Chapter 16

Introduction

At the end of the previous chapter, seven angels were given the seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God (Rev 15:7). According to Rev 15:1, these bowls will complete the wrath of God. As explained in Revelation Overview, the bowls correspond to same time period that the Old Testament prophets called The Day of the LORD.

Having completed the introduction to the bowls, this chapter shall begin describing the seven bowl events themselves.

Setting the Context

Before proceeding into the descriptions of the bowl events, we should first review where we are in the context of end times. The four preceding chapters (12-15) contained the lengthy Introduction to the Bowls section which were given in preparation for the bowl events. The last events on earth preceding the bowls were the things described by the trumpet events in chapters 8 through 11.

In chapter 11, we saw that the two witnesses in Jerusalem will be prophesying and pronouncing plagues upon the earth during the 1260 days of the great tribulation (Rev 11:3), and those plagues shall do enormous harm to the earth. The plagues will stop when Antichrist finally succeeds in killing the two witnesses (Rev 11:7). In response to their deaths, the unbelieving world bursts into joyous celebration. In their minds, Antichrist will have saved the world. For the unbelieving world, this will be a time of victory, relief, and praise for Antichrist.

However, the celebrations will last for just three and one half days. It ends abruptly when those two witnesses return to life. A voice from heaven calls “Come up here“, the two witnesses ascend into a cloud, and Jerusalem experiences a great earthquake (Rev 11:12-13).

The 1260 days in which the two witnesses served on earth corresponds to the 42 months given for Antichrist to reign on earth (Rev 13:5). When the two witnesses ascend to heaven, it marks the conclusion of both (1) their 1260 days of service and (2) Antichrist’s 42 months to reign as king. Antichrist’s kingdom shall be taken away are destroyed forever (Dan 7:26) as the bowl events, also known as the Day of the Lord, strike the earth.

Therefore, it is best to understand that the bowl events described here in chapter 16 resume the narration of events that was paused after chapter 11. That is, the two witnesses ascend to heaven, the earthquake strikes in Jerusalem, and very shortly thereafter we should expect the first bowl event to strike the earth.

Start of Bowls, the Seventh Trumpet, and the Sixth Seal

It’s true that in chapter 11, the account of the two witnesses was followed by the description of the seventh trumpet. However, the seventh trumpet isn’t a plague event like the previous six trumpets. It is an announcement that:

  • The kingdom of earth has become the kingdom of God (Rev 11:15).
  • Christ has begun to reign on the earth (Rev 11:17)
  • The time had come for the nations to be enraged, and for God’s wrath against them (Rev 11:18).

These are things that take place as a consequence of the bowl events. In other words, the seventh trumpet is not an event that precedes the bowls, but rather it encompasses the bowls.

This leaves the resurrection of the two witnesses (described just prior to the seventh trumpet) as the final event of the great tribulation period, just prior to the bowls. We know that their resurrection comes at the very end of the great tribulation because Rev 11:3 says they will serve on earth for 1260 days, which is the entire span of the great tribulation.

As discussed earlier, the sixth seal is also a summary of the bowls (with the fifth seal being a summary of the great tribulation). Therefore, the beginning of these bowl events also marks the beginning of the the sixth seal as well as the seventh trumpet.

The Calm Before the Storm

Note that Paul wrote this concerning the end times:

1 Thes 5:2-3 – “2For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.

That period of time when they are saying “Peace and Safety” refers to those three and one half days of celebration going on just just after the two witnesses were killed and before they came back to life (Rev 11:9,10). During those days, they will think that they finally have peace and safety — but in fact destruction shall strike suddenly, just as it did in the days of Noah (Matt 24:37-39), because their time of peace will be soon followed by the period called the Day of the Lord.

This idea is in harmony with the claims that (1) the bowl events follow shortly after the resurrection of the two witnesses, and (2) that the bowls constitute the Day of the Lord. The sudden strike against unsuspecting people is rightly likened to the coming of a thief in the night.

Commentary

Introduction to the Bowls of God’s Wrath

1Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”

v1 Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God – These bowl judgments, combined, constitute the Wrath of God. It’s best to understand that the bowl events will occur in the order that they are stated.

Why Bowls?

Possibly, bowls are used to describe the coming of God’s wrath because bowls can be quickly poured out. The wrath of God is often described as something that will come suddenly and quickly — even like a flood (Matt 24:39), and such flood-like quickness is well-described by the pouring of bowls.

Interestingly, we also see bowls associated with wrath in Isaiah chapter 51. There, Israel herself is depicted as drinking from the Lord’s bowl of wrath

Isa 51:17 ESV – Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.

