The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Revelation 16

Rev 16:1

Striking similarities between the trumpets and the vials:
  1. Men tormented... a sore on men.
  2. Burning mtn falls into sea... sea turned to blood.
  3. Great star falls on rivers/wormwood... rivers turned to blood.
  4. Sun, moon, stars are smitten... sun scorches men with fire.
  5. Darkness, smoke from abyss... Beast's kingdom full of darkness.
  6. A great host is released at Euphrates... a great host is released at Euphrates.
  7. "Your wrath is come"/lightnings, voices, thunders, quakes, hail... "the wrath of God", quakes, hail.
Trumpets = expressions of God's judgments on Israel. Vials = expressions of God's judgments on the persecutors of Israel (WRev 187).

Similarities between the bowls and the plagues of Egypt: (1) A grievous sore = boils. (2) The sea as the blood of a dead man = the destruction of Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea. (3) Rivers and fountains become blood = waters turned to blood. (4) Sun scorches men with fire = the Shekinah Glory bringing destruction on the Egyptians. (5) Darkness in both. (6) Unclean spirits like frogs = the plague of frogs. (7) Hail, with fire: A great hail out of heaven; thunders, lightnings, "and the fire ran along the ground" (Exo 9:23).

The effect: they repented not (vv 9,11), they blasphemed God (vv 9,11,21). The effect: Pharaoh hardened his heart: "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?"

This suggests the pouring of sacrificial blood at the base of the altar. This was done with the blood of the burnt-offering. This figure is also used for the self-consecration and martyrdom of God's witnesses (Rev 6:9-11).

Rev 16:2

UGLY AND PAINFUL SORES: Cp affliction of Philistines -- who had ark in their midst (1Sa 5:9; Zec 14:12).

First bowl (CH): "This chapter outlines by symbol the importance of the international events that followed the French revolution, and which have played a part in the development of current events that are leading to Armageddon... Foreign armies massed on the borders of France, forcing the revolutionaries to take up weapons against their enemies. The most successful French general was Napoleon. Despite revolution within and attacks without, his military skill resulted in outstanding victories throughout Europe. Within the borders of this Roman territory Napoleon gained his victories, particularly against those countries 'which had the mark of the beast, or worshipped his image', ie Roman Catholics. He invaded Catholic countries and wrought devastation wherever he went" (ApEp).

Rev 16:3

SEA... BLOOD: Pharaoh's army in Red Sea.

Second bowl: (CH) "As the conquests of Napoleon and of France extended throughout Europe, Great Britain took up the challenge. The French were no match for the British on the seas, and Europe was blockaded by the Fleet. The victories of Hood, Howe, and Nelson, from 1793 onwards, established the supremacy of the British Navy, and Napoleon found himself shut up in Europe. The circulation of sea-traffic stagnated as the British blockaded the seas against Napoleon-dominated Europe" (ApEp).

Rev 16:4

RIVERS... OF BLOOD: Nile turned to blood.

" 'Rivers and fountains of water' is a phrase which points, as it did there, to the Land of Palestine (cp Ezek 6:3, and also Rev 7:17, where the type of a wilderness journey requires that 'fountains of water' be associated with the Land of Promise).

So also Isa 30:25. The prophecy speaks of a time when 'the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; thou shalt weep no more: he shall be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry... in the day when the Lord bindeth up the hurt of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound (ct here the First Vial).' Embedded in this picture of future blessing: 'there shall be upon every high mountain, and upon every high hill, rivers and streams of waters in the day of the great slaughter when the towers fall.' Since the context speaks of such abundant blessing on Israel, this must surely be the obverse side of the picture -- judgement on Israel's enemies. For them the conquest of the Land of Promise is to mean not 'living fountains of waters' but the drinking of their own blood, ie self-destruction by some of the foul diabolical means in which the scientific staff of every 'great' nation specializes in these days. This idea of the punishment of the nations by their own fiendish weapons is to be found over and over again in the prophets: Hag 2:22; Zec 14:13; Ezek 38:21. It is implicit in the phrase: 'as in the day of Midian': Isa 9:4; Jdg 7:22. It is enacted in type also: 2Ch 20:23; Joel 3:12. It is not made clear how this tumult that is to be among them from the Lord will come about, but they who have found pleasure in the death of saints and prophets will now turn with equal zeal and efficiency to the destroying of their fellows" (WRev).

FOUNTAINS: Nuclear, chemical, and/or biological pollution of water sources?

