Fifth and Sixth Bowls of Wrath

SynopsisThe fifth Bowl of Wrath darkens the realm of the Beast; the sixth unleashes the final battle against the LambRevelation 16:10-16.

Dry Riverbed - Photo by Chester Ho on Unsplash
By Chester Ho on Unsplash
The fifth “bowl of wrath” weakens the authority of the Beast in preparation for the final “battle” between its forces and the Lamb. This occurs at a place called “Armageddon” after demonic forces are unleashed by the sixth “bowl of wrath” to gather the “kings of the earth” with their armies to the “Great Day of God the Almighty.” The provided description borrows language and imagery from Ezekiel’s portrayal of an invasion by “Gog and Magog,” as well as from the ancient prediction of the overthrow of Babylon by a Persian force.

The Fifth Bowl
  • (Revelation 16:10-11) – “And the fifth poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was darkened; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they repented not of their works.” 
The “darkness” calls to mind the ninth plague of Egypt. This judgment targets the political authority of the Beast, the “throne of the beast.” Further, it is a literary link to the fifth trumpet where the sun was “darkened” because of the “smoke that ascended out of the Abyss,” and, like with the earlier plague of “locusts” when the followers of the Beast “were tormented five months,” so, now, men are tormented by “their pains and their sores.” Like when the sixth trumpet sounded, despite their torment, the “inhabitants of the earth…repented not of their works” - (Exodus 10:21-29, Revelation 9:1-3).

Likewise, the fourth and fifth bowls are related - both affect the sun, both have the ninth Egyptian plague in view, and both cause men to blaspheme God. The fourth bowl caused the sun to burn men. The fifth bowl now darkens the sun. This demonstrates that these plagues are not literal - The sun does not scorch men when it is darkened.

The “throne of the Beast” parallels the “throne of Satan” described in the letter to the Church at Pergamos, the administrative center of the Roman government and of the imperial cult in the province, and the home of “Antipas my faithful witness who was killed where Satan dwells” (Revelation 2:13).

The plague of darkness produces anguish - Men begin to “gnaw their tongues for the pain.” Darkness suggests political upheaval. The fifth trumpet also caused the darkening of the “sun and the air,” as well as mental anguish (“torment”) for the followers of the Beast (Revelation 9:4-6).

Like Pharaoh and the Egyptian population, the “torment” causes the followers of the Beast to harden their hearts - It does not lead to repentance. They repented not from their works” is virtually verbatim from Revelation 9:20, the sixth trumpet (“they did not repent from the works of their hands”). The sixth trumpet also hardened the “inhabitants of the earth,” especially in their idolatry (“Worship of demons and idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood”).

Similarly, there are verbal links to the pronouncement against the “woman Jezebel” who was active in the Church at Thyatira. She seduced Christians “to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” Jesus “gave her time that she should repent; and she wills not to repent of her fornication,” therefore, he would cast her and her followers into great tribulation (Revelation 2:20-22).

The effects of this bowl overlap the plagues of the first four “bowls of wrath.” The sores of the first plague continue to have an effect on the impenitent through the second, third, fourth, and fifth bowls. Each successive plague accumulates more punishments for the “inhabitants of the earth.”

Especially under attack by the plague of this “bowl” are the power centers of the Beast and its kingdom - The economic means necessary for the maintenance of political power.

The Sixth Bowl (16:12-16)
  • (Revelation 16:12-16) – “And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river, the river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might by made ready for the kings that come from the sun-rising. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits, as it were frogs: for they are spirits of demons, working signs; which go forth unto the kings of the whole habitable earth, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And they gathered them together into the place which is called in Hebrew Har-Magedon.”
Several images from the Old Testament are used for the sixth bowl:
  • The drying up of the Red Sea - (Exodus 14:21-25).
  • The second Egyptian plague of frogs - (Exodus 8:1-15).
  • The diverting of the Euphrates River by Cyrus to facilitate the capture of Babylon.
  • The predicted invasion by the forces of “Gog and Magog” - (Ezekiel 38-39).
The images are combined to create a complete picture of a final “battle” between God and the forces of the Dragon. It culminates in the destruction of “Babylon” when the seventh bowl is emptied (Revelation 16:17-21).

