31 - The Fourth Bowl
0. The Fourth Bowl
a. The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. (16:8–9)
b. In contrast to the first three angels, who poured out their bowls on the earth, the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun. As a result the sun, which has since the fourth day of creation (Gen. 1:14–19) given the world light, warmth, and energy, becomes a deadly killer.
c. Searing heat exceeding anything in human experience will scorch men so severely that it will seem that the atmosphere is on fire. Those who will be scorched with the sun’s fierce heat are the same “people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image” (v. 2).
d. This fiery judgment is reminiscent of Isaiah 24:4–6: “The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, the exalted of the people of the earth fade away. The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left.”
e. Another serious consequence of the sun’s intense heat will be the melting of the polar ice caps. The resulting rise in the oceans’ water level will inundate coastal regions, flooding areas miles inland with the noxious waters of the dead oceans.
f. Widespread damage and loss of life will accompany that flooding, adding further to the unspeakable misery of the devastated planet. Transportation by sea will become impossible.
g. One would think that the unparalleled disasters of the first four bowl judgments would cause people to repent. God’s judgment is designed to call sinners to repentance (Rom. 2:4), or, like Pharaoh, to harden their hearts.
h. Instead of blaming their sin, in the most shocking example of hardness of heart in history, they blasphemed the name of God, whom they know to be directly responsible for all their misery.
i. Amazingly, they know that it is God who has the power over the plagues that were afflicting them. Yet, they will love their sin so much, and be so deceived by Antichrist, that they will not repent so as to give God glory.
j. Until this point, only the Antichrist has been described as blaspheming (13:1, 5–6); here the world adopts his evil character. Neither grace nor wrath will move their wicked hearts to repentance (cf. 9:20–21; 16:11).
k. In 11:13 the earthquake brought some to repentance, but not in this judgment series. Such blind, blasphemous hardness of heart is incredible in the face of the devastating judgments they will be undergoing.
l. But like their evil leader, Antichrist, they will continue to hate God and refuse to repent, which would give glory to God as a just and righteous Judge of sin (cf. Josh. 7:19–25).
1. The Fifth Bowl
a. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds. (16:10–11)
b. As He did long ago in Egypt (Ex. 10:21–29), God will turn up the intense suffering of the sinful world by turning out the lights.
c. After the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, his kingdom became darkened (cf. 9:2; Ex. 10:21–23). Commentators disagree over where specifically this bowl will be dumped. Some think it will be on the actual throne that the beast sits on; others on his capital city of Babylon; still others on his entire kingdom.
d. It is best to see the throne as a reference to his kingdom, since the bowl poured out on the throne darkens the whole kingdom. Regardless of the exact location of where the bowl is dumped, the result is that darkness engulfs the whole earth, which is Antichrist’s worldwide kingdom. The beast will be as helpless before the power of God as anyone else.
e. Joel described this time of judgment as “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.… Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon grow dark and the stars lose their brightness” (Joel 2:2; 3:14–15).
f. Zephaniah described the Day of the Lord as “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Zeph. 1:15). Jesus declared in His Olivet discourse that “in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light” (Mark 13:24; cf. Isa. 13:10; 24:23; Luke 21:25; Acts 2:20).
g. The cumulative effect of the painful sores, fouled oceans, lack of drinking water, intense heat, all engulfed in thick blackness, will bring unbearable misery.
h. Yet, incredibly, the wicked, unbelieving people of the world will still refuse to repent.
i. John notes that they gnawed their tongues (lit. “kept on chewing”) because of the most intense and excruciating pain, yet with those same tongues they blasphemed the God of heaven (a frequent Old Testament title for God; cf. 11:13; Gen. 24:3; Ezra 5:11–12; Neh. 1:4–5; Ps. 136:26; Dan. 2:18, 19, 37, 44; Jonah 1:9) because of their pains and their sores (perhaps related to the lack of sunlight, as well as the effect of previous plagues) and they did not repent of their deeds—the ultimate act of defiance by those hopelessly engulfed in Antichrist’s satanic system.
j. This is the last reference to their unwillingness to repent.
k. The first five plagues were God’s final call to repentance. Sinners ignored that call, and are now confirmed in their unbelief.
l. The final two bowls, containing the severest of all the judgments, will be poured out on hardened, implacable impenitents.
