Unrelenting, Yet Unrepentant.

1 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.

10 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 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

12 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 (“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!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. Revelation 16:1-15 ESV

199-001The seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out in rapid succession. It seems that at this point on the tribulation timeline, things are moving at a rapid pace. We have already been told that these judgments “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1 ESV). But while the last, they are certainly not the least. These judgments are unrelenting in their intensity and quite specific in their application. There has been an escalating aspect to all of God’s judgment so far. First, there were the seven seals and out of the seventh seal came the seven trumpets. Out of the seventh and final trumpet came what we are seeing now: The seven bowl judgments. And these seven bowls contain seven different plagues, the visible manifestations or outpourings of God’s wrath against mankind. These plagues are widespread and all-encompassing, impacting the entire world, but in some cases, they are very specific and directed at certain regions and against particular people groups, such as the worshipers of Antichrist. Here is list of the seven bowls and the plagues they contain:

First Bowl – sores on the worshipers of the Antichrist

Second Bowl – seas turned to blood

Third Bowl – fresh water turned to blood

Fourth Bowl – scorching heat from the sun

Fifth Bowl – darkness and pain within the kingdom of the Antichrist

Sixth Bowl – drying up of the River Euphrates

Seventh Bowl – earthquakes and hail

With the first bowl, all those who bear the mark of the beast and who willingly worship the Antichrist, find themselves suffering from unbearable sores. The Greek word is helkos, and it refers to some sort of ulcer. But this is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill ulcer. They are described as kakos and ponēros, two Greek words that both can be translated as “evil,” but that speak of the severity of these particular sores. The first word makes it clear that these sores are “of a bad nature; not such as it ought to be.” They are out-of-the-ordinary. And their effect is described by the second word. They are extremely painful. And it’s interesting to note that God chooses to inflict all those who have taken the mark of the beast, a visible sign that was placed on their hands or foreheads, with a highly visible plague that covers their entire bodies. Their sign was most likely obscured by sores. And yet, all those who refused to take the mark of the beast or bow down to the image of the Antichrist are spared. They are protected by God because of their faithfulness to Him.

With the second bowl, God pours out a plague that is far more universal in nature. This time, the waters of the sea become “like the blood of a corpse” and the end result is that every living creature in the sea dies. We are not told whether this is a reference to the Mediterranean Sea or to all the seas and oceans of the earth. But it would seem that God is expanding His judgments and that this particular plague is worldwide in scope. Unlike the second trumpet judgment (Revelation 8:8-9), which only impacted a third of the earth’s oceans, this one is all-encompassing, and the devastating outcome of such a disaster defies the imagination. The stench alone would be unbearable. The effect on the world-wide food supply was be unimaginable. The potential for the spread of disease would be off the chart. While we find it difficult to imagine the oceans of the world being turned into literal blood, we have to keep in mind that these are supernatural events. They can’t be explained by normal or natural means. These are the works of the God who created the entire universe in six days. Nothing is too impossible for Him. And His decision to turn the waters of the oceans to blood makes much more sense when you consider the words He spoke to the people of Israel concerning His prohibition against consuming blood.

23 Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. 24 You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the earth like water. 25 You shall not eat it, that all may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord. – Deuteronomy 12:23-25 ESV

The blood is the life. What are irony to consider that God is going to take the waters of the oceans, which contain the source of life for much of the world, and turn them to blood and fill them with death and decay. And it is important to remember that this particular plague is universal in nature, impacting all those who live on the earth, including all the unrepentant, unbelieving Jews who are alive at this time.

With the third bowl, God delivers an even more devastating blow to mankind, by turning all the sources of fresh water on the earth to blood. While there are some who choose to take these plagues as symbolic in nature, there is no apparent reason for us to do so. While they may seem too fantastic and far-fetched to believe, that does not mean they cannot and will not happen. We have to keep in mind that these are the final series of judgments and they represent the full wrath of God being poured out on a sin-stained earth and a stubbornly rebellious humanity. If we can accept the fact that there is a real place of eternal judgment reserved for all those who refuse to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, we should have no trouble believing that God’s anger against sin show up in unbelievable, never-before-seen ways that defy explanation and imagination.

The angel who pours out this third judgment has a few words to say as he does so.

5 “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!” – Revelation 16:5-6 ESV

He wants us to know that God is just and right for what He is doing. These judgments are well-deserved and the people of earth are receiving their just punishment. They are not innocent. They are not victims. They have played a major role in the deaths of countless tribulation saints who refused to take the mark of the beast and who chose to follow the Lamb (Revelation 14:4). And the angels words are echoed from the sanctuary in heaven.

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
    true and just are your judgments!” – Revelation 16:7 ESV

God is completely just in doing what He is doing. His motives and His actions are not to be questioned. He is the just and righteous judge of the universe, who is delivering a sentence upon the world that is right and without fault in any way.

The fourth bowl somehow causes the sun to become more intense, delivering scorching rays that make life on the earth unbearable. The unbelievers, those who have taken the mark of the beast, curse God, but more importantly, they refuse to repent and turn to God. Even the increased intensity of the sun’s rays and the pain that results from its effects will not cause them to confess their sins and turn to God. Imagine the suffering they will have to endure as a result of the lack of fresh water and the unbearable heat. But in spite of all this, they will stubbornly continue to reject God.

And then God will turn His attention to the kingdom of the Antichrist. Because the Antichrist will be the world ruler, this is a reference to all the earth. But the description makes it clear that this is a direct attack on the Antichrist’s rule and reign. His kingdom, the earth, will be plunged into darkness. Now, along with all the pain, suffering and agony the people of earth have had to deal with by virtue of the first four plagues, they will find themselves in perpetual darkness. The spiritual darkness of their lives will be accompanied by physical darkness. And John describes them as gnawing their tongues in anguish. The very tongues they used to worship and praise the Antichrist will be parched for lack of water and chewed raw because of their pain. And yet, they still refuse to repent. The words of the apostle Paul seem appropriate here.

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9 ESV

But rather than use their tongues to confess, they will gnaw them in agony.

The sixth bowl is the most specific of all. When poured out, it results in the drying up of the River Euphrates. While this judgment has no immediate ramifications for the people of earth, it will have long-term implications. Because it will ultimately set the stage for war. The River Euphrates is one of the most prominent and well-known rivers in the world, and it has a long and vital history in the Scriptures. We know from the book of Genesis, that the Euphrates was one of our rivers associated with the Garden of Eden.

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. – Genesis 2:10-14 ESV

And it was also associated with the nation of Babylon. And it also formed the eastern boundary to the land that God promised to give to Abraham and his seed (Genesis 15:18). With the drying up of this great river, God is preparing the way for the kings from the east. He is removing a natural barrier and setting the state for a future war that will be waged during the final days of the great tribulation. And John is shown three frogs, which are defined as three demonic spirits, who will cause the kings of the earth to join in an alliance to do war against God. This event is called “the great day of God the Almighty” – which is also known as the battle of Armageddon. And John is presented with a parenthetical statement, delivered from the lips of Jesus Himself.

“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 apostle Paul warned about this coming day:

…the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. – 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 ESV

Each of these six bowls and their associated plagues, are simply setting the stage and preparing the world for the return of Christ. And while the plagues themselves will be unrelenting in their intensity, they will have little impact on the unbelieving world. They will remain unrepentant and stubbornly opposed to God and His Son. So much so, that they will choose to wage war with God rather than bow their knee to His Son and honor Him as King of kings and Lord of lords.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


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