The Seven Bowls

Revelation 15-16

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2012

We have been studying the Book of Revelation for a long time. We have been studying the Tribulation Period. It will be a future period of judgment on the earth in which God will judge all the followers of the beast.

People who worship the Antichrist and take his mark in their hand or forehead will face sends all kinds of judgments on earth. We will be looking at the bowl judgments today.

We spent three weeks looking at the last chapter. Today, I would like to cover two chapters at once. They are short and they go together.

Revelation 15 is the shortest chapter in the book. It is only eight verses long. As we move from Revelation 14 to Revelation 15 the setting changes. Revelation 14 deals with earth. Revelation 15 takes place in heaven.

The chapter begins, “I saw IN HEAVEN another great and marvelous sign”. It is the third sign that John saw in heaven. The first sign that John saw in heaven was a pregnant woman clothed with the son (12:1, 3). The second sign he saw in heaven was a giant red dragon with seven heads and hen horns (12:3).

What is the third sign in heaven that John sees?  They are what Chuck Swindoll calls “seven superbowls” (to use a football analogy)[1].  The action all begins in the God’s temple in heaven.

[1] Chuck Swindoll, “The Final Seven Super Bowls” (spoken recording).

Nature of the Seven Bowls

1. The bowls involve judgment

These aren’t mixing bowls. They are judgment bowls. These bowls are filled with wrath. They are “seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God” (15:7). They are called “the seven bowls of God’s wrath” (16:1).

In 5:8 we saw some bowls filled with incense and the prayers of the saints. These bowls are filled with wrath. The bowl judgments are not just natural disasters or accidents of nature. They are divine judgments. Here a bowl is used as a symbol of judgment.

How can judgment be placed in a bowl? It is an apocalyptic picture.  They do not just picture judgment, they picture the FINAL judgment of the Tribulation Period. They wrap up the final events of world history before Jesus returns. These are called “the seven last plagues —last, because with them God’s wrath is completed” (15:1).

The bowl judgments bring us to the end of the Tribulation Period. They culminate in the Battle of Armageddon which ends with the return of Christ in Revelation 19. Revelation 17-18 is not chronological. It will be the last chance for people to repent before Jesus returns.

The judgments will take the form of plagues. They are called plagues in the chapter (15:1, 8; 16:9, 21). What exactly is a plague? The Bible uses the term a little differently than we do today. We have heard of the Black Plague and the Bubonic plague. What does it refer to?

We use it to refer to a sudden outbreak of a deadly infectious disease caused by bacteria that is easily spread to humans. It is rare in the US. It was more common in the Middle Ages and living in unsanitary conditions. Here it is used to describe something more than a epidemic disease. It describes a widespread calamity (the Egyptian Plagues).

Bowls and the Plagues of Egypt

In fact many of the bowl judgments resemble some of the Plagues of Egypt.  One of the Plagues of Egypt was the Plague of Boils.  The sixth plague of Egypt involved a skin disease on both people and animals (Exodus 9:8-9).  The first bowl judgment involves boils.

One of plagues in Egypt involved darkness.  The Ninth Plague of Egypt was the plague of darkness that lasted for three days and was so bad it was a darkness that could be felt (Exodus 10:21-22).  One of the seven bowls will involve darkness (16:10).  It may not involve darkness over the whole planet, just over the capital city of the beast

One of the plagues of Egypt involved turning water into blood.  Jesus turned water into wine but Moses turned water into blood.  He turned the Nile into blood.  That was the first plague of Egypt (Exodus 7:15-19) and two of the bowl judgments turn water into blood.

In the bowl judgments, not only does the river turn into blood, the sea turns to blood and the fountains of water (the springs and wells).

That is the second and third bowl judgments (16:3-4).  Revelation 16 describes three frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet (16:13) and that calls to mind the Egyptian plague of frogs (Exodus 8:1-4), the Second Plague of Egypt.

2. The bowl judgments come from God

The bowls result in some terrible judgments. One of them causes terrible sores on people. The text says that they are ugly and painful (16:2). Not only are they painful, they even look disgusting. Another one of them results in the sun scorching people with fire (16:8). The fourth bowl judgment is the exact opposite of the fourth trumpet judgment. The fourth trumpet judgment resulted in darkness.

The fourth bowl judgment resulted in bad sun burns. In one case the sun was turned down and in the other case it was cranked up and you have to stay inside. It will result in a heat wave. We are having a heat wave right now in the US and some people have died from it.

You go outside after the fourth bowl is poured out and you burn up. It will be global warming but it will not come from man but from God. These terrible disasters actually come FROM GOD. Many people think that good things come from God and terrible things must come from Satan but here are a bunch of bad things that come from God.

