Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2011 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (LEB) are from the Lexham English Bible. Copyright 2012, Logos Bible Software. Lexham is a registered trademark of Logos Bible Software.
In 1951 a science fiction film entitled, The Day the Earth Stood Still, was released. The film has enjoyed a fair amount of popularity and acclaim throughout the decades. The classic movie actually touches on many themes important to theology, and distinctly has several messages that are helpful for modern Christians to come to grips with.
The story begins with a spaceship arriving unexpectedly and landing in Washington D.C. on a sunny day. The event causes a stir of course, and many gather around the ship to see what might come next. Eventually a human-looking alien appears. While the alien (named Klaatu) is delivering a gift of peace, he is mistaken for an enemy and shot.
After recovering in a nearby hospital he lets a D.C. staffer know what his immediate mission is. He must call together all the leaders of the world to deliver to them a startling message of warning. He refuses to divulge the message until all the leaders are assembled (later in the film the message is given: if the people of earth don’t forsake hostilities and join a peaceful alliance, they will be completely destroyed).
He is extremely conscientious to not show any partiality to any nation. He is very adamant that he will not deviate from his demand of total compliance regarding global attendance, lest his mission is mired by political intrigues and international squabbling. The mere suggestion of such a meeting was laughable to the staffer, and indeed proved to be a complete impossibility.
Klaatu eventually resorts to the world of academia, seeking an international meeting of scientific leaders. The prominent U.S. scientist he speaks with suggests that he offers a sign, demonstrating his power in order to facilitate this request of bringing such people together. Klaatu soon makes good on the suggestion, as he causes most of the machinery of the planet to stop for half an hour.
There are several palpable lessons here, and both are desperately relevant for today’s Christian. First of all, we are not of this world. The Lord Jesus Christ plainly said this to his disciples shortly before his death, as is recorded in the Gospel of John:
If the world hates you*, you* know that it has hated Me before you*. If you* were from the world, the world would be affectionately loving its own. But because [* you* are not from the world *] , but I chose you* out of the world, for this reason the world hates you*. -- 15:18-19
Just as Klaatu was sent from outer space, demanding a change of mind and warning of ultimate destruction, so has the Lord Jesus commanded his followers to be distinct from the world and to bear witness to humankind’s enmity to the divine, as John goes on to record in the same scene…
If I did not do among them the works which no other has done, they would not have sin, but now they have both seen and have hated both Me and My Father. But [this happened] so that the word shall be fulfilled, the one having been written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ [Psalm 69:4] But when the Counselor [or, Helper] comes, whom I will send to you* from the Father, the Spirit of the truth, who proceeds from the Father, that One will testify concerning Me. [* And you* also testify [or, be testifying] *] , because you* are with Me from the beginning. -- 15:24-27
Of course there are many passages throughout the New Testament that speak of a Christian’s duty to warn the world of impending judgment and to call for repentance, but I chose the one above because it also made reference to another major parallel I want to draw from the film. For the Lord Jesus Christ said above, “If I did not do among them the works which no other has done, they would not have sin, but now they have both seen and have hated both Me and My Father.”
Theodicy is an important debating point now-a-days. This philosophical genre specifically attempts to address the issue of the existence of evil. How can a loving God be responsible for bad things?
Now put yourself in the shoes of Klaatu. How do you get the whole world to listen to you immediately? How do you get the whole world to take your threats seriously? You can think long and hard over these questions, but the result can probably be no different than Klaatu’s. In order for the world to listen they must stop and they must be scared.
Underneath that canopy of realization the book of Revelation makes perfect sense. This apocalyptic message from heaven describes in detail the fierce cataclysms that God will bring upon the earth before the Lord Jesus Christ comes again in judgment. When the Messiah returns, repentance and forgiveness will no longer be viable options to escape his wrath…
…[It is] a righteous [thing] with God to repay with affliction the ones afflicting you* and [to repay] with relief to you*, the ones being afflicted, along with us in the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, with [the] angels of His power [or, His powerful messengers], in a fire of flame [or, a flaming fire], giving [fig., inflicting] vengeance on the ones not knowing God and to the ones not obeying the Gospel [or, Good News] of our Lord Jesus, who will suffer divine justice, eternal ruin, from [the] face [fig., presence] of the Lord and from the glory of His strength… -- 2 Thessalonian 1:6-9
Therefore, the book of Revelation lays out God’s blueprint for providing signs and wonders that will increase in scope and intensity, leading up to the ultimate advent of the Lamb’s fury.
