Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 2nd, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 16

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Verses 1-4

The First, Second and Third Bowl

Revelation 16:1. John hears how out of the smoke-filled temple “a loud voice” sounds. ‘Loud voice’ is literally ‘great voice’. In this chapter the word ‘great’ occurs often (Revelation 16:9; Revelation 16:12Revelation 16:14; Revelation 16:18Revelation 16:19; Revelation 16:21). The unrighteousness is great and God’s wrath is great. Great and extensive is the area of the unrighteousness, great and severe are therefore the means of God’s wrath.

The loud voice commands “the seven angels” to start to take action. They were to go out, each of them to the territory on earth that was assigned to them. There they have to pour out “the seven bowls of the wrath of God”. ‘To pour out’ is a sudden and complete effusion of the content on the objects of God’s wrath. In a way of speaking the wrath of God here does not consist of a tap with a stick to correct a wrong act, but of a complete overpowering and overthrow of the evil.

One bowl after the other is emptied by just one move. The plagues follow one another in a great pace. Probably these judgments that spare nothing and no one, will be finished within a few days. Therefore they will not be announced, like it was with the two previous series of plagues (seals and trumpets). They happen without any warning, because God has already warned enough (Proverbs 29:1).

Revelation 16:2. The first four bowls look a lot like the first four trumpets in chapter 8. The plagues of the first four bowls strike the same areas as the first four trumpets did. However, the difference is that the trumpet plagues struck a limited part of the earth (a third part), while the bowl plagues have no limit.

In order to emphasize the speed of action, it is not said ‘and the first angel went’, but “so the first went”. You find that also in each of the next cases. The first pours out his bowl on the earth. That is not the earth in the broad sense of Revelation 16:1, but in the limited sense of ‘the dry land’, because in the following there is also mention of other areas on earth (sea, rivers).

When the angel has poured out his bowl the consequences immediately become visible. The people who are related to the beast and worship his image, get a foul and incurable sore as a mark. This couldn’t be just a small sore that you may put a plaster on, but it is an enormous, striking sore that is incurable. A sore is an outburst of inner uncleanness that goes together with pain and that changes the outer beauty into repulsiveness.

To people who sacrifice everything for a perfect body, regarding both health and shape, this is a disaster of unprecedented size. They have done everything to keep their body in top condition and now by one act of God’s wrath their body turns into a wreck, a pitiful example of misery and pain. Such as satan struck Job with loathsome sores (Job 2:7), God now strikes the followers of the beast with them (cf. Exodus 9:10; Deuteronomy 28:27; Deuteronomy 28:35).

Revelation 16:3. Without a renewed command from heaven – the command in Revelation 16:1 is one command for all seven angels – the second angel empties his bowl. The area that was given to him is “the sea”. The emptying of his bowl has the direct result that the sea becomes “blood”. However, it is not blood that flows, which is still running, but it is blood that is clotted. The blood in a dead person is not running anymore. The sea turns into a clotted mass. Everything in it that is alive cannot possibly move anymore and dies immediately on its spot. The stench of the whole will be terrible and unbearable (cf. Exodus 7:19-Ecclesiastes :).

The spiritual application is to be seen as a symbol to all nations where there is no order (in contrast to the earth as a symbol for an ordered whole). Everyone lives for himself, authority is not being respected. At the emptying of the second bowl this conduct will become a plague. In this way each individual will be left to his own, that it will be no more possible for him to be reached or to reach another person. As a result of a full spiritual desensitization, there is absolutely no form of communication anymore. Loneliness prevails. As dead as they already were in the spiritual sense concerning their relation with God, now death has also entered in their relation to their neighbor.

Revelation 16:4. In case there might still be any hope that fresh water can run to the sea from the rivers, which may cause it to live again, then this hope is erased by the third angel. The bowl that he pours out, strikes “the rivers” that they become blood. This also happens to the “springs of water” that stand in themselves. There is no water to be drawn for one’s own refreshment or for one to refresh another.

The water has totally turned into blood. Every possibility to bring life where death is, is cut off. When man is isolated from God and from his neighbor, he is fully subjected to the influence of death, without any alternative.

Now read Revelation 16:1-4 again.

Reflection: What do you find compelling in the description of these bowl judgments?

Verses 5-11

Testimony, the Fourth and Fifth Bowl

Revelation 16:5. After the third had emptied his bowl and before the fourth empties his bowl, the voice of another angel is to be heard. He is furthermore indicated as “the angel of the waters”. The waters seem to be the area that was given to him by God in order to act there (cf. Revelation 7:1; Revelation 14:18). In this way he will be in a special way in relation to the second and the third angel. The angel speaks to God and says to Him that from His judgments it appears that He is “righteous”. The angel agrees to its lawfulness.

