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The seven bowls (also called the seven last plagues) are puzzling to many Christians. When do they occur? What is their purpose? Who receives them? Who tortures the wicked? Jesus or the devil? The seven bowls are not discussed very often because people do not think they will be affected by them. Of course, the bowls will occur in the future, but they are important right now because they reveal more information about God’s character.
The seven last plagues are called seven bowls (or vials in the KJV) because God wants us to understand that near the end of the Great Tribulation, He will force the wicked to “drink and swallow” His wrath. The result will be a very painful and eventually, a deadly experience. In Bible times, experiences were sometimes described as drinking from a phiale.* For example, filled with overflowing gratitude for God’s protection, King David wrote, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows [with joy].” (Psalm 23:5, italics and insertion mine) Centuries later, Jesus cried out from the Garden of Gethsemane, ” Abba, Father, he said, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will. “(Mark 14:36, italics mine)
The ancients often used the imagery of a cup to describe a human experience because they observed that once something is swallowed, the results become inescapable. Everything from euphoria and joy to excruciating pain and death came in a cup and being forced to drink a cup of poison was the worst possible experience. (See Jeremiah 25:15-30.)
The seven bowls can be listed in two columns because the first four bowls serve a different purpose than the last three. Everyone who receives the mark of the beast will experience the first four bowls. The last three bowls will impact corporate entities that Jesus intends to destroy.
For example, Jesus will impose the fifth bowl on Lucifers theocracy (his officials and employees). Jesus will impose the sixth bowl on the kings of Earth and their armies, and finally, the seventh bowl will affect Earth itself. Fiery hailstones will destroy some of the wicked and the rest will be destroyed by the sword that comes out of Jesus mouth. This will occur at the close of the seventh bowl. (Revelation 16:21; 19:19-21)
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. (Revelation 16:2)
The ugly and painful sores will only afflict people having the mark of the beast—so Israel will be spared. This plague could be anthrax, which causes boils on both men and animals. This event matches the plague of boils Moses brought against Egypt. So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on men and animals. (Exodus 9:10)
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. (Revelation 16:3)
The oceans and sea turn from water into blood. Note the similarity to another plague that God delivered through Moses. This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.’” (Exodus 7:17-18)
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.”(Revelation 16:4-7)
The martyrs under the altar are now satisfied seeing justice. Remember these martyrs had cried out at the fifth seal. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10) At the third bowl, the altar responds with approval concerning God’s judgment.
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. (Revelation 16:8-9)
Now the sun will scorch people with intense heat. It is likely that the natural atmospheric protection, such as the ozone layer, will have been destroyed. People responded by cursing God. With hardened hearts, the walking dead (condemned) people are incapable of repenting. This occurred in ancient Egypt—when the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart. (Exodus 10:27)
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)
Moses delivered a similar judgment against Egypt. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived. (Exodus 10:21-23)
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. (Revelation 16:12)
At the time of Armageddon, the flow of the Euphrates River in Iraq will dry to allow armies to invade Israel. This dried riverbed opens the way for the armies of the kings from the East, to travel to the valley of Armageddon in Israel (Revelation 16:16). The Ataturk Dam in Turkey has already stopped the flow of the Euphrates in 1990 while filling a reservoir.
That there are kings from the East (plural, kings, more than one king) could result from China dissolving into smaller countries that are unified in a confederacy. This confederacy could result from the desire of China to bring Taiwan under its control, while also allowing the freedoms that Hong Kong needs to prosper. Such a confederacy might include other economic and population powerhouses to include India, Japan, and South Korea.
A huge army of two hundred million people will travel from the East, across the Euphrates River to the Valley of Armageddon. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number. (Revelation 9:14-16)
Three evil spirits are now speaking through the dragon (Satan), the beast (Antichrist), and the false prophet. Their message is to world leaders—to send armies to Armageddon. 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. (Revelation 16:13-14)
At Armageddon, these armies will attempt to destroy Jesus as he returns to earth. Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. (Revelation 16:16) The battle of Armageddon is the final battle of this Age (Revelation 19:11-21; Zechariah 14:2-9).
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!” Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, pearls 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 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)
God reserves the final judgment for those who kept religious traditions from ancient Babylon; it features the destruction of Rome. God gives this city of the false king (Antichrist) and the false high priest (Pope) the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. “When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “ ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!’ (Revelation 18:9-10)