In this judgment, God strikes all the rivers and springs and every fresh water source and turns them into blood.
“Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying: “You are righteous, O Lord, the One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink, for it is their just due.” And I heard another from the altar saying, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”
God is doing this to pay back with vengeance those who have killed His prophets and saints. God is now giving them blood to drink since these people spilled the blood of His saints.
This judgment, as with the third trumpet, involves the fresh water supply. Again, there is no limit; it is global with great devastating effects. Though the results are not mentioned, they can be imagined. There will be no pure water except perhaps what will already be stored; none in the rivers and lakes.
“The angel of the waters” is literally, “the angel, the one of the waters.” This apparently refers to an angel who has jurisdiction over the waters of the earth as one of the varied ministries of angels. As the one in charge of this area he makes an important statement vindicating the holiness of God and setting forth the reason in this judgment (.5-6).
These apostate and rebellious people have slain and shed the blood of believers, thus, just as the saints receive rest and reward for their faith, so these will receive punishment fitting the nature of their crimes. They have only blood to drink. They have been blood thirsty—now they get their fill. This gives us another indication that during the Tribulation the shedding of the blood of believers will be without parallel in history.
The reference in verse 5, “who are and who were” refers to the eternal essence of God. As the Eternal One, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. God is long-suffering but eventually God’s holiness must act and His judgment against sin will be delayed no longer.
Verse 7 deals with another voice adding to the vindication of God’s acts. So again we see an important emphasis: Throughout history Satan has maligned the character of God who sentenced Satan and his angels to the lake of fire (Matt. 25:41). This has been displayed in the rebellious hearts of men of all ages who persistently operate under the delusions of Satan. But the Tribulation will show God is a God of holiness who is acting justly in His judgment against sin.
Just as the previous bowl judgment affected all bodies of salt water on the earth, so this third judgment will affect all bodies of fresh water. Just as the Israelites were protected during the similar cursing of the river Nile (cf. Ex.7:18 and 7:21: “the Egyptians will not be/were not able to drink the water”), so we may expect that believers still alive at this time will be provided some respite.
For although the method and manner of the relief for those who have not succumbed to the worship of the beast are not specified here, it is very clear from the verses above that the punishment involved here is specifically directed at antichrist’s followers (and verse 5b applies this principle to all seven of the bowl judgments). Water, lest we forget, is symbolic of the life-giving truth of the Word of God (Ex.17:5-6; Is.8:6; 55:1; Ps.33:4-5; 36:8-9; 68:26; Jn.3:5; 4:14; 7:37-38; 1Cor.10:4; Eph.5:26; Heb.10:22; Rev.22:17).
The appropriateness of this judgment, therefore, whereby the world’s fresh water is turned into a symbol of judgment not fit to drink should be very clear. For just as the worshipers of the beast have rejected the sweet water of truth and spilled the blood of those who love it instead, so their access to the fresh water which symbolizes that truth has now been taken away and replaced with undrinkable blood. A word should be said here about the justice of God.
Despite what might seem to be terrible and unthinkable judgments falling upon countless people the world around, the third angel is given here to sing a hymn praising God precisely for the justice of what He is doing in holding the world to account for its evil in following and worshiping the beast and thus facilitating the massive persecution of the true Church, believers in Jesus Christ. Indeed, in verse six, it is “the inhabitants of the earth” who are charged with spilling the blood the “saints and prophets”.
Even though the moral ambiguity which reigns in our day would no doubt find great fault in the destruction of all sea-life, the pollution of all fresh water, and the severe smiting of so many people with painful sores, God is completely “justified in rendering these judgments”. They are pure, and good, and righteous according to the angel’s hymn, and this evaluation is seconded by none other than the Son of Man Himself who died on behalf of all mankind on the altar of the cross (a sacrifice now memorialized by the heavenly altar of incense represented here), our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “Yes, [O] Lord, God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”