Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 33 - The Sixth and Seventh Vials (16:12-21)

“And the water thereof (of the great river Euphrates) was dried up, that the way of the kings of the cast might be prepared.” In the prophets the drying up of a river is a very evident symbol of the end of the political power of a nation. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon arc all the subjects of this kind of metaphor: Isaiah 37: 25 R.V; 19: 5-10; Jeremiah 51: 36; 50: 38; Zechariah10: 10, 11. The prophets use Euphrates specially as THE symbol of Babylon. The artificial drying up of the river by the soldiers of Cyrus, in order to facilitate the capture of Babylon, was well known even though there is no direct mention of it in the Scriptures. Accordingly, the drying up of Euphrates (v. 12) is speedily followed by the vision of the destruction of Babylon (v. 19, and ch. 17, 18). The two go together. Also here the counterpart to the men of Cyrus is “that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared”.

Here the identification of the dried-up Euphrates is inseparably linked with the identification of the apocalyptic Babylon. The familiar equation of Euphrates with the power of Turkey depends on rigid geography. Yet no one dreams of giving “Babylon” a geographical interpretation. And it will be shewn by and by that Armageddon is not geographical either. But in any case to refer this prophecy to Turkey one has to go back in history to a time well antecedent to the events foretold in the vials-and especially the Sixth Vial. The incongruity does not seem to have been recognized as clearly as it might. The Turkish Empire was dried up over a period of more than four centuries in order that, about a hundred years after that drying up, Armageddon might take place. Can this be regarded as satisfactory? More than this, Turkey still exists in an area of crucial importance, but with very little contact with the Euphrates at all!


In the Old Testament “the children of the east” are invariably Arabs (Judges 6:2,3; Job 1:3; Jeremiah 49:28; 1 Kings 4:30) from across Jordan. But now they are kings. Those who have continued through the centuries a motley unorganized collection of Bedouin bands are become established kingdoms, able to wield considerable political power. They are, most probably, the ten kings[61] who “give their power and strength unto the Beast” in the war with the Lamb. There is a distinction here from “the kings of the whole world” who are to be gathered to “the battle of that great day of God Almighty”.

But there are other possibilities in the phrase “kings of the east”. This key word anatole is one with pointed Messianic associations (e.g. Luke 1:78, Zechariah 3:8, 6:12, Jeremiah 23:5). Yet those who envisage a “march of the saints” certainly do not contemplate them coming from beyond the Euphrates! There is no guarantee that in this place the word “east” symbolizes “Messiah’s coming”. It may simply mean “east”, as in scores of other places (New Testament and LXX).

A further idea on this is provided by a passage of exceptional interest in Isaiah 11:15, 16: “And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptiar1 sea, and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the River, and shall smite it into seven streams, and cause men to march over dryshod. And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the Land of Egypt.”

Very frequently in the Old Testament (e.g. Isaiah 7:20; 8:7) “the River” means Euphrates. The reference to Assyria confirms this meaning here. But this drying up of Euphrates is to make the way clear for the return of God’s people. The comparison here with the deliverance from Egypt[62] strongly suggests, then, that “the kings of the east” are the Jews of the Diaspora (especially those three millions locked up in Russia). And perhaps the Messianic meaning of anatole should come in here after all.

There is, then, more than one Biblical possibility.


Appropriate to the figure of the drying-up of a river there is also the representation of evil influences in the simile of “three unclean spirits like frogs”. There is no evidence in the Bible to suggest identification with any modern political power, unless it be that of Egypt, for the only other Biblical allusion to frogs is in the plagues of Egypt. “Like frogs” may be primarily a way of linking the Vials more clearly with the plagues. So whilst this identification with Egypt is hardly to be insisted on, it is undeniably true that hardly any nation can be picked out in recent years, which has been more mischief-making, both internationally and especially in connection with Israel, than that ancient and dishonourable kingdom.

Jeremiah speaks of “evil going forth from nation to nation” (25: 32). This is the work of the frog-like spirits. They originate from “the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet”. If two of these represent the atheistic philosophy and dedicated communism associated with the power of Russia (though one cannot be sure about this identification) then it is easy to scan current affairs in this Twentieth Century and see the steady outworking of subtle policy as the chess-playing Russians patiently follow out their declared purpose of bringing western capitalism to ruin. The less emphasized purpose of world conquest is pursued by Russia with equal indefatigability. When there were signs in 1948 that the new left-wing state of Israel might be eager for Russian friendship, Soviet policy was slanted strongly in that direction. But when western influences prevailed in Israel, Russia was immediately ready for a complete switch of policy, however expensive it might prove to be, towards alliance with the Arab countries.


