Introduction: Though the book of Revelation contains horrendous descriptions of Great Tribulation, it’s strangely comforting to read because it describes the last gasp of the Evil One who has so plagued our lives. In chapter 16, we have the final series of judgments in the Great Tribulation.
V. 1 – The voice of God speaks in a loud voice, commanding the unleashing of the seven bowls of wrath. The adjective loud is mega (as in megaphone). It means intense or very strong. This prefix occurs 11 times in this chapter, indicating intensity. All these terms include the Greek word mega:
- v. 1 – loud voice
- v. 9 – intense heat
- v. 12 – great river
- v. 14 – great day of God
- v. 17 – loud voice
- v. 18 – severe earthquake
- v. 18 – tremendous earthquake
- v. 19 – great city
- v. 19 – Babylon the Great
- v. 21 – huge hailstones
- v. 21 – terrible plague
V. 2 – The word “wrath” is an attribute of God, and it refers to God’s moral response to evil. Something would be terribly wrong if God did not have a moral response to evil in the universe. The seven bowls of wrath represent the seven final judgments to be meted out on the earth prior to our Lord’s return. The first bowl is some kind of skin contamination. There will be a worldwide outbreak of some kind of contamination that affects the skin.
V. 3: The second blow is the contamination of the oceans and the loss of all marine line. For much of the summer we were transfixed by the Gulf Oil Spill, with millions of barrels of oil spewing up from an underground well. That’s nothing compared to contamination of the oceans at the end of history. The writer describes it very vividly: “the sea (will) turn into blood like that of a dead man.” I’m not sure this means literal blood; it refers to a red tide that totally contaminates the sea.
V. 4: Likewise the world’s freshwater will be contaminated.
V. 5-7: This imagery is no accident. It is a poetical form of justice, for the antichrist had shed the blood of the prophets and saints.
V. 8-9: The sun’s intensity will increase, causing catastrophic situations on earth. There will be great changes in the world’s climates. Interestingly, officials inside the Obama administration want to change the way we talk about global warming. They want to use the phrase “global climate disruption.” Well, Revelation 16 predicts that there will come an intense time of global climate disruption.
V. 10-11: The world is plunged into darkness. This might refer to a worldwide power failure, or it could refer to the darkness caused by nuclear war. The website Wikipedia, in its entry about nuclear war, said that even a relatively contained regional nuclear war between two smaller countries would produce as many direct fatalities as World War I and disrupt the global climate for a decade or more. In a regional nuclear conflict between two opposing nations in the subtropics, as much as five million tons of soot would be released and would result in a change of temperature of several decrees all around the world for many years.
V. 12: As all this happens, vast armies from Asia will be marching toward the Middle East as the antichrist summons the world’s military to defeat and destroy the nation of Israel. According to the book of Joshua, the Euphrates River is the boundary between the Holy Land and Asia. This passage says that the Euphrates will dry up to allow these armies to march without hindrance toward Israel. When John wrote these words, it must have seemed inconceivable. But now the nation of Turkey has built immense dams across the upper Euphrates Rivers, and at times the water flow has already been disrupted.
V. 13-14: The evil trinity (the devil, antichrist, and false prophet) now release the remainder of the demons held up in reserve. These are three frog-demons and they deceive the world leaders and the military generals, persuading them to gather for the Battle of Armageddon. The word “Armageddon” comes from the Hebrew for Mount (Har) Megiddo. This is a vast fertile valley in central Israel, north of Jerusalem. It has been called the world’s most perfect battleground.
V. 15: This is the most remarkable verse in the chapter. Here Christ breaks into the conversation. It’s as though He has been listening silently. But He can keep silent no longer. He interrupts. He speaks. He warns us He is coming quickly and that we should keep our clothes (our righteous acts) on.
V. 16: The world’s military forces gather at Armageddon. Probably the military command post will be at Armageddon. The armies will be stretched out for hundreds of miles.
V. 17-19: The final bowl of wrath begins with the greatest earthquake the world has ever known. The antichrist’s world capital of Babylon is split into three parts. The great cities of the world will collapse.
V. 20: Tsunamis will follow the earthquakes, engulfing the islands of the oceans.
V. 21: The chapter ends with a description of yet another climate phenomenon—giant hailstones.
Conclusion: Think of the apologetic value of prophecy. Just as the Old Testament predictions of Christ’s first coming were fulfilled perfectly, so will the prophecies of His return. The descriptions in this chapter must have seemed inconceivable to the people of John’s day, but now we can easily visualize each of them coming true. The world is catching up to the book of Revelation.