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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – The Seventh Bowl (16:17-21)
The Seventh Bowl (16:17-21)

In place of a battle, the plagues come to an end with a word from God: out of the temple . . . a loud voice from the throne, saying, "It is done" (v. 17). The voice calls forth the same phenomena we have seen three times before in John's visions: flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake (v. 18). Each time John had seen and heard these things, more was involved: first at the throne of God, lightning, rumblings and thunder (4:5); then at the beginning of the trumpet series, all these plus the earthquake (8:5; compare 6:12; 11:13); finally, at the end of that series, all of the above plus "a great hailstorm" (11:19). With the seventh bowl, the earthquake is described in much greater detail. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. . . . Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found (vv. 19-20). The hail is also detailed: From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God for the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible (v. 21).

The earthquake is a grim counterpart to an earlier one in which "a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven" (11:13). But that earthquake struck Jerusalem, and that "great city" was known as "Sodom and Egypt" (11:9). This one is focused on Babylon the Great (v. 19), and no glory is given to God. Instead, the oracle of 14:8 comes to fulfillment: "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great." Babylon is given the cup filled with the wine of the fury of God's wrath (v. 19; compare 14:10). But who or what is Babylon? Why does John consistently refer to Babylon as "she" or "her" (v. 19; 14:8)? Ironically, "she" has been destroyed without ever being formally introduced. Her introduction will come belatedly in the next chapter.

Along with Babylon, John also sees the cities of the nations fall (v. 19). These cities are probably meant to correspond in some way to "the kings of the whole world" assembled for battle at Armageddon (vv. 14, 16), but must have also evoked for John's readers the specific cities of Asia where they lived: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Whatever was in store for the respective Christian congregations in each of those cities, John's vision revealed that the cities themselves were doomed to share great Babylon's fate.

As for the plague of hail, it recalls for one last time the biblical plagues on Egypt (compare Ex 9:22-26). The statement that those on whom the giant hailstones fell cursed or "blasphemed" God explicitly confirms the responses at the end of the fourth and the fifth bowls (vv. 9, 11), and it serves as a final verdict on the entire series. Like the plagues of the Exodus and like the trumpets (9:20, 21), the "seven last plagues" do not bring repentance.

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