In recent years, several news reports of water turning a blood-red color have appeared. A canal in Nootdorp, the Netherlands; Bondi Beach in Australia; the Beirut River in Lebanon; a river in Zhejiang Province, China; rainfall in Sewanagala, Sri Lanka—all reported blood-red by reliable news outlets. These stories have had many people wondering: is this a fulfillment of end-times prophecy? Is the water turning to blood?
The water-to-blood prophecies are found in the book of Revelation. The second trumpet judgment will bring a great calamity upon the earth: “The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed” (Revelation 8:8–9).
In Revelation 16:3, during the second half of the tribulation, God will indeed turn the waters of the sea to blood: “The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.” Then in verses 4–6 God does the same to the world’s fresh water supply: “The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: ‘You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were; for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.’”
We also see that God’s two special witnesses during the tribulation will be empowered to perform miracles: “They have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want” (Revelation 11:6). The two end-times prophets will have the same ability as Moses, who turned the Nile River to blood (Exodus 7:20).
Modern reports of water turning bloody red do not match up with the end-times prophecies of Revelation. For one thing, the tribulation has not started yet. For another, the sea turning to blood at the third trumpet judgment is preceded by trumpets one and two—the first will involve hail and fire and blood raining down on the earth, and the second will cause a third of the trees and all of the grass to be burned. None of that has happened yet. And the bowl judgments that turn the sea and fresh water to blood are later still.
So, the red rain in Sri Lanka and the red river in Lebanon are not fulfillments of Revelation. The seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments described in that book will be much worse than anything that is happening today (see Matthew 24:21). If these recent events are not signs of the apocalypse, then what are they? There are three possible reasons for why water turns blood red. The first is natural, the second is man-caused, and the third is supernatural.
Blood-red water attributed to natural causes. When a body of water suddenly turns blood-red, it is often the result of a rare natural phenomenon called an algal bloom or a red tide. An algal bloom occurs when conditions are just right for colonies of algae to grow out of control. In high concentrations, the algae’s pigmentation discolors the water. Algal blooms can happen in fresh water and in salt water. The red water reported in Nootdorp, the Netherlands, has been attributed to these natural causes.
Blood-red water attributed to man-made causes. Sometimes, bodies of water are discolored due to man-made substances released into the water. The red color of the river in Zhejiang Province, China, was determined to be due to an illegal dumping of red dye. The report of the Beirut River in Lebanon turning red resulted in a government investigation. The cause was traced back to a factory releasing a chemical into the river.
Blood-red water attributed to supernatural causes. We know that, in the past, God has caused water to turn to blood: “[Moses] raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt” (Exodus 7:20–21).
The description of this plague in the Bible indicates a truly supernatural event. The general understanding is that, when Moses’ rod struck the river, the change from water to blood took place immediately. And all the water in Egypt was affected: “streams and canals . . . the ponds and all the reservoirs . . . even in vessels of wood and stone” (Exodus 7:19). An algal bloom or a poured chemical would not have affected the whole water supply—cisterns, rain barrels, and everything.
Also, the biblical account of the plague in Egypt suggests the water was turned into actual blood. Nothing is said in Exodus about the water having only the “appearance” of blood; it simply says, “Blood was everywhere” (Exodus 7:21). The same holds true for the prophecies in Revelation. The description is of “blood,” accompanied by massive fish kills and the destruction of entire fleets of ships.
Among all the modern reports of water changing to a blood-red color, none report the presence of actual blood. Instead, the news stories indicate the water was changed either by natural means (by bacteria or algae) or by men dumping chemicals into the water. In no instance is the water turned to actual blood. We are not living in the tribulation.