In the book, Is It Real When It Doesn’t Work? authored by Doug Murren and Barb Shurin, an intriguing antidote is shared. It comes from the remarkable life of Alfred Nobel, the eminent Swedish chemist of the late 19th century.
One fateful morning, Nobel was astonished to read his obituary in the local newspaper. The newspaper had made a grievous mistake by attributing the obituary to Alfred instead of his brother who had passed away. The obituary said that Nobel, the mastermind behind the invention of dynamite, had thereby facilitated the means for an unprecedented number of casualties in warfare. Moreover, it highlighted Nobel’s immense wealth.
The newspaper’s error and the remarks it had made about him struck Nobel hard, prompting him to take inventory of his life. He started to yearn to be remembered for something more than his prodigious contribution to weaponry and the accumulation of riches. Hence, feeling a resolute determination, he created and launched the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. This esteemed accolade was established to honor individuals from around the world who dedicated themselves to the advancement of peace through their extraordinary scientific breakthroughs and literary works.
Driven by his newfound purpose, Nobel once wisely said, “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph midstream and write a new one.”
There are mainly four different approaches to the interpretation of Revelation chapter 16. The “Preterist” would say the events of the book have already taken place, particularly during the time of the Roman Empire. The “Historicist” would argue Revelation’s prophecies span across historical periods and the book provides a timeline of events throughout history. The “Idealist” would contend Revelation’s content is a symbolic portrayal of spiritual truths and ongoing cosmic conflicts that represent the timeless battle between good and evil. The “Futurist” would assert Revelation primarily refers to future events, more specifically, those of the End Times and the return of Christ.
All of these methods of interpretation have merit. However, it appears that moderate futurism may provide a more complete understanding, meaning some prophecies have already been fulfilled in history, some are currently unfolding, while others are still to come. Revelation chapter 16, more likely, falls in the category of things yet to come.
The first verse of chapter 16 says a voice is heard from the heavenly temple ordering seven bowls of God’s wrath to be poured out on humanity. This is a futuristic view of the end of The Tribulation period, and unlike Alfred Nobel, who had a chance to correct the trajectory of his life, no one at this juncture in world history will be able to do so.
This marks the beginning of Hell on Earth for the damned. Here is what the Bible says about the first bowl of God’s wrath:
“Then I heard a mighty voice from the Temple say to the seven angels, ‘Go your ways and pour out on the earth the seven bowls containing God’s wrath.’
“So the first angel left the Temple and poured out his bowl on the earth, and horrible, malignant sores broke out on everyone who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue” (Revelation 16:1, 2).
The imagery of bowls of wrath or vials of wrath poured out on the earth finds its root in various ancient texts. In the Greco-Roman world, the concept of pouring out divine retribution was not uncommon. Greek and Roman mythology often featured gods or goddesses pouring out their wrath or curses upon individuals or cities as punishment for their wrongdoing.
In the Old Testament, for example, the books of Exodus, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, have statements associated with the pouring out of God’s anger and fury.
In Exodus 7:4-5, what God says to Moses is indicative of his intention to plague the people of Egypt because of their treatment of God’s chosen people. The text reads:
“Even then Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you. So, I will bring down my fist on Egypt. Then I will rescue my forces — my people, the Israelites — from the land of Egypt with great acts of judgment. When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 7:4, 5).
This passage clarifies that the plagues that came upon Egypt were acts of God’s judgment and a demonstration of His mighty power, which is associated with the pouring out of his wrath.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel mention the concept of God’s wrath or the pouring out of His judgment by using the metaphor of a cup filled with his anger and rage.
“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup filled to the brim with my anger and make all the nations to whom I send you drink from it. When they drink from it, they will stagger, crazed by the warfare I will send against them.’ So, I took the cup of anger from the LORD and made all the nations drink from it — every nation to which the LORD sent me” (Jeremiah 25:15-17).
“Because you have followed in your sister’s footsteps, I will force you to drink the same cup of terror she drank. Yes, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘You will drink from your sister’s cup of terror, a cup that is large and deep. It is filled to the brim with scorn and derision” (Ezekiel 23:31-32).
The entire construct of “bowls” of wrath, the “cup” of God’s wrath, the “pouring out” of God’s wrath, should not be glossed over. Instead, it should be contemplated carefully. This kind of imagery is meant to signify the full measure of God’s indignation and divine justice. Such phrasing represents the inescapable and inevitable consequences of human wickedness.
In modern times, these expressions hold significant theological and moral implications. They are reminders that God’s holy and righteous nature cannot be violated with impunity. These metaphorical terms are prompts, notices, and aide-memoirs to individuals and societies to uphold moral values.
In an unprecedented spectacle, Revelation chapter 16 says the first angel unleashed his vessel’s contents upon the Earth, and a cascade of divine affliction flowed. What resulted was a ghastly affliction, vile and repugnant, which was manifest upon everyone who was marked with the emblem of the Antichrist, and all who had paid homage to his graven image.
The sores described in the text are literally ulcerated sores, malignant and very painful. Across the spectrum of time, terrible diseases such as smallpox, bubonic plague, and other infectious outbreaks have caused severe skin lesions and sores.
The “Bubonic Plague,” also called the “Black Death,” emerged during the mid-14th century, with initial outbreaks in China and Central Asia. It then spread along trade routes, reaching Europe in 1347. The plague rapidly became an unparalleled catastrophe as it wreaked havoc across the continent.