Isaiah 45:7 says, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things”. The KJV says, “I create evil”. That is a bad translation. The Hebrew word ra can mean evil. In many passages, it means “evil”.  That is its most common usage in the Bible but the context is not dealing with moral evil. The opposite is not righteousness but peace (shalom). The way most people interpret

Isaiah 45:7 is that God allows disaster but he doesn’t cause them. There is only one problem. It says “I CREATE disaster” and the particle in Hebrew is active, not passive.God does not just allow them to take place. He orders them to take place. They come from God. They originate from heaven. He is the one who causes them to take place and controls them (16:9).

These bowls are poured out by angels from heaven. They do not come from Satan. They are not poured out by demons but by seven righteous angels, who are clothed in pure, bright and shining clothes (15:6).  The KJV reads that these angels wore “golden girdles” (15:6).  It must have been translated by an old lady.  Modern versions read, “golden sashes around their chests” (NIV, ESV).

Angels are often used by God as instruments of judgment. Seven angels blew the seven trumpets and now seven angels pour out these bowl judgments on the earth. The angels were given a job to do and they did it. They did not pour out their bowls all at the same time but one at a time.

Where did theses angels get the bowls? They got them from another group of angels. The Bible teaches that there are several different kinds and categories of angels. The four living creatures, who are closest to the throne of God, give these angels a bowl (15:7).

They walk out of the temple with a bowl and they hear a LOUD VOICE from the temple saying, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth” (16:1). The voice comes from God. He is the one in the temple.

3. The bowls are the WORST series of Tribulation judgments

There are three series of judgments in Revelation (seals, trumpets and the bowls) and each one is worse than the one before. The bowl judgments are worse than the trumpet judgments and the trumpet judgments are worse than the seal judgments. That may be a little hard to imagine. One of the trumpet judgments was so bad and so painful that people tried to kill themselves.

Some of the bowl judgments do not seem that bad. What happens when the sixth bowl judgment is poured out? A river dries up? That sounds really scary but it is actually just in preparation for a military slaughter. It does not describe the actual battle of Armageddon, just preparation for it.

The bowl judgments may not be worse in severity or intensity but they are worse in extent. The effects of the seals and trumpets will be partial. The effects of the bowl judgments will be total. The seal judgments affected a fourth of the planet. The seals killed a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth (6:8).

The trumpet judgment affected a third of the planet. It resulted in a third of the earth and a third of the trees burned up, a third of sea creatures die, a third of the waters turned bitter and a third of the ships destroyed (8:7, 9, 11).

They also affected a third of the sun, moon and stars (8:12). The bowl judgments result in every living thing of the sea dying (16:3), not just a third of them. They affect all of the rivers and springs, (16:4), not just a third of them.

The bowl judgments end with lightening, thunder, a huge earthquake (like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth) and a hailstorm with hundred pound hailstone falling on people (16:18-20). The largest recorded hailstone in the US was about two pounds. This one will be about fifty times bigger.

4. The bowl judgments will be completely fair

There is nothing unfair here. Both saints and angels call these “righteous judgments” (15:4; 16:5, 7; cf. 19:2). When a natural disaster takes places today (like a flood, an earthquake, a tsunami) we feel sorry for the people who suffer. Sometime innocent children are affected. We do what we can to help those who are suffering. The angels and saints say that this judgment is just and they praise God for it.

This is very strange to many people today. We think of judgment as a sad thing. The angels are not crying that this is taking place. They are rejoicing. Why? Judgment is an act of God’s righteousness. It vindicates his name and demonstrates his glory. That is not popular today, even in the church to think that believers can draw comfort and rejoice from God’s judgment on unbelievers (15:1-4).

The lamb was worthy to take the book and open the seals (5:2). The wicked are “worthy” (KJV) to receive these judgments (16:16). It is the same word in Greek. They deserve these judgments. The punishment fits the crime. You reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7). This is part of the harvest law. What are so just about these judgments?

• This is a judgment of the wicked, not the righteous.

The innocent are not being punished, only the wicked. They are not random but targeted judgments. Natural disasters affect believers and unbelievers alike. They fall on both the righteous and the wicked. The bowl judgments fall ONLY on unbelievers.

They fall on the followers of the Antichrist (16:2). Painful sores started popping up on all who had the mark of the beast (16:1). They already had one ugly mark on them (the mark of the beast), so all of the other oozing festers all over their body will go right along with it.

• They shed the blood of the saints and now they have to drink blood from the rivers and waters.

Revelation 16:6 says, “For they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve”. That is why Moses turned the Nile River into blood because the Pharaoh was killing all of the baby Hebrew boys.

He had blood on his hands. They shed the blood of the saints and now they can’t find anything to drink but blood. The wicked poured out the blood of Christ’s servants and now God pours our judgment on them.



And I saw what looked like a sea of glass
mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea,
those who had been victorious over the beast
and his image and over the number of his name.
They held harps given them by God
and sang the song of Moses the servant of God
and the song of the Lamb (15:2-3)

There are two interesting lessons on worship that we can learn from Revelation 15.

