The origin of the plagues is shown to be connected to the worship of God in heaven. A heavenly order of process is observed, designed to impress the dignity and the solemnity of the event on those who hear about it. We are reminded here that the source of divine judgement is the holy place where God dwells.
Of course, no real set of bowls can hold the infinite wrath of the eternal God. The number ‘seven’ points to perfection. It may that John wants us to think of the bowls mentioned in 5:8, which are said to be the prayers of the saints. Several times in this book he has connected divine judgement and the prayers of God’s people. The psalms are full of prayers by believers who longed for divine vindication. And Jesus taught his church to pray, ‘Deliver us from evil.’
To add to the seriousness of what is signified by the bowls, entrance into this sanctuary is not permitted until the plagues have passed, which is probably a way of saying that access to the fullness of glory in the presence of God takes place after the Day of Judgement.
The plagues are not all sequential because in verse 11 the boils of the first plague are still affecting those who suffer the fifth plague. So we can assume that some of them are parallel in the experience of those who are receiving the punishment.
Most of the seven plagues bear a similarity to the ten plagues of the Exodus. The obvious difference is that while the ones at the Exodus were literal, the ones in the vision are symbolic. At the Exodus, each plague happened once within the land of Egypt whereas the seven plagues are global. The seven are also similar to some of the judgements connected to the seals in Revelation 6. In the plagues, we see pestilences, death, changes in nature, fierce heat, darkness and demonic attack.
John is also told why the plagues were sent. Two reasons are mentioned. One is that they are forms of punishment connected to the cruel way those persons and societies persecuted God’s people. The other reason is that the plagues are a reminder that people should repent of their sins, yet they did not. Punishment by itself will not bring sinners to repentance.
The final seal describes the judgement of God on Babylon. Its destruction is a global affair and causes the collapse of everything else. It is a moment of great significance because the next two chapters are explanations of what happened. The city of man comes to its end and it will disappear. It began with Cain and has been expanding ever since. Its residents, who are everybody apart from those who follow Jesus, don’t want to repent even while the city is disappearing before their eyes.
What is Armageddon? Some people think it is a literal battle in Palestine. Others think it describes an end-time conflict. John says it is a battlefield. On one side are those who followed the beasts, and they have been brought to this location through demonic temptation. On the other side is God, whose Day it is. It looks to me that Armageddon is another name for the Day of Judgement, the great day of the Lord God Almighty. We might say the biggest numerically, but also the shortest timewise, battle in the history of earth.