Revelation 16:1-7 (NIV) 1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.” 2 The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. 3 The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died. 4 The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5 Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: “You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; 6 for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” 7 And I heard the altar respond: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”
On verses 1-7: A loud voice from the temple commands the seven angels to pour out their seven bowls containing God’s wrath on the earth (v1). One by one, the first three angels pour out their bowls. The first angel pours it on the land, resulting in ugly and painful sores to break out on the people who have the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image (v2). The second angel pours his bowl on the sea, which turns the sea into blood and causes all marine life to die (v3). The third angel pours his bowl on the rivers and springs, causing them to turn into blood as well. These first three plagues strikingly resemble some of the plagues that God sent to Egypt in the book of Exodus.
In response to the sending of these plagues, the angel “in charge of the waters” affirms that God is just in His judgments and mentions two reasons why. First, God is “the Holy One”, the only one without sin. He is the very essence of what is just and right, so whatever God judges is by nature just (v5). Second, these plagues were brought upon those who “have shed the bled of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve” (v6). In other words, these were not innocent people being plagued, but rather those who engaged in persecuting and killing Christians and who were now getting the punishment they deserve.
What can we learn from this?
God is true and just in His judgments. Because God is the Holy One, the only one without sin, every judgment He makes is correct and just.
God is faithful to His promise to avenge His people. So if you have been hurt by another person, there is no need for you to take matters into your own hands and retaliate by doing something evil against them. For God promises, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19-21). In Revelation we see so clearly that God does repay, more so than we ever could.
Revelation 16:8-11 (NIV) 8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him. 10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.
On verses 8-11: The fourth bowl is poured out on the sun and causes the sun to release fireballs and intense heat that scorches and sears the people. The fifth bowl is poured out on the anti-Christ’s throne, causing his kingdom to plunge into darkness. The effect is similar to Exodus 21:21-29, except that instead of just Egypt going dark, the entire world presumably goes dark, since the anti-Christ is controlling the entire world. Despite being in agony from all these plagues, the inhabitants of the earth refuse to repent of their sins and continue to curse God.
What can we learn from this? Despite God clearly showing that He is more powerful than the beast that they worshiped, the beast worshipers refuse to repent. It goes to show that repentance is not an issue of evidence but an issue of the heart. A person can be presented with all the evidence they need to believe that God is real and that what He says is true, but if that person’s heart is hard, all the evidence in the world will not convince them, for in the end repentance is a matter of the heart.
Revelation 16:12-21 (NIV) 12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13 Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. 15 “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.” 16 Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. 17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21 From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.
On verses 17-21: The sixth bowl is poured out, drying up the Euphrates River (v12). Then three frog-looking evil spirits come out of the mouths of the red dragon, the beast of the sea and the beast of the earth (also called the false prophet) (v13). These evil spirits go to the kings of the earth, performing miraculous signs in an effort to gather the kings at a place called Armageddon to do battle against God (v14). (While the word “Armageddon” has become well known in Western culture including Hollywood, the word Armageddon actually only appears once in Scripture, and very little is known about this place, where it is or even what kind of place it is. Is it a mountain? Is it a valley? Where is it? We do not know.)
In the midst of all this, John records what appears to be a word from Jesus, saying that His coming will be like a thief (v15). The Lord encourages believers to keep their clothes on, that is, to hang onto their faith (v15) so that they will not be naked and shamefully exposed.
When the seventh bowl is poured out, the loud voice coming from the throne out of the temple (presumably the voice of God) announces, “It is done!” Similar to what happened in Revelation 8:5 and 11:19 previously, there is lightning, peals of thunder and an earthquake, except this time the earthquake is so severe that it splits Jerusalem (the great city) into three parts and causes the great cities of the nations to collapse (v19). Islands and mountains disappear (v20), and huge hailstones fall upon people, who curse God in response (v21).
What can we learn from this? Revelation 16 repeatedly takes note of how the people respond to God in the midst of these terrible plagues. Likewise, God actively watches how we respond to Him in our pain. Do we bow to Him with humility and repentance, or do we shake our fists in pride and rebellion? Do we worship God as King or curse God as our enemy?
Heavenly Father, You are the Holy One. Thank You that every judgment You make is true and just. Thank You for being faithful to Your promise to avenge Your people. Thank You for being a God who, even till almost the very end, waits for Your people to return to You. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!