"Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, 'Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth.'" NIV translation
In chapter 15, we saw that God gave these seven bowls to the angels. Seven is a symbol of completeness throughout the Bible and so these are the final judgments poured out. It is interesting to note that they are contained in bowls which were used in temple worship. In the Old Testament time, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies once each year to make atonement for Israel. He carried a bowl of blood that was poured out on the atonement cover. Those that have rejected the bowl of atoning blood will now receive seven bowls of wrath.
"The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image." NIV translation
The first bowl is poured and it contained awful sores that broke out on those that had accepted the beast. This same type of plague was brought on Egypt, in Exodus 9, when God's people were enslaved there. Moses also prophesied that this plague would come upon God's people if they did not obey Him (see Deuteronomy 28). Once again, the sores will not affect God's people but will only occur on those that have rejected Him.
"The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died." NIV translation
The seas are turned to blood. This is not the blood of life as a blood from a living creature has oxygen and is red while blood from a dead man lacks oxygen and is dark. Throughout the Bible, the seas are a symbol of the nations. The nations rejected Christ and the blood that offered them a new life. Not only did they reject Him but they also killed His saints and they are being judged with that blood.
Revelation 16:4 & 5
"The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: 'You are just in these judgments you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged;'" NIV translation
This is now the third time that this has happened in the Bible. In Exodus 7, the Nile River in Egypt was turned to blood as a sign to Pharaoh. In Revelation 8, the seas were turned into blood at the sounding of the second trumpet. But, this is much worse than the other two as all of the sources of fresh water on the earth are affected. People cannot live very long without fresh water and so many will die very quickly. We also see that an angel was in charge of the waters. We are familiar with the idea of angels being messengers of God but here we see they are actually put in charge of parts of creation. The angel that is in charge of the waters affirms the goodness and righteousness of God in this judgment.
"'for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve,'" NIV translation
In Exodus 21, God prescribed the punishment for someone that wounded another person and it was to be "an eye for an eye". God is consistent in that the reason the waters were turned to blood was to avenge the shedding of the blood of His people. God had offered mercy and grace and it was rejected. Therefore, He is just and right in executing the prescribed punishment.
"And I heard the altar respond: 'Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.'" NIV translation
It has become obvious to everyone that God is right in His judgment. Those that have been slain for their faith agree with the angel that is in charge of the waters.
Revelation 16:8 & 9
"The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him." NIV translation
There is much talk today about global warming and whether or not it is going to happen. This passage tells us that it is coming but it is brought about by God and not by accident of man. Even as their skin burns from the sun, the people do not repent and turn to God but instead curse His name.
Revelation 16:10 & 11
"The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done." NIV translation
The fifth judgment of God is poured out on the system and kingdom that was set up by Satan and the beast. God removes all light and they are plunged into total darkness. God is light and without Him a darkness that is so complete that you can feel it descends on the earth. We are also reminded that each of these judgments builds on the other so not only are the people in complete darkness but they also continue to deal with the sores from the first angel's bowl. Even as the judgment builds, the people do not repent but instead curse God.
"The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the east." NIV translation
You can almost feel things building as this sixth angel's bowl drys up the Euphrates river in what is now southern Iraq. We see here that this is to prepare the way for kings from the east. This will be necessary for the armies to quickly cross the river with their armies to attack Jerusalem.
"Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet." NIV translation
As usual, John pauses between the sixth and seventh bowl to provide more details about an upcoming event. Here, he describes the evil spirits coming out of the unholy trinity (see Revelation 13).
"They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty." NIV translation
We see that the frogs are demon spirits with the power to perform miracles and that their purpose is to bring the kings of the world against God's city. The purpose of miracles throughout the Bible was to bring honor and glory to God. These counterfeit miracles are instead meant for deception and it is similar to the magicians in Egypt (see Exodus chapter seven). The same thing is happening even more today and so we must be grounded in the Word of God and walking in the Spirit to be able to tell the difference.
"'Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.'" NIV translation
As is the pattern throughout the book, there is a pause between telling us about the sixth bowl and the seventh bowl. In this pause, there is a reminder that Jesus is coming back like a thief. Nobody knows when a thief is going to come into their house and in the same way Jesus, Himself, does not even know the day and the hour of His return. Nobody wants to go running naked through the streets and that is the picture here of what will happen to those who are not prepared.
"Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon." NIV translation
The evil spirits caused the kings of the earth to gather at the Mount of Megiddo which is located in the plain of Jezreel just southwest of Nazareth and northwest of Jerusalem. This is the place that Hosea prophesied about.
"The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'It is done!'" NIV translation
The seventh bowl of wrath is poured into space and the sky is affected. Seven is the number of completion throughout the Bible and with this bowl God's wrath is complete.
"Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth." NIV translation
The sky and the earth react to the coming wrath of God. The largest earthquake recorded was a 9.5 magnitude quake that happened in Chile in 1960. This quake killed 1655 people, injured another 3000, and left 2 million people without homes. We are told here in this verse that the quake in Chile does not even compare to the one that is coming. We can praise God that, as His children, we will not be around for this. We should also feel an urgency to tell others of what is to come.
"The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath." NIV translation
The "great city" refers to the city of Babylon which is located in the southern part of Iraq. Much of the city is still in ruins today so one might ask how the words of this verse could be true. The city is in the process of being rebuilt and the project (known as The Future of Babylon Project) was started under the late Saddam Hussein. The project did not end with his death but in fact has even been funded by the United States through the State Department in cooperation with the new Iraqi government.
"Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found." NIV translation
This is going to be a worldwide earthquake in that it affects every part of the earth. The mountains and islands will just disappear.
"From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible." NIV translation
The final bowl of wrath is completed with the huge hailstones raining down on the people of the earth. This is similar to what happened in the seventh plague in Egypt (see Exodus 9) except this time the hail is huge. Still the people curse God and so the final judgement is coming quickly.