The Seven Bowls Of Wrath Revelation 16:1–21
In Chapter 15, John was given a detailed introduction to the bowl judgments. He saw seven angels proceeding from God’s heavenly Temple with seven bowls in hand, ready to pour out God’s wrath upon the earth.
As Chapter 16 opens, John’s attention was still fixed on the heavenly scene. Suddenly the apostle heard a great voice out of God’s Temple commanding the seven angels, “Go your ways, and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God upon the earth” (v. 1). Although the voice is not identified, most agree that it is the voice of God. The seven angels were commanded as a group to pour out their bowls. Each angel will pour out his bowl, one by one, in quick succession without further instruction. Without a doubt, what follows is the darkest chapter in the history of mankind.
Similarities between the trumpet and bowl judgments have led some scholars to believe that they will take place simultaneously. Others teach that the two series will occur successively. The successive view is correct for the following reasons. First, there can be no overlap between the trumpet and bowl judgments because the latter will proceed from the seventh trumpet (11:15). Second, the bowl judgments will affect the entire earth, but the first four trumpet judgments will affect only one-third of the earth. Third, the bowl judgments will occur near the end of the Great Tribulation (cp. 15:1), but the trumpet judgments will begin at the midpoint of the Tribulation period. Fourth, the trumpet and bowl judgments will not follow in the same sequence.
The first four will be poured upon nature and will affect mankind globally. The final three bowls will affect only the kingdom of the beast.
Four Bowls of Wrath
When the first angel “poured out his bowl upon the earth…there fell a foul and painful sore upon the men who had the mark of the beast, and upon them who worshiped his image” (v. 2). This judgment will involve a foul-smelling, malignant ulcer (like a boil) that is extremely painful and will not heal. It is similar to the sixth plague poured out upon Egypt (Ex. 9:8–12). The plague will be limited to those who took the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. Their destiny is damnation in the Lake of Fire. But before that day of suffering, they will suffer from this judgment during the Great Tribulation (14:9–11).
When the second angel poured out his bowl, “the sea…became like the blood of a dead man; and every living soul died in the sea” (v. 3). This refers to all saltwater seas. The text does not say that the sea became the blood of a dead man, but became like the blood of a dead man. The sea will turn into a thick, coagulated mass of blood producing a putrefying stench like that of a decaying corpse. This condition will cause unimaginable disease and death. This judgment is similar to the first plague upon Egypt (Ex. 7:19–21), when all the fish died. It is also similar to the second trumpet judgment, when a fiery mountain will be cast into the sea, turning one-third of the sea to blood and killing one-third of the sea life (8:8–9). All marine life will be destroyed, severely affecting the world’s food supply.
When the third angel “poured out his bowl upon the rivers and fountains of waters…they became blood” (v. 4). This judgment will affect all of the world’s freshwater springs, rivers, and lakes. God has assigned various angels over the elements that He has created. In verse 5, He mentioned an “angel of the waters.” Other angels are over the wind (7:1), the abyss (9:11), and fire (14:18). This judgment is similar to the third trumpet judgment, when a meteor will fall upon one-third of the freshwater, turning it to Wormwood. Many people who drink the water will die (8:10–11). Like the Egyptians (Ex. 7:24), people in that day will dig for freshwater, only to find that it has turned to blood and is unfit for human consumption. Without water, people will go mad and stop at nothing to quench their thirst. We can only imagine the severe agony, panic, and health problems this will create.
Then comes a great angelic proclamation: “Thou art righteous, O Lᴏʀᴅ, who art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus” (v. 5). Often people question God’s judgment upon them, but the angels do not. The angels confirm that an eternal God is justified in pouring out His wrath upon the ungodly. Further confirmation is made on this point by “another out of the altar say[ing], Even so, Lᴏʀᴅ God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” (v. 7). The angel also affirmed that the wicked are worthy to have “blood to drink” because “they have shed the blood of saints and prophets” (v. 6; cp. 7:14; 11:7–8). The altar in Revelation is often associated with the prayers of God’s people, who are crying for vengeance and judgment on their persecutors.
The fourth angel “poured out his bowl upon the sun, and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire” (v. 8). This judgment is similar to the fourth trumpet, yet quite different. Under the fourth trumpet, one-third of the sun will be darkened (8:12). Here the sun’s intensity will be supernaturally increased by God, causing it to scorch people with fire. The scorching heat will not result in unbelievers crying out to God for mercy. They will “[blaspheme] the name of God, who hath power over these plagues; and they [will repent] not to give him glory” (v. 9). Not even God’s wrath will produce repentance in the hardened hearts of wicked people.
