Sermon: The Seven Bowls Of God’s Wrath Poured Out: Revelation 16

Sermon Text: Revelation 16

“Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling 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 harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea. The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, ‘Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!’ And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!’ The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way 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 demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (‘Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!’) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’ And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.” (Revelation 16, ESV)

Introduction

I decided to devote two sermons to Revelation chapter 16. In the first sermon we considered the bowl judgements broadly, giving special attention to the things that John heard in this vision, and four observations were made: One, a reminder was given that it would be an error to interpret this passage in a literal fashion as if John were shown video footage of the last days ahead of time. No, here we have truth communicated through symbolism. Two, we recognized that the key to the symbolism of the bowl judgments is found in the Old Testament, particularly the ten plagues of Exodus 7 and following, and Leviticus 26. Three, we learned that the bowl judgements reveal something of the final judgment, particularly the outpouring of the wrath of God upon the ungodly alive upon the earth on the last day. And four, we did see that the heavenly opinion concerning the judgments of God is that they are perfectly right. This point was drawn from what John heard the angel and the alter say in verses 4-7. Finally, and in conclusion, we did look at the words of Christ in verse 15 where he warns,  “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” Indeed, this is what the thought of the return of Christ and the wrath of God poured out should do within us – it should move us to live with a sense of expectation, and to be always prepared, having put away our sin stained garments through repentance, and being properly clothed with the righteousness of Christ received by faith.

Today I wish to look at each of the bowl judgments themselves and to show how their symbolism, one, draws from the plagues of the Exodus, two, advances what was revealed earlier in the book of Revelation, and three, does, in some instances, prepare for things to be revealed later in this book.  The end result is that we have, here in the bowl judgements, a symbolic description of the wrath of God poured out on immediately preceding and leading up to the the return of Christ upon the kingdom of the beast, and all who are in it (all who have received his mark) who, evidently, at the end of time will be hell bent on overrunning the people of God (those sealed by him). God will, on the last day, rescue those who belong to him and pour out his fierce wrath open his enemies. As it was with the Egyptians at the Exodus, so will it be with the kingdoms of this world on the last day. As is was for Israel at the Exodus, so will it be for all who in Christ on the last day, the great and awesome day of the Lord. 

The First Bowl

In verse 1 we read of John’s heavenly vision: “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling 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 harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image” (Revelation 16:2, ESV).

Notice that these bowls filled with God’s wrath have as their target those who bare “the mark of the beast and worshiped its image”. These are all who are not in Christ. They are those – and this we have learned from earlier passages in the book of Revelation – who worship, not God and Christ, but the things of this world. They are idolaters. Their hope is set on earthly things. They trust in themselves, in political institutions, in wealth, etc. Their number is 666, which is the earthly and imperfect number of man in trinitarian form. To put it differently, it all who are not in Christ who will drink the cup of God’s wrath on that last day. Those who have the seal of Christ upon them will have been rescued.

Remember that the first bowl here in Revelation 16 corresponds to the sixth of the plagues that were poured out by God upon the Egyptians at the Exodus, when, after Moses and Aaron, took “handfuls of soot from the kiln, and… Moses threw it in the air… it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast” (Exodus 9:8–10, ESV).

One question we might ask is, why are these seven bowls so deliberately attached symbolically to the ten plagues of the Exodus? The answer cuts in two directions: One, it is so that we might understand something about the future – that at the end of time something like that great act of judgement that came upon the Egyptians (and the god’s) and deliverance that Israel did enjoy will happen again at the end of time, but in a much greater way. And two, so that we might understand something about the past – that Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was not ultimately about the nation of Israel, but it was about the Christ and all who would be saved in him, not from Pharaoh, but from the evil one himself, from sin, and from death. The book of Revelation picks up these Old Testament images, alters them, and advances them so that we might understand something about both the past and the future.