Now think about a third ramification. What if you absolutely knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that someone close to you was going to die that very day? Wouldn’t your attitude towards him or her be wholly affected? Wouldn’t his or her worries and concerns about life’s little problems seem almost jocular in your sight?
My friends, this world is dying fast. We who are Christians need to get back to the basics of our original calling. We need to don the habiliments of a heavenly ambassador. We need to cut ties and eschew all earthly concerns. Let Republicans and Democrats, Conservative and Labour Party members, fuss futilely among each other. Let the dead bury their own dead with useless words and pointless hostilities.
Oh, but shouldn’t we be passionately involved in such affairs until Christ comes? Isn’t that Christian service? Absolutely not. It may be what you have to be partially occupied with to earn a living, but it certainly isn’t Christian service. That particular line of reasoning is nothing more than rotting garbage which Christians have been devouring for decades in order to ease their consciences as they hastily forsake God’s authentic commission. What good has it done? What benefit has been gained? A Christian isn’t called to be a political aficionado any more than he or she is called to taste-test dumpster water. We are commanded to be concerned with something much loftier, much nobler.
I regret ever having mentioned politics in the past and I don’t intend to repeat the mistake. I’m seeking from now on to fly my kite more highly, despite the gusty weather. I’m seeking to be more realistic now; ergo, ironically, I’m seeking to become more like Klaatu. Many Christians would swoon under such an admonition. They would claim that their heads would then be in the clouds and they would be ignoring the world’s problems by pursuing skyward pie. I think we should seek and relish such charges. We should at least err on the heavenly side of life’s divide. What has decades of political wrangling amongst Western Christianity accomplished? Where is the reward for the onslaught of political activism?
It’s while considering this heavenly side that I’d like to expound the most forceful chapter in the entire prophetic gamut. There is nothing in the Bible quite like Revelation 16. This portion of Scripture describes God unleashing the ultimate payload of his powerful signs and cataclysmic judgments upon the earth immediately before the return of his Son. This is a hard chapter to read and an even harder one to study; but it’s also very sobering. We need sobering. We need to remember this world is dying fast. We need to remember what horrors and what suffering await the ungodly in the future.
Without Christ, men and women have nothing more than the nightmare of the apocalypse to look forward to, and then Hell. Indeed, the apocalypse is a foretaste of Hell. It is designed to help the world to realize that there is a God of holiness and wrath and that he has lit an everlasting Lake of Fire. This is a very serious message and should take pride of place in a Christian’s life. God will cause the earth to stop -- so to speak -- abruptly and fearfully one more time, before the day of gracious mercy quickly morphs into the eternal darkness of torment.
Let’s now consider God’s final call for repentance…
II. Translation and Commentary
Before getting started, let me just say a few words about my translation of chapter 16 and my general interpretive view of Revelation.
First of all, I’m using Maurice Robinson’s Byzantine Textform (a.k.a., the ‘Majority Text’). Even more liberal-minded evangelicals, who nearly always favour the Alexandrian minority text, agree that the book of Revelation is best preserved in the Byzantine Greek…
Beale joins other commentators in the conviction that only in the book of Revelation does the Majority Text have greater weight than that of the earlier witnesses. (Patterson, pg. 16).
I seek to translate the Greek as literally as possible, with a tight semantic range and expressive grammatical renderings.
