Bowls 4-5 - Judgments on the Seven-Headed Beast

Categories: Eschatology › Judgments Eschatology › Partial Preterism


8 Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was granted to him to burn the people with fire. 9 So the people were burned with severe burns, and they blasphemed the name of God, who has authority over these plagues. And they did not repent to give Him glory. 10 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the Beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness; so they gnawed their tongues because of the pain. 11 And they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains, and because of their ulcers; yet they did not repent of their deeds.


We come to another absolutely remarkable prophecy - this one showing God's judgments on the beast of Rome. Where the first three bowls deal with very last days of the nation of Israel, the next three bowls deal with Rome. We will only have time to look at the first two of these three bowls.

The historical background/fulfillment of bowls 4-5 in the disaster of AD 79-80

And I am going to approach the text a little bit differently today. I'm going to give you an overview of the history first, and then I will make applications as I go through the verses.

I believe these verses deal with God's judgments on Rome beginning with the death of the seventh head of the seven-headed sea monster and all of his progeny. The seventh head is Vespasian, and his progeny are his two sons, Titus and Domitian. And the phrase, "the throne of the beast" in verse 10, together with the progress of the bowls, absolutely necessitates that this be dated to Titus's reign. Of course, Vespasian and Titus were co-rulers for some time, and Titus was really power behind the throne even when his dad was alive. But we saw in previous sermons that he was the one that became the revived beast after Nero died. All three were incredibly wicked men. And these signs were so spectacular that even the pagans spread rumors that God was upset with these three emperors. There was something about the history of these events that made pagans think that this was not natural - God Himself must be judging the empire. And for pagans to admit that is quite something.

Let me start with the signs that pagan historians thought were related to Vespasian, the seventh head. God sent a spectacular comet shortly before Vespasian's death that Suetonius, Dio Cassius,1 and Aurelius Victor2 all saw as an omen that the emperor was about to die. There is a line in Plutarch that states that Vesuvius erupted before Vespasian died, and at least one old manuscript of Pliny is consistent with that. But there is plenty of evidence that he died before the volcano erupted. Either way, all are agreed that it was especially taken as an evil omen against Titus. He was the focus. He was the real ruler behind Vespasian and he continued to rule after Vespasian died in 79. Juvenal mentions flooding of Armenia and Parthia and a massive earthquake that demolished cities.3 The earthquake split Caesar Augustus's Mausoleum wide open, leaving a yawning crevice. But at each of those signs, Vespasian simply joked and said that the omen was intended for someone else. Suetonius' history of the Twelve Caesars reports some of his jokes, and then said,

Nothing could stop this flow of humour, even the fear of imminent death... at the fatal sight of a comet he cried, ‘Look at that long hair! The King of Parthia must be going to die.’ His deathbed joke was ‘Dear me! I must be turning into a god.’4

He did not take these signs seriously at all. Yet that didn't stop God from killing him. The year that spanned the Spring of 79 (just before Vespasian died) to the Spring of 80 had a thick succession of incredible signs that is especially related to what these verses talk about. They were God's warnings. And numerous ancient Romans thought that these signs were indeed omens against Titus - the real power behind the throne all along. They still loved Titus because of the massive amounts of money that he gave to the people through welfare, but reports showed that they wondered if God was going to hammer him.

Let me give some of the signs that were especially attributed to Titus. There was a solar eclipse, then the two eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, which completely blotted out the sun turning Italy into deep, deep darkness. The second eruption of that volcano is thought by scientists to have unleashed 100,000 times the thermal energy of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. Scientists who have studied both the history and deposits at Pompeii and Herculaneum say that the second blast produced a dense, rolling, ground-hugging mass of lethal gas, ash, and rock - basically a pyroclastic flow that must have had temperatures reaching up to 1000°C or 1830°F. Those closer to Vesuvius would have been killed instantly, with brains boiling and skulls exploding in a flash. Skeletal remains show bodies further out burned to the bone in seconds. And by the way, this was prophesied to happen in Zechariah 14:12, where God promised this to the Gentile soldiers who would fight against Jerusalem in AD 70: He promised "Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet, their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, and their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths." This literally happened since Titus' legion that had fought against Jerusalem just happened to be on vacation at the famous Roman resorts in Campania and they all perished along with other Roman and Jewish dignitaries. In fact, ancient Jewish historians point out that this was God's payback for their brutal treatment of Israel. And I think there is something to that - in the Old Testament God used Babylon to punish Israel for Israel's sins, but then punished Babylon for their horrific inhumanity to Israel. It's much the same principle. So the legionaries were wiped out.

