Revelation 16.

THE SEVEN VIALS OR BOWLS OF GOD’S WRATH (Cont.).

THE COMMAND FROM THE TEMPLE.

Rev. 16:1. — “And I heard a great voice out of the temple, saying to the seven angels, Go and pour out the seven bowls of the fury of God upon the earth.” The terms, “voice,” “voices,” a “strong voice,” a “loud voice,” and a “great voice,” have each their own special significance.

The word voice is variously used of Christ, of God, of angels, of the living creatures, of the altar, of the throne, etc. Wherever the word occurs, or to whom or to what it refers in the Apocalypse, there is implied an intelligent apprehension of the subject in question. Its metaphorical application as in Revelation 9:13 is no exception.

The plural, voices, occurs eight times, and with one exception (Rev. 11:15) is directly associated with judgment. It is one of the premonitory signs of coming wrath (Rev. 4:5; Rev. 8:5, 13; Rev. 10:3, 4; Rev. 11:19; Rev. 16:18), and implies that the judicial dealing is not simply the exercise of arbitrary power, but is intelligently governed and directed.

Then we read of a “strong voice” (Rev. 18:2), of a “loud voice” (Rev. 5:2), and of a “great voice,” as in our text (see also Rev. 21:3). The adjectives respectively set forth the character of the voice, which, again, is in exact keeping with the nature of the announcement.

1. — The Seer hears “a great voice out of the temple.” The sanctuary itself, the holiest spot in the universe, is roused to action. The demand for judgment on the apostate scene proceeds not from the throne, but from the holy of holies. God’s wrath burns fiercely, and its strength is derived from what His holy nature demands and necessitates (Isa. 6). The voice heard in the temple may well be termed “great,” when the holiness of the place and the majesty of the Speaker are considered.

The completeness of the service in which these judgment angels are employed is signified by the number seven, the predominant and ruling numeral in the Apocalypse. These ministers of God’s wrath, although divinely equipped and commissioned, cannot act till God commands. “Go and pour out the seven bowls of the fury of God.” These broad-rimmed vessels had been filled in the sanctuary, not with incense, but with wrath — God’s righteous wrath. The voice which orders the execution of these seven plagues (v. 1) announces their completion when all are poured out (v. 17).

1. — “Pour out,” not sprinkle; the expression refers to the fulness of divine wrath, each vessel overflows, and is to be poured out without stint or measure in succession till all are emptied. A similar phrase is not uncommon in the Old Testament (Zeph. 3:8; Ps. 69:24; Jer. 10:25). These seven apocalyptic plagues seem like an answer to the prayer of the suffering Jewish remnant in the coming crisis. “Render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached Thee, O Lord” (Ps. 79:12).

The scene of these plagues is “the earth,” not geographically but prophetically viewed, hence the course of judgment takes a wider sweep than that under the Trumpets (Rev. 8). Not the apostate Roman earth only, but the whole or the guilty scene within the range of prophetic vision is here given up to feel the vengeance of an angry God.

We are now about to witness these truly awful visitations of divine wrath successively inflicted out of the sanctuary, and from the Bowls, hallowed by temple use and service, now devoted to purposes of judgment.

FIRST BOWL OF WRATH.

Rev. 16:2. — “And the first went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and there came an evil and grievous sore upon the men that had the mark of the beast, and those who worshipped his image.” In the enumeration of the respective Trumpets each of the seven angels is referred to as “second angel,” “third angel,” “fourth angel,” and so on (Rev. 8), but not so here. The introduction is more brief, the ordinals as first, second, etc., being simply employed, and the word angel omitted.*

{* Bengel, remarking on the omission of the word angel in the Vials, tersely adds, “The Vials make short work.”}

The plague here referred to as “an evil and grievous sore” reminds us of the sixth Egyptian plague (Ex. 9:10, 11). This was the first of the plagues which attacked the persons of the Egyptians, and one under which the magicians, or wise men, specially smarted. It was a disgusting and loathsome disease (see Deut. 28:27, 35). There are two other New Testament references to this painful character of boil. Under the fifth Bowl it is mentioned in conjunction with other judgments (v. 11), and in Luke 16:20, 21 we learn that Lazarus, dying amongst the dogs on the street, was covered with these painful and generally incurable boils or sores, but the soul of the pauper was waited upon by the angels of God, and carried up and into the bosom of Abraham — the reserved place of Jewish blessing.

The literality of the apocalyptic plagues (Rev. 16) is a moot question with some. It has been argued that because the Egyptian plagues were literal, so must these be, because of their general resemblance. Now, while strongly protesting against any limitation of divine power, or intruding on the region of sovereignty which God alone can and must necessarily occupy, yet we judge that the plagues of our chapter must be understood symbolically in keeping with the general character and design of the book. What is signified is a moral sore which will cause intense mental suffering. Physical suffering, no doubt, will also add to the anguish endured by men, but the chief and predominating feature will be judicial dealing with the soul and conscience — a suffering far exceeding any bodily infliction. It is called an “evil and grievous sore.” The word literally means a bad ulcer, that which produces and draws to it unhealthy humours, discharging these in a highly offensive form. Persons bearing the mark of the Beast and his worshippers — the active supporters of the apostate civil power then under the direct authority of Satan — are the sufferers under the first Bowl. It is God’s wrath on the adherents and devotees of the Beast throughout the prophetic earth. This truly awful judgment precedes the fall of Babylon (v. 19), whereas the everlasting torment of the Beast worshippers succeeds that great event (Rev. 14:9, 10). We gather therefore that the pouring out of the first Vial is a precursor of the doom announced as the fourth subject in that interesting chapter 14 of grave and notable events.

