|By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2002|
|Our study this month arrives at Revelation 6, a chapter that begins divulging the contents of the seventh-trumpet judgment that was first mentioned in Revelation 11:15. This month Dr. Thomas will look at the first four bowl judgments.|
THE FIRST FOUR BOWLS (OR VIALS)
Our study this month arrives at Revelation 16, a chapter that begins divulging the contents of the seventh-trumpet judgment that was first mentioned in Revelation 11:15. At that point the seventh angel sounded his trumpet, but the immediately subsequent verses did not record any judgments against the earth. Rather, the text proceeded to furnish background information to enhance the readers’ understanding of the persons and actions to be recorded when the seven bowls would be described. With that understanding, we concluded that the seven bowls are the content of the seventh trumpet just as the seven trumpets furnished the contents of the seventh seal. Since the seven trumpets span the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week, the seven bowls will come in rapid sequence at the very end of that period of three and a half years.
After the Revelation 15 preparation for the seven bowls (called “vials” in the King James Version), which we studied last month, John heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels with the seven last plagues, “Depart and pour out the seven bowls of the anger of God into the earth” (16:1). The voice must belong to God because no one else has access to the temple after it is filled with smoke in preparation for these bowls (15:8). The command applies to all seven angels, but each one carries out his mission in sequence without further direction. Though the bowls bear slight resemblances to the seals and trumpets that have gone before, they are an entirely new series because these are universal and far more intense, because they deal with the time of the end. They are the “last” plagues (see 15:1).
The First Bowl (16:2)
When poured out, the contents of the first bowl fall “into the earth.” In contrast, the next three bowls affect three other divisions of nature, the seas, the rivers, and the sky. All of the first four affect individuals directly as compared with the last three bowls which are on more of an international scale.
The penal consequences of this bowl are an inflamed running sore that refuses to heal. Such a penalty recalls the sixth Egyptian plague in which the Egyptian magicians were victims (Exod. 9:9-11). In the future time of affliction, however, the followers of the beast, who is described in Revelation 13:1-8, will be victims. Job had a similar illness, to which he responded positively by repenting (Job 42:1-6), but the future worshipers of the false christ will not follow Job’s example in turning to God.
Some have interpreted the sores as referring to something other than a physical malady, something such as incapacitating problems resulting from persistent sin or mental suffering coming from moral failures. Either of these would, however, be out of keeping with the physical plagues during Moses’ time as well as with the final three bowl judgments which clearly depict literal political judgments. The sixth Egyptian plague imposed physical maladies on the Egyptians. Why should these sores be different?
The catastrophic scale of this human affliction is unparalleled in human history. Though we may not be able to grasp the severity of this human illness, we dare not doubt its literal meaning. The assurance of the Word of God is sufficient to cause us to accept that this future malady will affect the whole human race of God-rejecters. These are bad, unpleasant, agonizing ulcers that refuse to go away after they touch the bodies of those who have the mark of the beast and worship his image. Since in those last days beast worship will be universal, except for the followers of the Lamb (13:3-4, 15-17), so will the plague be. Followers of the Lamb will be unaffected just as were the Israelites during the Egyptian plagues.
The Second Bowl (16:3)
The second angel poured his bowl into the sea which became blood like the blood of a dead person. That recalls the first Egyptian plague except the earlier plague rendered fresh water instead of salt water unusable (see Exod. 7:19-21). Some interpreters have tried to assign a nonliteral meaning to this bowl by saying that the sea represents the nations and the masses of humanity who die in the plague, but the sea is no more symbolic in this instance than were the waters of Egypt smitten by Moses or the waters of the Euphrates mentioned later in this chapter (Rev. 16:12). The precedent of the first Egyptian plague and the analogy of the other bowl judgments mentioned in this chapter make a literal meaning most probable.
The third trumpet brought bitterness to the water, causing death for many (8:10-11), but here the change is into coagulated blood or a bloodlike substance similar to it, which when decayed, will yield a foul odor that is loathsome. In the first Egyptian plague, all the fish in the Nile died, but here death comes to “every living soul” in the sea. It is a complete destruction of marine life, not a partial one as under the second trumpet (Rev. 8:8-9).
The Third Bowl (16:4-7)
With the third bowl, the contamination of fresh waters follows that of the sea under the second bowl, as was the sequence with the second and third trumpets (Rev. 8:8-10). The first Egyptian plague affected the Nile River principally, but this third bowl will affect all rivers. Further, to keep the earth-dwellers from doing the same thing the Egyptians did to find drinking water (Exod. 7:24; see Ps. 78:43-44), it will turn the fountains or springs into blood too. It will contaminate all sources of fresh water. The blood into which the water turns is just as literal as the blood of the saints which parallels the blood God gives the earth-dwellers to drink in the song that follows in 16:6.
In conjunction with this visitation of misery, John heard another song, sung by the angel of the waters: “You are righteous, who is and who was, the holy one, because You have judged these things” (16:5). In echoing the song of the overcomers in Revelation 15:3, “righteous” recognizes the justice of God, and “holy one” recognizes the holiness and majesty of God as an echo of the overcomers in 15:4. “Who is and who was” is a title that recognizes the eternality of God in terms similar to Exodus 3:14. God is righteous because He has judged “these things,” that is, the things described in Revelation 16:4.
God’s judging “these things” is further defined in 16:6 “as God’s giving the persecutors blood to drink in response to their pouring out of the blood of the saints and prophets.” Note the correspondence between the crime and its punishment. The angel’s song ends abruptly: “They are worthy,” referring, of course, to the ones who are guilty of taking the lives of the saints and prophets. Followers of the beast deserve exactly what they receive.
The next voice John hears is that of the altar, an altar that relates to judgment throughout Revelation (6:9; 8:3-5; 9:13; 14:18). It carries an association with the prayers of the saints for vengeance. The song of the altar again echoes the overcomers’ song of 15:3-4 in addressing the “Lord God Almighty” (see 15:3). God’s judgments are true and righteous; they agree with His nature.
The Fourth Bowl (16:8-9)
The fourth angel directed his bowl upon the sun which was given power to burn men with fire. Those burned knew the source of their great suffering because “they blasphemed the name of God who had the authority over these plagues” (16:9). God is directly responsible for all this human misery. They blame God for the first four bowl judgments rather than blaming their own sinfulness. Sadly, they refuse to repent and give God glory. Deserved punishment hardens the callous heart even more.
Reviewing the account of these future judgments that will beset the human race triggers the recollection that God never punishes those who have not had an opportunity to find forgiveness through His grace. For almost two thousand years, this world has had access to the good news that Jesus Christ bore the sins of the world when He died. He was raised from the dead as a testimonial that God accepted His death as a substitute for the sins of mankind. Yet many have not and will not avail themselves of that provision through repentance and trust in the Savior. May many that read these words not fall into the same error as the worshipers of the beast during the last part of human history just before Christ returns to earth. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Note: For more details about the first four bowls in Revelation 16, see my discussion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 245-258. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or www.gbibooks.com.