed Temple, a cloud, the glory of the Lord, filled the Temple and the priests could not stand up to minister in the face of it. (1 Kings 8:10-11) The third example is the commissioning of Isaiah. Isaiah was in the Temple after King Uzziah died. He saw the Lord on this throne. His train filled the temple. The foundations shook and the whole house was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 4:6)
All of these examples show the effect of God acting in his glory and power. John will see additional signs later in this chapter. Clearly, these plagues are acts of God coming from his power and glory. And, indeed, a loud voice from the sanctuary gives command to the seven angels: go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God. (16:1) God will move with all of his power and glory to accomplish his plan at the end of the age.
The First Three Bowls
At the command of God, the first angel brought sores. Notice, the sores come only on those who worship the beast. This is God’s first counter attack on the beast, inflicting his people with misery to show he is more powerful than the beast. The final defeat of the beast will come later, but here God demonstrates his power over the beast and pours out his wrath on the followers of the Beast. The seal of the Beast cannot protect his followers from the wrath of Almighty God. It is similar to the sixth plague on the Egyptians, also an outbreak of sores (boils, Exodus 9), showing that neither Pharaoh nor his pagan gods could protect his people from the power of God.
The second angel then turned the sea to blood and killed all the creatures in it. (3) In the second trumpet judgment, a limited portion of the sea was affected. But here we have an intensified judgment, affecting all of the seas.
The third angel turned all the fresh water sources to blood. (4) These two plagues resemble the turning of the Nile river to blood by Moses. (Exodus 7) All of the drinkable water on earth is ruined and all of the food sources in them killed.
An Explanation and a Praise
After the third bowl plague, an angel gave John, and us, an explanation and a praise. He declared that God is just in his judgment. His justness is shown because he brought blood on those who spilled the blood of the saints. As the angel says, it is what they deserve. God often punishes his enemies by turning back on them what they have done to God’s people. He has given them blood to drink.
After the angle cried out, the “altar” gives the response, confirming that God is just. This voice is the voice of those souls under the altar who cried out to God for vindication. Vindication has come and they have been allowed to see their vindication in the judgment of their persecutors.
Notice here that God is described as the one “who is and who was”. (5) In other descriptions the words “ and is to come” is added. (1:8) It is omitted here because this is a picture of Christ’s coming, the end of the age under judgment.
The Fourth Bowl
The fourth angel caused the earth to be scorched by fierce heat from the sun. (8) This is real global warming. It is a foretaste of hell. How did the people react? They cursed God. They did not repent and give him glory. The picture here is of those who worship the beast realizing that God brought the plagues. But instead of glorifying him, the cursed God. They did not repent. (9)
The Fifth Bowl
This bowl is a direct attack on the beast. Verse 10 says the fifth angel poured his bowl on the throne of the beast. Remember from chapter 13, the beast has all the power and authority of the dragon (Satan) and his throne. He is worshipped by all non-believers. But now, God turned out the lights on the beast’s kingdom. There was total darkness. People were in anguish. They still had their sores and now they have nothing but darkness.
God did the same thing to Pharaoh and Egypt in the ninth plague. (Exodus 10) Egyptians worshipped the sun among other things and Pharaohs claimed to be the sun god or descended from him. With darkness, God showed his power over the forerunner of the beast, Pharaoh, and over the beast himself. It is also a preview of hell, which is sometimes called eternal darkness. (Matthew 8:12) In response, the worshippers of the beast refused to repent and even cursed God. It is amazing that, in the face of the power of God, people refuse to bow the knee to him. It shows how bad the human heart can become.
The darkness of the kingdom of the Beast will contrast sharply with the new Jerusalem, where believers will live. That city does not need sun or moon for light, for the glory of God illumines it. (21:23-24)
The Sixth Bowl
This bowl dried up the Euphrates River. The reason is to prepare the way for the kings from the east. The Lord is getting the earth ready for the return of Christ in victory. The drying of the Jordan inaugurated God’s judgment on the Amorites in Canaan. God’s drying the Euphrates inaugurated the defeat of Babylon by Persia. This drying the Euphrates inaugurates the defeat of all of God’s enemies by Christ. In Isaiah 11:10-16, we see a prophecy of the return of the Lord (the root of Jesse in verse 10) to gather his people and defeat his enemies. verse 14 says God’s people shall plunder the people of the east. People of the east symbolize the enemies of the people of God, as first represented by Assyria and Babylon.
Satan responded by sending evil spirits to the nations. Satan, the beast and the false prophet all send out “frogs”, symbolizing evil spirits. These spirits are emissaries of the beast who go through the world performing miracles and using them to unite the earth’s people into rebellion against God. (14) They gather for a final assault on the church (the camp of the saints in 20:9), to wipe out the remainder of those loyal to the God who has brought suffering and judgment on them. But in doing this, Satan and his minions actually work to accomplish the will and work of God, for they are setting up the “great day of God Almighty”. (14)
John will see two visions of this final battle. The first shows the defeat of the beast and the false prophet and their followers in chapter 19. The second will show the outcome for the dragon in chapter 20.
The act of Satan deceiving the nations brings up the issue of the binding Satan. If we look forward to Revelation 20:1-6, we have the only explicit mention of the millennium. What we se in this vision is Satan being bound by a great chain. His binding prevented him from deceiving the nations for a thousand years. After that, he is released for a little while.
In the premileenial model, this is interpreted to mean Christ coming and ruling on earth for a thousand years exactly, but somehow Satan getting loose from his rule and staging a final rebellion.
Postmillennialists believe there will be a future time of great peace and the domination of Christianity in the world. At the end of that time, Satan gets loose and stages a rebellion.
I believe the 1,000 years is symbolic of the church age. Satan is bound from deceiving nations, although he may deceive individuals. Jesus talked of binding Satan in is story of the strong man and his description of seeing Satan fall from heaven. At the end of the church age, as these last bowls of wrath are poured out, and as the beast is specifically attacked by God, Satan is released and is again able to deceive the nations. He does this by sending these emissaries around the world to perform miracles, just as Pharaoh’s priests mimicked some of the miracles of Moses. This view is the Amillenial view.
This rebellion of Satan and his demons leads to the event described in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. There Satan causes a rebellion, the man of sin or lawlessness is revealed. He is restrained at the time Paul wrote, but will be revealed and released at the end of the age. Then the Lord Jesus will destroy him wit the breath of his mouth when he returns. Note also that this passage speaks of the wicked deception for those who are perishing because they refused to love the truth and be saved. This is the picture of this sixth bowl.
All of Satan’s forces assemble at Armageddon. The plain of Megiddo was the sight of many battles in the Old Testament. So, it seems a fitting place for Satan’s forces to oppose God.
In verse 15, Jesus inserts a reminder and a warning. He reminds us that he will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. He warns that us to be prepared, clothed and ready to go. This may indicate he will come when it appears the church is on its last legs and about to be extinguished.
This is the end of the age and the final expression of God’s wrath on the rebellious people of earth. The angel pours the bowl in the air. Possibly this is because Satan is sometimes described as the prince of the power of the air, as in Ephesians 2:2.
Either God himself or his representative cries from the temple “it is done”. All of the symbols of God’s appearance in power are there. There is lightning, thunder, the greatest earthquake in the history of earth, the earthquake we saw previously in the sixth seal. God shook the earth, destroyed the cities and even the great cities. The mountains and the islands were destroyed. God poured out his with on Babylon, the symbol of the earthly system of wealth and pleasure. There are great hail stones falling to earth.
And still, those who worship the beast cursed God rather than repent.