Dr. Richard L. Strauss
April 8, 1979
1. The Preparation for the Bowls
a. The Sign
The great day of God's wrath, which began in Revelation 6, is drawing to a close when we get to chapter 15.
"Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete" (Revelation 15:1).
The apostle John sees another sign in heaven, "another" referring to the similarity with the signs of chapter 12 (the woman clothed with the sun in verse 1, and the great red dragon in verse 3). However, this one is great and marvelous. It consists of seven angels having the seven last plagues. Just as we have had two previous series of seven judgments, we are now to have the last series of seven judgments. John lays emphasis on the fact that these are the final judgments, the Greek text stating literally, "having seven plagues, the last ones." We now know that the end is near.
John is now going to introduce these judgments to us in chapter 15, just as he introduced the previous two series of judgments. The seven seals were introduced in chapters 4 and 5 where the throne of God was presented, and the Lamb of God was revealed as the only One worthy to open the seals. The seven trumpets were introduced in Revelation 8:1-6 with a vision of the golden altar of incense, linking those righteous judgments with the prayers of the saints throughout the centuries. And now all of chapter 15 serves to introduce the seven last judgments: the vials, or as we would more accurately refer to them, the bowls.
There is an amazing similarity between the trumpets and the bowls, leading some interpreters to conclude that they are really two different descriptions of the same judgments. In both the trumpets and the bowls, the first in the series affects the earth, the second affects the sea, the third affects the rivers and fountains of water, the fourth the sun, the fifth involves darkness, the sixth mentions the Euphrates River, and the seventh includes lightning, thunders, and an earthquake. But as we shall note as we move through these judgments, there are also distinct differences.
Furthermore, the bowls are more universal in scope and more severe in intensity. That they are different judgments is clear from the words of the Scripture itself. If these are the seven last plagues, then they must follow one or more series of previous plagues. And, if these are the seven last plagues they bring us chronologically to the end of the Great Tribulation with rapid successful blows. God's program of judgment on sin is brought to completion and bring us to the end of Satan's dominion over the earth.
The King James says that in these bowl judgments "is filled up the wrath of God." The word translated "filled up" means brought to completion, finished, perfectly accomplished. Through the years of the present age and on into the Great Tribulation, Satan's power and influence over the earth has been increasing. But at this point in time the end of Satan's dominion will be broken and Jesus Christ's authority is established. In these seven bowls, the wrath of God against wickedness is fully accomplished.
b. The Song
"And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb" (Revelation 15:2-3a).
Let's pause right there. John sees a great multitude. Some folks are singing. They're happy about the prospect of Satan's downfall. They are standing on what appears to be a sea of glass mingled with fire. We have seen a sea of glass previously in the book of Revelation (Revelation 4:6), but it was like crystal.
I think this is the same sea of glass. The reference to crystal is missing here and the element of fire added, probably to symbolize God's righteous judgment which is about to be consummated. The people whom John is particularly impressed with in this scene are the ones who had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name. Their very presence in heaven at this time indicates that they are Tribulation martyrs, the same people we saw in Revelation 6:9, 7:14, and 14:13, those who lost their lives for refusing to worship the image of the beast (Revelation 13:15).
The people on earth probably thought them to be insane for sacrificing their lives just because they didn't want to receive the mark of the Antichrist. But what seemed to be loss was actually gain for these who now enjoy the personal presence of the Lord. Listen to their song. It's called the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.
The first (either from Exodus 15 or Deuteronomy 32) praises God for His faithfulness to the nation Israel, probably indicating that many of these tribulations martyrs are Jews. The second song is probably a song of praise to the Lamb of God for His sacrifice on Calvary which provided redemption for Jew and Gentile alike. Listen to their words in verses 3b and 4.
"Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested" (Revelation 15:3b-4).
They are words of praise, adoration and worship. They indicate that all nations shall bow before the Lord as a result of these final judgments and the downfall of Satan. This is the same great truth which the Old Testament prophets foretold (Zechariah 14:16-17), and the same truth Paul had reference to when he said, "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:10-11). Paul was talking about this day. It is about to happen, and the host of heaven cannot be silent. It's a song of glory to God and glory to the Lamb.
