Revelation has not disappointed when it comes to its attention-grabbing and fantastical imagery. And chapter 16 is no different.
Chapter 16 is ushers us before the famous seven bowl judgments. Our imaginations are stretched beyond human comprehension by bloody seas and rivers, total darkness, a sun that shines so hot people are burning to death, 3 demon frogs and more. Numbers abound too during this phase: five heavenly declarations; the 3 times man curses God, 7 bowls held by 7 angels, 100 lbs hailstones, and innumerable men from the armies of the world assembling for Armageddon.
Remember the stage for these bowl judgments were set at the end of chapter 15. There we learned that 7 angels came out of the temple in heaven and each were given by one of the 4 living creatures around the throne a bowl filled with the 7 plagues of God. Then, the temple began to fill with smoke and tremble, and no one could be in the temple with God from that point on until the 7 bowls were completed.
How do the 7 bowls compare to the 7 trumpets and the 7 seals we’ve seen so far? The Trumpets and Bowls seem to follow the same order when it comes to the targets of each judgment. The 1st Trumpet and 1st Bowl target the land. The 2nd trumpet and 2nd bowl target the sea. The 3rd trumpet and 3rd bowl target the rivers and streams, the drinking water. The 4th trumpet affects the celestial lights and causes darkness. Similarly, the 4th and 5th bowl judgments combined cause dramatic effect on the sun and also a dramatic darkness.
The First Bowl (v2)
The first bowl will cause painful sores to develop on people. Verse 2 says, “….”
These sores will not afflict everyone. The target group is very specific: the people who worship the Antichrist. Anyone who takes the mark of the beast and worships his image have signed up for a beating. God is going to relentlessly punish them. The scorpion demons of chapter 9 will terrorize them, the 200 million strong army of demons will kill a third of them on the earth, the two witnesses will aggravate them with preaching and kill them if they try to stop them from preaching. Those with the mark of the beast, who worship his image, whose names are not in the Lamb’s book of life, they are first up on God’s list of targets come the bowl judgments.
Sores and boils are a go-to punishment by God. When Moses was confronting Pharoah of Egypt to release the Israelites from slavery God issued 10 judgments against the Egyptians. Number 6 on that list was boils. Every Egyptian man and animal became covered with boils from head to toe (Ex. 9:9-10). While Satan directly afflicted Job with boils, it was by God’s permission (Job 2:7). And God warned the Israelites when He gave them the Law that if they turned away from Him and committed idolatry He would afflict them with same painful boils and sores He did the Egyptians (Dt. 28:27, 35).
When God wants to make it hurt, festering sores and boils seem to be top on His list. And when its the end of the world and He’s bringing His wrath to its final phase, and He wants to make it hurt on the unrepentent rebels of earth, and when He wants to make the statement that divine anger is aroused, and that He is judging them, He sends agonizing sores and boils.
The Second Bowl (v3)
Next up is the 2nd Bowl, and when the second angel steps forward he will pour out his bowl on the sea. Watch what happens in verse 3, “….”
But, whereas the 2nd Trumpet Judgment only turned a third of the sea into blood, God is going all the way this time and turning the whole sea into blood with the 2nd bowl judgment.
Some may balk at all these spectacular and “out of this world” judgments, but, keep in mind the Creator has absolute power over His creation. He turned the waters of the Nile into blood. Jesus turned water into wine. Throughout history God has miraculously intervened to change the natural chemistry and makeup of His creation to demonstrate His power and Creatorship.
Something dawned on me this week: God is not affecting all the water around the world. Notice it says “the sea”. Not ocean, not lakes, not even “the seas” (plural). Just “the sea”. One sea. My question is: which sea? My guess is it is not the Sea of Galilee or the Dead Sea because they are too small and don’t have access to the rest of the world. Rather, I suspect God is targeting the Mediteranninan Sea that border’s Israel’s west. This sea is huge at 970,000 square miles with a maximum depth of 17,000 feet. Much of the Sea is surrounded by important areas like southern Europe, Northern Africa, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and more. If God turned 970K square miles of water into blood a lot of international commerce would be disrupted.
The first bowl afflicted human bodies. The second bowl and the ones after will affect the environment: the sea, the rivers, the sun, etc. The very environment that God created for man to live in – the earth and cosmos – was originally meant to bless man.
“I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad and built the lofty skies,
I sing the goodness of the Lord that filled the earth with food,
He formed the creatures with His word and then pronounced them good
Lord how Thy wonders are displayed, Wherever I turn my eye
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky!”
God called it good, and, a symbiotic relationship existed between man and the natural world. A relationship that not only brings mutual benefit, but, in both man and nature the Creator is glorified, “There’s not a plant or flower below but makes Thy glories known”
At the end, however, man’s corruption from sin become so bad, and because nature has been corrupted by man’s sin as well, we see God using nature not as a means to bless man, but, as a means to injure man. To punish him. God is concentrating these punishments around the center of His focus: Israel. And surrounding nations.
Application: This blood is horrifying, but, there is another blood that is precious. The blood of Jesus Christ, which was spilled for you. He gave His life on the cross for your sins, spilling His own blood to spare you, to give you eternal life. Ah! The world has despised His blood, and, now blood will reign down on it.