Notice also that the first bowl corresponds to the first trumpet that was blown back in Revelation 8:7:  “The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up” (Revelation 8:7, ESV). The first bowl of Revelation 16 is poured out upon the same realm – the earth. We are to notice the similarity, and also the difference. The similarity is the realm. The difference is the scope of the judgement. In the first trumpet 1/3 of the earth was affected. With the outpouring of the first bowl, there is no restraint. The whole of the earth is affected. This is why we concluded that while the trumpets (most of them) do symbolize the partial and restrained judgements of God which are poured out even now, the bowls symbolize the full and final outpouring of the wrath of God. For indeed “with them the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1, ESV).

It is worth noting that at the Exodus the Lord did inflict the Egyptians with boils and sores as an act of judgement upon them. Also, the Lord did threaten Israel herself should she sin saying, “The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed…The Lord will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head” (Deuteronomy 28:27, 35, ESV). Now the final wrath of God poured out on the last day is portrayed as God inflicting all idolaters “harmful and painful sores.”

The Second Bowl

In verse 3 we read, “The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.” (Revelation 16:3, ESV)

Notice three things:

One, the second bowl corresponds to the first plague of the Exodus where the waters of the Nile were turned to blood. In the second bowl it is not fresh water, but the salty water of the sea that is turned to blood. The reason is to symbolize God wrath poured out, not just upon the river of one nation, but upon the sea’s of the whole earth. Also, we should remember that is was from the sea that the first of the two beasts did rise. Here also is the place where the ships of the nations sail to do trade. It is this water which is turned to blood with the pouring out of the second bowl, but it does correspond to the first plague nonetheless, for water is turned to blood.

Secondly, the second bowl corresponds to the second trumpet. There is was a “blazing mountain” that was thrown into the realm of the sea.

Thirdly, with the sounding of the second trumpet “a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed” (Revelation 8:8–9, ESV). When the second bowl is poured out there is no limitation or constrain, but “the sea… became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea” (Revelation 16:3, ESV).

The Third Bowl

In verse 4 we read, “The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood” (Revelation 16:4, ESV).

You’ve undoubtably gotten the hang of things by now, so I need not be too tedious.

The third bowl also corresponds to the first plague, and perhaps even more exactly, for water is again turned to blood, this time, not the salt water of the sea, but the fresh water of springs and rivers. But it is not one river, the Nile or he Euphrates, but springs and rivers in general.

The third bowl corresponds to the third trumpet. In both is the realm of rivers and fountains that are afflicted.

And again, there is progression – not a third as it was with the trumpet, but all, for indeed, with these bowls “the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1, ESV).

Heavenly Opinion

Notice that it is here, after bowl three, that we are provided with a heavenly opinion on the wrath of God poured out. John “heard the angel in charge of the waters say, ‘Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!’ And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!’” (Revelation 16:5–7, ESV).

The placement of these words is significant, for they come right in the middle of the outpouring of the bowl judgments. The seventh bowl is set off from the first six both literarily and thematically – it is with the pouring out of the seventh bowl that things are truly brought to an end, as we will see – and so the pattern is this: bowls 1, 2, and 3 are poured out, we are exposed to the heavenly opinion concerning God’s wrath poured out, and then we have bowls 4, 5, and 6. There is a chiastic structure to the text, and at the midpoint, or peak, or heart of it, we do hear the heavenly opinion, both from an angel and from the redeemed whose souls are under the alter (Revelation 6:9ff.). And what to they say? As terrible and awesome as the wrath of God is, it is perfectly just and right. The things that John saw in this vision are important, but the things that he heard do stand out as being most significant.

The Fourth Bowl

In verse 8 we read, “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire” (Revelation 16:8, ESV).

Bowl four can be compared with plague number nine where the sun is struck with darkness. Here the sun does not go dark, but scorches people with fire. Beale points out that it might be better to compare bowl four with the seventh plague where hail, thunder and lightning (fire) fall from the sky. He might be right.

