Understanding The Apocalypse

THE BOWLS OF WRATH
Revelation 16
Chapter 27

We have reached John's description of the unbridled wrath of God being poured upon the earth. It is a time when those who remain on earth, other than the believing remnant of Israel, will be so hardened by sin they will not even consider repentance, but will curse God and His righteousness.

Humans should not be on earth during this terrible time for mankind was not created to suffer the wrath of God. Mankind was created to glorify God and to enjoy the eternal presence of His fellowship. But humanity fell into the clutches of sin when Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and now, thousands of years later, we see graphically illustrated the results of sin, as God visits His wrath upon the earth.

If ever there is a time that can be described as hell on earth, this is it and as always, those who will suffer the wrath of God will do so because they refused to receive the salvation available by Grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I. The Command to Proceed

"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).

We know from Revelation 15:6-8, that after the seven angels departed from the temple it was filled with smoke from the Glory of God and no one is able to enter the temple until after the seven plagues have been fulfilled.

During the time between the departure of the angels and the fulfillment of the seven plagues, the only One in the temple is the Lord God. Therefore, the voice from the temple ordering the angels to pour out their bowls has to be the voice of God. There can be no legitimate doubt these judgments are under the direct authorization and supervision of the Lord. This is His time of wrath on the earth.

What follows is a series of supernatural plagues inflicted upon unrepentant humanity in rapid-fire succession. There will be no respite for the wicked once the plagues begin and each vial when poured out will add to the previous misery.

II. The First Bowl of Wrath

"And the first went, and poured out his bowl upon the earth, and there fell a foul and painful sore upon the men who had the mark of the beast, and upon them who worshiped his image" (Revelation 16:2)

The recipients of the wrath of God are clearly identified in this verse. They are those who worship the Antichrist and have taken his mark. Because they refused the true Christ and sought the protection of the Antichrist they will suffer the wrath of God, showing there is no salvation apart from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The first affliction for those who worship the Antichrist will be boils or ulcers covering their bodies. It is interesting that this plague closely parallels the sixth plague God visited upon Egypt when Pharaoh would not release Israel from bondage. Then, Pharaoh reigned supreme over the known world, worshipped as a god by his subjects just as the Antichrist will be the world ruler, worshipped as god. Likewise, as Pharaoh persecuted Israel, so too will the Antichrist persecute God's chosen people remaining on earth.

Also, there is another most important parallel. It is God's reason for afflicting Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh and for afflicting the earth during the reign of the Antichrist.

God said to Moses, in Exodus 7:2-5,

"Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron, thy brother, shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them."
God hardened Pharaoh's heart so He could prove beyond a doubt that He is greater than the one the Egyptians worshipped as god. Even though Pharaoh stiffened his neck, locked his jaw and tried to defy God, he was proven to be powerless against the Almighty. So it will be with the Antichrist. God will use the bowl judgments to prove beyond question that the Antichrist worshipped as god is powerless against the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth. This, because Isaiah 42:8 says, "I am the Lord: that is my name; and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to carved images."

Those who take the mark of the Antichrist and worship his image will pay the price for their idolatries. However, the plague of ulcerated boils covering their bodies is just the beginning of their miseries.

III. The Second Bowl of Wrath

"And the second angel poured out his bowl upon the sea, and it became like the blood of a dead man; and every living soul died in the sea" (Revelation 16:3).

For the second time during the Tribulation the Scriptures say the sea will become blood. The first time John mentions the sea becoming blood is in Revelation 8:8-9, where he says it is the result of the second Trumpet Judgment, which is a great burning mountain being cast into the sea. This will possibly be a great volcanic explosion killing a third of the marine life and destroying a third of the world's ships. The death will be so great that a third of the oceans will be saturated with blood.

However, when the angel pours the second bowl of wrath upon the sea the effect will be much different from that following the sounding of the second trumpet. This time the sea will not become saturated with the blood of the dead and dying, rather, it will become "like the blood of a dead man."

The blood of a dead man no longer flows to carry the oxygen required for life. As the blood cells die, the blood begins to thicken and coagulate becoming like gelatin. Perhaps, John means the seas will actually become blood, to thicken and coagulate. Perhaps, this is not what he means, but the real emphasis should be on the lack of life-giving oxygen in the waters, resulting in the deaths of all living creatures in the seas.

The stench of death will cover the earth as the bodies of dead marine animals float to the surface to clog the beaches and harbors. Shipping will be impossible because of the floating bodies and consequently, men will be restricted to the land masses, to face the next bowl of God's judgment.

