The Coming Tribulation: A History of the Apocalypse
Revelation 16:1 - 19:21
by Dr. Robert D. Luginbill
I. The Bowl Judgments: Revelation 16:1-21
1. Sores (1-2)
2. Sea Turned to Blood (3)
3. Waters Turned to Blood (4-7)
4. Scorching Heat (8-9)
5. Darkness (10-11)
6. Preparation for Armageddon (12-16)
7. Earthquake and Hail (17-21)
II. Judgment on Babylon: Revelation 17:1 - 19:4
III. The Beast's Armageddon Crusade
IV. Signs of the Second Advent: Revelation 19:5
V. The Resurrection of the Lamb's Bride: Revelation 19:6-10
VI. The Repentance of Israel
VII. The Second Advent and Armageddon: Revelation 19:11-21
1. The Word of God (11-16)
2. The Invitation to the Slaughter (17-18)
3. Antichrist and his Armies (19)
4. The Seizure of the Beast and his False Prophet (20)
5. The Battle of Armageddon (21)
From the point of view of believers, the overarching event of the Tribulation's
second half has been the Great Persecution and the martyrdom it has entailed as
our adversary the devil through his son the beast has been attempting to
eliminate faith and the faithful from the earth entirely. Had this evil
process and the regime of antichrist been allowed to continue uninterrupted for
much longer, not only would it have meant an end to the remnant of faith upon
the earth, but it is also the case that “no flesh would have survived”. It
is precisely “for the sake of the elect” that our Lord has “shortened the days”
(Mk.13:20). Beginning with the bowl judgments in the Tribulation's final
year, God's direct and powerful intervention into human events will complicate
Satan and the beast's control of the world, leading inexorably and ineluctably
to our Lord Jesus Christ's return in judgment and glory at Armageddon, and
granting believers a measure of respite in the process. For those who have
survived until this point, the message is clear: “Be strong! Don't be
afraid! Behold! Your God will come, as an Avenger. [Your] God will come, as a
Rewarder. He will come, and He will deliver you.” (Is.35:4b).
there will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars,
and on the earth there will be [great] distress among the
nations [who will be greatly] bewildered by the roaring of
the sea and [its massive] waves, (26) [and] men will lose
heart out of fear and expectation of what is about to come
upon the inhabited world. For the luminaries of the
heavens will be [powerfully] shaken. (27) And then
they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power
and much glory. (28) When these things
begin to happen, stand up and raise up your heads, because
your redemption is near. (29) Then He
told them a parable. “Look at the fig tree and all its
leaves. (30) When they have already come out [like
this], you can see for yourselves by examining it that
summer is near. (31) So also when you see that all
things have come to pass, know that the Kingdom of God is
(25) “And there will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars, and on the earth there will be [great] distress among the nations [who will be greatly] bewildered by the roaring of the sea and [its massive] waves, (26) [and] men will lose heart out of fear and expectation of what is about to come upon the inhabited world. For the luminaries of the heavens will be [powerfully] shaken. (27) And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and much glory. (28) When these things begin to happen, stand up and raise up your heads, because your redemption is near. (29) Then He told them a parable. “Look at the fig tree and all its leaves. (30) When they have already come out [like this], you can see for yourselves by examining it that summer is near. (31) So also when you see that all things have come to pass, know that the Kingdom of God is near.
As to the precise placement of the bowl judgments in the chronology of
the Great Tribulation, scripture provides a number of clues which give
us the ability to project a plausible time-line for their occurrence.
As is made clear throughout chapter sixteen, the exact terminus for the
bowl judgments is Armageddon and the Second Advent (see esp.
