The first four bowls of wrath destroy the economic infrastructure of the kingdoms of the earth – Revelation 16:1-9.
The “seven bowls of wrath” include language and imagery from the plagues of Egypt, the exodus, the defeat of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, and Ancient Babylon, only here, divine judgments are inflicted on the persecutors of God’s people, the “beast from the sea” and the “great city,” end-time “Babylon.”
The first four “bowls of wrath” form a distinct group that in several aspects parallels the first four “trumpets.” Like the latter, the first four “bowls” inflict plagues on the earth, sea, and celestial objects – against the economic infrastructures necessary for the prosperity of the “inhabitants of the earth.” And 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. The “great voice” from the “sanctuary” was heard, most probably, the voice of God. At that 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 when the ashes from the burnt offerings were “poured out” without the camp of Israel. In Revelation, the verb occurs only in the series of “seven bowls” whenever one of the angels emptied his bowl, and when God was praised for punishing those who “poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets.” Just as their persecutors “poured out” the blood of the martyrs found “underneath the altar,” so God now “pours out blood for them to drink” – (Leviticus 4:12, Revelation 6:9-11).
And there are overlaps between the “seven last plagues” and the “seven trumpets.” The judgments in both series echo the ten plagues of Egypt; both impact the earth, sea, freshwater sources, the heavens, the Abyss/Beast’s kingdom, and the Euphrates River, and in the same literary sequence. However, the effects of the “last plagues” are complete. The “seven trumpet blasts” harmed a “third” of their respective targets, but the destruction of the “last seven plagues” is total.
The “noisome and grievous sore” echoes the sixth plague of Egypt. The men who took the “mark of the beast” are marred by terrible sores just like the plague of boils inflicted on Ancient Egypt. All men who take the “mark of the beast” now receive their just deserts – “grievous sores.” This and the next three “bowls of wrath” afflict everyone who has the beastly “mark” – (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.”
Previously, the “second trumpet” turned a third of the “sea” into blood, thus destroying a third of its living creatures. The second “bowl” turns the entire sea into blood, killing every living thing in it. The “sea” symbolizes the mass of humanity in its hostility to God, and the nations from which the “beast ascended.” 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 that is so vitally important to the nations and the economic health of the World-Power. And this plague anticipates the later funeral dirge for “Babylon,” the “great city” that sits on “many waters” – on “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” – (Revelation 17:6-15, 18:6, 18:23-24).
The cessation of maritime commerce results in economic hardship, including commodity and food shortages. Thus, the contents of the “second bowl” point to economic upheaval in the kingdom of the “beast,” and the death, chaos, and destruction that will inevitably result from it.
THIRD BOWL. This next “bowl” also echoes the first Egyptian plague, but it impacts all sources of freshwater. Both the second and third “bowls” turned water “into blood,” indicating 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” harms the inland sources of freshwater. For the World-Power and its “inhabitants,” the sea is necessary for maritime commerce and fresh water for agriculture and the life of society. Roman ships carried a variety of goods to the “eternal city,” most importantly, the large grain-carrying ships from Egypt, without which the city experienced food shortages, inflated prices, and even famine.
“ANGEL OF THE WATERS”. An interjection is made, the “angel of the waters.” The term refers to the third angel who 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 angelic declaration sums up the justification for the first three “bowls” – “They were given blood to drink because they poured out the blood of saints and prophets.” These words anticipate the coming judicial pronouncements against “Babylon,” for she persecuted the saints and caused the nations of the earth to drink the “wine of her fornications” – (Revelation 16:17-21).
“They are worthy.” This refers to the martyrs. Elsewhere, “worthy” is positive and refers either to God, the “Lamb,” or to his followers. Because the martyrs overcame, they are being 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 then He was the One “who is and who was and who is coming.” The third stanza is dropped since God no longer “is coming.” His final “wrath” has arrived with the “seven bowls of wrath” – (Revelation 1:4, 1:8, 4:8, 11:17).
The “righteous and holy one who judges” echoes the plea of the martyrs (“How long, O Master, holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood”), and the “Song of the Lamb” 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. This “bowl” parallels the “fourth trumpet,” and both echo the ninth plague of Egypt. In both, the sun was darkened, but the fourth “bowl” also causes scorching heat that burns the followers of the “beast.” This is in contrast to the saints who came out of the “great tribulation” to be 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” continue to blaspheme the “name of God who has power over these plagues.” They denied their sufferings were due to His sovereign acts. “Blasphemy” connects them 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 clause connects the “fourth bowl” 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 demonstrates the righteousness of His judicial acts executed in the “seven last plagues.”