22. The Bowl Judgments (Rev 16:1-21)
In order to keep the chronological sequence and order of the Tribulation events in mind, let’s review several points about the seven seals, trumpets, and the seven bowls, which together make up the Tribulation judgments:
(1) Since there are no judgments described with the opening of the seventh seal as with the previous six, and since the seven trumpets judgment follow immediately (8:1-6), it seems evident that the seventh seal consists of the seven trumpets.
(2) The seventh and final trumpet judgment (11:15-19) does not describe one specific judgment as with the other six trumpets, but signifies that whole part of the Tribulation program of God’s wrath that will, at the end, bring in the kingdom through the return of Christ. However, it will also cause great anger and rebellion on the part of the unbelieving world. Only the results of the seventh trumpet are described in Revelation 11:15-19. The judgments themselves, which make up the seventh trumpet and which accomplish the victory described in 11:15-19 are the seven bowl judgments called the seven plagues, the last ones (15:1-16:21). The seven bowls are the seventh trumpet and spell out what the seventh trumpet consists of by way of its judgments.
(3) Chapters 12-14 were parenthetic with chapter 15 being introductory to chapter 16 which now takes us to the specific judgments of the seventh trumpet.
(4) There is a great deal of similarity in the judgments of the trumpets and bowls. In both, the first series deals with the earth (cf. 8:7 with 16:2), the second series deals with the sea (cf. 8:8-9 with 16:3), the third series deals with the rivers and fountains of water (cf. 8:10-11 with 16:4), the fourth series deals with the sun (cf. 8:12 with 16:8), the fifth series deals with darkness (cf. 8:12 with 16:10), the sixth series deals with the Euphrates (cf. 9:13-14 with 16:12), and the seventh series deals with lightnings, thunders, and earthquakes (cf. 11:19b with 16:17-21)
(5) However, a careful study of these two sections will reveal some striking differences: (a) The first four trumpets deal with only one-third of the earth while the bowl judgments are universal in scope. (b) The bowls are also much greater in intensity as well as in degree of coverage and effect. (c) They fall quickly as a liquid poured out of a bowl and in rapid succession—like trip hammer blows. It is best, therefore, to see the bowls as different from the trumpets judgments.
(6) These last seven judgments cause the further hardening of the hearts of men. Remember they are called plagues and have much the same result on the world as the plagues of Egypt had on Pharaoh. These plagues will show: (a) The total rebellion and independence of the creature to his Creator. Because of the callousness and hardening built up in the hearts of men, these judgments will result in anger and blasphemy from the heart and mouths of men rather than fear and reverence and trust. They are hardening plagues which God uses to His own glory (cf. vss. 9, 11, 21). (b) But these plagues (bowl judgments) will crush man’s rebellion and remove the rebellious from the earth. The completion of this will be accomplished by the return of Christ with His armies (Ezek. 20:38; Joel 3:2-17; Matt. 13:40-43; Rev. 19:11-21).
The First Bowl: Painful Sores
Verse 1: The seven angels are now commanded to pour out their bowl of judgment upon the earth. John heard what is described as a loud or great voice, probably the voice of God, coming out of the temple. Our English translations somewhat obscure an important emphasis of this chapter because of the various ways they have translated the Greek word megas. Megas means “large, great, huge, or loud,” depending on what it modifies. The NASB, for instance, translates megas with “loud,” “fierce,” “great,” and “huge,” all good translations, but the English reader might not notice the repetition whereas the Greek reader will more readily notice the repetition of this adjective. This emphasizes the intensity or unprecedented nature of what will begin to take place on earth at this point in the Tribulation. Megas is used eleven times in this chapter in connection with its events: a great voice (vss. 1 and 17), a great heat (vs. 9), the great river Euphrates (vs. 12), the great day of God Almighty (vs. 14), “a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake …” (vs. 18), the great city, Babylon (vs. 19), and great hailstones (vs. 21).
Verse 2: Immediately, in obedience to the voice from the temple, the first angel “poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore on the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.”
“Loathsome” is kakos which means “evil, injurious” and refers to what brings about a crippling effect. “Malignant” is ponhros which means “active, malignant” and looks at what is painful, destructive, and even vicious. This stresses the effect, degree, and intensity.
