Notes on Revelation 15:1 - 16:21
Cecil N. Wright

            Introduction: In Chapters 6:1 - 8:6, we have had the opening of the seven seals; in Chapters 8:7 - 11:18, the sounding of the Seven Trumpets; in Chapters 11:19 - 14:5, the introduction to the seven Mystic Figures, followed by an Interlude of six Angelic Messages in 14:6-20; and in Chapters 15:1 - 16:21, we have the pouring out of seven Bowls of plagues - "which are the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God" (15:1) -- associated with the XXX sounding of the Seventh Trumpet (10:5-7) and "the kingdom of the world" (seemingly the Roman empire) becoming "the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ" (11:15) - that is, the triumph of Christianity over paganism in the Roman empire.

            It bears repeating that Chapter 11:19 seems to have marked a new beginning - that up to that point the secular history of the Roman empire as it affected the church seems mostly to have symbolized, and that from that point onward much the same ground is covered again but with significant aspects of religious history receiving the emphasis. Also, that the seven Seals seem to incorporate the Seven Trumpets, and the Seven Trumpets to incorporate the Seven Bowls, so that the events of the Seven Seals are not complete prior to the completion of those of the Seventh Bowl. Likewise, that the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls are not necessarily consecutive, but may in part be simultaneous and represent simply differently aspects of the same general events, and that there may even be an overlapping of the Seals with other Seals, of Trumpets with other Trumpets, and Bowls with other Bowls. A remarkable similarity will be found between the descriptions of the Seven Bowls (Chapter 8 and 9, [Notes to Revelation 8:6 - 11:19]), yet with a difference. But before that, we have an Interlude of six Angelic Messages that serve as a significant prelude to the pouring out of the Seven Bowls and "finishing the wrath of God" upon the Roman Empire.

            Chapter 14 has given a swift summary of events to the end of either of the Roman empire or the end of the world, but more likely the former (for reasons already indicated), announcing the fall of the great harlot city Babylon, almost certain to be pagan Rome. The 15th through the 19th chapters present the same events in significant detail. Chapter 15 is introductory to the pouring out of the Bowls of God's wrath, and Chapter 16 is descriptive of their being poured out, with Chapter 17 through 19 elaborating the results in greater detail. Our attention now, however, will be directed to chapters 15 and 16.

            In 15:1, John states: "And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having seven plagues, which are the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God" - that is, against the Beast of Chapter 13 and involving the fall of Babylon, associated with and supported by the Beast. As for being "another sign in heaven," it seems to be in addition to the "great sign ... in heaven" of 12:1 and the other "sign in heaven" of 12:3. Those pertained to the radiant woman and the great red Dragon. The woman not only gave birth to the Man Child (the Christ), but had other "seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold to the testimony of Jesus." The Dragon was Satan, particularly as embodied in the Roman Empire. He not only sought to devour the Man Child, (the Christ), but persecuted the woman and "made war with the rest of her seed," as the remainder of chapter 12 states. His chief agents in the Roman Empire were two beast - the Beast of the Sea (persecuting emperors, represented by Domition at the time of the Revelation) and the Beast from the Earth (the Emperor Cult of the pagan priesthood, which promoted emperor worship) of Chapter 13.

            In 15:2-4, John says: "And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire, and them that come off victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name (referred to in Chapter 13), standing by the sea of glass, having harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are your ways, thou King of the ages. Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify thy name? For thou only art holy; for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy righteous acts have been made manifest." This reminiscent of the announcement in 11:15 at the sounding of the trumpet of the Seventh Angel, that "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign for ever and ever" - in connection with the overthrow of pagan Rome and the ascendancy of Christianity in the Roman empire, if our interpretation has been correct.

            The foregoing is a consolatory vision, giving a preview as it were of the victory that will be achieved by and for the saints of God. It contrasts with the wrath of God against their enemies and his, to be finished with the seven plagues to be poured from the seven bowls of wrath. The "song of Moses" refers to the song of deliverance from Pharaoh and his armies that Moses led Israel in singing after that deliverance had been accomplished (Exodus 15:1-18). The "song of the Lamb," by the same token, would be one of celebration of having "come off victorious from the beast" under the leadership of the Lamb and through their loyalty to him and God. The song of Moses was first sung beside the Red Sea when Israel had crossed it and was safe from her enemies. Now it and the song of the Lamb are being sung beside the symbolic sea of glass mingled with fire through which seemingly the followers of the Lamb have come, having come off, as already stated, "victorious from the beast." These comport with the 144,000 of the consolatory vision of 14:1-5.

            In 15:5-8, we have a resumption of what was begun in v.1. A striking description is given of the seven angels (arrayed in priestly attire) that had the seven plagues, and how they were given by one of the four living creatures in the seven bowls full of the wrath of God. These seven angels had come out of the heavenly temple, and it became "filled with the smoke of the glory of God, and from his power," so that "none was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished." This is reminiscent of what occurred at the dedication of the Tabernacle at Sinai (Exodus 40:34-35) and of Solomon's temple that replaced it for centuries later (1 Kings 8:10-11), and no doubt symbolizes the transcendent importance of the mission of the angels in connection with the Beast and the fall of Babylon.

            In 16:1, John says: " And I heard a great voice out of the temple, saying to the seven angels, pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God into the earth" - the Roman earth particularly, it would seem - and the pattern of execution will be seen to be similar to that of the events in connection with the sounding of the seven trumpets of 8:6 - 11:18, including the fact that some of the plagues are somewhat reminiscent of those in Egypt before the Israelites experienced their great deliverance. But the Trumpets featured political and secular history effecting the church, whereas the Bowl have to do with religious aspects and consequences predominately.   

