May 14, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy LV: Bowls of Wrath

Pouring Out The Bowls (Chapter 16)

A “great voice” commands the seven angels to “pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God onto the earth.” The voice is that of either an angel, a cherub, Christ, or God Himself. The first angel sets in motion his judgment, which comes to punish people because of idol worship and “those who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image”. The bowl’s effect is based on the literal Egyptian plague of boils (Exodus  9:9–11).

The second bowl: God punishes the world system economically in Revelation16:3. The second bowl’s parallelism with the second trumpet is striking. The trumpet struck the sea and “a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the living creatures in the sea died.” Likewise, the second bowl strikes the sea and “there came about blood as of a dead person, and every living thing died, the things in the sea.” Both texts are clearly based on Exodus 7:17–21, where Moses turns the Nile into blood and the fish in it die. Therefore, the second trumpet and the second bowl have to do with the same kind of judgment. The primary difference is the trumpet’s partial effect and the bowl’s total affect. The third bowl: god punishes the persecutors of his people economically (16:4–7).

The third bowl is parallel with the third trumpet (Revelation 8:10–11). The third trumpet bring destruction “on a third of the  rivers and on the springs of the waters … and many people died from the waters because they were made bitter.” Similarly, the third bowl is directed against “the rivers and the springs of the waters, and they became blood.” Both texts are based on the plague on the Nile in Exodus 7:17–21. Therefore, the third trumpet and the third bowl pertain to the same kind of judgment - the primary difference is that the former has partial effect and the latter total effect.

The fourth angel pours his bowl on the sun, causing it “to burn men with fire.” The power “to burn” could be seen as “given” either to the angel or the sun. God’s direct authority over the trial is explicitly indicated by Revelation16:9’s: “God, the one having authority over these plagues.” This woe includes suffering involving deprivation of forms of earthly security, likely with an economic focus. This bowl plague brings about only blasphemy and a non-repentant attitude, much like the sixth trumpet. Indeed, the similarity of the sixth trumpet and the fourth bowl is striking. “They blasphemed the name of God” because of the suffering they experienced from the plague of the fourth bowl. This blasphemy is a defiant slandering or defaming of the name of the true God. In this context, God’s “name” represents his attributes and character. The reprobates utter lies about God’s character as revenge for the punishments that they experience under his hand.

The fifth bowl: god punishes hardened idolaters by causing them to suffer by revealing to them their irremediable separation from him in Revelation 16:10–11. The contents of the fifth bowl are emptied onto “the throne of the beast.” The beast’s throne represents the beast’ sovereignty over his realm. Therefore, the bowl affects the beast’s ability to rule. The result of the judgment is that “his kingdom became darkened.” Like the fourth trumpet, this woe is also based on Exodus 10:22, where God brings darkness over Egypt. The plague came against Pharaoh because of his disobedience to God’s command, his oppression of Israel, and his allegiance to Egypt’s idolatrous system-so too here to some extent. The suffering of v 10 does not soften the subjects of the beast but hardens them further in their antagonism to God. This is parallel to the plagues of Pharaoh having the effect of hardening his heart also. Just like Egypt a remnant of Egyptians did repent and came out of Egypt with Israel, the vast majority refused to trust in Israel’s God. This will be the same in the time of the End.

The sixth and seventh bowls: The final judgment of the evil world system take place in Revelation16:12–21). The sixth bowl: god gathers together ungodly forces in order to punish them decisively at the End of the Age. Although they might think they are coming to wage war they are actually being gathered together to be shot like fish in a barrel. The woe of the sixth bowl is depicted according to the  description of God’s judgment of Babylon and Israel’s restoration, which itself was patterned after the drying up of the Red Sea at the exodus.

Kings will come from the east and from the vicinity of the Euphrates in Revelation 16:12. This evokes the OT prophecy of a northern enemy beyond the Euphrates, whom God will bring to judge sinful Israel. Though these kings figuratively will traverse the dry riverbed, in contrast to the ancient Egyptians, who failed to cross the Red Sea, their journey will culminate in a greater judgment than was experienced by Pharaoh’s army.

