Scene 5 of 7. “God’s judgment, seven bowls.” (chapters 15-18) We begin scene 5 in chapter 15. These final judgments of God are referred to as the bowl judgments. John specifically notes that these are the last judgments, completing God’s wrath. These seven judgments are the result of the sounding of the seventh trumpet and they are more severe than all the proceeding judgments. While the seven seals affected a quarter of the earth and the seven trumpets affected a third of the earth, the seven bowls act upon the entire earth.
In preparation for the bowl judgments John witnesses a large contingent of people, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image AND over the number of its name. Each member of this vast victorious army received a harp and they sing a song: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations (verse 3-4).”
In verse five John sees the “Ark of the Covenant” – and it was opened. The “Ark of the Covenant” has not been missing for 3000-years, it has been safe and sound in the heavenly throne room of God! However, John is not given time to ponder the meaning of the open “Ark” because seven angels enter his field of vision. Each angel is dressed in shining linen with a golden sash, and each is given a golden bowl filled with the wrath of God. Heaven is placed in “lock down” and no one can enter into God’s presence until the work of these seven angels is complete (verse 8b).
In chapter 16 the seven angels are given the order to, “go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath upon the earth.” While each bowl is poured out in succession, there is nothing to indicate much of a pause between them:
Bowl 1, verse 16:2, causes festering sores on those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.
Bowl 2, verse 16:3, causes all of the seas of the earth to become blood like that of a dead person. The blood of a dead person would be thick and dark. It would bring death to everything in the oceans.
Bowl 3, verse 16:4, causes all of the fresh water on the earth to turn to blood. Not only surface water but even springs and ground water will turn to blood. The angel pouring out this bowl declares that, “You are just in these judgments, O Holy One…”
Bowl 4, verse 16:8, causes the sun to scorch all people with fire. Even as the people are seared by intense heat, they continue to curse the name God.
Bowl 5, verse 16:10, causes the kingdom of the beast to be plunged into darkness. But this darkness is more than the lack of light, the people gnaw at their tongues in agony. The combination of festering sores, intense heat, no water, and this terrible darkness is agonizing. Yet much like Pharaoh, they refuse to repent.
Bowl 6, verses 16:12-16, initiates the battle of Har Meggido (Armageddon). As the sixth angel empties his bowl, the Euphrates river dries up to prepare the way for the kings from the east. As this happens, demons that looked like frogs exited the mouths of each member of the anti-Trinity. These demons go out to the governments of the entire world, deceiving them into gathering for a great battle.
Jesus faces John and says (verse 15), “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”
Returning his attention to the action, John records that these armies gather together in Har Megiddo. Today, we know Har Megiddo as Armageddon. We will return to this battle in a minute…
Bowl 7, verses 16:17-20, initiates the final destruction of evil. As the angel pours out this last bowl, a loud voice declares “It is done!” In the midst of lightning and thunder the earth is struck by a massive earthquake. This earthquake splits the city of Jerusalem into three parts. However this is not the end but only the beginning of the destruction caused the seventh bowl.
Before John continues he receives an informative sidebar from one of the bowl angels. In chapter 17 the angel describes Babylon, the Prostitute on the Beast. In verse 1 this angel invites John to witness the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. “With her,” the angels continues, “the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”
At that point John is carried away in the Spirit so we know this is a separate vision. In this vision John sees a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. We have previously learned that this beast refers to the anti-Christ. The woman (prostitute) was dressed in purple and scarlet, glittering with god, precious stones, and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. In verse five we learn of a mystery, a name written on her forehand: “Babylon the Great – The Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the earth.” John saw that this prostitute was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. We will come back to this woman/prostitute when we get to verse 15 (the angel provides us with important detail).
The angel understood that John was astonished so he explained the mystery of the woman and the beast she rides. I will quote verse eight directly. “The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.” John records the following two times in this one verse: “…the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.” We have already learned that this beast is the anti-Christ, an evil being controlled by satan. In chapter 13 we learned that the beast received a fatal head wound and was brought back to life. The anti-Christ was alive, he was fatally wounded, and then he was resurrected – simply so that he can go to his destruction!
But there is more, beginning in verse 9, “this calls for a mind with wisdom.” The seven heads are seven hills upon which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast (who once was, and now is not), is an eighth king. He belongs to the seventh and is going to his destruction.
This message from the angel brings the beast into clearer focus. Not only is the beast the satan controlled anti-Christ BUT he/it is also an eighth king in a run. Five kings have fallen (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece). The sixth, Rome, existed at the time of John’s Vision, and seventh is yet to come. Some speculate that the seventh king is Rome, or the European common market, or the Pope. The truth is that we don’t know with any certainty whom the seventh king is. But we do know that the anti-Christ will replace the seventh king. And we know that the seventh king will be a leader of substantial portion of the world – similar to Rome, Greece, and Babylon.
Verse twelve gives us one more bit of detail about the beast, “the ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast.” Thus we also know that the beast/anti-Christ will lead a group of ten “kings” or governmental authorities (verse 13). The beast/anti-Christ and his ten minions will wage war against the Lamb but Jesus will triumph (verse 14). We, as Followers of Jesus Christ, will stand at His side!
Now (verse 15) the angel turns to an explanation of the woman/prostitute. First we learn that the “many waters” where the prostitute sits are “peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages.” Secondly, we learn that the beast HATES the woman. God will allow the beast to bring the woman to ruin (verse 16). That is God’s purpose and plan – for a time. Thirdly, (verse 18) “The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” The great city of which the angel refers is called Mystery Babylon.
Many, myself included, interpret the woman/prostitute In chapter 17 to represent false religion(s) – the apostate church. Thus the false church is riding on the back of an evil governmental leader (king) – the beast. While the governmental leader hates this religion(s), he uses it to garner support and acceptance by the peoples of the earth. At some point the beast/anti-Christ/king turns on the woman/false church/prostitute and puts her to ruin (verse 16-18). Mystery Babylon is the false religious and government system setup by the beast to defeat Christ.
In chapter 18 another angel, one with great authority, announces the demise of Mystery Babylon. The rest of the chapter describes the rightful destruction of Mystery Babylon and the heaven celebration over its demise.