But those closest did not really suffer much. It was a quick death. Those further away from the pyroclastic flow were scalded badly, many dying much later after a great deal of suffering. Those even further away were scalded, but did not die. I used to hold that this was identical to the burning in bowl number four, and in a bit I will discuss why I now think that may not be the case.

Ancient writers say that the massive volume of smoke and ash that was blasted out of Vesuvius blotted out the sun all over Italy, Syria, Africa, and Egypt. This was not just an eclipse. This was a complete darkening of the sun. The Roman historian Dio Cassius says, "the day was turned into night and light into darkness." (History 66.22-23)

But the judgments didn't stop there. There was a massive fire that burned down the city of Rome, killing many and scorching many.

And it didn't even stop there. This was a year of enormous calamities upon the entire Roman empire. The Roman historian, Tacitus, says, "Italy was prostrated by disasters either entirely novel, or that recurred only after a long succession of ages." (Tacitus, Histories, Prefacio 1.2) One of those disasters was a very strange disease. Within weeks or months of Vesuvius erupting the entire empire experienced the worst disease epidemic in Rome's history to that time, causing great pain and anguish and killing an estimated 10,000 people a day. So that is a broad overview of the historical background.

The text which describes the series of disasters in AD 79-80

So let's dig into the text. You will remember that the bowls move backwards in time from AD 136. So even though the bowls were poured out in the order of 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 within the vision itself, the literal Greek of the seventh bowl tells us that the judgments begin to be fulfilled with bowl seven and work backwards. And I gave a lot of other proofs that the whole book is structured like a chiasm - it moves forward to chapter 14 and then moves backward. Well, this means that bowl five is historically fulfilled before bowl four.

And let me tell you how I interpreted these bowls up until this past year, and where I am at today. Initially I saw bowl five as the initial blast of Mount Vesuvius and bowl four as second blast. That fits the text; it also fits history. The first blast was mainly ash and it covered Rome, Syria, Africa, and Egypt in a thick suffocating cloud that blotted out the sun and kept people from even seeing through the atmosphere. And so bowl five speaks of the throne of the beast (which would be Rome) being full of darkness. It was. I still tie bowl five to the volcano. There is debate on the date, with establishment saying August 24 of AD 79 and other suggestions ranging from early 79 to early 80. And that is why I am iffy only whether the bowls are separated by 50 days or 13 months.

But I used to hold that bowl four was also connected to Mount Vesuvius, and that it was the second eruption that sent out the super-heated pyroclastic flow. So I used to hold that they were just a day apart. I saw the first blast as darkening in bowl five, and the second blast as burning in bowl four. Seen that way, every detail of both bowls fits perfectly, but they would be seen back-to-back. That is so simple and so straightforward that I hadn't even considered anything else.

What has complicated things for me is that I have more recently become convinced that these seven bowls are seven temple bowls representing the seven Festivals of Israel. And if I am correct that these seven bowls follow the the seven festivals backwards in time from AD 136, with bowl one landing on Tabernacles, bowl two landing the Day of Atonement, bowl three landing on Trumpets, bowl four being Pentecost, and bowl five being on Firstfruits, then these two bowls must be separated by a minimum of 50 days (if they were on the same year), or by thirteen months (if the Roman historian, Dio Cassius, is correct when he says that Rome burned the following year). I'm not dogmatic on this. If I am wrong on the Festivals governing the order of these bowls then I would revert to my original interpretation because it definitely fits and it doesn't require the enormous amount of sorting through archaeological stuff that I have had to do.

But since my goal has always been to fit every Biblical clue into my interpretation, and only then to go to history, and since I have recently come to believe that the Festival pattern makes these events separated,5 I asked myself, was there a fire on a Pentecost Festival after the volcano that was so large that it too obscured the sun and scorched people? And I looked in the histories, and sure enough, there was: Rome burned for three days and three nights - which itself may have prophetic significance. And interestingly, there was something about that fire that made the pagan historians think that the fire was supernaturally ignited and not human error or arson. It was a remarkable fire. We'll look at that in a bit. So that gives you kind of an overview of how I have tried to approach this text. So I am going to look at bowl five first, then bowl four. I will take it in the historical order rather than in the order they were seen in the vision.

Bowl five

fourth and fifth angels (vv. 8,10) - seen??