The Euphrates River was the symbolic eastern boundary of the Promised Land and the direction from which invading armies historically attacked Israel. Thus, the final “battle” between the saints and the forces of Satan is poised to begin (Genesis 15:18, Exodus 23:31, Deuteronomy 1:7, 11:24, Joshua 1:4).

A prophecy recorded in the Old Testament predicted how the city of Babylon would fall to Persia by the drying up of the Euphrates River. Yahweh promised the restoration of the Jewish nation held captive in Babylon. To facilitate this, He commanded the rivers to “be dry…who says of Cyrus, He is my shepherd and shall perform all my pleasure…I will raise up one from the north who will come from the sun-rising” - God would - “Disquiet the inhabitants of Babylon” and cause “a drought upon her waters that they should be dried up” (Isaiah 44:24-28, 41:45, Jeremiah 50:38, 51:36).

This was fulfilled in October 539 B.C. when a Medo-Persian force rerouted the Euphrates River so its army could penetrate Babylon’s walls and enter the city along the dry riverbed. The image of the “kings from the sun-rising” marching across a dried-up Euphrates riverbed borrows language from these prophetic texts:
  • (Isaiah 41:2) – “Who has raised up one from the sunrise, whom he calls in righteousness to his foot? He gives nations before him, and makes him rule over kings; he gives them as the dust to his sword, as the driven stubble to his bow.”
  • (Isaiah 41:2) – “I have raised up one from the north, and he is come; from the rising of the sun one that calls upon my name: and he shall come upon rulers as upon mortar, and as the potter treads clay” - (cp. Daniel 5:1).
The seventh “bowl of wrath,” results in the fall of end-time “Babylon.” The book of Revelation uses the past conquest of Babylon by Persia to paint a portrait of the downfall of latter-day Babylon. The picture of the “kings of the east” leading a large force from beyond the Euphrates River draws on Old Testament imagery of an army from Mesopotamia invading Palestine from the north, especially from the prophecy of “Gog and Magog” from the book of Ezekiel.

African Plain Photo by Pop & Zebra on Unsplash
In Revelation, neither the “Euphrates River” nor “Babylon” is a literal geographic reference. In Chapter 17, Babylon “sits upon many waters,” interpreted as “peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues”. She also “sits on seven mountains,” yet the ancient city-state was situated in a vast alluvial plain between the Euphrates and Tigres rivers hundreds of kilometers from the nearest mountain. And if Babylon is not a literal geographic reference in this passage, neither is the “Euphrates River” - (Revelation 17:1-15).

Demonic spirits cause the “kings of the whole habitable earth” to gather to the war of the “great day of God.” The Lord uses demonic forces to accomplish His purposes. The description employs language from Ezekiel 38:3-10 where Yahweh declared to “Gog of Magog”:
  • I will turn you back and put hooks into your jaws, and I will gather you and all your army…Be prepared and prepare yourself, you and all your company that are gathered unto you…in the latter years you shall come into the land that is brought back from the sword and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel...You shall ascend and come like a storm, you shall be like a cloud to cover the land, you and all your bands, and many people with you.”
This is not an image of two opposing armies facing off in a massive land battle. The “kings from the sun-rising” and the “kings of the whole earth” are identical - The latter interprets the former. This is not a battle between national armies but the global “battle” of all nations against the Lamb, God’s anointed king, as predicted in the second Psalm:
  • (Psalm 2:1-4) – “Why do the nations rage, and the peoples meditate a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against Yahweh and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sits in the heavens will laugh: the Lord will have them in derision.”
Though the “kings of the earth” believe they are assembling to destroy God’s people, instead, they are gathered at God’s instigation in order to destroy “Babylon”; afterward, they themselves are destroyed along with the Beast and False Prophet (Revelation 16:19, 17:16-17, 19:17-21).
This scenario parallels the description of God causing “Gog of Magog” to invade Israel in order to destroy her on the “mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 38:3-10, 39:1-3).
The demon spirits “gather the kings of the earth unto the war” (sunagagein autous eis ton polemon). The term “war” is singular in the Greek sentence and has a definite article or “the,” which indicates a specific and known event - Not just another war, but “THE war.” Previously, this day was referred to in the sixth seal - “The great day of the wrath of Him who sits on the Throne and the Lamb” (Revelation 6:15-17).