He also recognizes that from God’s judgments it appears that He is Who He has always been already, the One Who is and Who was. God’s judgments over the world at the end of history are not different than His judgments in the beginning as seen in the deluge and over Egypt. He is not an unsteady ruler with changing standards all the time. In His judgments He is all the way consistent.

Revelation 16:6. Concerning the bowl judgments God acts according to the principle of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (Exodus 21:24). You may also say that man reaps what he has sown (Galatians 6:7). The angel gives an expression of that by telling that those who have shed blood also have had to drink blood in both previous judgments. Just as they have shed blood, just like that blood came out of the bowls which caused their death.

The words “they deserve it” are sometimes used in a positive sense (Revelation 3:4; Luke 20:35), but also in a negative sense. A person also receives the judgment that he ‘is due’. He who has shed “the blood of saints and prophets” has clearly shown that he hates everything pertaining to God (‘saints’) and that reminds him of Him (‘prophets’). In that way he has got rid of every blessing that God was still giving through His saints and prophets. In that way you make yourself due to the judgment yourself.

In a spiritual sense God provided His people with His blessing by His prophets. But these ‘rivers’ were rejected by them, which caused them to change to blood. Also now all ‘rivers’ are being rejected and therefore they are changed into rivers of blood. God’s Word and His institutions were given to be a blessing. But people got rid of them.

The result is that selflessness turns into self-assertion, the submissiveness of children to their parents changes into rebellion, the exclusive love of the husband for his wife in marriage turns into feelings of being crushed and people start to live in alternative forms like co-habitation and homosexual relationships; the submission of the woman has now been considered to be slavery to which feminism opposes; euthanasia becomes a form of respect towards older people; abortion is being committed out of respect towards life; obedience to principalities and submission of employees are being answered by rights. All virtues of God are an abomination to the modern autonomous man. God will judge him in accordance to that.

Revelation 16:7. After the angel of the rivers John is also hearing how the altar agrees with a “yes” to the truthfulness and the righteousness of God’s judgments. The altar addresses the Lord Jesus to Whom the whole judgment is given (John 5:22-Isaiah :) and Who at the same time is God Almighty. This altar refers to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus and the redemption of all believers. God’s righteousness has never been shown more clearly than in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. He went through the judgment over the sins of all who believe in Him.

Therefore they are free from all the judgments that go over the earth like a scourge. But all who have rejected His sacrifice will be struck and perish by the scourge. The serious oracle goes out of the altar that God’s judgment over the stubborn unbelievers will be as truthful and righteous as the judgment that went over the Lord Jesus for the sake of those who believe in Him.

Revelation 16:8. Then the wrath of God addresses “the sun”, when “the fourth” angel pours his bowl on it. The result is that the sun will be burning in such a way that its beams become a fire which causes men to be burned (cf. Malachi 4:1). There is no sun protection oil that can possibly protect anyone against this burning sun, even if the oil has the highest protection factor. This fire is a harbinger of hell.

To be applied spiritually, the sun represents great rulers. The “men” are the unbelievers. During the great tribulation those rulers are hostile to God. While the people were thinking that these rulers sought their best interest, these rulers will due to the fourth bowl turn into merciless rulers who turn against their subjects and persecute and consume them with satanic pleasure. They did not want the gentle yoke of Him Who said that He is meek and humble of heart. Now an iron yoke is imposed on them that oppresses them without compassion (cf. Deuteronomy 28:48).

Revelation 16:9. The heat will cause an enormous pain. They know that the plagues come from God and they will not try to find a logic explanation for it anymore, like it happens today at all natural disasters. The people however refuse to admit that God speaks clearly to them in these natural disasters that they may repent themselves. Enormous physical pains or heavy inner torments or both will drive them out to God. However, they do not come to God to confess their sins, but to blaspheme Him.

Against their better judgment they blame Him for all misfortune. Their aversion to God comes out in all their intensity in those tragic circumstances. They have been indoctrinated and brainwashed by the beast in such a way that it doesn’t occur to them to give God glory. The propaganda of the beast (Revelation 13:6) has worked its disastrous effect in its followers. They have never wanted to repent themselves and they still do not want to now. The future propaganda of the beast is casting its shadows already. Through the newspaper, radio, television and internet more and more expressions and programs appear in which the aversion to God is woven. Whoever preaches the (biblical) gospel, experiences that people become more and more harsh and unreachable.

