“Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.'” –Revelation 16:1
Is it possible to reconcile God’s wrath toward man as seen in the seven bowls with God’s love for man displayed by Jesus on the cross? Yes, but it takes a few minutes! The Bible says, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Webster’s Dictionary has nine definitions for the word love. Love can refer to “a deep devotion or affection,” or “a score of zero” in tennis. The word “love” can also mean unmerited kindness, generous charity, deep affection, sexual passion, secret benevolence, or loyal commitment.
From a human point of view, these definitions are practical and realistic; however, they are inadequate when it comes to understanding God’s love, and the devil knows this. Since many of us do not correctly understand the principles of God’s love, the devil capitalizes on our ignorance to make God’s character seem evil and disgusting. For example, the doctrine of an eternally burning hell is a false doctrine which many Christians have naively accepted as truth. Through the centuries, I believe this doctrine has done more damage to God’s character than any other.
I have heard people say, “I want nothing to do with a so-called God of love who would torture people with fire for billions and billions of years.” The root problem of defining God’s love is that God is infinite. His ways and purposes are higher and larger than our finite minds can fathom. No created being can understand God in totality and we cannot understand the totality of the vast dimensions of His love. However, we can understand and reconcile a number of essential truths about God because God has given us a means to do so.
The fact that the Bible exists today is a miracle. It is the oldest book in the world today. In terms of translation and distribution, it has no equal. Men have tried to destroy and discredit the Bible, but it remains intact because God sustains it. God wants us to know about our origin, the problem of sin, our accountability to Him and of His plan to save sinners and eliminate evil from His universe. God also sustains the Bible because He wants us to have a truthful report on His character, ways and love. God wants us to know Him and to submit to the same principles by which He lives.
God tells us that He is changeless. (Malachi 3:6) This declaration is important because this means that everything we read in the Bible about God is consistent with divine love, even though we may not be able to reconcile everything we read at first. The Bible reveals that God is faithful, deeply affectionate, and unbelievably generous.
It also points out that God has wrath. He destroyed all living creatures with a flood in Noah’s day and completely destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. God even destroyed His own people as a nation in A.D. 70. This may seem strange at first, but love compels God to destroy evil. For example, it was God’s love for future generations that moved Him to destroy a hopelessly decadent and totally defiant generation that lived on Earth in Noah’s day. Even though He destroyed the world with the flood, He gave each person a generous opportunity to be saved. Unfortunately, only eight people went into the ark.
The United States has different levels of government: federal, state, county, and city governments. This is because different groups of people require different levels of government so that everyone can live together harmoniously and in a beneficial way.
When government is based on righteous principles and properly managed, it becomes a wonderful servant of its people. When government is based on ego and the best interests of a few, government becomes a horrible master. When everyone within a government exalts religious principles, various levels of government will function together harmoniously. Federal, state, county, and city governments would be unnecessary if the population of the United States was twelve people.
Man’s need for different levels of government is determined by the presence of different groups of people—more groups of people necessitate more levels of government. The same design holds true in God’s universe. God has different levels of government and His managers and management are consistent with His laws of love.
For this reason, God’s actions on a corporate level can appear to conflict with His enormous love for individuals*, but the problem lies within our understanding of God’s love. He is consistent and changeless. At all levels of government, God’s love is always expressed in a perfect balance of justice and mercy.
* Note: Consider this disturbing text: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'” (1 Samuel 15:2, 3)
Many people read these verses and wonder how a God of love could demand this of King Saul. Why should men, women, children and infants be put to death for something that happened 500 years earlier? As a nation, the Amalekites had become totally defiant and rebellious toward God. Their cup of sin was full, and God Who had given that nation 500 years of grace—demanded their total extinction so that their land could be given to Israel. This does not mean that every Amalekite child and infant will be lost!
God does not hold children and infants accountable for the sins of their parents. (Ezekiel 18) Do not forget, God sent Israel to destroy the Amalekites because the Amalekites had filled up their cup of grace with evil, and Israel also did the same thing! Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Israel about 400 years after King Saul, and the Romans did it again in A.D. 70. God imposes justice on all nations when His extended mercy does not produce repentance and reformation. God consistently follows this policy to cauterize the growth of sin and to give the land to other people whom He loves. Remember, God loves the whole world.