2. The Sixth Bowl
a. The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east.
b. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.
c. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. (16:12–16)
d. Unlike the previous five bowls, the sixth, like the fifth seal (6:9–11), has no specific assault on humanity but prepares for what is to come.
e. When his turn came, the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates. The Euphrates appeared earlier in Revelation in connection with the sixth trumpet judgment (9:14), when 200 million demons who were bound near it were released.
f. As the longest and most significant river in the Middle East, the Euphrates deserves to be called the great river (cf. 9:14; Gen. 15:18; Deut. 1:7; Josh. 1:4). Its source is in the snowfields and ice cap high on the slopes of Mount Ararat (located in modern Turkey), from which it flows some eighteen hundred miles before emptying into the Persian Gulf.
g. In ancient times the Garden of Eden was located in the vicinity of the Euphrates (Gen. 2:10–14). The Euphrates also formed the eastern boundary of the land God gave to Israel (Gen. 15:18; Deut. 1:7; 11:24; Josh. 1:4). Along with the nearby Tigris, the Euphrates is still the lifeblood of the Fertile Crescent
h. By the time the sixth bowl is poured out, the Euphrates will be very different than it is today or has ever been. The blazing heat from the sun associated with the fourth bowl will melt the snow and the ice cap on Mount Ararat.
i. That will vastly increase the volume of water in the Euphrates, causing massive damage and flooding along its course. The bridges spanning the river will surely be destroyed. Thus, the reason for the sixth bowl becomes apparent.
j. As the angel dumped his bowl, the Euphrates’s water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. The eastern armies will need to cross the Euphrates to reach their ultimate destination—Armageddon in the land of Palestine.
k. God’s drying up of the Euphrates is not an act of kindness toward the kings from the east, but one of judgment. They and their armies will be entering a deadly trap. The evaporation of the Euphrates will lead them to their doom, just as the parting of the Red Sea led to the destruction of the Egyptian army.
l. Why they will make the daunting journey that will take them to their doom, through the drought, scorching heat, darkness, and their painful sores, is stated in vv. 13–14.
m. Whatever the human motives of this invasion force, whether political rebellion or rabid anti-Semitism, the real reason behind their advance toward Palestine soon becomes evident. In a grotesque vision, like something out of a horror movie, John saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits (cf. Matt. 10:1; Mark 1:23; Acts 5:16) like frogs.
n. From the mouth (symbolizing the source of influence) of each member of the unholy trinity (the dragon [Satan], the beast [Antichrist], and the false prophet) came a foul, unclean spirit resembling a frog.
o. Frogs were unclean animals (Lev. 11:10, 41), but these are not literal frogs as in the plague in Egypt (Ex. 8:5; Ps. 78:45). John identified the froglike apparitions as spirits of demons. This graphic, revolting, and disgusting illustration pictures the slimy, cold-blooded vileness of these demons, who seduce the kings from the east into making the difficult journey to their doom at Armageddon under their deluding influence (cf. 1 Kings 22:19–22).
p. As part of their deception, the demons will no doubt perform supernatural signs. Earlier in the Tribulation, the false prophet performed “great signs,” even making “fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (13:13).
q. As a result, he was able to deceive “those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast” (13:14).
r. He was even able to persuade “those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life” (13:14). These unclean spirits of demons will work lying wonders to deceive the eastern kings.
s. That these demons will have such powers of deception is not surprising. Jesus predicted that “false Christs and false prophets … will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect” (Mark 13:22; cf. 2 Thess. 2:9–10).
t. Certainly these demons will have even greater powers of deception. Thus, they will have little difficulty in deceiving the kings of the whole world, to gather them together. The mission of the demons is to gather not just the eastern powers, but all of the world’s rulers and armies to join the forces from the east for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.
