Rev. 21:9 – Then one of the seven angels, who had held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” (HCSB)
I will show you the bride
Rev. 21:9-27 provides more details on New Jerusalem, which John describes in verse 2 as “the Holy City … coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” In verse 9, John reports that one of the angels who held the seven bowls with the last seven plagues approaches him, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
There is an interesting parallel here. In Rev. 17:1, one of the angels from the same group – perhaps the very same angel, although the text does not say – comes to John and says, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the notorious prostitute who sits on many waters.” In both cases – the revealing of judgment on Babylon and the splendor of New Jerusalem – John is “carried away in the Spirit” and provided rare insights into the nature of both marvels.
In viewing Babylon, John is taken to a desert, whereas in viewing New Jerusalem he is taken to a great and high mountain. In Revelation chapters 17-19 we see the destruction of the sinful world order, the mourning of unbelievers who watch their treasures go up in smoke, and the rejoicing of the saints in heaven over the true and righteous judgments of God. The coming of New Jerusalem is a welcome event for all those who, like Abraham, look forward to a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11:10).
Rev. 16:8 –The fourth [angel] poured out his bowl on the sun. He was given the power to burn people with fire, 9 and people were burned by the intense heat. So they blasphemed the name of God who had the power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give Him glory (HCSB).
And people were burned
The fourth angel pours out his bowl on the sun, resulting in intense heat that burns people. While the first three bowl judgments are directed toward the earthly elements – namely, the earth, sea, rivers and springs of water – the fourth judgment is aimed skyward, toward the light-bearing and warmth-giving orb that interacts with the earthly elements to sustain life.
This angel, like others we have encountered, is granted authority over some part of the physical universe. In this case, he is given the power to burn people, and he uses the fusion-powered heat of the sun to carry out his task. (Some versions, it must be noted, render the word “it” rather than “he,” indicating that the sun is personified as in Ps. 19:1-6.) At its core, the sun is 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. Even the coolest part of the sun – the sun spot – is 6,700 degrees Fahrenheit, several times hotter than the lava from a volcano (www.planetfacts.org).
The earth is about 93 million miles from the sun. As the earth circles the sun in an elliptical route, the distance between the two varies from about 91 million miles to 94.5 million miles, contributing to our seasons. While that fluctuating distance seems to leave a lot of wiggle room, the fact is that if the earth passed much closer to or farther from the sun, life would be far different here, if possible at all. God created the earth and the stellar heavens to support His special creation on earth, and He holds all things together (Col. 1:17).
If the fourth bowl judgment is to be taken literally, perhaps the Lord empowers the angel to move the earth and the sun a little closer together. Or, he may simply crank up the process by which the sun generates heat. In any case, people on earth feel the impact and are burned. It appears that the people burned are those who worship the beast, for we see that they blaspheme God and refuse to repent.
Rev. 16:3 –The second [angel] poured out his bowl into the sea. It turned to blood like a dead man’s, and all life in the sea died. (HCSB)
The sea turned to blood
John records that the target of the second angel’s bowl of divine wrath is the sea, which turns to blood like a dead man’s. There are two key questions to be addressed here. First, what is meant by the “sea?” And second, what is the significance of the sea turning to blood “like a dead man’s?”
As we have noted in previous chapters, Bible scholars interpret the meaning of the sea differently in Revelation:
- Some understand it literally to mean the salty bodies of water that cover much of the earth’s surface. The seas turn red by the hand of God, or as a result of divinely orchestrated human battles; some argue that a bacterial “red tide” may be the cause of perishing sea life. The widespread death of people and/or animals in the sea would create a putrid environment that clogs the waterways with coagulating blood like a dead man’s.
- Others argue for a narrower but equally literal view, saying John is referring to the Mediterranean Sea, or to the waters between Patmos, where John is exiled, and Rome; this would include not only the Mediterranean Sea, but the Aegean, Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas. This presupposes that the bowl judgments are poured out on the known world of John’s day rather than on all the earth’s seas.
- Many preterists contend that the Sea of Galilee is in John’s view since that is where the Roman armies inflict a particularly horrifying slaughter of the Jews during their first-century rebellion against the empire. In fact, the result of the battle is that the sea becomes a floating tide of corpses, severed limbs and bloody pools.
- Some historicists say the sea depicts the ocean centuries later as the navies of France, Spain and Portugal suffer bloody defeats while defending a corrupt papacy. Matthew Henry suggests the bloody seas may describe “the whole system of [Papal Rome’s] religion, their false doctrines, their corrupt glosses, their superstitious rites, their idolatrous worship, their pardons, indulgences, a great conflux of wicked inventions and institutions, by which they maintain a trade and traffic advantageous to themselves, but injurious to all who deal with them…. God discovered not only the vanity and falsehood of their religion, but the pernicious and deadly nature of it – that the souls of men were poisoned by that which was pretended to be the sure means of their salvation” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, 16:1-7).
- Still others take a symbolic approach, contending that the sea stands for the Gentile nations, or the restless mass of humanity in general.
Whether this vision is to be understood literally or figuratively, the sea turning to blood “like a dead man’s” conveys the idea of massive and complete death. The waters swell with putrefied corpses. Life’s blood has been spilled beyond the hope of healing. Death, destruction, and decay assault the eyes and inflame the nostrils. This is graphic, violent, sense-numbing death. Even if we take John’s description symbolically, the corruption of people, nations, and institutions is complete. The false doctrines are a stench in God’s nostrils. The corrupt practices of people, governments, and religious institutions are beyond repair; like corpses, they must be discarded. John seems here to be telling us that God’s punishment fits the crime. The wicked are so depraved nothing short of death will vindicate His holiness.
Rev. 16:1 –Then I heard a loud voice from the sanctuary saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.” 2 The first went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and severely painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image. (HCSB)
In chapter 15 the angels prepare to deliver God’s wrath against the inhabitants of the earth. They emerge from the heavenly sanctuary dressed in priestly garb and are given bowls filled with the seven plagues with which “God’s wrath will be completed” (Rev. 15:1). As they leave the temple, it fills with smoke generated by the glory and power of God. No one is allowed to return to the sanctuary until the seven last plagues are carried out.
A loud voice from the sanctuary tells the angels to pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth. The first angel, without hesitation, obeys, and the result is “severely painful sores.”
Rev. 14:17 – Then another angel who also had a sharp sickle came out of the sanctuary in heaven. 18 Yet another angel, who had authority over fire, came from the altar, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened.” (HCSB)
Another angel had a sharp sickle
Next, we encounter the fourth angel of Revelation 14. Like the One seated on the cloud, he also wields a sharp sickle and comes out of the sanctuary in heaven. A fifth angel follows him, and this one is said to have “authority over fire.” He calls in a loud voice to the fourth angel, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened” (v. 18).
This passage echoes Joel 3:9-13 in which grape harvesting and wine pressing are used as metaphors for judgment, and Isa. 63:1-6 in which God treads the grapes in His fury, pressing out the lifeblood of people. The same metaphor is found in Jer. 25:15, 28-31. Judgment also is symbolized by the harvest in Jer. 51:33 and Hosea 6:11. Moreover, it is the Messiah who treads the winepress in Rev. 19:15.
Why are we told about the angel that has “authority over fire?” Perhaps this is connected to the fifth seal in Rev. 6:9-11. Here, martyrs “under the altar” cry out to God for vengeance. Later, in the seventh seal, an angel with a gold incense burner stands at the altar. He is given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne. The angel takes the incense burner, fills it with fire from the altar, and hurls it to the earth, which results in rumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. This also helps prepare the seven angels to usher in the next series of judgments.