Verse 10 refers to an angel pouring out his bowl. Since angels are usually invisible, there is no need to find a historical fulfillment for that. But I do find it interesting that the Roman historian, Dio Cassius, speaks of onlookers seeing supernatural beings not only in the volcano, but also in the other disasters that hit Rome. Let me quote him at length. He says,

Numbers of huge men quite surpassing any human stature — such creatures, in fact, as the Titans are pictured to have been — appeared, now on mount [Vesuvius], now in the surrounding country, and again in the cities, wandering over the earth day and night and also flitting through the air. . . . [So that sounds more like angels - flitting through the air. And by the way, the Titans in ancient mythology were supernatural being. He continues:] Then suddenly a portentous crash was heard, as if the mountains were tumbling in ruins; and first huge stones were hurled aloft, rising as high as the very summits, then came a great quantity of fire and endless smoke, so that the whole atmosphere was obscured and the sun was entirely hidden, as if eclipsed. Thus day was turned into night and light into darkness. Some thought that the Titans were rising again in revolt (for at this time also many of their forms could be discerned in the smoke and, moreover, a sound as of trumpets was heard), while others believed that the whole universe was being resolved into chaos or fire. 2 Therefore they fled, some from the houses into the streets, others from outside into the houses, now from the sea to the land and now from the land to the sea; for in their excitement they regarded any place where they were not as safer than where they were. 3 While this was going on, an inconceivable quantity of ashes was blown out, which covered both sea and land and filled all the air. It wrought much injury of various kinds, as chance befell, to men and farms and cattle, and in particular it destroyed all fish and birds . . . Indeed, the amount of dust, taken all together, was so great that some of it reached Africa and Syria and Egypt, and it also reached Rome, filling the air overhead and darkening the sun. (Cassius Dio Roman History 66.22-23)

Whether these giants (who were thought to be the Titans) were God's angels or not, the text of Revelation indicates that God certainly used angels to bring the judgments of fire and volcano. To me that is fascinating to think about - the role of angels in what we call "natural disasters." Maybe natural disasters are not so natural after all. Maybe they are supernatural. John Frame would have us think so in his systematic theology. We westerners would do well to study angelology - the doctrine of angels. I think they are much more involved in blessings and judgments than we give them credit for. So this volcano was somehow unleashed by angels. Angels are incredibly powerful beings.

The "throne of the beast" (Rome) = the "sun" of verse 8 - this was a warning to the emperor

And it was intended as a warning to Titus, the emperor, whom you will remember was previously possessed by the powerful demon called the beast. So verse 10 says that this "fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the Beast." Where is the throne of the beast? It is in the city of Rome. And who was the beast? We have seen in the past that he was Titus. So we should expect to see each of these signs negatively affecting Titus' throne. And it did. When disaster after disaster hit Titus' kingdom, superstitious people began to see him as jinxed. But rather than turning to God, they turned to politics - they sided with his brother Domitian, who poisoned Titus, and grabbed the throne for himself. Well, that didn't work out too cool. Domitian was just as evil. So this was not an empty symbol or an empty threat. Without repentance, Titus would soon lose the throne.

Titus' kingdom plunged into darkness

And what signs did God give? First, he used the volcano to completely plunge the entire empire of Titus into deep darkness. Chapman and others see this as a clear reference to Mount Vesuvius erupting.6 I totally agree. Verse 10 says, "and his kingdom was plunged into darkness..." Though Rome was far enough away to avoid the super-heated pyroclastic surge from the volcano, they were not able to escape being inundated with ash. And all of the historians speak of a deep darkness that penetrated everything. Dio Cassius says that the ash was "filling the air overhead." He said that the "atmosphere was obscured" so that you could not see through it. He speaks of the "sun being darkened," being "entirely hidden," and that "day was turned into night and light into darkness." The eye witness, Pliny the Younger, said, "it was daylight now elsewhere in the world, but there the darkness was darker and thicker than any night." Being darker and thicker than any night seems like a very literal fulfillment of this phrase, "his kingdom was plunged into darkness."

And how far did that darkness extend? Dio Cassius said that it extended to all of Rome, Africa, Syria, and Egypt. So like the other symbols in this book, there was a literal historical fulfillment. And what was it symbolic of? It was symbolic of Vespasian and Titus' metaphorical lights going out; of his kingdom being lost to him; of his imminent death. Plutarch ties it to the death of Vespasian via the Sibyl oracles and others tied it to the death of Titus. Because this is explicitly tied to the beast, I see it as predicting Titus’ imminent death.

Somehow this is connected with the disease epidemic manifested in outward boils or ulcers (vv. 10c-11a)

But the next phrase indicates that there is some connection with this volcano and the disease epidemic that followed. Verse 10 ends with "so they gnawed their tongues because of the pain." Obviously there was pain for those who were burned by the pyroclastic flow. That phrase could refer to that. But this seems to be more than that. And this pain seems to extend further than where the pyroclastic flow reached. It seems to be right in the city of Rome. In fact, that is where it started because that is where the angel pours his bowl. Verse 11 continues: "And they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains, and because of their ulcers..." So whatever kind of disease this was, it produced symptoms of boils or ulcers in the skin.