This is, of course, descriptive of the many occasions in which Israel has been punished for her unfaithfulness to God. However, as Isaiah continues, we see that in the end, God will turn the tables:

Isa 51:22-23 ESV – 22Thus says your Lord, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people: “Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more23and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, who have said to you, ‘Bow down, that we may pass over’; and you have made your back like the ground and like the street for them to pass over.

This looks forward to a time when Israel will turn in faith to Christ their king, and never again stray. At that time, God’s will bless and protect Israel, and the bowl of His wrath shall instead be served to those who torment Israel. This all agrees with what we see in Revelation concerning Israel, as discussed in the Final Restoration of Israel, and particularly in the account of the bowl judgments.

Bowl #1 – Loathsome Sores

2So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.

v2 loathsome and malignant sore on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image – The first bowl is a direct hit on all those who worship the beast (the understanding of this mark comes from chapter 13).

These are people who have flatly refused the eternal salvation offered by God because all they wanted was worldly pleasures. However, we see that even those pleasures shall be taken away from them, beginning with horrible sores that look and feel miserable. This bowl event stands in contrast to the trumpet events because the first four trumpets afflicted the environment, but not people. This first bowl, however, strikes directly at people.

Verse 2 singles out those who had the mark of the beast, which suggests that not everyone on earth at this point has received the mark. That is, some people have continued to reject God, and yet they have not fully devoted themselves to Antichrist either. As discussed in Rev 14:13, it’s possible that some of these people may still be saved.  We also see an indication of this in verse 15 below.

Several of the bowl events seem to parallel the trumpet events.  It’s possible that this first bowl event parallels the fifth trumpet event.  In the fifth trumpet, people were afflicted with painful, but temporary, stings. We may assume that these sores will be worse than the stings, and that people will associate these sores with the resurrection of the two witnesses that had just occurred.

Bowl #2 – Destruction of the Sea

3The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died.

v3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died – The water of the sea is likened to the blood of a dead man. It is perhaps not actual blood, but the descriptions suggests that it’s something reddish, stinking, gruesome, and deadly.

The consequences of this are staggering. The ocean is a huge source of food and about half of the earth’s oxygen is produced by phytoplankton in the ocean (single cell plants near the surface). If the ocean dies, the rest of the world cannot be far behind.

Note that the second bowl parallels the second trumpet. Whereas the second trumpet caused one-third of the sea to become like blood and one-third of the sea life to die, the second bowl causes those same things to happen to the entire sea. During the three and one half days of celebration, the people of earth may have hoped that the sea might still survive. But it will suddenly die completely, and even become poisonous.

Bowl #3 – Destruction of Fresh Water

4Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. 5And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; 6for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” 7And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”

v4 the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood – All freshwater (springs and rivers) will go bad and become like blood (apparently the same vile liquid in the seas).

This means that fresh water, which is absolutely necessary even for short-term survival is suddenly extremely scarce! Perhaps people will still have the water that had been bottled or stored in reservoirs. But everyone on earth will know that they are in the process of being killed. Their desperation will be unimaginable.

Note that the third bowl is a much more severe version of the third trumpet event.

v5-7 5And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; 6for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.”. 7And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” – The angel and the altar confirms the righteousness of God’s wrath, just as the saints in heaven did in Rev 15:3-4.

This angel who destroyed the water also announces that with these bowl events, God is fulfilling His promise to avenge the death of the martyrs who were seen under the altar of heaven in the fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11).

So far, the bowl judgments seem to parallel the trumpet events. This suggests a couple of points:

  1. It supports the idea that the trumpets were primarily for the purpose of warning, because we see that God always had the power to destroy everything completely. The fact that He limited the destructiveness of the trumpets to one-third suggests that they are like a warning shot, intended to injure but not kill.
  2. It makes it clear that the power that is causing these bowl events is the same power that caused the trumpet events. Since the trumpet events were associated with the two Jewish witnesses in Jerusalem, people will also associate these bowl events with the Jews. Recall that those two witnesses came back to life just before the bowls struck, and the remnant of Israel is still being divinely protected. This will help explain the action that takes place in the sixth bowl event.

Bowl #4 – Scorching Heat

8The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. 9Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.

v8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire – The fourth bowl compounds the agony of the sores, dead seas, and ruined freshwater by adding intense heat that scorches people. It’s as if the unredeemed people of the earth are gradually being given a preview of hell.

It’s hard to imagine the consequences of this. It’s possible that this isn’t a change in the sun itself, but a change in our atmosphere, which might lose its ability to block harmful ultraviolet rays, cosmic rays, and radiation. Without this protection, the sun will burn people.

