This will be the final study of the seven bowls or wrath mentioned in Revelation 16. After John heard a voice, out of the Temple, saying: “It is Done” (Revelation 18:17; cp. Matthew 13:30, 41-43; 24:31), there were voices, thunders, lightening and a great earthquake (Revelation 16:18). This imagery is used several times in the Apocalypse (Revelation 4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18), and is connected with the coming or return of Christ (Revelation 11:15-18). It is the day of his wrath, or the day of his judgment, when he would return and reward his servants and vindicate them before their enemies (Matthew 16:27-28; cp. Matthew 13:30, 41-43; 24:31).
The ‘great earthquake’ concerns the overthrow of cities and nations (cp. Zechariah 14:4; Isaiah 13:13; Haggai 2:21), even the great city of Babylon (Revelation 16:18-19), but what does this mean? First of all, the text says “the cities of the nations fell…” (Revelation 16:19). One could also render it: “the cities of the gentiles fell…” and I believe this is how it should read, if one is to get the full import of what the text says. John is not implying that all the cities throughout the world fell in judgment. Rather he limits the area to the Jewish lands. Notice that immediately afterward the text says “and great Babylon (or some put it Babylon the great) came in remembrance before God…” It is “the cities of the nations fell” and “Babylon the Great came into remembrance…” The text is speaking of one nation, and it labels that nation gentile in character. In Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 the Lord points to a people who claim to be Jews but are not. They are of the synagogue of Satan or the synagogue of the enemy.
On one occasion, while he debated with the Jewish authorities, Jesus claimed they were not Abraham’s children, because they didn’t do the works of Abraham (John 8:39-40). When they took issue with Jesus’ statement, the authorities claimed to be the children of God (John 8:41), but Jesus denied their claim, saying that God is the author of truth, and Jesus told them the truth, but they denied the truth. Therefore, they couldn’t be the children of God (John 8:42-43, 45-47). In other words, by rejecting Jesus and denying the truth they made themselves the children of the Devil—the Slanderer. (John 8:44).
In the context of Revelation 16, therefore, “the cities of the gentiles” (Revelation 16:19) are in reality the cities of the Jews, and it is their governments or rule that had fallen. They became subject to a foreign power in a wholly different way than they had been prior to the war. According to the flesh, one couldn’t deny the Jews were the children of Abraham, but according to the spirit and according to God, they had become gentiles (cp. Romans 2:28-29). The true Israel has a clean heart (Psalm 73:1), but those who are only outwardly so are unfaithful to him and have polluted their sacrifices. Therefore, the Lord had rejected them, saying the rulers of the Jews are of Sodom and the people are of Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:9-10, 15).
The text, then, claims that Babylon the Great (Jerusalem) would be divided in three parts (Revelation 16:19), and this points to its total destruction and judgment from the Lord. We know this because of what the prophet Ezekiel claimed about the fall of Jerusalem. One third would be slain with the sword, on third part would be slain with fire (persecution, famine, pestilence etc.), and on third would be scattered or go into captivity, and a sword would go after them (Ezekiel 5:2, 5).
In my study of The Second Bowl and the Sea I determined that the sea represented the wicked rebellious nation (cp. Isaiah 17:12; 57:20). In this contexts the islands of Revelation 16:20 would represent the cities of Palestine. When Babylon the Great (Jerusalem) fell, all the cities of Palestine lost their authority over their people. The Romans had conquered the Jewish state, and the Jews were completely at the mercy of a foreign power—“and every island fled away and the mountains (their defense and protection – see Psalm 125:2; Matthew 24:16; Revelation 6:14-17) were not found (Revelation 16:20).
What occurs next is the natural result of people who thought they were trusting God (but weren’t). They felt betrayed in the result, in the context of this study—disgraceful and utter defeat at the hands of a foreign power. They were destitute and hungry, and, being enraged over the result of the war, they cursed their leaders and blamed their God (Revelation 16:21). As they considered their then present circumstances, all they saw was trouble and darkness. They were a people without hope and driven from peace and security into the darkness of uncertainty.