Revelation 15 & 16: Seven Bowls of Wrath

Revelation 15 & 16: Seven Bowls of Wrath

We are 2/3 of the way through our sermon series on this mysteriously wonderful book of Revelation.  Back in January when we started, we saw that the first 3 chapters tell us much about the purpose of this book.  It was written to seven churches in Asia (modern-day Turkey).  These were churches that the Apostle John probably knew well.

Here are the very first words:

Revelation 1:1–3 CSB The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, whatever he saw.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it, because the time is near.

Revelation was written as a prophetic letter to these seven churches.  Jesus promises blessing from heaven to anyone who reads these words, takes them to heart, and obeys them.  This is important, Jesus says, because the time is near.   The time of the end of life as we know it is near.  The return of Christ to this earth to establish his eternal kingdom is near. 

In chapters 2 &3, we discover the seven churches had various challenges going on.  We can learn from these seven letters. 

  • Some of them were doing quite well spiritually, but were being persecuted severely.   He commends them and tells them to keep going.  To conquer, and they will be rewarded in heaven. 
  • Others were yielding to false teachings and sinful behavior.   To them Jesus says, “You are warned.  Repent.  And if you repent, you will overcome and be blessed in the next life.”

To them all, he says, “The end is near.  I am coming soon.”

The rest of the book gives many visions that ultimately lead up to the return of Christ and the wrath of God finally being unleashed on this world with severity and finality. 

The seven churches would have read the rest of Revelation.  And surely they would know these things:  that Jesus is alive and still directing his church;  there is great evil in the world;  the wrath of God is coming;  there truly is an end to this world;  in the end, God wins over all evil;  and their only hope is in Jesus.”

Today we will read Chapters 15 and 16 which clearly are very, very near the end of time on this earth as we know it.   And very near the Second Coming of Christ. 

Last week Matt finished up chapter 14 with a fascinating vision.  A vision of angels harvesting the earth.  The metaphor (vs. 17+) is the gathering of grapes to be thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath.  It’s a powerful vision that now leads us into chapter 15.

Revelation 15:1-8

Revelation 15 (CSB)

1 Then I saw another great and awe-inspiring sign in heaven: seven angels with the seven last plagues; for with them God’s wrath will be completed.

2 I also saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had won the victory over the beast, its image, and the number of its name, were standing on the sea of glass with harps from God.

3 They sang the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb: Great and awe-inspiring are your works, Lord God, the Almighty; just and true are your ways, King of the nations.

4 Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you because your righteous acts have been revealed.

5 After this I looked, and the heavenly temple—the tabernacle of testimony—was opened.

6 Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, dressed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes wrapped around their chests.

7 One of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.

8 Then the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.

Vs. 1

This world as we know it will never be the same.  The final judgment on the earth is introduced.  Seven angels are given seven bowls filled with God’s wrath.  Whether this happens 500 days from now or 500 years, we do not know.  But there will be an end someday soon of the world as we know it.  We need to hear this.  Otherwise we think, “Oh, things will always continue the way they have.”

The Apostle Peter addressed this thinking.

2 Peter 3:3–7 CSB  Above all, be aware of this: Scoffers will come in the last days scoffing and following their own evil desires, saying, “Where is his ‘coming’ that he promised? Ever since our ancestors fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation.” 

They deliberately overlook this: By the word of God the heavens came into being long ago and the earth was brought about from water and through water.  Through these the world of that time perished when it was flooded.  By the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Very sobering!  We must read Revelation with a sober mind and believe that a day is coming when all things will change.  Life as we know it will be stopped. 

So far in Revelation we have seen two sets of judgment:  Seals and trumpets back in chapters 6 through 11.  Now we have a third set:  seven bowls or plagues.

There are two main views of how these three sets fit together: 

  1. These 3 “sevens” are chronological …sequential in a series… as God’s judgment gets more and more severe.
  2. These 3 “sevens”  overlap, at least somewhat.  They recapitulate.  That they essentially speaking of the same ultimate thing:  the very end of time when Christ judges this world.

Pastor Dave spoke about this briefly about this in his sermon on February 6. 

Here is why I think they recapitulate, or repeat, because all 3 end up in the same place:

The sixth seal:

Revelation 6:16–17 CSB  … the great day of their wrath has come!

The seventh trumpet:

Revelation 11:15 CSB  …The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.

The seventh bowl:

Revelation 16:17 CSB  … a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done!”

Although each individual Seal, Trumpet, and Bowl doesn’t necessarily line up together, they all seem to get to end at the same point.   They are describing God’s overall judgment from three different perspectives as 3 witnesses of the end. 