Note that the fourth bowl may be seen as a more severe version of the first trumpet event (in which fire burned up one third of the trees).

v9 Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory – Importantly, the people being afflicted know that God is the one doing it. In other words, their rejection of God is not because of unbelief, but because of hatred. Rather than repent, they blaspheme. This event corresponds well with Isaiah’s words about the coming judgment in Isa 24:6 “Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left.

The Christian reading about these bowl events should soon realize that being killed in the great tribulation and joining the joyous multitude in heaven (Rev 7:9-12) is much better than the fate of those who remain alive on earth during these bowl events. And for them, the worst is yet to come.

The Three Signs

You may have noticed a pattern in the two earlier periods of events (the seals and the trumpets).   Specifically, each period has seven events, and there seems to be a transition between the first four events and the last three.

  • In the seals, the first four events were the “four horsemen“, which described the first 3 1/2 years, while the last three seals summarized the conclusion of the end times.
  • In the trumpets, the first four trumpets affected the environment while the last three afflicted people. In Rev 8:13, the final three events were even given a distinct name, “the three woes”.

It would be natural to expect this pattern of 4-and-3 to continue with the bowl events, which means that we should expect a transition here between the fourth bowl and the fifth bowl.

Although a transition is not explicitly mentioned by the text, I do believe that such a transition exists. The Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ’s visible return in the Day of the Lord speak about three specific events that will precede His return. These three foretold events are thus signs that the visible return of Christ the king will soon take place. They are as follows:

  1. The world in darkness
  2. All nations gathering against Israel
  3. The earth violently shaken.

These three signs are precisely what happens in the upcoming final three bowl events. We might label these final bowl events as The Three Signs of Christ’s Visible Return.

Bowl #5 – Darkness

10Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, 11and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.

v10 his kingdom became darkened – The first sign is darkness across the kingdom of Antichrist. In the end times, Antichrist’s kingdom encompasses the whole earth, except perhaps the place near the Mount of Olives where the remnant of Israel is being protected.

The Sign of Darkness foretold: Christ and the prophets spoke of this darkness shortly before the return of Christ:

  • The prophet Joel spoke about darkness the Day of the Lord as follows: Joel 2:10-11 “10Before them the earth quakes, The heavens tremble, The sun and the moon grow dark, And the stars lose their brightness. 11The LORD utters His voice before His army; Surely His camp is very great, For strong is he who carries out His word. The day of the LORD is indeed great and very awesome, And who can endure it?
  • The prophet Zephaniah also describes the darkness, Zeph 1:15 “15A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness” (in Zeph 1:17 he adds that men will walk as if blind).
  • When Jesus summarized his return in Matthew 24, he said that things would go dark shortly before his return: “29But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.
  • The sixth seal (which is a summary of the bowls) also mentioned this darkness. Rev 6:12: “the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood“. The darkness mentioned in the sixth seal is the same darkness described here in the fifth bowl, and the same darkness foretold by Christ and the Old Testament prophets.

v10 they gnawed their tongues because of pain – This darkness somehow has an agonizing effect on people, although the pain could certainly be caused by the earlier bowl events. At a minimum, sudden darkness would surely cause unbearable panic and terror.

v11 they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds – The effects of God’s wrath will cause these people to hate God even more. They are blinded by the darkness, and yet even more so by their hatred for God. The addition that “they did not repent of their deeds” suggests that repentance would still be an option for them, even at this late point.

Bowl #6 – Nations Gather for War at Armageddon

12The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. 13And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; 14for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. 15(“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”) 16And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.

v12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east – What is meant by this is open to debate, depending on whether our interpretation should lean literal or figurative.

  • Literal: There will be some army east of the Euphrates that wants to attack Israel, but they are prevented from coming by the Euphrates river. But the sixth seal dries up the river allowing them to attack Israel.
  • Figurative: The reference to the Euphrates refers to Babylon because the ancient city of Babylon was situated on the Euphrates river east of Israel. The “kings from the east” would then refer to this metaphorical Babylon of Antichrist, his cohorts, and their armies. The “drying of the river” is simply device for saying that Antichrist was given motivation and opportunity to commence this attack.

I favor the figurative view for the following reasons: (1) The Babylon metaphor is a major theme in Revelation (see The Great Harlot an Babylon), especially in the context of the bowls. (2) I find it unlikely that Antichrist’s forces, who desperately want to destroy Israel, are literally going to be stopped by a river. (3) I believe that the next verses support the figurative view.

v13-14 13 I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; 14 for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty – The unholy trinity of Satan (the dragon), Antichrist (the demon-possessed beast), and his False Prophet give the command for the armies of the nations to attack God’s people Israel. The “three unclean spirits” may refer to Satan and the demons who possess Antichrist and the False Prophet.

