John has started a new sequence. He explicitly calls this sequence a sign (15:1). If John calls it a sign, or symbol, we are meant to read the bowls as symbolic–a sign of something. In Chapter 15, John used this sign to point to the wrath of God being poured out upon Christ at Calvary. In Chapter 16, we see the implications of Christ’s sacrifice.
16.1 Καὶ ἤκουσα μεγάλης φωνῆς ἐκ τοῦ ναοῦ λεγούσης τοῖς ἑπτὰ ἀγγέλοις· Ὑπάγετε καὶ ἐκχέετε τὰς ἑπτὰ φιάλας τοῦ θυμοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ εἰς τὴν γῆν.
2 Καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ἐξέχεεν τὴν φιάλην αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν γῆν· καὶ ἐγένετο ἕλκος κακὸν καὶ πονηρὸν ἐπὶ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους τοὺς ἔχοντας τὸ χάραγμα τοῦ θηρίου καὶ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας τῇ εἰκόνι αὐτοῦ.
3 Καὶ ὁ δεύτερος ἐξέχεεν τὴν φιάλην αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν· καὶ ἐγένετο αἷμα ὡς νεκροῦ, καὶ πᾶσα ψυχὴ ζωῆς ἀπέθανεν τὰ ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ.
4 Καὶ ὁ τρίτος ἐξέχεεν τὴν φιάλην αὐτοῦ εἰς τοὺς ποταμοὺς καὶ τὰς πηγὰς τῶν ὑδάτων· καὶ ἐγένετο αἷμα. 5 καὶ ἤκουσα τοῦ ἀγγέλου τῶν ὑδάτων λέγοντος· Δίκαιος εἶ, ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν, ὁ ὅσιος, ὅτι ταῦτα ἔκρινας, 6 ὅτι αἷμα ἁγίων καὶ προφητῶν ἐξέχεαν, καὶ αἷμα αὐτοῖς δέδωκας πιεῖν· ἄξιοί εἰσιν. 7 καὶ ἤκουσα τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου λέγοντος· Ναί, κύριε, ὁ θεός, ὁ παντοκράτωρ, ἀληθιναὶ καὶ δίκαιαι αἱ κρίσεις σου.
8 Καὶ ὁ τέταρτος ἐξέχεεν τὴν φιάλην αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὸν ἥλιον· καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ καυματίσαι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἐν πυρί. 9 καὶ ἐκαυματίσθησαν οἱ ἄνθρωποι καῦμα μέγα· καὶ ἐβλασφήμησαν τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἔχοντος τὴν ἐξουσίαν ἐπὶ τὰς πληγὰς ταύτας, καὶ οὐ μετενόησαν δοῦναι αὐτῷ δόξαν.
10 Καὶ ὁ πέμπτος ἐξέχεεν τὴν φιάλην αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὸν θρόνον τοῦ θηρίου· καὶ ἐγένετο ἡ βασιλεία αὐτοῦ ἐσκοτωμένη, καὶ ἐμασῶντο τὰς γλώσσας αὐτῶν ἐκ τοῦ πόνου, 11 καὶ ἐβλασφήμησαν τὸν θεὸν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἐκ τῶν πόνων αὐτῶν καὶ ἐκ τῶν ἑλκῶν αὐτῶν, καὶ οὐ μετενόησαν ἐκ τῶν ἔργων αὐτῶν.