In case you haven’t guessed already, I should point out that throughout the commentary I take a futurist outlook to the book of Revelation. This is the only rational, sensible, plain way the book can be expounded (as we will see). Moreover, it is the way the original Christians understood it. We have a train of early witnesses that should be very convincing to modern students of the Word. First, the Apostle John delivered the book to 7 churches in Asia Minor, which included Ephesus, Smyrna, and Sardis. Polycarp was a Christian in that region. Polycarp would influence men like Irenaeus and Justin Martyr…
For when he (Antichrist) is come, and of his own accord concentrates in his own person the apostasy, and accomplishes whatever he shall do according to his own will and choice, sitting also in the temple of God, so that his dupes may adore him as the Christ; wherefore also shall he deservedly “be cast into the lake of fire”…God by His prescience foreseeing all this, and at the proper time sending such a man, “that they may believe a lie, that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but consented to unrighteousness;” whose coming John has thus described in the Apocalypse [Irenaeus proceeds to quote Revelation 13:2-10 here; I’ve omitted it for brevity]…
After this he likewise describes his armour-bearer, whom he also terms a false prophet: “He spake as a dragon, and exercised all the power of the first beast in his sight, and caused the earth, and those that dwell therein, to adore the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he shall perform great wonders, so that he can even cause fire to descend from heaven upon the earth in the sight of men, and he shall lead the inhabitants of the earth astray.” Let no one imagine that he performs these wonders by divine power, but by the working of magic. And we must not be surprised if, since the demons and apostate spirits are at his service, he through their means performs wonders, by which he leads the inhabitants of the earth astray. John says further: “And he shall order an image of the beast to be made, and he shall give breath to the image, so that the image shall speak; and he shall cause those to be slain who will not adore it.” (Against Heresies; from Book 5, chapter 28)
…But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare. (Dialogue with Trypho; from chapter 80)
The 1,000 year reign of the Messiah is only mentioned in Revelation, thus it is clear that he took the book plainly, with a futuristic outlook. This could also be proven from other comments by Justin. Yet, without further ado…
And I heard a great voice out of the sanctuary [or, “temple”] [(1)*] saying to the seven angels, “Depart, and pour out the seven bowls of the passionate anger [(2)*] of God towards [or, “into”] the earth!”
[*1] Sanctuary: According to the Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, the Greek New Testament employs 3 terms that can be translated “temple.” One of the words [eidoleion] occurs just a single time (1 Corinthians 8:10) and speaks of an idol temple. The other two words are found much more often. Hieron occurs about 70 times and usually refers to the entire temple building at Jerusalem. Naos occurs about 45 times and is slightly more nuanced. It is this word that is used throughout the book of Revelation to describe a “sanctuary” in heaven. The word can mean either a temple building as a whole, or a particular shrine inside a temple, such as the Holy of Holies.
It doesn’t seem to make much sense to refer to there being a “temple” in heaven, as many translations assert. Is not all of heaven God’s temple? Therefore, naos in Revelation is best understood as a sort of Holy of Holies, as the before mentioned dictionary points out…
The book of Revelation contains a number of references to the heavenly “temple,” which constitutes the consummate reality of the true “inner sanctuary”… (Renn, pg. 964).
[*2] Passionate Anger: Abbott-Smith’s Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament translates the Greek word thumos as “passion, hot anger, wrath.” It may be surprising to someone unfamiliar with the Bible that such emotions could be attributed to God. Anyone more familiar with the Scriptures however is bound to recognize that the wrath of God is actually a very common theme. It is a major thread running through the canon from beginning to end. Here’s an abridged list covering some of the ways the wrath of God is demonstrated in Scripture, according to The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary…
Despite tendencies to downplay the reality of God’s anger (God is classically described as “without passions”), if we are to do justice to both Testaments, we must allow the language of Scripture to stand…
God’s anger against Israel in the wilderness is noteworthy (Heb. 3:10, 17). The apostasy with the golden calf (Exod. 32:10-12), the complaining (Num. 11:1, 33), and the failure to enter the promised land following the report of the spies (Num. 32:10-11) all provoke God to anger. Failure to heed God’s word (Zech. 7:12) or that of his prophets (2 Chron. 36:16), neglect of his worship (2 Chron. 29:6-8), and intermarriage with idolaters (Ezra 9:14) are behaviors that incur the wrath of God.
God’s anger is directed against individuals, particularly for failures of leadership, as with Moses (Exod. 4:14; Deut. 1:37) and Solomon (1 Kings 11:9-11). God’s anger often is directed against the Israelite and Judean kings, not just those who committed idolatry (2 Chron. 25:15), but even those who are faithful in most respects, for their failure to remove the idolatrous high places (2 Kings 23:19).
Picking up on the warning that God’s anger will be directed against those who do not pay homage to God’s appointed king (Ps. 2:5, 12), Jesus declares that disobedience to God’s Son brings upon one the wrath of God (John 3:36), which evidently is not incompatible with his love for the world (3:16). According to Rom. 4:15, God’s wrath is a consequence of the law; that is, the law, giving concrete expression to the character of God, brings culpability for transgression. God’s wrath is revealed against all forms of ungodliness and its tendency to suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18). Those who demonstrate their disobedience to God or his truth will be subjected to his anger (Rom. 2:8; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6)… (Longman, pgs. 2945-2946).
