Revelation 16: The Seven Bowls of Plagues
The greater tragedy is not the man who wastes his life in sinful action and then repents on his death bed, rather it is the man who, in the face of certain death, refuses to admit his faults and instead blames G-d for his predicament. “No one is blinder than the one who refuses to see."
An examination of Revelation 16.
Revelation 16 draws together the strands of judgement seen in the previous chapters, combining the seven seal judgements (5:1-9; 6:1-17, 8) and the seven judgements of the shofrot (Rams horns: 8:2-11:15) and illuminating their purpose as forerunners to the final seven judgements, the plagues that issue forth from the bowls of G-d’s messengers. What makes these final judgements unique is that they almost entirely reflect the last five of the judgements of Egypt—with the exception of the locusts and the blood waters, (although one could argue that the blood waters combine both the water judgement and the death of the firstborn)—and are all consuming, relentless, effecting not just a part (third) but all of the earth and its inhabitants (specifically those who have refused to repent and turn to G-d through His Messiah).
“HaShem said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, stand before Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘Here is what HaShem says: “Let my people go, so that they can worship me. For this time, I will send all My plagues upon your core being, yourself, and on your servants and your people; so that you will realize that I am without equal in all the earth. For now I will stretch out my hand and strike you and your people with such severe plagues that you will be wiped off the face of the earth.” –Shemot/Exodus 9:13-15
16:1 I heard a loud voice coming from the Mishkan (sanctuary, temple) say to the seven messengers, “Go your way, and pour out on the earth (the entire world) the seven bowls of G-d’s wrath!”
The voice that Yochanan hears can only be that of HaShem. We know this because we have just been told in 15:8 that no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven judgements were completed. The fact that G-d’s voice issues from the Mishkan is yet another reminder of His presence with Israel in the desert as she escaped Egypt and journeyed to the Promised Land.
We must also note that while the messengers are intrusted with the bowls (a priestly function) and are responsible for pouring them out, they are none the less, “the seven bowls of G-d’s wrath”. We are prone to niceness (even a snake can feign niceness to get what he wants) regarding the love of G-d, often forgetting that His wrath is also born of His love.
2 So the first messenger went out and poured his bowl onto the earth (the entire world), and boils and painful sores appeared on all the people who had received the mark of the beast and worshipped its image.
First we observe that the plague is poured out over all the earth. Next we recognize that this plague is replicating the 6th plague of Egypt (Yochanan uses the same Greek word helkos, used in the Septuagint Exodus 9:9) on a global scale. Why? There is a clue in the fact that the first five plagues of Egypt, like the first of the judgements of Revelation, affected humanity indirectly. The 6th plague however began the 5 plagues that affected human beings directly. This is important because it shows a tipping point and the catalyst for the final hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and the hearts of the Egyptians. The same is true of Satan and the people of the entire earth in the present context.
We should also note that these plagues only affect those who, “had received the mark of the beast and worshipped its image.” Remembering that the beast is the world power that dominates the last days and receives its power from the Dragon (Satan). This was also the case in Egypt, while the Egyptians suffered the plague of the boils, the Israelites did not.
3 The second messenger poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died. 4 The third messenger poured out his bowl into the rivers and springs of water, and they turned to blood.
This judgement represents the first of the public signs of Moses (who was drawn forth from the waters). The reason for its global repetition here is to remind the reader that these judgements are the beginning of the end for all humanity. They’re not taking place within the temporary inner courts of Satan’s palace (Pharaoh), rather they’re being loosed upon the whole earth in the sight of all humanity (The Egyptians). This plague also alludes to the death of the firstborn, a symbol of the final judgement.
In a literal sense it will mean that human beings will no longer have access to food from the sea and that those who choose to consume it will die as a result. Added to this is the fact that those who turn from the sea to the fresh water rivers and lakes for food will find the second of the blood judgements all the more distressing. And yet, as the text goes on to say, rather than repenting and turning to G-d they curse Him.
5 Then I heard the messenger of the waters say,
Apocryphal Jewish literature supports the concept of angelic beings assigned to the elements. In the book of Enoch the messengers of the waters are commanded by G-d to hold back the waters until Noah has completed the Ark (Enoch 66:1-2). 2 Baruch tells of angels with burning torches who are commanded to hold back their fire until the sacred vessels of the Temple could be hidden away (2 Baruch 6:4).
The following exert from Gill’s commentary is worth considering:
“Dr. Lightfoot thinks, and that not without reason, that since these angels appeared in the garb of priests, Rev 15:6 and since there was a priest appointed to take care of the wells, and fountains, and ditches about Jerusalem, that the people might have water at the feasts (Maimon, Cele Hamikdash, c. 7. sect. 15.), there is an allusion to him; and certain it is that there was such an officer; there was one Nechoniah, who was over the fountains and ditches (Misn. Shekalim, c. 5. sect. 1.); and in the same office was Nicodemon ben Gorion (Abot R. Nathan, c. 5. fol. 3. 2.), thought to be the Nicodemus mentioned in the New Testament.” —John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
Although it is impossible to know the name of this messenger, we do know that the messenger rather than being distraught at the destruction of the element he had been given oversight for, to the contrary calls out in praise to G-d, observing and approving of His justice.
