Monday, November 8, 2021

59. The Revelation: The Seventh Bowl (Revelation 16:17-21)


The Seventh Bowl

"Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe." (Rev. 16:17–21)

The seventh bowl is the final outpouring of God’s wrath on sinners in this present earth. It will be the worst calamity in the world’s history. Its effects carry all the way to the establishment of the earthly kingdom of Christ. Like the fourth angel, the seventh angel did not dump his bowl on the earth, but poured it out “upon the air.” Its first effects were on the earth’s atmosphere, as if God were cleansing the former domain of Satan and his demon hosts (12:9). The earth (verse 2), the sea (verse 3), the waters (verse 4), the sun (verse 8), and finally the air are all the targets of judgment.

As the angel dumped his bowl, a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne. God’s solemn declaration “It is done” announces the climax of the final day of the Lord that will spread doom over the entire globe. The perfect tense “it is done” describes a completed action with ongoing results. It is similar to Jesus’ final words from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). God’s judgment of Christ on Calvary provided salvation for repentant sinners; the judgment of the seventh bowl brings doom to unrepentant sinners.

The pouring out of the seventh bowl dramatically affected the atmosphere; there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. Like the seventh seal (8:5) and the seventh trumpet (11:19), the seventh bowl is introduced with the imagery of a violent thunderstorm. But those earlier storms were mere previews of the mighty storm of wrath that now bursts upon the earth.

Though the seventh bowl was dumped on the earth’s atmosphere, it will also have a devastating effect on the earth itself. God will punctuate this final judgment against sinners with an earthquake, just as He did His judgment of sin at Calvary (Matthew 27:51–54). This earthquake will be the most powerful one ever to strike the earth. John described it as “a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth.” The shaking will be so severe that it will renovate and reconfigure the earth in preparation for the millennial kingdom, restoring it to something like its pre-flood condition (verse 20).

The first effect of this great and mighty earthquake was that “the great city was split into three parts.” A comparison with 11:8 clearly identifies the great city as Jerusalem, “the great city … where also [the] Lord was crucified.” That the great city is distinct from the cities of the nations offers further evidence that Jerusalem is in view. The massive earthquake will split Jerusalem into three parts, beginning a series of geophysical alterations to the city and its surrounding region that will conclude when the Lord Jesus Christ returns. Zechariah 14:4–10 describes these changes in detail. The Mount of Olives will split in two, and a new valley running east and west will be created (Zechariah 14:4). A spring of water will flow year-round from Jerusalem to the Mediterranean and Dead Seas (Zechariah 14:8), causing the desert to blossom like a rose (cf. Isaiah 35:1). Jerusalem will be elevated, and the surrounding region flattened into a plain (Zechariah 14:10). Thus, the purpose of the earthquake as it relates to Jerusalem is not to judge the city, but to enhance it. Jerusalem was judged earlier in the tribulation by an earthquake, which led to the salvation of those who were not killed (11:13). Thus, there is no need for further judgment on that city. The physical changes will prepare Jerusalem for the central role it will play during the millennial kingdom, when Christ will reign there as King (Psalm 110:2; Isaiah 2:3; 24:23; Micah 4:7).

Unlike Jerusalem, which was enhanced by the earthquake, the cities of the nations fell, perhaps simultaneously with the defeat of Antichrist by the Lamb (17:12–14). Specifically singled out is Babylon the great, which “was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.” As the capital city of Antichrist’s empire, Babylon especially will be made to drink the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath (chapters 17 and 18).

The final effect of the earthquake is to prepare the earth for the millennial rule of Christ. To that end, the earth’s topography will be drastically altered; “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.” Islands, which are undersea mountains, will disappear. The mountains on land will be flattened (Isaiah 40:4), completing the process that began during the sixth seal (6:12–14).

Those who somehow escape the devastation caused by the earthquake will face another catastrophe, one unprecedented in earth’s history. They will be pelted with “huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each,” that will hurtle down from heaven. Unlike the seventh Egyptian plague (Exodus 9:23–24) and the first trumpet judgment (8:7), the force of these hailstones is unimaginable. The Greek term translated “about one hundred pounds” described the most weight a normal man could carry, anywhere from 90 to 135 pounds. The heaviest hailstones ever recorded weighed about two pounds. These will be fifty times heavier. No doubt many will die due to inadequate shelter or no shelter following the massive earthquake.

Still unrepentant, the survivors of the hailstorm will blaspheme God “because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.” Incredibly, tortured humanity remains hardened against God—a truth that should give pause to those who think that signs and wonders will convince people to believe the gospel. In light of the inevitable judgment to come, the warning to all unrepentant sinners is “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7).