Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 32 - The Vials 1-5 (16:1-11)

Just as the Seventh Seal opens the way for the Seven Trumpets, so the Seventh Thunder - “a great voice out of the temple” (16:1) - gives the angels of the Seven Vials their commission.

A Biblical exposition of the Seven Vials is extremely difficult, partly because their final fulfilment appears to be still in the future and partly because of the complexity of the Old Testament allusions in this chapter. However, certain features stand out fairly clearly.

Revelation 15 describes seven angels having committed to them seven bowls, the contents of which are to be poured out in the temple. The contents of the bowls are not described, but instead are immediately interpreted: “the wrath of God”. The word used here is that which signifies hot anger, fierce indignation.

What part of the temple procedure is represented here? There would seem to be three possibilities:

1. The formal ceremony of water pouring at the base of the altar of burnt offering on the “great day” of the Feast of Tabernacles John 7:37). It is the end of the rota of feasts and observances prescribed in the Law of Moses, and thus could foreshadow the climax of the great redeeming work of Christ.

2. The pouring of sacrificial blood at the base of the altar. This was done with the blood of the burnt-offering. Revelation uses this figure for the self-consecration and martyrdom of God’s witnesses (6:9-11). But at the time of the Vials will not such trying experiences be past? The drink offerings of wine appear to have had a similar meaning.

3. These Vials are not poured out in the Sanctuary. So perhaps the meaning of the symbolism should be sought elsewhere. In the Sixth Thunder there is a “treading of the great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:18-20). The drinking of “the cup of the wine of the fierceness of God’s wrath” (16:19) confirms this. In the Vials, then, there is a wrath of God overflowing upon the various objects of His indignation.


Chapter 15 concludes with the words: “and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled.” Since the “temple” here is the inner sanctuary, the words appear to mean that the Vials, all seven of them, are to have their fulfilment before the saints are made immortal.

The words: “Behold, I come as a thief” (16:15) seem to be decisive that the Vials, like the Thunders (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 judgements 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 Micah 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.

Again, Daniel’s “Seventy Weeks” prophecy concludes with this description of the final half-“week”: “and upon the wing of abominations desolation, and until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolator” (9:27). It is another Old Testament anticipation of the Seven Vials.

Earlier, in the study of the Two Witnesses, it was shewn that there was close connection with Psalm 79, a prophecy of the tribulation of Israel in the Last Days. That psalm concludes with the words: “Pour out thy wrath upon the nations that have not known thee ... for they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling-place ... And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord” (79:6, 7, 12).

In this connection the similarities between the Trumpets and Vials are very striking and also important:


Men tormented.
A sore on men.

A burning mountain falls into the sea.
Sea turned to blood.

A great star falls on rivers and fountains of water; waters turned to wormwood.
Rivers and fountains of water turned to blood.

Sun, moon, and stars smitten.
The sun scorches men with fire.

Darkness. Smoke from the abyss.
The Beast’s kingdom full of darkness.

A great host released at the
A great host released at the Euphrates. Euphrates.

“Thy wrath is come.” Lightnings, voices, thunders, earthquakes, great hail.
“The wrath of God.” Earthquake, great hail.

The Trumpets were seen to be the expression of God’s judgements on Israel. Now the same retributions are poured out on those who have ravaged Israel, and for very good reason: it is a rendering unto them of the reproach wherewith they have reproached the Almighty (compare Zechariah 1:15). This suggests that the final persecution of Israel during the 3½ years will be intended also as religious war - Jihad - a defiance of the God of Israel to whom the Jews will turn (as Psalms 79 and 83 clearly shew) in their extremity.

It will be recalled that the Trumpets are characterized by the frequent repetition of the phrase “one third of ...” or “the third part of ...” (explanation for this was offered in Chapter 18). Here in the Vials there is nothing to correspond to this, with the possible exception of verse 19: “the great city was divided into three parts”. But even here it is evident that all three parts are involved in judgement (see Revelation 18 and Chapter 34).

Also - with what appropriateness! - this punishment of Gentile oppressors is to take place primarily in the Land itself where the Gentiles will have wrought such havoc among God’s people and on the place made holy by patriarchs, prophets and His Son.

There are certain resemblances to the Seven Thunders, which reinforce these conclusions:

“Seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God” (15:7) follows on as naturally as can be from the mention of “the great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19).

