The Seven Bowls of Wrath
The seven bowls of wrath are similar to the breaking of the seven seals and the sounding of the seven trumpets, but the intensity and magnitude are far greater. Where the others were partial judgment, the bowls of wrath are complete and final judgments. They also roughly parallel the ten plagues set on Egypt, when God punished the Egyptian nation to free His people from bondage.
The First Bowl
A voice booms out from the temple where God’s presence had come. The voice shows that the actions are authorized by God.
The first bowl is poured on the earth, where the land beast (emperor worship) came from. It only fell on those who were sealed to the empire and its worship. As a result, the people broke out in malignant sores. Remember this is not literal, but symbolic. The inner rottenness of their sins is exposed for all to see.
The Second Bowl
The second bowl is poured out on the sea, where the sea beast (the empire) came from. The sea represents the troubled mass of humanity that gave birth to the empire. As a result, the sea turned to blood and everything living died.
Humanity has become dead spiritually, leaving further corruption behind. Life is in the blood ( Leviticus 17:11), but the life has gone out of people, leaving the dead behind.
The Third Bowl
God is taking vengeance as is His right (Romans 12:19). The third bowl is poured into the rivers and springs and they turn to blood. An angel in charge of the waters declares the action to be righteous or fitting retribution. The altar itself, where the blood of the martyrs was (Revelation 6:9-11), agrees.
The empire spilled the blood of God’s people, and thus, the empire was forced to drink the blood of its citizens. They reaped what they had sown (Galatians 6:7-9; Obadiah 15-16).
The Fourth Bowl
The Egyptians suffered a plague of darkness, but here God uses the sun to scorch the earth. God’s wrath against idolatry is seen as a burning fire (Psalms 97:3,7). The astrologers will suffer at the hands of their supposed god (Isaiah 47:13-14). No one is spared (Isaiah 9:19).
Oddly, instead of quaking in fear of God’s wrath, men cursed the God who was punishing them. Their response is much like Pharaoh's in the face of the ten plagues.
The Fifth Bowl
The fifth bowl is directed at the seat of the empire – the throne of the beast and the empire. Their rulers became darkened, that is God snuffed out their wisdom (Isaiah 24:21-23; 29:13-14). It is much like the corruption of the Gentiles (Romans 1:21).
Great pain is inflicted on the blasphemous tongues of these rulers (Revelation 13:5), but they continue to blaspheme God despite the difficulties of speaking through the pain. Notice also that the people are still suffering from the sores inflicted by the first bowl. This shows the events are occurring in rapid succession and are accumulating.
The Sixth Bowl
Preparation for invading armies from the east by drying up the Euphrates River. The major enemies of Israel came from the other side of the Euphrates (Assyria and Babylon) when God overthrew Israel and Judah for their sins. Thus, in preparation for the overthrow of Rome, God makes it easier for the enemies of Rome to access the empire.
Interlude of Three Unclean Spirits
Three unclean spirits, looking like frogs, come from the mouth of the dragon (Satan), the beast (the Roman government), and the false prophet (the religion of emperor worship). Frogs were unclean animals under the Old Law (Leviticus 11:9-12). They perform false wonders that lead the rulers of the world to gather against God (I Timothy 4:1-2; II Thessalonians 2:9).
Meanwhile, God’s people are warned to keep watch (Matthew 24:42-44; 25:13; I Thessalonians 5:2; II Peter 3:10). And they are to keep their garments on. This is similar to the instructions to the Israelites who were about to leave Egypt after the first Passover (Exodus 12:11). The Christian’s garment is his faithful living (Romans 13:12-14; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24). Thus, this is a warning to be alert and remain faithful.
The unclean spirits led the kings to gather at a place called Har-Magedon (Armageddon or Mountain of Megiddo). Megiddo is a city in the valley of Jezreel where many decisive battles were fought by Israel against invading armies. This is the place where Deborah and Barak overthrew Sisera (Judges 5:19-21), where Saul was defeated by the Philistines (I Samuel 31), where Jehu slew Ahaziah (II Kings 9:27), and where Josiah perished at the hands of Pharaoh Necho (II Kings 23:29-30). However, Megiddo is a valley, and John refers to a mountain. Such a mountain doesn’t exist, but then this is not a literal gathering, but a symbol. John is talking about gathering at a place where wars have been won and lost. A fateful decision is about to be made in the history of mankind.
However, no war is actually fought. Satan is seen gathering his forces for a war in the future, which is later described in chapter 19.
The Seventh Bowl
The last bowl is poured into the air. The air is the abode of Satan (Ephesians 2:2). With it being poured out, judgment is declared to be complete. Again it is announced by God from His throne in the temple. Notice that this series begins and ends with God’s authority and He speaks in a voice that sounds like nothing men have ever heard.
The result is that the empire is divided into three parts. This is similar to how Jerusalem’s destruction was described (Ezekiel 5:2-3). Three is the number for complete. It was a complete and thorough destruction. The empire is put into complete chaos. There is no place for refuge for the islands and mountains are gone. Similar to the fall of Tyre (Ezekiel 26:17-18). Hail falls, but it is no ordinary hail. These stones weigh about 100 pounds each. Hail has been used by God before in divine judgment, but never on this order of magnitude before.
But notice that this is not the final judgment because the survivors are still blaspheming God. Despite all the devastation, men still refuse to turn to God.