Bowl four and trumpet four correspond in that it is the realm of the celestial bodies that are struck.

Notice that a feature is added in the description of the fourth bowl that was not present in the description of the first three, for John comments on what he saw, saying in verse 9, “They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory” (Revelation 16:9, ESV). These plagues, as they are called, do not bring men to repentance, but only judgement. Don’t wait, for then it will be too late.

The Fifth Bowl

In verse 10 we read, “The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness” (Revelation 16:10a, ESV).

Clearly it is bowl five and plague nine that correspond, where Egypt was plunged into utter darkness for three days. It was “a darkness to be felt.” Now it is the whole kingdom of the beast that covered in darkness.

Bowl five corresponds to trumpet five in a most interesting way. When the “And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, [John] I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft” (Revelation 9:1–2, ESV). The end result of both the fifth bowl and the fifth trumpet is darkness, but for very different reasons. With the blowing of the fifth trumpet the darkness is the result of Satan and his demons being permitted to do their work within their kingdom. Here with the outpouring of the fifth bowl it is the kingdom of of the beast itself that is plunged into darkness by God as an act of judgement.

Again John comments, saying that “people gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds” (Revelation 16:10b–11, ESV).

The Sixth Bowl 

In verse 12 we read, “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way 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 demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.” (Revelation 16:12–14, ESV)

This sixth bowl is the most complex and interesting of them all.

It obviously corresponds to the second plague where, after the water of the Nile was turned to blood, frogs came up out of it to cover the land. But there are some important differences to be noticed.

One, it is not the Nile that is said to be struck, but the waters of the Euphrates. This is so typical of how the symbolism of the book of Revelation works. The book draws upon the Old Testament for it’s symbolism, but it alters those Old Testament images in obvious and sometimes jarring ways in order to make a point.

In the book of Revelation it is Babylon, and not Egypt, that is used to symbolize the godless and worldly powers which seek to seduce the people of God. And if they will not be seduced, then it is Babylon that will then persecute the people of God. This will become ever more clear as we progress in our study of this book. The Euphrates is the river of Babylon, and it so it only makes sense that it is the river that is struck.

Two, notice that the river is not turned to blood here, but is dried up, “to prepare the way for the kings from the east.”

Notice that the sixth bowl corresponds to the sixth trumpet where, when the “sixth angel blew his trumpet, [John] heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind” (Revelation 9:13–15, ESV).

Remember that it was from the north and east – from the region of the Euphrates – that Israel’s enemies did come. Both Assyria and Babylon did come from that region – from the region of the Euphrates – to conquer them. That region took on symbolic force by the time that John did receive and write the Apocalypse. Where do the enemies of God’s people come from to adult them? The come from the Euphrates.

When the sixth trumpet was blown, “four angels who [were] bound at the great river Euphrates” were released and were permitted to ”kill a third of mankind” with an army two hundred million strong.

Something similar happens when the sixth bowl is poured out. The river Euphrates, which once functioned as a protective boundary, is dried up “to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And [John] 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 [false trinity], three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (Revelation 16:12–14, ESV).

Notice the lack of restraint. It is not Assyria or Babylon who assemble for battle. It is the “kings of the whole world”. They are moved by the demonic, who are sent by the false trinity – the dragon and the two beasts. And who are they assembling to fight against? The people of God. In verse 16 we read, “And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Revelation 16:16, ESV).

The scene is set, therefore, for what we will encounter later in the book of Revelation. You’ll see that nothing more is said in the bowl cycle about this battle. The seventh bowl will indeed describe the end, but not with battlefield terminology. We are kind of left to wonder what this battle of Armageddon is all about. But we will return to it in Revelation 19:11-21 where we read,

“Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, ‘Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.’ And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur” (Revelation 19:17–20, ESV).