12 Καὶ ὁ ἕκτος ἐξέχεεν τὴν φιάλην αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὸν ποταμὸν τὸν μέγαν τὸν Εὐφράτην· καὶ ἐξηράνθη τὸ ὕδωρ αὐτοῦ, ἵνα ἑτοιμασθῇ ἡ ὁδὸς τῶν βασιλέων τῶν ἀπὸ ἀνατολῆς ἡλίου. 13 καὶ εἶδον ἐκ τοῦ στόματος τοῦ δράκοντος καὶ ἐκ τοῦ στόματος τοῦ θηρίου καὶ ἐκ τοῦ στόματος τοῦ ψευδοπροφήτου πνεύματα τρία ἀκάθαρτα ὡς βάτραχοι· 14 εἰσὶν γὰρ πνεύματα δαιμονίων ποιοῦντα σημεῖα, ἃ ἐκπορεύεται ἐπὶ τοὺς βασιλεῖς τῆς οἰκουμένης ὅλης, συναγαγεῖν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸν πόλεμον τῆς ἡμέρας τῆς μεγάλης τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ παντοκράτορος— 15 Ἰδοὺ ἔρχομαι ὡς κλέπτης. μακάριος ὁ γρηγορῶν καὶ τηρῶν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ, ἵνα μὴ γυμνὸς περιπατῇ καὶ βλέπωσιν τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην αὐτοῦ— 16 καὶ συνήγαγεν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον Ἑβραϊστὶ Ἁρμαγεδών.
17 Καὶ ὁ ἕβδομος ἐξέχεεν τὴν φιάλην αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὸν ἀέρα—καὶ ἐξῆλθεν φωνὴ μεγάλη ἐκ τοῦ ναοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ θρόνου λέγουσα· Γέγονεν— 18 καὶ ἐγένοντο ἀστραπαὶ καὶ φωναὶ καὶ βρονταί, καὶ σεισμὸς ἐγένετο μέγας, οἷος οὐκ ἐγένετο ἀφʼ οὗ ἄνθρωποι ἐγένοντο ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς τηλικοῦτος σεισμὸς οὕτω μέγας, 19 καὶ ἐγένετο ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη εἰς τρία μέρη, καὶ αἱ πόλεις τῶν ἐθνῶν ἔπεσαν· καὶ Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη ἐμνήσθη ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ δοῦναι αὐτῇ τὸ ποτήριον τοῦ οἴνου τοῦ θυμοῦ τῆς ὀργῆς αὐτοῦ· 20 καὶ πᾶσα νῆσος ἔφυγεν, καὶ ὄρη οὐχ εὑρέθησαν. 21 καὶ χάλαζα μεγάλη ὡς ταλαντιαία καταβαίνει ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἐπὶ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους· καὶ ἐβλασφήμησαν οἱ ἄνθρωποι τὸν θεὸν ἐκ τῆς πληγῆς τῆς χαλάζης, ὅτι μεγάλη ἐστὶν ἡ πληγὴ αὐτῆς σφόδρα.
The first bowl (v. 1-2)
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.
Those who have the mark of the beast and worship his image are those apart from Christ and who have given themselves to the ideologies of Rome rather than of Christ (cf. 13:11-18). So, at the crucifixion, there is some kind of judgement also against those who are apart from Christ. As is characteristic of John in Revelation, we see some anachronisms, here. The crucifixion takes place in the First Century AD. Rome and the Imperial cult, which are directly represented by the beast and his mark, are in the First Century AD. But, the plague John alludes to is sometime in the history of Ancient Egypt.
He follows the pattern he did in the trumpet symbol by describing a plague that God already sent upon the earth. In Exodus 9:8-17, God plagued the Egyptians with boils on their skin “in order to proclaim [His] name through all the earth” (Exodus 9:17). Still, the Egyptians exalted themselves rather than honoring God. John appropriates this past plague as a symbol to represent God’s judgment as a result of the Cross of Christ. His judgment, signified (cf. 15:1) by the boils, is upon those who exalt themselves in this world rather than honor God as holy and confess Christ—bearing the mark of Christ. If God’s wrath was carried out against Christ as a substitutionary atonement for His elect, those who have been sealed from before the foundation of the world, then God’s wrath is perpetually revealed against those who are not sealed of Christ but bear the symbolic mark of the beast throughout history. Those apart from Christ are constantly plagued with spiritual boils. Those who are in Christ are not because Christ has absorbed the Father’s wrath on their behalf.