(CH): Third bowl: " 'The rivers and fountains of waters' = the Alpine districts of southern Europe. By 1796 Napoleon was acknowledged as the saviour of France, and wielded tremendous influence. He invaded Italy, and though opposed by an Austrian army in the Alpine district, he decisively defeated it, and pressed on. His object was to open a highway from France to Italy via Sardinia. The Papal States trembled before his power and sued for peace. It was granted to them on ignominious terms. Austria (then the most powerful nation of Central Europe) and Russia combined against Napoleon, but their joint army was soundly beaten. By these means the Alpine districts 'became as blood' " (ApEp).

Rev 16:6

BLOOD TO DRINK: Their own blood (Isa 49:26)!

Rev 16:8

Vv 8,9: "The Fourth Vial describes the sun scorching men with great heat so that they blaspheme God because of the plague. Apt as this may be to Napoleon taking the horrors of war far and wide, it is still just as appropriate to the evil ambitions of any other power-hungry dictator. The Napoleonic wars were no more efficient than (say) World Wars I and II in their encouragement of atheism and blasphemy. If anything, the reverse was true. For in many parts of Europe the Napoleonic wars were followed by the biggest revival of religion the world has ever known, with the possible (if doubtful) exception of the Reformation. This Vial, then, must surely describe something so sensationally different and horrible as to provoke an inevitable reaction of blasphemy against the God of heaven. The precise form of fulfilment -- still further -- is largely a matter of guesswork.

"In these days of feverish scientific research it may well prove that either nuclear flash-burn or advances in laser-beam technique or the diabolical harnessing of specially orbited satellites or devices for concentrating the fierce heat of the sun in some horribly destructive way will bring a fulfilment of this Vial prophecy which it was beyond the power of an earlier generation even to imagine" (WRev).

Fourth bowl: (CH) "War engulfed Europe. On May 18, 1804, Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor of France. The following year Austria, Russia and England declared war on the French. Taking the initiative, Napoleon marched against Austria, and on Dec 2, 1805, decisively defeated the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz. In 1806, the Holy Roman Empire (over which the Emperor of Austria exercised civil authority) was dissolved, and replaced by the German Federation comprising the powers of Central Europe.

"Prussia entered the lists against Napoleon and was defeated at Jena on Oct 13, 1806. Russia, honoring its obligations, also marched against Napoleon, but was also defeated and turned back. Everywhere the French were victorious, notwithstanding the forces mobilised by Austria. Men were scorched by the great heat of war thus generated" (ApEp).

Rev 16:9

PLAGUES: See Lesson, Plague, pestilence, and disease in the Last Days.

Rev 16:10

Vv 10,11: Cp Mar 13:24; Joel 2:2,10,31; 3:15; Zec 14:6,7; Zep 1:14,15; Amo 8:9; Isa 13:9,10.

"Here is a darkness, which brings pains and sores on a blaspheming multitude. Is this some 'back-room' device which has not been let loose yet? Or is it the portentous effect of a Velikovskian comet? There are other Scriptures, which lead the Lord's watchmen to look for a day of unnatural darkness. 'The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light' (Mark 13:24). 'A day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness' (Joel 2:2; and in three other places: Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15). 'And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark; but it shall be one day that shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night; but it shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light' (Zec 14:6,7). Other similar prophecies are Zep 1:14,15; Amos 8:9; Isa 13:9,10; 5:30.

"This is understandable enough in itself, since for comparison there is the period of intense darkness at the crucifixion of Jesus. Then, as in the plagues on Egypt, darkness was an expression of heaven's anger. The point hardly needs to be underlined here! (cp Rev 15:7). The darkness of the Fifth Vial brings 'pains and sores', but no repentance. Perhaps there is connection here with a mysterious passage in Zechariah which has commonly been explained with reference to nuclear warfare: 'Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongues shall consume away in their mouth' (Zec 14:12). Revelation says: 'they gnawed their tongues for pain' (Rev 16:10).

"But if Biblical resemblances go for anything, there is a more particular application for this vial. For the only place where Scripture has similar phraseology is in the parable of the sower!: 'Some fell upon stony places where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth. And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.' Jesus interprets thus: 'The same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he (it, the word?) no root in himself, but endureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended' " (WRev).