THE TRUMPETS AND VIALS COMPARED.

Besides a general resemblance to the plagues of Egypt, the Vials and Trumpets strikingly correspond. In the first four of each series the sphere of operation is the same, namely, the earth, the sea, the rivers, the fountains, and the sun. But in the Trumpets the area affected is restricted to a third part, i.e., the Roman world. The effects produced under the Vials are different, and of a severer character, than those under the Trumpet judgments. Then the fifth, sixth, and even seventh Trumpets correspond in some general respects to the last three Vials. But in the Vials the range of the various plagues is in no wise limited to a fourth (Rev. 6:8) or third part (Rev. 8) of the prophetic earth. Wherever the evil is it is searched out and none escape.

SECOND BOWL OF WRATH.

Rev. 16:3. — “And the second poured out his bowl on the sea; and it became blood, as of a dead man; and every living soul died in the sea.” All the Vials are poured on the earth, not geographically but prophetically considered (v. 1). But the terms “earth” (v. 2) and “sea” (v. 3) both form part of the prophetic scene referred to in verse 1; that is, the term earth in verse 1 is of larger and wider import than the earth of verse 2. The latter is contrasted with the sea, and as a symbol denotes that special part of the prophetic earth then in ordered external relation to God, while the sea signifies that portion of the sphere of prophetic dealing, not organised, but revolutionary in character — the masses in general. It is important to lay hold of the force of these symbols and of their application in detail. The grand desideratum, however, is to hold in the soul and understanding the moral principles and teaching of the book. A detailed exposition, however interesting, and to some minds fascinating, should be subordinated to the moral element — to that which deals with the conscience and with God. The great moral principles of truth which run through all Scripture are meant to govern the heart and control the life.

The sea “became blood” is not a physical fact, as in the first Egyptian plague (Ex. 7:17-25), when the Nile, the justly celebrated river of Egypt, with its canals, streams, and tributaries, was turned into blood literally and actually. But in the Vial plague the sea becoming blood points symbolically to a scene of moral death. Christianity, or at least what then represents it, is abandoned. So complete and thorough is the apostasy that the blood (life, moral or physical, as the case may be) is “as of a dead man.” Here we have death in a double sense. First, spiritual death, as in Ephesians 2:5, even in the case of those naturally alive; second, by apostasy, the giving up of all religious profession — the open, public renunciation of all external relationship to God, as in Jude 12 — “twice dead,” even when physically alive.

“Every living soul died in the sea.” The masses of people within the bounds of the prophetic earth are signified by the restless sea, while those in special outward relation to God within that same sphere are signified by the solid earth. “Every living soul died.” Each mere professor makes shipwreck of faith, of conscience, of truth, and gives up every vestige of religious profession. The apostasy and alienation from God are complete, not one left, save those who are real and whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life.

It has been contended that a violent physical death is here signified by the term blood, but this, we judge, is a mistake. A sword symbolically sets forth death by war or violence, and that is absent here (Rev. 6:8; Rev. 19:15). The scene before us represents a general state of corruption and apostasy amongst the peoples and masses of mankind not in ordered relation to God, as also the open apostasy of “every” one. A pagan world we have read and heard of with all its disgusting and filthy practices. A papal Europe shrouded in moral darkness there has been, and that at no very distant date. But an apostate world, with its blasphemy, cruelty, and frightful misery, abandoned by God and given over to Satan, is the appalling picture in the Apocalypse, one most sure, and, moreover, not far off. The character of the times unmistakably points in that direction.

THIRD BOWL OF WRATH.

Rev. 16:4-7. — “And the third poured out his bowl on the rivers, and (on) the fountains of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, Thou art righteous, Who art, and wast, the Holy One, that Thou hast judged so. For they have poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink; they are worthy. And I heard the altar saying, Yea, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous (are) Thy judgments.” In the third Trumpet, to which the third Vial corresponds, the rivers and fountains come under judgment. In the former, however, they become wormwood (Rev. 8:11); here they are turned into blood. In the former all national life, character, and source of thought and action are morally poisoned; in the latter the national corruption is of a deeper kind — moral death and complete alienation from God are the results. The “rivers,” the ordinary life of a nation characterised by known and accepted principles of government, social and political, its life-breath so to speak, as also “fountains of waters,” the sources of prosperity and well-being, are all turned into blood, symbolically of course.* We would again remark that, allowing a certain parallelism between the Trumpets and Vials, the latter are, at the same time, of wider extent and more severe and searching than the former.

