The Seven Bowls in Revelation

The seven bowls in Revelation, the seven Judgments, Jesus returns, Judgments, Tribulation, End-times


Jesus revealed the bowl judgments in Revelation chapter sixteen. The events and judgments in Revelation occur in chronological order as listed below: 

  • Jesus sent letters to His Churches during this current age (the Church Age).
  • Between chapters three and four, the Church Age ended when Jesus raptured the Church. 
  • Chapters four and five explain why only Jesus qualified to open the seals on God’s judgments. 
  • In chapter six, the seven seals’ judgments are opened, and one-fourth of the earth’s population has died (two billion people?). The seal judgments brought the time in the seven-year tribulation up to the mid-point. One thousand two hundred sixty days have passed, and 1260 days of great tribulation remain before Jesus returns, ends the tribulation, and begins His thousand-year reign.
  • The interludes in chapter seven tell us who the overcomer is in the tribulation. 
  • The seventh seal opened at the end of chapter six, which contained the seven trumpet judgments during the tribulation’s second half. One-third of the remaining population will die (another two billion?).
  • When the first trumpet blows, a dramatic pause lasts—in heaven!–for half an hour!
  • An angel announced that the remaining three trumpets would carry particular woe for earth dwellers!
  • The seventh trumpet judgment revealed the seven final bowls of God’s wrath.
The Four Judgments in the Tribulation
Seven SealsRev. 61st half of the tribulation
Seven TrumpetsRev. 8-92nd half of the tribulation
Seven Thunders (Hidden)Rev. 10After the Trumpets
Seven BowlsRev. 16Before Jesus’ 2nd Coming

The Seven Bowl Judgments (Revelation 16)

In this vision, the time in the tribulation hasn’t advanced since the seventh trumpet blew in 10:7. The last seven plagues are so awful that God stops the chronology of the vision to explain–in detail–why they must come. 

Table: Why the Bowl Judgments Come
ChapterWhy These Final Judgments Must Come
9Earth dwellers do not repent after the trumpet judgments.
10John was recommissioned to continue his prophecy.
11The Beast martyrs God’s two witnesses while the earth dwellers celebrate.
12The conflict between the Dragon (Satan), the woman (Israel), and her Seed (Christ). 
13The Beast and False Prophet are described along with their evil agenda.
14The earth dwellers received warnings against worshiping The Beast.
15The judgments proceed from God’s temple because He’s holy.

God, His people, and His agents patiently waited for His righteous judgment on Satan, his people, and his lackeys (6:9-11; 12:7-9; Genesis 3:15; Matthew 13:36-43; 2 Peter 3:9;). No time has passed during these explanatory interludes, but now these judgments proceed:

“In the days when the seventh angel is about to sound, the mystery of God will be fulfilled, as He has declared to His servants the prophets” (10:7).

Over one-half of the earth’s population has already died from the judgments of the fourth seal and the sixth trumpet. Many more succumbed to the other five seals and trumpets (6:7; 9:15). 

The Bowl Judgments Overlap

The seal and trumpet judgments didn’t necessarily overlap with each other. But these bowl judgments do. They fall quickly, one after the other. Even when the fifth bowl empties, the sores from the first bowl are still present.

The Bowl Judgments are the Finale

Like a story, musical compositions have a significant theme and sub-themes or variations of the central theme. As the piece nears its climax, all the sub-themes are skillfully pulled together to create a thrilling finish. That happens here in John’s vision.

The First Bowl (16:1-2)

Its Target: Beast Worshipers

The first bowl targets a specific group of people:

“Foul and grievous sores came on the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshipped his image.”

This judgment is like the sixth plague in Egypt:

“Then Moses tossed it (ashes from a kiln) up toward the heavens, and it became a boil breaking forth with blisters upon man and beast” (Exodus 9:10).

Its Purpose: Their Doom

These Beast-worshipping earth dwellers temporarily “saved” themselves by taking the mark of the beast so they could access commerce, thereby avoiding persecution and death (13:17). But by saving themselves, they doomed themselves. Shortsighted, self-serving decisions show a lack of faith, and the cost is high. Like Esau, “Who for one morsel of food sold his birthright” (Hebrews 12:16). He temporarily satisfied his hunger but lost his lasting inheritance. He refused to sacrifice to serve the Lord. 