“O Ha-Kadosh (The Holy One), the One Who is and was,
You are just in Your judgments.
6 They poured out the blood of your people and your prophets,
so you have made them drink blood. They deserve it!”
Rabbinical writings sometimes refer to G-d as, “Ha-Kadosh barukh hu”, The Holy One, blessed is He. The Aleinu prayer says, “We bend the knee, bow and acknowledge before the Supreme King of kings, Ha-Kadosh barukh hu (The Holy One, blessed is He).” This is a reference to G-d the Father.
We note that again here G-d is called the, “One Who is and was” but not, “will be” because He has now brought our reality face to face with eternity. From now on He simply is and was!
This psalm of praise and acknowledgement of G-d’s pure justice and victory over His enemies and the enemies of His people and prophets is similar to the words of the prophet Yishaiyahu (Isaiah):
“And I will feed them that oppress you (plural) with their own flesh; and they will be drunk with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all humanity will know that I, Hashem, am your (ethnic Israel) Saviour, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob (ethnic Israel).” –Yishaiyahu/Isaiah 49:26
Here, “Your people and your prophets” refers specifically to ethnic Israel (although in principle it also applies to Christians and those martyrs among the nations who serve the Messiah).
Note that the messenger says of the enemies of G-d’s people, “They deserve it!” This is hardly PC. Perhaps the love of G-d is violent, vengeful, and full of wrath, like the love of a Father who has watched his daughter being raped by evil men and left to die from her wounds. Perhaps the enemies of G-d’s people should now take warning before these days come upon them, for G-d Himself has said, “Vengeance belongs to Me!”
“Don’t avenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to the wrath of G-d: for it is written (Deut 32:35), Vengeance belongs to Me; I will recompense, says HaShem.” –Romans 12:19
Though we may be powerless to avenge ourselves, G-d is willing and able to avenge His children.
7 Then I heard the altar say,
The personification of the altar (of incense) is expected here in response to the just judgements of G-d. For it was from beneath the earthly sacrificial altar that the martyrs cried out for justice and their prayers were offered on the heavenly incense altar along with the prayers of the set apart ones (Rev 8:3-8) in a call for G-d’s vengeance on their enemies (Rev 6:10).
The messenger of Revelation 6 offers incense on the incense altar (Exodus 30:1) that stands before the torn curtain which once veiled the Holy of Holies. This curtain was torn at the point of Messiah’s death. It was torn from top to bottom as the action of a grieving Father tearing His garment. This has meant the unveiling (Revelation) of the Holy of Holies and means that this altar is now seen immediately before the throne of HaShem in the heavenlies.
It’s interesting to note that a small portion of the coals from the sacrificial altar, which was outside the Holy Place, were carried by “One who is worthy” (A priest) to the altar of incense, thus mingling the coals of the sacrificial altar with the incense being offered on the incense altar. (Mishnah. Tamid. c. 5. sect. 5)
We see in this a picture of the sacrificial death of the Messiah represented in the coals of the sacrificial altar, being the ignition point for the suffering prayers of the saints (set apart ones) represented by the incense. Therefore it is the unified voice of the Messiah and His set apart ones that cries out, personified in the altar of incense.
“Yes, HaShem, G-d of heaven’s armies,
your judgments are true and just!”
What you’ve done, though violent, vengeful and final, is none the less, just and true!
8 The fourth messenger poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was permitted to burn people with fire. 9 People were burned by the intense heat; yet they cursed the name of G-d, who had the authority over these plagues, instead of turning from their sins to give Him glory.
Here the sun is given authority to issue torment against global humanity (not a third). Perhaps the highest of the luminaries worshipped by Rome at the time of Yochanan’s writing is seen here as turning its power on its worshippers. However, at this point those suffering from the burning sun are aware of the fact that this torment is being directed by the One true G-d of Israel. Even with this knowledge they refuse to turn to G-d in repentance and choose rather to curse Him in their foolish pride. This solidifies the hardening of the hearts of humanity (Egypt) under the hardest of hearts Satan himself (Pharaoh).
Rav Shaul/Paul explained (1 Timothy 6:10), that the root of all sin is to love/worship something or someone other than G-d, this includes self-deification. Idolatry is the root of all sin and Satan was the first to entertain it. In the last days the children of Satan (Those who refuse G-d’s mercy) will cling to the root of sin returning the decaying fruit of their hatred to its source.
