Here we will find the trumpet plagues intensified and talk of a battle at Har Magedon. Things are really starting to heat up in the Revelation, though many of these ideas will yet be further developed and intensified as we continue onto future cycles.
The cycle opens with the normal vision marker: “And I saw…” (Rev 15:1). It should remind you of the opening of the last cycle because both mention seeing a great sign in heaven (cf. Rev 12:1). This time the sign is “seven angels with seven plagues.”
The next verse repeating the vision formula: “And I saw…” John saw what looked like a sea of glass (cf. Rev 4:6 and our commentary on it) mingled with fire and those who conquered the beast and its image (the sea serpent Leviathan of Rev 13:1ff) and the number of its name 666 (cf. Rev 13:18 and see the previous commentary). These conquerers stood beside the sea of glass with harps and sang the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. The text of the song highlights the salvation of the Lord going to all nations.
The next paragraph is marked by the vision formula: “And after this I saw…” where the addition of “after this” gives it added eschatological emphasis (Rev 15:1). What he sees is the original tent of witness in heaven open and the seven angels with the seven plagues came out. One of the four living creatures, see earlier commentary again, gave the angels “seven bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever” (Rev 15:8).
The next paragraph is then marked by the other vision formula: “And I heard” (Rev 16:1). What John heard was a loud voice from the heavenly temple telling the seven angels to go pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God upon the earth.
The first bowl brought a plague like boils upon the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image (Rev 16:2). This plague intensifies the first trumpet plague because the former cycle plagued one third of the earth and now this cycle all of the earth.
The second bowl brought the plague of water turning to blood to the sea (Rev 16:3). Every living thing in the sea dies from this plague. This intensifies from the second trumpet plague which plagued only a third of the sea.
The third bowl brought the plague of water turning to blood to the fresh water. This is proclaimed just by the angel by saying, “For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” (Rev 16:4-7). This plague intensifies the third trumpet plague because the former cycle gave them bitter drinking water and now they have blood to drink.
The fourth bowl was poured on the sun, which allowed it to scorch people with fire and fierce heat. The text indicates that instead of repentance and giving God the glory they cursed God — to put it in terms of the plagues on Egypt, they hardened their hearts (Rev 16:8-9). This plague intensifies the fourth trumpet plague because the former plagued one third of the heavenly bodies and this one is poured out on the sun.
As with the previous cycles these first four are somewhat different from what follows.
The fifth bowl was poured out on the throne of the beast. This plague had the same effect as the last (Rev 16:10-11).
The sixth bowl was poured out on the Euphrates making it dry land so that kings from the east could cross on dry land (like the Hebrew people did across the Sea of Extinction and then later the Jordan River). And out of the mouth of the unholy trinity came demonic spirits like frogs that performed signs and go to the kings of the world to assemble them for battle on Judgment Day. The place where they assembled is called Har-Magedon in Hebrew (see my post “Book Review of Meredith G. Kline’s God, Heaven, and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos” early among the teaching posts). This is a vision — you are not supposed to identify Har Magedon with a literal place but the verse actually interprets the Hebrew for you: Mount (“har”) of Gathering (from Heb. “mo’ed,” which gets transliterated as “maged” in Greek with “-on” as the normal ending for Hebrew nouns). The Gog-Magog prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39 is the background for this battle.
The promise is parenthetical just before the naming of the mountain: “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (Rev 16:15). This again is to be understood visionally. Staying awake was something Jesus encouraged in terms of His coming (Matt 24:42, Mark 13:35-37). This is to be understood even in those gospel accounts not literally but spiritually. Likewise this verse should be understood spiritually.
The seventh and climactic bowl is next poured into the air and the loud voice from the temple says, “It is done.” This bowl includes lightning, thunder, and a great earthquake (bigger than ever before experienced). With this earthquake the cities of man fell and then there was a plague of hail.