From Revelation 13:8 it is quite apparent that only a small fraction of the world will resist the beast, refuse to take his image, and believe in Jesus Christ. But those who do are now the only ones who escape this judgment and the judgments which follow. The warning of 14:9-11 against worshipping the beast and which anticipates his ultimate doom and that of his system is here confirmed in this preliminary judgment. Note that the beast is unable to help or heal the sore. “Sore” is %elkos and refers to an ulcer-like sore. This is the word used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word for boils inflicted on the Egyptians in Exodus 9:9-11.
The Second Bowl: Seas Smitten
The Greek text here is very graphic. Literally it reads, “And it (sea) became blood as of a dead man,” i.e., like a dead man wallowing in his own blood. Every living thing (sea creature) in the sea will die. Some would try to limit this to the Mediterranean Sea. However, these judgments are global and the same word qalassa would be used whether it was one sea or all the water masses.
Here the judgment is universal. This is global catastrophe. Under the second trumpet one-third was affected, but now, in keeping with the nature of this judgment, the rest of the sea and marine life is struck. It will wreck fishing and it is bound to affect ocean navigation, transportation and shipping.
The Third Bowl: Rivers Smitten
This judgment, as with the third trumpet, involves the fresh water supply. Again, there is no limit; it is global with great devastating effects. Though the results are not mentioned, they can be imagined. There will be no pure water except perhaps what will already be stored; none in the rivers and lakes.
“The angel of the waters” is literally, “the angel, the one of the waters.” This apparently refers to an angel who has jurisdiction over the waters of the earth as one of the varied ministries of angels. As the one in charge of this area he makes an important statement vindicating the holiness of God and setting forth the reason in this judgment (vss. 5-6).
These apostate and rebellious people have slain and shed the blood of believers, thus, just as the saints receive rest and reward for their faith, so these will receive punishment fitting the nature of their crimes. They have only blood to drink. They have been blood thirsty—now they get their fill. This gives us another indication that during the Tribulation the shedding of the blood of believers will be without parallel in history.
The reference in verse 5, “who are and who were” refers to the eternal essence of God. As the Eternal One, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. God is long-suffering but eventually God’s holiness must act and His judgment against sin will be delayed no longer.
Verse 7 deals with another voice adding to the vindication of God’s acts. So again we see an important emphasis: Throughout history Satan has maligned the character of God who sentenced Satan and his angels to the lake of fire (Matt. 25:41). This has been displayed in the rebellious hearts of men of all ages who persistently operate under the delusions of Satan. But the Tribulation will show God is a God of holiness who is acting justly in His judgment against sin.
The Fourth Bowl: Scorching Heat
Like the fourth trumpet, the heavens are again affected, especially the sun. In the fourth trumpet one-third of the sun, moon, and stars are affected diminishing their light by one-third (night and day). The earth will have been living under these conditions all these months between these judgments as a constant appeal to men to repent. Now, by contrast, only the sun is affected and its condition is here reversed. Rather than being diminished it is now increased in its intensity. All unbelievers get a suntan they won’t be bargaining for and all the sunscreen in the world will have no effect.
Whether this is caused by the earth and sun moving closer together or simply that God increases the heat of the sun we do not know. The point is, God will increase the intensity of the sun’s heat and light rays to such a degree that it will scorch and burn the skin of men. Some scientists claim we are not experiencing global warming while others maintain the earth is cooling off. Both are in for a surprise (1 Cor. 1:25).
“And it was given to it (the sun) to burn men with fire” i.e., extreme heat rays from the sun as the next verse will show us.
In describing the grace of God, Psalm 19:6 reads, “… there is nothing hid from the heat of the sun.” Such will surely be the case here in an intensified way, only then it will be judgment. There will be no escape from this judgment for unbelievers. The sun’s rays will penetrate everything. Some relief will come at night, but even then the heat will be unbearable.
Literally the Greek has “to scorch the men with fire.” The use of the article specifies a particular group of people, those mentioned in connection with the first bowl, unbelievers, worshipers of the beast. Evidently, believers will somehow be protected from this.
“And men were scorched with fierce heat and they blasphemed the name of God.” This again demonstrates two things: (a) men clearly recognize the source of the plagues, but (b) they will have become so hardened in their souls they refuse to repent. They will have reached the point of no return. This was clear when they took the mark of the beast.