The “kings of the earth” were among those who sought to escape from the wrath of God when the sixth seal was opened. They “fornicated” with Babylon by participating in her idolatry. In the present passage, the “kings of the earth and their armies” are allied with the Beast and the False Prophet in order “to gather together to wage war against” the heavenly figure on a white horse (Revelation 16:15, 17:2, 18:3, 19:19).

The “kings from the rising sun” are not righteous rulers who are intent on resisting the Beast. Instead, they join it in a final confrontation with God. The divine purpose is so Babylon can be destroyed - God puts it in their hearts to do this thing (Revelation 16:19, 17:16-17).

Chess board Photo by Adlan on Unsplash
The sixth bowl is a symbolic picture of the final confrontation between God and Satan. The passage reinterprets and reapplies Old Testament images - “Gog” and its armies become the “kings of the whole habitable earth” – Unrepentant humanity united in hostility to the Lamb.

The voice of Jesus interjects at this point - “Behold, I am coming as a thief!” This final battle will result in the arrival of Jesus from heaven, the “he” from verse 16 who causes the armies of the earth to “gather to the place called Armageddon.” The Lamb, not the Beast, assembles the armies to this “battle” to achieve his purposes.

Christians who “keep their garments” find themselves “blessed” when he arrives, but his arrival means “shame” for the unprepared and destruction for all forces opposed to God (Revelation 16:15-16).

The promise of “blessing” reiterates exhortations and promises that Jesus gave to the churches at Sardis and Laodicea:
  • (Revelation 3:2-5) – “Be watchful and establish the things that remain that were ready to die, for I have not found your works perfected before my God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard, and keep it and repent. If therefore you shall not watch, I will come as a thief and you shall not know what hour I will come upon you. But you have a few names in Sardis that did not defile their garments: and they shall walk with me in white; for they are worthy. He that overcomes shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.”
  • (Revelation 3:17-18) – “Because you say, I am rich and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked: I counsel you to buy of me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich; and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness be not made manifest; and eye-salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.”
Armageddon” transliterates a Hebrew term that means “mountain of Megiddo.” No such city or site is called by this name in Palestine. Historically, “Megiddo” referred to the “valley of Megiddo” or the town by that name in a broad plain with no mountain or sizable hill (Judges 5:19, 2 Kings 23:29-30, Zechariah 12:11).

The explanation for the term, the “mountain of Megiddo,” is that John has combined Zechariah 12:11 with Ezekiel 39:2-4. In the former, Yahweh sought to “destroy all the nations gathered against Jerusalem. At that time, the clans of Judah will wail as the wailing of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon.” In the latter passage, Yahweh caused “Gog of Magog” to gather “upon the mountains of Israel” to be destroyed.

The actual geographic location of this battle is not given until Chapter 20 of the book of Revelation, along with the identity of the attacking force, “Gog and Magog” - (“The nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog…and they went up over the breadth of the earth and encompassed the camp of the saints”).

Thus, the final “war” against the Lamb is global in scope and involves all nations in a last-ditch attempt to destroy the saints. Instead, “Babylon, the Great City” is destroyed, the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet are cast into the “Lake of Fire,” along with all men and women whose names are not “written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 20:7-15).

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