IV. The Third Bowl of Wrath

"And the third angel poured out his bowl upon the rivers and fountains of waters, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, who art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. And I heard another out of the altar say, even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments" (Revelation 16:4-7).
For the third time in Revelation, John mentions water becoming blood. Only this time it is not the oceans that are affected. The inland fresh water will become blood. The reason for this judgment is stated in Revelation 16:6, "For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy."

The bloodthirsty worshipers of the Antichrist who kill God's people during the Tribulation will get what they deserve. Because they enjoy bloodletting so much, they can satisfy their thirst for blood to their hearts' content, by drinking it instead of water.

This is God's true and righteous judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth who despise and kill the Saints and Prophets of God.

V. The Fourth Bowl of Wrath

"And the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, who hath power over these plagues; and they repented not to give him glory" (Revelation 16:8-9).
Part of the New Age Movement is the imbalance concerning the earth's environment. There is within this movement, the thought there is no God in sovereign control of the universe and the notion that mankind can control his destiny by controlling his environment. But man cannot control his destiny, he can only trust the sovereign God of the universe, to certain his future.

All of mankind's present attempts to limit or stop global warming, the greenhouse effect, the depletion of the ozone layer will be fruitless when the fourth bowl of God's wrath is poured on the sun. Regardless of the steps men may take, the sun will increase its intensity and people on the earth will burn with great heat.

One of the interesting things in Revelation 16:9, is people will realize God is in control of all that is happening but rather than repent and give Him the glory He deserves, they will blaspheme His name.

Before the start of the Persian Gulf War, President Bush wrote a letter to Saddam Hussein warning him of the awesome war machine he was about to face. In the letter, the President told Saddam that if he truly understood what he was up against, he would withdraw from Kuwait. Mr. Bush apparently thought Saddam Hussein's actions were wrought by his ignorance. More likely, Saddam's actions were not based in ignorance, they were demonstrations of arrogance, pride and contempt, for after having faced the awesome war machine of the United Nations, he still continued to resist.

So it will be for those who face the judgments of God during the Great Tribulation. Even, after recognizing God is in control of the universe and feeling the sting of His judgments, they will not repent and glorify Him but will continue to blaspheme His name.

People do not blaspheme God out of ignorance. They do so out of arrogance, pride and contempt. If Revelation 16:9, does nothing else, it should lay to rest the thoughts that people would surely repent if they only understood the judgments of God awaiting them.

VI. The Fifth Bowl of Wrath

"And 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, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds" (Revelation 16:10-11).
Just as there are those who believe people refuse to repent because of their ignorance of the power and judgments of God, there are those who think people continue in sin because they do not truly understand Hell. However, the outpouring of the fifth bowl of wrath proves people will not repent because they know what Hell is.

Our Lord Jesus described Hell and its effects on people in the Gospels. He said Hell was a place of torments (Luke 16:23) including flame and thirst (Luke 16:24); like a furnace of fire (Matthew 13:42); a place of outer or complete darkness (Matthew 8:4); a place of wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:50).

Notice the similarities in our Lord's description of Hell and the description of the conditions on earth at the outpouring of the fifth bowl. Notice also, this is the kingdom of the Beast or Antichrist. The kingdom he claims for his own is truly the kingdom of darkness and those who worship the Antichrist will have a taste of what eternity holds for them.

They will be covered with ulcerated boils. Their skin will be burned from the intense heat of the sun. They will be dehydrated and weak from thirst because the water has turned to blood. They will grope in the darkness covering the earth. The stench of the rotting marine life will gag them and they will gnaw their own tongues because of their pain.

If ever there is a demonstration of Hell on earth, it will be during the outpouring of the fifth bowl of wrath. But still, people will not repent. They will continue to blaspheme the Lord God.

Truly, people are not saved by knowledge, or experiencing judgment, or even by experiencing the conditions of Hell itself. They can only be saved by the power of the Gospel of Christ. We see demonstrated in the Revelation, that when the gospel of Christ is taken away, so is all chance for salvation because the Gospel of Christ is alone, the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.

It is clear, from John's description of the first five bowl judgments, they are directed against the Antichrist, his self-proclaimed kingdom and those who worship him.

Ulcerated boils will cover all who worship the beast and will serve to identify those who have taken his mark. The mark that was supposed to guarantee the freedom to buy and sell, with all the attendant pleasures, will become a curse bringing misery and hardship.

The seas will no longer support life and will become cesspools as dead marine animals float to the surface, to rot on the shores and in the harbors.

The fresh waters of the earth will become blood to avenge the Saints who were martyred by the beast and his followers.

The sun will bear down on the earth and scorch men with a great heat. Their skins covered with boils will be very sensitive to the heat of the sun.

