Old Testament imagery is employed for the entire series of the “seven bowls of wrath,” including the plagues of Egypt, the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the defeat of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, the “Song of Moses,” and the “Tent of Testimony,” and each of the seven “last plagues” corresponds to one of the ten plagues of Egypt. Only now, judgment is being poured out on end-time “Babylon.”
The first four “bowls” form a group distinct from the final three, and, on some levels, run parallel to the first four “trumpets.” Like the first four trumpets, the first four “bowls of wrath” inflict plagues on the earth, the sea, and celestial objects; basically, against the economic infrastructures necessary for the prosperity of the “inhabitants of the earth.”
The punishment of the “inhabitants of the earth” was anticipated in chapter 14 – (“The hour of judgment is come…If any man renders homage to the beast and receives its mark on his forehead, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God”).
FIRST BOWL. A “great voice” from the “sanctuary” was heard, most probably, the voice of God. At this point, no one could enter it until the “seven last plagues” were exhausted.
(Revelation 16:1-2) – “And I heard a great voice out of the sanctuary, saying to the seven angels, Go and pour out the seven bowls of the wrath onto the earth. And the first went and poured out his bowl onto the earth; and it became a noisome and grievous sore upon the men that had the mark of the beast, and that paid homage to its image.”
“Pour out” translates the Greek verb ekcheō, used in the Greek Septuagint version of Leviticus for the ashes from the burnt offerings that were “poured out” outside the camp of Israel – (Leviticus 4:12),
In Revelation, the verb occurs only in the series of “seven bowls,” each time one of the angels “poured out” the contents of his bowl, and when God was praised for punishing those who “poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets.” This provides a verbal link to the martyrs “under the altar” in the “fifth seal.” Since the wicked “poured out” the blood of the martyrs, God poured out “blood for them to drink” – (Revelation 6:9-11).
There are overlaps between the “seven last plagues” and the “seven trumpets.” The judgments in both series echoed the ten plagues of Egypt; both impact the earth, sea, sources of fresh water, the heavens, the Abyss/Beast’s kingdom, and the Euphrates River, and all in the same literary sequence. However, the effects of the “last plagues” were more complete. The “seven trumpet blasts” harmed a “third” of their respective targets, but the destruction of the “last seven plagues” was total.
The “noisome and grievous sore” alludes to the sixth plague of Egypt. Irony may be intended. The men who took the “mark of the beast” were marred by terrible sores. The first plague is based on the plague of boils inflicted on Ancient Egypt. Elsewhere, the “mark of the beast” is linked to economic activity; all who refuse it are deprived economically – (Exodus 9:8-11).
All men who received the “mark of the beast” received their just deserts – “grievous sores.” This and the next three “bowls of wrath” afflicted all who had the beastly “mark,” effectively, all men and women who did not belong to the “Lamb” and lacked the “seal of God” – (Exodus 9:9-11, Deuteronomy 28:27, Revelation 7:1-3).
SECOND BOWL. The second “bowl of wrath” borrows language from the first Egyptian plague, when the waters of Egypt were turned to blood and its fish killed.
(Revelation 16:3) – “And the second poured out his bowl into the sea; and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living soul died, even the things that were in the sea.”
The “sea” became like the blood of a dead man. Previously, the “second trumpet” turned a third of the “sea” into blood, thus destroying a third of its living creatures. The second bowl turned the entire sea into blood, killing every living thing in it.
In Revelation, the “sea” symbolizes the mass of humanity in its hostility to God, and the nations from which the “beast ascends.” It is conceptually parallel to the Abyss, the source of the “beast” and of demonic forces – (Daniel 7:1-2, Revelation 7:1-3, 9:1-10, 12:12, 13:1, 20:8).
The destruction of life in the “sea” indicates the cessation of the sea-borne commerce so vitally important to the nations and the economic health of the empire:
“Woe to the great city in which all that had their ships in the sea were made rich by reason of her costliness, for in one hour is she made desolate.” – (Revelation 9:9-19).