The second and third bowls (v. 3-7)
The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died. Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”
In this symbol, the waters of the earth are turned to blood like in the symbol accompanying the second trumpet (8:8-9). It is at this moment, we realize that John is intentionally repeating himself. Whereas the trumpets represented a pronouncement of the coming king, though, the bowls represent the arrival of the king. They are not only bowls of wrath but anointing. As the bowls are poured out, Jesus is receiving all federal authority in Heaven and on Earth (cf. Matthew 28). He receives all authority by becoming the federal head and recompense of His people at Calvary.
John is describing the occurrence found in Exodus 7:14-25, when God turned the river and every other water source in Egypt to blood, killing the living creatures in the river. John appropriates the literal, historical event as a sign (cf. 15:1). Not only is God’s wrath being revealed against human unrighteousness but also against the land where the unrighteous dwell. God’s wrath is logically finished through the cross and has been revealed against the lands of the unrighteous since Genesis 3:17. This is, once again, a symbol representing God’s completed, perpetual judgment rather than some literalistic future judgment as if God’s wrath is not yet satisfied. As a result of the crucifixion, Jesus reigns as judge over land and sea and the nations.
The angel and altar praise God for His just judgment and for revealing His righteousness through judgment. The altar is not literalistically growing a mouth and speaking. I don’t even know of any of my dispensational friends who interpret this verse literalistically. The altar draws our attention back to the imagery of Chapter 6, verses 9-11. The altar now speaks on behalf of the saints because they have been atoned for in the finished work of Christ on the cross. God is avenging the martyrdom of His people at the appointed times like He did in Egypt. The earth is not being destroyed. God is defending His people in Christ. Those who are not in Christ, the unjust, will experience the justice of Christ, and the earth will be renewed.
The fourth bowl (v. 8-9)
The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.
There is no reference, here, to a particular Old Testament plague like in the previous three bowl judgments. To discern the meaning of this sign (cf. 15:1), we consider John’s use of the sun as imagery through Revelation up to this point:
- Jesus’s face shines like the sun in its strength; From it comes His word (1:16).
- Jesus, whose face is like the sun, gives His word to His people (10:1-2).
- It’s by Christ’s word that He plagues the earth (10:6).
- Israel is clothed with the sun rather than scorched by it (12:1).
This plague likely signifies Jesus’s presence and spoken word, which is a sort of plague for the reprobate but a secure garment for the elect. Those who are self-righteous and unrepentant are scorched by Christ rather than healed. Even upon experiencing God’s wrath and hearing the gospel of grace, they (the reprobate) blaspheme God and refuse to repent so as to give God glory. So, as the gospel, the news about Christ and His crucifixion, spreads around the world, it has two effects. First, the elect are made secure by it. Second, it is a scorching heat upon those who are not in Christ—they are tormented by the gospel and the teaching of Christ’s word. I believe we see such a reality in our time as a result of Christ overtaking and renewing the world.
The fifth bowl (v. 10-11)
Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; 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.
John appropriates another Old Testament plague to use as a symbol—darkness. The plague of darkness over Egypt was a darkness that could be felt (Exodus 10:21). After three days of darkness, the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh did not repent (Exodus 10:27-28).
This plague upon the throne of the beast and his kingdom (directly referring to Rome and indirectly to the kingdoms of the world apart from Christ) is a symbolic (cf. 15:1) darkness that signifies (cf. 15:1) the hard-heartedness of those who are of the world’s kingdom. They feel the darkness and the pain of God’s perpetual wrath, yet refuse to repent. Like God hardened Pharaoh’s heart through the plagues, so He hardens all those who have the mark of the world rather than Christ’s seal.
Once again, we see that John isn’t yet foretelling strictly future events. He is alluding to past events to describe the work of Christ and point his readers back to the cross. Darkness even fell on the earth when Jesus was on the cross about to give up His spirit (Matthew 27:45).