Mention of “great Babylon” under judgement comes in both series: 14:8; 16:19.

There is pointed warning in both of the second coming of the Lord in judgement: 14:13, 14; 16:15.

There is no suggestion that the Vials form a sequence or that their fulfilments follow in chronological order. It was seen earlier that Seals and Trumpets in their primary application were simply different aspects of the divine judgements falling on Israel, and the same seems to be true of the Vials in the Last Days, except that now it is the enemies of Israel who suffer the vengeance and wrath of Almighty God.

All the Biblical indications point to a fulfilment of the Vials in the Land of Palestine. The words of the Seventh Trumpet also serve to prepare the way for these Vials of wrath: “the nations were angry (with Israel?) and (therefore) thy wrath is come (in Thunders and Vials) ... to destroy them which destroy the Land” (11:18). The copious evidence for this will be catalogued by and by. But first it is necessary to sketch in outline the probable order of development of events with regard to the Jews in the Time of the End.


It is usually assumed that the war in Israel, which will herald the return of the Lord, will be the focus of a titanic struggle there between Russia and the Communistic bloc in the north and America and Britain holding the south. But this picture ignores altogether certain important facts.[58]

The Gog-Magog invasion of Ezekiel takes place after the coming of the Lord. The use of “dwelling securely” (Ezekiel 38: 8, 14; 34:28, 24, 25; Zechariah 14:11) would appear to be decisive on this point (but see also “The Time of the End” Ch. 18). As long as the state of Israel is ringed by hostile Arab states these words are a mockery of Israel’s condition.

There are many latter-day prophecies which give the Arab nations a superiority over Israel for which most prophetic interpretations make little or no allowance. For example, Psalm 83: 1-8 has a catalogue of Arab nations determined to cut off Israel from being a nation. Here “Asshur” may possible represent Russia in the background, supplying the sinews of war, but otherwise there is no sign of an irresistible colossus overwhelming the Jews. Ezekiel 35:10 pictures the Arabs - “mount Seir” - rejoicing that “these two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will possess it; whereas the Lord was there”. In Ezekiel 36:2, Edom (v. 5) gloats: “Aha, even the ancient high places (the Temple area) are ours in possession”. Zechariah 14:2 foretells the capture of Jerusalem: “The city shall be taken ... half the city (i.e. half the population of the city) shall go forth into captivity’& (Deuteronomy 28:68). Jeremiah 31 has a long series of allusions to the return of Jacob and his family from Haran back to the Land, only to face the superior power of Esau (see v. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 19, 21), but all this is reiterated as a picture of the restoration of Israel in the Last Days (v. 12-14, 23-28). The old rivalry between Esau and Jacob is to find full expression once again in the Time of the End. Jacob tried to re-establish himself in the Land through his own efforts and cunning, but found that he was pitting his inadequate strength against an angel of the Lord. But when, instead, he turned to the power of prayer, he found to his astonishment that the hostility of Esau had evaporated. In “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7; same word in Genesis 32:7) the salvation of Israel will be in repentance, and in no other way. They will not see their Messiah until they say: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” And they will only be brought to this point of contrition and dependence upon God when the State they have so laboriously carved out with their own hands crashes into hopeless ruin before the Arabs (of all people!), and Elijah the prophet appears, teaching them the true story of salvation (Malachi 4:4, 5). It is suggested, then, that a re-invigorated Arab League, well equipped with Russian tanks, planes, rockets and technicians, will one day win a massive and blood-thirsty victory over the new State of Israel, which at present holds them in contempt. Further, it seems likely that the 1260 days (= 42 months = 3½ years = the unused half-week of Daniel’s 70 weeks) will be the literal period of occupation of Israel by Arab and Russia, the West being too timid or too slow with its reaction against this aggression.


There are two Scriptures of outstanding interest and power on this exciting development of the purpose of God. One is Revelation 11, where - according to the strong Bible evidence available - the Two Witnesses represent Israel in the Land, overcome by the Beast, so that their dead bodies (the “corpse” of national Israel) lies exposed for 3½ days (the “half-week” of the paragraph before this). The earlier exposition of Revelation 11 will have prepared the reader for this crisis in the Middle East.

