Why are there seven bowls of wrath in Revelation 16, and from where did they come? Those familiar with the Old Testament will relate them to the Day of Atonement, but only the literary architecture reveals their actual source and identity.
Any attempt to interpret the book of Revelation without reference to the books of Moses is foolhardy. Not only does the structure of the book follow the order of Old Covenant worship and sacrificial practices, all the events take place within a ubiquitous sacred architecture, the heavenly court which had served as the blueprint for the earthly houses of God. The Revelation also recapitulates Israel’s annual festal calendar, but with a strange twist: it gives us two sets of Trumpets. Each set corresponds to one of the two meanings of the Greek word martyros. The first set tells us of the legal witness of the Apostolic Church against the first century Jewish rulers and their blasphemous post-Pentecostal worship. The second set tells us of their illegal martyrdom at the hands of these Jewish rulers.
After the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit, described by John as the opening of seven seals, there are seven Trumpets, a warning that a great day of Atonement is coming. But before that day arrives in chapter 16, there is a great pause in this festal progression with the events of chapters 12 to 15. This section constitutes a heptamerous response to the Apostolic Trumpets, but instead of an Israel which mourns for sin (Leviticus 16:31; 23:27), the response of a Judaism which had rejected and blasphemed the Spirit of God was to harden its heart against those who spoke by this Spirit (Romans 9:17-18). This section of Revelation is a set of “dark” trumpets heralding war upon the saints. They are the testimony of Israel’s false prophets, those which Christ predicted would come in the last days of the Old Covenant (Matthew 24:24). Together, these two “prophetic” sets constitute two legal witnesses. Through her condemnation of the saints, first century Israel condemned herself (Revelation 17:6).
In response to the Jew-Gentile Church knitted together by the Spirit, unrepentant Judaism itself underwent a change. It, too, became a Jew-Gentile hybrid, an “intermarriage” of the Aaronic priesthood with Roman state power, much the same as the hybridising of the sons of God with the daughters of men which led to the Great Flood (Matthew 24:37-39). A priesthood which is annexed by godless kings becomes the service of false gods.
So, the events in Revelation 12-15 are a description of the slaughter of the last contingent of the “Abels” of Old Testament history. The saints were not to take revenge, but to rest in the knowledge that God Himself would take vengeance (Romans 12:19). The Lord allowed these martyrs to be slain that vengeance might come upon their murderers to the uttermost (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16). This innocent blood would be avenged upon the final generation of a priesthood which offered the blood of animals to cover sin (Matthew 23:35) and yet ravaged like wolves the true sheep whom they were supposed to protect (Matthew 10:16).
Like the entire book, this section is given to us as a sacrificial procedure, one which also works its way step-by-step through the false Tabernacle of the Herods, beginning in the Garden-Sanctuary, the Most Holy Place:
Ark of the Covenant (Day 1 – Light and Darkness – Sabbath)
Initiation: The Sacrifice is Chosen (Revelation 12:1-17)
GENESIS: The Woman and the Dragon (Creation)
Satan’s failure to slay the Seed of the Woman (as a serpent) and to destroy her other offspring, the Church (as a dragon).
Veil (Day 2 – Divided Waters – Passover)
Delegation: The Sacrifice is Cut (Revelation 13:1-10)
EXODUS: The Gentile Beast from the Sea (Division)
Neronic Rome as the ultimate Pharaoh, employing captivity and sword against the saints.
Bronze Altar & Golden Table (Day 3: Land and Fruit Bearers – Firstfruits)
Presentation: The Sacrifice is Lifted Up
The Herodian Beast from the Land (Altar: Revelation 13:11-18)
and the 144,000 (Table: Revelation 14:1-5)
Priesthood: The Temple as a Golden Calf, while Christ is unseen on the mountain; Kingdom: The Herods as King Solomon, corrupted through the amassing of gold (Deuteronomy 17:17; 1 Kings 10:14). The ascended Lamb has been multiplied into a blameless flock, the Jewish “firstfruits” which is here lifted up as a tithe, represented in the “facebread” and wine on the Golden Table.
Lampstand (Day 4 – Governing Lights – Pentecost)
Purification: The Holy Fire Descends (Revelation 14:6-13)
NUMBERS: Threefold Judgment Upon the Oikoumene (Testing)
The Message of Three Angels – 1) Remember the True God; 2) The Adulteress Will Fall; 3) The Jealous Inspection (Numbers 5:24)
Incense Altar (Day 5 – Hosts/Clouds – Trumpets)
Transformation: Fragrant Smoke as Pleasing Testimony (Revelation 14:14-20)
DEUTERONOMY: Witness to a New Israel (Maturity)
The saints who ate the flesh and drank the blood of Jesus are “harvested” as grain and grapes outside the city.