The Second Bowl (16:3)

Its Purpose: God’s Glory

Turning water to blood embodied the ten plagues of Egypt (Exodus 4:9). It came first and struck Egypt’s heart. The Nile River was Egypt’s lifeblood. Its yearly flooding gave them rich farmland and assured their gods blessed them. 

So this sign showed the power of Yahweh over Egypt’s gods. So, God said, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” (Ex 7:5).

Its Target: Every Sea

But this plague is worldwide. It affected the sea, every sea. Their waters turned to blood, and every living creature in them died. So, this plague is magnified by extent (worldwide vs. localized) and intensity.

Earlier, God’s two witnesses turned water to blood to validate their mission (11:6). They also struck “the earth with every kind of plague whenever they want.” 

Pharaoh’s magicians imitated Moses’ plague (Exodus 7:22), and the False Prophet also mimicked signs during the great tribulation (Rev 13:13-14). Miraculous signs alone don’t show God’s approval.

The Third Bowl (16:4-7)

Its Target: Fresh Water

In the third trumpet, one-third of the waters turned into wormwood (8:10-11). The third bowl’s judgment intensified and completed that plague by turning all fresh water into blood. 

When the sea turned to blood, the drinking water wasn’t affected. But this plague ruined the fresh waters. Even under the best conditions, a person can only survive for about three days without water. After the fourth bowl, the circumstances will drastically shorten that time.

Its Purpose: Righteous Retribution

Lest this judgment seems too cruel, the angel of the waters says,

“You are righteous, O Lord, who is and was and who is to be, because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve” (16:6)!

And a voice from the altar affirms,

“Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (16:7).

Its Purpose: Thirsting for Salvation

John and Jesus both use thirst to show our need for salvation through Christ (21:6; 22:17; John 6:35; 7:37). The tribulation martyrs (the overcomers) will never thirst: 

“They shall (never) thirst, the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb … will lead them to springs of living water” (7:16-17).

The earth dwellers already thirst. What could make it worse? Answer: The fourth bowl.

The Fourth Bowl (16:8-9)

The vision describes the bowls by the Greek word megas or variations in chapter 16. The term generally intensifies what it modifies. When it modifies sound, it means loud; if size, it means vast, etc. The effects of the bowl judgments are megas.

The Bowl Judgments are “Megas Judgments” 
ReferenceUse of Megas in Chapter 16
16:1 I heard a loud voice from the temple.
16:9 People blasphemed God because of the great heat.
16:12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great Euphrates River.
16:14 The battle will take place on the great day of God Almighty.
16:17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl and a loud voice came out of the temple.
16:18 There was a great earthquake, mighty and great.
16:19 The great city…Babylon the Great.
16:21 Great hailstones a hundred pounds each fell from heaven on people.
16:21 The plague of hail was so severe that people blasphemed God.

The judgment on the heavenly bodies in the fourth bowl builds on, intensifies, and completes the corresponding fourth trumpet.

Its Target: Heavenly Bodies

Previously the sun scorched men with fire. In the fourth trumpet, a third of the sun, moon, and stars were darkened (Rev 8:12).

Its Purpose: Repentance

It’s as if a magnifying glass intensified the sun’s heat. In our time, some of the natural atmospheric protection, the ozone layer, has been destroyed. This has significantly increased the rate of skin cancer. Possibly more protection was removed in this judgment. That and the lack of fresh water may make everyone feel like they’re in a great desert without provisions.

Men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God” (16:9).

Still, earth dwellers won’t repent. Their hard hearts shake their rebellious fists in God’s face:

“Surely the day is coming, burning like an oven; all the proud, yes, all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming will burn them up, says the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 4:1).

Do the earthdwellers pray to their gods? Do they bring them relief? Will they find it in the fifth bowl? Or will their torment increase?

The Fifth Bowl (16:10-11)

Its Target: Removing Light

Darkness may seem harmless, but it’s fearsome. With this bowl, God intensified Egypt’s plague of darkness. That plague brought “darkness which may be felt” (Exodus 10:21). Is this like walking through spiderwebs?

Darkness, with intense pain? People gnawing their tongues from the agony! To relieve their misery, they inflict more pain to distract themselves. Is this like walking barefoot on scorpions?

Its Purpose: A Sign of Destruction

The prophet Joel connected supernatural darkness to the Day of the Lord:

“I will work wonders in the heavens and the earth—blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood” (Joel 2:30-31).