{*See remarks on Rev. 8:10.}

Rev. 16:5. — “The angel of the waters” seems at first sight an ambiguous expression. But when it is borne in mind the large part which angels occupy in the economy of the redemption of the inheritance the expression assumes a definiteness quite in keeping with other portions of the book. Almost every subject in the Apocalypse has its angel. An angel is the intermediary between Christ and John (Rev. 1:1); the seven churches have each their angel or moral representative, not a celestial being (Rev. 2; 3); an angel challenges the universe to produce one competent to fulfil the counsels of God respecting the earth (Rev. 5:2); the numberless throng of angels worship the Lamb (vv. 11, 12); angels control the elements (Rev. 7:1); an angel seals the servants of God (vv. 2, 3); each Trumpet and each Vial has its respective angel (Rev. 8; 16); angels are the combatants in the heavenly war (Rev. 12); an angel announces the Everlasting Gospel (Rev. 14:6); an angel proclaims the fall of Babylon (v. 8); an angel declares the awful doom of the worshippers of the Beast (v. 9); an angel comes out of the temple (v. 15); and another out of the altar (v. 18). If the winds, the fire, and the abyss have each an angel, the waters too have their appropriate and guardian angel. The peoples symbolised by the waters (Rev. 17:15) are controlled by an angel, all, however, under the governing hand of God.

The angel of the waters acquiesces in the divine judgment. It might be naturally supposed that he would deprecate judicial and retributive dealing in the sphere over which he presides. On the contrary, he justifies God, saying, “Thou art righteous.” The plague does not overstep by a hairbreadth the just measure of strict righteousness. Then the eternity of God’s Being, “Who art,” and His past relation to men and angels, “and wast,” are next affirmed.* “The holy One.” This peculiar word occurs but twice in the New Testament in relation to Christ: the other instance is in Revelation 15:4.

{*See remarks in our Exposition on Rev. 1:4, 8; Rev. 4:8; Rev. 11:17.}

In the Authorised Version of verse 5 the words “O Lord” and “shalt be” are unnecessary interpolations, and are rejected by most critics, while the title the “holy One” is omitted (see R.V.).

Rev. 16:6. — “They have poured out the blood of saints and prophets.” This sentence conclusively proves the symbolic character of the plague. Apostate peoples and nations are referred to as “waters.” They had freely and wantonly poured out the blood of saints and prophets. In Revelation 11:18 the order is prophets and saints; here it is saints and prophets. In the former it is a question of public acknowledgment of service and faithfulness, hence the most responsible and distinguished company is first named; whereas in our text it is the martyrdom of all who stand for God, of all who witness for Him, negatively and positively, according to the principle in Luke 11:50, 51. “Saints”* is a common enough term in both Testaments, signifying true believers on God. “Prophets”* designate those who truly witness for God in a dark and evil day.

{*See remarks on Rev. 11:18.}

6. — “Thou hast given them blood to drink: they are worthy.Water is the ordinary source of life and refreshment. Wine is the symbol of earth’s joy. Blood is the witness of death. In retributive justice, in holy righteousness, God judicially gives over the persecutors of His people to drink blood, to realise in their own souls and consciences death. The penalty is an awful one. The drinking of blood does not mean physical death, it is infinitely worse. The punishment is as horrible as it is righteous. It is really an instalment and foretaste of the horrors of the lake of fire. “They are worthy.” Not only is it a righteous judgment, but these apostates have fully earned their awful doom. “They are worthy” to have this terrible and judicial character of death inflicted upon them, to drink it, and thus fully know its bitterness.

Then the altar speaks, not as in the Authorised Version, the angel of the altar, but the altar itself. The brazen altar is here referred to (Rev. 6:9), the altar of consuming judgment. The lives of God’s saints and witnesses had been sacrificed on the altar (so He regarded it), and their souls after death are heard underneath it crying to God for vengeance on their bloodthirsty persecutors. God hears the cry. For about six thousand years it might have seemed as if God slept or was indifferent to the cruel and heartless treatment of His people in all ages. But no! The long, lingering patience of our God has now come to an end, and the slumbering vengeance of Jehovah bursts forth. The cry of the altar is a vindication of the God of wrath. It exults in the holy and righteous character of these retributive judgments. In the first book of Scripture (Gen. 4:10) we hear the cry of the blood of the first of the martyred band; now in the last book (Rev. 16:7) we listen to the cry of the altar which had borne its testimony to the slaughter of God’s saints from Abel onwards. It is the appeal of the altar itself in the near approach of the final consummation of judgment under the seventh Vial. It is both an appeal to and a vindication of God in His true and righteous judgments (see Rev. 15:3; Rev. 19:2).

FOURTH BOWL OF WRATH.

Rev. 16:8, 9. — “And the fourth poured out his bowl on the sun; and it was given to it to burn men with fire. And the men were burnt with great heat, and blasphemed the Name of God, Who had authority over these plagues, and did not repent to give Him glory.” There is a marked and striking parallelism between the first four Trumpets and the first four Vials. In both the order is the same. The great departments of nature, symbolic, of course, come under judgment, namely, the earth, the sea, the rivers, and the sun. In the Vials the whole prophetic scene is involved, whereas in the Trumpets the Roman earth is specially in view.

