Lesson 5: The Bowls in Revelation 12-16

The Seven Bowls of God's WrathThe Tribulation’s purge of evil ends with the bowls, the third set of seven visions. Nobody is saved in this one, because only those who know the truth but still refuse to worship God are left. At this point, John completely removes the veil over the Roman Empire by revealing that it is completely controlled by Satan.

The prophet lays a foundation by using a popular cosmic myth to explain how God and Satan operate on the earth. The story, which was used in the celebration of Apollo’s birth, features a god providing protection when a dragon tries to destroy the divine child of the queen of heaven. The emperors Nero and Domitian appropriated it to tell their official birth stories thereby encouraging people to proclaim their divinity.

In John’s version, God continually protects his people from Satan’s threats. He applies the myth to explain Jesus’s survival at birth and after death, again focusing on the Ascension. However, he expands it to include God shielding all his people from the dragon’s attacks. Satan and his angels are thrown out of heaven at the Ascension of Jesus. In anger that his time is short, he furiously attacks humanity, but is ultimately thwarted by God’s control of the creation.

The prophet becomes more forthright in the rest of his letter. He repeatedly affirms that the time is short by mentioning 42 months, 1260 days, times that are all all different ways of writing 3 1/2 years. He repeatedly claims that the blood of Lamb conquers the violence of Satan and that those who kill by the sword will be killed by the sword, essentials of his message often overlooked in the flurry of militaristic language. And above all, he makes clear that he has been exposing the intrinsic evil of the Roman Empire.

In his 13th chapter, John introduces two beasts that the dragon uses to afflict humanity. It does not take long to realize that he is imitating Daniel’s use of similar beasts to represent the idolatrous Babylonian empire and its king, Nebuchadnezzar. Those reading Daniel knew he was really speaking of the Greek Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who claimed to be divine and placed the desolating sacrilege in the Jerusalem temple. Such apocalyptic writing incited the Maccabean revolt that overthrew the Greeks. Those reading Revelation certainly knew John was really writing about the present, idolatrous Roman Empire.

If anyone missed this, he offered clue after clue. The city is built on 7 hills. There are 10 kings, one of whom lives even though he supposedly died. The latter refers to common fears that the hated Nero faked his suicide and was waiting to return at the head of a Parthian army to reclaim his tyranny. Scholars cite numerous references to this fear in phrases such as “he was, is not, and will be” and numerology such as the infamous 666. In John’s mind, the emperor functions as the antichrist.

Even though it is fairly easy to see the first beast is the emperor, it is harder to pinpoint the second one. It enforces the idolatry of the emperor by asking people to worship him and curse Christ, features we noted in the testing of Christians in Pliny’s letters. John might be pointing to anyone who supported the emperor, from provincial governors to low level officials to merchants to false prophets. They all wear the mark of the beast enabling them to profit now but ensuring their quick demise in chapters 15 and 16.

We know blessing is near, because John seems to fervently combine just about every possible vision of the future salvation in Chapter 14. The Gospel has been proclaimed to every nation, the Lamb is on Mount Zion ready to descend into the holy city, the Son of Man sits on a cloud preparing to return to earth, Christ has been given a sickle to reap the final harvest, he is told to gather the grapes for the final wine press, and the angels are moving toward Armageddon. Whew! If you have read the prophesy in one sitting, you can hear John emotionally hammering home his points. All awaits the completion of evil’s purge expressed by the bowls and the Voice proclaiming, “It is done!”

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Kerry says:

    I’m SO enjoying and learning from this series! Thanks a million!

  2. John Myers says:

    I have read John’s Revelation many times, and I have pulled out pieces here and there like many do. But, I have never seen an overview that provides the big picture as well as this study. Absolutely riveting and fascinating! I can’t wait for each installment to hit my inbox. Excellent work and so enlightening……I’m passing it around.

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