This hardening of the soul (or heart) poses a warning for all of us. Anyone who becomes negative toward the Lord, grows indifferent to His Word, and ignores the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, can begin to harden his heart and become more and more callused (cf. Heb. 3:7f; Eph. 4:17-19). One way we can see such a condition developing in our lives is by the way we murmur and complain or look for “pity parties” among our friends. This is a sure indication that the heart has become somewhat hardened (cf. Heb. 3:7-19; with 1 Cor. 10:5-10. Note particularly verse 10.).
The Fifth Bowl: Darkness
As with the fifth trumpet, this bowl judgment results in darkness, as also in the ninth plague of Egypt (Ex. 10:21-23).
The Object of the Fifth Bowl—the throne of the Beast (10b)
First, we are told the bowl is poured out “upon the throne of the beast.” The Greek construction of this phrase (the preposition epi with the accusative case) refers to motion in a direction which completely attains its goal.195 Regardless of his apparent power, he will not be able to escape God’s judgment.
Second, the beast refers to a person as well as to a political system, therefore, his throne is a definite place. I believe it will be rebuilt Babylon on the Euphrates River, the ancient capitol of Satan’s wickedness in the land of Shinar (Zech. 5:5-10). This is the land beast of Revelation 13 who will receive his power from Satan and who will become the object of man’s worship. Men will marvel at the beast and proclaim “who is like the beast, and who is able to make war with him” (Rev. 13:4). Remember, he will be seen as the solution to the world, the answer to mankind, the hope of the world.
Due to world conditions on every front and in every area of the globe, things will look hopeless. People will be in despair or certainly very fearful prior to the Tribulation. For the varied problems of the world, man will have turned to a variety of sources looking for hope. These will come in many forms and sizes. There will be the false prophets of modern science, scholarship and research, false religions, the occult, the cults, false prophets like Mr. Moon, the new world views, social ideologies and finally, the world will look for answers in some new and great world leader whether political, religious, or both. Such a man will come, but he will be “the man of lawlessness” and “the son of perdition who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god … displaying himself as God” (2 Thess. 3 and 4). He will also be “the one whose coming (his historical ascendancy to power) is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9).
Now suddenly at this point in the Tribulation, like a bowl poured out, a judgment of darkness is poured out on the beast’s throne, the very place of his rule, and neither Satan nor this man can alleviate this judgment. This will clearly illustrate that there is only one hope, the Eternal God and Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ whom the world has by-in-large rejected; the One who alone is the Light of the world. What irony strikes here (John 1:3-5, 9-11)!
This judgment also anticipates the doom and eternal prospects of the beast and his subjects; they will be cast into outer darkness because they have turned away from the true Light of the world.
The Effects of the Fifth Bowl (10-11)
The first effect is seen in “his kingdom became darkened.” The verb “became” in the Greek text suggests suddenly. It looks at the sudden envelopment of the throne of the beast in total darkness. Of course, we are reminded of the “thick darkness” in Egypt which was so thick it could be felt (Exodus 10:21). “Darkened” is an intensive perfect which stresses the existing results of the blackout over the earth. Since the beast rules practically the entire world, and since these are the last plagues of the Tribulation which complete the wrath of God to establish God’s rule on earth, this darkness is undoubtedly world-wide.
As you read this, do not lose sight of the fact that this is a brief forecast of the outer darkness, pain, and torment that men will face in the lake of fire (Matt. 5:30; 22:13; 8:12). It is a literal taste of hell. But it is also designed to symbolize the nature of the beast and his kingdom, his power, and Satan who gives him his power. It is a kingdom of great darkness (Col. 1:13a; 2 Cor. 4:4; 11:13-15).
The second effect: “And they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.” We have in this an accumulated effect of the preceding bowls, the sores, the seas smitten, the fresh water turned into blood, the scorching of the sun, and now total darkness. Men are shut up in their quarters with their sores and pain and there is no alleviation, no hope—only constant torment. Literally the Greek says “they kept on gnawing their tongues out of agony.” Here is a graphic picture of the most intense and excruciating agony and pain, and a pain that cannot be alleviated.
In 9:21 the word “sorceries” is the Greek farmakeia from farmakeuw “to administer drugs.” In connection with the witchcraft of that day there will be widespread use of drugs. Nearly everyone will have access to drugs to deaden their pain. But even this will have no effect to relieve their pain.