God directed Moses to build the Ark of the Covenant which represents a balance of God’s love and mercy. The “mercy seat” or “atonement cover” (representing God’s mercy) and the Ten Commandments (representing God’s justice) are inseparable and harmonious. Mercy and justice do not diminish nor negate each other. God’s love consists of both! These are the foundations of His government. (Psalm 89:14)
The Bible declares that a day is coming when the whole world will see the Ark of Covenant. Evidently, God took the Ark of the Covenant to Heaven for safekeeping sometime after Jeremiah hid the Ark from Nebuchadnezzar’s advancing troops. (605 B.C.)
We know that the Ark of the Covenant is in Heaven because it will be shown to the world on the 1264th day of the Great Tribulation—the same day the seven bowls begin. (See Revelation 11:19.) God will visibly display the Ark of His Covenant in the sky because He wants each wicked person to understand the mercy he rejected, as well as the Royal Law, written in stone on Earth, that condemns him to become a recipient of the seven bowls. On the other hand, God wants all the righteous people to see the mercy they accepted and the law they have chosen by which to live.
Since God’s love operates on different levels (mercy and justice for individuals, as well as groups of people), the Golden Rule becomes a profound statement for individuals. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) The Golden Rule is a profound declaration of an everlasting principle. The Golden Rule means that God uses justice and mercy to judge us. “As we did unto others, the same will be done unto us.”
God’s justice demands reciprocity. If we cheat someone out of something, then God will take from us. If we steal things from others, God will also take from us. However, if we make our wrongs right, God will not require anything further because restoration has been made. God’s keen sense of justice and mercy does not allow Him to ignore one evil deed. Conversely, if we have shown mercy and kindness to our enemies, He will show the same mercy and kindness toward us. If we forgive our debtors, He will forgive us. The Golden Rule is a sobering, but awesome rule.
Notice how the Golden Rule is applied. “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:22-25) When it comes to pure justice what could be more fair than injury for injury?
Most Christians read Exodus 21 and say, “Jesus abolished those laws when He died on the cross. He taught that we are to turn the other cheek.” Jesus did abolish the Levitical system at the cross, but God’s everlasting principles of mercy and justice were not abolished at the cross.
Jesus affirmed this. He said, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2) The Golden Rule stems from the fact that justice requires restitution and mercy requires forgiveness. God will not accept anything less. Notice how this works: If a person refuses to make restitution for the wrongs committed in this life, then God avenges the recipient of the wrongs by extracting restitution from the sinner at the end of the 1,000 years. If a victim shows mercy to those who harmed him, then God extends mercy to the victim when he is judged because he has shown mercy. Again, the Golden Rule is sobering, but awesome!
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38,39) This command does not nullify the operation of justice or imply that Christians are to simply tolerate injustice! Jesus made this declaration in His Sermon on the Mount to restore a balance to life which the Jews had badly distorted.
The Jews could not reconcile the concept of an eye for an eye and loving their enemies as themselves. When Jesus said that we are to turn the other cheek, He addressed two key points. First, we are to show kindness to our enemies as God shows kindness to us. (Romans 5:10) Second, we are supposed to forgive those who violate us* and wait for God to administer justice because He will certainly avenge every wrong act. (Romans 12:17–19)
* Note: Because this discussion is larger than the scope of this article, a few words follow for the sake of clarity. The Bible says that God has set up human governments. Their purpose is to temporarily deal with matters of justice and mercy. (Romans 13:1–2) Because the governments of this world are managed by finite human beings whose knowledge, commitment and understanding of righteousness are imperfectly balanced, human beings often fail to resolve matters in a totally fair way.
The Bible teaches that in due time, everyone will stand before the judgment bar of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:10) He who knows our actions, reads our hearts and sees our motives will pass judgment on us. His righteous investigation will resolve and restore all matters to Gods perfect balance.
If justice is necessary, then injury for injury will be applied. If mercy is necessary, then mercy will be applied. God gave us legal systems to seek temporary relief or justice. He also gave Israel a judicial system for this very purpose.
