Then, the second poured out his broad and shallow ceremonial cup into the sea and it became blood like that which is dead, and every breath of life died, the things in the sea.

Revelation 16:3
The Saint-Sever Beatus, also known as the Apocalypse of Saint-Sever, (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS lat. 8878) is a French Romanesque illuminated Apocalypse manuscript from the 11th Century | By Stephanus Garsia and other hands, St Beatus (original) – CC BY-SA 4.0

It is really horrifying.

Water Turned to Blood

Fresh blood is a crimson red, and smells slightly of iron. In the plague of Egypt, the Nile was turned to blood, but the river still flowed. It simply flowed red, now. The water in wells and jugs also became blood, but the blood flowed, that is the point.

But this is blood of something dead, running black and thick, having a sickly-sweet smell to it, distinctive of rot. Instinctively, people turn and vomit, eyes tearing and the stomach retching with dread and nausea. The blood John described in this vision of the second bowl was dark, the clotting and rotting blood of something dead. It is an important distinction:

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar, for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.”

Leviticus 17:11 (NRSVUE)

“Every Breath of Life”

There is some correlation between the seven trumpets and these seven ceremonial bowls. However, whereas the trumpets sounded in partial disaster, the bowls pour out complete disaster.  For example, compare the second trumpet with the second poured out vial:

Then the second angel sounded a trumpet: and something like a massive mountain blazing on fire was thrust into the sea, then the third of the sea became blood, and the third of the creatures in the seas died – the ones having life – and the third of the ships were destroyed.

Revelation 8:8-9

Then, the second poured out his broad and shallow ceremonial cup into the sea and it became blood like that which is dead, and every breath of life died, the things in the sea.

Revelation 16:3

The difference is stark.

For Egypt, the first plague was a warning that preserved life. But in this second bowl, there is no warning to survivors. Everything in the sea, from tiny plankton to the majestic whale, will die.

The trumpets, severe as they were, still left two thirds of the earth intact. Many more survived than were harmed or died, making the trumpet more of a warning than a judgment. But the bowl means death to every living thing. No survivors, no second chances.


Scholars see this as a metaphorical description of the destruction of the naval power of those nations that supported the Roman Church—France, Spain, and Portugal. John’s prophecy came to pass  in a series of battles between France and England, from 1793 to 1815, that did, literally, destroy France’s navy. During this twenty-year-long conflict, England was also able to decimate the navies of Holland and Spain, both of which had come to the aid of their French ally.

The blood of death John described would here be understood as coming from all those who died at sea in the thousands of war vessels and ships of commerce that were destroyed during this time.

The Second Vessel- Death in the Sea | By Unknown – illuminator – QQHkEqrY8isdOw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain


It is possible the trumpets represent the earlier part of the Jewish War, the siege, the infighting, the growing desperation.

If Judgment on Rome

These final seven angels could be pouring out God’s judgment of the Roman Empire. This would explain how final and complete the annihilation would be, as portrayed.

If Judgment on Jerusalem

Or, the golden ceremonial cups of God’s passion would pour out upon Judea and Jerusalem the final acts of desolation, the inevitable aftereffects of starvation, lack of sanitation, unburied dead, the ravages of starvation and disease.

This would be the final, dreadful conclusion of the Jewish war, the destruction of every structure, most importantly the razing of the temple. Annihilation of all life was the goal, though soldiers found house after house already filled with those who had died of disease and starvation. Nevertheless, the blood of the slain poured thick and high through the streets of that ravaged city, and Roman soldiers literally burned their fingers snatching molten gold from the fire they had set to the temple. Even today, when touring those ancient ruins, the massive devastation is easily imaginable, seeing those huge stones cracked and tumbled down, one upon the other.

Possibly, because the blood is described as death, John was indicating that all of Judea was now death, completely unclean with nothing left of the people’s spiritual life, and now soon their physical lives as well.

Château d’Angers; Angers; Pays de la Loire, Maine-et-Loire; France; Tenture de l’Apocalypse; no59, Le flacon versé sur les eaux; Cultural heritage; Cultural heritage|Tapestry; Europeana; Europe|France|Angers; Hennequin de Bruges (Jan Bondol en flamand); connu également sous les noms de Jean de Bruges ou de Jean de Bondol ou encore Jean de Bandol; Ref.: PMa_ANG057_F_Angers | By PMRMaeyaertOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Battle at the Sea of Galilee

There is one event that closely matches the second trumpet, and this bowl, a battle where the Roman forces massacred the Jewish resistance in their boats.

Josephus, first century Jewish historian, described the scene.

“… for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels; but if, in the desperate case they were in, they attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands; and indeed they were destroyed after various manners every where, till the rest being put to flight, were forced to get upon the land, while the vessels encompassed them about [on the sea]: but as many of these were repulsed when they were getting ashore, they were killed by the darts upon the lake; and the Romans leaped out of their vessels, and destroyed a great many more upon the land: one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped.

And a terrible stink, and a very sad sight there was on the following days over that country; for as for the shores, they were full of shipwrecks, and of dead bodies all swelled; and as the dead bodies were inflamed by the sun, and putrefied, they corrupted the air, insomuch that the misery was not only the object of commiseration to the Jews, but to those that hated them, and had been the authors of that misery.

“This was the upshot of the sea-fight. The number of the slain, including those that were killed in the city before, was six thousand and five hundred.”

Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book III, 10:9
By Московская старообрядческая книгопечатня 1909 г., с древлеписьменной рукописи первой половины XVII в. – Public Domain


It is possible the “sea” symbolizes all Gentiles, who will now finally experience the fullness of God’s wrath. The “blood of death” refers to the continuing warfare throughout the world, nations and people groups openly seeking to slaughter each other. In this sense, God’s wrath is expressed in releasing God’s restraint from the human determination to embrace evil:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those who by their injustice suppress the truth.

“… God gave them over to an unfit mind and to do things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of injustice, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness …”

Romans 1:18, 28-29 (NRSVUE)

By the same token, the sea John gazed at, two thousand years ago from the Isle of Patmos, was the Mediterranean. Possibly, it is this sea specifically that will turn to coagulating blood, rather than all seven seas of earth.

Possibly, the “blood of death” will be what is known today as the “red tide,” which according to the National Ocean Service, happens when colonies of algae grow uncontrollably, creating toxic conditions for all oxygen-based life.

Video and article can be found at the National Ocean Service website

VIDEO: “Red tides” and human health in this video from the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System®.

On the other hand, at least one commentator thinks it likely this is a depiction of earth reeling from nuclear explosions.


Because the first beast was called forth by the dragon from out of the sea, it is possible “sea” is meant to portray the whole of humankind. Seen this way, a putrefied sea, with no life in it at all, would characterize the cultures of earth as being devoid of life. When God’s wrath is poured out, it will only be upon those who are truly already dead, without any desire for redemption and indeed without being able to be redeemed.

Or, perhaps, John was seeing how God’s judgement on the unrepentant is visible in the power of the sea and the mighty forces of nature.

By Coventry glazier John ThorntonPublic Domain

The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg

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