These two verses connect Antichrist to the Euphrates reference in verse 12, and as such, it is appropriate to say that his final attack on Israel will come figuratively from the “army from the east”, while verse 14 says it will literally be “kings of the whole world“.

Again, we see a parallel between the trumpets and bowls, with the bowl event being a more severe version of the corresponding trumpet event. The sixth trumpet also involved the river Euphrates and evil spirits gathering an army.

v15 – (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”) – Here John is delivering a message from Christ himself. Christ and his disciples have often said that he would “come like a thief”. However, here we see it uniquely spoken in the present tense. These must be the signs this his appearance is “right at the door” (Matt 24:33).

This reference to coming like a thief also supports the Overlapping Model view which says that the bowls pertain the Day of the Lord (1 Thes 5:2 – “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night“).

He also offers a blessing to those who “stay awake and keeps his clothes”. This supports the idea that people may still come to faith in Christ and be saved, even during the time of God’s wrath in these bowl events (Rev 14:13). This verse is placed here to emphasize that this sixth bowl event is the absolute last opportunity to repent and be saved. The seventh bowl will be too late.

The Sign of Nations attacking Israel foretold: The prophets spoke of this gathering of nations against Israel (and God’s defense of Israel) shortly before the return of Christ.

  • Psalm 2:1-6, “1Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? 2The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, 3“Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!” 4He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. 5Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, 6“But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.
  • The prophet Joel 3:12, “Let the nations be aroused And come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, For there I will sit to judge All the surrounding nations.
  • The prophet Zechariah 12:3, “It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.”
  • The prophet Obadiah 1:15-17 , “15 “For the day of the LORD draws near on all the nations.  As you have done, it will be done to you.  Your dealings will return on your own head.  16“Because just as you drank on My holy mountain,  All the nations will drink continually.  They will drink and swallow And become as if they had never existed.  17“But on Mount Zion there will be those who escape, And it will be holy.  And the house of Jacob will possess their possessions.”

v16 they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon – The invading kings gathered in a place called “Har-Magedon” (or “Armageddon”). The name comes from the Hebrew words: “Har Megiddo” which means “Hill of Megiddo”. This passage (among others) are discussed in The Battle of Armageddon.

Bowl #7 – Great Worldwide Earthquake

17Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” 18And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. 19The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. 20And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. 21And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.

v17 the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” – First, the announcement that the this will be the conclusion of God’s wrath. The seventh bowl encompasses by far the most terrifying aspects of God’s wrath.

v18 there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder – John has witnessed such things several times up to now in this vision. Although it’s not clear, I take it that these things are part of the vision in heaven, and they accompany the voice coming out of the temple. In this case, the great lightning and thunder may occur on the earth as well.

v18 and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty – An earthquake of unimaginable intensity, and the context makes it clear that this quake occurs on the earth. The next verses elaborate on its intensity.

v19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. – There is some room for disagreement regarding the identity of the “great city”, because in Rev 11:8, “great city” was used in reference to Jerusalem. However, here in the context of God’s wrath, it’s best to regard this great city as the figurative Babylon. This is because (1) Babylon is mentioned in the next sentence, and (2) Babylon is also called a great city in Rev 17:18. As explained in the chapter 17 commentary, this city likely refers to Rome.

Besides causing this great city to be split into thirds, this earthquake at the end of the bowls will cause cities throughout the world will fall. Again, living through this is inconceivable. Our entire planet will be convulsing and it must be making an absolutely deafening roar.

v19 Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath – This makes it clear that this earthquake is connected to God’s wrath against Antichrist’s kingdom (symbolically called Babylon), and the wine represents God’s wrath (a metaphor was introduced in Rev 14:10-20).

v20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found – This description of the great worldwide earthquake agrees with the one described in the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14). That’s because it is the same worldwide earthquake (not a second “similar” worldwide quake). It’s repeated only because the sixth seal is a summary of these bowl events.

The Sign of the Worldwide earthquake foretold: This great earthquake is also the same earthquake described in several places by the prophets. Of these three signs, this great earthquake is most closely associated with Christ’s return to judge the world. Below are some references to this earthquake given by Old Testament prophets:

  • Joel 2:10 “Before them the earth quakes, The heavens tremble, The sun and the moon grow dark And the stars lose their brightness.
  • Isa 2:19 “Men will go into caves of the rocks And into holes of the ground Before the terror of the LORD And the splendor of His majesty, When He arises to make the earth tremble.
  • Is 24:19-21 “19The earth is broken asunder, The earth is split through, The earth is shaken violently. 20The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard And it totters like a shack, For its transgression is heavy upon it, And it will fall, never to rise again.
  • Christ also spoke of a “shaking” immediately prior to his return: Matt 24:29b-30 “29 … the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.