A belief that God is not wrathful is nothing more than a sentimental confession of Biblical ignorance, and/or a lack of faith in what is plainly related. The theme of wrath obviously permeates all of Holy Writ.
The book of Revelation unfolds the program of God’s judgment of this present age and the establishment of his Son as the physical ruler of the world. This program consists of powerful sets of signs and plagues from heaven, increasing in frequency and repetition as we come closer to the end. Because of the prophet Daniel’s words in chapter 9, verses 24-27 of his book, and because of the references to several three-and-a-half year periods in Revelation, it is safe to assume that this cycle lasts at least 7 years, although it will probably take quite a bit longer.
The program of judgment is first preluded with the rapture, and then fully begins with the Son receiving a book/scroll from the throne of heaven (Revelation 5). This book/scroll is sealed with 7 seals, and as the Son breaks the seals, hard times begin to befall humankind (Revelation 6). The seals seem to describe more lengthy conditions of hardship and probably at least last three-and-a-half years altogether. This series of events is known in pop culture under the title, “the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse.” It’s also possible that the specific judgments described by the first 4 seals will just affect specific quarters of the world.
The last seal is not another judgment but is rather a calling for 7 trumpets to be presented. These 7 trumpets are then sounded, each one bringing heavier plagues to the earth than what we saw with the seals. If I had to date these events I would say that they’ll take place in the second half of the last 7 years, but will not cover this entire period. They are quicker in execution and more catastrophic in destruction than the seals. These trumpet plagues also issue more from lofty spheres than did the seals, and often affect the globe in thirds as opposed to quarters. The trumpet judgments will be a very difficult time to endure, as heavenly bodies smash into earth and strange creatures terrorize humankind.
The seventh trumpet, like the seventh seal, is not a plague itself, but rather introduces the 7 bowls. These are extremely potent. The seals were as ground peppercorn; the trumpets were jalapenos; the bowls are scotch bonnets. No reality is worse than life under the bowl judgments except hellfire itself. They are global and crushing. It is these last judgments that are described throughout chapter 16. They are so enormously intense that it is obvious that they only last for a very short period of time. It is also obvious that when they conclude, the Messiah will be in the sky.
The immediate scene we see here in verse 1 is best understood if we back up and read portions of the previous chapter…
Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished…After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent [Or tabernacle] of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. — 15:1, 5-8; (ESV)
This passage makes it very clear that these things will happen at the end of the age. There’s no other way to sensibly interpret the words, “seven plagues, which are the last.”
God’s wrath was prophesied in the Old Testament to issue forth from the centre of his dwelling…
A voice of uproar from the city, a voice from the temple, the voice of the LORD who is rendering recompense to His enemies. -- Isaiah 66:6
…The LORD roars from Zion and from Jerusalem He utters His voice; and the shepherds’ pasture grounds mourn, and the summit [Lit head] of Carmel dries up. -- Amos 1:2
The LORD roars from Zion and utters His voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth tremble. But the LORD is a refuge for His people and a stronghold to the sons of Israel. -- Joel 3:16
We have the fullest expression of such passages in chapter 16 of Revelation…
And the first went off and poured out his bowl towards [or, “into”] the earth, and a pernicious and painful ulcer [(1)*] occurred upon the people [technically, “the men”], the ones having the mark [(2)*] of the beast [or more expressively, “the impress of the wild beast”] and the ones doing homage to its image [or, “likeness”].
[*1] Ulcer: This could be translated using different, similar words. As The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary points out…
NT Greek uses a single root, hellcos, to refer to a sore, boil, skin abscess, ulcer (Luke 16:20-21; Rev. 16:2, 11). (Longman, pg. 2662)
Apart from the book of Revelation the specific term is only found in the Gospel of Luke. In the context of Luke, it’s clear that the sores were something festering…
Now a certain man was rich and was dressing himself in a purple garment and fine linen, lavishly celebrating every day. But [there] was a certain poor man, by name Lazarus, who had been placed at his gate, covered with sores and longing to be fed from the crumbs, the ones falling from the table of the rich [man], but even the dogs, coming, were licking his ulcerated sores . Now it happened, the poor man died, and he was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. Then the rich [man] also died and was buried. And in the realm of the dead [Gr. hades], having lifted up his eyes, being in torments, he sees Abraham from a distance, and Lazarus in his bosom. -- 16:19-23
Just for the record, the first usage in the Greek is a verb and the second is a noun.