But whether these 3 sets of 7 judgments are sequential or repeating, the argument is strong that the bowls here in chapters 15 and 16 is near the end of time as we know it.    God has patiently waited these centuries since Christ came to earth the first time.   Patiently waited to judge sin … since he wants more people to be saved. 

Following the passage I just read, Peter says,

2 Peter 3:9 CSB The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.

In the days described in Revelation 15-16, the Lord’s patience is completed.  Now is the time for his full wrath upon the people of this earth.

Vs. 2-4

Then after introducing this topic of judgment in vs. 1, God interrupts it with another scene in the vision.  It’s a worship scene.  This passage is so beautiful, it would be worth our entire time this morning to focus just on this passage.  The attributes of God are beautifully celebrated.  But it feels like an abrupt switch.  Vs. 1 introduces judgment, then immediately the scene switches to worshiping God.  And then in vs. 5, we get back to the seven bowls of judgment.   But this switching from judgment to worship back to judgment is not new to Revelation.  It has already occurred a couple of times in Revelation.

Why would the Lord press pause on the scene of his final judgment to jump to a worship scene?  I’ll offer two reasons:

  1. God is worthy of worship. 

Whether it concerns the work of Christ in his death and resurrection, or whether it’s glorying in the holiness and justice of God who judges righteously, God is worthy of such praise.

I did a study through Revelation looking for passages like here in vs. 2-4, and I was surprised to find so many passages of worship.  When I added it all up, it was the equivalent of approximately 8 chapters.  About 1/3 of the entire book is worship.  When we read Revelation, we can’t forget that the ultimate message is about God himself, revealing his glory, power, justice, and mercy.  As he is in every book of the Bible, God is the True Hero of the story. 

A second reason for this particular worship scene in vs. 2-4: 

2. God is vindicating all his followers who have been persecuted and even killed by those who hate Jesus.

In vs. 2, who is singing a song of worship?   Who celebrates?  All those believers in Christ who win the victory over the beast who tries to take Christ’s place in chapter 13.  Martyred Christians are worshiping God for his coming judgment.

Persecution is nothing new.  Extreme injustices have been done against Christ’s followers ever since Acts chapter 3, just months after Christ ascended into heaven.   And back in Revelation 6:10, we read about martyred Christians in heaven, crying out for justice.

Here in chapter 15 and 16, that waiting period for justice is over.  God’s eternal plan to vindicate his children and to bring justice on persecutors is now being fulfilled in these last days.  Hearkening back to chapters 1, 2, & 3, the Lord is writing Revelation to the Christians in the 7 churches to awaken them, convict them, strengthen them, and to tell them all:  Jesus has won at the cross, and he is going to win with finality when he returns soon.  So this moment of judgment hinted at in vs. 1 is a time to glory in our great God. 

What did these believers sing?

  • They worship him for being just and true in all his ways,   God is never unjust.  Never untrue or false.  He never lies.
  • They declare him as King of the nations.   Jesus Christ reigns over everyone and everything.  Many earthly rulers are running wild and out of control.  But nothing is outside the control of the King of the nations. 
  • Believers from every nation will come to him with hearts of worship, 

For us today, we don’t need to shrink away from the topic of God’s justice, or feel like we have to excuse him somehow for such severe action as he brings his wrath on the world.  This world desperately needs justice and truth.  And when it finally comes as prophesied about in these 2 chapters, it will be a beautiful and glorious day. 

Vs. 5-8

Now the worship scene closes, and we are introduced us to these seven plagues.

The scene is in heaven.  Specifically, God’s temple in heaven.  Seven angels come out of the temple…out from the presence of God.  They are given seven bowls filled with God’s wrath.  Finally…justice will prevail on the earth.  As soon as the angels take these seven bowls, the temple filled with smoke from the glory of God.  Numerous places in the OT do we read of something like this.  Either a cloud or smoke represents the presence of God in all his glory.  God’s glory—his brilliance and majesty and holiness—are too much for anyone to behold.  And no one is able to enter into the temple until the seven plagues are completed.

Revelation 16:1-9 (CSB)

Bowls 1-4

Now in chapter 16, we are told specifics of each of these seven bowls of wrath.  Let’s read about the first four bowls.

Revelation 16:1–9 (CSB)

1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”

2 The first went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and severely painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped its image.

3 The second poured out his bowl into the sea. It turned to blood like that of a dead person, and all life in the sea died.

4 The third poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood.

5 I heard the angel of the waters say, You are just, the Holy One, who is and who was, because you have passed judgment on these things.