1) They used musical instruments in worship

They have harps in their hands and a song of praise on their lips. The harps are interesting because many churches in the country are non-instrumental. Some branches of the Church of Christ, for example, not only do not use any musical instruments in church, they are against using any instruments in the worship service. All singing is done a cappella.

Why? They would argue that there is no command to do so in Scripture but that is not quite true because it is commanded in Psalm 150.

It is a logical fallacy. Just because something is not commanded in the NT does not mean that it is wrong. There is no prohibition either. We are not commanded to observe Christmas and celebrate the birth of Christ but it is not wrong.

Furthermore, since musical instruments are used in heaven to worship God, why shouldn’t they be used on earth? The twenty-four elders used a harp (5:8). The 144,000 used a harp (14:2) and now the overcomers of the beast use a harp (15:2). It is the third time in the book, we have seen instruments used in heavenly worship.

What is the Song of Moses and the Lamb?

In Revelation 15, we see another song of victory over God’s enemies. It is called “the song of Moses and the Lamb”. Most scholars believe that it does not refer to two songs but to one song.  They did not just play harps, they sang a song. What song did they sing?

They sang the song of Moses and the Lamb. The song of Moses is found in Exodus 15. It is the first song in the Bible. Revelation 15 is the last song in the Bible. Why are they singing this song? The 144,000 are described in Jewish terms. They are members of the twelve tribes of Israel and here they are singing a Jewish song. It is a very Jewish picture.

1. Revelation 15 mentions plagues (15:1).

That is what they are called.  This brings to mind the Ten Plagues of Egypt in the OT.

2. The Tribulation plagues harden hearts.

If you remember, the Plagues of Egypt only hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The terrible bowl judgments produce a similar result. When they fall on people, they do not repent. They get angry, curse and blaspheme God (16:9-11).

3. Revelation mentions a sea of glass glowing with Fire (15:2).

In Revelation 15, the saints are standing beside a heavenly Red Sea. There is clear Exodus typology in the passage.

4. Revelation 16 mentions the Euphrates River being dried up (16:12).

This brings to mind the drying up of the Red Sea in the Old Testament during the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

5.  Revelation 15 mentions people singing the Song of Moses (15:3).

The Song of Moses was a hymn of praise. After God miraculously delivered the Hebrews from the Egyptians and drowned Pharaoh’s armies in the Red Sea. They were so happy that Moses and the children of Israel broke out in a song (cf. Exodus 15:1-5).  They are not praising God for victory over Pharaoh but for victory over the Antichrist.

2) Their music was theological as well as personal

Lord God Almighty. JUST and TRUE are your WAYS,
King of the Ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord,
and bring glory to your name? For you alone are HOLY.
All nations will come and worship before you,
for your RIGHTEOUS ACTS have been revealed.”

The song they sang was not just personal, it was theological (15:3-4). Many of the music today is just personal. Take these lyrics from a Sonic Flood song:

I want to know You
I want to hear Your voice
I want to know You more
I want to touch You
I want to see Your face
I want to know You more

That is not a bad song but there is not a lot of theology in that song. There is theology in the Song of Moses and the Lamb.  Some have great words but terrible music. The message and words of some songs are great but the music is terrible.

Other songs have great music but terrible words.  That is how the music of people like Katie Perry and Lady Gaga is do popular.  Some of the lyrics of their songs are not good but it has such a good beat that people like it and are drawn in.

Some today separate music and theology. Many musicians do not seem to think that theology is that important. As a result, some hymns and some contemporary Christians music with some bad theology. Here are the lyrics to a famous old hymn.

Conquering now and still to conquer,
Rideth a King in His might,
Leading the host of all the faithful
Into the midst of the fight;
See them with courage advancing,
Clad in their brilliant array,
Shouting the name of their Leader,
Hear them exultingly say:
Not to the strong is the battle,
Not to the swift is the race;
Yet to the true and the faithful
Vict’ry is promised through grace.

That song has a great chorus and a catchy tune for those who like hymns. The only problem is that instead of singing about Jesus. It is all about the Antichrist.

Warning about Jesus’ Return

“Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed”

It ends with one exhortation. It is a rather strange passage. It is an exhortation to stay away and make sure that you are not naked when Jesus returns. What’s the point of the passage? The point is not to make sure you have your clothes on when Jesus returns.

The point is to be spiritually prepared and be ready when Jesus returns, because he will return like a thief in the night. Thieves do not announce when they come. People are always surprised when someone breaks into their house.

It is a warning concerning the coming of Christ at the Battle of Armageddon. Jesus will appear unexpectedly on a white horse followed by the armies of heaven. Some will be ready when he returns.

Many will not. Jesus said that he would come as a thief in the night (Revelation 3:3; Matthew 24:34-44). Peter and Paul said that the Day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night (I Thessalonians 5:2; II Peter 3:10).

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