{17}   The Final Plagues: 7 bowls (Rev 15:1—16:21)


Part 7. The 7 bowls (15:1—16:21)

7.1.      Preparation for the bowl-plagues (15:1-8)

7.2.      Plagues poured out (16:1-21)

        PICTURE: In the court of heaven, 7 angels are ready to pour out the final plagues. After a hymn sung by the victorious saints, the bowls are poured onto the earth. Seven plagues more destructive than any others in human history descend on the remaining people of the unbelieving world.


15:1     The action resumes from the end of ch.11. The blowing of the 7th trumpets brings forth the 7 bowls of judgment which are likely the third Woe announced in 11:14. “Signs” point beyond themselves and disclose the theological meaning of history.

15:2     Those who have emerged from their final battle with the beast stand victoriously upon the crystal surface before God’s throne. They are carrying the harps of God. In contrast to 4:6, the sea of crystal now looks different from before; it is described as “mixed with fire”, symbolically representing the wrath of God and His impending judgment.

15:3     The song of praise is for God’s marvelous acts. The song is one that begins with the song of God’s deliverance (from the enemies) which Moses and the people sang in Ex 15:1-18 and continues with the song of the Lamb which is about the Lamb’s greater deliverance (from sin).

15:4     The hymn may have been used in the liturgy of the early church. It begins with synonymous parallelism (ABAB); then a rhetorical question; ends with three responses to the question, each starting with “because” (Gr. oti) [note that the second “because”/”for” is not translated].

15:5     The heavenly temple is described as “the tabernacle of Testimony” (Num 17:7; 18:2) because the tent of God’s presence during the wilderness journey contained the two tablets of testimony brought down from Mt. Sinai by Moses.

15:6     Their robes of linen denote the noble and sacred nature of their office. The golden girdles are symbolic of royal and priestly functions.

15:7     The bowls contain the wrath of God. In ancient times, the bowl was a wide, shallow bowl.

15:8     Once the final judgment has come, no one can stay the hand of God with intercession.

16:1     The two series of trumpet plagues and bowl plagues are similar: [1] The first 4 plagues are closely related. In each series, the first 4 plagues are visited upon the earth, sea, inland waters, and heavenly bodies. [2] The final 3 are also related; they are more intense and involve the evil forces of deception and persecution. The two series are also different: [1] The trumpel plagues are partial in their effect but the bowls are universal. [2] The trumpets allow for repentance while the bowls are the pouring of divine wrath without any call for repentance. [3] The trumpets involve a period of time while the bowls are poured out in rapid succession.

16:2     The 1st bowl brings loathsome and malignant sores on people. Those who once bore the mark of the beast are now visited by the “marks” of God. This is similar to the 6th Egyptian plague.

16:3     The 2nd bowl turns the sea into blood. It is like the blood of a dead person which coagulates and rots so that all sea life dies. This is similar to the 1st Egyptian plague.

16:4     The 3rd bowl turns inland waters (rivers and springs) into blood. These are the source of water consumed by people so that there will be a serious shortage of water.

16:5     God is described as the one who is and who was. The expression “who is to come” is no longer necessary because the final sequence of events has already begun.

16:6     God designs the punishment to fit the crime. Because they had poured out the blood of the saints, God has given them blood to drink.

16:7     The altar represents the testimony of the martyrs (6:9) and the prayers of the saints (8:3-5).

16:8     The 4th bowl turns the sun into a source of intense heat that scorches the people on earth.

16:9     However, the heathen world respond to this great pain not with repentance but with blasphemy.

16:10   The 5th bowl turns the sky into darkness. “The throne of the beast” refers to his authority and dominion, now meaning the whole earth. This is similar to the 9th Egyptian plague.

16:11   The pains and the sores indicate that the effect of the first 4 plagues continues until here.

16:12   The 6th bowl causes the invasion of kings from the East which has many interpretations. Their objective is to destroy Israel. However, their war is actually waged against Christ and the armies of heaven. The beginning of this final and ultimate war is described in 16:13-16; the participants of the war are described in 17:12-14; the end of the war is described in 19:11-21.

16:13   John sees 3 evil spirits coming out of the mouths of the evil triumvirate—the dragon, the beast (antichrist), and the false prophet. They are the source of persuasion and deception. Characteristics of them can be seen in today’s secular humanism and postmodernism. The 3 spirits look like frogs, perhaps emphasizing their uncleanness and their endless croaking.

16:14   The evil triumvirate deceive the world and all the political powers of the world follow them and form an army to destroy Israel.

16:15   The faithful are admonished to be on the alert and be watchful. In a spiritual sense, Christians must be alert in discerning the deceptive propaganda of Satan.

16:16   Armageddon is an unknown location. The most common interpretation is near the modern city of Megiddo, located in northern Israel, southeast of Haifa and not far from Nazareth. Others believe that the final battle will be fought just outside Jerusalem (see comment on 14:20).

16:17   At the pouring of the 7th bowl, God declares “All is over!” The pouring of the wrath of God is complete. Babylon the Great is destroyed.

16:18   Besides the lightning, rumblings, and thunder is a severe earthquake, more severe than any other earthquakes in history.

16:19   That all the cities of the nations fall with Babylon may indicate that Babylon is the representation of the world political system. Some also identify Babylon as either Rome or Jerusalem.

16:20   The severe earthquake causes every island to flee away and the mountains to disappear. This are probably the devastating effects of the violent earthquake as the whole earth is reshaped.

16:21   The storm of divine wrath reaches its climax with 100-pound hailstones (Jos 10:11; Eze 38:18-22). Notice that after each of the final 3 intense plagues, people’s reaction is to blaspheme God.


        This chapter describes the horrific judgment for those rebellious people at end time. However, this is not the only time that the wrath of God is poured on those who do not believe in Jesus. Non-believers are under the wrath of God during their lifetime (Jn 3:36). Even worse, they will be facing the wrath of God individually on Judgment Day (Ro 2:5). This thought should provide us a strong incentive to try to save our relatives and our friends from the wrath of God.