The high temperatures will cause great thirst and those who killed the Saints will get their fill of blood when they are forced by dehydration to drink the waters turned to blood.

Then, suddenly, the kingdom of the Antichrist will be plunged into darkness and men will gnaw their tongues because of their pain.

Still, people will not repent and glorify God. Instead, they will blaspheme His name, condemning themselves to an eternity of worse torments. Indeed, these bowls of wrath are only a small dose of what awaits all who go into eternity apart from the salvation of God, only available by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

VII. The Sixth Bowl of Wrath

"And the sixth angel poured out his bowl upon the great river, Euphrates, and its water was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits, like frogs, come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of demons, working miracles, that go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon" (Revelation 16:12-16).
The outpouring of the sixth bowl has a far more serious effect on earth's inhabitants than any of the previous bowl judgments. Although there is no immediate additional misery inflicted upon people, two things will happen to set the stage for the battle of Armageddon.
(1) The great Euphrates River will become dry.

To understand the significance of this event we must start with Joshua 1:3-4, where the Lord defines the boundaries of the promised land.

"Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your border."
From this we know the Eastern boundary of the land God gave Israel is the Euphrates River. Not only is this river the Eastern border, it is also a natural barrier to an invading army. However, this barrier is of little strategic value in today's world because a major invading force would more than likely attack Israel from the Mediterranean Sea, rather, than try moving an army across the Mountains of Turkey or across the Euphrates River and the Arabian Deserts.

We must remember when the second bowl judgment is poured out, every living creature in the seas will die. This will make shipping impossible because of the sheer numbers of dead carcasses floating on the waters, clogging ports or harbors, and blocking beaches. This means when the waters of the Euphrates River are dried up, the only possible invasion route into Israel will be prepared for "the kings of the East."

Many believe "the kings of the East" are a coalition of Oriental rulers who will invade Israel to participate in Armageddon and they often attempt to identify the rulers and their countries. However, speculation concerning the identities of "the kings of the East" is unnecessary because they are clearly identified in Revelation 16:14, as "the kings of the earth and of the whole world."

This is in direct fulfillment of the Lord's words in Zechariah 14:1-2, "Behold the day of the Lord cometh...I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle."

Therefore, we must conclude "the kings of the East" are all the kingdoms staging East of the Euphrates River for attack, via the only possible invasion route, or expressed another way, all the nations of the world outside the boundaries of Israel.

Also, there is another effect of the drying of the Euphrates River. It is the release of demonic spirits upon the earth. When the Sixth Trumpet Judgment (Revelation 9:13-21) is released upon the earth, four fallen angels will be released from the Euphrates River where they have been bound, "to slay the third part of men."

To accomplish this mission these four demon "commanders" will amass an army of 200 million horsemen. The description of these horsemen in Revelation 9:17-19 leaves no doubt they too are demons released from the Euphrates where they have been bound.

This brings us to the second thing that will happen to set the stage for Armageddon:
(2) Unclean spirits will come out of the mouth of the dragon, and of the beast and of the false prophet.

Our text says clearly these are the spirits of demons, so there is no mystery who they are, but there is a mystery stemming from the Greek word translated "frogs."

This is the only place in the New Testament where the word is used and its derivation is uncertain, meaning, the original translators had no other scriptural usage or context with which to compare the Greek word. Therefore, the exact meaning of this word is uncertain, but it is certain, according to Revelation 16:14, that the spirits will work miracles and possess the kings of the earth, to gather them to battle at Armageddon.

While it is possible the unclean spirits will look like frogs, it is more likely, the Greek text is saying the demons will come forth as frogs come forth, that is, in large numbers and this information is confused with their appearance.

If you are familar with the life cycles in a farm pond you know frogs do not enter the world one at a time. Rather, they come forth by the thousands, first as tadpoles, then as mature frogs.

The statement "three unclean spirits" in Revelation 16:13, refers to types of demons not the quantity. Because there will be more than three kingdoms involved in Armageddon and because demons are not omnipresent, that is, they can only be in one place at a time, it will require more than three demons to possess the kings of the earth and their armies. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect there will be a multitude of unclean spirits or demons empowered by the unholy trinity of dragon, beast and false prophet, released from the Euphrates River when it dries.

Matthew 12:43, says demons have no rest when they are not embodied. Consequently, the multitude of demons released from the Euphrates when it dries will seek embodiment in those who worship the Antichrist and take his mark. These form the army that will march across the Euphrates riverbed into Israel, to battle the Lord.

The significance of the drying of the Euphrates and the going forth of the demons is the kingdoms of the earth will be enticed to gather "to the battle of that great day of God Almighty."