The plague acquired its name due to buboes, which were swollen and excruciatingly painful lymph nodes typically found in the groin, armpit, and neck regions. These agonizing swellings rapidly progressed from small lumps to large, purple-black-colored sores filled with pus and blood. The sickness would often lead to tissue necrosis, resulting in the formation of ulcers and malignant sores. The torment of these boils, along with a high fever, headaches, chills, and exhaustion were horrific to witness.
The Bubonic Plague caused unprecedented devastation, wiping out approximately 30-60% of Europe’s population during its peak years from 1347 to 1351. Entire communities were decimated, with corpses piling up in the streets due to the overwhelming number of deaths.
There have been recent outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague. Fortunately, none of them became major epidemics. One such outbreak occurred in Madagascar in 2017. Over 2,400 cases were reported, with around 200 deaths, predominantly caused by the pneumonic form of the infection. Immediate actions were taken by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Madagascar’s Ministry of Health to control the outbreak, including isolation of the sick, and treatment with antibiotics along with public health education campaigns. Coupled with the grace of God, these measures, kept the outbreak contained.
But this raises an important question: Could something like this happen again and all attempts to contain the disease prove futile? When reading Revelation 16, this not only seems possible, but it seems plausible, except the infirmity depicted in Revelation would be much worse.
Drawing from a possibility suggested in “Revelation Visualized” by Dr. Gary Cohen and Salem Kirban, this malady may be directly related to taking the Mark of the Beast either in a tattoo or some kind of implant.
There have been reported cases of individuals experiencing serious negative reactions, including sores on the body, after getting tattoos or implants placed under the skin. These reactions can occur due to a variety of factors such as allergic reactions, infections, or improper procedures. These allergic reactions can be caused by specific pigments, metals, or other substances used in the tattoo or implant. In some cases, these complications can lead to the formation of sores, rashes, blisters, or other skin abnormalities.
This seems quite plausible, too, especially since the Scripture says this plague only affects those who have the Mark of the Beast.
There is another possibility that might be a cause for this first terrible bowl judgment of God — the rampant sexual immorality during the Tribulation period. One may recall the way Revelation 9:21 portrayed the people of this time, saying:
“And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
Each of the sins mentioned in this text is grievous, but it is sexual immorality which can destroy the body. The apostle Paul warned:
“Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So, you must honor God with your body” (I Corinthians 6:18-20).
This passage emphasizes the destructive nature of sexual immorality. It stresses the importance of honoring the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and living in line with God’s standards.
Contrary to common thinking there isn’t any “safe sex” outside of God’s standards for sexual purity. Sex is for one man and one woman who are committed to each other for life in the bond of marriage.
Anything outside of these parameters involves a risk, a game of Russian Roulette with one’s health, not to mention the way fornication and adultery precipitate emotional and psychological damage, relationship issues, unplanned pregnancies that often lead to abortion, social and legal consequences, and of course, spiritual implications. Sexual immorality is no small matter.
Could it be that this plague represents a new strain of a severe sexually transmitted disease?
There are statistics from health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom, which report that sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise.
Genital Herpes is characterized by painful, fluid-filled blisters or sores on the genitals, buttocks, or anus. The blisters can break open, forming ulcers that eventually scab over. Syphilis progresses through different stages. In the primary stage, a painless sore known as a chancre develops at the site of infection, which can be genital, anal, or oral. If left untreated, additional symptoms can develop. Cancroid leads to the development of painful, ulcerated sores in the genital area. Chancroid is an uncommon STD but can cause significant discomfort. Although HIV/AIDS is not necessarily terminal, there is still no cure for it. Moreover, ulcerated, painful sores can be a part of the affliction. These sores can occur in various parts of the body, including the mouth, genital areas, and other areas of the skin. They may be caused by opportunistic infections, such as herpes simplex virus, which can thrive in individuals with weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS.
It truly is conceivable that in a day of unrestrained promiscuousness, as one might reasonably presume the Tribulation period would be, since there will be at that time a wholesale rejection of God and his law, an incurable STI or STD is unleashed – one that health authorities are helpless to counter.
Thus far, world health officials have been able to provide some semblance of control over the previously mentioned scourges.
Thus far, in the book of Revelation, the Seal Judgments and the Trumpet Judgments have been limited in their effect, giving people an opportunity to turn from their sins and receive Christ.
Nevertheless, by the time the Bowl Judgments come into the picture, God is no longer pulling his punches, and the full force of an uncurable, unstoppable, unbearable sexually transmitted disease, which shows no mercy, might be what the first angel pours out upon the land.
Admittedly, all of these suggested possibilities are pure conjecture or speculation. Nevertheless, what is absolutely certain about this text, is that this plague of nasty, menacing malignancy of dreadful sores is poured out at God’s order on everyone who spurned their rightful Sovereign, Benefactor, and would-be Savior.
As Cohen and Kirban say, the ulcerating of these marks on those who took the Mark of the Beast is true justice at the hands of the rejected Great Physician!
Consider earnestly! In a symbolic sense, these putrefying, poignant, punishing sores described in Revelation 16 might also represent afflictions of the soul. Sin can be like the ulcerated sores of leprosy that perniciously spread and eat away at one’s spiritual health, joy and peace.
Jesus healed and cleansed many lepers. He can heal and cleanse your broken spirit. He can wash away every sin, no matter how repugnant. He’s calling. The offer is still open but the door of opportunity will soon close.
Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.