CHAPTER SIXTEEN opens with a loud voice coming from God since no one could enter the Temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels is completed. This chapter describes the third woe and man’s unrepentant response to God’s wrath on the earth. Not only are humans the object of His fury but all nature suffers as it did when Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:17-18). The seven bowl plagues are the intense labor pains just prior to the restoration of creation during the Millennial Kingdom.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Romans 8:22; cf. Isaiah 65:20-25).
These seven angels, who minister God’s wrath, were ready to execute vengeance upon the earth, having full power; however, they could do nothing until they received authorization from God.
These bowl judgments appear to come rapidly, at the end of the last three and one half years of the Tribulation Period, and they are completed at the time of Christ’s Second Coming. Four similar judgments have been poured out upon Egypt. The very language describing them proves that they are literal plagues, fulfilled in the order in which they are given. As the plagues were sent on Egypt in order to secure the redemption of Israel, so these plagues are sent in order to redeem Israel and God’s people from the slavery of Babylon (the Revived Roman Empire under the Antichrist).
FIRST BOWL: UGLY AND PAINFUL SORES (6:2). This plague has no counterpart in the trumpets but is reminiscent of the sixth plague in Egypt (Exodus 9:8-11). God inflicts His enemies with ugly and painful sores; the saved of the Tribulation do not suffer this plague. These sores are characterized as kakon (evil things) and ponhron (intense pain). The Septuagint uses the same Greek word (ponhrw) to describe the boils that plagued Job (Job 2:7) and the Egyptians (Exodus 9:9-11).
The reason why the sixth Egyptian plague is the first here is that it was directed against the Egyptian magicians, Jannes and Jambres, so that they could not stand before Moses; and so here the plague is sent upon those who worship the Beast and practice sorcery—these worshipers are unclean, not qualified to worship.
“On the ghn [land or earth]” could refer to either Antichrist’s kingdom or the literal earth.
SECOND BOWL: SEA TURNS TO BLOOD (16:3). This plague is reminiscent of the first plague in Egypt, when the Nile was changed to blood (Exodus 7:17-21). Here “sea” cannot represent the world system since every living thing in it dies; it must be taken literally, probably the Mediterranean Sea. The blood in the Mediterranean Sea, or all the oceans, will turn thick, dark, and coagulate as the blood of a corpse. The death and decay of trillions of sea creatures will only add to the misery of this judgment.
THIRD BOWL: RIVERS AND SPRINGS TURN TO BLOOD (16:4-7). Fresh drinking water is already in short supply because of the prolonged drought caused by the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:6). Now contamination of the fresh-water supply by blood follows that of the sea. Here the sowing and reaping principle (Galatians 6:7) is applied, “You spilled the blood of the God’s saints, now drink it!” This leads to tremendous physical thirst, which points to one’s great spiritual thirst.
But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14; cf. Psalm 63).
The angel in charge of the waters declares that “these judgments are just” and the personified altar echoes this by adding the word “truth.” It speaks as a witness to the lives of the righteous sacrificed on it by martyrdom.
Distress generated by God has a twofold purpose—punishment and abasing. What happens is the result of the choice made by those about to be inflicted. Sometimes Israel responded to inflictions by God with repentance, recognizing what the angel and altar declared.
The leaders of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said, “The LORD is just” (2 Chronicles 12:6).
Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).
Abraham asked the LORD that question prior to His destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The answer is “Yes!” An unjust God would not let sin go unpunished!
FOURTH BOWL: SUN SCORCHES PEOPLE WITH FIRE (16:8-9). Added to sores and intense thirst is the scorching of the skin from the sun. The chilling effect when the sun is darkened with the fourth trumpet (Revelation 8:12) is reversed. Increased power of the intensified sunrays scorches the wicked. This could happen several ways:
1. The sun or earth move closer together
2. Increased eruptions on the sun
3. The sun stands still
4. The ozone layer collapses over certain parts of the earth
If the sun does not stand still and the judgment is localized on the Antichrist’s kingdom, the polar ice caps will melt, inundating many of the world’s major cities with blood-polluted water and producing further catastrophic loss of life.
The Lord, the LORD Almighty, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn—the whole land rises like the Nile, then sinks like the river of Egypt—he who builds his lofty palace in the heavens and sets its foundation on the earth, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land—the LORD is his name (Amos 9:5-6).
Incredibly, instead of humbling themselves and declaring, “God is just,” sinners refuse to repent and glorify Him. Their hearts grow harder like Pharaoh’s did with each plague.
FIFTH BOWL: DARKNESS (16:10-11). This plague is reminiscent of the ninth plague in Egypt.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand towards the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand towards 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).
As with the ninth plague, this one is localized also. Only the Antichrist’s throne (capital city) and kingdom are plunged into darkness. Worldwide darkness is associated with God’s judgment (cf. Isaiah 60:2; Joel 2:2; Mark 13:24-25).
By this time, the pain of the sores and scorched skin from the first and fourth plagues is so great that men gnaw their tongues in agony and curse the God of heaven. They know that “there is a God in heaven” (Daniel 2:19); yet hardened even more, they refuse to repent! There will be no repentance in Hell! The unsaved will continue to curse God forever! Darkness hates the Light! How appropriate the Beast’s kingdom is plunged into darkness; being it is the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13).