First Bowl: Malignant Sores (Revelation 16:2)

This first bowl describes the plague in only one verse. It is a plague of a “loathsome and malignant sore on [all] the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshipped his image.” We can’t be exactly sure what this plague will be like, but we can get a good idea of its nature from three sources: from Job (Job 2:7), from the sixth plague of Egypt (Ex. 9:9-11), and from the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lu. 16:20-21).

First of all, we know that in these three cases, the word for “sore” is the same as in this bowl judgment. In the New Testament case with Lazarus, it is the same Greek word helkos; and in the two Old Testament references, the same Greek word from the Septuagint is used.

In the earliest case of Job, the plague is described as “sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” It was a terrible infection of the skin directly caused by Satan, to test his loyalty to God. In this particular case, Job found some relief from his suffering by scraping his boils with a piece of broken pottery, perhaps to break the boils open and release the infection.

In the case of the sixth plague on Egypt, it is said to be “boils breaking out with sores on man and beast.” Here it seems to be the same as in Job’s case and in the Tribulation, except here the animals will be infected too.

Putting these together, we may conclude that in the Tribulation the sores will be similar, but I can’t help thinking that it may be worse. And though it will be a punishment by the Lord, He may use a man-made means to cause the boils like radioactivity in the air. Hal Lindsey writes,

This rash of malignant sores could easily be caused by the tremendous radioactive pollution in the atmosphere. After the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima thousands of people developed hideous sores because of the radioactivity.

As to the duration of this first bowl-plague, we can’t be sure that it will last for the entire length of the Great Tribulation (for three and a half years); however, it seems clear from verse eleven, that during the fifth bowl, people will still be suffering from their sores.

But there is one thing we can be sure of; the plague will affect only those unbelievers that took the mark of the beast and who worship his image. All true believers will be supernaturally protected as were the Jews in Egypt in the days of Moses.

Introduction To The Bowls (Revelation 15:5-16:1)

After John takes in the glad and victorious vision of the saints in heaven, rejoicing in their victory over the beast (Rev. 15:1-4), he then looked and saw the heavenly temple—where God dwells. And the door to the temple was open, so he could see inside, even into the Holy of Holies. And he saw the seven angels (referred to in verse 1). They came out of the temple clothed in clean linen, and they were girded around their chest with golden sashes. The clean and bright linen represents their holiness and purity, and the golden sashes denotes their royalty.

Then one of the four living creatures (God’s cherubim) gave to each of the seven angels, golden bowls full of the wrath of God. Take note that it is not the wrath of the Antichrist, but the wrath of God. Hence, all the terrible tribulation during the next period of time (approximately three- and one-half years) will come from the wrath of God as He pours out His anger on the sins of the world.

Suddenly, after the angels were out of the temple and had received the bowls of wrath, there came into the temple a cloud of smoke. It was not any ordinary smoke; it was smoke from the glory and power of God. And it was impenetrable, so that no one was able to pass through it to enter the temple until after the seven plagues were finished.

Now we don’t know exactly what this cloud of smoke was like, but I imagine that it was the same smoke as in the Old Testament, the smoke of God’s presence preventing Moses or the priests from entering the temple. Now I don’t think that its impenetrability had anything to do with its physical make-up. I think it has more to do with its spiritual make-up, with the holiness of God, mainly His wrath and judgment.

I dare not say too much—more that I am sure of, but I need to say something about this situation of not being able to enter the temple. The temple here is not the physical, Tribulation temple. Verse five tells us that it is the temple in heaven. So, I take it that it is the place of God’s presence, the place where we now go to draw near God when we pray. It is the throne of grace where we go to receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). Hence, during this Great Tribulation, I take it that the time of grace is over, that for unbelievers as well as believers, it is too late to call out to Him. For believers during that time, I believe that God will take care of them. But for unbelievers that suddenly want God’s help, I think it may be too late for them.