At the time of writing it seems transparently obvious that within a very limited time the mischievous influence of this communist policy in the Middle East will gather the kings of the whole world (these are not to be confused with the ten kings who give their power and strength to the Beast, although they are included), to the battle of the great day of God Almighty.

This will be World War III. The troubles besetting the Land of Israel will be only a small part of a global conflict in which the fate of Israel will go almost unnoticed. The western powers will regard Israel as expendable. America, already war-weary after Vietnam and warily muttering: “Never again,” will be cautious to the point of pusillanimity about further entanglement in another remote little-nation war.


“And they (the unclean spirits like frogs) gathered them together unto the place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.” Traditionally this passage has been interpreted in as literal a manner as possible. Har-Megiddo, on the edge of the plain of Jezreel, has been the location of several decisive battles in Palestine. But these, even the latest in 1917, all belonged to an era that, militarily speaking has gone forever. Let the reader try to conceive of “the kings of the whole world” being locked in decisive combat in that small area, and a literal fulfillment of the prophecy, such as has commonly been envisaged, is immediately ruled out. If it be argued that the plain of Jezreel is spacious enough to be a mighty international battle-ground, it is necessary to give a reminder that the prophecy mentions neither Jezreel nor plain. The venue is the Mountain of Megiddo.

These considerations suggest that, like all the rest of the chapter, the details here should be given a figurative interpretation. Is there not inconsistency in singling out one verse to be read literally when the other twenty are all regarded as figurative? Babylon is not given a literal geographic interpretation. Then why should Armageddon be so regarded?

If the special mention of “the Hebrew tongue” be taken as a hint to look carefully at the meaning of the name in Hebrew, several interesting possibilities arise. It could be “the mount of gathering together”, thus repeating in Hebrew what has just been said in Greek: “they gathered them together”. Another possibility is: “Utter destruction (as) at Megiddo”, with reference to Judges 4:15; 5:21 and Psalm 83:9. “A heap of sheaves in the valley of judgement” is another possibility this time with allusion to Joel 3:12, 13; and since the Thunders (14:15-19) make clear reference to the same Joel prophecy, this reading has much to commend it.

Amidst some degree of uncertainty regarding detail in these interpretations of future events, the main issue should not be lost sight of, that the judgements of God on the nations in the time of the end will involve a mighty conflict brought on through the insatiable encroachments of an imperialistic communism. It is not without significance that when Gideon and his faithful few wrought their deliverance near Megiddo, they did not need to do any fighting. The invaders fell to slaying each other. In “the day of Midian” that is to be (Isaiah 9:4 and 10:26; Psalm 83:9, 11), the same means of punishment will be employed.


In the middle of this sombre picture of a world given over to self retribution through its mutual antagonisms there comes a solemn warning to those whose dedication to Christ should keep them free from all this horror and from all worldly entanglements: “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth...” These words are a grave reminder to the believer that, wherever he finds himself when the events develop, the time of his own personal judgement before the throne of the King now draws very near.

This familiar repeated figure of the Lord coming as a thief (3: 3; 1 Thessalonians 5: 2; 2 Peter 3: 10; Luke 12: 39) has been given such emphasis in the minds of some that the apparent contradiction between this and the Lord’s own description of his vivid coming in heavenly glory (Matthew 16: 27 and 24: 26-31; 2 Thessalonians 1: 8) has not even been observed. A proper understanding will find room for both, and this without postulating two “comings”. Indeed, if there is first of all a “secret” coming of the Lord, then his later appearance in glory is not a “coming” but a ‘‘manifestation’’. Yet the passages cited appear to describe an actual coming from heaven and not the open revelation of one who is already here.

Briefly, it may be suggested that the difficulty is to be resolved by emphasis, as in Revelation 3:3, on the words: “if thou wilt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief”. In other words, it is only to the listless or unworthy disciple that the Lord’s coming will be like that of a thief. To such that Day will reveal with horrifying suddenness that “even that which he thinketh he hath” has been “taken away”. The context of every one of the “thief” passages has precisely this admonition.[63]

“Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments.” There seems to be allusion here to a temple practice. The Talmud has this: “The Captain of the Temple visite´1 each guard, and burning torches were carried before him ... If he observed that he slept, he smote him with his stick, and he had authority to burn his dress.”