u. In their pride, arrogance, and folly, the demonically deceived nations of the world will converge on Palestine to do battle with God Himself at Armageddon. According to 17:12–14, ten kings will be involved.
v. Joel prophesied of this time in Joel 3:2, 9–13: “I will gather all the nations And bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. Then I will enter into judgment with them there On behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel, Whom they have scattered among the nations; And they have divided up My land.” …Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare a war; rouse the mighty men! Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up! Beat your plowshares into swords And your pruning hooks into spears; Let the weak say, “I am a mighty man.” Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, And gather yourselves there. Bring down, O Lord, Your mighty ones. Let the nations be aroused And come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, For there I will sit to judge All the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great.
w. Zechariah also wrote of that time: For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. (Zech. 14:2–3)
x. In a similar vein the psalmist wrote, Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!” (Ps. 2:1–3)
y. The war will be over quickly: “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings” (17:14). In fact, it will not be a war; it will be a slaughter, as 19:11–21 graphically portrays.
z. Amid all the horrors of judgment, deception, and war comes a parenthetical word of encouragement to believers: “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”
aa. This gracious word from heaven will come before the pouring out of the seventh bowl and assure believers that they will not be forgotten.
bb. It is parallel to the beautiful passage in Malachi where the prophet addresses words of comfort from God to the righteous, who were frightened by the approach of the horrible Day of the Lord: “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. ‘They will be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him’ ” (Mal. 3:16–17).
cc. God told them not to be afraid because they are His. He never forgets His own. There were similar respites to encourage God’s people between the sixth and seventh seals (7:1–17) and between the sixth and seventh trumpets (10:1–11:14).
dd. Because the bowl judgments take place in a short period of time, the respite between the sixth and seventh bowls is very brief.
ee. The word of comfort from the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 22:7, 12, 20) begins “Behold, I am coming like a thief.” Like a thief comes, Jesus will come quickly and unexpectedly.
ff. But unlike a thief, He will come not to steal but to take what is rightfully His. The imagery of Jesus coming like a thief appears elsewhere in the New Testament.
gg. Earlier in Revelation Jesus warned the church in Sardis, “If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you” (3:3). In the Olivet discourse He added, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into” (Matt. 24:42–43).
hh. The apostle Paul reminded the Thessalonians that “the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2), a truth that Peter also affirmed (2 Pet. 3:10).
ii. Jesus’ sudden, unexpected return will bring fear and dismay to His enemies, but hope and comfort to His people.
jj. Then the exalted Lord pronounced the third of seven beatitudes (blessings, benedictions) in Revelation (cf. 1:3; 14:13; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14): “Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”
kk. This describes those who, like the five prudent virgins (Matt. 25:1–13), will be prepared for His arrival. The imagery here, however, is not that of bridesmaids preparing for a wedding, but of soldiers alert and on duty. Only a soldier who stays awake and keeps his clothes on is ready for combat. Those caught unprepared when the battle breaks out will walk about naked and men will see their shame—the shame of a soldier derelict in his duty.
ll. Those whom God has “clothed … with garments of salvation” and “wrapped … with a robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10), who have “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14), will be ready when the judgment comes. “Now, little children, abide in Him,” urged John in his first epistle, “so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (1 John 2:28).
mm. Those whom Jesus finds prepared when He returns will be blessed.
nn. After the brief interlude of encouragement for the redeemed, the prophetic narrative returns to the events of the sixth bowl.
oo. The deceiving demon spirits will have gathered the nations together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. Har-Magedon is a Hebrew word meaning “Mount Megiddo.”
pp. Since there is no specific mountain by that name, and Har can refer to hill country, it is probably a reference to the hill country surrounding the Plain of Megiddo, some sixty miles north of Jerusalem.
