Revelation 16:17-21 – The Seventh Bowl

(17)  The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”

    The seventh angel pours the wrath “into the air.” There is no indication in the verse as to the meaning of this action, but the meaning becomes evident in the following verse when we see the effects of the bowl poured into the air: “there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake.”

    “It is done!” The final bowl of wrath pours out the last plague, and when it happens, we hear a great voice from the throne of God in the true tabernacle say, “It is done!” He has fulfilled all the words which he gave to the old house of Israel. “The mystery of God” has been “fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” (10:7). This “it is done” reminds me of the very last words of Jesus on the cross,

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (29)  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. (30)  When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:28-30).

It is evident from John’s account that Jesus said “It is finished” in reference to the fulfillment of the scriptures which spoke of his coming, his suffering, and his death. In Revelation we hear, “it is done,” signaling the fulfillment of the scriptures which spoke of the end of the old covenant age, with its temple, its law, and its people.

 

(18)  And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake.

    This is that iconic language which we hear from God throughout the entire biblical record. It holds the same meaning through the years, God had entered into judgment with a nation (see comments on 6:12).

    “So great was that earthquake.” This certainly intensifies the language. This is not like the judgment of God against old Egypt, or Assyria, or Babylon, or Persia, or Greece. This is a greater shaking than the shaking of those secular kingdoms. As the writer of Hebrews discussed, this shaking was so great that it shook not only earth, but also heaven (Hebrews 12:25-29; see also comments on 21:1). The fall of the physical model of God’s elect and God’s house was more significant than the fall of any other people.

 

(19)  The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.

    I know that some suggest that the three divisions of the city refer to the three warring factions of Jewish rebels in Jerusalem. And it is certainly true that just prior to Titus’ march against Jerusalem, that the two factions in Jerusalem became three, and this caused much misery upon the people (Josephus, Wars, 5.1.4). However, we are not permitted by the text to start taking this number literally. Therefore, it cannot be that the three parts of the city symbolize the three rebellious parties. Three is not symbolic of three! So, if three is a symbol in this text, and it is, then what does it speak of?

    The splitting of Jerusalem into three was due to the great earthquake, by which many cities fell – according to verse nineteen. The earthquake was the language of God’s judgment upon the Jewish people. So the splitting of the city into three is an act of judgment. This is the pattern which God had shown to Ezekiel concerning the destruction of Jerusalem (of his day), saying,

“A third part of you shall die of pestilence and be consumed with famine in your midst; a third part shall fall by the sword all around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds and will unsheathe the sword after them.” (Ezekiel 5:12).

This is in fulfillment to the curses promised upon the covenant people,

“And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.” (Leviticus 26:33).

Therefore, the city being “split into three parts” was a way to describe the multiples of sorrows which would befall the people in this judgment of God.

    “God remembered Babylon the great.” He did not forget all that she had done so that he relented from the punishments, but he remembered that she was to “drain” his wrath completely. Babylon the great is the symbol for Jerusalem which was first given in 14:8 (see comments). The following chapter (seventeen) will provide us with much detail as to the identity of Babylon the great.

    “The cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.” This is more judgment language which God has always used for national judgments. (Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15-26; Jeremiah 51:7; Lamentations 4:21; Ezekiel 23:30-34; Habakkuk 2:16; Zechariah 12:2). They will drink a cup of wine from the Lord, it will be full strength, it will cause them to stagger and go mad; they will be unable to defend themselves.

 

(20)  And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found.

    The message of this text goes along with the previous, how they had to “drain” the cup of God’s fury. The imagery describes how they have nowhere to hide from the wrath of God. They cannot escape his judgment.

 

(21)  And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.

    This seventh plague carried great hailstones. Hail was also the seventh plague for Egypt:

“There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. (25)  The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.” (Exodus 9:24-25).

The enormous weight of these hailstones, being about 100 pounds apiece, intensifies the figure and adds to the magnitude of the judgment of God against the house of Israel. Ezekiel also prophesies of great hailstones at the fall of the Jerusalem of his day,

“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end.” (Ezekiel 13:13).

Ezekiel said that when he spoke concerning the false prophets of Israel who give the nation a false sense of security. It is worthy to note that Ezekiel speaks of the “great hailstones” as the completion of the wrath of God upon the people (ibid). In Revelation we are seeing similar circumstances, with the great hailstones being the seventh and last plague, and the testimony from the throne of God, saying, “it is done.”

What then is next for the visions of the book? The next two chapters will reveal a vivid picture of the destruction of Jerusalem, signaling the revealing of the new Jerusalem in the latter chapters. After the vengeance against wickedness comes the restoration of the beauty of holiness.

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