The other Scripture is Psalm 79 - a lament of Israel when the nation is brought “very low”. The description is very telling. The invaders “have laid Jerusalem on heaps the dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven (hence the appropriate retribution of Revelation 19:17, 18), the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth(the false prophet of Revelation which is also the beast of the earth; l3:11). Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem (cp. the second vial - ‘the blood of a dead man’; the blood of the dead Jesus was ‘like water’; John 19:34); and there was none to bury them. We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us (cp. Revelation 11:10). How long, O Lord? wilt thou be angry for ever? (It is the appeal, at last, of the importunate widow of Israel in the day when the Son of man cometh: ‘Avenge me of mine adversaries’), shall thy jealousy burn like fire? Pour out thy wrath (in all seven vials) upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name. For they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling place. O remember not against us the iniquities of our forefathers (repentance in Israel at last! and in the words that follow): let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low (see Deuteronomy 28:43) ... Render unto our neighbours (the Arabs are Israel’s neighbours) sevenfold[59] unto their bosom (the seven vials) their reproach wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord (this word ‘reproach’ is the same as Revelation 16:11, 21: ‘blaspheme’). So we will give thee thanks for ever: we will praise thy name to all generations (Israel’s true vocation- Psalm 78:4-realized at last).”


A careful examination of Revelation 16 and related Scriptures reveals that a political and religious crisis such as this is the background to the Seven Vials. The evidence all through is entirely Biblical. From the very nature of the case, historical confirmation is not available, since these powerful events still lie in the future. Any historical application of the Vials - prophecies of what are already historical events - can be only in the nature of a primary fulfilment. The full realization of the Vials is yet to come, as will be even more strongly emphasized by the Biblical evidence listed below:

Verse 1 says that all Seven Vials are poured out “upon the Land.” This alternative reading is one, which has already been encountered many times in this study. Again the reader is reminded that the O.T. word eretz means earth or Land; the Septuagint Version and the New Testament took over this double usage for the Greek word ge. Here, clearly, verse 1 means that the Vials of judgement concern the Land of Israel, even though they are poured out upon the sun, the throne of the beast, the air, etc.

It has often been noticed that the Vials have a number of similarities to the plagues of Egypt. Thus:

Plagues of Egypt

A grievous sore.

The sea as the blood of a dead man.
The destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.

Rivers and fountains become blood.
Waters turned to blood.

Sun scorches men with fire.
The Shekinah Glory bringing destruction on the Egyptians?


Unclean spirits like frogs.

Hail, with fire.
A great hail out of heaven; thunders, lightnings, “and the fire ran along the ground” (Exodus 9:23).

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

These similarities are readily explained. Just as the plagues were the divine prelude of wrath before a wondrous deliverance of the Chosen People, so in the days to come there will be a great outpouring of wrath at the very time Israel are saved from their enemies.

Perhaps also this “noisome and grievous sore” of the First Vial is to be equated with the “botch of Egypt” which God promised to bring on unworthy Israel (Deuteronomy 28:27).

The normal conclusion to reach from facts of this kind is that the Vials are judgements on Egypt like the original ten plagues, but this is ruled out by the geographical indications scattered throughout the chapter (e.g. v. 1 just considered). The only alternative seems to be that as Egypt was the great enemy and oppressor of Israel in the earliest days of the nation, so again in the end of the age similar plagues are to be brought upon those who are the last tyrants of the Chosen race: “As in the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things” (Micah 7:15). And the Song of Moses is also the Song of the Lamb.

The Third Vial is poured on “the rivers and fountains of waters”. There are areas corresponding to this description to be found in nearly every part of the world. It is very necessary to enquire what is the Bi16lical identification. The Bible evidence available (see Chapter 18) identifies the land of Israel.

Verse 6: “For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets and thou hast given them blood (i.e. their own blood) to drink.” There is an undeniable connection here with Isaiah 49:26: “And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine”. The context shews that this is the God-sent salvation of Israel in the Last Days.

Similarly, v. 19 leads to identification with the land of Israel: “great Babylon ... to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath”. This is very like Jeremiah 25:15, 16, the shattering judgement on the nations which is to begin at Jerusalem (v. 18) and include all the nations round about. But the words also have pointed connection with Isaiah 51:17, 22, 23: “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury ... Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury: thou shalt no more drink it again: but I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee ...” This Scripture does not identify the location of the judgement, but it does make plain the reason for it - unremitting hostility to Israel. And since the great climax of human affairs is to be in “Immanuel’s land,” there is strong implicit suggestion that this Sixth Vial concerns Palestine.