Rev.16:16-17), since both of these events and the build-up to them are
part and parcel of bowls six and seven. Further, the start-point
for these seven judgments must occur at some point during the
Tribulation's final three and a half years (obviously, in that, along
with everything else which follows Revelation 11:15-19 and precedes
Christ's return in chapter 19, they are part of the seventh trumpet
which represents the Great Tribulation). So although there is
clearly a relationship (and many obvious parallels) between the seven
judgments of warning and the seven judgments of punishment, at first
glance it may seem impossible for the bowls to parallel the trumpets in
terms of raw time since the total number of months of warning comprised
by the trumpet judgments is 63 (when the 42 months of the seventh
trumpet, the Great Tribulation, are included in the count). On the
other hand, the termini provided by the start and stop points of the
Great Tribulation can provide us with only 42 months at most. In
actuality, of course, the linear total has to be far fewer than 42,
since a good deal of time must be allowed at the beginning of the Great
Tribulation for the Great Persecution (for it is to this offence that
the bowls constitute a divine response; cf. Rev.16:5-7). The
correct solution lies in positing an overlap
in the effects of the bowl judgments (i.e., a continuation of the
effects of each judgment even as the next in sequence begins, with the
effects of all seven continuing until Christ's return). In this
way it is possible to telescope these seven in a manner that will both
yield a total of 63 total (partially overlapping) months of judgment
parallel to the 63 (sequential) months of warning represented by the
Trumpet Judgments, while at the same time allowing the Bowl Judgments to
fit into the Great Tribulation's second half in a reasonable and
The above schema is certainly in keeping with the rising crescendo of punishment designed to be unbearable in contrast to the sequential and (relatively) endurable hardships of the warning judgments. Bowls six and seven, which comprise the entire Armageddon campaign along with all of the other events which precede the Second Advent, form the anchor for this system. Since, as we have already seen, Armageddon and our Lord's return occur in the fall (as symbolized by the Day of Atonement),1 and since the events of bowls six and seven will almost certainly require the bulk of the preceding summer and spring (the summoning and transporting of the beast's armies to Israel from throughout the world being a particularly time-consuming logistical task), the positing of six and seven months for the seventh and six bowl judgments respectively fits the evidence. This schema also has in its favor the fact that the supplying of a further month for each additional bowl judgment working backward (i.e., totals of 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and, finally, 12 months for each bowl judgment from the seventh to the first respectively) yields the desired total of 63 months reckoned in overlapping total, yet manages to do so in only 12 months of overall, linear chronological time (as can be seen from the diagram above).
This modeling of the likely chronology of the bowl judgments also has in its favor:
1) It allows for the fact that just as the seven trumpets constituted a build up to the Great Tribulation, so the seven bowls constitute a rising crescendo of judgment in anticipation of the return of our Lord and His judgment of the beast, the devil, and all their minions at the battle of Armageddon.
2) It allows for the fact that, inasmuch as these judgments are in no small part the divine response to the Great Persecution (chap.14-15 plus 16:5-7; cf. Is.35:4; Rev.19:15), sufficient time must first pass for that persecution to take place before the bowl judgments begin (and, as we have seen, the persecution is allowed to take its course for quite some time).
3) It allows for the bowl judgments to fit into the gap between the Great Persecution and Armageddon (and it is difficult to see how this could extend much past the suggested chronology of the Tribulation's final year).
4) It allows for the time required for all of the armies of the world to gather for Armageddon, the subject of the fifth and sixth bowl judgments, with this assembly taking place during the spring and summer of the final tribulational year, and with Armageddon itself taking place in the fall (i.e., lining up with the Day of Atonement), as well as allowing for sufficient time for the prophesied war between the beast's invading forces and Israel.
5) It allows for sufficient time for the other events which are prophesied to take place in this final year or so, including the plunging of the beast's kingdom into darkness (the event that dislodges him temporarily from Jerusalem), the revolt of Babylon and Israel, the destruction and pillaging of Babylon, and the invasion of Israel preparatory to Armageddon.
For the Lord has a day of vengeance, even a year of retribution for Zion's cause.2
Isaiah 34:8 (cf. Is.63:4)
Although the overall length of time for this punitive period of judgment is only 12 months from beginning to end, we are not to draw from this fact the notion that the bowl judgments will for that reason be less intense. Quite the contrary. Such an idea is easily refuted by the nature and effect of this second set of judgments as should be obvious even from a cursory reading of Revelation chapter sixteen. Moreover it is also the case that, in contrast to the trumpet judgments which are sequential and non-overlapping, the effects of each bowl judgment continue from their inception right down to the end of the Tribulation at the battle of Armageddon and the Second Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. This build up of “blow upon unrelenting blow” is characteristic of the pattern of divine punishment where the objects of God's wrath have emphatically and categorically rejected His mercy (cf. Deut.28:16-68; 2Thes.1:9). Thus the manner in which these final seven judgments are administered reflects their punitive nature (in contrast to the monitory nature of the trumpet judgments; see Rev.15:1; 15:8; 16:1).