Did this happen literally in history? Yes it did. One of the worst plagues (or what Roman call "pestilences") Rome had ever seen came on the heels of this volcano and was blamed by the ancient historians on the volcanic ash. Dio Cassius says, "These ashes... brought a terrible pestilence upon them." (Dio Cassius 66.3) How the two were connected, he does not say, but he connects the ashes with the disease just like our text connects the darkness with the disease. Roman citizens were catching the disease everywhere. Not all died, but an estimated 10,000 people a day died for a long period of time. The Roman historian, Suetonius, says that besides the misery of the ash and the darkness, the empire was afflicted with "a plague the like of which had hardly ever been known before."7 Suetonius goes on to show how Titus did everything in his power to stop the plague with medicine, sacrifices to the gods, and sending human aid, and financial aid, but it was all to no avail. It was obvious that this was not something natural; it was supernatural. This was a God-sent plague that could not be cured. The multitude of sacrifices that he made to his false gods only made matters worse because it offended the true God of heaven (who, by the way, Titus knew but hated).

But though God gives them time to repent, no repentance is forthcoming (v. 11)

So though the pain was excruciating, and though God gave them plenty of time to repent, and though this was an obviously supernatural event, they did not repent, but instead, exploded in blasphemy against God. The text says, "And they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains, and because of their ulcers; yet they did not repent of their deeds."

What were their deeds? If you can think of it, they did it and more. When archaeologists first uncovered the remains at Pompeii, they had to block many of the sites from public view because they were so grossly pornographic. It was too much for even that secular society. Interestingly, three things were found etched on the walls that showed either Jewish or Christian testimony against these evils. Hebrew names such as "Martha" are on the walls, and some people assume that they were slaves - either Christian or Jewish slaves. Second, the words "Sodom and Gomorrah" were found written in graffiti. The Romans didn’t even know about Sodom and Gomorrah. So this seems to be a Christian testimony against the filth of that place. And someone even wrote the Hebrew word "Cherem," which means "marked for destruction," on the doorway of a house. Wow! How appropriate. It appears that there was a Biblical testimony against Pompeii and Herculaneum.

In any case, it says that "they did not repent" but instead blasphemed. We have already read of the blasphemies against God that both Vespasian and Titus gave. Titus especially was very self-conscious in his hatred for the God of the Bible. Nine years before he had declared himself god in the temple in Jerusalem, but now God was showing him his absolute helplessness. God was in effect showing Titus that he made a lousy god. One ancient Jewish writer says of the demonic blasphemies of Titus nine years earlier,

He entered the Holy of Holies and with his sword slashed the curtain. Through a miracle blood spurted forth and he thought that he had killed God Himself. He brought two harlots and, spreading out a scroll [of the law of God] beneath them, transgressed with them on top of the altar. He began to speak blasphemies and insults against Heaven, boasting, "One who wars against a king in a desert and defeats him cannot be compared to one who wars against a king in his own palace and conquers him."8

... he began to blaspheme, curse, vilify and spit toward Him on high, saying, "So this is the one who you say slaughtered Sisera and Sennacherib. Here I am in his house and in his domain. If he has any power, let him come out and face me."9

A year later he continued his blasphemy in a ship that hit a storm. One record says,

... a gale arose to drown him in the sea. He stood on the (deck of) the ship and began to blaspheme, curse, vilify and spit toward Him on high. He said: When I was in his house and in his domain, he did not have the power to come and face me, but now here he has come froth to meet me. It seems that the God of the Jews has power only where there is water.10

You can see in those quotes the demonic high-handed nature of Titus's hatred for the one true God. And that hatred was shared by many of his troops. So it is not by accident that his troops responsible for the burning of the temple were stationed in Campania during the eruption and died. And archaeologists have dug up some of that legions artifacts.11 In any case, I read those quotes to remind you of how much Titus hated God and that he was perfectly capable of blasphemy.

So, what blasphemies did Titus do in response to this volcano? That year he minted at least two different coins commemorating his conquest of Judea and calling himself god. That is as much as shaking his fist at the God of Israel. And there was a flurry of similar coins in his last year and a half before he died. Likewise, he immediately rebuilt pagan temples that God had previously burned down. That is again an insult to the true God. Another insult was that Titus required Jews to pay their temple tithe to the Temple of Jupiter in Rome.