Verse 16 has the familiar mention of Armageddon. The most significant passage in Bible prophecy where this place is mentioned is in the Septuagint Version of Isaiah 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 witl1 invasion of Israel has always been clearly recognized. Should not this also be regarded as strong presumptive evidence that the other vials have a similar reference?

Verse 12: “the water (of Euphrates) was dried up that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.” Whatever primary application these words might have in past history, their yet future fulfilment concerns Arabs who are referred to over and over again in Scripture as “the children of the east”; e.g. Judges 6:3; 1 Kings 4:30; Job 1:3; Jeremiah 49:28. This symbolism is parallel with that of ch. 9:14, which describes a great invading army, held back by the Euphrates River. The phrase “kings of the east” suggests a time when the Arab tribes are no longer an incoherent undisciplined rabble, as they have been throughout nearly all their history, but an organization of kingdoms able to make their power felt in international politics.


Such an accumulation of evidence pointing to a local reference of the Vials to the Land of Israel is hardly to be ignored, especially since this is not history-book evidence but Biblical evidence, compiled by the most dependable of all methods of interpretation, that of comparing Scripture with Scripture.

But whilst the general scope of the vials of wrath is plainly discernible, it becomes one of the trickiest problems of interpretation of the Book of Revelation to assess the meaning of the symbolic details, which pile up as one vial follows another. Whereas there is fair confidence concerning the conclusions advanced thus far in this Chapter, there is much less with respect to the suggestions which now follow. This distinction should be borne in mind.

The importance of recognizing the difficulty, which attaches to interpretation beforehand of apocalyptic symbolism, needs emphasis here. Let the reader imagine himself back in the First Century and poring over the details of (say) Revelation 8, 9. Whatever scheme of interpretation of those chapters he now favours, let him ask himself how near to an accurate idea of the fulfilment his personal studies then would have led him. What sort of solutions then would he have propounded to the enigma of a great fiery mountain falling into the sea and turning one third of it to blood7 What identification would he have hit upon for the bottomless pit? How precise (or vague!) would have been the interpretation put on locusts with hair like women, crowns of gold, breastplates of iron, stinging tails like scorpions?

To illustrate in yet another way, consider the details of the Sixth Seal. Here, the reader is now reminded, all Biblical evidence points to a special reference to Israel sometime, somehow: “sun, moon and stars ... black as sackcloth of hair ... a fig tree with untimely figs ... heaven rolled up as a scroll ... great men of the nation hiding themselves in dens and rocks of the mountains ... Fall on us and hide us from him that sits on the throne ... the wrath of the Lamb.” Here, in any generation, the careful student of Holy Scripture can piece together the Old Testament allusions and conclude: Dramatic judgement on Israel. But to go further and enquire: “Precisely what events will bring the fulfilment of this prophetic symbolism?” must have landed the early believer in a morass of uncertainty. Even today, with the prototype of the terrific events of A.D. 70 familiar to the mind, it is almost impossible to clothe the future fulfilment of the Sixth Seal with present reality. A detailed interpretation - in the sense of translation into clear-cut political developments in the late Twentieth Century - is fraught with uncertainty. And so also with the Vials.


The effect of the First Vial was “a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast.” In John’s day, the counterpart to the mark of the beast was the sign of Caesar’s authority stamped on the hand of his soldiers and on the foreheads of his slaves. In Hitler’s day it was the jack-boot, the swastika and the Hitler salute. When the Jews again come under the heel of a tyrant, they will doubtless be made to wear, once again, the distinguishing badge of the star of David, whilst the Beast’s devotees will have their own devilish insignia.

But those who treat the Jews as lepers and outcasts may find themselves literally transformed into lepers and outcasts. The “noisome and grievous sore” is identical with the “botch of Egypt” which Moses foretold for those who do despite to the law of God, it is the same as the leprosy of the book of Leviticus, it is the exact equivalent of Job’s “sore boils” and of the deadly disease which afflicted Hezekiah. Perhaps there will be a mysterious divinely imposed plague, which will fall upon the unclean conquerors of Israel who are themselves treated as unclean. Such would be fitting. It was when the plague of boils came on the Egyptians that the magicians, who hitherto had made some show of rivalling the wonders of Moses, were now no longer able to stand before him. This suggests a like experience for the oppressors when a greater Deliverer than Moses appears.