Until the tribulation, the most awesome darkness connected with The Day of the LORD was when Jesus was crucified: 

“When the sixth hour (noon) had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33). 

After the plagues in Egypt, God dried the sea to save the Jews and destroy the Egyptian army. What could He dry to lead these rebels to destruction?

The Sixth Bowl (16:12-16)

Its Target: The Euphrates

The sixth bowl prepared for Armageddon. This plague dried the river Euphrates to help the kings of the east invade the Promised Land (16:12). Isaiah prophesied about this:

“The Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea, and with His mighty wind He shall shake His hand over the river (Euphrates) and shall strike it into seven streams, and make men walk over dry-shod” (Isaiah 11:15).

Its Purpose: To Gather the Armies

Meanwhile, unclean spirits (a uniquely Jewish description of demons) martial their armies to battle the returning Christ (16:13-14, 16). 

Adding to the filth, unclean spirits like frogs came out of the mouths of The Dragon, The Beast, and The False Prophet. Frogs were unclean animals that defiled everything. 

These demons perform signs to lead the kings to the battlefield! Their mission matches their repugnance: To battle against God’s Kingdom for control of the earth.

All forces gather Earth’s armies to Megiddo! Unbeknownst to them, it’s all according to God’s plan.


Our loving heavenly Father addresses His people before the seventh bowl. God warns believers against losing their clothes, meaning their testimony–a tragedy to lose this reward this late in the game.

The Finale

When the angel pours out the last bowl, it’s the finale of a musical masterpiece! The effects build and crescendo as the musicians herald the finish. However, instead of a blast of horns and a clash of symbols, there are fireworks and thunder: 

“And there were noises and thundering and lightning and … such a mighty and great earthquake, as had never occurred since men were on the earth” (Rev 16:18).

The Dissonance

Composers write music in a particular key. There’s little or no musical tension when the melody is in that key. The tension comes when notes or chords provide contrast, such as adding a seventh to the chord. This tension begs for resolution—to return to its dominant chord.

As these armies gather to destroy Israel and oppose Christ’s Second Advent, they’re a dissonant chord. The tension resolves when Christ returns and establishes His Kingdom.

The Seventh Bowl (16:17-18)

Its Target: The Air

The Bible described the air as Satan’s kingdom (Ephesians 2:2). This judgment is against that sphere of his authority, like the fifth bowl poured out on The Beast’s throne (16:10).

Its Purpose: To Finish God’s Wrath

Again, a loud voice, a heavenly narrator (16:1), says the judgments are done (16:17). This is like Jesus announcing that His work on the cross is finished. [But like Jesus’ finished redemption, God’s wrath is now completed (15:1)].

God’s wrath ends like fireworks, with the most dramatic left for the finale. Then they’re all set off (16:18).

Before judgment comes, we hear an approaching storm (4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18). But this is a mega storm accompanied by a historic and unequaled earthquake.” 

Judgment on the Great City (16:19-21)

The results are catastrophic:

“The great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell” (16:19).

Its Identity

So, who is the great city? Traditionally people identified it with Rome or historic, rebuilt Babylon, but it must be Jerusalem. Earlier, the vision specified the great city as “Where also our Lord was crucified (11:8).” In the gospels, Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, saying, 

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets…. Look, your house is left to you desolate. (You) shall not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:37-39). 

The nations come to destroy Israel and her Messiah, and Jerusalem is in their sights.

Few, if any, of God’s people are left in the Promised Land after the midpoint of the tribulation. Jesus told them to flee to the mountains when they saw the Antichrist in the temple (Mark 13:14). 

Its Destruction

To top off the last plague, hailstones of about 100 pounds (45 kilograms) fall on the earth dwellers (16:21). Egypt’s seventh plague was also a hail plague. That discriminating plague didn’t fall in Goshen (where Israel was) (Exodus 9:26). It also didn’t harm the Egyptians who feared the Lord and observed His warning (Ex 9:20-21). 

But this plague was megas greater than Egypt’s. The hailstones each weighed about a hundred pounds!

And the earthquake split Jerusalem into three. The shaking of the earth was worldwide as the islands and mountains fled. 

But will people repent? No, they blaspheme (16:21). They’d never accept God’s salvation.

Jesus’ Return is At Hand

These events happen immediately before or at the time Christ returns.