10 The fifth messenger poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom grew dark. People gnawed on their tongues from the pain, 11 yet they cursed the G-d of heaven because of their pain, and did not turn from their sinful deeds.
In previous chapters we have discussed the possibilities as to the central location of the throne of the beast, being the seat of earthly power over the world government that makes up its person (this is why the beast is called it rather than he). Two of the main possibilities are Babylon and Rome but it is difficult to know for sure. What is important is that whatever and wherever this Kingdom may be, there will come a time when G-d will pour out utter darkness upon it and in anticipation of eternal punishment people will gnash their teeth in suffering and turn their anger toward G-d. It’s worth noting that the darkness itself causes pain to those who resist G-d. This darkness, like the darkness that plunged Egypt into chaos, will give birth to an even more horrific judgement.
Once again, in spite of the knowledge that G-d is pouring out these judgements, the people of the earth (Those who have refused Messiah) continue to curse G-d and refuse His offer of salvation. At this point, as with Pharaoh before them, the people of the earth have been given over to the hardness, hatred and evil inclination of their own hearts (core being). Those who have embraced idolatry and hatred with reckless abandon mistake love for weakness and mercy for deception; they reach a point of no return because they’ve lied to themselves for so long that they’re unable to recognize truth in any form.
12 The sixth messenger poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water dried up, in order to prepare the way for the kings from the east.
In the ancient past the majority of Israel’s greatest enemies (with the exception of the Egyptians) had come from the East. At the time of Yochanan’s writing it was the Parthians that Rome feared along with the myth of the resurrected Caesar’s (Nero) return to claim his eternal rule over Rome.
Yochanan’s readers may also have been aware of the historical victory of Cyrus the Persian when he conquered Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River and drying up the river bed so that he could invade the city.
The drying up of waters is of course a familiar sign for the Jewish reader who is aware of the many instances in the Tanakh where G-d shows His power and might through the division, withholding and drying up of waters. (Exodus 14:21; Joshua 3:17; Isaiah 11:16; Jeremiah 51:36; Zechariah 10:11). However, unlike the many positive uses of this sign, it is used here in a contrary manner as a means of allowing access to the Eastern armies so that they can invade the west.
13 And I saw three unclean winds that looked like frogs; they came from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast and from the mouth of the false prophet.
These three winds or breaths are not spirits themselves but rather the intent and breath of the spirits of those from whom they emanate. The Dragon (Satan), the Beast (Evil world power) and the Prophet (Anti-Messiah: mentioned here for the first time). This unholy trinity unites its collective influence to deceive the world through an ideology of hatred toward G-d and His people. This will bring to mind many regimes and Empires throughout the centuries, most recently the Nazis and presently Islam (a religion based on an ideology of hatred, subjugation and domination: it is also noteworthy that Islam is as testified to by its own holy writings, anti-Messiah).
These winds or ideologies have the appearance of the unclean frog. This amphibian once plagued Egypt and now plagues the hearts and minds of humanity.
It seems that in his letter to the Thessalonians Rav Shaul/Paul the apostle is prophesying the very thing we are reading about in Revelation 16. By the Holy Spirit He is looking forward to the revealing of the Anti-Messiah, the prophet who speaks for the beast (World power) and for Satan (Dragon). He begins by warning against spirits/winds of falsehood and deception (the frogs):
“To the end that you will not be quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit (breath/wind), or by word, or by letters pretending to be from us, saying that the day of HaShem is now at hand; 3 let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, 4 he that opposes and exalts himself against all that is called god that is worshipped; so that he sits in the temple of G-d, setting himself up as G-d.”
–2 Thessalonians 2:2-4
14 They are miracle-working demonic winds which go out to the kings of the whole inhabited world to assemble them for the War of the Great Day of Adonai-Tzva’ot (YHVH of Heavens Armies).
These winds are a sort of unholy spirit that powers genuinely miraculous signs and wonders. Signs and wonders that convince rulers that they are invincible against G-d and His armies. There purpose is to fool humanity into believing what their itching ears want to hear, that they are the masters of their own destiny (idolatry). This is of course a familiar refrain in many of our films and T.V. shows, it permeates our media and fills our colloquialisms. We have become certain that we are in control, despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary.
We’re now witnessing the event horizon of the end. The purpose of all these deceptions is to gather the enemies of G-d against His Messiah and His people for the final battle between Good and evil. Even now everything is under G-d’s control, evil remains a speck of dust and Good, in G-d, an ocean of universes.
15 “Look! I am coming like a thief! How blessed are those who stay alert and keep their clothes clean, so that they won’t be walking naked and be publicly put to shame!”
Amidst the turmoil and chaos the voice of Messiah is heard clearly above the din. “My beloved friends in the midst of all this chaos and trouble, stand strong in Me, keep your clothes clean in Me, don’t let yourself be caught naked when I come like a thief to rescue you.”
