(4) The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood.
The third trumpet warned the people by making the waterways poisonous to drink (see comments on 8:10-11), and many died from drinking the waters. Now the third bowl turns the fresh waterways into blood. This plague resembles that which happened to the land of Egypt (Exodus 7:20) in judgment for their oppression. It is evident from the information of the next three verses that this is a figure of the righteous blood which Israel had shed visiting them again for judgment.
(5) And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments.
Unlike the plagues before it, the third plague gets its own chorus. The words come from the “angel of the water,” that is, the third angel who poured his bowl onto the waters. The words of the angel are very significant to the point of this judgment from God (particularly verse six). The theme of these words is that of justice. God is holy, and his actions against the house of Israel, through seemingly extreme, is just and fair.
(6) For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!”
Here is one of those statements in the book that easily show the purpose of this conflict and the judgments of God. It is also a text which helps us to easily identify who is being judged in the book. The indictment is upon those who have shed the blood of saints and prophets. Now, the Romans may have shed the blood of some of the saints, but only one people on earth could be rightfully prosecuted for the shedding of saints and prophets, and it cannot be the Romans! Consider the words of our Lord when he spoke from earth, saying,
“Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:33).
Again, what did he say, but that a Jerusalem is responsible for the shedding of the prophets. The Lord continues, saying,
“‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (35) Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'” (Luke 13:34-35).
Jesus called Jerusalem “the city that kills the prophets.” And for this great wickedness, he pronounces judgment upon them, saying, “Behold, your house is forsaken.”
There are many places in the book like this one (6:10; 11:18; 17:6; 18:20, 24; 19:1-2), all of which rightly identify the intent of the message. Old covenant Israel is being judged by the Lord for their wickedness in rejecting the covenant, the prophets, the Savior, and his church. God has forsaken the house of Israel (just as Jesus said), and he will leave them desolate.
(7) And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!”
This concluding response is from a voice from the altar. Earlier we saw something similar,
“I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” (6:9).
These who were under the altar, having been the victims of the very people being punished in these last plagues, all cried out together, saying,
“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (6:10).
When they asked God how much longer before he judges those who had slain them for their testimony of truth, they were given a response indicating that it would be “a little longer” (6:11). By chapter sixteen, it has been “a little longer,” for the seven trumpets have warned the people since that occasion, and now the unrepented are receiving the painful end to their wickedness.
This new message from the altar stands in fulfillment to the message in 6:9-11. There was once an outcry for vengeance and justice; now there is the cry of praise to the God, saying “true and just are your judgments!”