The plague anticipates the later judgment dirge against “Babylon,” she who sits on “many waters,” that is, on “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” – (Revelation 17:6-15, 18:6, 18:23-24).
The cessation of maritime commerce would result in economic hardship, including commodity and food shortages. The second bowl’s contents point to economic upheaval in the kingdom of the “beast,” with the resultant death, chaos, and destruction that inevitably resulted.
THIRD BOWL. The third “bowl” also echoes the first Egyptian plague, only, it impacted all sources of fresh water. Both the second and third bowls turned water “into blood,” which indicates a relationship between the two.
(Revelation 16:4) – “And the third poured out his bowl into the rivers and the fountains of the waters; and it became blood.”
The “second bowl” turned the sea into a place of death; the “third bowl of wrath” harmed the inland sources of fresh water. For the realm of the “beast” and the “inhabitants of the earth,” the sea was necessary for maritime commerce, and fresh water was needed to sustain agriculture and the life of society.
The ships of Rome carried a variety of goods to the “eternal city” – Most importantly, the large grain-carrying ships from Egypt. Without Egyptian grain, the city experienced food shortages, inflated prices, and even famine.“
ANGEL OF THE WATERS”. An interjection is made, the “angel of the waters.” This refers to the third angel who had just emptied his “bowl” on the “fountains of the waters.”
(Revelation 16:5-7) – “And I heard the angel of the waters saying, Righteous are you, who are and who was, you Holy One, because you thus judged, for they poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets and blood have you given them to drink; they are worthy. And I heard the altar saying, Yea, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”
The angel’s declaration summed up the justification for the first three “bowls” – “They were given blood to drink because they poured out the blood of saints and prophets.” His words anticipated the judicial pronouncements against Babylon, for she persecuted the saints and caused the nations of the earth to drink the “wine of her fornication” – (Revelation 16:17-21).
“They are worthy.” This refers to the martyrs, not to followers of the “beast.” Elsewhere, “worthy” is positive and refers either to God, the “Lamb,” or his followers. Because the martyrs overcame, they were vindicated by the “last plagues” unleashed against their persecutors – (Revelation 3:4, 4:11, 5:9-12).
God is the one who “is and who was,” the same appellation assigned to Him previously, only, before He was the One “who is and who was and WHO IS COMING.” The third part was dropped in repetitions of the appellation heard after the “seventh trumpet” sounded. Likewise, here, since God no longer “is coming.” The final judgment arrived with the “seven bowls of wrath” – (Revelation 1:4, 1:8,4:8, 11:17).
The description of God as the “righteous and holy one who judges” echoes the previous plea of the martyrs – (“How long, O Master, holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood”), as well as the “Song of Moses” from the preceding chapter – (“Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are your ways, you King of saints”) – (Revelation 6:9-11, 8:3-5).
FOURTH BOWL. The fourth bowl parallels the “fourth trumpet.” Both echo the ninth plague of Egypt. In both, the sun was darkened. However, the fourth “bowl of wrath” caused scorching heat that burned the followers of the “beast.” This contrasts with the martyrs who came out of the “great tribulation” and were sheltered from the sun and guided by the Lamb to the “fountains of waters of life.”
(Revelation 16:8-9) – “And the fourth poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat: and they blasphemed the name of God, who has the power over these plagues; and they repented not to give him glory.”
Rather than repent, the “inhabitants of the earth” continued to blaspheme the “name of God, who had power over these plagues.” They denied their sufferings were due to His sovereign acts.
“Blasphemy” connects the “inhabitants of the earth” to the “beast from the sea.” They took on its nature. Previously, “blasphemy” was attributed to the “beast,” “Satan,” and to members of the “synagogue of Satan” that “slandered” the church at Smyrna – (Revelation 2:9, 13:6).
“They repented not.” This connects to the conclusion of the “sixth trumpet” when the “inhabitants of the earth” refused to repent despite the destruction unleashed by the first six trumpet blasts. Their refusal to submit to God evidences the righteousness of His judicial acts manifested in the “seven last plagues.”