Fifth bowl: (CH) "The civil and religious authority of the beast was vested in the Emperor of Austria and the Pope of Rome, respectively. This joint authority was temporarily brought to an end by Napoleon, and the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved. Pope Pius VI had supported England against Napoleon, and in retaliation, Napoleon had seized the 3 Papal States of Italy. The Pope protested and proclaimed an edict of excommunication against the French.

"Napoleon invaded Italy, and in 1798 arrested the Pope, and took him prisoner to France.

"Then commenced a period of persecution against the Church. Its territorial possessions and monastaries were confiscated, the sacerdotal vestments of the Pope and his Cardinals were burnt, the Papal Palace was pillaged.

"A new Pope was elected in 1800. On May10, 1809, having brought the Austrian army to almost ruin, a triumphant Napoleon again entered Vienna, and Pope Pius VII submitted and crowned Napoleon King of Italy -– but afterwards excommunicated him.

"He, was also arrested by Napoleon, and taken prisoner to Savona in 1809. The Temporal Power of the Papacy was abolished. Later the Pope removed to Fontainbleu.

"Meanwhile, Napoleon invaded Russia where he had experienced severe reverses. He had exceeded the commission Apocalyptically given him, which was to torment Catholic Europe. So long as he did this he experienced successes, but in invading Russia, he went beyond the limits of this, and sustained an overwhelming defeat.

"With his army sadly reduced in Num, Napoleon was attacked by a confederacy of nations including Britain, and decisively defeated in 1814. He was banished to isolation, and with this imprisonment his power was brought to an end.

"Meanwhile, the Pope was restored to Rome by Protestant Powers who desired to see political stability in Europe once again. One Historian wrote: 'Catholicity having deserted him (the Pope) four heretical kings (those of Russia, Prussia, England and Sweden) bore the Pope back to Rome' " (ApEp).

Rev 16:11

"A parody of the Day of Atonement for those who worship the Beast instead of God" (WRev 198).

Rev 16:12

The symbology of this section of the prophecy is based upon the historical overthrow of Babylon by the Medes and Persians under Cyrus the Great. They converged on the city, and diverted the course of the river Euphrates which flowed underneath its walls. Confident that the city could withstand any attack the people were taken off guard and were, in fact, engaged in revelry ad feasting as the enemy secretly invaded it along the dry watercourse (Dan 5).

EUPHRATES... WATER DRIED UP: See Lesson, Euphrates, drying up.

KINGS FROM THE EAST: Jews, held in Russia and north country, Egypt and Assyria, but delivered from captivity when the Euphrates is dried up (ie Isa 11:15,16).

Vv 12-14: Sixth bowl (CH): "The 6th Trumpet saw the inundation of the Euphratian flood over the Middle-East (Rev 9:13-14); the 6th vial witnesses its evaporation.

"The great river Euphrates" = the Turkish Empire (cp Rev 9:13-14). The Euphrates is the principal river of Turkey, as the Nile is that of Egypt, or the Thames that of England.

"The 6th vial commenced in 1820-1823. This was 1,290 years after the decree of Justinian in 533 that helped so much to consolidate the power of Babylon the Great (see Dan 12:11).

"At the height of its power, the Turkish Empire extended deep into Europe, occupied part of southern Russia, dominated the whole of the Middle East, including Egypt and Arabia, and extended as far as North Africa.

"But gradually the Empire 'dried up', nation after nation revolted and gained its independence.

"In 1820, Greece rebelled against its Turkish overlords, and in 1827, through the intervention of England, France, and Russia, it gained its independence. This revolt sparked off a series of events which gradually reduced the scope and influence of the Turkish Empire.

"In 1826, the Janisaries (professional Turkish soldiers) were massacred in an effort to reform the army. In 1828, Turkey antagonised Russia who annexed Wallachia and Moldavia, and assisted Serbia to gain her independence. In 1829, France occupied Algiers in Africa which was until then under Turkish power.

"In 1832 Egypt revolted, but the revolt was crushed by the intervention of Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia. In 1842 Algiers was annexed by France. In 1853 the Crimean war commenced. In 1881 France annexed Tunisia. In 1882 Britain occupied Egypt. In 1897 the Graeco-Turkish war broke out. In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Bulgaria claimed her independence. In 1911 Italy occupied Tripoli. In 1912-1913 the Balkan war commenced, which reduced the possessions of Turkey in Europe to a limited zone around Constantinople and Adrianople.

"In 1914-18 the Great War was fought in which Turkey unexpectedly sided with the Central Powers, and lost Arabia, Palestine, Syria, etc. and had her European territory further reduced to Constantinople.