Revelation 16:10. “The fifth” angel pours out “his bowl on the throne of the beast”, which means on the center of his power. The result is a darkness that extends itself from this center over his whole kingdom. The darkness makes you think of the darkness in Egypt, the ninth and second-last plague (Ex 10:21-22). With the fully-blown darkness it is impossible to take one step, because of the missing of any form of orientation and communication.

In that darkness man is fully delivered to himself. He doesn’t know where he is, doesn’t see any outcome and can go nowhere for help. In this darkness people have no distraction of the pains that torture them. In great despair and at the same time with undiminished hatred they “gnawed their tongues because of pain”. Earlier they were saying with arrogance who was able to make war with the beast (Revelation 13:4; Revelation 19:19). Here is God’s response.

The beast received his throne from the dragon, which is satan (Revelation 13:2). With the super high intelligence of the beast, his knowledge and insight, it looked like the light on the world began to shine brightly and the economy was flourishing again. All crushing Christian truths have been rejected as darkness. But now here the moment has come that all the bragging about higher light and higher knowledge is not only put into the shadow by God, but it is fully covered in darkness.

When God reveals the truth it means darkness to everyone who has disconnected Him. He makes the light that has been rejected to become darkness (Matthew 6:23). They will not be able to know where they are or where they should go to. They will not even see any neighbor anymore. In this total isolation the soul is alone with himself and eats himself up in hatred, envy, bitterness and wormwood.

Revelation 16:11. “Their pains” and “their sores” are a reason for the people to blaspheme God. They blame Him for that. Instead of repenting they persevere in their sinful works. Psychologists and politicians may draw people’s attention through conferences, in order to explain their reactions. Every explanation, how illogical it may be, is better than admitting that you are a sinner and that you are to repent. They refuse to give up anything of their debauched life and they rather choose to die than to bow their knees under the final plagues of God.

Now read Revelation 16:5-11 again.

Reflection: Why do the people refuse to repent, while they are being tortured by the judgments of God?

Verses 12-21

The Sixth and Seventh Bowl

Revelation 16:12. It is “the sixth” angel’s turn to pour out his bowl. The target of the content of his bowl is “the great river, the Euphrates”. The Euphrates river is the natural border between the east and the west. This plague caused the Euphrates river to become dried up. This in turn paves the way for the eastern powers (“the kings from the east”) in order to attack the restored Roman empire. Hereby you could think of countries like India, Indonesia, China and Japan. This is about the situation in which the Western-European armies have come to help Israel because Israel is threatened by the king of the north.

Revelation 16:13. At this moment John gets a glance at the secret actions of the trinity of the ungodliness, “the dragon … the beast … the false prophet”. “Out of the mouth” of each of them comes an unclean spirit. These “unclean spirits” look “like frogs”. ‘Out of the mouth’ means that propaganda is being spread. The content of the propaganda is unclean. The symbol, the frog, is very fitting, for it is an unclean animal (Leviticus 11:10; Leviticus 11:41). Only one more time frogs are mentioned in the Scripture and that is in relation with the second plague over Egypt (Exodus 8:2-2 Chronicles :; Psalms 78:45; Psalms 105:30). They live in marshes and are most audible in the darkness of the night, which also fits with this symbol for the demonically inspired propaganda.

Uncleanness has become a trademark. Hands full of money is made with uncleanness. The many millions (!) of pornographic internet sites of which the number daily increases, prove the sensitivity of man to particularly this kind of propaganda. The advertising industry is full of it. That the unholy trinity chooses this form of propaganda makes it very clear how much man has become a creature that only lives for the satisfaction of his lusts.

Revelation 16:14. Just promise men to get unbridled liberties and you assuredly win them for a case against God and His Christ. With this message the “spirits of demons” – for the unclean spirits are demons – go out and get to work. They will perform “signs”, which will make their message more easily to be accepted. Their mission is to make “the kings of the whole world” to agree with their intention. That intention is to make war against God and His Christ. But as crafty and deceptive as demons have always been, they will surely present their plan otherwise, perhaps even as a peace-mission. After all, peace is necessary in the Middle-East, right?

Revelation 16:15. The dark scene is interrupted by a word of the Lord Jesus for the believers who are fleeing from the beast. This statement is intended to exhort them in that turbulent time to remain expecting the Lord and to remain vigilant. They must not allow themselves to be deceived by all events and especially not by the deceiving speech. For those who are not prepared for His return the Lord will come as a thief, which means unexpectedly and undesired.

