The Seven Bowls
The seven bowls of Revelation 16 are calamities that God pours on the earth. In several ways, the seven bowls are similar to the ten plagues upon Egypt (Exodus 5:1 to 12:30). They both witness to the superior authority and power of God, they both result in the obvious defeat of men who had chosen to rebel against God, and they both show the justice of God.
Each of the ten plagues upon Egypt was literal; and each was given to expose the false religions of the heathen gods (Exodus 7:17; 12:12). In like manner, the seven bowls will be literal, yet each will strike an attack on an aspect of apostate religion and thus have symbolic implications.
It is obvious, for example, that the first angel did not pour a literal chemical compound from a literal bowl upon men who had received a literal mark inflicted by a literal beast. But it is clear that the angel himself is literal, the men upon whom his vial falls are literal, and their sufferings are literal.
The first four or five bowls are introductory afflictions to help people see that they have been fighting against God. But instead of repenting they curse God and persist more on their opposition (Revelation 16:9, 11, 21). The bowls thus serve to reveal the spirit of rebellion which fully controls the hearts of the wicked. The tares, are proved to be tares (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43), and God’s justice in destroying them is made clear to all.
On the other hand, the difficulties of this time of trouble that accompany the plagues strengthen the believers’ faith in God. During the last two plagues, the faith of the believers will especially vindicate the justice of God in terminating the human history before the heavenly beings (Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10). For the believers will make a final stand before the universe showing that they would rather die than disobey God.
Then, the wicked will plan to destroy the saints by putting forth the death decree in an effort to control the earth. “and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Revelation 13:15). But the Lord will save His faithful children, whose names are written in the book of life (Revelation 21:27).
In His service,