“Now as to the times and the ages, brothers and sisters, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of HaShem will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labour pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief;” –1 Thessalonians 5:1-4
Notice that like the Israelites in Egypt, followers of Yeshua will not be in darkness.
“So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. 23 They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” –Exodus 10:22-23
“But the day of Hashem will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” –2 Peter 3:10
This statement of warning is issued now as an opportunity for those who are reading Messiah’s revelation but have not yet received His gift of eternal life. It is written now, before the days when these events will take place so that those who are reading it will repent before it’s too late.
16 And they gathered the kings to the place which in Hebrew is called Har Megiddo.
There is no “H” in the Greek alphabet, therefore the Greek “Armageddon” (Which Yochanan records as being a Hebrew proper noun) is most likely an attempted transliteration of the Hebrew Har Megiddo, meaning Mountain of Megiddo or, Mountain of crowding, gathering and gashing (Judges 5:19).
Zechariah 10:11 prophecy’s regarding the valley of Megiddon in the latter days saying:
“And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born. 11 In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadad-rimmon in the valley of Megiddon.”
Hadad Rimmon was the place in the Jezreel valley near Megiddo, where the righteous king Josiah lost his life. The Jezreel valley has been a valley of meeting, bloodshed and conflict from ancient days. It boasts archaeological remains spanning from the fourth century BCE to the Persian conquest of the 7th century CE.
It was in the Jezreel valley that Deborah and Balak defeated the enemies of Israel at the L-rd’s hand (Judges 4-5) and Gideon defeated the Midianites with only 300 men (Judges 6-8). It has also been the sight of modern battles such as the defeating of the Turks by Napoleon (1799) and General Allenby (1918).
Whether the final battle takes place in the Jezreel valley or upon the mountain that overlooks it, or both, the point is that all the world is gathered against G-d, His Messiah and His people.
The prophet Joel tells us that it is in fact G-d that causes the armies of the world to gather against Him and His people:
“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 (Synonymous with the Jezreel valley/valley of Megiddo),
For there I will sit to judge
All the surrounding nations.” –Joel 3:11-12
In other words, G-d manipulates Satan and his spirits in order to bring about the completion of His (G-d’s) redemptive plan.
17 The seventh messenger poured out his bowl on the air, and a loud voice came out of the Temple (Mishkan/Tent of meeting) from the throne, saying, “It is done!”
The air was thought of as the abode of the demonic, an environment filled with powers and principalities that opposed G-d. In this context Satan has been cast from the mid heavens (Rev 12:9) and bound beneath earth’s outer atmosphere. Therefore the seventh plague attacks the root cause of man’s rebellion, the Prince of the air and his demonic hordes and unclean spirits.
“You formerly walked according to the way of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” –Ephesians 2:2
The voice, as before, is The Father G-d. The phrase, “It is done” has no correlation to the words, “It is finished” spoken by Messiah on the cross. In fact the Greek is better translated, “It is performed”.
18 There were flashes of lightning, voices and peals of thunder; and there was a massive earthquake, such as has never occurred since mankind has been on earth, so violent was the earthquake.
The voices, lightning and thunder are familiar elements of a theophany (Manifest meeting between G-d and humanity).
Though the first century CE was no stranger to earthquakes, Yochanan specifies that there has been no earthquake like it since the creation of humanity. This is a catastrophic future event felt throughout the world, an unmistakable final quaking of the earth.
19 The great city was split into three parts, the cities of the nations fell, and G-d remembered Babylon (Bavel: the sight of the tower of Babel) the Great and made her drink the wine from the cup of his raging wrath.
The great city is the city at the centre of the beast’s kingdom. The splitting of it into three parts is further illustrated in the following chapters. Bavel (Confusion: from the root meaning “to mix”) or Babel was the sight of humanity’s first great corporate rebellion against G-d (Genesis 11). Here it has come full circle and like its namesake its idolatry will dissolve into its own futility suckling on the wine of G-d’s wrath.
20 Every island fled, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And huge 25kg hailstones fell on people from the sky. But the people cursed G-d for the plague of hail, because it was such a terrible plague.
Here we’re shown the vast extent of the judgement as it reaches to the ends of the earth causing Islands to sink and be destroyed and mountains to explode and implode in catastrophic seismic events. Again we’re reminded of Egypt and the plague of hail, only this plague is greater still. However the people of the earth continue to resist G-d, cursing and blaming Him rather than recognising that it is their sin that has brought destruction upon them.
The greater tragedy is not the man who wastes his life in sinful action and then repents on his death bed, rather it is the man who, in the face of certain death, refuses to admit his faults and instead blames G-d for his predicament. “No one is blinder than the one who refuses to see.”
© 2015 Yaakov Brown
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Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,