qq. More than two hundred battles have been fought in that region, including Barak’s defeat of the Canaanites (Judg. 4–5; cf. Judg. 5:19), Gideon’s victory over the Midianites (Judg. 7; cf. Judg. 6:33; the “valley of Jezreel” is another name for the Plain of Esdraelon), and Josiah’s defeat at the hands of Pharaoh Neco (2 Chron. 35:22). The Plain of Megiddo and the nearby Plain of Esdraelon will be the focal point for the Battle of Armageddon, which will rage the entire length of Israel as far south as the Edomite city of Bozrah (Isa. 63:1). Other battles will also occur in the vicinity of Jerusalem (Zech. 14:1–3).
rr. The “battle” will be over almost as soon as it begins, as the Lord Jesus Christ returns to rescue His people (cf. Zech 14:1–3; Joel 3:16) and defeat His enemies.
ss. The resulting slaughter of the world’s armies will be almost unimaginable, with blood splattered several feet high and perhaps running in streams throughout a distance of two hundred miles (14:20).
tt. The sixth bowl sets the final stage, but before the brief “battle,” the seventh and final plague will hit.
3. The Seventh Bowl
Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe. (16:17–21)
a. The seventh bowl is the final outpouring of God’s wrath on sinners in this present earth. After it Jesus will come and set up His millennial kingdom.
b. At the end of that thousand-year period, there will be one final act of rebellion, which will be quickly crushed (20:7–10).
c. But that judgment will not take place in the world as we know it, for the earth will be changed dramatically before the kingdom arrives.
d. This final judgment of the present era will take place during the time when “the mystery of God is finished” (10:7). It is the last of the “seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished” (15:1).
f. The seventh bowl will be the worst calamity in the world’s history, the most complete and devastating catastrophe the earth will ever experience. Its effects carry all the way to the establishment of the earthly kingdom of Christ. Like the fourth angel, the seventh angel did not dump his bowl on the earth, but poured it out … upon the air.
g. Its first effects were on the earth’s atmosphere, as if God were cleansing the former domain of Satan and his demon hosts (12:9). The earth (v. 2), the sea (v. 3), the waters (v. 4), the sun (v. 8), and finally the air are the targets of judgment.
h. As the angel dumped his bowl, a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne. The voice is that of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth. His solemn declaration “It is done” announces the climax of the final Day of the Lord that will spread doom over the entire globe.
i. The perfect tense verb gegonen (it is done) describes a completed action with ongoing results. It is similar to Jesus’ final words from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). God’s judgment of Christ on Calvary provided salvation for repentant sinners; the judgment of the seventh bowl brings doom to unrepentant sinners.
j. The pouring out of the seventh bowl dramatically affected the atmosphere; there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. Like the seventh seal (8:5) and the seventh trumpet (11:19), the seventh bowl is introduced with the imagery of a violent thunderstorm. But those earlier storms were mere previews of the mighty storm of wrath that now bursts upon the earth.
k. Though the seventh bowl was dumped on the earth’s atmosphere, it will also have a devastating effect on the earth itself. God will punctuate this final judgment against sinners with an earthquake (cf. Isa. 24:19–20; Hag. 2:6), just as He did His judgment of sin at Calvary (Matt. 27:51–54).
l. This earthquake will be the most powerful one ever to strike the earth; John described it as a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. While there have always been and will continue to be local earthquakes (Matt. 24:7), this great earthquake will be unique in that God will shake the globe, as prophesied in Haggai 2:6 and Hebrews 12:26–27.
m. The shaking will be so severe that it will renovate and reconfigure the earth in preparation for the millennial kingdom, restoring it to something like its pre-Flood condition (v. 20).
n. The first effect of this great and mighty earthquake was that the great city was split into three parts. The great city cannot be Babylon, as some think, because it is distinguished from “Babylon the great” mentioned later in verse 19. +
o. A comparison with 11:8 clearly identifies the great city as Jerusalem, “the great city … where also [the] Lord was crucified.” That the great city is distinct from the cities of the nations offers further evidence that Jerusalem is in view.
p. The massive earthquake will split Jerusalem into three parts, beginning a series of geophysical alterations to the city and its surrounding region that will conclude when the Lord Jesus Christ returns.