(1) And I heard a loud voice from the [heavenly] temple saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out upon the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God”. (2) And the first [angel] went out and poured out his bowl upon the earth, and dreadful and terrible sores arose upon the people who had the mark of the beast and upon those who were worshiping his image.
Bowls: The Greek phiale (φιάλη), equivalent to the Latin patera (the diminutive of which is patella), is a large, deep saucer (about the size of a medium deep-dish pizza pan). This deep-dish plate was commonly used in antiquity for libations so that it had a general sacrificial use. It was chosen for libations instead of what might seem to us more practical utensils such as true bowls, cups or jars no doubt because of its suitability for dispersing the liquid libation in a way so as to maximize the emission of fragrance, the visibility of the outpouring, and the area moistened. So in our analogy here, the widespread and tangible nature of the judgment produced is the picture we are meant to receive through the use of this particular ceremonial device: the consequences of the bowl judgments will be even more emphatic and wide-ranging than was the case with the trumpet judgments.
The Seven Angels: The number seven suggests that, as in the case of the trumpet judgments, the archangels are once again in charge of administering this series of judgments.3 As with the blowing of the trumpets, the pouring out of the bowls constitutes the command to begin. Upon receiving this command, we may understand that the large number of elect angelic angels under each archangel's command will then be responsible for carrying out the particulars of each judgment. One additional important difference between the trumpet and the bowl judgments is that while in the case of the former each angel received individual, sequential orders to blow his trumpet, here we see all seven archangels commanded at the same time to “pour out upon the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God” (a fact which further argues for the overlapping duration of the bowl judgments as explained above).
Sores: Beyond the physical pain involved, afflictions of the skin are particularly psychologically wearing because they are at once difficult to put out of mind and at the same time obvious to others. When given the opportunity to attack Job physically, the devil, a shrewd judge of human nature, chose to smite Job “with painful sores from head to foot” no doubt as much because of the anticipated effect upon his morale as anything else (Job 2:4-8). The sores in question here, recalling the “boils” that afflict the Egyptians during the sixth Exodus plague (Ex.9:8-12), “arise” upon the followers of the beast immediately after the first bowl is poured out, and we can take heart that the scripture here names them as the recipients, thereby indicating that believers will be exempt (as in the case of many of the effects of the trumpet judgments as we have seen; cf. Ex.15:26). The sores themselves are described as “dreadful and terrible”. The Greek words here are generic (kakos/κακός and poneros/πονηρός respectively), with the former most likely referring to their ugly appearance and the latter to their unpleasant quality. Suffice it to say that they will serve as a constant reminder to everyone who worships the beast of God's displeasure, right up until the point of our Lord's return in glory.
And the second [angel] poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like the blood of a dead [person], and every living thing in contact with the sea died.
This second bowl judgment also represents a clear intensification over the similar second trumpet judgment wherein only a third of the creatures in the sea perish as a result of a third of the sea being turned into blood (Rev.8:8-9). Human fatalities are also to be understood here as well (cf. Rev.8:9b), since it is not only “everything in the sea” which perishes but everything (and everyone) “in contact” with the sea at the instant this judgment comes down. As with the sores which appear on all of the beast's followers so this plague upon the earth's seas is deliberately reminiscent of the plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians in response to his persecution of the Israelites (compare Ex.9:8-12 with Ex.7:14-24). And just as Pharaoh and his armies were destroyed soon after the end of that cycle of judgment, so it will be with antichrist and his hordes when our Lord annihilates them at the battle of Armageddon. But until that time, this judgment of blood and the deprivation of the sea as a source of food will, like the sores of the first bowl judgment, continue to weigh heavily upon the anti-God population of the world until that blessed end comes to pass. Finally it should be noted that in all three instances the blood in question is literal blood, making the reality of the divine source of this judgment impossible to refute – except by hearts that have been hardened past the point of any return to reality or repentance (the universal state of affairs for antichrist and his followers). Therefore here we clearly see God's power and righteousness underscored by this judgment: in spite of undeniable proof of its evil, the world nevertheless stubbornly refuses to repent.
(4) And the third [angel] poured out his bowl onto the rivers and the springs of waters, and it (i.e., all fresh water) became blood. (5) Then I heard the angel of the waters (i.e., the third angel) saying,