The Revelation – The Bowls of Wrath – Rev. 16

Last week we had a great discussion of God’s Wrath using Abraham Heschel’s book The Prophets. This week we are reading through Revelation 16-17 where the seven bowls of wrath are poured out and the fall of Babylon, the defeat of the powers of this world, and the annihilation of evil are imminent.

The Lord’s Vindication:

The scroll of Isaiah ends with the Lord’s Vindication of Zion and God’s Eternal Reign. Isa. 66:5-23. Chapter 16 begins with a quote from Isaiah 66:6 (irony): “a voice from the Temple.” With this quote, the remainder of Revelation will follow Isaiah 66 to the end of both books. The final act of God rendering recompense to his enemies begins now. All of the warnings and all of the intermediate punishments have been given. We are nearing the end of the opposition to God and to God’s people.

Bowls and Trumpets:

The seven bowls of wrath are poured out in Revelation 16. The seven bowls arise out of the seventh trumpet. The seventh trumpet opens the heavens from where the voice directs the seven angels with the seven bowls. Rev. 11:19, 16:1. The pouring out of the seven bowls will have an almost identical structure to the sounding of the seven trumpets in Revelation 8-9.

The first four bowls, like the first four trumpets, are poured out successively on the earth (8:7, 16:2), the sea (8:8, 16:3), the waters (8:10, 16:4), and the heavens (8:12, 16:8). The fifth and sixth bowls, like the fifth and sixth trumpets, concern the darkness of Satan/Beast (9:1, 16:10) and the coming of an eastern army across the Euphrates (9:14, 16:12). And the seventh bowl, like the seventh trumpet, opens up heaven with lightning, voices, thunder, and earthquakes (11:19, 16:17).

The seven bowls also share with the seven trumpets, the same literary precedent of the plagues of Egypt. John wants his audience to remember the first time in Scripture when God’s people were enslaved and oppressed by an empire, and remember that God brought redemption to his people then. John’s use of the plague imagery shows that God judges the powers of the earth which brings about the salvation of his people.

The difference, however, between the bowls and the trumpets lies in their scope. When the trumpets blow typically only a third are affected. When the bowls are poured, however, all suffer. When the second trumpet sounded burning fire was thrown into the sea and a third of the sea became blood, a third of the creatures died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. (8:9) However, when the second bowl is poured into the sea, the entire sea became blood and every living thing died. (16:3). The trumpets warn but the bowls annihilate. There are delays between the fifth and sixth trumpets (Rev. 9:12) and the sixth and seventh trumpets (11:14) to allow for repentance. There is no delay between bowls and the suffering is cumulative (16:2, 16:11).

The Progression of Revelation:

As we looked at when we began our study, although Revelation has a beginning and an end, its progression is not so much linear but spiral as seen in the above comparison between the bowls and the trumpets. Like a symphony, Revelation will keep circling back to the same themes and retelling the same story in a slightly different way. Revelation is a series of these connective circles that moves the story forward. Each time the story is told, however, it becomes more intense, more strident, and more forceful.

One of my favorite orchestral works is Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. If you have 15 minutes, please listen. This piece reminds me of the progress of Revelation. The work consists of two melody themes that are repeated eight times, with each repetition becoming louder, more intense, and incorporating more instruments. What begins in a whisper ends in a crescendo fortississimo. These two themes in Revelation, as in Isaiah 66, are the outpouring of God’s wrath and the eternal reign of the One and the Lamb. This Tuesday and over the next two weeks, the intensity and power of John’s vision will continue to increase to its conclusion.

If you have the opportunity before Tuesday, review John’s revelation leading up to this point. See the interplay of these two themes and how John keeps repeating them with each repetition becoming more extraordinary.

Dinner is a 6:30. The menu is chicken bog and collards. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here!

The kings came; they fought;
    then fought the kings of Canaan,
at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
    they got no spoils of silver.
The stars fought from heaven;
    from their courses they fought against Sisera,
    (the commander of the Canaanite army)

Judges 5:19-20

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