Notice, also, that when the bowls of coronation are poured out, only the kingdom of the beast is darkened—like happened in Egypt prior to the Exodus. Only the kingdom of the beast gnaws its teeth. It is, from the moment of the crucifixion, a kingdom bound by the Lordship of Christ—another theme we see in Revelation. Because of Christ’s crucifixion, darkness is bound throughout the Revelation, Christ reigns, the world is being renewed, and the saints inherit the earth.
The sixth bowl (v. 12-16)
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. 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, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (“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.”) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.
John now alludes to Isaiah’s prophecy. On a few occasions, Isaiah predicted that God would dry up rivers in order to bring Israel’s enemies against her and carry her off into exile (Isaiah 11:15; 41:2, 25; 44:27; 46:11). John appropriates Isaiah as a sign (cf. 15:1), not a literalistic happening. John is using God’s past wrath to symbolize the work of Christ on Calvary. John tells us what his sign means: Unclean spirits proceed from Satan, Rome, and the Imperial Cult to deceive the whole world by using great signs and wonders to attract them.
The great day of God (Cf. Malachi 4) was fulfilled in Christ’s incarnation according to Jesus in Matthew 11:1-15 and completed through the cross (See notes on Chapter 16:1-2). So, we can be certain of the timing because Scripture explicitly provides it for us. Satan was preparing for this final battle by deceiving and gathering the nations to himself prior to the cross. The day of the Lord comes, and Jesus is like a thief in the night who comes to bind the strong man and take his possessions (cf. Matthew 12:29-30; 24:42-44). Satan gathers those he has deceived against Christ for the final battle. Even the Jews stood against their Messiah at the cross.
Har-Magedon, or Armageddon, is Mount Megiddo. John appropriates this historic location where God’s people claimed victory over their enemies (cf. Judges 4; 7) as a sign (cf. 15:1) to show Christ’s promise—His church will have the victory no matter what is suffered by whose hand. God prepared the way for persecution. He is sovereign over it. He deals the final blow against the kingdoms of darkness at the cross in the First Century AD. Victory is, then, only in Christ, and His work of defeating darkness, sin, and death is finished at the crucifixion.
The seventh bowl (v. 17-21)
Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.
When the seventh angel (seven being the number of completeness) pours out his bowl of coronation, a voice comes from the temple and throne. Since Jesus is priest and king, the voice is that of Christ. “It is done.” John, like in Chapter 15, quotes Jesus’s words from Calvary. When He is about to give up His spirit, He tells us the work is finished. So, Satan has the deceived world gathered against Christ and His kingdom. In one fell swoop, Christ declares victory. It is finished—the promise that encourages every Christian who lives in the world following Christ’s victory.
Here, we see the same images accompany the temple symbolism that we have seen accompany God’s throne throughout Revelation (cf. 4:5). These signs, lightning and thunder, accompanied the giving of the Law and Sinai in Exodus 19:16-17. By His Law, His word, God is bringing the nations of the world to ruin and causing them to drink of His wrath, signified (cf. 15:1) by the wine. At this moment, the nations of the world fall and are subject to Christ’s governing authority. No mountain or island can hide any traitor from the eyes of Christ. Great hailstones symbolically (cf. 15:1) come down upon people. Their response? The deceived continue blaspheme God—pretending to be their own gods.
Once again, we see that something is lost in translation if we translate the weight of the stones to “one-hundred pounds.” John wrote that the hailstones weighed as much as a talent. Hail signifies (cf. 15:1) God’s wrath upon the nations deceived by Satan leading up to the cross. The talent was a form of currency. God’s wrath is justly paid to each according to what he or she earned by the works done in unrighteousness. The wages of works-based religion is God’s wrath. Even though those outside of God’s particular grace are receiving their just wages, they blaspheme God because His just judgment and punishment are too severe for them. But, it is they who choose to operate by their works rather than the grace of God. When Satan is bound from deceiving the nations, we understand the timing in line with the finished wrath of God at Calvary and the final victory of Christ through the cross. Jesus comes like a thief to bind the strong man. According to John, Jesus’s work as the thief is accomplished at Calvary.
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