            1. The First Bowl (16:2). "And the first went, and poured out his bowl into the earth; and it became a noisome and grievous sore upon the men that had the mark of the beast, and that worshipped his image" - reminiscent of boils on the Egyptians (Exodus 9:9-11).

            2. The Second Bowl (16:3). "And the second poured out his bowl into the sea; and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living soul died, even the things that were in the sea" - reminiscent of water turned to blood in Egypt (Exodus 7:17-25).

            3. The Third Bowl (16:4-7). "And the third poured out his bowl upon the rivers and the fountains of the waters" - still reminiscent of water turned to blood in Egypt.

            " And I heard," says John, "the angel of the waters saying, righteous art thou, who art and wast, thou holy one, because thou didst thus judge: for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and blood hast thou given them to drink: they are worthy. And I heard the alter saying, Yea, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments."

            4. The Fourth Bowl (16:8-9). "And the fourth poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given unto it to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat and they blasphemed the name of God who hath given the power over the plagues; and they repented not to give him glory" - in this instance, no darkness it correspond with that of the Fourth Trumpet or the darkness in Egypt (Exodus 10:21-23), but rather the opposite - scorching heat,

            5. The Fifth Bowl (16:10-11). "And the fifth poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast; and his kingdom was darkened; and they gnawed their tongues in pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they repented not of their works" - darkness in the kingdom of the Beast being somewhat reminiscent of the darkness in Pharaoh's kingdom of Egypt (Exodus 10:21-23), and corresponding somewhat to the darkening of the sun and the air in connection with the sounding of the Fifth Trumpet.

            6. The Sixth Bowl (16:12-16). "And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river, the river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might be made ready for the kings that come from the sun rising. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, three unclean spirits, as it were frogs: for they are spirits of demons, working signs; which go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, least he walk naked, and they see his shame.) And they gathered themselves together into one place which is called in Hebrew Har-Magedon."

            Here the great river Euphrates is dried up so as to be crossed, as the Red Sea was dried up for the crossing of the Israelites as they escaped from Egypt (Exodus 14:15-22) and as the river Jordan was likewise dried up for their crossing it into Canaan (Joshua 3:14-17). Also, in connection with the sounding of the Sixth Trumpet the river Euphrates was involved - armies from the east no longer restrained from crossing it westward into the Roman empire. In the present case, it is dried up to permit kings and their armies from the east to gather for participation in a mighty and decisive battle - symbolically described as being at Har-Magedon or Ar-Magedon - that is Mount of Megiddo. The low hills around the town of Megiddo, in Palestine, with their outlook over the plain of Esdraelon, are said to have witnessed perhaps a greater number of bloody encounters than have ever stained a like area of the world surface. And in the history of Israel Megiddo had been the scene of never-to-be-forgotten and decisive battles. In the case, the Dragon, Beast, and False Prophet are seeking to mobilize the kings (and their armies) of the whole world for a mighty battle and decisive struggle against God Almighty. It appears to be the battle described in Chapter 19 (see v.19), though its location is not there named (which is figurative and symbolic rather than geographic, being an ideological war primarily regardless of whatever carnal warfare may also be involved - a False Prophet) and therefore false teaching) being engaged on one side (16:13) and the Word of God on the other (19:13-16)). And the False Prophet is seen in his description in 19:20 to be the same as the second Beast (the Emperor Cult of the pagan priesthood in the Roman Empire) of 13:11-18. Moreover, the first Beast (Imperial Rome, and particularly its persecuting emperors) and the second Beast are themselves agents of Satan in his embodiment in the pagan empire of Rome, as indicated in Chapter 13.

            7. The Seventh Bowl (16:17-21). "And the seventh poured out his bowl upon the air; and there came forth a great voice out of the temple, from the throne, saying, It is done: and there were lightenings, and voices, and thunders; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since there were men upon the earth, so great an earthquake and so mighty. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island is fled away, and the mountains were found not. And great hail, every stone about the weight of a talent, cometh down out of heaven upon men: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceedingly great."

            In connection with the Seventh Seal (8:1-5), the Seventh Trumpet (11:15-19), and now the Seventh Bowl (16:17-21), we have a great storm, (as a result of the plague upon the air or atmosphere) and a great earthquake (symbolic of revolution - social, religious, political, or all). But such is not surprising, since the Seals incorporate the Trumpets, and the Trumpets incorporate the Bowls, so that the Seals are not completed without the Trumpets and the Trumpets are not completed without the Bowls, as had been repeatedly suggested. All three instances seem to symbolize the same consummation in one aspect or another - that is, a decisive overthrow of the enemies of the saints and their God and his Christ in the great conflict already being experienced by the earliest readers of the Book of Revelation. It is not a consummation of the earth's history, however for that consummation seems to be represented as being more than a thousand years later (Chapter 20). But it is obviously an overthrow of Rome and its empire in all aspects crucial to the conflict between Caesar as lord and Christ as Lord.

            But we are not through with all aspects of the consummation as represented by the seven Bowls of Wrath. More are yet to be given in Chapters 17 through 19. And then the results will be described as lasting through another 1,000 years, evidently symbolic of a long duration before the time of the end of history (20:1-6). For respective from the viewpoint of the interpretation set forth in these Notes, please see the Chart of Revelation 6-22.