As a side note you can see that judgments by themselves do not save. They do not change a heart. Not even hell will make people want to repent. Until a person is regenerated, he cannot respond with love or trust in the true God. But obviously the other Romans followed suit by worshiping Caesar. The plural "they" indicates that it was more than just Titus who blasphemed. So all of that happened in connection with the volcano, Vesuvius.

Bowl four (vv. 8-9)

Death of an emperor symbolized by the "sun" being obscured a second time (v. 8)

Let's look next at bowl four. If the former Phil Kayser is correct, then bowl four happened one day later. If the current Phil Kayser is correct, this happened at least 50 days later, or if it erupted in 79, then thirteen months later.12 Verse 8 goes on to say, "Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun..." In ancient symbolism the sun was a symbol of the emperor. So anyone who read this in the first century would see this as a sign that the emperor was soon to die. It's almost identical in meaning to the language in the previous bowl, when it was poured out on the throne of the beast.

Was this a solar eclipse? From NASA's tables of eclipses, it does not appear to be so. Instead, the sun was obscured for many days by the raging fires that swept through Rome. Everywhere smoke was obscuring vision. And Titus began to believe that he would be undone. He was getting affliction after affliction, and when Rome started to burn while he was viewing the remains of Campania, he said, "I am ruined."13 Twice in the space of one year (and possibly in the space of 50 days) the sun was blackened out, and other pagans were beginning to wonder if Titus was jinxed. We see similar signs before the deaths of Nero, Vespasian, and Domitian.14

People burned with fire (v. 8b-9a)

Notice in the next phrase that it doesn't say that the sun burned the people. I believe the sun was affected because its light was blotted out, but it didn't burn the people. Rather, it says, "and it was granted to him to burn the people with fire." This is normal fire, not sunburn. Verse 9 continues: "So the people were burned with severe burns..." Many died in the flames, but far more escaped with severe burns. And according to the Roman historian, Dio Cassius, there was something about this fire in Rome that seemed supernatural. He says it was "not of human but of divine origin." And certainly when you see the way the wind blew, and other characteristics of this fire, it does not seem to be by accident. When you look at the list of buildings that got burned and those which did not, it seems that this fire targeted the worst dens of iniquity and idolatry.15 It illustrates God's sovereignty over even such things as accidental fires.

But it also illustrates how God declares war on the central idols of a nation. That fire took out the political buildings, including the two voting places. Those were perfect symbols of the idols of statism. That fire took out the bath houses, which were gross places of sexual perversion. It took out the major theaters, which were also cesspools of evil. It took out the chief temples of Rome, including the temple of Serapis, the temple of Isis, the temple of Neptune, and the Pantheon where every God was worshiped except for Yehovah, who was excluded. In effect, God was judging the gods of Rome just like the plagues on Egypt in the book of Exodus constituted a war against the gods of Egypt.

If you want a book that marvelously shows how God continues to war against the idols of every society, including our American society, you really need to read Herbert Schlossberg's book, Idols for Destruction. It's a tough read, but you will come away appreciating that God has not been ignoring America's rebellion at all. He has been judging us very actively. We just need to have eyes to see.

But there was no repentance (v. 9b)

But once again verse 9 shows continued blasphemy against God rather than repentance:

and they blasphemed the name of God, who has authority over these plagues. And they did not repent to give Him glory.

Titus has seen one judgment after another coming upon him, and some advisors even have the audacity to suggest that these may be divine omens. But rather than repenting of His blasphemies that he had uttered previously against the God of Israel, He continues to blaspheme God through words, through some new coins that declare him divine, and through the rebuilding of the temples that were burned down. And the people love him for it and agree with his blasphemies; they worship him. It illustrates that nothing but sovereign grace can conquer a human heart. No amount of blessing and no amount of judgment will make rebels into saints apart from grace.

More Applications

So that is the meaning of the text as I see it, and the historical background. Let me end by giving five more applications.

God controls such things as volcanoes, epidemics, and accidental fires (v. 9b)

First, it is clear from this passage that God controls such things as volcanoes, epidemics, and accidental fires. After describing the second and third degree burns that these people had from the fire, verse 9 says that God is the God, "who has authority over these plagues." God has authority over volcanoes. Not a volcano can blow without God's permission. God has authority over epidemics. Not an epidemic can rage without His permission. God has authority over fires. Not a house can burn down without His permission.