"As a result of this the doors of Palestine swung open to receive Jews, and the return of the exiles commenced.

"Thus, slowly but surely, the once mighty Turkish Empire has been dried up until now but a comparatively small stream flows. The final and complete evaporation will take place when Russia moves south against Turkey as is predicted in Dan 11:40. The Euphratean flood will then be completely dried up and Russia will occupy Constantinople" (ApEp).

Rev 16:13

THREE EVIL SPIRITS THAT LOOKED LIKE FROGS: "The French used 2 heraldic symbols: 3 Frogs and 3 Lilies. The 3 frogs constituted the heraldic symbol of the French people as distinct from the 3 lilies, which were used to represent the Bourbon rulers of France. The Bourbons adopted the symbol of the 3 lilies over 3 frogs to indicate their power over the people.

"Pharamond, who reigned in Treves in 420, adopted the symbol of 3 frogs on his shield; Childeric, king of the Franks, who reigned in 456, struck a medal with the frog as his symbol; the Banner of Clovis (son of Childeric and first 'Christian' king of France -- 466-511) used the symbol of 3 frogs as representing the army of France (Tapestry in the Cathedral of Rheims).

"The Franks originated from the marshy lands of Westphalia, so that the symbol of 'frogs' is appropriate to the origin of the people. 'Spirits like frogs' relate, however, to the doctrine that emerged from the French people, rather than the people themselves, for 'spirit' is sometimes used for teaching (1Jo 4:1-3).

"The French Revolution gave opportunity for the French people to manifest their teaching peculiar to them.

"Stemming from it, revolutionary ideas swept Europe, and gave birth to the Communism of Karl Marx. 'Spirits like frogs' is an apt symbol for Communism, for the noisy frog can well be likened to that type of vain loquacious talker and agitator who fills the air with his croaking, deluding and seducing the minds of men.

"France, like the revolutionary communistic doctrine it helped to bring to birth, has been a disturbing factor in European politics during the last 160 years. The '3 unclean spirits like frogs' thus denotes the doctrine of Communism which is described in the successive verses of this chapter as being a disruptive influence in European politics.

"The Dragon is emblematic of the Roman Empire (Rev 12) with its headquarters in Constantinople. The time is coming when Russia will occupy Constantinople (Dan 11:40). From it there shall then issue forth proclamations that will play a part in the development of the war described in v 14.

"The 'beast of the earth' of Rev 13:11 is symbolic of the Holy Roman Empire. This was Germanic in character, so that today, its 'mouth' can be said to be in Berlin...

" 'The mouth of the false prophet' = Rome. Scripture indicates that some alliance between Catholicism and Communism can be expected. This will be followed by a 'frog-like spirit' leading to war, emerging from the headquarters of the Church" (ApEp).

Rev 16:15

Jewish law: Men of temple guard, if they fell asleep on duty, were stripped of clothing, beaten, and sent home naked thru streets.

BEHOLD, I COME LIKE A THIEF!: The words seem to be decisive that the Vials, like the Thunders (Rev 14:13,14), belong to the time of the return of Christ. There are several indications, which will be mentioned as the exposition proceeds, that these just judgments will, in the main, be located in the Land of Palestine. Yet they are being poured out on the enemies of God, who have overrun and pour out the vials of the wrath of God 'upon the Land' (v 1). Several Scriptures use remarkably similar language, and help to fix the application of this prophecy.

These seven angels are readily equated with the deliverers of Israel foretold in Mic 5:5: 'And this man (the Messiah) shall be our peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our Land: and when he shall tread in our palaces then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men.' Here, instead of saying 7 + 8 =15, it is more in accordance with Bible idiom to say 7 + 1 = 8, the Messiah and his seven archangels.

Christ is portrayed often -- he even portrays himself -- as a "thief" in the NT, in connection with his Second Coming (Mat 24:42-44; Luk 12:39,40; 1Th 5:2,4,6; 2Pe 3:10; Rev 3:3; 16:15). This may seem extraordinary, since stealing is a sin, and a "thief" therefore must be a sinner -- and how could Christ be a sinner? (A similar question might be asked: how could Christ compare himself to a serpent: John 3:14; Num 21:7-9? But that's another story!) However, there is one instance when a "thief" is not committing a crime, and that is when he is simply reclaiming (by stealth or surprise) what is rightfully his (cp David and his men, who followed the Amalekites and retrieved their kidnapped families and stolen goods: 1Sa 30!). And that seems to be exactly the point in these NT instances also: Christ when he returns will be merely taking back what is rightfully his! The true "thieves" will be seen to be those servants who ate his bread and drank his wine and enjoyed themselves in leisurely consuming that which belonged to their Master (see the parable in Mat 24:48-51 and Luk 12:45-47). Their mistake -- and it was a crucial one -- was in forgetting they were mere stewards or caretakers, and instead supposing that all their Master's properties belonged to them, and acting accordingly! So, if we are to be sure that Christ does not come as a "thief" to us, we must not act as "thieves" ourselves now, stealing from him what is rightfully his. We must remember that all we possess really belongs to the One who is our true Lord and Master; that we merely hold it all in trust, to be used to serve him.

