Revelation speaks of seven last plagues that will come upon the earth at the end of this present age. What are these plagues, and why will God send them?
The end-time prophetic events recorded in the book of Revelation that will occur before and at the time of Christ’s return to earth are outlined by:
The first four seals represent trends and plagues that have been continuing and intensifying through the years to our day.
All of the events from the fifth seal through the seven last plagues will occur in the final 3½ years before Christ’s return.
After all these plagues in Revelation, Jesus Christ will return to save humanity from self-destruction. Finally, the punishments will produce repentance, and people will turn to our Savior and King. Jesus Christ will bring peace, blessings and a perfect government.
How the seven seals in Revelation are related to the last seven plagues
The first five seals depict consequences for mankind’s sinful behaviors and Satan’s wrath toward the people of God and mankind in general. The sixth seal announces the soon-to-come wrath of God.
The seventh seal includes the wrath of God, which will be dispensed via seven trumpet plagues and then seven last plagues.
The seven last plagues: completing the wrath of God
These seven plagues complete the wrath of God.
As John wrote: “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete” (Revelation 15:1, emphasis added throughout).
The seven last plagues in Revelation are:
First plague: The contents of the first bowl will cause painful sores upon those “who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image” (Revelation 16:2). It appears these painful, open sores will be caused by some sort of skin disease or infection.
Second plague: When this bowl is poured out, the sea will become blood and cause all life in it to die (verse 3). The death of saltwater marine life will destroy a major food source for millions of people.
Third plague: After the third angel pours out its bowl, the rivers and springs of water will become blood (verse 4). This plague will destroy freshwater fish—even further impacting the food supply for millions of people.
Fourth plague: The fourth bowl will cause the sun to become so hot as “to scorch men with fire” (verse 8).
Fifth plague: This punishment will bring darkness, pains and sores (verses 10-11).
Sixth plague: The bowl containing this plague will be poured out on the Euphrates River, causing it to dry up and make land travel easier for the armies of “the kings of the earth and of the whole world” to assemble at Armageddon (the area of Megiddo, which is approximately 18 miles or 30 kilometers southeast of the modern city of Haifa). From this location, the assembled armies will then advance toward Jerusalem for a final battle against Jesus Christ (verses 12-16).
Seventh plague: This final plague will consist of “noises and thunderings and lightnings” and “such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth” (verse 18). Babylon, a powerful false religion, will fall (verse 19, compare Revelation 18:2) and there will be devastating hail, with hailstones weighing up to a “talent”—approximately 100 pounds (verse 21).
The last plagues of Revelation also called the bowls of wrath
Revelation 15:7 describes these seven last plagues as “golden bowls full of the wrath of God” to be poured out upon the earth. Some translations of the Bible, such as the King James Version and Young’s Literal Translation, use the word vial instead of bowl in this passage and in Revelation 16:1.
Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Bible states: “The word used here—φιάλη phialē—means properly, ‘a bowl or goblet, having more breadth than depth’ (Robinson, Lexicon). Our word vial, though derived from this, means rather a thin long bottle of glass, used particularly by apothecaries and druggists. The word would be better rendered by ‘bowl’ or ‘goblet,’ and probably the representation here was of such bowls as were used in the temple service. … The allusion seems to be to a drinking cup or goblet filled with poison, and given to persons to drink—an allusion drawn from one of the methods of punishment in ancient times” (comments on Revelation 15:7).
So these bowls (or vials) are imagery God uses to represent the seven last punishments that He will pour out on a sinful humanity.
Why does a merciful God allow these plagues on mankind?
Notice mankind’s response to the seven seals and seven trumpet plagues that will precede these last bowls of punishment. In spite of the severity of the pain and suffering that will be inflicted upon earth’s inhabitants by the seals and trumpets, humanity will still refuse to repent of its sins (Revelation 9:20-21).
Reviewing what will have previously occurred during the seals and trumpets, we note that, in addition to grievous suffering, many people will lose their lives through the first four seals, which are also called the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Revelation 6:8). Many more will die during the third trumpet plague (Revelation 8:11), and then a third of the remaining population will die through the sixth trumpet plague (Revelation 9:15, 18).
Deceived by Satan the devil through an end-time political and religious power called the “beast,” humanity will continue to defy and blaspheme God even as the seven last plagues are poured out.In spite of these truly apocalyptic horrors, mankind will continue to reject God. They will refuse to worship or obey the Almighty, Eternal Sovereign God.
Deceived by Satan the devil (Revelation 12:9) through an end-time political and religious power called the “beast,” humanity will continue to defy and blaspheme God even as the seven last plagues are poured out (Revelation 16:9, 11, 21).
As the first of the seven last plagues is poured out, we are told that it will come “upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image” (Revelation 16:2). Note also that the fifth plague repeats that it will be poured out “on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom” (verse 10).
Being part of the end-time political and religious system called the beast will have serious consequences! For further study, see the articles: “Who Is the Beast?” “666: The Number of the Beast” and “Mark of the Beast.”
How do the seven last plagues parallel other plagues in the Bible?
There are two interesting historical parallels to the seven last plagues.
- First, these seven last plagues are typed by some of the punishments God brought upon the nation of Egypt in order to free the ancient Israelites from slavery. In the 10 plagues preceding the Exodus, water was turned to blood (Exodus 7:17), people had painful “sores” (Exodus 9:9), and the Egyptians experienced darkness for three days (Exodus 10:21-23).
There are obvious similarities to these punishments in the seven last plagues (note the first, second, third and fifth plagues above). And just as Pharaoh hardened his heart toward God and His plan, so will the people who experience the seven last plagues harden their hearts against God.
It is also interesting to note that in Revelation 15, which introduces the seven last plagues, we find God’s faithful people singing “the song of Moses” (verse 3), a song composed by Moses after God had brought 10 plagues upon the Egyptians and delivered Israel (Exodus 15:1-19).
- Second, the seven last plagues of Revelation 15 and 16 have similarities to the seven trumpet plagues, but with increased intensity.
Note that the first four trumpets cause a third of the trees to be burned up, a third of the sea to become blood, a third of the creatures in the sea to die, a third of fresh water to become poisonous and the light of the sun, moon and stars to be diminished by a third (Revelation 8:7-12). The seven last plagues will cause all waters (both in the sea and fresh) to become blood, all life in the sea to die and more darkness (Revelation 16:3, 4, 10).
God sends the plagues so that all mankind will turn to Him
Some people have the mistaken idea that God is harsh and cruel—delighting in making people suffer. But this is most definitely not the reason God will bring these seven last plagues upon mankind.
As our loving Father, God always administers punishment to encourage us to turn from sinful conduct to obedience to His holy and beneficial laws so we can be blessed.
Conveying this principle to ancient Israel, God told the prophet Ezekiel: “Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11).
This principle that God explained to ancient Israel is true for all peoples—not just Israelites. God loves everyone (John 3:16) and “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
The book of Revelation’s prophecies about the seven last plagues are terrifying and show there will be massive suffering and destruction around the world in the end times. This will be necessary for God to deal with a sinful and rebellious world. But the good news is this will be a temporary period of time. Afterward, Jesus Christ will return to stop the sufferings of the end time, deal with mankind’s sins directly and begin ruling the world with righteousness.
This will result in 1,000 years of peace and prosperity.
To learn more about God’s expectations, we recommend the free downloadable booklet Change Your Life!