And this means that we can trust God in the midst of calamitous times. He is not arbitrary. I'm not saying that Christians can't die as collateral damage. They can. But if they do die or if they do get disease, it is still not arbitrary. It comes from the hands of a God who loves us, who ordains everything purposefully, and only allows that which is for His glory and our good. When you look at who God providentially spared in the 9-11 Twin Tower disaster, and it is remarkable to see his protection. And when you read of what God did through Christians who died, that too is remarkable.On the airplane back from California I was reading Lambert's old book on Missionary heroism that Generations republished. He shares the cool stories of breakthroughs as well as the stories of martyrdoms that initially seem tragic and useless. The first missionaries to the New Hebrides were killed as soon as they set foot on the land. And you get to the end of that story and you wonder, "Wow! That's depressing! Why would God allow that?" But the next story picks up the pieces and shows how God used that very martyrdom to advance His church in that head-hunting group of peoples. No death is wasted. God orchestrates even the early deaths of missionaries perfectly to advance His kingdom. But whether God uses calamity for discipline, sanctification, growth of His kingdom, or something else, we can always trust that He is in control. That confidence helps us to not get bitter.

God continues to judge pagan nations

Second, God continues to judge pagan nations with His law. We've been seeing quite a number of examples of this, right? One of the chief arguments of those who hate theonomy is that God intended the law only for Israel. But all through the book of Revelation we have seen that that is not the case. And certainly in the law of God that was not the case. Leviticus 18 says that the Canaanites were vomited out of the land precisely because they had violated God's Mosaic laws. That implies that all nations are subject to and will be judged by God's laws. God judged Babylon because they had violated God's laws. And here we see that the seventh head of Rome is judged and his son Titus is cut off because of their evil deeds. Nations cannot escape the consequences of violating the legal structure of our covenantal world. God has not backed away and ignored it. Far from it. All of this universe has God's covenantal hands guiding and controlling it. No nation can escape from God's law.

Judgment apart from grace does not save any more than miracles can save apart from grace

Third, it is crystal clear that apart from God's prevenient grace, no one will be saved by either miracles or judgments. You could not get more spectacular prophecies being fulfilled than the first five bowls, yet the constant refrain in those verses is that those being judged continue to blaspheme God and refuse to repent. Until God gave a new heart to Saul of Tarsus he was hot on the heels of Christians, was persecuting Christ, and was blaspheming Christ. But God's grace instantaneously turned him around in his tracks. The same was true of one of the thieves on the cross. Jesus was crucified with two bandits, one on each side, and both started blaspheming and mocking Jesus. But at some point God sovereignly regenerated one of them, and that bandit did an about face, acknowledged his sin, repented of his sin, called the other bandit to stop his harassment of Jesus, and had faith to ask Christ to remember him when He came into His kingdom. What made the difference? Not that one was better than the other. The only thing that made the difference is that God's irresistible grace regenerated one and chose not to regenerate the other. That illustrates that the difference between those who come to Christ and those who do not has nothing to do with their personality, their hardness of heart, or their privileges. It has to do with whether God has given them grace or not. Cling to God's grace. Never let Him go. And trust that His grace can changed the hardest of people.

This illustrates the truth of total depravity

But this blasphemy also illustrates the doctrine of total depravity and why that sovereign grace is needed. Romans 8:7 says that "the carnal mind is hostile to God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." What better illustration of total depravity than these passages that give opportunity after opportunity to repent, but they prefer to blaspheme. I watched a lovely video produced by Abolition Human Abortion where they were proclaiming the love of Christ and encouraging people to stand up for the helpless babies being aborted. I was amazed at the degree of hatred and death threats they received by ordinary citizens. Aparently the tolerant city of Seattle is not tolerant to Christianity.

These judgments prepared the soil for the church to grow (implication of "bowl")

But having said all of that, I will hasten to add that God used these judgments not only to take away the worst opposition to the Gospel, but also to prepare His elect to receive the Gospel. We saw before that these bowls were temple bowls or redemptive bowls. That means that the judgments were redemptive judgments that advanced the Gospel in Rome. And the Gospel did indeed spread like crazy in the years following these disasters. It was one of the things that made Domitian (Titus' brother who succeeded him) persecute Christians in the next two decades after Titus was killed. He couldn't stop the massive growth of the church, and it infuriated him. While the people who receive these bowls of God's fury did not repent, multitudes of others did repent because of the same judgments and because of the love and mercy extended through His church. When I was studying the archeology of Vesuvius I stumbled across a study of businesses in that decade that had become Christian in orientation. The article said,

Some pagans became Jews. More became Christians, the new religion out of Judea. In fact, we have the portrait of a couple that owned a bakery that we know for certain were Christians because they removed all the pagan symbols from the bakery, and substituted them with a cross. Put differently, Vesuvius did more for the spread of Christianity than the apostle Paul. I made a film about this. Click here to watch it.16

May we always be ready to stand in the gap when God brings further judgments in our nation. Repentance is always an option held forth in these bowls. It continues to be an option we can hold before our nation. And may God continue to invincibly advance Christ's kingdom in our day. Amen.


