Today we will take a look at the fifth vision cycle: the seven bowls of God’s wrath. These represent elements of the final judgment. That there are seven of them again reveals a complete judgment. We once again see that angels are the agents of this judgment (15:1). John sees again the sea of glass that represents the division between heaven and earth (v. 2 – see 4:6). The fire represents judgment. The elect of all time are standing not on, but by the sea of glass. This is our calling up to meet Christ in the air at His Second Coming (see 1 Thess 13-18). John here sees the resurrection and rapture of the saints. We are worshiping Christ Who has come to reign (vv. 3-4). This song of Moses is a callback to God’s salvation at the Exodus and His provision of the Promised Land (see Ex 15, Deut 32). The song of the Lamb is the new song that only the elect of all time know (see 14:1-3).
In verse 5, heaven (the sanctuary) is opened (see 11:19). This is the final judgment. The righteous angels are given the plagues in the bowls by Christ (vv. 6-7). With these final plagues, the end would come, and the glory of God – and heaven – would come to earth (v. 8). Pictured here is the cloud of glory that filled both the Tabernacle and the Temple to signify God’s presence (see Ex 40:34, 1 Kings 8:10-11). God’s presence is here coming to earth in judgment.
The plagues contained in some of the bowls model the plagues of Egypt. There are sores (16:2) and water turned to blood (vv. 3-4). But these sores fall upon everybody who bore the mark of the beast – that is all the reprobate. All the seas and rivers became blood and every living thing in them died. This is describing a complete punishment of the wicked and of the earth. That this blood to drink is because the world persecuted the saints (vv. 5-7) shows that God is giving to the reprobate what they have brought upon themselves. His judgments are just.
In verse 8, we see that the next plague is scorching heat from the sun. Fire is throughout the Bible used as a symbol of judgment. Notice that – as we have seen before – those who see this judgment still do not repent (v. 9). The fifth bowl is darkness (vv. 10-11). Note that the throne of the beast is really Satan’s throne. His is a kingdom of darkness. Again, God is meting out to man and fallen angel what has been earned. And the reprobate still refuse to repent.
The sixth angel pours his bowl on the river Euphrates and dries up its water (v. 12). This is to prepare the way for the kings of the east to come. Remember, judgment comes from the Euphrates in the Old Testament. Here, God is making a way for the enemies of His people to advance upon them. They do this because of the deceit of Satan and the beasts (v. 13). These people of the earth are under demonic powers and will come to fight against God and His people (v. 14). The parenthetical words of Jesus are given as a warning to the elect to persevere and not be found wanting at His coming (v. 15).
The place that the enemies of God’s people assemble is called in Hebrew “Armageddon” (v. 16). The Hebrew word means literally “Mount of Assembly.” It is taken from Isaiah 14:13 which describes Satan’s ambitions to overthrow God and preside of the heavenly council. Here, we see that this final battle is a spiritual battle. Satan is going to make one last effort to do what he tried in the Garden. This battle is the same as the prophesied battle of Gog and Magog (see Ezekiel 38-39 where God prepares the way for His enemies to come against Him).
With the seventh bowl, the final judgment is complete (v. 17). We see the lightning, rumblings, thunder, and earthquake typically used to describe the final judgment (v. 18). The great city is Babylon (who comes from over the Euphrates). This again is the world system which is destroyed (v. 19). Note the callback to the cup of the wine of God’s wrath (see 14:10, 19). Note also that every island fled away and every mountain is removed (see 6:14). We end with another plague of Egypt: hailstones (v. 21). We saw them along with the lightning, rumblings, thunder, and earthquake in the description of the final judgment in the third vision cycle (see 11:19).