15:1–16:21 The cycle of seven bowls of God’s wrath composes the fourth cycle of visions leading up to the Second Coming (Introduction: Characteristics and Themes: Literary Form). The opening scene of worship (15:1–16:1) calls to mind the worship around God’s throne in chs. 4; 5. The overcomers rejoice in God’s presence (15:3, 4). Seven resplendent angels receive bowls from the presence of God in the temple. The bowls symbolize the cup of God’s wrath, which makes the nations drunk (14:10; 16:19; Is. 51:17, 20, 22; Jer. 25:15–29; Lam. 4:21; Ezek. 23:31–34; Hab. 2:16). The bowls are poured out at God’s command (16:1), resulting in seven last plagues. The plagues lead up to the Second Coming, since “with them the wrath of God is finished” (15:1).
The seven bowls show notable similarities with the seven trumpets. The first four bowls, like the first four trumpets, result in devastation on the four major regions of creation: land, sea, fresh water, and sky. Like the trumpets, the bowls are reminiscent of the plagues against Egypt. But the bowls result in more severe judgments than did the trumpets. The trumpet judgments typically affected a third of the total, but the bowls affect the whole.
These bowls symbolize the judgments of God against evildoers. The general pattern may include both the judgments against the godless Roman Empire and the final crisis leading up to the Second Coming (Introduction: Interpretive Difficulties).