The Third Bowl (v4-7)
Now, continuing the punishment of the waters the 3rd bowl judgment is poured out. Follow along in verse 4, “…..”
The rivers, the source of drinking water, are turned to blood. Again we are reminded of the Nile when Moses turned it to blood in front of Pharaoh. Let me say again I don’t believe this is all the rivers and streams around the world, but, in the greater region around and related to Israel. One reason I say this is because the Bible says there will be survivors who make it through the Tribulation, but, without drinking water no one will survive more than a week after the 3rd bowl judgment. So, somewhere there has to be drinking water available, and, it can’t all come from the preppers.
Another reason I say these judgments are mostly in the Middle East and the Mediterranean Basin is because this area is the focus of Biblical History. It is this region that all of the Bible’s narrative takes place. Specifically, its where the Prophets of God and the Son of God were killed. Now think about verses 5 and 6 and you’ll see why this makes sense, read verses 5 and 6, “…”
This mighty angel of the waters declares that they shed the blood of God’s people, so, because He is just, God gives them blood to drink. Throughout the Tribulation Satan, the Antichrist and all who take his mark on themselves and serve him will hunt, torture and kill with great delight those who are faithful to Jesus. Chapter 12 ended by showing us how Satan turned his attention away from pursuing Israel during the last half of the Tribulation to the Gentile believers who are faithful to Jesus. Revelation 17 says, “I saw that the woman (that is, the great prostitute, the mother of all prostitutes, the woman who rides the beast) was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who testimony to Jesus.” Everyone on earth during the Tribulation will be delirious with committing violence against believers – shedding their blood. So, since they want to “get drunk” on the blood of the saints, God will literally turn their drinking water into blood.
We must keep this thought continuously in mind: God’s judgments are issuing forth from His justness. Welling up out of His perfect righteousness is His wrath towards evil. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, blood for blood. People will be paid back exactly as they deserve. The crushing blows given to earth are precisely because God is perfectly good.
Question: What are you drinking today? Jesus said that He gives the water of life. Is that what you have been drinking from? He brings that pure, life-giving water that refreshes, quenches and brings eternal life. Or are you drinking from bitter waters? Poisoned waters that are killing you. “Come!” Revelation 22:17 says, “Whoever is thirsty let him come; and whoever wishes let him take the free gift of the water of life.”
The Fourth Bowl (v8-9)
Then the fourth bowl is dispensed, verses 8-9 say, “…”
Chapter 7 gave that wonderful promise for those who are faithful to Jesus. Verses 16-17 say, “Never again will they hunger or thirst. They sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For that Lamb at the center of their throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” We might say that God is going to scorch the earth-dwelling rebels who hate Him with the sun’s heat because they’ve persecuted His people and left them exposed out in the elements as they’ve had to run for their lives.
The order is logical. You’re dying of thirst because you have no drinking water, and, then God turns up the heat from the sun. Literally. And now you’re not only thirsty, you’re literally being seared by the sun’s “fierce heat”. Remember, you have no water to drink or take a dip in to find relief.
Now its in this fourth judgment we come to an important feature of this chapter: the inhabitants of the earth curse God. They curse God 3 times (verse 9, 11 and 21) in this chapter alone. Notice why they curse God: because He has power over the plagues they were suffering. They know everything they are going through is coming from God. They won’t speculate about the causes of all these plagues during the Tribulation. They’ll know its God. Remember starting back in chapter 6:15-17 they knew, “they cried out to the rocks and the mountains, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the Him who sits on the throne and from tehwrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come and who can stand?” They know. They know Who is behind their suffering. They know its God. And it will harden their hearts towards God even more. And make it easier for them to join forces with Satan and the Antichrist (chapter 13).
Of course, it’s not like they’re innocent and then God just decides for no good reason to send these plagues on them. If we’ve seen anything in Revelation its the utter degenerate and depraved state of mankind – the unrelenting,unbending, unstoppable desire for wickedness has been clearly on display. Verse 9 says “They refused to repent”. Verse 11 says, “they refused to repent of what they had done.” Chapter 9:20-21 states categorically “they did not repent…they did not stop….Nor did they repent…” Romans 1:32 says, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
The people of the world absolutely will not turn from their evil, from their idolatry, from their wickedness that they are so in love with, no matter how many plagues God sends and how many warnings are given from human and angels alike. God has been proving this whole time that they will not repent no matter what. Like Pharoah kept hardening his heart no matter what Moses did to him and his nation, the people of the earth will only harden their hearts more towards God the harder He punishes them.
It’s an interesting thought: they would rather suffer these plagues than give glory to God. If they repented and gave glory to God they wouldn’t suffer. But as far as they’re concerned, being scorched by the sun and having no drinking water is better than worshipping God. As far as God is concerned, so be it.
What about you? Are you weighing the choice of whether or not to get right with God? No one is right with God without Jesus Christ. Have you come to Him? Only He can save your soul and usher you into a world of God’s kindness and grace. Only He can give you shelter from the heat of the wrath that is coming.