The fourth vision in Revelation describes the "bowls of wrath" and is contained within Chapters 15 and 16. In the very first verse we read that the wrath of God is complete in these bowls:
Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete. (15:1)There are two implication to this completion:
1) Everything that follows Chapter 16 must be a reiteration or recapitulation of what comes before Chapter 16. This will be shown to be true in later reports.
2) The "bowls of wrath" indicate the end of the age described throughout this series of reports: the Gospel Age.It has already been shown that the Gospel Age, or the time (1260 days) that the Two Witnesses preach, is the entire A.D. era.
And during that same time period, God's judgments will increase in frequency and intensity until the end of the age. This increasing effect was described by Jesus as "travails" or "birth pangs" and is described in the three judgment phases as such:
1) 7 seals = 1/4
2) 7 trumpets = 1/3
3) 7 bowls = all (who are marked by the beast)
In other words, there is complete harmony between Jesus' words in the Gospels and in the visions in Revelation.
It is important to keep in mind here that the bowls do not represent a new set of judgments, but rather the progression of judgments as indicated below:The bowls represent the final phase as indicated in Verse 1. Also notice that the 6th seal, trumpet and bowl are all parallel time periods (now). It may be interesting for the reader to think of the progression between seals, trumpets, to bowls in the context of a military action; take a submarine commander, for example:
The commander receives an order (scroll) to fire a missile (judgment). He opens the order (seal) and reads that he is to fire the missile. He then gives he order (trumpet) to his men. His men fire (pour) the missile (bowl of wrath).
The above illustration shows an analogous progression of events culminating in the same exact outcome: the commander is ordered to fire a missile, he then gives the order to fire the missile, then his men fire the missile.
In Verse 2, we again see a preview of the saints in Heaven:
And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.The message here is clear:
“Great and marvelous are Your works,
Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the saints!
Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested.” (vv.3-4)
A) 1st. Earth: loathsome sores.
So the first went and poured out his bowl upon the earth, and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.Remember here that the bowl judgments are not limited as before, but only affect those who "worship the beast". This point is crucial to understand the vast symbolism of these bowls.
B) 2nd. Sea: blood.
Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.C) 3rd. Fresh water: blood.
Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.Here the reader will notice the brief interlude sung by this angel:
“You are righteous, O Lord,
The One who is and who was and who is to be,
Because You have judged these things.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
And You have given them blood to drink.
For it is their just due.” (vv. 5-6)
D) 4th. Sun: men scorched.
Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire.This bowl is a good example of the point made above concerning the judgment now affecting all men but those sealed by God. If the sun were literally scorching all men on earth, then it would literally scorch all men on earth, just like all hot days affect everyone Christian and atheist alike. So, for those who would like to see this as a solar flare for shock value during interviews, there really is no basis for reading this as literal.
A lot of paper and ink has been expended trying to explain what exactly these first four bowls represent, but this is a futile effort, for they simply mean that man's whole environment, the world, has become hostile to him, just as was described in the trumpets report. This point is entirely consistent with Scripture: those who are not sealed by God are part of this hostile world and therefore subject to its judgments. Or, simply, worldliness = death.
E) 5th. Beast: darkness.
Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.While the first four bowls refer to man's environment, the 5th bowl directly affects the beast and his kingdom, or the government--the system of the world.
F) 6th. Euphrates: dried up.
Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared.Bowl 6 is when things begin to get really interesting. It is also the point where the seal, trumpet and bowl timelines meet; this is when spiritual warfare becomes rampant.
The Euphrates River is symbolic of a protective barrier; when it "dries up" the riverbed can be crossed and the protection is no longer there. And what is coming across at this point:
And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. (vv. 13-14)The drying up of the Euphrates River indicates an increase in demonic activity and spiritual warfare.
This activity is pretty obvious these days.
In the next verse, Jesus speaks directly to remind us:
“Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” (v. 15)It seems that here Jesus is telling the reader that when you see that condition of increased demonic activity, be watchful for His return.
Then, right after Jesus' words, we find the much misinterpreted verse regarding Armageddon:
And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.The "they" here being the spirits of demons and kings of the earth. Now, it is commonly available knowledge that there is no "Armageddon" or Har-Megiddo, or Mount Megiddo. There is an approximately 70 foot hill in the Valley of Jezreel where many battles were fought. John's usage here of a partially-literal place indicates for us that this is a spiritual battle--as is consistent with the previous verses concerning demonic activity.
A more modern equivalent of "Armageddon" would be something like "Mount Waterloo", or, an iconic battle embellished upon to mean something more.
And this we now understand is to be the final battle before the Second Coming.
G) 7th. Air: earth shaken.
Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” (v. 17)This is quite conclusive: the end.
And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. (vv. 18-19)The "great city" mentioned above is the Jerusalem-Sodom-Egypt "city" mentioned back in Chapter 11:
And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. (v. 8)This three-part city will then be broken into three parts, meaning that all the nations of the world will be destroyed.
Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great.The end.
As mentioned previously, anything following this end vision concerning events on earth simply must be a recapitulation of events prior to the 7th bowl of wrath. The next report discussing the fifth vision will show just that.