Revelation – The Wrath of God

In chapter 1 of Revelation, as David reminded us, we read:

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HEAR [THE WORDS OF THIS PROPHECY] AND TAKE [IT] TO HEART.

He urged us to bear this in mind as we study today’s ‘truly awful’ passage of Revelation 15:5-16:21.


In chapter 15 we come to seven bowls filled with the wrath of God. The wrath of God is mentioned frequently in chapters 15 and 16 but also throughout Scripture. It is intrinsic to the nature of God. It is His ‘strong and settled opposition to all that is evil’ (Leon Morris). He is deadly serious about good and evil.


Where do the seven angels carrying the seven bowls come from? Verse 5: from the tabernacle of the covenant law, i.e. the tent containing the stone tablets on which the ten commandments were written – God’s abiding moral law. Humanity violates this law, ruins itself and the world around, and the pouring out of the bowls in judgement is inevitable.


This tent or tabernacle was where people met the living God. It was visible by day and by night. Here, His essential nature was experienced, His holiness was explicitly made known. The bowls poured out from this holy place are the awful, logical response of a holy God to evil. Ultimately evil will be completely destroyed, making way for the reconciliation of all things and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, where humanity flourishes for ever in the presence of God and the Lamb.


These reminders of God’s attributes are embedded in our text. They keep us focussed on His ‘otherness’. He is eternal (15:7); He is the powerful and glorious one (15:8); just and holy (16:6); the one true, all-powerful, trustworthy God (16:7).


The bowls are the third set of judgements in Revelation. They are preceded by seven seals and seven trumpets. Seven is the number of perfection, as is three. Therefore, three sets of seven means ‘completely perfect’. The judgements are against evil – 666 – the number of imperfection, against the dragon and two beasts.


David reminded us that events in Revelation are not chronological. The seven bowls are a third depiction of the reality described in the seven seals and seven trumpets. We are seeing the same thing from three perspectives. The first trumpet affects the earth, as does the first bowl; the second trumpet affects the sea, as does the second bowl, and so on. With each set of seven we come to what appears to be an end point, only to discover that they start again. In 16:17 we hear the angel saying “It is done” – but it is not quite done. Only in chapter 19 do we finally come to the end. However, with each of the judgements there is progress. In the seven seals, John sees one fourth of the earth affected. In the seven trumpets, it is one third. In the seven bowls, however, it is total. There is a finality of judgement.


Unlike Revelation’s first readers, we are unfamiliar with this apocalyptic type of writing. Its graphic language conveys its vital message through symbolism: the message cannot be interpreted literally. Therefore, we are not to look for seven angels holding seven bowls but to understand that God’s judgement is impending and dreadful. There will be great distress for those who refuse to repent and turn to Him. Yet many will refuse. God, however, longs for everyone to come to repentance, as the New Testament makes clear:

THE LORD IS NOT SLOW IN KEEPING HIS PROMISE, AS SOME UNDERSTAND SLOWNESS. INSTEAD HE IS PATIENT WITH YOU, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, BUT EVERYONE TO COME TO REPENTANCE.

He is giving ample opportunity for people to get right with Him. But for those who stubbornly resist, there are inevitable consequences.
Finally, there is a warning to Christians who may be losing sight of the importance of living for God to the very end:

“LOOK, I COME LIKE A THIEF! BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO STAYS AWAKE AND REMAINS CLOTHED, SO AS NOT TO GO NAKED AND BE SHAMEFULLY EXPOSED.”

Christine Thompson

Christine Thompson

I’m Christine and I’ve been at Windsor for 37 years! Now retired, I have taught languages to adults (mainly) and was also an administrator at Prison Fellowship, a Christian outreach to prisoners and their families. I love poetry and hiking, especially by the sea.
Christine Thompson
I’m Christine and I’ve been at Windsor for 37 years! Now retired, I have taught languages to adults (mainly) and was also an administrator at Prison Fellowship, a Christian outreach to prisoners and their families. I love poetry and hiking, especially by the sea.