(cf. Rev. 16:1-21)
The First and the Second Bowls
In chapter 16, “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, – since no one can go back in the temple in chapter 15:8, this must be God Himself saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God” – now the word ‘pour’ is an Old Testament word for the sense of judgment. You might want to see Psalm 79:9; Jeremiah 10:25; and Zephaniah 3:8, where ‘pouring out’ being a sense of judgment. “So, the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore on the people…” – this is obviously an allusion to the plagues during the Exodus on Egypt (cf. Exo 9:10-11). Some see an allusion to the blessings and cursing sections of Deuteronomy particularly in Deut. 28:35, that’s also a real possibility, but notice in verse 2, it’s only on unbelievers and not on the believers. That’s exactly like the plagues of Egypt and were very discriminative.
THE THIRD BOWL
In verse 4, “Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood.” – this is very much like the third trumpet in Revelation 8:10-11 where the waters simply became bitter, but here, they all turned to blood. In verse 5, “And I heard the angel of the waters saying,” – it’s a very rabbinical way of talking about the angel of the waters. They saw angels involved with most of the activities of the regular world. In Revelation 7:1 we saw an angel controlling the wind. In Revelation 14:8 we saw an angel controlling fire. So, it’s not unusual here to have an over the water, and he simply says that what God is doing is justified because of what the evil people have done; they’ve spilled the blood of the saints. Now God has given them blood to drink, notice as it says in verse 5, “…who are and who were,” – there’s no future, because the future has already arrived. The ‘eschaton’ is here. It’s much like Revelation 11:11 where there is no future there. Now, when it says, “…O Holy One,” – this goes back again to chapter 15, you might want to see that. “…for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink”. There’s blood in the ocean, there’s blood on the fresh water, there’s blood everywhere. “And I heard the altar saying,” – now back in chapter 9:13, the horns of the altar spoke; this may be an allusion to the souls of the martyrs that are under the altar, because in rabbinical Judaism that was a very significant place to be. You might want to see Revelation 6:9. But others say it’s the idea of the prayer of the saints from the altar of incense back in chapter 8:3-5; and that may be true. “O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” – there is those three titles again from the Old Testament. In a time of persecution, God’s justice is very important to be affirmed (cf. Revelation 19:2).
THE FOURTH, FIFTH, AND SIXTH BOWLS
This is very much like the fourth trumpet back in chapter 8:12, and a lot like the sixth seal back in chapter 6:12. “…and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.” – this reminds us that God is in control over the whole process. The sun has no power in its own, unless God gives it the power to scorch people. Notice that men were severely scarred, but they cursed the name of God who had authority over these plagues, and would not repent and give Him glory. The purpose of these plagues even at this juncture was still repentance but the people proved themselves to be incorrigible. Then it says, “…the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast,” – now, where is this throne of this wild beast? Well, we really don’t know. It sounds like back in chapter 11:7, of the throne of Satan was given to the wild beast. Also, in in chapter 13:2ff, we see this seems to refer to the capital of the end-time world system, the beast’s citadel. There seems to be three enemies of man that are woven through this book. They’re picked up a little bit here, and fully developed a little later, and it’s very confusing to know; first we have Satan in chapter 12, and then we have his representations, in chapter 13, and then also we have human society. Now it goes by several names: those who inhabit the earth, the city, the nations, and ultimately the great Whore called Babylon. All those titles are for human society organized and functioning apart from God. We can see in the book of Daniel chapter 2 how the kingdoms get progressively anti-God. So, we have three different enemies that we’re going to see how they develop, and how they’re going to be destroyed together, and then later on the evil one. Now notice where it says, “…and his kingdom became darkened;” – very much like Exodus 10:21-23, another plague of Egypt. “…and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.” “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates;” – now, we’ve seen the great river Euphrates earlier, that’s when these demonic hordes in chapter 9 were let loose from river Euphrates and killed people. These horses would kill with their mouths and their tails. “…and its water was dried up…” – this is another allusion to the Exodus back in Exodus 14:21 about the Dead Sea, and later the Jordan river is dried up in Joshua 3:17, and there are several allusions in prophecy; Jeremiah 51:36 and Zechariah 10:11 are some allusions to that. And notice as it mentions, “…so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east.” – there’s been much discussion about the relationship between the kings of the east and the kings of the whole world. And in verse 14, some see them as the same, just 2 different names or allies joined together. From the context, it seems to me the kings of the east are going to be God’s representatives like the demon hordes of chapter 9 to fight against the beast and the anti-world system known as the king of the world. But others see them basically as Christ’s army. So, you can see how varied the interpretations are, and dogmatism is inappropriate in this area.
