The Seven Bowls - Part I
A close look at the trumpet and bowl judgments will reveal their inescapable similarities. The only place where this is less than explicit is with the first in each series. But even then, there is similarity of language.
(1) With the first trumpet there is hail and fire mixed with blood thrown to the earth; 1/3 of the earth, trees, grass burned (1/3 denoting a partial or limited judgment). With the first bowl the earth and its inhabitants are afflicted with sores.
This corresponds to Exodus 9:22ff. (trumpet) and 8ff. (bowl).
(2) With the second trumpet 1/3 of the sea becomes blood and 1/3 of everything in it dies; 1/3 of the ships are destroyed (again, note the partial extent of the judgment). With the second bowl the sea again becomes blood, but now everything dies (indicating the full, or universal, expression of this judgment).
This corresponds to Exodus 7:17ff.
(3) With the third trumpet only 1/3 of the rivers, springs, and waters become bitter and many people die from drinking them. With the third bowl there is no limitation placed on how much of the rivers, springs, and waters are affected. Once again, many people die from drinking.
This corresponds to Exodus 7:17ff.
(4) With the fourth trumpet 1/3 of the sun, moon, and stars are smitten and there is darkness (again, a partial judgment). With the fourth bowl again the sun is the focal point, but it instead of bringing darkness a worse judgment is inflicted: they are scorched.
This corresponds to Exodus 10:21ff. (trumpet) and 9:22ff. (bowl).
(5) With the fifth trumpet unbelievers are tormented by locusts for five months (again, a specific, limited duration; hence, a partial judgment) and are in such pain that they long to die. Sun and air are darkened. With the fifth bowl unbelievers are tormented and their pain is so bad that they gnaw their tongues and blaspheme God. The kingdom of the beast is darkened. Note also that in the fifth trumpet the king over the locusts is Satan. In the fifth bowl the throne and kingdom of the beast are mentioned (described this way because in Rev. 13:2 Satan is said to have given the beast his throne).
This corresponds to Exodus 10:4ff. (trumpet) and 21ff. (bowl).
(6) With the sixth trumpet four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates are released and 1/3 of mankind is killed (again, partial judgment). Three demonic plagues that are associated with a huge army prepared for battle are responsible for killing them. With the sixth bowl the great river Euphrates is dried up and three demonic spirits gather the people for the final battle, Armageddon.
This corresponds to Exodus 8:2ff. (bowl).
(7) With the seventh trumpet we have reached the consummation. There are loud voices in heaven speaking. There is lightning, sounds, and peals of thunder. The temple of God is mentioned, as is the throne. Divine wrath comes upon unbelievers. There is an earthquake and a hailstorm (partial judgments). With the seventh bowl we have again reached the consummation (“It is done,” 16:15). There is a loud voice from heaven speaking. There is lightning, sounds, and peals of thunder. The temple of God is mentioned, as is the throne. Divine wrath again comes upon unbelievers. There is an incomparably great earthquake and a hailstorm with 100 pound hailstones (intensified, consummate judgments).
This corresponds to Exodus 9:22ff. and the Sinai theophany (19:16-19).
All three series of seven judgments (seals, trumpets, bowls) portray events and phenomena that occur repeatedly throughout the course of history between the first and second comings of Christ. All three series of seven judgments bring us to the consummation at the close of human history where we see the final judgment of unbelievers, the salvation and vindication of God’s people, and the full manifestation of the kingdom of Christ.
I’m not suggesting, as have some, that the 7 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 bowls themselves, or at least the first six in each series, occur sequentially in history, as if the second in each series can’t occur until after the first, and the third can’t occur until after the second, and so on. According to my understanding of the text in Revelation, all (or at least the first six) of the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments are released by the Sovereign Christ at the beginning of the present inter-advent age. These judgments and plagues are thus descriptive of the commonplaces of human history, i.e., they can and do occur at any and all times throughout the course of the present age and do not necessarily sustain a temporal relationship to each other.
It is only with the 7th in each series (and perhaps with the 6th trumpet and bowl) that we are assuredly at the close of history. In an earlier lesson I argued that it would be best to interpret the bowls as indicating that these judgments will progressively increase in their intensity and extent and that divine longsuffering and delay will eventually yield to final and consummative wrath. Upon further reflection, I do not think the contrast between the partial trumpet judgments and the complete bowl judgments is to be taken as indicating that the trumpets must first be sounded, bringing limited judgment, then to be followed by the outpouring of the bowls, which bring universal judgment. For this would be to say that there is a historical or chronological sequence between the trumpets and bowls, something I do not believe.
I now believe that the trumpet and bowl judgments are not only literarily and thematically parallel, but also temporally parallel. The fact that the trumpet judgments are partial and the bowl judgments are complete simply indicates that what can occur in a limited or partial manner at any point in history between the two advents of Christ, can also occur, at any point in history between the two advents of Christ, in a universal or more thorough-going manner. The effect or impact of these plagues of judgment on the unbelieving world is at one time and in one place restricted, while at another time in another place, widespread. Thus, here is my interpretive scheme:
Clearly, this interpretive scheme is based on the belief that Revelation presents us with a description of principles and events that transpire throughout the entire course of church history, between the two advents of Jesus. In other words, contrary to the futurist interpretation, Revelation is not concerned merely with events at the close of history, immediately preceding the second advent. Rather, there are multiple sections in the book, each of which recapitulates the other, that is to say, each of which begins with the first coming of Christ and concludes with the second coming of Christ and the end of history. Each of these sections provides a series of progressively parallel visions that increase in their scope and intensity as they draw nearer to the consummation. This is what is called the principle of recapitulation.
Because of the extensive similarities between the trumpet and bowl judgments, I will not comment except where the latter goes beyond what is said of the former. For a more complete exposition of these judgments, see the material on the Trumpet Judgments elsewhere on the website.
Clearly the imagery of seven “bowls” from which wrath is “poured out” into the earth is metaphorical of the execution of divine judgment. Thus it should come as no surprise to us if the actual content and effects of these judgments are metaphorical as well.
The First Bowl (16:2)
This judgment is based on the Egyptian plague of “boils breaking out with sores” (Exod. 9:9-11; see the summary in Deut. 28:27,35). As Beale says, “the punishment matches the crime: those who receive an idolatrous mark will be chastised by being given a penal mark” (814). Are these “loathsome and malignant” sores physically literal, or do they represent some form of suffering similar to that in the fifth trumpet (9:4-6,10) where men are psychologically and emotionally tormented by something likened to the sting of a scorpion? Probably the latter.
The Second Bowl (16:3)
This bowl, like the second trumpet, is based on Exod. 7:17-21 and the plague that turned the waters of the Nile river to blood. Unlike the trumpet judgment that affected 1/3 of all in the sea, the plague here affects all. Thus “the second bowl shows that what can be applied partially can also be applied universally at times throughout the inter-advent age. That is, at times the . . . plague extends throughout the entire earth and not merely part of it” (Beale, 815).
For an explanation of the nature of this plague as involving economic suffering caused by widespread famine, see the notes on 9:8-9.
To be continued . . .