Suddenly, John was disturbed by a loud voice from inside the temple, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”

Timeline Of Events Leading To The Bowl Judgments

I don’t know if we can be exact about when all the judgments will occur; but, according to most bible prophecy scholars, the seal judgments will occur roughly during the first twenty-one months of the Tribulation, the trumpet judgments during the second twenty-one months, and the bowl judgments during the entire second half of the Tribulation, for forty-two months or three and a half years. In the first half of the Tribulation (with the seals and trumpets) the earth will experience the wrath of the Antichrist, along with the harlot (or the false church); and in the second half of the Tribulation, known as the Great Tribulation, the earth and its people will experience the wrath of the Almighty God.

I don’t think it is super important to try to fit everything exactly into its proper place—nor can we; but, I think, to at least guess at it, we may get a better understanding of how things will fit together, especially during the time of the middle of the Tribulation and leading up to the bowl judgments.

The way I see it, there are two categories of time; events at the mid-Trib, and events a little later, leading up to the bowl judgments.

Events at the Middle of the Tribulation

1. The Antichrist is resurrected (Rev. 13:3). After this seemingly miraculous event, the Scripture says, “The whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast.”

2. The Antichrist breaks his peace covenant with Israel and puts a stop to animal sacrifices and grain offerings in the Jewish temple (Dan. 9:27). Notice that he does this in the middle of the week (meaning the seven-year covenant).

3. He exalts himself, and others exalt him, as God (2 Thess. 2:3b-4; Rev. 13:3b-4). In 2 Thessalonians we read, “The man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.” Then in Revelation it is written, “And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who is able to war with him?’”

These three points will mark the exact time at the middle of the Tribulation. And this is the time when scholars believe that Satan fills and empowers the Antichrist so that he believes himself to be God and the resurrected Christ. Hence, it is at this time that he begins to speak so arrogantly against God and against believers and makes war with them (Rev. 13:5-7).

A Few Days or Weeks Later

We cannot be sure how long it will take the following events to transpire, but it seems logical that it will take at least a few days to a few weeks—but probably not longer than that.

4. The Antichrist destroys the harlot (Rev. 17:16-17). The harlot (the false church) will reign together with the Antichrist during the first half of the Tribulation (Rev. 17). But when he is fully controlled by Satan and thinks that he alone is God, he no longer will tolerate the harlot; and he, along with his ten kings will hate her and make her “desolate.” Now we don’t know how long it will take to destroy her, but I imagine that with just a strike of the pen, with an executive order, he will do it.

5. He will make war with all true believers (Rev. 13:7). Besides the false believers of the false church, He will also, and more, go against the true believers. In fact, he will hunt them down and kill them—all who are destined to be martyred (read Rev. 13:10).

6. The image of the Antichrist is made and set up (Rev. 13:14-15). We don’t know how long it will take for those “who dwell on the earth” to make this image and to make it speak, but I am guessing that it will take some time. However, the way advanced technology will be, it may not be long.

7. Many Jews flee to safety into the wilderness (Rev. 12:14; Matt. 24:15-21). We know exactly when these Jews—as many as decide to go—will begin fleeing for safety into the wilderness. It will be, as Matthew 24:15 indicates, when they see the Abomination of Desolation standing in the temple. This, I think, is the image of the beast (I won’t go into more details as I have already written on it on pages 155-157).

8. All people are required to take the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16-18). These verses (vs. 16-18) explain it quite well. Everyone, no matter how old, how wealthy, or what status, will be required to take the mark; which is a mark representing the Antichrist. It will be the government’s system to control people. And if you want to buy or sell anything you must have the mark.

But we know that there will be many who refuse to take the mark. All true believers will not take the mark; for it is a sign of the Antichrist and for those who worship Him (Rev. 14:9-10). And since all who take the mark will suffer the wrath of God (hell), we can be certain that believers will not receive it, nor will they be force to get it, or be tricked into getting it. However, we know that God will somehow provide for them; He will provide for any believer that is destined to live during that time.

Now one of the reasons I decided to do this timeline is to give us an idea as to when the bowl judgments will begin; because the first bowl is a judgment on those who received the mark and who worship his image. For that reason, the first bowl will not commence until after the image is set up.

However, in saying that, I think we can be certain that even though there is a gap of time between the mid-Trib and the first bowl, there still will be plenty of Tribulation-suffering going on in that short gap of time.