Notice as it mentions, “And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet (the second beast from here on out will be called a false prophet), three unclean spirits like frogs…” – now this seems to be a satanic trinity that’s trying to mimic what God’s doing through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Notice these foul spirits, that’s the same name used in the Gospels for unclean spirits, which is the demonic. Now, they’re called frogs, and that may go back to the fact that in Zoroastrianism, frogs are a representative of demons. It may also go back to Leviticus 11:10-41 where frogs are unclean in the food laws. I’m not sure but they’re slimy kind of things and they’re used here, and they perform wonders, that’s just like in chapter 13:13 of Revelation; Matthew 24:24; and Mark 13:22. “…performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world,” – this seems to be an allusion to Psalm 2:2. Some see this as the Parthian horde that they feared so much in the Roman Empire. Their influence is exerted on rulers rather than on the common people. “…to gather them together for the war…” – that gathering for battle is seen in chapter 17:17; 19:19; 20:8. It is obvious it’s going to be an end-time battle, the great day of God Almighty (cf. 2 Pet. 3:12). Notice that Satan is mentioned chapter 12, but he’s defeated in chapter 16:17, and the battle of Gog and Magog is mentioned in chapter 20:7-10, after the Millennium that deals with Satan, and that’s a separate thing from this chapter. Now the beast was mentioned in chapter 11:7, and completely in chapter 13. And there’s going to be a battle where he’s defeated in 16:16 and 19:20 which I think is the same battle as Armageddon we’re talking about here. The beast has been identified with this fallen world kingdom which we know as Babylon (cf. Rev. 14:8; 16:12-16) but her defeat comes completely, and it is so talked about in chapter 17:1-18:24. So it seems to me that we have these three enemies that are going to be dealt with at two different times. Verse 15 is parenthetical and it’s almost like the interludes back in the seals and the trumpets. It’s Christ speaking and He says, “Hang in there, I’m coming like a thief” – He’s used that back in chapter 3:3; He’s used it in 1 Thess. 5:2; and again in 2 Pet. 3:10. It’s the swiftness of his coming. I think if you look at Mark 13:33-37, you will see that this verse 15 of Rev. 16 is really a summary of all that Jesus tells His followers to do; to be alert and to be ready for His coming. ” Blessed is the one who stays awake…” – this is the third of seven blessings mentioned in the book of Revelation. “…and keeps his clothes,” – some take that back to the letter to the church of Laodicea in 3:18. This does not refer to the loss of salvation, but to shame in doing things that are not appropriate when Jesus comes back. So, it’s a real encouragement to the church right in the middle of this end-time judgment on the beast and the world system.
Verse 16, “And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.” – that’s very difficult because no place of this name is known, so the term is surely symbolic. Some say it’s the mountain of Megiddo, but there really is no mountain. Some say it’s the city of Megiddo. Some say it’s a variation of the Mount of the Assembly coming from Isaiah 14:13. And some say no, it’s a variation of the fruitful Mountain referring to Mount Zion or Jerusalem which in the book of Joel is going to be the setting for the end-time battle right outside Jerusalem. The plain of Ashkelon or the valley of Jezreel has been the site of many Old Testament battles. Obviously I think John’s alluding to it, but I don’t think we can draw a whole lot of geographical specific data from it. I think it’s more of a symbol of the end-time battle between good and evil, and not trying to specifically locate a geographical setting.
THE 7TH BOWL OF WRATH
Notice if you would that there was thundering and lightning in the great city. Several times the book of Revelation seems to refer to the great city, to Rome. Some refer it to Jerusalem, based on chapter 11:8. But even there I think it’s really an allusion to the place of judgement between God and the forces of evil – Rome. In John’s day it might be a different city at the end-time, but I think it really stands for organized human society apart from God. And it’s broken into three parts, and this may go back to the prophecy of Ezekiel chapter 5, and you might want to see that. Then it says, “Babylon the great was remembered before God…” – always in the Bible when God ‘remembers’, it refers to judgment. Notice that “…every island fled away,” – that’s very much like the sixth seal (cf. Rev. 6:14); you might want to see Micah 1:4. If there’s no mountain literally, it’s going to be hard for Jesus to put His feet on the Mount of Olives, so it’s again a symbol. “…And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men…” here again is an allusion to the plagues of Egypt (cf. Exo. 9:24). But there are several Old Testament passages where hailstones have been used by God (cf. Ps. 18:12; 78:47; Isa. 32:19). Now they’re heavy as a talent, and there are different views about how much a talent weighs. One view says it’s 66 to 138 lbs., another says it’s 66 to 138 lbs. So, we really don’t know, but huge hailstones are going to fall in this climactic end-time battle between the forces of God and the forces of this world. It’s not really a fight to see who’s going to win, because God is obviously going to win. But God is going to consummate His promises in history as He gave His promises in history. So, I think it’s the first of two end-time battles. This one is where God overcomes the beast, which is the incarnation of Satan. The next two chapters will talk about the false prophet and this human government known as the Whore of Babylon, which I think in John’s day would be Rome. And again, it’s very confusing if you don’t see that John brings these themes in like a tapestry, and then he develops the color a little later. And I think it will truly be helpful if we see these series of developments in the book of Revelation.