9. The Great Tribulation
A. The Bowl Judgments Rev 15-16
1. The Bowls Presented
2. The First Five Bowls (Rev 16:1–11)
This starts off the last 3.5 years of daniels last week. These plagues are similar to the ones in exodus
First angel: ulcers. Ugly and painful. Those who accepted the mark fo the beast for economic purposes and physical protection find out that they cannot be shielded from the wrath of God.
Similar to the sixth plague of boils for the Egyptians Exod 9:8–12 and the tumors for the philistines. 1 Sam 5:1–6
Second Bowl: Seas. Similar to the plague of blood. Or it may be red tide. Regardless, all marine life dies.
Third Bowl: Rivers. Freshwater now turns to blood. Drinking water is now severely affected.
Angel in charge of the waters shows that there are angels that God uses to sustain the physical universe.
The justice of God is highlighted again. The roman empire shed blood and have been given blood to drink.
They deserve the punishment they received. Deserve is used to describe the worthiness of the Lamb in Rev 4:11 Just like Jesus is worthy of adoration, so also the enemies of God are worthy of their punishment.
Fourth Bowl: Sun and heat. The temperature of the sun increases and the people suffer from burns.
Fifth Bowl: Darkness and cold. Similar to the ninth plague of Exodus. It is on the throne of the beast, wherever it is at that time. Could it be in Jerusalem? We don’t know.
The response of the wicked to these plagues are like before – continued hardened rebellion. It is only during the time of the witnesses (Rev 11) when any remorse was shown. Otherwise, people continued to rebel and curse God for their judgments. In Luke 16, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man begs for more evidence for belief. Abraham said: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Human rebellion against God has nothing to do with the absence of evidence of God. There is plenty of evidence for anyone who wants to believe, but for those who do not want to believe, even the best evidence is not enough and conversely, their hatred toward God increases.
3. The Sixth Bowl (Rev 16:12–16)
Sixth bowl: The Euphrates. This river is dried up to prepare for the kings of the East.
“The Euphrates River, running for approximately 1,728 miles from the northwest to the southeast, has always been seen as one of the lines of demarcation between the East and the West as well as the fuel for ancient rivalries between Occident and Orient. Beyond the Euphrates River the desert stretches for a way and then gives way to the Zagros Mountains in what is modern Iran. With its ultimate boundary, the land of Israel was to stretch to the river Euphrates. The greatest extent of the Solomonic Empire extended only to Tadmor in the wilderness, which remains approximately 100 miles west of the river Euphrates and is the location of the later Roman city of Palmyra. Its excavated ruins may still be visited in the country of Syria”
Three evil spirits that look like frogs arrive. This is similar to the plague of frogs in Exodus. (Exod 8:2–15). They are able to do signs and wonders to deceive.
This judgment paves the way for “unity” amongst the enemies of God. For a brief time, the judgment seems to go in favor of the wicked. But in the big picture, God is working things out to completely destroy his enemies.
One of the comings of Jesus will be like a thief in the night – secretive and sudden. This definitely does not refer to the coming of Jesus at the end of the tribulation period, when He comes to destroy the Antichrist at Armageddon. Thus, this likely refers to the rapture that happens prior to the 7 year period when he takes the believers to heaven.
A beatitude is pronounced for those who are believers, clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Other beatitudes in Revelation: 1:3; 14:13; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; and 22:14
The word “Armageddon” is a combination of two Hebrew words, meaning the mountain of Megiddo. It was the site of several notable battles in Jewish history. Deborah and Barak defeated the Canaanite army of Jabin there. (Judg 5:19) King Ahaziah of Judah died there while fleeing Jehu. (2 Kgs 9:27). The king of Judah, Josiah, also died here during a battle with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt (2 Kgs 23:29–30). Because the area was associated with significant battles in the history of Israel, it is not odd that John would locate the assembly in preparation for apocalyptic conflict there. Additionally other great military men fought here including Thutmose III of 15th-century BC Egypt, Napoleon in 1799, and General Allenby during World War I.
4. The Seventh Bowl (Rev 16:17–21)
Seventh Bowl: The World. The final bowl is poured into the air. Similar to the 7th trumpet and 7th seal, there is lightning, thunder, and earthquakes, but on a much severe scale. There are worldwide repercussions and widespread effects from below and via hail from above. All the cities collapse and are destroyed. The epicenter is the headquarters of the Revived Roman Empire, referred to here as Babylon.
The earth suffers destruction to a scale that is only slightly short of being completely dissolved, and yet, people still curse God and refuse to repent.
B. The Judgment of Apostate Religion (17:1–18)
1. The Scarlet Woman (17:1–6)
This judgement on Babylon is somehow related to the seventh Bowl as one of the angels involved in it continues the conversation with John. There are several clues as to which religious system this woman is representing.
CLUE #1: The woman is said to be a great prostitute. In the OT, human sexual terms were used to show spiritual adultery.
CLUE #2: She sits on many waters – shows widespread involvement of many people. Rev 17:15.
CLUE #3: Many earthly leaders are involved in this religious system – there is an impure union of church and state.
The woman is riding upon the beast from the sea – the antichrist described in Rev 13. The religious system represented by the woman is in union with the political system of which the beast is the head.