A similar affliction came deservedly on triumphant Philistines when they had the ark of God in their midst (1 Samuel 5:9). When the One whom that ark typifies is made manifest, something comparable (or worse) may be expected. Zechariah 14:12 suggest worse: “And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the pcople that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes ... And it shall come to pass that a great tumult from the Lord shall be among them” (see “The Last Days”, Ch. 13).

Among those who “withstood Moses” in Egypt were “Jannes and Jambres ... men of corrupt minds, resisting the truth” (2 Timothy 3:8). The usual assumption that these were the Egyptian conjurors is a mistaken onc, for the names are Jewish. These were men who were prepared to take sides with the enemies of God’s people rather than acknowledge the Saviour He sent. The counterpart to this in the Last Days may prove to be the stubborn wilful resistance of rationalists to belief in the Messiah. These will prefer man-made worship of Man and of man’s achievements in science to any acknowledgement of God or God’s Messiah--the mark of the Beast rather than the name of God in their foreheads.


The Second and Third Vials bring death to the seas and to the rivers and fountains of water. This is certainly the meaning of the symbol. To a Jew, nurtured in the Law, blood normally spelled Life, for “the life of the flesh is in the blood thereof.” But here, that there be no error, the waters become “as the blood of a dead man, and every living soul died.”

Zechariah 9:4 specifies a judgement on Tyre in the Last Days in a way which may well link up with the Second Vial: “Behold, the Lord will cast her out, and he will smite her power in the sea; and she shall be devoured with fire”.

Then does this Vial foretell the results of tremendous naval encounters in the eastern Mediterranean? It is difficult to foresee a time when it will not be in American interest to maintain a massive fleet in those waters. And, so powerful has the Russian navy become in recent years, there is already much talk of the Mediterranean becoming a Russian lake. Balaam’s mysterious Messianic prophecy has details which now shew signs of coming to life: “And ships shall come from Chittim, and shall afflict Eber, and he the enemy coming in ships) also shall perish for ever” (Numbers 24:24).


Again, as in the Third Trumpet, “rivers and fountains of water” is a phrase which points, as it did there, to the Land of Palestine (cp. Ezekiel 6:3, and also Revelation 7:17, where the type of a wilderness journey requires that “fountains of water” be associated with the Land of Promise).

So also Isaiah 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 (contrast 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, i.e. 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: Haggai 2:22; Zechariah 14:13; Ezekiel 38:21. It is implicit in the phrase: “as in the day of Midian;” Isaiah 9:4; Judges 7:22. It is enacted in type also: 2 Chronicles 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.


But who are these “saints and prophets” whose blood is now brought upon them? Only in a very indirect way can these words be given application to Huguenots and other Protestant groups of past centuries, for they all held many of the most blatant errors of apostasy. For example, the 1120 A.D. Confession of Eaith of the Waldenses includes belief in immortal souls in paradise and in hell. The 1669 Confession of the Piedmontese churches proclaims belief in a personal devil, wicked angels and the doctrine of the trinity, and studiously avoids all mention of baptism. And certainly these pious communities of pre-Reformation times had no prophets of the Lord among them.

It is easily overlooked that the word “saints” is used in Scripture not only of God’s faithful remnant, not only of angels (as in Daniel 8:13; Zechariah 14:5; Jude 14), but also of God’s holy people of Israel (as in Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 7:6; Daniel 8:24 and 12:7 - the same Hebrew word). And since these Vials concern the Land of Israel, there is every likelihood of reference to the Jewish people in their last hour of tribulation. The parallel in Psalm 79, already demonstrated, finally settles this: “the flesh of thy saints have they given to the beasts of the Land.”

Neither does the word “prophets” present difficulty in this context. According to Malachi 4:5 God is to raise up amongst the Jews someone in the spirit and power of Elias[60] to lead the people back to God and to prepare them for the manifestation of their Messiah. Presumably this will be during the 32 years when there is the “drought” of divine affliction upon Israel in the Land. Thus the word “prophets” will apply to this “Elijah” and those who co-operate with him, for they will certainly suffer for their divine work as in the time of Jezebel (1 Kings 19:10). They are also prophets because, shortly before the coming of Jesus as King of the Jews, they experience the Last Day outpouring of the Holy Spirit foretold by Joel (2:28-32).