Mediators: Laver, High Priest & Sacrifices (Day 6 – Land Animals & Man – Atonement)
Vindication: The Savor is Accepted (Revelation 15:1-4)
JOSHUA: Sea of Glass & Fire, and the Song of Moses and the Lamb (Conquest)
Victory song of the sacrificed saints, whose warnings are vindicated in the judgment of their enemies.
Shekinah (Day 7 – Rest & Rule – Booths)
Representation: Rest and Rule (Revelation 15:5-8)
JUDGES: The Sanctuary Filled with Smoke (Glorification)
Seven angels emerge from the heavenly Tabernacle with bowls full of the wrath of God to cut off the rulers of the oikoumene.
Of course, each of these seven sections follows the same pattern internally, and it is this architecture which reveals the source of these seven bowls of wrath. Not only are they “temple vessels,” they are the vessels which represented the Law of the Spirit.
After this I looked,
(Ark of the Covenant / Light & Darkness)
and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened,
(Veil / Waters Above and Below)
and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues,
clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests.
(Altar & Table / Land & Firstfruits)
And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever,
(Lampstand / Governing Lights)
and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power,
(Incense / Clouds or Swarms or Hosts)
and no one could enter the sanctuary (Leviticus 16:2)
(Mediators / Land Animals & Man)
until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.
(Rest & Rule)
In the Bible Matrix, the Maturity step concerns legal witness, but also the “multiplied” results of either obedience or sin at Testing. Here, the Sanctuary is filled not with the plunder of righteous kings but with plagues upon thieves and liars like Adam.
However, the point of this analysis of the final “dark trumpet” is that these seven bowls are not sprinklings of blood but outpourings of “breath” (2 Thessalonians 2:8). The blameless blood of Christ, our High Priest, had already been presented and accepted in heaven. These seven judgments were for those who had trampled this blood underfoot (Hebrews 10:29), as did Cain, and then slain innumerable “Abels” who “filled up” the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24) and were poured out as an offering on the earth (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Just as Jesus had breathed upon His disciples (John 20:22), and given up His breath (Mark 15:37), so these two sets of Trumpets are God’s breath in a new Israel, and God’s breath removed from the old.
The disobedient Jews had kindled a fire in the Lord’s nostrils.1See “Widows and Orphans” in Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key. The “nostrils” of Adam are linked with those of Jesus, since the correspondence of breath with Trumpets began in the sevenfold “Tabernacle” structure of Genesis 2:7.2See “The Spirit of Adam” in Inquiétude. This dual “breathing” process began at Pentecost, where Jewish believers received the Spirit of God (like David) and the unbelievers received a strong delusion (like Saul) as the Spirit departed from them. The process ends here in the Revelation, which corresponds to the dual Sanctions, the blessings and curses of the Covenant, in Deuteronomy 28. The “dark trumpets” commence with the dragon but conclude with the revelation of the Lord as the true breather of fire.
Upon the golden Lampstand’s seven branches sat seven detachable golden bowls, each containing holy oil and a wick. The Lampstand represented the government of heaven, as pictured in the governing lights created on Day 4. Stars thus became symbols of earthly kings. The Law, which was a lamp to Israel’s greatest king, was given at the first Pentecost, where 3,000 were slain. The Spirit was given at the last Pentecost, where 3,000 were saved, and true kingdom finally came.
In terms of the Creation week, this was the “de-Creation” of Judah’s governing lights. Her sun, moon and stars fell from heaven. In sacramental terms, this was an anointing with flaming oil that would not bring healing (James 5:14) but sickness and death. In Tabernacle terms, this was the result of the shining witness of the seven stars, the “lampstand” shepherds whose wicks were trimmed in Revelation 2-3.
In festal terms, this final Day of Atonement was actually a day of vengeance for Israel according to the flesh (Luke 21:22), destroying those who had “worshiped the beast” fashioned by “Aaron.” Those who would not be purified by the holy fire as a new Christian priesthood would be incinerated like the unfaithful sons of Aaron (Leviticus 10:1-2; 16:1). This act of vengeance was an eye-for-eye judgment meted out against those who rejected the Spirit of God. Instead of being indwelt by the God who is a consuming fire, the old Temple, now a synagogue of Satan, would be entirely consumed.
If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.
References [ + ]