I want to offer some thoughts on the last of the seven trumpets of Revelation, which the angel sounds at the end of Revelation ch11.
It also counts as the "third woe", because the dwellers on the earth were told, at the end of ch8, to expect woe" from the final three trumpets.
So I'm going to be asking the question; what is the third woe?
When the fifth trumpet was sounded, the effect was the release of the army of "locusts", and that was the first woe.
When the sixth trumpet was sounded, the effect was the release of the army of "cavalry", and that was the second woe.
Nothing like that happens, not immediately, when the seventh trumpet has been sounded.
Instead we get a series of announcements and explanations which are designed to help us understand just how important the event is.
The first reaction comes from the loud voices in heaven, which tell us that "the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of the Lord and of his
Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever".
In other words, the request in the Lord's Prayer that "Your kingdom come" has finally been answered.
The same is implied by the opening words of the praise of the twenty-four elders.
The Lord God Almighty had been described, in ch1, as "the one who is, and who was, and who is to come".
When we look at the words of the elders, in v17, we find that the "future" part of this formula has been left out.
His reigning in full power is no longer a future expectation, but a present reality.
The rest of their praise echoes the words of Psalm 2, which tells how the nations raged and the kings of the earth set themselves "against the Lord
and his anointed" (Psalm 2 v2), and which then goes on to record the Lord's promise of power to his anointed Son.
Then the elders proclaim (and the noisy activities of the last verse of the chapter carry the same message) that the time of judgement has come; the
servants of the Lord will be rewarded, and the destroyers of the earth will be destroyed.
The next two chapters are a "flashback" sequence, which takes the story back to the birth of Christ. The purpose of the flashback is to introduce
the Beast, and to explain the spiritual background of the Beast's hostility to the people of God. This prepares the way for the proclamations of ch14
to explain the significance of the "hour of judgement" in terms of the destruction of the Beast and its associates.
At the beginning of ch15, it can be seen that the "sea of glass" around God's throne in heaven is now "mingled with fire". That is to say, the
"fire" of God's judgement is now burning so fiercely upon the earth that it becomes visible even through the crystalline lens of the firmament,
which is what the sea of glass represents.
Then the seven angels step out of the Temple, and they're given the seven bowls "full of the wrath of God".
This is the event we've been waiting for, the active response to the seventh trumpet.
The "seven bowls", taken together, are what happens when the seventh trumpet is sounded.
(Just as the seven trumpets themselves, taken together, are what happens when the seventh seal is opened)
If the seventh trumpet is the proclamation that the Last Day of the world has finally arrived-.
then the seven bowls are a depiction of the Last Hours of the world (I don't quite mean that literally, but that's the approximate relationship).
There's also a close relationship between the individual trumpets and the individual bowls.
I touched on this in the discussion called Battered Planet
This is how I described it;
These two sequences, the trumpets and the bowls, are very similar, and they're sometimes regarded as duplicate versions of the same story. But
the real clue to the relationship is that the state of the world after the seven bowls is considerably worse than the state of the world after the
So I see the trumpets and the bowls as the beginning and end of the same set of events, with each trumpet/bowl combination representing a different
aspect of the process. On that basis, I feel entitled to cross-reference between the two sequences, and use them to throw light on each other.
Taking the combinations one by one;
The effect of the first trumpet included an echo of one of the Exodus plagues.
Similarly, the effect of the first bowl, the "foul and evil sores", echoes another of the Exodus plagues (the boils and sores of Exodus ch9 v10).
My conclusion was that the first item in each sequence was a kind of "signature", which had the purpose of pointing us towards the Exodus events.
The implication is that these events, too, are about the redemption of God's people from oppression.
The effect of the second trumpet was that a third of the sea became blood, and a third of its living creatures died.
The effect of the second bowl is that the whole sea, presumably, becomes "like the blood of a dead man". I once asked a medical friend what the
blood of a dead man would be like, and the answer was "black and crusty". So the state of the sea suffers a catastrophic degradation, and the
result, not surprisingly, is that "every living thing died that was in the sea".