And just as Babylon has been universalized and become symbolic of Rome or some new incarnation of Rome (See Apocalypse Prophecy LVI), so the Euphrates may or may not be a literal geographical reference to the Euphrates in modern Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Is this reference to be taken literally or figuratively? A figurative interpretation of the Euphrates may also be suggested by the figurative use of “sea,” “river,” and “water” in the exodus-like plagues of the 2nd and 3rd bowls. 

The pouring out of the bowl sets in motion actions by the three great opponents of the saints and leaders of the forces of evil that culminate in the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, who represent respectively Satan, the Satanic political system, and the religious support of the political system. It should be added that this is the first occurrence of “false prophet” in John’s Apocalypse. The deceptive influence of the three characters is portrayed metaphorically. The wicked trio spit out “three unclean spirits like frogs,” one spirit from each member of the triumvirate. As I will allude to in my next post, Babylon is the “habitation of demons and prison of every unclean spirit” and of all unclean animals. The woe of frogs recalls the exodus plague of frogs, which falls in line with the other preceding bowls and trumpets also modeled in part on the exodus plagues. Frogs are chosen to represent deceptive spirits partly because of their characteristic croaking, which is loud, meaningless and usually annoying. The demons are “doing signs”. Here the deception is aimed at “the kings.” The purpose of the deception is “to gather them together for the war of the great day of God Almighty.” (as if…)

That the battle is called “the war of the great day of God” indicates that the battle is one in which God will decisively judge the unrighteous and crush them once and for all. This is the meaning of “great day of God” we read about all throughout the Old Testament but especially in Joel 2:11 and Zephaniah 1:14. The time that would come when the beast would attempt to annihilate the entire community of faith has come. The truth is that this onslaught will occur on “the great day of God” and could come at any hour. Believers must be prepared to hold firm in faith and not compromise when it does happen. The members of the churc must expect that the situation described in Revelation16:12–16 could happen at any moment and should be prepared accordingly. So…the demonic spirits deceive the kings and “gather them together at the place” where the war is to occur. The outcome of the war is described in 17:14; 19:14–21; and 20:7–10, where the forces of the dragon and beast are portrayed as destroyed by Christ and God.

The place where the battle is to be fought is called “Armageddon.” Like the place names “Babylon” and “Euphrates,” so to “Armageddon” may not refer to a specific geographical locale, but possibly the whole world. The battles in Israel associated with Meggido and the nearby mountain become a typologic symbol of the last battle against the saints and Christ, which occurs throughout the earth. The possibility that “Armageddon” is not literal is evident from the observation  that OT prophecies of the final battle of history place it, without exception, in the immediate vicinity of the city of Jerusalem and Mount Zion or its surrounding mountains. In reality the plain of Megiddo is about a two days’ walk north of Jerusalem. Furthermore, John himself places the battle directly outside Jerusalem in Revelation 14:20 and 20:8–9. A figurative view of “Armageddon” is also apparent from the fact that no mountain of Megiddo exists nor has it ever. Literally, “Armaggedon” in Hebrew (har-megiddôn) means “mount of Megiddo.”

Along comes the Seventh Bowl: God Punishes the World System with Final Judgment. The seventh bowl describes the final destruction of the corrupt world system, which follows on the heels of the Battle of Armageddon. The bowl being poured out on the “air” is best understood as part of the exodus plague imagery present in the trumpets and the preceding bowls and alluded to in “the plague of hail”. The announcement is that “it is done” is very similar to the declaration of Christ’s accomplishment of redemption at the cross, “it is finished.” By verse 20 we see the absolute nature of the judgment is continued by a picture of the further breakup of the cosmos and the fact that “every island fled, and the mountains were not found”. The exodus plague of hail is replicated, but this time it strikes not one nation but all throughout the world who are in opposition to God.

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