The previous visitation of the sun in judgment (Rev. 8:12), that is, the supreme governing authority, resulted in a scene of intense moral darkness, confined, however, to the revived Roman world. But the fourth Trumpet, both in severity and range, must pale before the greater horrors of the fourth Vial. There darkness, here intolerable agony; there an area of circumscribed judgment, here the judgment extends to the utmost bounds of Christendom; there the circumstances of men are in question, here men themselves in their own persons are the agonised sufferers.

Rev. 16:9. — “Burnt with great heat.” The power of the sun is increased to such an intense degree that men are scorched or burnt with its fire. It is not, of course, a physical judgment produced by the great celestial luminary; we must therefore seek to ascertain what is the moral significance and symbolic meaning of the sign. The sun as a figure denotes supreme government (see on Rev. 6:12; Rev. 8:12; Rev. 9:2; Rev. 12:1). We understand, therefore, that the great governing authority on earth becomes the cause of intense and frightful anguish to men. “Burnt,” or scorched, would naturally convey as much (Deut. 32:24; Mal. 4:1).

9. — We are next called to witness the effect of these dire plagues upon the consciences of men. Are they humbled and made repentant thereby? Are they crushed in spirit under the repeated and increasing severity of these judicial chastisements? No! They “blasphemed the Name of God.” What an answer on man’s part to the expressed wrath of the Almighty! How incorrigibly bad and thoroughly corrupt is the will of man! Had there been godly repentance the storm of divine wrath might have been arrested, for God “had authority over these plagues.” All were in His hand, and He possessed supreme control. God is the source of these apocalyptic judgments. We are not living in a world of chance, but in a world which belongs to God and which He controls, even down to the minutest circumstance of life. There was produced, not repentance, but increased hardness of heart; not glory to God, but blasphemy of His blessed Name. In this plague God and the creature stand out strongly contrasted.

FIFTH BOWL OF WRATH.

Rev. 16:10, 11. — “And the fifth poured out his bowl on the throne of the Beast; and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues with distress; and blasphemed the God of the Heaven for their distresses and their sores, and did not repent of their works.” The seven churches (Rev. 2; 3), the seven Seals (Rev. 6; 8:1), the seven Trumpets (Rev. 8), and the seven Vials (Rev. 16) are each divided into two distinct groups. In the case of the churches the division is into three and four, whilst in the others the grouping is reversed, four and three. Number seven in itself signifies completeness, spiritual perfection. When separately numbered as one, two, etc., the various parts of the whole are distinguished, and when grouped into the two unequal divisions of three and four it intimates a special and characteristic feature peculiar to each group.

We have had in the preceding Vials the four great departments of nature symbolically represented, as the earth, the sea, the rivers, and the sun. But now we pass from the realm of nature to witness a characteristic and specific subject of judgment, i.e., the kingdom of the Beast, which is smitten in the centre and seat of its power. The Beast himself, or the personal head of the empire, is, with his fellow in crime, the Antichrist, reserved for an awful doom (Rev. 19:20). But till then the civil and political power of earth established by Satan (Rev. 13:4; Rev. 17:8) is in its strength and centre made to feel the stroke of divine judgment. The executive of the kingdom, not the subjects of it, is referred to here. The “throne,” the strength and glory of the kingdom, is overwhelmed with judgment. The impious and insolent challenge, “Who is like unto the Beast? who is able to make war with him?” (Rev. 13:4) is unmistakably answered here, and subsequently too (Rev. 19:19-21).

10. — “His kingdom became darkened.” No doubt there is here an allusion to Exodus 10:21-23. There, however, the darkness was physical, here it is moral. It is difficult to realise in any conceivable degree the horror of such a doom. One main characteristic of the misery endured in the eternal abode of suffering, the lake of fire, is darkness and blackness (Matt. 25:30). That darkness is here foreshadowed with its accompanying consequences. “They gnawed their tongues with distress.” “This is the only expression of the kind that we have in all the Word of God, and it indicates the most intense and excruciating agony.”*

{*Rev. Wm. Ramsay, “Lectures on Revelation,” p. 364.}

Rev. 16:11. — Under the distress caused by the former Vial men blasphemed “the Name of God;” here there is advance in an evil sense, they blaspheme “the God of the Heaven,” not His name merely, but God Himself. There is remorse and suffering in the morally darkened kingdom. The very knowledge that God is in Heaven and is the author and source of their misery, judicially inflicted, does not bow the heart in repentance. The will is yet unbroken. And “did not repent of their works,” the very deeds which God was answering in judgment were gloried in. They loved darkness and its evil deeds. Heavier strokes must yet descend.

SIXTH BOWL OF WRATH.

Rev. 16:12-16. — “And the sixth poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way of the kings from the rising of the sun might be prepared. And I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the Beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. Three unclean spirits, as frogs; for they are (the) spirits of demons, doing signs; which go out to the kings of the whole habitable world to gather them together to the war of (that) great day of God the Almighty. (Behold I come as a thief. Blessed (is) he that watches and keeps his garments, that he may not walk naked, and that they (may not) see his shame.) And He gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew Armageddon.

THE EUPHRATES.