The effect of the third trumpet touched a third of the rivers and fountains, with the result that their waters became bitter and poisonous.
The effect of the third bowl, like the effect of the second bowl, takes the degradation a stage further, so that all the land-based waters "became
The effect of the fourth trumpet was that the sun and the moon and the stars lost a third of their light. This implies that the light was being
blocked by some kind of pollution in the atmosphere.
The effect of the fourth bowl, on the other hand, is that the sun is "allowed to scorch men with fire". I speculated that this might be the
consequence of a depletion of the ozone layer.
So the impact of these first trumpets and bowls falls upon the physical
environment of the human race.
I was suggesting in the previous discussion that these might be different aspects of a single, world-wide catastrophe. I speculated on the nature of
the cause, but deliberately left it as an open question.
But the outcome, whatever the cause, seems to be that the earth is being rendered almost uninhabitable.
The effect of the fifth trumpet was that the human race was plunged into intense despair. It was the kind of despair which would be felt by someone
who was being denied even the escape-route of death.
This was an echo of the complaints of Job;
"Why is light given to him that is in misery,
And life to the bitter in soul,
Who long for death, but it comes not,
And dig for it more than for hid treasures"- Job ch3 vv20-21
The effect of the fifth bowl is that the kingdom of the Beast is plunged into "darkness". Given that the sun is currently "scorching men with
fire", I take this to be a spiritual or psychological darkness, in keeping with the fifth trumpet. We're told that men "cursed the God of heaven
for their pains and sores", and this is another echo of Job, because they're following the advice which Job received from his wife, when he was
suffering from his own "loathsome sores" ("curse God and die"-Job ch2 v9).
This appears to indicate that the population of the world are undergoing a collective "Job" experience. Their physical world is falling apart in
these chapters, just as Job's world fell apart around him, The loss of hope in the future, the abandonment of faith, would be a very natural
consequence of these events.
Thus the impact of the fifth trumpet and bowl falls upon the psychological
environment of the human race.
The effect of the sixth trumpet was that the world was invaded by forces which came from the Euphrates.
The effect of the sixth trumpet is the gathering together of the kings of the world, but at least some of them are coming from the east, from the
other side of the Euphrates.
The waters of the Euphrates are dried up, which serves a double purpose.
It symbolises the fulfilment of Jeremiah's warning to Babylon, that her waters would be "dried up", that her power would be drained away, in the
time of her destruction Jeremiah ch50 v38.
There's a practical purpose, at the same time, because it makes it easier for the kings of the east to cross over.
But we need to remember the significance of the Euphrates to the inhabitants of the Roman Empire of John's time. As I was discussing on a previous
occasion, it was part of the boundary between the civilised world, the Graeco-Roman world, and the world of barbarians "outside" the ordered world.
The cavalry of the "second woe" was clearly modelled on the horse-riding Parthians, who had broken across that boundary in recent times.
Therefore the armies which come from "across the Euphrates" might be understood as representing all those forces which come from "outside" the
social order, and which would have the effect of causing disruption and weakening the bonds of society.
I suggested that this destructive anarchy would be a very natural consequence of the psychological collapse taking place under the fifth trumpet and
bowl. If the human race in general had lost their hope in the future, that would be undermining all the motives and foundations of social
(There's also significance in the summoning and destination of these kings, of course, but that point is important enough to deserve separate
Thus the impact of the sixth trumpet and bowl falls upon the social
environment of the human race.
In summary, we've seen that when the seventh trumpet was sounded, the effect was the release of these "bowls of wrath".
They represent the climax and culmination of a destructive process which began with the sounding of the first trumpet.
And they appear to be tending, inexorably, towards the cessation of human life on this version of our planet.
Therefore it is very appropriate to identify these bowls, taken together, as the Third Woe.