10: Revelation 15:5-16:21: Burning of the Seven Bowls of Incense
In the Temple, incense is burned after the readings have been heard. The imagery fits well with this next part of the book of Revelation, and the specific plagues recall passages from the Old and New Testament.
The plagues are sent out from the Temple, from the place where the law is kept (and incense burned), implying a connection between their effect and disobedience to law. The angels are dressed as priests, symbols of holiness. And the four creatures offering the bowls have been seen earlier in Revelation, representing the created world—seven bowls and seven angels representing God’s complete plan. The rising smoke reminds readers of God’s glory, as when law was given on Sinai.
The increasing numbers of people affected by the plagues leads readers to imagine God’s increasing urgency as He calls us to Himself, and the inevitability of consequences when God stops holding back His wrath.
List of Plagues
1. 1st plague: The 6th plague of Egypt in Exodus 9:9-11 resulted in painful sores. The plague was not imitated by the magicians because they got sick too with 9festering boils on humans and animals throughout the whole land of Egypt. Leviticus 13, 14 suggest that skin diseases make the sufferers unclean. Perhaps this plague is a revealing of man’s inner uncleanness on surface of the body.
2. 2nd plague: The 2nd trumpet (in Revelation 8:9) only destroyed 1/3 of life in the sea when the water turned to blood. Now everything dies.
3. 3rd plague: Just as when the 3rd trumpet (Revelation 8:10-11) blew, the rivers are now affected as well as the sea. The angel of the waters may be like angels of the churches, one given guardianship and responsibility. While we might be shocked, viewing this through present-day eyes, the angels approve of destruction. And we, in our future selves, the redeemed waiting at the altar, clearly understand and approve at the last. We will know, though we can’t see it now.
4. 4th plague: Fire brings to mind 2 Peter 3:7 7But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless. Some readers have interpreted this as meaning the earth will end in fire this time, instead of in a flood at the time of Noah, but fire also symbolizes purification, and this may just be symbolic of the earth and its peoples being purified (1 Corinthians 3:15).
The trumpets – the world as it is – of Revelation 8 were meant to warn us. But People did not listen to the warnings. Now they curse God (15:9,11)
5. 5th plague: The Kingdom of the Beast is under attack, and people curse God because of their pain and sores. Job’s refusal to curse God is brought to mind. Where do we put our trust?
6. 6th plague: In a reminder of the 6th trumpet and of the Garden of Eden, the River Euphrates dries up. God removes his protection from the fallen earth and Satan’s power is increased.
Note, God has always allowed and used evil spirits: 1 Samuel 18:10 10The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul. The coming of the frogs does mean God is no longer in control. And indeed, verse 15 reminds us that these things are told so we can be prepared.
Revelation 16:15 15(“See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not going about naked and exposed to shame.”)
Matthew 24:43-44 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Armageddon – the Hill of Megiddo, sometimes called Harmagedon. Megiddo lies on a plain rather than a hill, but the reference may well be symbolic rather than physical, reminding readers of Zechariah 12 which speaks of the Day of the Lord. When they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. 11On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.
7. 7th plague: When the voice from the Temple cries “It is done!” it’s hard not to be reminded of Christ on the cross in John 19:30 crying It is finished. We may not understand what happens at the end of time, just as Jesus’ followers didn’t understand His death, but resurrection follows.
The Earthquake is mentioned again, but even now, sinful man still curses God, right to the end.
The Sequence of messages in Revelation consistently leads to a grand finale:
7 letters: each ending with a promise of heaven.
7 seals: depicting the state of the world
7 trumpets: with the promise that God warns everyone.
7 signs: portraying the truth that Satan is actively opposing God.
7 bowls of incense/plagues: portraying the parallel truth that God is victorious over Satan.
7 descriptions of judgment: the fall of Satan’s armies
7 victories: the victory of God’s armies
7 views of heaven: the ultimate goal.
There is also a sequence within the messages, with the position of an image indicating its importance. For example, many psalms start with “how long,” or “woe is me,” and the suggestions that God isn’t listening. But they end, far more importantly, with faith in God, trust in His power, rejoicing in His love. The important message is the one we are left with at the end.
The seals, trumpets, signs and bowls all leave the reader with similar images:
a) God’s people will approve of his actions and stand beside Him, rejoicing.
See Seal 5 and interlude (Revelation 6:9-11, 7:9-17); Trumpet interlude and 7 (Revelation 10:5-9, 11:15-17); Sign 4 and 7 (Revelation 14:1-5, 15:2-4); Plague 3 and 7 (Revelation 16:7, 17)
b) All the evil of the world will eventually be destroyed, symbolized in the final earthquake seen in the sixth seal, the seventh trumpet, the sixth sign (where the angel comes out from the Temple, reminding readers of the Temple curtain torn in the earthquake at the death of Christ) and the seventh plague.
c) The ultimate goal is heaven, as revealed in the 7th seal and explanation between the seals, the 7th trumpet, 7th sign, the opening of the Holy of Holies as the angel steps out in the 7th sign, and the “It is done” message of the 7th plague.
We will rejoice and be saved; all evil and trouble and pain will come to an end; and we will see heaven.