In the next scene of this introduction to the bowl judgments, the temple in heaven is opened to John's gaze once again. This is no doubt the presence of God, the seat of His mercy and grace, the place where His Son intercedes for us. But out of this very place (verse 6) come the seven angels who have the seven plagues.
While we may tire of hearing about judgment as we study this book, we cannot escape the fact that it is God's judgment, a vital and essential part of His eternal plan and program of bringing glory to Himself and to His Son, the natural expression of His infinite righteousness and justice. That seems to be the emphasis of the white linen and golden girdles in which these angels are dressed: the holiness of God in His judgment upon sin. His judgment is fair. It is just.
These seven angels already have the seven plaques, and now they are given the seven golden bowls which are full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever (verse 7). While they already possess the plagues (verses 1 and 6), the receiving of the bowls seem to be the seal of divine approval upon this judgment. These bowls are full of the wrath of God, certainly not any sudden selfish anger or peevishness, but rather the judicial sentence against wickedness which His eternal holiness demands. And then we read in verse 8 that as it was on the day Isaiah received God's message of judgment against Israel (Isaiah 6:4), the temple of God's presence was filled with smoke.
From this point until the absolute destruction of wickedness on the earth, no man is permitted to enter God's presence. I take it to mean that the inhabitants of earth have had their opportunity. The day of God's grace is past. Men are now hardened in their sins, and no more will trust Him through these last short days of the Great Tribulation.
a. The First Bowl: The Sores
"And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God upon the earth" (Revelation 16:1). This is the passage of great things. In addition to the two occurrences in chapter 15, the word "great" occurs eleven times in chapter 16. And here is the first: a great voice--no doubt the voice of God Himself--instructing the angels to pour out the bowls. The final series of judgments which shall restore the earth to its rightful dimension has begun.
The first bowl is poured out on the earth, and the result is foul and painful sores upon every man who submitted to the worship of the beast. While the first trumpet (Revelation 8:7) affected the earth, it was entirely different. There, hail and fire burnt up the trees and green grass. Here, the people of the earth are afflicted with boil-like sores, just as the Egyptians were in the plagues under Moses and Aaron. Think of it, in a day of unparalleled progress in medical science, a loathsome disease is going to spread throughout the world.
b. The Second Bowl: The Sea
The second bowl is much like the second trumpet, except that there, a third part of the creatures in the sea died. This final blood-like blight which God inflicts upon the sea will kill every marine creature that remains. Whatever is left in the second trumpet judgment is now killed in the second bowl judgment.
The destruction of the fishing industry will certainly bring hunger and privation to multitudes, as will the cessation of all commercial shipping. The inhabitants of earth who have mocked God and persecuted His people are going to learn who rules the seas.
c. The Third Bowl: The Streams and Springs
The third bowl is poured out upon the rivers or streams, and the fountains or springs, and so the fresh water supplies of earth are affected just as the sea was. Some may be asking themselves whether God is really justified in inflicting such horrible punishments upon the people of earth. The angel who poured out this bowl speaks, "You are righteous, O Lord, The One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due" (Revelation 16:5-6).
These wicked people who have lived according to their own lusts, have repudiated God, worshipped Satan and his false christ, and who have been responsible for shedding the blood of God's people, are now going to reap the just harvest of their sin. They fully deserve this, says the angel: "They are worthy." They who shed innocent blood are going to gag and choke on blood as they search frantically for pure drinking water.
The wrath of God has been stored up for generations as God has withheld what man deserved. But in this day, the floodgates of God's wrath shall be opened.
Do you remember the scene all the way back in chapter 6 (Revelation 6:9-10), when the souls of these martyrs cried out from under the altar, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Evidently, the measure of martyrs is filled, and their blood is being avenged by Almighty God in Revelation 16:4-7. This must be the meaning of verse 7, "And I heard another out of the altar say, "Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments."