The third and final effect: “And they blasphemed the God of heaven … and they did not repent of their deeds” (vs. 11). In these words we are clearly told that the world will be conscious that the “God of heaven” is the source of these judgments. There will, at this time, be no more atheists or agnostics. All men will know, like the demons, that God exists, but they remain stubborn in their rebellion. Oh, the hardness and stubbornness of the human heart! These verses clearly refute the idea of a final universal salvation of all men who will finally repent when faced with God’s judgment.
The Sixth Bowl: The Euphrates Dried
In verse 12 the bowl is poured and we are told of its purpose; it prepares the way for the kings of the east. Then in verses 13-16 we are given a commentary on this judgment. First, there is divine activity followed up by increased demonic activity (vss. 12-14a). Then there is the effect of this on human activity (vs. 14); and finally again, divine activity (vss. 15-16).
The Object of the Bowl (12a)
“The great river, the River Euphrates.” Literally the Greek says “the river, the great one, Euphrates.” This word order and the word “great” stresses the prominence of this river. This is the largest river in western Asia and has figured largely in history and prophecy. The following are a number of important facts about this great river.
(1) It formed the Eastern boundary of ancient Rome and its conquests.
(2) It forms the Eastern boundary of the land as promised to Abraham (cf. Gen. 15:18; Deut. 1:7; 11:24; Josh. 1:4).
(3) For a brief season David and Solomon extended their authority to the Euphrates (1 Kings 4:21; 1 Chron. 18:3; 2 Chron. 9:26).
(4) The river is 1,800 miles long and has always stood as a natural barrier separating the east from the west.
(5) The river forms in Armenia and 1,800 miles later empties into the Persian Gulf. About 90 miles from the Persian Gulf it is joined by the Tigris.
The Purpose of This Bowl (12b)
“And its water was dried up that the way might be prepared for the kings of the east.” Isaiah 11:15b and Zechariah 10:11 are similar prophecies of the drying up of this river. The purpose? To facilitate the movements of the troops of the oriental kings or the eastern confederacy for the final Battle of Armageddon.
“The kings from the east” is literally “the kings from the rising sun.” This is a poetical expression signifying the kings from where the sun rises, as China, Japan, India, Persia, and Afghanistan. So here we see God’s divine activity; God acting in His sovereignty using the wrath and rebellion of Satan and man to carry out his own purposes. Knowing the mind of Satan and man, the Lord will dry up this natural barrier to an invasion of the land of Palestine.
The Divine Commentary of This Judgment (13-16)
The Demonic Activity (13-14a).
It is God’s purpose to deal with the nations in judgment in the land of Palestine. Knowing Satan’s purpose and objectives, God will use him and his demonic activity to inspire the nations to move into Palestine.
The immediate source of this activity, acting on their own objectives, is the trinity from hell—the Dragon or Satan, the beast (the dictator of the revived Roman Empire in its final form), and the false prophet who works miracles on behalf of the first beast (Rev. 12:3, 9, 13).
The means of accomplishing this are three demonic spirits who proceed from the trinity to go out into the nations working miraculous signs. This will somehow be used to act on the minds of the kings and people of the nations to move against Palestine. Exactly what these signs are we are not told. But undoubtedly they somehow stir up old desires and hostilities:
(1) Strong anti-Semitism (Zech 14:1-3; Rev. 12:17). The Arabs have long hated the Jews and of course in our time this has taken on increased proportions. There appears even now growing sentiment against Israel among much of the world. The actions of these demons will somehow bring this to a climax at this time.
(2) Then there is the lust of the nations for control of Palestine and its warm water seaports which would enable the one controlling Palestine to control the oil of this part of the world (Ezek. 38:12).
The Divine Activity (14b-16)
The kings of the world will be gathered together for war with one another, but it is a war in which man is ultimately brought against God. The armies do not know this, they think they are coming to gain control of Palestine, but God uses this to accomplish this confluence of nations for his own divine purposes (Joel 3:1-3; Zech. 14:1-3). The war is called “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty”(vs. 14) and the place it is fought is called “Har-Magedon” (vs. 16). Modern man often refers to this conflict as Armageddon, the final conflict that will be fought in the Valley of Megiddo.
An explanation of the Day, Time, and Place
The Greek literally says, “unto the campaign (or war) of the day, the great one, the one of God, the Almighty One.”
The phrase “of God, the Almighty” is designed to emphasize that this day or period (it covers more than one day) will fully demonstrate the omnipotence and sovereignty of God.