CLUE #4: She has on her forehead the word “mystery”. Usually this word in the Scriptures is talking about something that cannot be known by human knowledge. (Matt 13:11; Rom 11:25; 1 Cor 15:51; Eph 5:32, etc.). Another use of this term is when talking about ancient mystery religions.
CLUE #5: She is called “Babylon the Great,” likely connecting her to the faith of ancient Babylon. Gen 10, 11. This is an account of the building of a centralized temple for a humanistic religious system.
She is said to be the mother of all the abominations of the earth showing the unfaithfulness of this religious system.
CLUE #6: She is also said to be drunk with the blood of the saints indicating the sordid history this religion holds in persecuting Christians.
Then, John says that he was astonished with great astonishment. He had seen all the judgments of God and incredible things through the previous 16 chapters, and yet he sees something so mind-blowing that he is doubly astonished. He had seen evil in its various from both from Jewish history and from contemporary persecution by imperial Rome and yet he is astonished. Maybe it is his recognition of a false religious system – one that claims to be a religious system, but is not. The use of the words unfaithfulness and prostitution point to this kind of a deception. It is likely a religious system that pretends to represent the true God but is actually doing the work of the Devil.
2. The Beast that Carries Her (17:7–18)
The angel is surprised at John’s astonishment and offers to explain the mystery to him. Mystery in this sense is the common use of the word – something that cannot be humanly understood.
The angel explains about the beast what John already saw earlier in Rev 13. The beast was, was not, will be and soon will not be! The beast was living, then died and went into the abyss, then came back to life and will soon go to his destruction. John saw earlier that the beast had a fatal wound and still lived. Rev 13:3. He is headed to his destruction, but until then, he deceives the inhabitants of the earth. Those who resist being deceived are those whose names are in the Book of Life.
Only a person with wisdom can know the identity of the beast.
CLUE #7: The City: The seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills on which the woman (city) sits.
The seven heads also represent seven kings – 5 of them have died, one is still present and one more is to come. These seven kings (kingdoms) are thought to represent those that have persecuted the people of God throughout history. Egypt Ezek 29–30; Nineveh/Assyria, Nah 3:1–19; Babylon, Isa 21:9 and Jer 50–51; Persia, Dan 10:13 and 11:2; Greece, Dan 11:3–4. The sixth one is contemporary to John – Rome. The seventh one which is to come is the Revived Roman Empire of which the beast will become a part of, as the eighth king. The eighth kingdom of the beast is specifically mentioned as being for a short time, highlighting the long spans of the previous kingdoms.
The ten horns of the beast show the 10 kings who will be part of the Revived Roman empire, consistent with the visions in Daniel 2, 7 and Rev 13. Their reigns are short, simply to hand over complete power to the beast.
This confederation led by the beast will fight the final war against Jesus who will be with his church.
the religious system (woman) has influence over multiple people and language groups. Even though the political system (the beast) favors the woman initially, the 10-kingdom federation actually detests the woman. Once her use is over, she will be discarded and brought to ruin. This religious system (woman) will be judged first due to her heresy and faithlessness and fake spirituality. Only later will the beast be judged.
Verse 18 gives the final clue. It is the great city that ruled at the time of John. Any first century reader would have understood it as Rome. Thus, there is little doubt that the scarlet woman is the religious side of Rome, the Roman Church.
Babylonianism is the secular humanism that is anti-God. It started with the Tower of Babel and continued to oppose God throughout history. Even though it is present everywhere generally, it is hiding specifically in plain sight in the Roman Church.
C. The Judgment of Great Babylon (18:1–24)
A powerful angel with great authority comes from heaven, the glory of whom lights up the earth. He announces the fall of Babylon.
Babylon has become a home for demons. The fall is so dramatic that nothing good can remain in Babylon. There are several reasons for her fall:
Adulterous relationships with kings of the earth resulting in an unholy union of church and state.
The obsession and pursuit of wealth.
Believers are encouraged to disassociate with this religious system, so as to not share in her sins (literally, not be married to her sins). Avoid communion and participation with her sins, so that the plagues that are meant for her will not overtake the believer.
The sins of Rome (Babylon) are piled up to heaven and so God is going to pay Rome (Babylon) what she deserves – twice for the severity of her crimes. Torture and grief will be given for the glory and luxury she gave herself. The judgment for all her past misdeeds will come at one time upon her – death, mourning and famine.
There are two reactions that occur when those who co-partnered with Rome (Babylon) see her destruction: Sorrow – since their own prosperity was tied to that of Rome. Terror – because when such a large, unstoppable system can be destroyed, each of them can also be.
Among the many things that Rome was involved in buying and selling, it included even humans.
In contrast to the dirge by those in cohorts with Rome (Babylon), on the other side of heaven is rejoicing that justice has been meted out to the wicked, unfaithful, perverse, faux religious system.
Symbolical of Rome’s permanent destruction, an angel throws a millstone into the water. Normal life will be affected and never the same again. Rome had significant connections all over the world and all those connections will be torpedoed with the fall of Rome.
Paige Patterson, Revelation, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 39, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 258–297
Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 877.