“The great river Euphrates.”* This justly celebrated river is the largest in western Asia, and figures largely in history and prophecy. It is first named in Genesis 2, and last mentioned in Revelation 16:12. The two apocalyptic references to it are expressed in exactly the same terms (Rev. 9:14; Rev. 16:12). The Euphrates formed the limit in the east of Roman conquest, and forms the eastern boundary of enlarged Palestine** in the future. It has ever stood as a geographical barrier, a natural separating bulwark between the west and the east. The golden Bowl of the sixth angel is poured on the great river, so that its water was dried up.*** The barrier is removed by this act of judgment, so that the eastern nations can the more readily pour their armies into Canaan.

{*See remarks on Rev. 9:14, 15.

**“In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river Euphrates” (Gen. 15:18). Thus the Nile on the west and the Euphrates on the east are the prophetic limits of the land. David and Solomon pushed their conquests on the eastern side of the kingdom up to the borders of the great Asian river, but they were unable to hold them for any length of time. Gen. 15:18 is of future and permanent application.

***An account of this remarkable and interesting river may here be given, geographically and commercially too, the largest and most important of the rivers of western Asia, and frequently referred to in Scripture.

Its entire length, from its rise in the Armenian mountains to the Persian Gulf, is about 1780 miles. Its depth and width vary according to locality and season. From the month of March to May, owing to the melting of the snow on the mountains and the heavy rains, the river rises considerably, and hence both depth and width are greatly increased. There are two sources to this river, both found in the highlands of Armenia considerably apart. These form into streams which combine at a place called Kebben Maden. Here the river is about 120 yards wide. About 750 miles from its mouth it flows over a large alluvial plain, where it widens to about 900 yards. After flowing through mountains for about 45 miles, it emerges at Sumeisat, 1195 miles from the sea, and is navigable for light vessels the whole distance, while for the last 150 miles vessels of 500 tons can safely navigate the river. Up to the time of Elizabeth it was the commercial highway to India. At Bei the Euphrates is distant from the nearest shore of the Mediterranean about 100 miles, and is there said to be about 630 feet above the level of that great sea. At Kurnah, 90 miles above the Persian Gulf, it is joined by the Tigris, and is then spoken of as Shatt-el-Arab. Then the river, under this new name, flows steadily on till it empties itself by several arms into the Persian Gulf, the link between the Euphrates and the Indian Ocean. From Kurnah, the meeting place of the rivers, is an area of about 108,000 square miles, and its average breadth 600 feet. There is abundance of fish in the waters. Anciently the rivers Tigris and Euphrates were connected by navigable canals, which made Nineveh and Babylon the great centres of commerce for the eastern and western worlds. There were also numerous dykes, canals, aqueducts, and other artificial means for the irrigation of the poor and unproductive soil of the country, so cleverly planned as to equal in scientific skill anything produced by our modern engineers. Alexander the Great, in fixing his seat of empire in the east, so fully appreciated the natural and artificial advantages of the river that he personally superintended the repair and enlargement of those mighty works which had so greatly helped the Babylonian empire in its commercial greatness.}

We gather from the object in view that the Euphrates, or part, will be literally dried up, miraculously no doubt. A somewhat similar judgment will be witnessed in the west (Isa. 11:15). Both the Nile and the Euphrates are dealt with — the western and the eastern boundaries of the land of Palestine. There need be no difficulty in accepting the statement in our text in its full and literal sense. The future is brimful of wonders and startling events, and if the river divides the east from the west, that of necessity must be removed sufficiently to allow the eastern armies under their respective kings to cross the country and assemble in Palestine. The reason of divine judgment on the river is “that the way of the kings FROM (not “of” as in the Authorised Version) the rising of the sun* might be prepared.” These kings cannot be the Jews, a strange supposition. The mass of the Jewish people will enter the land from the west, while Ephraim or the ten tribes are restored chiefly from the north and south. Besides, it is not the kings of the east, but from the east, peoples on the eastern side of the Euphrates, that are in question.

{*A beautiful Oriental and poetical expression, signifying the east, where the sun rises.}

We see no reason why the Turkish empire should be referred to in the naming of the Euphrates in either of the two texts where the river is named in the New Testament. Turkey is not referred to in the Scriptures at all. It needs no prophetic statement nor remarkable foresight to predict the falling to pieces of that most corrupt and the worst governed power on earth. Its dismemberment has commenced, and its complete and final overthrow is only a matter of time, and not a long one either. Palestine and adjacent countries, now part of the Ottoman empire, are rapidly coming to the front. This assemblage of opposing forces in the Holy Land is prefigured in that millennial chapter, Genesis 14. In and about Judea God will gather the nations and kingdoms to pour upon them His indignation and fierce anger (Zeph. 3:8). Persia, Ethiopia, etc., are under the power of Russia and follow in the train of Gog, the last ruler of the Russian peoples (Ezek. 38:2-6). Greece seems to act an independent part in the near crisis (Zech. 9:13), but all these powers are politically hostile to restored Judah (Ps. 83; Zech. 12; 14). Egypt will be subordinate to and an ally of the Beast, and thus an object of attack by the king of the north — Israel’s determined political foe (Dan. 11:25, 29, 42-44). The Beast and Gog are opposing powers. Their policy and aims are widely different. The former is the would-be protector of the Jewish people; the latter their destroyer.

A SATANIC TRINITY.