The word “war” is the Greek word polemos which signifies a war, an entire campaign and not merely one isolated conflict or battle. What is in view here is a major war as in World War II. Here we have World War III—assuming it is the next world war. So here is World War III which extends over the entire last half of the Tribulation involving several phases or invasions of Palestine and conflicts. This will finally culminate in the gathering of all nations at the very end of the Tribulation at Har-Magedon. Ezekiel 38; Daniel 11:40-45; Zechariah 14:1-3 and Joel 3:1-17 all describe these military events that will culminate in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The location of the war (vs. 16) is “Har-Magedon.” Concerning this place Walvoord says:
Geographically, it relates to the Mount of Megiddo located adjacent to the plain of Megiddo to the west and the large plain of Esdraelon to the northeast. Megiddo is the Hebrew word corresponding to the Greek word Armageddon. This area was the scene of many of the great battles of the Old Testament such as that of Barak and the Canaanites in Judges 4 and the victory of Gideon over the Midianites in Judges 7. Here also occurred the deaths of Saul and Josiah. The area, though it is a large one, is not sufficient for the armies of all the world, though the valley of Esdraelon is fourteen miles wide and twenty miles long. What this Scripture seems to indicate is that this area is the central point for the military conflict which ensues. Actually the armies are deployed over a 200-mile area up and down from this central location (cf. 14:20). At the time of the second coming, some of the armies are in Jerusalem itself (Zech. 14:1-3).196
Napoleon marched across this area and remarked that all the armies of the world could do battle here because of the broad expanse of this territory. Of course, it isn’t actually that big, but it is a very broad expanse perfect for a very large congregation of armies.
Other areas involved are: (a) Joel 3:2, 13 the Valley of Jehoshaphat. This refers to an area further south and east of Jerusalem (cf. Ezek. 39:11, the Valley of Passengers mentioned here is the same area). (b) Isaiah 34 and 63 picture the Lord coming from Edom and Idumea south of Jerusalem with blood on His garments which shows part of the conflict occurs here as well. (c) Then as Walvoord mentions, Jerusalem is itself invaded by the armies of the world in the final phase of this campaign. Zechariah 12:2-11; 14:2; Daniel 11:40-45; Ezekiel 38:9-16; and Revelation 14:20 all show us this campaign covers the entire land of Palestine.
The participants in this war are: the king of the north and his allies (Ezek. 38). While there is some disagreement here, many believe this will include Russia, Persia (modern Iraq), Ethiopia (northern Sudan or maybe Arabia), Put (Libya and the African block), Gomer (Germany), Beth-togarmah (Turkey), and the king of the south consisting of Egypt and the Arab states. Then there will be the king of the west, the ten nation confederation of the Mediterranean states of Europe. Finally, it will include the kings of the east, the oriental block or nations east of the Euphrates.
The Warning to Believers (15)
This verse is a parenthesis written to the faithful remnant of the Tribulation to give them comfort, hope, as well as a warning lest they become discouraged and lose their testimony. These plagues are but a proof that the Lord’s return is near. So in this verse the Lord Himself now speaks.
He says, “Behold.” This means, “stop, and think, take note”! “I am coming” is what we call a prophetic present which views a future event as certain, as though already in the process of occurring. Here the Lord is assuring the Tribulation saints that His coming is certain.
“As a thief” stresses the fact that while the general time of Christ’s return in the Tribulation can be known because of the signs and specific events of the Tribulation (like the drying up of the Euphrates), the exact moment cannot be known (Matt. 24:36; Acts 1:7). Therefore, Tribulation believers are warned to stay awake, producing righteousness for the Lord. They are to live with a view to His return. Some would try to apply this to the church, but though there is some similarity to 1 Thessalonians 4:13f in the fact that Christ will come silently for believers, take what is His, and leave the world in disarray, the primary picture of Christ’s coming for the church is that of a Bridegroom. The thief concept primarily deals with the Tribulation or the day of wrath (cf. 1 Thess 5:2-3).
Thus, special blessing or happiness is promised to the believer, even in these horrible times of the Tribulation if he follows the warnings and exhortations of this verse. They are told to do two things:
(1) “To stay awake.” The Greek word here is grhgorew and is used of alertness and fellowship with the Lord (cf. its use in 1 Thess. 5:6f). It refers to one who has the right priorities and is living for the Lord and His return. To stay awake is to stay in fellowship. This is the root aspect.