q. Zechariah 14:4–10 describes these changes in detail. The Mount of Olives will split in two, and a new valley running east and west will be created (Zech. 14:4). A spring of water will flow year-round from Jerusalem to the Mediterranean and Dead Seas (Zech. 14:8), causing the desert to blossom like a rose (cf. Isa. 35:1).
r. Jerusalem will be elevated, and the surrounding region flattened into a plain (Zech. 14:10). Thus, the purpose of the earthquake as it relates to Jerusalem is not to judge the city, but to enhance it. Jerusalem was judged earlier in the Tribulation by an earthquake, which led to the salvation of those who were not killed (11:13). Thus, there is no need for further judgment on that city.
s. The physical changes will prepare Jerusalem for the central role it will play during the millennial kingdom, when Christ will reign there as King (Ps. 110:2; Isa. 2:3; 24:23; Mic. 4:7).
t. Unlike Jerusalem, which was enhanced by the earthquake, the cities of the nations fell, perhaps simultaneously with the defeat of Antichrist by the Lamb (17:12–14).
u. Naturally, such a powerful earthquake will cause massive, widespread destruction. Specifically singled out is Babylon the great, which was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.
v. As the capital city of Antichrist’s empire, Babylon especially will be made to drink the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. The downfall of Babylon, mentioned here in passing, will be described at length in chapters 17 and 18.
w. The final effect of the earthquake, as noted above, is to prepare the earth for the millennial rule of the Lord Jesus Christ. To that end, the earth’s topography will be drastically altered; every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. Islands, which are undersea mountains, will disappear and the mountains on land will be flattened (cf. Isa. 40:4), completing the process that began during the sixth seal (6:12–14).
x. “The gentle rolling topography of the world as originally created will be restored. No more will there be great inaccessible, uninhabitable mountain ranges or deserts or ice caps. The physical environment of the millennium will be, in large measure, a restoration of the antediluvian [pre-Flood] environment” (Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record, 321).
y. That may leave Jerusalem as the highest point on earth, making it a fitting throne for the Great King who will rule there during the Millennium (Jer. 3:17).
z. Those who somehow escape the devastation caused by the earthquake will face another catastrophe, one unprecedented in earth’s history. They will be pelted with huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, that will hurtle down from heaven upon men.
aa. Unlike the seventh Egyptian plague (Ex. 9:23–24) and the first trumpet judgment (8:7), the force of these hailstones is unimaginable. The Greek term translated about one hundred pounds described the most weight a normal man could carry, anywhere from 90 to 135 pounds.
bb. The heaviest hailstones ever recorded weighed about 2 pounds; these gigantic chunks of ice will be fifty times heavier. They will add to the devastation caused by the earthquake and crush humanity, who, because of the earthquake’s power, have no adequate shelter.
cc. Fixed in their impenitence, the survivors of the hailstorm blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe. Incredibly, tortured humanity defiantly remains hardened against God—a truth that should give pause to those who think that signs and wonders will convince people to believe the gospel.
dd. Those who reject the wonder, glory, and majesty of the Son of God, who spurn the gracious, free gift of salvation, will not be convinced by any sign (cf. Luke 16:31). It is too late for these hardened sinners; they have sold their souls to Satan; they are totally committed to Antichrist’s blasphemous, idolatrous, anti-God system. Children of wrath they are, catapulting into hell.
ee. God’s eschatological and eternal wrath is inevitable; no one can prevent or hinder it from coming (Isa. 43:13).
ff. But there is a way to escape it, because “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
gg. Those who by faith trust in Christ alone for salvation will escape both God’s eschatological wrath (3:10) and His eternal wrath (1 Thess. 1:10).
hh. They will not face judgment, because their sins were judged when Jesus died in their place on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24).
ii. In light of the inevitable judgment to come, the warning to all unrepentant sinners is “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 4:7).
MacArthur, J. (2000). Revelation 12-22 (135). Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press.