Sometimes when unbelievers experience great trials today, they say, "If there is a God, why is He letting this happen to me? I don't deserve this." Oh, dear friend, we deserve the worst, the absolute worst. We don't deserve God's grace. But He makes it available to us. Rather than asking why God allowed this to happen, we ought to be asking, "God, how I can know you personally and become the recipient of Your grace?"
d. The Fourth Bowl: The Scorching Sun
While the fourth bowl affects the sun as did the fourth trumpet, the consequence is vastly different. There it was darkened for a third part of the day; here its intensity is increased and men are scorched by it. Whether the sun's radiation becomes stronger or the earth's atmosphere becomes thinner, we do not know, but anyone who has spent a hot August afternoon on the beach knows that either change would make the surface of the earth unbearably hot. The whole climate of the earth would change. Crops would burn, and people would suffer from both from hunger and from the deadly rays of the sun.
You would think that such suffering would turn men to God. They already have sores that won't heal and are experiencing great hunger and they can't find fresh water. And now the sun is scorching the earth and scorching men with great heat. The agony will be unbearable. You would think that men under judgment like this would turn to God and cry out to Him for mercy.
Many today insist that men would certainly repent if only they could plainly see the power and righteous judgment of God. Yet we read in verse 9 that they blasphemed the name of God, who has power over these plagues, and they refused to repent or give Him glory. They are unalterably hardened against God.
e. The Fifth Bowl: The Savage Darkness
The suffering of evil men on earth is sharpening. In agony with their painful sores, they seek unsuccessfully for water to refresh themselves, and not only do they not find water, but the sun scorches their already pain-racked bodies. Now to make matters worse, the bowl of darkness is poured out upon the throne of the beast, and his kingdom, which already is in spiritual darkness, is plunged into total physical darkness.
Have you ever been in total darkness--the kind of darkness where you couldn't see your hand in front of your face? It is a frightening experience. And you can imagine how much more frightening it will be for these wicked people whose bodies are in such torment. The darkness will make it impossible for them to find relief. Verse 10 says they gnawed their tongues for pain. And yet for all this they will not repent and trust the Lord. We read, "And they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds" (Revelation 16:11).
Some expositors feel that the sixth bowl is limited to verse 12, and that the next four verses are parenthetical. As a matter of fact, if you have a New Scofield Reference Bible like the one I am using, that's the way it reveals it. However, I do not agree. I think it is all part of the sixth bowl, with verse 12 simply paving the way for what follows.
While the sixth trumpet loosed four angels from the Euphrates to lead an army of hellish horsemen to terrorize the people of earth, the sixth bowl dries that river up. The Euphrates River is the longest and most important river in the Middle East. To the people of John's day it was considered to be the boundary between East and West. Beyond it lay the boarders of India, China and Japan. God says that near the end of the Great Tribulation it is going to dry up, and this natural barrier to any mammoth land invasion from the east will be removed, that the way of the kings from the "rising of the sun" (literally) might be prepared.
This invasion from the east is not occasioned by mere political expediency. In verse 13 we learn that three unclean, reptilian-like spirits--the spirits of demons (verse 14)--come out of the mouths of the dragon (Satan), and the beast (Antichrist), and the false prophet, to seduce the kings of the earth to gather their armies to battle. According to verse 16, they will be gathered to a place called Armageddon, actually "Har-Megedon," which means in Hebrew, "Hill of Megiddo."
Megiddo was a great city fortified by Solomon. The ruins are there today and are visited on almost every trip to the holy land. Megiddo is situated on the southern edge of a great plain which extends southeast from the Mediterranean Sea along the Kishon River, known variously as the Plain of Jezreel and the Plain of Esdraelon. The plain is a natural battlefield, and it was here that Barak defeated the Canaanites in Judges 4 and Gideon defeated the Midianites in Judges 7. This plain will serve as the focal point of the greatest conflict of all time. The armies gather together to fight each other as the hastily consolidated empire of the beast begins to disintegrate.
