Revelation 16 Commentary

Pouring out the seven bowls (16:1-21)

The bowl judgments are similar to the trumpet judgments, only much more severe. The judgments announced by the trumpets affected only one third of the various areas (see 8:7-12), but here the judgments are total and final. The first judgment brings disease on the earth, the second death in the sea, and the third death in the waters on the land (16:1-4). God acts justly by inflicting the persecutors with punishments suited to the evil they have done (5-6). The voice from the altar confirms that the judgments are God’s answer to the prayers of his persecuted people (7; cf. 6:9-10; 8:1-5; 9:13-14; 14:18).

When the angel pours out the fourth bowl there is unbearable heat, but instead of repenting, people curse God all the more (8-9). The fifth plague brings darkness and pain, but people still will not change. Earlier, in the series of trumpet judgments, people had refused to repent (see 9:20-21), but now they also curse God, indicating an increasing hardness against him (10-11).

With the outpouring of the sixth bowl, demonic spirits from the satanic trinity entice the rulers of the world to make war with one another. What results is not just a battle between nations, but the great day of battle for the Almighty himself when he destroys his enemies (12-14). Without warning God acts. The unexpectedness of his intervention is good reason for believers always to be prepared, so that they are not ashamed when he comes (15-16).

As with the seventh seal and the seventh trumpet, so with the seventh bowl there are flashes of lightning, peals of thunder and an earthquake (17-18; cf. 8:5; 11:19). Like the great city Babylon, the ungodly world has become so proud of its achievements and power that it has chosen to ignore God and build a civilization solely to suit itself. Therefore, like Babylon, it is destroyed in a terrible judgment from the all-powerful and all-holy God (19-21). (This judgment will be described in greater detail in Chapters 17 and 18.)

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