Rev 16:16

ARMAGEDDON: "Armageddon" probably signifies 'the mountain of Megiddo". But other related passages -- many of them (eg, Joel 3; Zec 12; 14; Eze 25; 36; Oba; Rev 11) -- point to Jerusalem (about 70 miles south) as the site of the last great battle. The (probable) parallel account in Joel 3 records the battle of "the day of the LORD" as occurring in the "valley of Decision", which Joel 3:2 says is the Valley of Jehoshaphat, just outside Jerusalem.

So will the last great battle be at Megiddo, or Jerusalem? Is this a discrepancy? Or will there be two separate battles? Or is there another explanation? Notice that this verse states only that the kings (who will fight in the great battle described in Rev 16) will be assembled at Megiddo. This accords well with the strategic importance of the Plain of Jezreel, where Megiddo is situated. The order of battle of a large army coming from the north -- or from the east or west, for that matter -- can be organized in detail in this area. From Jezreel a force can advance by any one of three main routes: (1) through the pass at Megiddo to the coast, (2) directly south across the central range, or (3) through Bethshean south down the Jordan Valley. Or it can launch three simultaneous attacks from different directions.

"The most significant passage in Bible prophecy where this place is mentioned is in the LXX of Isa 10:28, where the progress of the great Invader of the Last Days (foreshadowed by Sennacherib's Assyrian invasion) is detailed: 'He cometh to Aiath; he is passed through Megiddo.' The context is suggestive: 'And the Lord of hosts shall stir up a scourge for him according to the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb' (v 26). The allusion is to Gideon's rout of Arab invaders near Megiddo. That the Sixth Vial has to do with invasion of Israel has always been clearly recognized" (WRev).

Rev 16:17

INTO THE AIR: "In the past generation much has been made of the relevance of this phrase to the horrific development of aerial and rocket warfare in recent years. This has a high degree of appropriateness to the context: 'the cities of the nations fell.. and there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent.' Even the language of v 20 is closely relevant to this theme, for whilst islands and mountains have not literally 'fled away', it is palpably true that oceans are no longer barriers to travel or to the transportation of armies, neither do mountain ranges provide the protection from invasion which once made them a great defensive asset.

"There is, perhaps, a further implication. In a somewhat obscure passage (Eph 2:2) the apostle Paul refers to 'the prince of the power of the air', in a context which stresses the depravity of mankind. In many places in Greek literature the word 'air' is used in the sense of 'gloom'. This particular association of ideas is encouraged by the parallel passage in the twin epistle: 'the power of darkness' (Col 1:13).

"Perhaps, then, the Seventh Vial is introduced thus because it represents a climax of judgement against all the powers of evil. The 'It is done' is spoken even before these titanic events take place. The mere fact that this angel of judgement has symbolically poured out his Vial, like blood at the base of the altar, means the inevitability of these grim events. There will be no Abraham to intercede on behalf of this godless civilization which has long ago written its own indictment in the books of God" (WRev).

Rev 16:18

A SEVERE EARTHQUAKE: Earthquakes accompany awesome manifestations of God: Exo 19:18; Jdg 5:4; Psa 77:18; 114:4; Isa 2:10-22; Jer 4:24; Eze 38:20; Joe 3:16; Amo 9:1,5; Zec 14:4; Rev 6:12; 11:19; 16:18.

See Lesson, Earthquakes.

Rev 16:19

THREE PARTS: An OT image of Jerusalem's judgment (Eze 5:2,12; cp Jer 15:2). Jerusalem divided into three opposing camps by internal strife -- John, Simon and Eleazar (Joss Wars 5.1.1,4).

Rev 16:20

Island or mountain fortresses (like England or Switzerland) no longer afford any protection from aerial warfare.

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