(17) Finally the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying: “It is done!” (18) Then there were flashes of lightning, roaring, and crashes of thunder, and there was a tremendous earthquake—an earthquake unequaled since humanity has been on the earth, so tremendous was that earthquake. (19) The great city was split into three parts and the cities of the nations collapsed. So Babylon the great was remembered before God, and was given the cup filled with the wine made of God’s furious wrath. (20) Every island fled away and no mountains could be found. (21) And gigantic hailstones, weighing about a hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people, but they blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, since it was so horrendous. (Rev 16:17–21)
This will be the most intense expression of all the previous trumpet and bowl judgments, for the earth-dwellers will not be able to stand on the ground underneath them, nor will they be able to look upward as they are pelted with immense hundred-pound hailstones. In short, the message that the final bowl sends is decisiveness.
When the seventh bowl is poured out into the air, we are told that “a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying: ‘It is done!’” This same loud voice executes the order to the angels to pour out the bowls of wrath upon the earth (cf. Rev 16:1). The loud voice is likely from God himself as it comes from the throne uttering, “It is done!” With the completion of the seventh bowl, the eschatological day of the Lord’s wrath is complete. (Interestingly, as Jesus was absorbing the wrath of God in the place of sinners on the cross, he is heard saying, “It is finished!”)
The proclamation that God’s wrath is finished manifests a storm theophany: “flashes of lightning, roaring, and crashes of thunder, and there was a tremendous earthquake—an earthquake unequaled since humanity has been on the earth.” This is fitting since the wrath of God opened up with a similar storm theophany introducing the trumpets (Rev 8:5), including a similar theophany at the seventh trumpet (Rev 11:19). The earthquake occurring at the seventh bowl cannot be any of the previous earthquakes depicted in the book of Revelation, for two main reasons: (1) The description from John goes out of his way to highlight the unprecedented nature of the seventh-bowl earthquake: “there was a tremendous earthquake—an earthquake unequaled since humanity has been on the earth, so tremendous was that earthquake.” (2) It is associated with the pronouncement, ‘It is done!’
This massive earthquake will result in, “The great city was split into three parts and the cities of the nations collapsed.” There is debate on the identity of the great city. In my estimation, the most plausible referent is Jerusalem, since Revelation 11:8 states that the “great city” is “where their Lord was also crucified,” which we know to be Jerusalem. To be sure, the great city is not present day Jerusalem, but will be the eschatological city of Jerusalem. The term for “nations” in the expression “the cities of the nations collapsed” is ethnos, which can mean “Gentiles.” So in this specific context, the Jewish “great city” is contrasting with the cities in Gentile nations. This great city is also identified as Babylon: “A second angel followed the first, declaring: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great city! She made all the nations drink of the wine of her immoral passion” (Rev 14:8; cf. 17:2). And in our seventh-bowl passage, it says, “So Babylon the great was remembered before God, and was given the cup filled with the wine made of God’s furious wrath” (Rev 16:19). As Babylon made the nations “drink of the wine” of her immorality, now God makes Babylon drink the wine of his “furious wrath” (cf. Rev 18:5–6). There are additional reasons that support that the best identification of “Babylon the Great” will be the eschatological city of Jerusalem, so I refer the reader to further study on that point.[i]
If there is any doubt to the magnitude of the unprecedented earthquake, the following sober statement should lay it to rest: “Every island fled away and no mountains could be found.” Mountains especially connote strength and immovableness, but the One who created them will cause them to be no more, however that will exactly happen. At the moment when the earth loses all semblance of stableness, the sky turns chaotic with “gigantic hailstones, weighing about a hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people.” The ungodly not only refuse to repent from this, but they, “blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, since it was so horrendous” (Rev 16:21; cf. Exod 9:23–25; Ezek 38:22). They foolishly blame God for their misery.
[i] See Charles Cooper, God’s Elect and the Great Tribulation: An Interpretation of Matthew 24:1–31 and Daniel 9 (Bellefonte, PA: Strong Tower Publ., 2008), 33–51.