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Revelation 16:1

In the previous chapter, John saw the seven angels having the seven last plagues wherein the wrath of God is complete (Rev. Rev. 15:1+). He was also shown those who had overcome the Beast and had refused to worship him or take his mark. These were undoubtedly martyred, filling up the cup of God’s wrath even further. The angels have been given the seven bowls of the wrath of God, and God has shut Himself within the Temple to be alone, undisturbed during the pouring forth of the bowls.

Now the scene depicts the actual pouring forth of the seven bowls upon the earth below. As each bowl is poured out, those on the earth receive a plague. Since the wrath of God is complete in these seven bowls, they span the remainder of the Tribulation period up until its end, when Christ returns and overthrows the enemies of God in the Campaign of Armageddon . Even though this chapter concludes with the pouring forth of the seventh bowl, at which the work of God’s wrath is complete, John’s vision will not be complete. For three more chapters (Revelation Rev. 17:1+, Rev. 18:1+, and Rev. 19:1+) remain within which John is shown details attending the judgments associated with these bowls culminating in the Second Coming of Christ and the binding of Satan prior to the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. Rev. 20:1-3+).

The primary purposes of the seven bowl judgments are: (1) to pour out God’s righteous wrath in judgment of the earth dwellers; (2) to graphically demonstrate the unrepentant nature of the earth dwellers who are already doomed by the mark they have taken (Rev. Rev. 14:9-11+). Whereas the trumpet judgments were partial and intended to produce repentance, the bowl judgments are completely punitive, the earth dwellers having passed the point of possible return.

a loud voice from the temple
Temple is ναοῦ [naou] , which generally describes the inner sanctuary. See commentary on Revelation 11:1. In the previous verse, the shekinah glory of God filled the Temple and no one could enter until the plagues were completed (Rev. Rev. 15:8+). Thus, this voice can only be that of God Himself. His voice is also heard announcing, “It is done!” at the completion of the pouring forth of the seven bowls (Rev. Rev. 16:17+). The angels had previously received their instructions from God’s throne within the Temple (Rev. Rev. 15:5+ cf. Rev. Rev. 16:17+). Now he gives the command to carry through with their assignment.

saying to the seven angels
These are the seven angels which were given seven bowls containing God’s wrath by the living creature. See commentary on Revelation 15:1.

go and pour out
Υʽπάγετε και ἐκξέετε [Hypagete kai ekxeete] , an imperative command, You all go and pour out! Numerous passages describe God’s judgment in terms of pouring out His indignation, fury, and wrath. This is no accident, for He has known all along that the bowl judgments would be the final in the sequence of judgments at the time of the end.

The psalmist decries the overthrow of Jerusalem by the nations, and asks God to pour out His wrath on the nations who do not know Him nor call upon His name:

O God, the nations have come into Your inheritance; Your holy temple they have defiled; they have laid Jerusalem in heaps. The dead bodies of Your servants they have given as food for the birds of the heavens, the flesh of Your saints to the beasts of the earth. Their blood they have shed like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them. We have become a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and derision to those who are around us. How long, LORD? Will You be angry forever? Will Your jealousy burn like fire? Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You, and on the kingdoms that do not call on Your name. For they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling place. (Ps. Ps. 79:1-7) [emphasis added]

Dan. 9:27; Zec. Zec. 14:12; Mtt. Mat. 24:15; 2Th. 2Th. 2:4; Rev. Rev. 11:1-3+; Rev. 13:11-18+).”1 Jeremiah records a similar request:

Pour out Your fury on the Gentiles, who do not know You, and on the families who do not call on Your name; for they have eaten up Jacob, devoured him and consumed him, and made his dwelling place desolate. (Jer. Jer. 10:25) [emphasis added]

As in the Babylonian and Roman desolations of Jerusalem in history past, so shall desolation occur at the time of the end, in the middle of Daniel’s 70th Week. The “desolating one,”2 the Antichrist, shall have judgment poured out upon him:3

Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate. (Dan. Dan. 9:27) [emphasis added]

Zephaniah spoke concerning Israel’s lack of fear of God indicating a future time when God would pour His indignation upon the nations—thus gaining Israel’s attention and respect at the time of the end.