This is significant because this is the battle wherein the Lord will remove all His enemies, including Satan and his agents, from the earth, in preparation for the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom, of our Lord Jesus Christ.

While the text says the nations will be influenced by demons to take advantage of the drying of the Euphrates, it is also clear in Revelation 16:16, that it is the Lord God who will gather the nations to the place called Armageddon. Again, this is in direct fulfillment of the Lord's words in Zechariah 14:1-2, which says in part, "Behold the day of the Lord cometh...I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle."

Surely the words of Proverbs 21:1 are true; "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; he turneth it whithersoever he will."

The words, "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame" are written to encourage the believing remnant to keep the faith a while longer.

When the armies begin to assemble for their march toward Israel, it will probably be a low point for the saints who are left on the earth. It may appear to them that not even the Lord God can stop the evil, demonic, influence led by the dragon, the beast and the false prophet. However, these words of assurance remind all who will listen that the Lord will come, "as a thief," that is, without warning, to bless those who do not worship the Antichrist or take his mark.

Though there will be an uprising by the nations, still, this is the time God has chosen to execute His judgment on the earth and He will be in full control of every event.

VIII. The Seventh Bowl of Wrath

"And the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell; and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague was exceedingly great" (Revelation 16:17-21).
The outpouring of the Seventh Bowl is accompanied by "a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done." This can only be the voice of the Almighty because it comes from the temple and from the throne. But what He means when He says, "It is done" is not so easy to determine.

Many believe this is a proleptic declaration, meaning, treatment of a future event as having already happened. This school of thought teaches the Seventh Bowl judgment is considered, in the mind of God, to be complete at the time He makes this statement. Surely, because God is omniscient, all events are in this category. In the mind of God, past, present and future are complete, but there is no apparent reason to restate this known fact concerning the Seventh Bowl judgment.

Though we can only speculate concerning the reasons for the utterance of the words, "It is done," they may simply mean the Seventh Bowl will not introduce another series of judgments as the Seventh Seal and the Seventh Trumpet did. In other words, the Great Tribulation judgments are finished with the outpouring of the Seventh Bowl.

Next, the text describes the violent reaction of nature to the outpouring of the Seventh Bowl. There will be an earthquake of a magnitude never before seen by men. The cities of the nations will fall, every island in the sea will disappear and the mountains will crumble. Along with the earthquake, hailstones weighing 100 pounds will fall from heaven and men will blaspheme God because the destruction is so great.

These events will begin the purging of the Lord's enemies from the earth, in preparation for the establishment of His Millennial Kingdom. To establish some perspective concerning these events we need to remember this judgment will occur following the gathering of the armies of the nations at Armageddon.

Because armies are generally limited to able-bodied warriors, it is reasonable to think there will be many people who are unfit for military service left behind in the cities of the nations. Many of these people will be worshipers of the Antichrist and will bear his mark although they will be unable to fight his battle against God. They too must be judged and purged from the earth before the establishment of the Lord's Kingdom.

According to our text, a great earthquake will destroy the Gentile cities, the islands of the seas and the mountains. After all buildings, islands and mountains are destroyed there will be no man-made shelters, no remote hiding places, no caves to shield unrepentant humanity from the judgment hail that will come from God in Heaven.

The 100 pound hailstones will kill those remaining in the Gentile cities who worship the beast and have his mark, after the armies of the nations have assembled for Armageddon.

Meanwhile, according to Revelation 16:19, "The great city was divided into three parts." We know from Revelation 11:8, the "great city" John refers to is Jerusalem. It is probable Satan and his two henchmen, the Antichrist and false prophet will want to headquarter their anti-kingdom in the city that is to be the seat of our Lord's throne when He reigns on earth.

The division of the city into three parts is not a reference to the destruction of the city but to the three-part, unholy, alliance of the dragon, Antichrist and false prophet leading the rebellion against God at Armageddon.

This gathering is a repeat of the gathering of men in rebellion against God at Babel. Then, Nimrod, the founder of Babel, later called Babylon, blasphemed God and claimed to more powerful than the Almighty. He and his followers sought refuge in Babel or ancient Babylon, as they defied the Lord God.

This Babylon or city controlled by Satan;
This Babylon or political system controlled by the Antichrist;
This Babylon or religious system controlled by the false prophet; will come "in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath."

The coming battle of Armageddon will be the end of Babylon and all she represents. At long last the earth will be relieved of ungodliness and the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ will be established.


From "Understanding The Apocalypse"
A book of sermons by Pastor Jim McColloch, Th.M., Th.D.
© Copyright 1994, 1999,2006

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