The Introduction to the Bowls

Identifying the Bowl Introduction in Revelation

A basic reading of Revelation reveals that the end times are described using three periods of events: (1) the seals, (2) the trumpets, and (3) the bowls. The transition from seals to trumpets is quite clear, because 7th seal in Rev 8:1 is immediately followed by an introduction to the trumpets in Rev 8:2.

However, the transition from trumpets to bowls isn’t quite as obvious. The seventh trumpet is described at the end of chapter 11, but we don’t even see the word “bowl” until chapter 15, and we won’t see the first bowl event until chapter 16.

Thus, Revelation seems to have a lengthy section, running from chapter 12 through chapter 15, inserted between the trumpet events and the bowl events. The astute reader should notice this aspect of Revelation’s structure and try to understand its purpose.

In this article, I’ll explain why this lengthy section should be regarded as the “introduction to the bowls“. As such, it continues the pattern established by the seals and trumpets, because the seals had an introduction (in chapters 4-5) and the trumpets had an introduction (in chapter 8:2-5).

What the Lengthy Section is About

This lengthy section begins in chapter 12 with something that may seem unusual. As the chapter 12 commentary explains, we see a figurative woman (Israel) who is about to give birth to a child (Christ). Standing before her is a dragon (Satan) who intends to destroy the child as soon as it is born. However, the dragon fails, as the child is taken up to God and His throne.

All of this imagery sounds like an allegorical account of Christ’s first coming 2000 years ago. As the imagery indicates:

  • Jesus was a child born to Israel.
  • His life was threatened right at birth.
  • After finishing his work on earth, he was taken up by God (resurrected and ascended).
  • He remains there today, sitting at the right hand of the God and His throne (Psalm 110:1, Mark 16:19, Luke 22:69, Col 3:1, Heb 8:1).

There is a good reason why this imagery resembles Christ’s first coming: that’s exactly what it is! 

It may seem surprising that this book of future prophecy should go back and review something from the distant past, but it begins to make sense when we understand what this is all about.

  • Chapter 12 is primarily about Satan and his activities in opposition to God and to God’s people. Since Satan has been around for a long time, it should not be surprising that a review of his activities should extend from the distant past to the future. As such, it is fitting that this review would include his actions against Christ 2000 years ago.
  • Chapter 13 is mainly about Satan’s human cohorts: the Antichrist, the False Prophet, and their followers. These things are clearly in the future.
  • Chapter 14 continues to describe the future, as it goes all the way through to the conclusion of the end times, including a preview of the bowl judgments. This preview of the bowls includes a description of the return of Christ and the battle of Armageddon. Thus, this lengthy section that precedes the bowls also summarizes the bowls.
  • Finally, chapter 15 concludes the bowl introduction by preparing us for the bowl events themselves. We see seven angels being given the seven bowls full of God’s wrath to be poured upon the earth, while the saints are depicted as being in heaven, acknowledging the righteousness of God’s wrath.

To summarize, this lengthy section of Revelation chapters 12-15 reviews a wide span of time, extending from ancient times all the way to the conclusion of the end times, including a summary of God’s wrath. Importantly, this section discusses several things that happen during the trumpet and bowl periods. It would therefore be incorrect to think that it is describing “extra” events that take place between the trumpet and bowl periods.

This section puts particular emphasis on what happens during the trumpet period. It does this by looking at the trumpet period from a different perspective than the trumpet events themselves do:

  • The trumpet events focused mainly on the plagues that will be striking the earth during the trumpet period, and the two witnesses who prophesy on God’s behalf during that time.
  • This lengthy section focuses more upon the wickedness on earth during the trumpet period, specifically the actions of Satan, Antichrist, the False Prophet, and their deceived followers.

The Placement and Purpose of the Section

The placement of this lengthy section is right before the bowl events, and the last chapter of the section (chapter 15) is clearly intended to introduce the bowls of God’s wrath, which we will see poured out upon the earth as the bowl events of chapter 16 are described. The content of this section thus describes the wickedness on earth that justifies God’s wrath.

What we are observing then, is that this lengthy section in chapters 12-15 continues the observed pattern that each period in Revelation begins with an introduction:

  • The introduction to the seals (chapters 4-5) followed by the seal events (starting in chapter 6).
  • The introduction to the trumpets (Rev 8:2-5) followed by the trumpet events (starting in 8:6).
  • The introduction to the bowls (chapters 12-15) followed by the bowl events (starting in chapter 16).

This introduction to the bowls serves the same purpose as the introductions to the other periods. That is, it prepares us for understanding the bowls that follow by summarizing the objective of the bowl period, and by introducing some terms that will be used during the bowl descriptions. The terms introduced in this section include the False Prophet and the Mark of the Beast, which are later referenced in the account of the bowl judgments in chapters 16-19.

The Bowl Introduction’s Message

The bowls constitute the wrath of God, or as the prophets would say, the Day of the Lord.

God has always warned that the day would come when His patience with sin would end (Rom 2:4,5; 2 Pet 3:9-13). The bowl judgments constitute the process by which God’s grace period of patience ends, and His justified wrath against wickedness begins. By the conclusion of the bowls, God will have carried out an execution of the wicked upon the earth, just as He did with the flood in the days of Noah (Matt 24:37). The prophet Isaiah actually describes this event as an extermination:

Isaiah 13:9-12 – 9Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. 10For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises And the moon will not shed its light. 11Thus I will punish the world for its evil And the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. 12I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold And mankind than the gold of Ophir.

