In Revelation 15 the seven bowls of wrath are introduced. There are seven angels who hold the seven plagues. Those who are victorious over the beast sing the “song of Moses…and the song of the Lamb” as they stand on the sea of glass. This is a “sign,” that is, symbolic of something else (Rev. 15:1). The sea of glass is “mingled with fire.” This carries the idea of trials of fire (1 Pet. 1:6, 7). The ones standing on the sea are ones who have risen above or overcome the fiery trials Christians face. For the victory, they praise God because He is the One who saw them through.
The latter part of Revelation 15 portrays seven angels with seven plagues (Rev. 15:5-8). They bring divine judgment—a judgment that is certain to come.
The first four bowls of God’s wrath deal with nature (Rev. 16:1-9). The wrath comes as a consequence to the sins of men. The bowl poured out on the earth brings sores on men. The one poured on the sea became “blood as a dead man.” The third was poured on the waters, rivers and springs, and become blood; men dying because their blood is shed. The fourth bowl poured on the sun scorches men. They blaspheme God but do not repent. Since there is a chance of repentance, we know this is not describing the final judgment. Rather, it is a judgment that took place in time.
In these judgments God is declared to be just (Rev. 16:6, 7). It is just because these men who are suffering are wicked men; those who shed the blood of the New Testament saints and prophets (Rev. 16:5). Also, as noted above, men did not repent. The judgments are designed not only to punish, but also to cause men to turn to God. Still, despite the consequences, some men refuse.
The last three bowls of wrath in Revelation 16:10-21, address moral and political symbols. The throne of the beast is assaulted and his kingdom is plunged into darkness. This may be the idea that he can no longer guide his empire. It is falling apart.
The sixth bowl is poured out on the river Euphrates (Rev. 16:12-16). It dries up and therefore a major barrier to battle is removed; the kings of the east can now move their armies. Unclean spirits come from three sources, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. The dragon reaches back to Revelation 12:15 where the serpent (Satan) is described as spewing forth water (lies, error) to flood the earth and destroy the woman (church). The beast is the one from Revelation 13:5, identified as the Roman Empire and its Caesars speaking blasphemies. The false prophet is the second beast of Revelation 13:13, 14. It was identified as pagan priestly caste what enforced Emperor worship. This false prophet, along with the others worked to deceive the world with lies, false doctrines, and false signs (Rev. 16:14). They are gathering the forces of evil for a battle, the results of which we read about in Revelation 19:19-21. The battle itself is not detailed.
Armageddon is mentioned in Revelation 16:16 as the place of battle. Many false teachers have speculated about this and stirred up people into a frenzy. As with so much else in Revelation, this is a symbolic reference to a place of decisive battles. Judges 4 and 5 tells us about Deborah and Barak winning a decisive battle against Jabin and his military leader Sisera. The battle between Jesus Christ and His enemies will be decisive. It will not be barely won. Rather, it be an overwhelming victory.
Finally, the seventh bowl is poured out on the air (Rev. 16:17). This is Satan’s realm as he is described as “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). God wins, Satan loses.
As for the voice, thunder, and lightnings, compare the last of the seven seals and last of the seven trumpets in Revelation 8:5 and 11:19 (respectively). This shows cataclysmic world change. The great city of Babylon (Rome) is divided and suffers the wrath of God.
Steven F. Deaton