6 Because they poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets, you have given them blood to drink; they deserve it!

7 I heard the altar say, Yes, Lord God, the Almighty, true and just are your judgments.

8 The fourth poured out his bowl on the sun. It was allowed to scorch people with fire,

9 and people were scorched by the intense heat. So they blasphemed the name of God, who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give him glory.

Bowl 1 (vs. 2):

The bowl of wrath is poured out on the earth.  And everyone who worshiped the beast from Chapter 13 will suffer terribly.  We commonly call the beast, “the Antichrist,” though the word “Antichrist” is never used in Revelation. 

Bowl 2 (vs. 3):

This bowl of wrath impacts the sea.  The oceans.  The water is turned to blood and death follows.   This may sound familiar.  If we read Exodus with Moses and the plagues on Egypt, we will find some familiarity between those plagues and these plagues.  In fact, in both the seven trumpets and the seven bowls, we see reminders of up to 6 of the Egyptian plagues.

Bowl 3 (vs. 4):

This bowl impacts streams and springs.  Similar to Bowl 2, the water is turned to blood.

What’s fascinating is the angel’s words:  “God, you are holy and just.  Because these people poured out the blood of countless Christians, you, Lord, are going to give them blood to drink.”  And then he says emphatically, “They deserve it!”

True justice is shown in the severe punishment from God for the evil they did against the followers of his Son, Jesus Christ. 

The altar says ,“The Lord is true and just in all his judgments.”  Human judges don’t always get it right.  But the Lord will never get it wrong. 

Bowl 4 (vs. 8):

This bowl is poured out on the sun, and the people are scorched by the heat.  What’s interesting is the response of the people.  Do they finally see God for who he is and repent of their sins and cry out for mercy?  No, they actually blaspheme God.  They curse him.  They refuse to give him glory.  We will see this again.   This serves as a warning to all who fight against God:  You will not win.  You may think you will win for a time, but in the end, this just and holy God will triumph as the Judge of all the earth.

I’m a big fan of author C.S. Lewis from 60-70 years ago.  He wrote a children’s fantasy book series called, “The Chronicles of Narnia.”  A main character in the series is named Aslan.  He is a lion.  And Aslan clearly represents Jesus Christ.  In the story, the world was in chaos, being ruled by evil.  But then Aslan returns, and he fulfills a prophecy upon his return:

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

Wrong will be made right when Jesus comes in sight.  Sorrows will be no more.  The curse of winter and pain and death will be crushed.  And we will have Spring again forevermore when Christ sets this world right.

To the suffering Christians and the wayward Christians in these 7 churches in chapters 2 & 3, they will find strength and reorientation when they read of the final judgment of God.  Jesus Christ will win. 

We may have read of preachers from 100 to 200 years ago.  We call them “hell, fire, and brimstone” preachers as they warned of coming judgment.  And we may be tempted to scoff at them for their hard words.  But when we read Chapter 16, I wonder if they had more right than we give them credit for.  These are hard words.

Revelation 16:10-21 (CSB)

Bowls 5-7

Now let’s read the last three bowls of judgment.

10 The fifth poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues because of their pain

11 and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they did not repent of their works.

12 The sixth 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.

13 Then I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming from the dragon’s mouth, from the beast’s mouth, and from the mouth of the false prophet.

14 For they are demonic spirits performing signs, who travel to the kings of the whole world to assemble them for the battle on the great day of God, the Almighty.

15 “Look, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who is alert and remains clothed so that he may not go around naked and people see his shame.”

16 So they assembled the kings at the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.

17 Then the seventh poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done!”

18 There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder. And a severe earthquake occurred like no other since people have been on the earth, so great was the quake.

19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the Great was remembered in God’s presence; he gave her the cup filled with the wine of his fierce anger.

20 Every island fled, and the mountains disappeared.

21 Enormous hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell from the sky on people, and they blasphemed God for the plague of hail because that plague was extremely severe.

Bowl 5 (vs. 10-11)

God’s wrath is poured out on the kingdom of the beast from Chapter 13.  Satan’s earthly kingdom is no match for God.

We may be tempted to fear the demonic world.  We might be afraid of the power and influence the devil has on this world.  But here as well as countless other places in Scriptures, God is the Ruler of all.  He will triumph over all, and his followers should never be afraid.

What is the result in this judgment?  Just like in the 4th bowl, the people curse God and refuse to repent.  By this statement, it seems that they had the opportunity to repent, but they still refused.  God is never under obligation to show mercy.  That’s the very definition of mercy:  compassion offered to someone who doesn’t deserve it.  But he does offer mercy.  And still, many refuse the offer.  As declared in the 3rd bowl, God is true and just in all his judgments. 