(2) “He keeps his garments.” Here is the fruit, the results. Keeping his garments refers to righteous behavior or good works which the believer wears like a garment; it is practical living from fellowship with Christ (Rev. 14:13; 19:8; 11:18).
“Lest he walk about naked and men see their shame.” Men cannot see the imputed righteousness which God imputes to the account of believers which gives them a righteous standing and access to God. But they can see the practical results of this in Christian behavior, or the fruit of the Spirit and the Word, Christ-likeness. Otherwise what they see is empty profession or spiritual nakedness (i.e., carnality).
Romans 13:11-14 makes a similar application to believers for our day and in this sense the passage in Revelation 16:15 has application for us today. We can see events which are unfolding today that could very well be preparatory to the Tribulation—politically, spiritually, morally and in other ways. Since the Lord returns for the church before the Tribulation, this means His coming for us, though always imminent, must be drawing nearer every day. This along with the nature of our future with Him should likewise motivate us to putting on the Lord Jesus Christ that we might be fully clothed with His life and glorious character.
The Seventh Bowl: Widespread Destruction
The seventh bowl, the final judgment of the Tribulation is actually a series of judgments that will be poured out upon the whole earth. As the Tribulation is a time of unprecedented trial or judgment, so the seventh bowl is the most severe and totally devastating judgment of the whole Tribulation, ending with the personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth. His personal return is not mentioned in these verses or this chapter, but from the circumstances and the sixth plague, the return of Christ has to be a part of this judgment.
The Greek word megas is repeated seven times in these verses. This emphasizes the unprecedented nature and finality of this series of judgments. It also stresses how this series of judgments perfectly (the emphasis of the number seven) accomplishes and brings to an end God’s program of judgment. Of the eleven times the Greek word megas is used in this chapter, seven are in relation to this last bowl.
The Great Voice (l7)
First, note that this bowl is aimed or poured out upon the air. “Air” is the Greek aer which refers to our atmosphere, the air we breathe. Remember, Satan and his demon hosts have been (since chapter 12, the middle of the Tribulation) restricted to the earth which, however, would include our atmosphere. Also remember that according to Ephesians 2:2 Satan is called “the prince of the power of the air” (aer). This is the domain and the base of operation for Satan and his spirit hosts and their strategies. Further, in modern day our atmosphere has become vitally important in military matters over which Satan will have control. This points to a principle: this series of judgments, though its final effect is upon the earth, is a final judgment upon Satan and his domain or rule.
Second, as John saw this bowl poured out, a voice is heard. It is describe as “loud” or “great.” It is the voice of God, perhaps that of the Son Himself to whom all judgment has been given (John 5:27). The voice comes “out of the temple (naos) from the throne.” This is the smoke-filled temple into which no one was able to enter because of the absolute and undiluted wrath of God being poured out in these seven bowls. So with the pouring of the seventh, John hears “it is done.” This is a Greek word gegonen, a consummative perfect (from ginomai, “to come into being, come to pass, take place, done) that refers to action as not merely ended, but which was brought to its appropriate end and with results that continue. At this point, God’s purposes of judgment in the Tribulation will be perfectly accomplished by this final series of divine wrath.
If you recall, there was another moment in history when our Lord made a similar statement. When on the cross, in those final hours of darkness, he cried out tetelesqai “it is done” or “it is finished.” At this point, Christ had borne our iniquities and His substitionary work was complete. He had been judged for man’s sin. This too was a consummative perfect emphasizing that God’s work of reconciliation was accomplished with nothing more to be done other than for men and women to personally believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:14-21, 36; 6:28-29).
But, as the above verses also show, if one rejects the work of God in Christ and his judgment for our sin, then he is under the wrath of God which must also be accomplished; first in the Tribulation and then in eternal perdition in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). As the author of Hebrews asks us, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3)
The Great Earthquake (18, 20)
Before the mention of the great earthquake, John sees “flashes of lightning” and hears “sounds and peals of thunder” (vs. 18a). As it has been throughout the Book, this is preparatory and a warning of the extreme judgment that is about to fall.
Then we read “and there was a great earthquake.” Several things are important here: First, this earthquake is likewise unprecedented in history. The rhetorical device of redundancy is employed to emphasize this. “Such as” is the Greek %oios, a special qualitative relative pronoun meaning “of such a nature or kind.” “So great” is the Greek thlikoutos, a special demonstrative or quantitative pronoun meaning “so great, so mighty.” “Mighty” is again the Greek megas mentioned before.
