I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues last, because with them Gods wrath is completed. (Revelation 15:1)
The seven last plagues (the seven bowls) are a fascinating study. Every discussion on the character of God should include Noahs flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of Jerusalem, the death of Christ on the cross, and the seven bowls because all of these events highlight certain components of Gods character.
Yes, a God of love has vengeance. Paul wrote, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for Gods wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord." (Romans 12:19) Vengeance is defined by Webster as retribution (justifiable action) for a wrong or injury. In this sense, the seven last plagues will be justifiable and they will be poured out without mercy.
The seven bowls will be Gods response on people who (a) willingly and knowingly rejected truth and righteousness and chose to do evil, and (b) approved and/or participated in torturing and hurting people who stood for truth and righteousness. The seven last plagues will be indescribably painful and they will befall every person who receives the mark of the beast. Before we examine these horrible plagues, heres a short overview.
I believe the seven last plagues will last seventy days; that is, each plague unfolds over a period of ten days. The phrase, "seven last plagues" suggests the presence of "seven first plagues." Indeed, the seven first plagues of the Great Tribulation are called seven trumpets.
There are two essential differences between the seven trumpets and the seven bowls. First, the seven trumpets are redemptive in nature, whereas the seven bowls are totally destructive. People can repent and be saved during the seven trumpets; however, salvation will not be possible during the seven bowls because the offer of mercy closes on the 1,260th day of the Great Tribulation.
Second, the seven first plagues are called "seven trumpets" in Revelation because these redemptive judgments are designed to shatter the religious paradigms of the world much like a military trumpet shatters the silence of early dawn with Reveille.
The seven trumpets will enable people to thoughtfully and intelligently consider the testimony of Jesus which the 144,000 will give. On the other hand, the seven last plagues are called "seven bowls" because people receiving the mark of the beast will be forced to "drink and swallow" their medicine, the bitter dregs of Gods wrath that comes in each bowl.
The seven bowls are punitive in nature. God will force the wicked to suffer, in part, for the suffering they imposed upon His innocent people. There will be no mercy from God when the seven bowls are poured out because the wicked will knowingly reject the demands of the Holy Spirit.
Each of them committed the unpardonable sin. Furthermore, the people who receive the mark of the beast will become the property of demons and like them, they will be cruel and violent. Get this straight! There will not be any "good people" having the mark of the beast. When the seventh bowl is completed, Gods wrath will be completed. Earth will be left in a desolate condition the saints will be with Jesus in Heaven. All of the wicked will be dead and birds will eat their flesh. (Revelation 19:19-21)
Last, but not least. When the seven bowls begin, the devil will be on Earth masquerading as Almighty God. The devil will sit on his throne claiming to be God, and billions of wicked people will believe that he is God. The Antichrist will urge his wicked followers to continue destroying Gods saints because he will claim, "they are of the devil." How clever!
Understand that billions of wicked people will believe the devil is God and that the God of the saints and 144,000 is the devil. Keep this twisted deception in mind as we examine the specific purpose and nature of each dreadful bowl.
1. Rev 16:2 The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.
The first plague is the outpouring of painful boils. Remember Jobs boils huge, tender, inflamed, puss oozing sores all over his body? These sores will befall every person who receives the mark of the beast. There are two great ironies here.
First, many people will receive the mark of the beast thinking that they can avoid further suffering, but the first bowl inflicts a suffering on them that is beyond description! Heres the scenario: When the composite beast (Babylon) rises from the sea, it will demand obedience to its laws.
Anyone who dares to rebel against Babylons authority will suffer the severest of penalties. During this time of persecution, billions of people will hear the testimony of the 144,000 which requires everyone to reject the demands of Babylon, but few people will have the courage to stand for righteousness and truth. Many people will capitulate to avoid suffering and separation from their families. They will obediently submit to the blasphemous and arrogant laws of Babylon.
Then, when the devil physically appears masquerading as God, the wicked will easily submit to the devils authority in an effort to save their lives! But, their escape from suffering will be temporary because everyone who worships "the devil and receives his mark" will receive the first bowl!