The human dilemma is that we cannot love our enemies, as God loves us, without a miracle occurring. Unless the Holy Spirit enables us to forgive people who have done us wrong, we cannot love or forgive them! The carnal nature cannot forgive an injury.
The carnal heart is not a generous heart of love, instead it is stingy, selfish, arrogant, and easily offended. The carnal nature is impetuous and prefers to speedily avenge itself for wrongs done to it. Ruled by passion, the carnal heart delights in speedy revenge rather than fairness.
However, Jesus affirms that God, in due time, will ensure that justice is fully satisfied for everyone. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their [your enemies] foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35; also Romans 12:19, Hebrews 10:30)
This presentation on the various levels of God’s love has been necessary because you must understand that the seven bowls originate from a God of love. When the time comes for the seven bowls to be poured out, God’s love for His suffering saints demands restitution.
The wicked will be forced to drink the bitter experiences contained in the seven bowls because they must suffer in proportion to the suffering they imposed on God’s innocent people. Even more, the wicked must also receive the consequences of willful and defiant rebellion against the clearest evidences of God’s will. No king can tolerate open defiance and expect his subjects to maintain respect for his laws and throne.
Finally, the seven bowls also serve a cosmic purpose. The universe will see the hatred that every defiant sinner has toward God when they are confronted with the righteous principles that govern God’s universe. By the time the seven bowls end, every wicked person would kill Jesus, if that were possible, because this is the response of the carnal nature when confronted with God’s sovereign authority.
Therefore, when the seven trumpets end, God will use the seven bowls to avenge the martyrdom and torture of His saints, punish defiant rebels for high treason, and demonstrate the extremity to which a carnal heart will go by confronting the wicked with His higher authority.
5. “The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” – Revelation 16:10–11
The fifth bowl serves two purposes. First, Jesus unmasks the devil. In this passage, the beast is a reference to the lamblike beast. (Revelation 13:11) When the fifth bowl begins, the devil will have been masquerading as Almighty God for about a year (since the fifth trumpet).
Second, God imposes painful and agonizing sores on those who have inflicted great suffering on the saints. These sores will suddenly “pop up” on everyone who serves in Lucifer’s global government—from the lowest paid clerk to the ten kings. Even though their suffering will be off the chart, the wicked will still refuse to repent of their evil deeds. They will remain loyal to the devil to the bitter end. This proves that loyalty can be totally blinding, since it even transcends intelligence.
Here is a scenario: When the fifth bowl is poured out, Jesus silently turns everything upside down within Lucifer’s government. Suddenly, the devil and his angels, those glorious beings who deceived the whole world with blinding glory, become demons of darkness. The devil, who is thought to be Almighty God, is no longer the glorious being that he once was. His brilliant glory completely disappears, his throne room becomes pitch dark, and everyone who serves in his evil government will be afflicted with horrible and painful sores.
People who received the mark of the beast (but not employees of the devil’s government) will watch this mind boggling phenomena. They will ask each other, “Why would God suddenly lose His glory? Why would God curse everyone who works for Him with these horrible boils?”
An involuntary answer will soon form on their lips. “Uh oh . . . the 144,000 were right! This is indeed the devil! This dark being is not God! We were deceived! But, we can’t call him the devil or we will be killed just as the saints and the 144,000 were killed! What should we do now? Oh, no . . . .” This is one of those moments in Earth’s history when the truth really hurts and nothing can be done about it.
6. “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. ‘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.’ Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” – Revelation 16:12–16
The meaning of this bowl is not too difficult if you understand the context and setting of this future event. The drying up of the great river Euphrates is an ancient phrase that means the arrival of the two kings coming down from the North (the Father and the Son) is unstoppable.