Not only are natural hindrances and barriers removed, so that the great Asiatic powers might have the way prepared to take their allotted part in the conflict and confederacy of the last days, but Satan himself provides a “universal ministry” to effect the most gigantic combination of opposing forces ever witnessed. The sixth Bowl of wrath is not exhausted in the judgment on the Euphrates. There are “three unclean spirits,” termed the “spirits of demons,” likened to frogs — loathsome, filthy, disgusting, bred out of the mire and pestilential vapours and moral wickedness of the corrupt scene — these are sent out on their terrible mission. They are to influence by word, and sign, and miracle the peoples of the earth; to lure them on to the “war of (that) great day of God Almighty.” God is about to set His King on mount Zion (Ps. 2), so the might of the whole habitable earth is gathered to thwart and defeat the divine purpose. It is a universal gathering of the powers. A trinity of evil — the concentrated malignant influence of Satan — is employed to effect the gathering together of the kings of the earth. These spirits issue out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the Beast, and out of the mouth of the False Prophet. The mouth is regarded as the source and means of destructive agency (Rev. 1:16; Rev. 2:16; Rev. 9:17; Rev. 19:15; see also Isa. 11:4). The dragon not only works actively to effectuate his plans, but his two prime ministers share in the work — the Beast and the False Prophet. The former is the vast apostate civil and political power of Rome; the latter is the second Beast of Revelation 13, here termed for the first time the False Prophet, as by his lies and influence he can the more readily act upon the peoples. We have here a combination of direct satanic power, apostate brute force, and malignant influence, all employed in this hellish work (compare with 1 Kings 22).

ARMAGEDDON.

Rev. 16:16. — “And He gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew Armageddon.” The pronoun he no doubt refers to God. He is behind the scenes and the actors in this judicial judgment and course of dealing. It is God Almighty, therefore, Who effects, in righteous retribution, this vast gathering of the nations, employing the dragon, His declared enemy, and the great apostate chiefs of earth to carry out His purpose. Why is the gathering place Armageddon? There the Canaanitish kings gave battle to Israel, but Jehovah fought with and for His people, and the signal victory granted to Israel is celebrated in glowing and triumphant strains by Deborah, the prophetess (Judges 5:19, 20). Now one great object which the assembled nations have before them is to crush and overthrow Israel (Ps. 83:3-5), but God intervenes, and effectually destroys them and delivers His own, as He did in the early days of the Judges. The early victory is here alluded to as a pledge and earnest of the latter. It is not that the actual hill of Megiddo or its valley is to be the gathering centre of the nations; its circumscribed area must forbid any such notion. But the simple meaning is that God will have gathered by satanic agency many of the nations of the earth to Palestine, their object being to overthrow and crush Israel, and fling themselves in their combined might against Jehovah. But, alas for them, they do so only to their own destruction. God pours upon the assembled nations His fury (see the prophets Joel and Zephaniah). It has been remarked that the valley of Jehoshaphat is the place of slaughter, and Armageddon the place of gathering by the nations. Both places, however, are intended to present in principle certain closing scenes in the last days. Both the mountain and valley point to a future assembling of kings and peoples in the land of Palestine, and probably in the vicinity of Jerusalem. There the great governmental question of the sovereignty of the earth is to be decided in the complete overthrow of the nations, and in the establishment of the world kingdom of our God and of His Christ; in the settlement, too, of Israel in perpetual possession of her land, and in headship and supremacy of the nations in the millennial earth.

RETROSPECTIVE VIEW.

But now we must retrace our steps somewhat. It will be observed that verse 16 naturally follows, and indeed completes the subject of verse 14, hence the passage between (v. 15) forms a parenthesis of great moral value. “Behold I come as a thief.” The kings and peoples gathered by satanic agency shall in the moment of apparent success and victory be suddenly surprised by the Advent of the Lord in glory (1 Thess. 5:2, 3). The whole world will be asleep in midnight moral darkness, and congratulating itself on “peace and safety,” when suddenly the Lord Himself bursts in upon the scene, unexpectedly, as a thief in the night. That aspect of the Coming neither forms our hope not causes fear (v. 4). We are not of the night, nor of darkness, and hence can never be so overtaken. To us, ere the day breaks, He appears as the bright and morning star. Then the parenthesis closes with a serious word of much-needed instruction at all times, but especially at the moment and occasion of this latter-day prophecy. The believer who in that day “watches and keeps his garments” is pronounced “blessed.” It is not here a question of life or salvation, but of walk. How needful then, as at all times, to look carefully to one’s ways, lest there be exposure in sight of the enemy, and they see our shame and moral nakedness.

VIAL AND TRUMPET COMPARED.

In bringing our remarks on the sixth Vial to a close we would briefly note the correspondence between it and the sixth Trumpet. In both the Euphrates is named. In both, too, the Asiatic powers take their part in conflict; various other points of resemblance may be noted by careful readers. We may further remark that the sixth Vial in itself does not present a scene of conflict by the various powers, nor does it unfold a universal slaughter; it rather points to the general gathering of the peoples from all parts of the earth, so that they are there when the Lord comes in power (Rev. 19). Other Scriptures, however, enable us to fill in details. One or two statements to emphasise points of prophetic truth are important to grasp. Judea, especially in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, is the final gathering place of the nations and peoples of the earth. Most of the nations, particularly those in the north and east, seek to destroy the Jewish commonwealth, then politically restored and in measure upheld by the western powers. All the nations are more or less combined in undying hatred to God and to His Christ, and all are judged and punished at the Lord’s Advent in power (Rev. 19; Isa. 66; Zech. 14).