For the third time in this book the word “blessed” is sounding. It is meant as a consolation and encouragement for the living saints. While under the influence of the ‘frogs’ the people will dress and behave themselves more and more shameless, the saints will distinguish themselves by dressing and behaving themselves honorably. The spiritual application is that the people of the world are walking naked, meaning that everyone sees what the flesh is capable of. Believers have received the garments of salvation by which the flesh can be kept in the death.

Revelation 16:16. With the word “and” the thread is picked up again with Revelation 16:14, the gathering of the armies. Here you see that in reality God gathers the hostile armies and not the spirits of demons of Revelation 16:14 that think that they have organized it themselves through their deception. The place where these armies are gathered is called by its Hebrew name. “Har-Magedon” means ‘the mountain where troops gather’. In that place the Western-European armies will be defeated by the Lord Jesus. The report of that battle, or better said, judgment, is described in chapter 19 (Revelation 19:19-Ecclesiastes :).

Revelation 16:17. Finally it is “the seventh” and last angel’s turn. Under the previous bowl judgments the whole society has been already destroyed in all of its parts. But there is one territory left and that is “the air”. The last bowl is poured out on it. The air that the people breathe will be suffocating. They will suffer respiratory disorders.

In the spiritual sense the air is the atmosphere that is ruled by satan (Ephesians 2:2). The spiritual air that people breathe will then totally be under the judgment of God. All human relations that the most ungodly person needs, in order to have a meaningful life (family, friends, working place) will then be disappeared. Nothing will be left except for a desperate loneliness in a hopeless environment, without any prospects. This too is as it were a foretaste of hell.

In this way the judgments of God have come to an end. A loud voice announces that God’s holiness (the voice comes from the temple) and God’s righteousness (the voice comes from the throne) have been fully satisfied. With the cry “it is done!” it is indicated that all God’s intentions with His judgments have been fully accomplished. There is nothing more that still has to come under the judgment.

Revelation 16:18. What still remains to follow is a description of the symptoms that accompany the seventh bowl and the consequences of pouring it out. “Flashes of lightning” underline that the judgment comes from heaven and that it will come suddenly and will be unstoppable. The lightning go together with all kinds of noises or “sounds” and with “peals of thunder”. Thunder indicate the powerful speaking of God in the judgment.

This impressive speech from heaven finds a resonance on the earth in an earthquake of such a size that puts all earlier earthquakes in the shadow (Haggai 2:7). This last earthquake will radically make an end to everything that still offered man some guidance.

Revelation 16:19. The earthquake will strike all living environments wherever men may find themselves. First “the great city” is mentioned. It is not quite clear which city is meant by that. According to some interpreters it is about political Rome and according to others it refers to Jerusalem (Zechariah 13:8-1 Samuel :). There are two indications that to my opinion it especially relates to Jerusalem. The first is that earlier Jerusalem is called like that (Revelation 11:8). The second is that it is said here that the city is divided “into three parts”, which means that the city is not totally destroyed, but is partly spared (Zechariah 1:17).

“The cities of the nations” are all cities outside Israel. These are the living communities of people. In the past such cities have always been reconstructed after disasters. That will not be the case here. All rebellion of the human civilization against the government of heaven has seemed meaningless. Finally every living community completely collapses.

As final city “Babylon the great” is mentioned. There you have the religious Rome, the spiritual power, the system that has been delivering religion to an ungodly whole. That system is remembered before God separately as a special object to which His wrath is addressed. Babylon, the roman-catholic system, has arrogated itself to be God’s representative on the earth and in this way has dishonored God’s Name the most.

Revelation 16:20. Also the places where people fled to, in order to escape all the disasters, will fall in the earthquake. There will be no more hiding place to be found. All the living ones, probably on their way to an island or a mountain to seek a safe place, will directly be exposed to the closing part of the last plague.

Revelation 16:21. The last consequence of the seventh bowl are fatal “huge hailstones … from heaven” (cf. Job 38:22-Isaiah :). The weight of the hailstones is mentioned. The weight of a hailstone is converted to about fifty kilos. The last drops from the last bowl take the form of these enormous hailstones that fall down upon the people at high speed and a devastating gravity. The only response of the hardened man who is
tortured by sores,
burned by the sun,
clothed in darkness,
deprived of every guidance by the great earthquake and
struck by an unprecedented hail
is that he blasphemes God. Here it is no more said that the people did not repent (Revelation 16:9; Revelation 16:11). With cursing they clench their fist to heaven and sink down to death.

Now read Revelation 16:12-21 again.

Reflection: Which warnings do the two last bowl judgments consist for you?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Revelation 16". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/revelation-16.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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