Final Bowls of Wrath
The fifth angel “poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain” (v. 10). The throne of the beast is the one spot where Satan’s power resides on earth. Up to this point, nothing will touch the throne of the beast, but now God will center on Satan’s earthly seat of power. This bowl judgment is similar to the fifth trumpet (9:2) and the ninth plague upon Egypt (Ex. 10:21–23), with one exception: it will cover the entire earth. The darkness will be so thick that it will cause intense psychological pain to people already in agony because of their boils and burning flesh. This will cause them to “[gnaw] their tongues for pain.” This is a preview of the outer darkness of hell that unbelievers will suffer (Mt. 25:30). They will continue to “[blaspheme] the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and [will repent] not of their deeds” (v. 11).
When the sixth angel “poured out his bowl upon the great river, Euphrates…its water was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared” (v. 12). The river is called “great” because of its significant location. It is the longest river in Western Asia, flowing almost 1,800 miles from Syria to Babylon and emptying into the Persian Gulf. It forms a natural eastern boundary for the Roman Empire. The kings of the east will flood across the dried-up Euphrates River to take part in the battle of Armageddon.
The vision in verses 13 to 16 is not a parenthetical section between the sixth and seventh bowls, as some teach. Rather, it provides needed insight into this gathering of nations for the battle of Armageddon. John saw “three unclean spirits, like frogs, come out of the mouth of the dragon…the beast, and…the false prophet” (v. 13). These demonic spirits will perform miracles that will entice all nations to bring their armies to Israel for “the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (v. 14). The word battle (Gr., polemos) does not mean a single conflict but a campaign of battles at the end of the Tribulation (cp. Dan. 11:45). This will set the stage for a climactic conflict with Christ at His Second Coming. Why will all the nations gather at Mount Megiddo (Gr., Armageddon, v. 16)? They will come to challenge the Antichrist’s worldwide dominion, which has begun to deteriorate, and to annihilate Israel. Mount Megiddo will be the staging area and focal point of the battle, but the conflict will extend for a radius of about 200 miles around Jerusalem (14:20). While the nations are engaged in conflict, Christ will suddenly appear and destroy them with the sword of His mouth (19:15).
A word of praise is given to the faithful saints during the Tribulation: “Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame” (v. 15). This is the third of seven beatitudes in Revelation. It is also a warning for the saints living in the Tribulation to stay alert in light of Christ’s soon return. The word garments is symbolic of the righteousness of the saints (cp. 19:8). Those who are walking in sin before God (cp. 3:18) and the world are considered to be spiritually naked. This is shameful at any time, but especially in light of Christ’s soon return. Believers must guard their lives from evil at all times and be clothed in God’s righteousness as they anticipate Christ’s return.
When the seventh angel “poured out his bowl into the air…there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done” (v. 17). What is done? The completion of God’s wrath being poured out prior to Christ’s Second Coming.
Immediately John heard “voices…thunders…lightnings; and…a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth” (v. 18). The great earthquake will affect the earth in four ways. First, the earth will convulse (v. 18) in an unprecedented magnitude, causing great damage, disruption, death, and distress upon mankind.
Second, cities will be destroyed worldwide: “The great city was divided into three parts…cities of the nations fell; and great Babylon…[drank] the cup…of the fierceness of his [God’s] wrath” (v. 19). The “great city” seems to be a reference to Jerusalem’s destruction (cp. 11:8). It is possible that the new areas outside the old city walls of Jerusalem will be divided by the earthquake at Christ’s return (Zech. 14:4), but the old city itself seems to remain intact. People stand in awe at what mankind is able to create and construct, but one day it will all collapse and crumble when God pours out His wrath on the nations of the world.
Third, continents will be severely changed by the earthquake as “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (v. 20). The earth’s topography will be radically altered during the earthquake, causing massive flooding and great destruction.
Fourth, climatic changes will impact the earth as “there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent” (approximately 100 pounds) (v. 21). The velocity of these stones peppering the earth will have a devastating impact on whatever is not destroyed by the preceding judgments. This judgment will be similar to the seventh plague upon Egypt (Ex. 9:23–24) and the first trumpet judgment (8:7). The consequences of these cataclysmic changes will crush the Antichrist’s kingdom, but his followers will not repent. In fact, the opposite will take place: “men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail” (v. 21).
What you have just read about God’s wrath being poured out upon the earth is both awesome and terrifying. It should cause all people to examine their priorities in life and their personal relationship with Christ. Only those who have put their faith in Him will escape the wrath to come.