The shame of the unprepared disciple emphasized here in Revelation 16:15 is most closely matched by the confusion and ultimate rejection of “virgins” who are caught unequipped for the very duty they have been called to-a preparedness to welcome the “Bridegroom” (Matthew 25 :1-13). The warning, truly, is most solemn and greatly needed in a generation which has been far too much influenced by the materialism of its contemporaries. Today the saints in Christ have pitched their tents towards Sodom (Genesis 13:12). Many have become permanent citizens in that city of shame, and their Lord’s solemn warnings go unheeded.


The outpouring of Vial Seven is “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 verse 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 (Ephesians 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” (Colossians 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 cilivization which has long ago written its own indictment in the books of God.

“Behold, it cometh, and it shall be done” had been God’s word through Ezekiel concerning the destruction of Gog and his allies (39:8 R.V.). Now, in the Seventh Vial, that long-foretold vindication of heaven’s authority is accomplished. The change of tense of the verb is eloquent.


With the outpouring of the Seventh Vial “there were voices, and thunder, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the face of the earth”. It has been customary to interpret this and other earthquakes foretold in the prophets in a political context, as indicating a mighty upheaval in international affairs. This is another example of over-emphasis, in conventional interpretation, on politics. If indeed this is the meaning of the symbol, it has had vivid fulfilment already in the past fifty years.

A careful review of the earthquakes mentioned in Scripture reveals that with hardly an exception (if that), the context of the passage has to do with God-manifestation (Exodus 19:18; Ezekiel 38:20; Zechariah 14:4; Joel 3: 16; Amos 9: 1,5; Jeremiah 4:24; Psalm 68: 8; 77: 18; 114:7; Isaiah 2:10-22). Other examples in Revelation (6:12; 11: 19) clearly fall into the same category.[64] And this earthquake in the Seventh Vial follows immediately on “Behold, I come as a thief”, and is immediately followed by: “and great Babylon came in remembrance before God “. But before this, “the great city is divided into three parts”. This language corresponds exactly with Ezekiel’s pronouncement of doom on corrupt Jerusalem (5: 1 4) - one third burned with fire in the midst of the city, one third smitten with the sword, and one third scattered to the winds (cp. the suggestions about “Babylon” in Chapter 34).


The “great hail out of heaven” may well be an anticipation of the callous villainy of aerial warfare, but in the Old Testament its associations are somewhat different. “And the Lord shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall shew the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones. For through the voice of the Lord shall the Assyrian be beaten down...” (Isaiah 30: 30, 31). As Jehovah saved His people by a miraculous intervention against the Northern Invader in Hezekiah’s reign, so He will do again when His Messiah is in Jerusalem.

Perhaps even more noteworthy was the destructive hail rained on the confederacy against the people of God when, led by Jesus-Joshua, they began the conquest of the Promised Land (Joshua 10: 11). This, too, will have its counterpart in the Last Days.

And the result? For the third time men are led to blaspheme God “because of the plague of the hail,” “because of their pains and their sores”. This contrasts strangely with other prophecies of the Last Days, which cause men to “know that my name is the Lord” (Jeremiah 16: 21; Psalm 83: 18; Ezekiel 38: 23; 39: 28). There are two ways in which this knowledge of God can come: either in the form of repentance, acknowledging His right to supremacy over all mankind; or in the experience of His anger because of a stubborn rejection of His authority. In the Vials it is the disastrous second alternative, which is chosen.

The Seventh Vial concludes with chapter 16 - and yet in a sense it doesn’t, for just as the Seventh Seal develops into the Trumpets, and the Seventh Trumpet into the Seven Dramatis Personae, and so on, so also the Seventh Vial unfolds into Seven Visions: “And I saw ...” Hence chapter 17 begins with: “And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials (almost certainly the angel who had poured out the Seventh Vial), and talked with me, saying, Come hither (into the wilderness; 17: 3); I will shew thee ... And I saw ...”

The next dramatic section of the Apocalypse is about to be unfolded.

[61] Ten Arab kingdoms against Israel were repeatedly mentioned in the reports of the Six Days War, 1967.
[62] Note again the resemblance between the Vials and the plagues of Egypt.
[63] For a fuller discussion of this topic, see “The Time of the End”, ch. 16.
[64] Revelation 8: 5 may now be seen to add its witness to the Last-Day fulfilment of the Trumpets.
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