Revelation (Part 33): The Bowls of Wrath
Chapter 15 ends with the angels who are carrying the bowls of wrath exiting the sanctuary of God. The Bible tells us the sanctuary was filled with smoke and no one could enter it until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed. Of course, the smoke filling the sanctuary is the glory of God (Ex 40:34–35; 2 Chron 5:13; Is 6:4; Ezek 10:2–4). But why is it that no one can enter into the presence of God’s glory during this time? Aren’t we, who have been saved through Christ, washed clean so that we can (as Priscilla says in Hebrews 4) boldly approach God’s throne? Didn’t we just see the scene as the people of God crossed over the sea to him? So then, why can no one enter the sanctuary?
I believe the verse is not merely giving a statement of restriction; it is providing description and expression to let us know that this wrath is occurring now simultaneously with people coming to God in this age. We are transformed, converted, and forgiven. But we still struggle through the sin environment of creation—including within these bodies not yet redeemed. Paul gives a hint of that struggle in Romans 7. It is when sin is completely eradicated—as we saw in Revelation 21–22—that pure, perfect relationship will exist. But that is after this age in which the gathering and rejecting occurs.
The bowls of wrath seem to follow the pattern of the seven trumpets that we read about in chapters 8, 9, and 11. And that makes sense because, after all, they depict the same time period. The trumpets came just after the scroll was opened (atonement accomplished). The trumpets told us what this age would be like. These bowls are also for this age, but more specifically concentrating on the wrath toward those who reject God’s atonement through this age.
Notice first the seven trumpets—where the blast was focused and the results:
- Directed to Earth—resulting in 1/3 of all trees and all grass burned
- Directed to sea—resulting in 1/3 of sea to blood, creatures die, and ships destroyed
- Directed to rivers and springs—resulting in 1/3 becoming poisonous
- Directed to sun, moon, and stars—resulting in 1/3 darkening
- Directed to the human-focused—resulting in torment for five months
- Directed to the human-focused—resulting in 1/3 of humans killed
- Directed to the kingdom of the world—resulting in it becoming the kingdom of God
Now notice the seven bowls of wrath—where poured and the results:
- Poured on Earth—resulting in painful sores
- Poured on sea—resulting in all sea to blood and all sea life dead
- Poured on rivers and springs—resulting in all water to blood
- Poured on sun—resulting in people being burned from intense heat
- Poured on Beast—resulting in darkness and torment
- Poured on Euphrates—resulting in drying it up so armies can cross
- Poured on air—resulting in cataclysmic destruction
Of course, as we compare the trumpet blast direction and what the bowls were poured on, we find them almost exactly the same. And this similarity should help us understand that the symbolic picture being presented is somewhat similar. If you recall the focus of the trumpet section, it was to describe the partial disruption of God’s Zion purpose for this age. God’s purpose is about relationship—everlasting love relationship. In the beginning he created his image bearers to enjoy three basic relationships: human with God, human with each other, and human with the rest of creation. We were to recognize God’s caregiving over us. We were to provide reciprocal caregiving with each other, and we were to provide caregiving for the earth. Yet because of sin, violence to all three relationships resulted (as enumerated in the curses of Genesis 3). The scene of the trumpets depicts these twisted relationships as the first four trumpets show our destroyed relationship with the rest of creation, the fifth trumpet shows our destroyed relationship with God, and the sixth trumpet shows our destroyed relationship among humankind. But the result of the age is shown in the seventh trumpet as Christ claims God’s restored relationship purpose in the kingdom of the earth becoming God’s
The bowls of wrath also show the destroyed relationships, but they do so with focus on those who reject God’s provided redemption (restoration of relationship). Again, the first four bowls show the destruction of relationship with the rest of creation. Humankind had turned to creation to make it god over them (Romans 1:25)—to seek satisfaction of truth, goodness, and beauty in that which was created. But God shows in these first four bowls that there is no satisfaction from the earth. Bowl five is poured on the Beast. The beast is the delusion of finding TGB in self. It is the turning from God to worship self. And God shows in its darkness and torment, that no satisfaction is there. The sixth bowl pours on the Euphrates which symbolizes the removal of security (just as it did in the sixth trumpet as the angels of the Euphrates were released to cause war). The causing of war depicts the violence of the relationship of human with human. No satisfaction will ever come here either. And thus, the whole series results in the cataclysmic destruction of the seventh bowl in God’s final turning away.
These bowls are poured out in this age. We can think of them depicting the collective failed attempt of the human-focused, but we can also think of them as that which is poured out individually on each person who rejects God’s revelation. The rejection that leads to death in this life is the final turn away by God for that individual.
Notice that these bowls seem progressive. Even in his wrath, God is ready to extend mercy, and gives increasingly terrible consequence not merely to punish, but to turn hearts to repentance (see pattern in Lev 26). But the hard-hearted will not repent (16:5 “they did not repent” and 16:21 “they blasphemed God for the plague”), and the point of these bowl judgments is that their doom is certain.