“And I heard (the angel of) the altar, saying, Even so, O Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgements.” It is the altar of burnt-offering (14:18) that symbolically (as in 6:10) has witnessed the offering of lives in sacrifice to God. As in 15:3 and 19: 2, 9, this word “true” contrasts reality with type and symbol. How right its use is here! These Vials use the language of the plagues in Egypt, of the destruction of Babylon by Cyrus (v. 12), and of the great victory of Deborah and Barak at Megiddo, but they speak of a deliverance and victory of which those events were only faint fore-shadowings.

This cry of the angel of the altar was in response to the word of the angel of the waters: “Thou art righteous, O Lord, because thou has judged thus”. The identification of this angel is not easy. He may be the angel of the Third Trumpet, after whose sounding the falling star Wormwood turned all the waters bitter (ch. 8:10, 11). Or he may be the angel of Daniel 12:7 who stood upon the waters of the river (which river? Tigris? Daniel 10:4) and declared that after a time, times and a half (3-l- years again!) “they have made an end of breaking in pieces the power of the holy people (saints, i.e. Israel).” Perhaps the two angels are one and the same.

It is specially significant that the divine name used by this angel is: “O Lord, which art, and wast.” The “and shalt be” which comes in chapter 1:4, 8 and 4:8 is neither in the original text here nor in ch. 11:17. In this last place the reason is obvious - in the Seventh Trumpet the kingdom is established and judgement has taken place; the purpose of God is no longer essentially a future purpose but one which has already found realization. Here in the field of judgement of the Third Vial the omission of “and shalt be” is appropriate because after the vials there is no more outpouring of divine judgement - in them the wrath of God is finished (ch. 15:1 R.V.).


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.

One detail after another in the Vial sequence chimes in with this concept. In the Sixth Vial, poured into the air (v. 17), there falls a great hail from heaven. Already the minds of all readers are prepared for a semiliteral fulfilment of these words, whatever further meaning may lie behind the symbolism. And the increasing recurrence of severe earthquakes in recent years raises in the mind the possibility that other aspects of the Sixth Vial will be found to be unpleasantly literal (v. 18).

Some of the other divinely inflicted agonies described on this page of Holy Writ suggest devilries devised for the nations through the prostituted powers of scientists harnessed to the cause of “Peace”. Is the “noisome and grievous sore” (v. 2) one of the effects of intense radiation following on thermo-nuclear fission? How else can waters over a wide area (v. 4) be contaminated with death save by the insidious fall-out of radioactive material after hydrogen bomb explosions? Such ideas, which Jules Verne himself would have laughed out of existence as absurd fantasy seventy years ago, are now sober possibilities for “the day when God wearies of mankind”.


Is it possible to equate the Fifth Vial with some similar grotesque development of “civilization”? 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: 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” (Zechariah 14:6, 7). Other similar prophecies are Zephaniah 1:14, 15; Amos 8:9; Isaiah 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. 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” (14:12). Revelation says: “they gnawed their tongues for pain” (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 dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended”.

Can there be any such meaning about the Fourth Vial? If the scope of these vials is the Land of Israel in the Last Days, then this one must surely be linked with the work of “Elijah” during the 31 years before the coming of the Lord. It would be against all normal experience for the work of even such a preacher to be uniformly successful, and since Revelation ch. 11 and 13 indicate a strong persecution at that time against those who do not carry the mark of the Beast, there may be a suggestion here that even the mission of “Elijah” will be only partially successful, the rest falling away from their acceptance of his message in the face of tribulation.

However, it seems more likely on the face of things, that this vial has reference to the enemies of Israel and to some extraordinary affliction, which is yet to be brought upon them.

One is tempted to look for some extraordinary expression of frightfulness in which men bring judgement on themselves. The language of the Vials begins to take on a marvellous literalness as the Twentieth Century runs its evil and diabolically clever course.


But ultimately the punisl1mcllt of wickedness rests with the Messiah. “In the heavens hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a Bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race ... there is nothing hid from the heat thereof” (Psalm 19:4-6). “The day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be as stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up ... that it shall Icave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 4:1). “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God ... “ (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8).