SEVENTH BOWL OF WRATH.

Rev. 16:17-21. — “And the seventh poured out his bowl on the air; and there came out a great voice from the temple of the Heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, such an earthquake, so great. And the great city was (divided) into three parts; and the cities of the nations fell; and great Babylon was remembered before God to give her the cup of the wine of the fury of His wrath. And every island fled, and mountains were not found. And a great hail, as of a talent weight, comes down out of Heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, for the plague of it is exceeding great.” The events described under the previous Vial were preparatory to the final outpouring of God’s wrath on the apostate civil power, and on the yet more guilty Babylon of ecclesiastical fame and history, the religious corruptress of the earth. We have just witnessed the providential judgment of God on the “great river Euphrates,” and the universal gathering of the nations under the marvellous energy of Satan infused into the three frog-like* spirits of demons. The world has been warned, “Behold I come as a thief,” and saints solemnly counselled to walk with undefiled garments, hence all was fully prepared under the sixth Vial. There is, therefore, no further delay. The seventh golden Bowl is now poured out, exceeding in magnitude and severity anything hitherto witnessed since man began his sorrowful history outside Eden.

{*Impudence and uncleanness are characteristic of the frogs. These filthy creatures, born out of the waters and stagnant pools of Egypt, were peculiarly obnoxious to the cleanly Egyptians. The palace of the monarch and the hovel of the peasant were equally infested with the loathsome reptiles, whose croaking sounds added to the general misery (Ex. 8:3-14). Frogs and serpents were by the ancients classed together in the expression of what was loathsome and morally disgusting. Frogs were regarded by the Greek writers and poets as the proper inhabitants of the Stygian lake, or river of hell.}

17. — “The seventh poured out his bowl on the air.” This judgment falls upon the moral life-breath of the world. The air, essential to natural life, is symbolically visited in judgment. The realm of Satan is really the sphere of this awful plague (Eph. 2:2); only we gather that the “air,” as used in this prophecy of the consummation of judgment on the organised systems of evil, denotes the ruin of all right moral influences and principles which act upon men — the destruction of the moral life of all individual, social, religious, and political society. It is a far-reaching and permeating judgment.

17. — The temple and throne unite, and He Who dwells in the one and sits on the other announces with a great voice, “It is done.” The end has come. Details of Babylon’s overthrow are unfolded in the two subsequent chapters. Here the mere fact is stated, particulars are reserved. The close of providential dealing has come, and there remains but the last and most awful stroke of judgment inflicted by the Lord in Person at His Coming. The wrath of God is closed up in the pouring out of the seventh Vial, to be followed by the more awful exhibition — open and public — the wrath of the Lamb.

Rev. 16:18. — “There were lightnings, and voices, and thunders.”* These symbols (in a threefold form) of almighty power in judgment occur four times. The term “voices” intimates that the execution of judgment is intelligently directed. The order in which the symbols occur differs somewhat from that in the Authorised Version. The transposition of the words in this formula of divine visitation has, no doubt, its special significance in each case; they are calculated to strike terror to the hearts of men. In addition to those signs and tokens of Jehovah’s wrath upon the guilty scene “there was a great earthquake,” which in magnitude and dire results exceed anything recorded in history — “such an earthquake, so great.” There will be physical earthquakes in divers places (Mark 13:8). But the vast and unparalleled upheaval under the seventh Vial is not that of the elements of nature, but symbolises a violent disruption of all government, the total collapse of authority from the highest down to the lowest. Under it thrones totter and fall, crowns are broken, sceptres are shivered; the whole framework of society is overthrown. It will be a revolution unexampled in the history of the race. The fact that this mighty convulsion is stated separately from the usual formula, “lightnings, voices, and thunders,” marks its speciality and its magnitude.

{*On these signs of judicial dealings, see remarks on Rev. 4:5, 6, and on Rev. 11:19.}

Rev. 16:19. — The disastrous effects of the mighty earthquake are next briefly and tersely stated. “The great city* was (divided) into three parts.” That is, the vast and consolidated power of Rome, from its centre in the seven-hilled city on the Tiber on to its utmost extremities, is broken up into a tripartite division, while its utter ruin follows in due course. The break-up and dismemberment of the empire in its political and social organisation is what is signified. Satan’s gigantic confederation is smashed.

{*Rome (Rev. 17:18) is thus dethroned from its sovereignty over the kings of the earth. Rome, the empire which then is the vast civil and political organisation of earth, is “the great city.” Rome represents the civil, and Babylon the religious organisation of that day; both established by Satan.}

19. — “The cities of the nations fell.” The seats and centres of Gentile commerce — the political world apart from and outside the Roman earth — are involved in the general ruin, which overtakes all human combinations. From the building of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9) till the day and hour of the seventh Vial human progress in civilisation, in religion, in social and political government, in the arts, in science, in literature, has been the aim. Here we witness judgment on all that men have built up in these and other spheres of life, from the days of Cain (Gen. 3), when the world system without God was inaugurated, and from Babel (Gen. 11), when human combination, secular and religious, took its rise. What a blow to the pride and ambition of man!