Side Note: It is interesting that the mountains and islands are described as the regions most affected by this earthquake, because the Bible demonstrates some knowledge that scientists have come to understand only in the last century. Mountains and islands are the places where earthquakes occur most frequently because they are associated with weak spots in the earth’s crust where tectonic plates meet or thin regions where volcanic activity occurs.

v21 And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men Huge hailstones also blast the earth. Without a doubt, life on earth is being exterminated. And yet, the greatest terror still remains.

v21 and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe – All on earth who aren’t yet killed continue to blaspheme God and their eternal doom is sealed.

Are the Bowls Finished?

The Problem of Loose Ends

Here in chapter 16 we have seen seven bowl events described. From this we might conclude that we are finished with the bowls themselves (the third and final period of events). However, upon examining the content of the bowls as well as the overall structure of Revelation, it appears that there are some loose ends:

  • The war – The sixth bowl seems unfinished. It said that Antichrist would assemble the armies of all nations at Armageddon — and it just left it at that — with no mention of the ensuing battle or its outcome.
  • Christ’s return – Chapter 16 never mentions the return of Christ (except glancingly in verse 15, where we read “I come like a thief”). The seals and trumpets both ended with more descriptive accounts of Christ’s return. One would think that surely the bowls, being the most detailed account of the final events, would offer the greatest description of Christ’s return. This is especially true because the last three bowls included all the prophesied signs that Christ’s visible return was imminent (darkness, armies against Israel, and great earthquake) .
  • Broken pattern – There appears to be a break in the “period pattern” of Revelation. Recall that the seals and trumpet periods each included a section of text that could be called an interlude. In each case, the interlude viewed the whole period from a broad perspective. However, there is no interlude like that in chapter 16. It seems odd that this pattern should be established for the seals and trumpets, and then be broken for the bowls.
  • Wrath – Rev 15:1 said that the bowls would complete God’s wrath. However, we will be seeing quite a bit more of God’s wrath described in subsequent chapters, particularly in chapter 19. How then can the bowls events, if they are finished in chapter 16, be the completion of God’s wrath?

Problem Resolved: The Bowls are not finished!

I propose that the bowls aren’t over yet, and that they in fact continue on through chapter 19. By viewing the bowls this way, the loose ends mentioned above are all cleanly resolved:

  • The war – We will see that chapter 19 will pick up where the sixth bowl left off, with Antichrist, and kings of the earth with their armies gathered together to make war. This could only be the battle of Armageddon that was introduced, but left unfinished, in the sixth bowl. Chapter 19 will describe the outcome of this battle.
  • Christ’s return – In chapter 19, we are given the most detailed description of Christ’s return as king, which is exactly what we would expect to see in this final bowl period.
  • Broken pattern – As mentioned above, chapter 19 picks up where the bowls left off in chapter 16. What then are the two chapters that sit between chapters 16 and 19? I propose that these two chapters (17 and 18) constitute the bowl interlude which had appeared to be missing. If this proposal is correct, we should expect chapters 17 and 18 to describe the Day of the Lord from a broad perspective — which is exactly what they do! As such, the pattern of having an interlude associated with each period is kept intact.
  • Wrath – There are things described in chapter 19 that clearly represent God’s wrath, and in fact the most severe aspects of His wrath are described there. This serves as a strong argument for the idea that the bowls (which are said to complete God’s wrath) must extend at least as far as chapter 19.

So, let us proceed into chapter 17 with the understanding that we are still in the bowl period. This view seems to be confirmed in chapter 17 for the following reasons:

  1. Chapter 17 begins with an angel speaking to John, and this angel is identified as one of the seven angels holding the bowls.
  2. The angel makes a reference to the war against the Lamb (Rev 17:14), which is the Battle of Armageddon which was introduced by the sixth bowl.
  3. The first mention of the harlot Babylon within the bowls is found in the seventh bowl (Rev 16:19), and she continues to be discussed in chapter 19 (Rev 19:2). Between these accounts, the harlot Babylon is explained and her judgment is revealed in the intervening chapters (Rev 17:1-2, 5, Rev 18:2,10,21). This continuity suggests that the bowls (and the seventh bowl in particular) are extending through to chapter 19.
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