Verses 19-20 then give the extent and effect of this earthquake with its worldwide devastation. In verse 20 we are shown two results that are not only astounding, but mind boggling. (a) “Every island fled away,” i.e., they disappeared into the ocean. Imagine the tidal waves this will cause. (b) “And the mountains were not found” is literally, “and mountains were not found.” The word “mountains” does not have the article which implies not all the mountains will be removed. Perhaps as a result of the great faults in the earth breaking open and shifting about, the mountains will break up and fall into the cracks of the earth. Zechariah 14:4 tells us that at Christ’s return to earth the Mount of Olives will split or crack open and form a great valley. Perhaps it is at this point, at Christ’s return to earth, that this great earthquake occurs.
This mind stretching phenomena points to three important facts:
(1) The world will be left in shambles. All man’s monuments and his great buildings will literally crumble before his very eyes. A few years back while we were living in East Texas, in the early nineties, I remember construction was nearing completion of a skyscraper in Houston that we were told would be one of the tallest buildings in the world. It had only plate glass for its outer walls from top to bottom. Can you imagine what such an earthquake will do to such structures, assuming they are still standing at this time?
(2) This judgment will drastically change the topography of the earth.
(3) Finally, these events will cause a tremendous loss of life on a worldwide scale that is impossible to calculate.
The Great Cities (19)
“And the great city was split into three parts.” Some see this as a reference to Jerusalem because Jerusalem is called “the great city” in 11:8. Also, the following two statements seem to indicate three different areas are in view: “the great city,” “the cities of the nations,” and “Babylon, the great.”
But John could just as easily have had something else in mind, i.e., the great city Babylon and those cities that come under Babylon’s yoke. The fall of these cities will break the yoke of Gentile world dominion referred to by the Lord as “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). This is “the period of Gentile domination of Jerusalem, which probably began under Nebuchadnezzar (587 B.C.), was certainly in effect in A.D. 70 and continues into the Tribulation (cf. Rev. 11:2).”197 This should not be confused with what Paul spoke of as “the fullness of the Gentiles” in Romans 11:25. The fullness of the Gentiles refers to the completion of God’s purpose in the church age during which time God is calling out from among the Gentiles a people for His name, namely the church (Acts 15:14; Eph. 1:22-23; Rom. 11:7-32). The fall of these cities mentioned in Revelation 16 will bring to an end the Gentile domination as it now exists over the nation Israel.
I am personally convinced that Babylon will be rebuilt in the future and will become a great city and the center and headquarters for the Babylonian system of the last days, at least politically and commercially. In ancient times Babylon was the chief center of Gentile dominion, the seat of Babylonianism, and so it will be again in the future. Here she will be judged and her dominion ended including the times of the Gentiles. The details and evidence for this will come in chapters 17-18.
The Great Plague of Hail (21)
We are told these hail stones are about 100 pounds each. The Greek word for this weight is talantiaios, which referred to a weight of from 108-130 pounds. That’s big hail and it will cause an awesome amount of damage on earth. This judgment that might be compared to that of Sodom and Gomorrah or to that on the king of the north or Magog mentioned in Ezekiel 38, only this will extend to the whole earth.
This judgment is so severe that it is called a plague, extremely severe (another use of megas). The amazing thing is that at this point, all of man’s dreams will crumble—houses, fortunes, kingdoms, mountains—everything, but man’s stony heart. What irony! His heart will have become so hard and rebellious from continued rejection of God’s grace that he can only blaspheme God. His heart will be harder than stone.
Chronologically, the next event will be the return of the Lord to earth as King of kings (chapter 19). The next two chapters, however, halt the sequence and give us a parenthetical look at Babylon because of her prominence historically and in the future kingdom of the system of the beast.
Though from the contemporary point of view all the details of these dramatic judgments are not immediately understood, the unmistakable impression of the Scriptures is that the whole world is being brought to the bar of justice before Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords. There is no escape from divine judgment except for those who avail themselves of the grace of God in that day by faith in Jesus Christ. The utter perversity of human nature, which will reject the sovereignty of God in the face of such overwhelming evidence, confirms that even the lake of fire will not produce repentance on the part of those who have hardened their hearts against the grace of God.198
Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)