Bowl 6 (vs. 12-16)

Now God’s wrath is poured out on the Euphrates River, and the waters were dried up to make way for an army.  Then these strange frog-like creatures—demons— go forth from the false Trinity, that is, the counterfeit to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  They are the devil, the beast, and the false prophet from Chapter 13.  These demons go forth into the world to assemble nations to fight against God at a place called Armageddon.  The word Armageddon likely refers to a place in Israel SW of the Sea of Galilee.  A mountain with an adjacent valley, the sight of some battles in the OT. 

Somehow Satan is going to gather nations to try to fight against God.  Notice that we’re not told here that a battle actually occurs;  just that armies are gathered to fight. 

Bowl 7 (vs. 17-21)

Now in this last measure of God’s wrath, we first have a declaration from the throne, from God Almighty, saying, “It is done!”  His wrath on this earth is coming to a close.  Life on this planet as we know it is coming to an end.  We can have all sorts of debates and discussions about the many details in Revelation.  But the end is quite clear:  God is going to judge everyone.

And we are re-introduced to Babylon the Great, first mentioned in Chapter 14.  And it will come up again in Chapters 17 & 18.  As we will see in Chapters 17 & 18 next week, Babylon  seems to represent both a political and religious power in the world.  Regardless of how powerful and influential this Babylon the Great is, she is no match for the Creator God.  One of my all-time favorite passages praising the supremacy and power of God is in Isaiah 40.  It’s a long passage extolling God’s greatness.

Here is an excerpt:

Isaiah 40:15,17,28 CSB Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are considered as a speck of dust on the scales… All the nations are as nothing before him;  they are considered by him as empty nothingness… Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth.  He never becomes faint or weary; there is no limit to his understanding.

God is far, far greater than any of us even imagine.  We must tremble before him.  Yet for us who have embraced the Lamb of God, Jesus, as our Savior, we rejoice in this God of all power and perfect justice.


What can we learn from these 2 remarkable chapters?

Let’s start with the big picture. 

Revelation is one part of (the final chapter in) God’s unfolding plan of redemption.

If we examine the whole Bible, beginning in Genesis, there is a flow of God’s plan for this earth.  It’s a plan of redemption.  An unfolding plan of redeeming mankind through his great mercy, specifically through his Son, the Lamb of God.   And an unfolding plan of his fierce wrath to be poured out on all who reject him and his Son.  The story arc of the Bible beginning in Genesis is like this great orchestral piece where the music builds and builds to this great crescendo and ends with notes of triumph.  A triumph of salvation and judgment.  Revelation is that crescendo… that climax of human history as we know it. 

So before getting bogged down in the mysterious details of Revelation, let us remember there is a larger story that begins in Genesis.

We are sobered by God’s judgment

In these chapters, clearly we are reading of  the end of this world as we know it.  This is sobering to know and believe that there really is an end someday soon.  Like the seven churches that this was written to, the finality of God’s judgment awakens us from our spiritual sleepiness.  And these chapters give a warning to any of us who are ignoring or rejecting Christ. 

Ezekiel 18:30–32 CSB “Therefore, house of Israel, I will judge each one of you according to his ways.” This is the declaration of the Lord God. “Repent and turn from all your rebellious acts, so they will not become a sinful stumbling block to you.  Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, house of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.” This is the declaration of the Lord God. “So repent and live!”

Even in these hard words of Revelation 15 & 16, the Lord urges all of to turn from our sinful ways.  To repent and live.  To believe in the Lamb of God and get a new heart and a new spirit.

We ought to weep with joy for our deliverance

For those of us who know Jesus Christ….who have believed the truth of the gospel and have been granted eternal life…we ought to weep with joy when we read Revelation 15 & 16.  For this could have been us being judged.  This should have been us.  We deserved condemnation just like everyone else.  But God has mercifully spared our lives and given us eternal hope.

Ephesians 2:3–5 CSB We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!

We must never forget where we came from.   God’s wrath was against us.  Hell awaited us.  But God mercifully sent his Son to die in our place.  He opened our eyes to see this offer of mercy.  And he saved us unto himself.  Our deliverance is astonishing.  We ought to weep with joy.

And not only have we been delivered from wrath, we have been exalted into his family, made sons and daughters.  And we have been made a kingdom, priests to our God, serving in his very presence.   We owe him everything, starting with praise from our lips.

Like the worship scene in Revelation 5, we say with the multitudes:

Revelation 5:13 CSB “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to the one seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!”