(1) And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.
The beginning of this chapter does not start a new scene but a continuation of the vision in chapter fifteen. The seven angels with the seven last plagues had just been given seven golden bowls, and now, this chapter begins with the instruction given to them from “a great voice,” saying “go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.”
“Upon the earth.” Where on the earth? Who is to be affected? In keeping with the context of the previous chapter, these are the plagues to be poured out on old covenant Israel in fulfillment of the words of curses and plagues found in the covenant document. Therefore, those primarily affect by the wrath of God are the unfaithful Jews; but the disastrous affects certainly pour over on other peoples as well (14:9; 16:10; 18:3, 9, 11). People who have influenced and tempted the house of Israel to increase in sin, and people who have shared with the Jews in all kinds of immorality, will certainly be grievously affected by God’s judgment against Israel.
(2) And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.
The first bowl is poured on the earth. The specification of “the earth” does not suggest a certain group of people, but it should be considered with the whole of the context. Reading this chapter, we see plagues covering earth, sea, rivers, and sky; none of these should cause us to assign specific nations to each plague, for the sense is that these plagues are seven (complete, fullness) and are poured out upon all unrepented Israel.
The connection between the first trumpet warning (8:7) and the first bowl is evident; both fell upon “the earth” and cause a grievous burning. The difference between the two is that the trumpet served as a warning (hurting only “a third”), while the bowl completes the punishment.
“A noisome and grievous sore.” These terrible sores were seen in the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 9:8-11), which is noteworthy. However, the main intent is for us to see that this is was God promised to bring upon the house of Israel for their sins; this is a fulfillment of Old Testament scripture.
“The LORD will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed.” (Deuteronomy 28:27).
These wounds which “cannot be healed” are a fitting picture to the agony of the Jewish nation in the late 60’s through the fall of Jerusalem. There was no recovery for those who were so grieved.
“Them which worshipped his image.” This is not to say that this plague is for all the idol worshippers, but for the old covenant people who have turned to the influence of their neighbors, and have worshipped the beast, and even the dragon (John 8:44). With that said, all idolatrous people will be recipients of the wrath of God at some point, but this context seems to be fixed on the judgment of the house of Israel.