  1. Dio Cassius, Roman History, volume 8 Translated by Earnest Cary (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1925), p. 295. "[…] Vespasian fell sick, not, if the truth be known, of his accustomed gout, but of a fever, and passed away at Aquae Cutiliae in the Sabine country. […] Portents had occurred indicating his approaching end, such as the comet which was visible for a long time and the opening of the mausoleum of Augustus of its own accord. […] To those who said anything to him about the comet he said: “This is an omen, not for me, but for the Parthian king; for he has long hair, whereas I am bald.” When at last he was convinced that he was going to die, he said: “I am already becoming a god.”" Interestingly, Plutarch's Sibyl places the death of Vespasian after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. If that was the case, then it is possible to reconcile Dio Cassius ‘following year’ phrase by putting this on the Festival of Firstfruits in 79. Granted, Plutarch is the slimmest of evidence, but given the eleven different dates for the eruption of Vesuvius that one finds in the ancient histories, and given that older manuscripts of Pliny have no date (making many scholars believe the dates are later additions), I feel justified in arbitrarily following the date that best fits the Biblical text. Nevertheless, I am very tentative on this conclusion, and the basic interpretation of the text is not affected either way.

  2. "And so, passing the sixty-ninth year of his life, he died, mingling with serious matters the jests in which he always took pleasure. 18. Indeed, first, when a comet had appeared, he said, 'That concerns the King of Persia' (whose hair is rather long). Then, exhausted by an exudation of the bowels, he rose up and said, 'It becomes an imperator to depart the earth standing'. Victor." (Epitome De Caesaribus" Verse 143)

  3. Juvenal reports a prophetess who interpreted these events as judgments: "That Niphates has overwhelmed whole nations, and that the whole country is there laid under water by a great deluge; that cities are tottering, the earth sinking down - this she tells in every place of resort to everyone she meets." Juvenal, "The Satires of Juvenal", in The Satires of Juvenal, Persius, Sulpicia and Lucilius, translated by Evans, Lewis, Ch. 6 p. 53.

  4. Tranquillus. The Twelve Caesars, Bk. 8, Chapter 23, p. 287. See

  5. In recent years archeologists, seismologists, and volcanists have begun to question the August 24 date for the volcano. There have been a number of proposed dates for both the volcano and the fires in Rome that followed the next year. Archeologists who have dug up the remains at Pompeii are beginning to realize that everyone was dressed heavily and had heaters engaged, indicating cool weather. Likewise the strong winds that laid down deposits show a westerly wind, something that does not blow in the summer. This makes an August date extremely unlikely. One complicating factor for everyone is a coin that was found, which some people think was not even minted till September of AD 79 (though footnote 12 will show evidence that it may have been minted much earlier - perhaps that Spring). This has made many recent scholars question the August 24 date. Here are a few of the articles available to get a feel for the degate and why a date in the secular histories is not certain: Also see this essay: See also this essay - G. Rolandi, A. Paone, M. Di Lascio, and G. Stefani, ‘The 79 AD Eruption of Somma: The Relationship Between the Date of the Eruption and the Southeast Tephra Dispersion,’ Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 169 (2007); Borgongino, M., Stefani, G., 2001. Intorno alla data dell'eruzione del 79 d.c. Rivista di Studi Pompeiani XII-XIII, 177-215; Stefani, G., 2006. La vera data dell'eruzione{. Archeo. Attualita del passato XXII: 10-13. Also see the essay referenced in footnote 12.

  6. Charles T. Chapman sees bowl 5 as Vesuvius, saying, "This may allude to the eruption of Vesuvius in 72 A.D., which destroyed Pompei." Charles T. Chapman, The Message of the Book of Revelation, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1995), p. 101.

  7. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Life of Titus 8:3*.html

  8. Judah Nadich, The Legends of the Rabbis, vol. 1: Jewish Legends of the Second Commonwealth (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1994), p. 350. Though this is legend, it is based on various rabbinic sources and may have a kernal of truth in showing the arrogance and blasphemy of Titus.

  9. Anthony J. Saldarini, S.J. (translator), Abot De Rabbi Nathan, The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, (Leiden: Brill, 1975), p. 68. While it is difficult to know how much legend has entered into these stories, they probably reflect some historical truth.