Daniel gives us details of his frantic efforts to put down these bushfire rebellions in various places, and even mentions the tiding he hears out of the east (Daniel 11:40-45), a probable reference to this very invasion of Revelation 16:12. But do not forget what John says in verse 14: This is the war of that great day of God Almighty. While the armies come against each other and against Jerusalem, the sign of the coming of Jesus Christ suddenly appears, and they turn their combined might against Him. Zechariah reveals this in Zechariah 14:1-3. This is the only occurrence of the word Armageddon in Scripture, but it is the name applied to the great war which shall spell the downfall of Satan's dominion over the earth. The war itself is described in Revelation 14 and chapter 19, although the name Armageddon is not mentioned.
Right in the middle of this description of war there is a parenthetical beatitude, a blessing. "Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame" (Revelation 16:15). That's an encouragement for believers who have escaped the wrath of the Antichrist during the Great Tribulation. Those believers are to be watching for the coming of the Lord, and living Godly lives before a godless world, keeping the garments of righteous living around them at all times, and not allowing any shameful thing to destroy their testimony.
g. The Seventh Bowl: The Grand Finales
We come now to the last bowl. The angel pours it out into the air, and a great voice speaks out of the temple of heaven, from the throne. This is the voice of God again, saying, "It is done."
This seventh bowl consummated God's righteous judgment on sin. It is His last act before the return of Jesus Christ described in Revelation 19:11-16. The kingdoms of this world are now about to become the kingdom of God and of His Christ. The dominion over this world is about to be wrested from Satan the usurper, and given to its rightful ruler, the Lord Jesus Christ. "It is done."
Note the physical phenomena which attend this awesome announcement. First, there are voices, and thunders, and lightenings. Next there is a great earthquake, one that evidently rocks the entire earth. Men have seen devastating earthquakes in the course of history, but none like this one. According to verse 20, it will cause the islands to disappear and mountains to collapse. In verse 19 it will divide the great city into three parts, "the great city"--I think referring to Jerusalem (see 11:8). Zechariah 14:4 indicates that there will be topographical changes in Jerusalem at the coming of Christ, and this may be a reference to the same thing--or some expositors think it may refer to Babylon (see 17:18). But in addition to this change, there are far wider repercussions from this earthquake. The cities of the nations fall, and Babylon, the seat of the Antichrist's empire, will feel the wine of the fierceness of God's wrath. The destruction of Babylon will occupy our attention through chapters 17 and 18, and so we will hold our comments until that time.
The monuments of men that are not destroyed by the earthquake will probably fall as a result of the final plague, great hailstones from heaven about the weight of a talent. A talent weighed different amounts depending upon the metal used, but they were anywhere from 50 to 120 pounds--heavy enough to destroy buildings and kill godless men.
How would you like to get hit with a 120-pound hailstone? You know, a fella could get himself hurt like that. And they're falling all around. You'd think men would turn to God, wouldn't you? And acknowledge their sin and receive God's grace. It says in verse 21 that men blasphemed God. Who can deny the justice of God's eternal condemnation? These people will see the greatest demonstration of divine power the world has ever seen, and yet they will reject Jesus Christ and they will blaspheme God.
Every evidence around us points to the approach of these days, friends. The world is deteriorating morally and spiritually. The day will come when the best that man can produce will be an empire, described in Revelation as the empire of the Beast, the Antichrist. But God will destroy it and men will be brought to accountability for their crimes and men will be punished and Satan will be overthrown, and Jesus Christ will reign. We shall reign with Him if we know Him as Savior from sin.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Friend, you've seen God's hand at work. Maybe you're here today and you've never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, but you've seen the evidence that God is real. It's all around you. You've seen lives changed. Are you going to go on resisting Him? For those who resist Him, there is nothing but wrath--wrath in this world followed by eternal condemnation and judgment. There is deliverance from this wrath--both the wrath to come upon this world and eternal judgment by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God says to believers that He has delivered us from the wrath to come. Will you receive His deliverance? It's found in the Person of Jesus Christ. Let's bow together in prayer.
Father, we pray sincerely and fervently that any who know not the Savior, will, upon looking at this revelation of judgment, turn to Him in repentance and faith, and receive His grace for eternal salvation. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Continue to RV-11B: The Great World Church (Part 1)