There will be no escape from the first bowl. Painful boils will cause the wicked to writhe in relentless pain and this is the second irony. When the first bowl is poured out on the wicked, they will be engaged in an intense campaign to find and kill the few saints of God who remain alive. The first bowl painfully interrupts their plans. Evil men and women, covered with boils from head to foot will not be able to stand or sit, much less chase after a few saints who are hiding in remote places.
2. Rev 16:3 The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.
The second bowl is awesome. Every living thing in the oceans of the world dies. I can think of a three-fold possibility why God would pour out His wrath on the oceans of the world. First, the oceans are Earths source of fresh water. The Sun evaporates millions of square miles of ocean water each day.
This sterile vapor rises and becomes clouds. Winds move the clouds over land and distilled water falls in the form of rain as condensation occurs. By turning the sea into a substance like the clotted blood of a dead man, there will be no more rain. Earth itself will die without this regular cycle of water.
Earth is doomed, the stench of death and decay will be everywhere. Second, because a third of the trees and all of the green grass (including crops) were burned up during the first trumpet, seafood will likely become a main source of food during the Great Tribulation. If so, the destruction of everything that lives in the oceans means total famine.
Again, life on this planet is doomed beyond recovery. Last, two-thirds of the worlds population lives near an ocean. When the wicked behold this awesome judgment, you would think that some will question the powers of their God. This silent plague speaks with deafening authority. It says, "The glorious and majestic being which you worship is not God. He can not protect you. He can not prevent the destruction of Earth."
3. Rev 16:4 The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve. And I heard the altar respond: Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.
The third bowl will force people having the mark of the beast into a sickly spiral that ultimately leads to an agonizing death. There will be no recovery from this plague. Human beings cannot go very long without water. Everywhere the wicked look for water, but find blood instead. Picture this if you can. Millions of thirst-driven people drinking blood in order to survive! Its a repugnant thought, but it is a true picture. Helpless people will turn to their God, the Antichrist, for miraculous help, but none will come.
Lucifer will be powerless to turn the blood into water. Jesus will not have mercy upon these demon possessed people. Every wicked person was given a lengthy chance to know Gods will and worship Him. However, they willfully aligned themselves with the forces of evil; therefore, they must suffer the consequence.
The angel that delivers this horrible judgment declares God to be fair for giving blood-thirsty people blood to drink! Even the martyred souls under the altar agree saying, "True and just are your judgments." (Of course, martyred souls dont actually talk, but personification allows their innocent blood to cry out for justice as did Abels blood. Genesis 4:10)
4. Rev 16:8,9 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him."
At this point, thirty days have passed since the seven bowls began. The misery index is climbing fast and the wicked people on Earth are struggling in a great quandary. Why doesnt our God (actually, the Antichrist) stop this? They reason, "Our God can do anything!
He even called fire down from the sky, therefore, he must immediately stop these awful judgments!" Then, the fourth bowl is poured out. Is it possible that the fourth bowl will be caused by a catastrophic solar flare from the Sun or perhaps a very brilliant gamma-ray burst coming from the direction of the Sun?
Either way, the net effect is intense, searing heat. Think about this plague for a moment. If the ambient temperature stays above 150 degrees for several days, what would be the effect? There will be no electricity on Earth at this time since Earth was badly broken up when the seventh trumpet occurred. (Revelation 11:19)
So, there will be no mechanical relief from the heat. Furthermore, all of the oceans and rivers smell like blood. Billions of dead sea creatures have washed up on the shores. There is no water to drink, only blood which smells so badly it causes people to vomit.
In this setting, the Bible predicts two interesting things. First, the wicked will curse the God of the 144,000 and the saints (who they believe is the devil). They will do this because Lucifer (masquerading as Almighty God) and his angels will tell the wicked people of Earth that these plagues are from the devil! Think about this: When God becomes the devil and the devil becomes God, Lucifers deception is complete!
Second, even though the wicked are suffering in the extreme, the Bible says they will refuse to change or repent, revealing the depth of their degredation. They cannot change because there is no desire within them to change. Torture does not change the heart!
At this time, every wicked person will have committed the unpardonable sin and the Holy Spirit has abandoned them. This brings us face to face with a very stark fact: Unless we give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to change us, we cannot come to repentance or reformation on our own. The carnal nature will not permit it.
We will conclude our study on the seven bowls next month.