  10. Ibid., p. 70.

  11. Hershel Shanks’s article “The Destruction of Pompeii—God’s Revenge?” as it originally appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2010

  12. I base the thirteen months on the time between the Festival of Pentecost in AD 80 (bowl 4) and the Festival of Firstfruits (bowl 5) in AD 79. It would be fifty days between the disasters if both disasters happened in the same year. Obviously my position does not line up with the establishment position for the timing of Vesuvius - August 24, which would be Ellul 10 on the Hebrew calendar. So my placing this bowl with the Festival of Firstfruits is the weakest part of my Festival structure theory. Every other bowl fits, but this one assumes several historical pieces of data that most scholars understandably reject: 1) That Plutarch's Sibyl prophecy dates Vesuvius to the Spring of AD 79 (very slim evidence). 2) That an earlier reading of the date on the coin found in Pompeii is correct rather than a September reading. 3) That the heaters and cold clothing found in Pompeii indicates a cold Spring rather than a cold Fall. The 2013 Numismatic Chronicle took a look at the coin and said, "The coin is in poor condition" and they had difficulty knowing the date for sure. When IMP XV and IMP XIII can be confused, some scholars are skeptical of either reading. An alternative theory which retains the September dating of the coin would be to take Vesuvius as erupting in the Spring of AD 80 and the burning of Rome to 50 days later, but this would contradict the order of Dio Cassius. Just so the reader gets a peak into the controversies surrounding the dating, I will give a little summary: Recent discussions on Pompeii and Herculaneum show that an August 24 date is likely not true (see footnote 5). Indeed, ancient manuscript scribal differences give eleven different dates. (see the discussion at Granted, one of the dates that is currently being promoted is even later - in October or November for several reasons: wind, harvest indications, heaters and wood, a deteriorated coin that some have tentatively dated to September of AD 79 (though see previous article which mentions the poor quality of the coin and the possibility that it was coined much earlier), and summer fruits already being dried or preserved. But those discoveries can also be interpreted as supporting my Spring (79 or 80) position. It is tempting to throw out the theory that the seven bowls represent the seven festivals and to return to my original theory that both bowls relate to Vesuvius, but since all the other bowls fit the Festival structuring so well, and since there is no certain dating in the secular histories, I am currently sticking with the two bowls landing on Firstfruits and Pentecost. One other possible way of resolving this would be to follow some modern scholars and place Vesuvius on September 17 of AD 79, which would be Tisri 1, or the Festival of Trumpets. This would back up bowls 1-3 to Solemn Assembly (Tisri 22), Tabernacles (15-22), Day of Atonement (Tisri 10). That does not seem likely in terms of Biblical symbolism. Another way of resolving it is to ignore Cassius' statement that the fire occurred "the following year" and to see bowl five as occurring on Nisan 16 (March 28) AD 80 and bowl four occurring 50 days later on Sivan 6 (May 16) of AD 80. But I am reluctant to dogmatically take a position that does not reconcile the secular histories in a more satisfactory way. Given that secular history gives us eleven quite different dates for Vesuvius, I am not sure that the secular dates should drive conclusions. Nevertheless, I am tentatively fitting all the facts together by seeing bowl five as fulfilled on Nisan 16 of AD 79 and bowl four as being fulfilled thirteen months later on Sivan 6 of AD 80. Further research may make me ditch the Festival groupings as untenable, but I currently believe everything fits. If future research shows the Festival pattern to be unbiblical, I would change back to my previous interpretation that both bowls happened back to back in connection with Vesuvius. It is certainly the simplest explanation.

  13. C. Seutonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Life of Titus 8:3*.html

  14. Philostratus speaks of an amazing solar eclipse before the assassination of Domitian, with a spectacular corona resembling an Iris surrounding the sun while it was being eclipsed. Plutarch also mentions this corona. The Month: A Magazine and Review (January to June, 1870), p. 57. The following website gives evidence of solar eclipses connected with other emperors:

  15. Dio Cassius says, "However, a second conflagration, above ground, in the following year spread over very large sections of Rome while Titus was absent in Campania attending to the catastrophe that had befallen that region. 2 It consumed the temple of Serapis, the temple of Isis, the Saepta, the temple of Neptune, the Baths of Agrippa, the Pantheon, the Diribitorium, the theatre of Balbus, the stage building of Pompey's theatre, the Octavian buildings together with their books, and the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus with their surrounding temples. Hence the disaster seemed to be not of human but of divine origin; 3 for anyone can estimate, from the list of buildings that I have given, how many others must have been destroyed." (Dio Cassius 66.24)


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