As one should expect, the wrath of God shall be incredibly terrifying, destructive, and deadly. However, before Revelation describes this wrath, it first provides this bowl introduction because God first wants us to realize the righteousness of His wrath.

God’s wrath is not at all like the wrath of men. His wrath is not capricious. He is not lashing out at the earth in a fit of pent-up anger. Rather, we see that God’s wrath is carried out in an extremely judicial manner.

What do we observe in this bowl introduction? First, we see the charges presented. These charges state the offenses perpetrated against God by various parties.

  • The first statement of offenses brings charges against Satan himself. These are presented in Revelation chapter 12. In particular, Satan is charged with intent to murder the Christ, who would be born out of Israel. The seven heads and ten horns represent seven different kingdoms that Satan inspired to persecute God’s people. Finally, we see that he shall raise a final (eighth) kingdom to dominate and persecute God’s people (seen in Rev 13:1,2, Rev 17:11).
  • The second statement of offenses comes against the king of Satan’s final kingdom, Antichrist (Rev 13:1-7). He is charged with blaspheming God and waging war and conquering God’s holy people during the great tribulation.
  • The third statement of offenses comes against the religious leader of Satan’s final kingdom, the False Prophet (Rev 13:11-17). He is charged with creating a great deception and compelling people to worship Antichrist, and to receive the damning mark of the beast.
  • The fourth statement of offenses comes against that portion of humanity that followed after Satan and the human cohorts of his final kingdom. They are charged with believing the lies, giving their worship to Antichrist and Satan, and receiving the mark of the beast (Rev 13:3-4, Rev 13:8, Rev 13:14, Rev 13:16-17). They did this despite the warnings to repent (Rev 14:7,9,10).

These statements of their offenses are followed by the sentencing of their punishment, which is given in the form of a preview of the bowl events (Rev 14:17-18,19,20).

The sentencing of punishment is followed by affirmation of the witnesses. We see the witnesses presented in Rev 15:2, as “those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name“. These witnesses know first-hand what the guilty parties have done, and they also know the punishment that God has decreed (revealed in the sentencing of Rev 14:14-20). These are the witnesses who make this declaration in Rev 15:3-4: “3Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! 4“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED“. With this, they affirm God’s righteousness and authority in carrying out the punishment which has been revealed.

The bowl introduction ends with the sentence carried out. This is indicated in Rev 15:7,8 and Rev 16:1, as the seven angels are equipped with the seven bowls of God’s wrath, and God makes it clear that His wrath upon the earth must now be fulfilled.

The Righteous Wrath of God

With the bowl introduction having served its purpose of demonstrating the judicious nature and righteousness of God’s wrath, Revelation proceeds into the bowl judgments of chapter 16. The bowls conclude with each of the guilty parties dealt with:

  • Satan shall be imprisoned to await ultimate destruction (Rev 20:1-2, Rev 20:10).
  • Antichrist and the False Prophet are sent to the “lake of fire” (Rev 19:20).
  • Their unrepentant followers are put to death, to await their eternal sentencing at the final judgment of the dead (Rev 19:21, Rev 20:15).

This bowl introduction thus emphasizes the due process of God’s laws, and God is seen as the righteous judge. Even so, God is also the merciful and gracious judge, as seen by the fact that Revelation, as well as the whole Bible, is filled with God patiently calling people to repentance and giving warnings long in advance about what awaits those who refuse. Scripture makes it clear that God doesn’t desire any people to perish (2 Pet 3:9), and that the lake of fire was intended for Satan and his demons (Matt 25:41).

A Contrast of Injustice

Seeing God work judiciously in the bowl introduction stands in stark contrast to the lack of justice offered to the Son of God when he visited earth 2000 years ago. I think it is worthwhile to notice the difference.

When Christ visited the earth 2000 years ago, he was completely innocent of any crime against man or God. And yet, sinful men, filled with envy and pride, conspired against him. They seized him, they subjected him to an illegal mock trial in the night, and they pressured the Roman governors to execute him. The Roman governors demonstrated their own corruption because they agreed to it even though they knew Christ was innocent of violating any Roman law.

The execution of Jesus was also illegal according to the Rabbinic law regarding executions recorded in the Jewish Talmud. The Talmud states that an execution should be carried out with the following precautions in place:

  • When a condemned prisoner is being taken out to the place of execution, there should be a herald who walks ahead of him.
  • The herald’s job is to call out specific announcements on behalf of the prisoner:
    1. He should say “Today this person named so-and-so is to be executed” (giving the prisoner’s name).
    2. He should say “He is to be executed for the following crimes” (stating his crimes).
    3. He should say “If anyone has testimony to bring forth regarding this case, come forth and present it now” (this is a call for witnesses, who just might give reason to stay the execution).

These rules were in place to give the condemned person every safeguard against a wrongful execution. But the Biblical record shows that Jesus was denied all of these rights.

When Christ returns, the tables will be turned as He will be the one who judges humanity. Jesus warned his accusers about this at his trial: Matt 26:63-64 “And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.” (Jesus was referencing Daniel 7:13,14).

In a sense, this bowl introduction in chapters 12-15 serves the purpose of the herald who precedes the execution. (1) It identifies the accused, (2) it states their crimes, (3) it calls for witnesses. However, the witnesses (seen in chapter 15) offer no defense for the accused. Instead, they confirm that the execution is justified and righteous.

The judgment of God is coming against the world, and however severe and terrifying it may be, it shall be carried out far more justly than the treatment that the Son of God received from the world.

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