“Therefore wait for Me,” says the Lord, “Until the day I rise up for plunder; My determination is to gather the nations to My assembly of kingdoms, to pour on them My indignation, all My fierce anger; all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy. For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord.” (Zep. Zep. 3:8-9) [emphasis added]

bowls of the wrath of God
These final seven judgments are especially severe and represent the final pouring forth of God’s wrath. The prime recipient of God’s wrath are those who worship the Beast (Rev. Rev. 14:10+ cf. Rev. Rev. 16:2+, Rev. 16:10+). See commentary on Revelation 15:1.

The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine, and the last of the grist is now to go through. The machinery of judgment has been set in motion, and the Creator Himself has said that it shall not be arrested until the last plagues of His wrath are finished.4

Because the bowl judgments, representing the final outpouring of God’s wrath prior to the Millennial Kingdom, are so severe, many have been unwilling to take them as describing literal events. As we have observed elsewhere, when one cuts the tether of literal interpretation, all manner of strange understandings result and it is nearly impossible for the actual text to adequately constrain the imagination of the interpreter. Also, it becomes impossible for God to describe cataclysmic judgments even if He wanted to, for interpreters would be forever reinterpreting them as symbolism or allegory. We believe the details given in the descriptions of the judgments point strongly in the direction of a literal interpretation:

These seven Vials and their effects we take to be literal; . . . They belong to no figures of speech. The language is clear and precise. There is nothing beyond our faith, though there may be beyond our reason. True, they are supernatural, but not unnatural. In the plagues of Egypt, which all take to be literal, we have many judgments exactly similar. Indeed, six out of the seven Vials are just the same as the plagues of Egypt, and God has again and again declared that their final judgments should be like, yea, should be worse than those (Ex. Ex. 34:10). . . . In the face of this, is it not strange that these Vials should ever be taken to mean: The first, the French Revolution; and the “sores” its infidelity, etc. The second, the naval wars of the French Revolution; The third, Napoleon’s campaign in Italy; The fourth, Napoleon’s military tyranny, etc., etc.? It is a waste of precious time and space even to chronicle such interpretations.5

So far as the naval battles of the French Revolution affected the sea [at the pouring of the second bowl], they killed nothing of the living things therein, but fattened them, and scarcely stained a single wave; so far were they from turning all the ocean’s waters into bloody clots.6

on the earth
Like previous judgments in the series of seals, trumpets, bowls, these target those living upon the earth at the time of the end, the Earth Dwellers. “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it” (Isa. Isa. 13:9).


Notes

1 Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), Ps. 78:2-3.

2 “This verse continues by saying the Lord has ‘decreed’ the following: (1) the atrocities will not go on forever (cf. Luke Luke 21:24) but will have an end, and (2) ‘the desolating one’ (שֹׁמֵם [šōmēm] , a Qal active participle alluding to the antichrist) will be judged. ‘The desolating one’ or ‘one who makes desolate’ is preferred to ‘make [something] desolate’ because שֹׁמֵם [šōmēm] is intransitive.”—Charles H. Ray, “A Study of Daniel 9:24-17, Part IV,” in The Conservative Theological Journal, vol. 6 no. 18 (Fort Worth, TX: Tyndale Theological Seminary, August 2002), 212. Thus: “even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate” (NASB95).

3 “The choice of ‘is poured out’ (תִּתַּך׃ [tittak] , a Qal imperfect) as the verb reminds the reader of ‘flood’ in v. 26. It can be used figuratively (Job Job 10:10) or literally (Ex. Ex. 9:33). Students of prophecy also look to Revelation Rev. 16:1+ where bowls of God’s wrath are poured out during the end times.”—Ray, “A Study of Daniel 9:24-17, Part IV,” 212.

4 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 288.

5 E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), Rev. 16:1.

6 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 871.

Read Revelation 16:1