In other words, ancient kings could cross through the river bed of the Euphrates because the great river itself was no longer a barrier. I believe the sign of the Father and Son will first appear in the sky during this time. This sign will be a small cloud drawing near to Earth. (Matthew 24:30) Remember, divine destruction in ancient times always came out the North (Jeremiah 51:48, Job 37:22), but physically, because of the rotation of Earth on its axis, the Father and Son (the two kings) will appear from the East. (Matthew 26:64)
By the time the sixth bowl is poured out, the wicked will be suffering in the extreme. The saints do not suffer from the seven bowls. (Daniel 12:1) Every wicked person will be wearing the devil’s inescapable tattoo. Even more, the world will know that the devil and his demons are not Almighty God and His angels, contrary to the devil’s claims.
Wicked people realize they are looking at the embodiment of evil. Emotionally speaking, they will be at the point of utter discouragement. Everything they wanted to avoid during the Great Tribulation has happened to them. Then, with his incredible deceptions exposed and the wicked recognizing who he really is, the devil plays his final card.
It is a pathetic situation. Even though Lucifer knows the outcome of this drama, he will demonstrate his evil character one last time by sending three miracle-working demons with a pack of lies to visit the ten kings of Earth. Frogs catch their prey with their tongues.
Lucifer, who is the dragon, the lamblike beast and the false prophet, sends these powerful demons out. The Bible uses these three descriptors of Lucifer because these three caricatures describe him with perfection. As the great red dragon who was cast out of Heaven, he is the original Antichrist. As the lamblike beast who rose up out of the Earth, he is the final Antichrist. As the false prophet who led the whole world astray, he is the father of lies.
Their message to each king will be simple and direct: “You have but one chance to save yourselves from the approaching cloud in the East. If you will join with us in destroying Jesus and the Father as they draw near Earth, we can defeat them. You have atomic bombs. We have the power to work miracles. Do we have a deal? If so, arm yourselves for immediate battle.” The only option is to trust in human might and the miracle working power of these demons. They prepare for battle.
“They [the kings of Earth] have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” (Revelation 17:13–14)
7. “The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’ [I believe this voice comes from one of the four living creatures. See Rev 8:13.] Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake.
The great city [Babylon the Great] split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.” (Revelation 16:17–21, insertions mine)
When the seventh bowl is poured out, the ten kings, encouraged and emboldened by the lies and miracles of the three demons, are armed and ready to destroy the Father and Son with all of the nuclear power they can muster. But, before they get the first missile in the air, the entire planet goes into a violent spasm.
A global earthquake rips up the Earth and the devil’s empire is torn into three parts. The phrase, “The great city split into three parts” is significant. It means the complete destruction of Babylon, the global city whose citizens make up the harlot. God will divide and totally destroy the city. No mercy will be shown to the evil empire. Throughout the Bible, language describes the use of one-third and two-thirds. The islands and mountains are moved out of their places as Earth vomits from the nausea of sin. The cities of Earth collapse into rubble and hailstones weighing a hundred pounds each fall on the enemies of the Lamb.
“They called to the mountains and the [falling] rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from (a) the face of him who sits on the throne [the Father] and (b) from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their [plural] wrath has come, and who can stand?'” (Revelation 6:16–17, insertions mine)
For example, David killed two-thirds of the Moabites when they refused to pay tribute. (2 Samuel 8:2) God killed two-thirds of Israel when they refused to keep His covenant. (Ezekiel 5:12) In these situations, David and God mercifully spared a remnant. The idea in Revelation 16 is that there is no mercy for Babylon. Babylon will cease to exist. Three-thirds will be destroyed. (Revelation 19:21)
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–18)
“Then I saw the [false prophet/lamblike] beast and the kings of the earth [composite beast with ten horns and seven heads] and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the [composite] beast was captured, and with him the false prophet [who is also the lamblike beast] who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf.
With these signs he [the lamblike beast] had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them [lamblike beast/false prophet and composite beast/ten kings/seven heads] were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them [the wicked of Earth] were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.” (Revelation 19:19–21)
Jesus calls the saints from their graves. Together with the righteous living, they meet the Lord in the air while the wicked watch. Then, a sword comes out of the mouth of Jesus. This sword is the command, “death to the wicked.” The seventh bowl marks the end of human life on Earth for 1,000 years. The saints leave Earth to spend the next 1,000 years living and reigning with Jesus in their Father’s house. (John 14:1–3)