So, if you’re able to track along with all of this complex symbolism being drawn from many places within the Holy Scriptures, Old Testament and New, what we have in the first six bowls is a symbolic description of how things will go at the end of the age. How long of a time span do the bowl judgements represent? I do not know for sure. I don’t think that we need to know. There is no reason at all to say that these things will happen in the last seven years, or three and a half years of human history. Nor do I think we need to confine what is symbolized here in the first six bowls to one day. But the bowls do seem to describe a complex series of events that will take place right before the Lord returns culminating in the return of Christ.

Perhaps the best way to explain this is to go with the analogy that is embedded within the bowl judgments themselves, that being the analogy of the Exodus. How will things go with the righteous and the unrighteous at the end of time? It will be for them much like it was for the Israelites and the Egyptians at the Exodus.

The Israel of God (that is, all who are Christ, according to the New Testament) will find themselves under persecution and in a helpless place.

God, knowing who are his, will pour out judgements with precision upon his enemies – plagues. His people will be spared.

The kings of the earth – being moved by the demonic; being motivated by the dragon, the beast and false prophet – will pursue God’s people. They will press hard against them to overwhelm them Notice that it is not the waters of the Red Sea that will be dried up to provide safe passage for the people of God, but here at the last Exodus it is the waters of the Euphrates that will be dried up so that the enemies of God might be released to war against God and his people!

But they will be gathered together, not so that might prevail against the people of God, but so that the people of God might be rescued, and the wicked judged. “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great”, the angel of Revelation 19 says.

Warning

Notice that a warning from Christ himself is stated prior to the outpouring of the seventh bowl. “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (Revelation 16:15, ESV)

The Seventh Bowl 

And then “The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’ And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.” (Revelation 16:17–21, ESV)

Clearly the seventh bowl and the seventh plague correspond with the mention of hail. Also, the seventh and bowl and the seventh trumpet share many similarities, for they describe the same event. When the seventh trumpet was sounded, “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail” (Revelation 11:19, ESV).

Notice that there is no interlude between bowls six and seven as there was between seals and trumpets six and seven. That is because at the time for warning and for patience is over with the outpouring of the bowls of the wrath of God.

Clearly this seventh bowl is a depiction of the end of the world as we know it. The voice from the temple and throne said, “It is done!” We see again the “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder” associated with the last judgement. There is “a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake.” Babylon is split into three parts. “The cities of the nations fell”. “God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away. No mountains were to be found. “And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.” (Revelation 16:17–21, ESV)

Application

Brothers and sisters, it is good that we talk about the time of the end. Some do grow obsessed with this subject so that it becomes the only thing that they talk about, and that is not good. But there are others who neglect the subject and that too is not good.

It is important that we see human history and the Christian life as a journey, and a journey involves traveling towards a destination.

Let us not neglect the travel, friends. Let us not grow so obsessed with talk about the destination that we forget to walk the walk that is required to get there. Let us not neglect the other things that the Bible has to say to us – things pertaining to God, our condition and need, our salvation, and the Christian life. Let us not fail to apply the word to every detail of our lives so that we might be found walking in the will of God.

But let us not forget about the destination, either. Having a destination is what makes a journey a journey. Otherwise we are just wandering. And so how important it is that we understand the end. Eschatology (the study of last things) matters greatly. For it is is by the study of last things that we are able to pin the pin on that map, if you will. And by putting the pin on the map, we are then able to journey well as we order our affairs with the destination ever in mind.

Brothers and sisters, my prayer for you is that, having learned something about the end of the world that you would then order your life accordingly.

The biggest question of all is, are you in Christ?

If the answer is yes, then I encourage you to examine your life even more carefully to the point that you begin to ask questions like, in light of these things is it right the way that I spend my time and money? Do I value the right things? Do I have my priorities straight? Am I spending my life well in a way that will have lasting significance?

Truth be told, you can’t even begin to ask these questions without a pin stuck in the map. And some have a pin, but not one placed by the God and his word. May our view of the world in which we life and the end of it be true according to God, and may we order our lives accordingly, for our good, and to God’s glory. Amen.

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