DOWNFALL OF BABYLON.

19. — But the chief subject of judgment is now singled out — one more hateful to God than all others. “Great Babylon* was remembered before God to give her the cup of the wine of the fury of His wrath.” Babylon is a name and word of ominous signification. It is the full-blown development of all antichristian elements, of all that is opposed to God. It is the concentration of all mere human religion. The city and tower which men built on the plains of Shinar — the former the civil centre, and the latter the religious centre of gathering apart from God have in the days of the Apocalypse attained the zenith of greatness. Popery is not Babylon, pure and simple, but is part of it. In guilt Babylon towers over all, and hence its judgment is commensurate with its sin. Undoubtedly it is the mystical Babylon that is referred to, and not the great Euphratean city which was doomed to eternal destruction (Jer. 51:62-64). It is the false church, the corruptress of the earth, the mother or source of all that is religiously vile. The very name of Christ which she bears, and the assumption of being His body and bride, intensifies her guilt. Her title, “great Babylon,” points to her vast assumption of religious power. The anger of God burns fiercely on this awful counterfeit and travesty of what should have stood for Him in grace, in holiness, and in testimony to the truth.

{*The literal Jerusalem is grandly described in Isaiah 60; the mystical Jerusalem is the subject of Revelation 21:9 — 22:5. The literal Babylon is fully described in Jeremiah 51; the mystical Babylon occupies chapters 17 and 18 of the Apocalypse. In all respects Babylon is the contrast to the former, both in its historical and spiritual character.}

The details of Babylon’s judgment, her relation to the apostate civil power, and many particulars are unfolded in the two chapters which follow; while her utter doom, celebrated in Heaven in triumphant strains of gladness, is the subject of Revelation 19:1-4.

Rev. 16:20. — “And every island fled, and mountains were not found.”* Detached or isolated interests and governments, as islands separated from the mainland, are overwhelmed in the universal catastrophe; while seats of authority and stability, as mountains, are dissolved. Ruin is everywhere, and on everything, however seemingly firm and stable. Everything that God has not established must go in the general wreck. Such, then, are the effects of the mighty earthquake.

{*Under the sixth Seal “mountain and Island were moved out of their places” (Rev. 6:14), here the greater severity of the judgment is intimated in their complete disappearance, “not found.”}

Rev. 16:21. — But, in addition to this, the general horror is intensified by a hurricane of divine judgment, which descends upon men with irresistible and crushing force, a storm of divine wrath, which even the guilty world will have to acknowledge as heaven-sent: “A great hail as of a talent weight.”* We have already, more than once, been told of a hailstorm, singly, and in conjunction with other destructive agencies (Rev. 11:19; Rev. 8:7).** But this exceeds in weight and intensity the previous hailstorms. As hail descends from Heaven, and is sharp, sudden, and disastrous in its effects, so the judgment here. The nature of it is not explained, but its severity and its source from Heaven are truths unquestionably graven on the face of the prophecy.***

{*“The Jewish talent was 125 lbs. The Egyptian and Greek talents were about 86 lbs. The former is the weight of the hail in our text, and intimates the crushing, overwhelming character of the visitation.

**See remarks on Rev. 8:7; and on Rev. 11:19.

***Few persons can form a conception of the terrible character of a great hailstorm. Here is an account of one which occurred at Constantinople in the month of October, 1831, written by one who witnessed it:

“After an uncommonly sultry night, threatening clouds arose about six in the morning, and a noise between thunder and tempest, and yet not to be compared to either, increased every moment, and the inhabitants of the capital, roused from their sleep, awaited with anxious expectation the issue of this threatening phenomenon. Their uncertainty was not of long duration; lumps of ice as large as a man’s foot, falling singly, and then like a thick shower of stones, which destroyed everything with which they came in contact. The oldest persons do not remember ever to have seen such hailstones. Some were picked up half an hour afterwards which weighed above a pound. This dreadful storm passed over Constantinople and along the Bosphorus, over Therapia, Bojukden, and Belgrade; and the fairest, nay, the only hope of this beautiful and fertile tract, the vintage, just commenced, was destroyed in a day! Animals of all kinds, and even some persons, were killed, an innumerable number are wounded, and the damage done to the houses is incalculable. The force of the falling masses of ice was so great that they broke to atoms all the tiles on the roofs, and, like musket balls, shattered planks.”

“What would it have been if the ice masses had been fifty or one hundred times larger?” — From “Seiss on the Apocalypse,” page 101.}

Has this crowning act of divine judgment wrought repentance? Is the will broken and the heart crushed under the mighty hand of God? No! Man is unchanged, unless the Spirit of God, in mighty sovereign grace, converts and saves. The moral effect of this awful judgment is stated in the plainest terms, “men blaspheme God” — not glorify Him, as we might naturally expect — “because of the plague of hail, for the plague of it is exceeding great.” How patient is God! How perverse the creature!