Certainly, the words of these Vials imply an impressive contrast with the experience of the saints; for, instead of being scorched by the sun and caused to blaspheme, “the sun shall not light on them, nor any heat...he that sitteth on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them (RV)...and they cry with a great voice, Salvation to our God...” (7:16, 15, 10).

For the latter, instead of “living fountains of waters” (7:17), the fountains of water become blood (16:4); for the former, “neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat” (7:16), but those the sun scorches with fire and great heat (16:8,9); these celebrate the salvation of God with a great voice (7:10), but those are constrained to blaspheme his name (16:11); these come to a city which is lighted by the glory of God (21:23), but those belong to a kingdom full of darkness (16:10); these are blessed with a river of water of life (22:1), but the river of Babylon dries up, sending forth unclean spirits like frogs (16:12, 13); these are “arrayed in white robes” (7:9), but those walk naked, to their own shame (16:15). It as all part of a fuller contrast which runs right through the book, a contrast between Christ and anti-Christ, between Jerusalem and Babylon (see Chapter 34).

The details of the Fifth Vial also shew this in a more particular way. It is poured out upon the throne of the Beast, so that his kingdom is filled with darkness, and they gnaw their tongues for pain, blaspheming God. What is this but a parody of the Day of Atonement? Instead of the heavenly throne, associated with the cherubim and mercy seat (4:2,5,6, and 5:6), there is the throne of the Beast. Instead of a bowl of blood of the sacrifice to bespeak God’s mercy and forgiveness when sprinkled on the mercy seat, there is a bowl (vial) of the wrath of God. Instead of the shining forth of the Shekinah Glory in acceptance of the offering, there is darkness. Instead of the worshippers’ prayer of faith, these gnaw their tongues for pain. Instead of glad hymns and hallelujahs after the high-priestly benediction, these blaspheme God and repent not of their deeds.


The Old Testament Scriptures help towards the identification of “the throne of the beast” which is affected in this Fifth Vial.

Isaiah 47 denounces “the virgin daughter of Babylon ... without a throne (RV) ... get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans, for thou shalt no more be called, The lady of kingdoms” (v. 1, 5). The verbal contacts are sufficient in themselves to establish connection with the Fifth Vial: “upon the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was full of darkness”. More than this, verses 7, 8 of the same chapter are used so explicitly about Babylon in Revelation 18:7 as to make the identification certain.

Verse 6 of the same passage in Isaiah reads thus: “I (Jehovah) was wroth with my people (Israel), I have polluted mine inheritance (the Land), and given them into thine hand; thou didst shew them no mercy: upon the ancient thou hast very heavily laid thy yoke.” Here is an indication that the Babylon and Beast of Revelation may be the oppressors of the people and land of Israel. This is the true scope of the Seven Vials (for a further striking possibility, see Ch. 34). Attempts to apply them in a world-wide political sense are surely mistaken and misleading.

Possibly the phrase: “they blasphemed the God of heaven,” should be connected with the conclusion of Psalm 89: “Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants ... wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O Lord, wherewith they have reproached (same word as ‘blasphemed’) the footsteps of thine anointed” (v. 50, 51). The rabbinic paraphrase of these words is: “They revile the tardiness of the footsteps of Thy Messiah”.

Although the kingdom of the Beast, i.e. his newly-conquered territory of Palestine, is to be filled with darkness, the Old Testament prototype requires that the Lord’s chosen continue to have “light in their dwellings” (Exodus 10:23). It is difficult to know what the counterpart of this will be in the Last Days, but it does seem to imply (like Isaiah 26:20 and Luke 17:26-32) that the Lord’s faithful ones will be spared from the worst of the affliction that comes upon the ungodly at that time.

[58] The section, which follows, is a very sketchy outline of prophetic interpretations given elsewhere. Readers are referred to: “The Last Days” ch. 1, 2, 7, 8 and “The Time of the End” ch. 2, 3, 5, 18.
[59] Cain was a splendid, detailed type of faithless Israel, and when he repented (Genesis 4:13 RVm.) sevenfold vengeance for him was appointed by God (v. 15).
[60] Not necessarily Elijah himself; John the Baptist was not Elijah in person, but was raised up to accomplish a similar work.
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