Also, those who received the blessed mark of God in chapter 7 versus those who received the beastly mark of cursing in this chapter make for a poignant comparison to the rich man and Lazarus.
[*2] Mark: The New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance states that the Greek term rendered “mark” literally means a “stamp” or “impress” (pg. 1577). It is used 8 times in the New Testament. 7 of those occurrences are in the book of Revelation and describe the mark of the beast that the accursed of God will receive. The other occurrence comes in the book of Acts…
Therefore, being offspring of God, we ought not to be thinking the Divine Nature to be similar to gold or silver or stone, an image [shaped by] humanity’s skill and imagination [or, [the] craftsmanship and consideration of a person]. --17:29
Receiving the mark will be the ultimate idolatrous practice.
Although the Greek New Testament doesn’t use the term hellcos very frequently, the ancient Jewish scribes who translated the Old Testament into Greek (i.e., the Septuagint [a.k.a. ‘LXX’]), employed it several times in their version. The Septuagint uses it to describe the affliction of Job (2:7), which was a horrible sore that covered his entire body. I point this out because some think what is occurring here is nothing more than the mark of the beast becoming fetid. I think much more is happening.
As to the context of this verse, we must give the backstory to the mark. During the last 7 years before the return of Christ, a couple of pernicious leaders will emerge and take over the world. One will be political and hail from Europe (cf. Daniel 7; Revelation 13:1-8). The other will be religious and probably sprout forth from the denizens of apostate Christianity (cf. Revelation 13:11-18, 17:1-18). The first is popularly known as “the Antichrist” [although Biblically this is probably a misnomer] and the other as “the false prophet.” As can be read in Revelation 13, the first man will take over the world through war but also through ostentatious display, having received a great wound to the head and returning to life.
The false prophet will eventually cause everyone to worship this Antichrist, forcing everyone to get a mark, seemingly to declare their allegiance to this new world order. The book of Revelation makes it very clear that those who receive this mark are accursed. They will be tormented in the Lake of Fire, everlastingly.
Interestingly, the term rendered image/likeness (as in, “the ones doing homage to its image/likeness”), only occurs 3 times in the Gospels. In each instance the same scene is being related (once apiece for each synoptic Gospel). The Jewish leaders bring Jesus a Roman coin and state that the image/likeness on the coin is that of Caesar (cf. for example Matthew 22:18-21). Thus, the term used in Revelation to describe the actual idol that will be constructed in honour of the Antichrist is used in the Gospels to describe the likeness of a Roman Caesar ([_ cf. also my discussing the Hebrew term “pim,” a monetary unit worth .66% of a shekel, in other writings _]).
There is indeed a new leader of a Revived Roman Empire coming who will have a great image/likeness made to him and everyone will be forced to worship it. Yet God will inflict these people severely. They forsook God for the sake of the carnal security offered by the Antichrist, but the Almighty will supernaturally punish them for such a choice. The greatest security is found in seeking to do the will of God, even if such a course seems to entail present ruination.
Few people really know what it’s like to live with constant, gnawing pain that lasts all day and all night. There’s nothing like it for agony.
And the second angel poured out his bowl [(1)*] towards [or, “into”] the sea, and it became blood as of a dead [man], and every living being [literally, “soul”] [(2)*] in the sea died. And the third [angel] poured out his bowl towards [or, “into”] the rivers and towards [or, “into”] the springs of the waters, and it [perhaps viewing freshwater as a whole] became blood.
[*1] Bowl: According to Abbott-Smith this means a “shallow bowl…used for pouring libations.” In the Septuagint it was often used to speak of the bowls used by priests [Hebrew mizraq]. For example, the prophet Zechariah in describing the Messianic Age says…
In that day there will [be inscribed] on the bells of the horses, “HOLY TO THE LORD.” And the cooking pots in the LORD’S house will be like the bowls before the altar. -- 14:20
In Revelation 5 the prayers of the saints were stored up in bowls as something pleasing to God, and here in Revelation 16 the wrath of God has been stored up in bowls as something that must be cast out from his presence.
[*2] Soul: According to the Complete Vocabulary Guide to the Greek New Testament, the Greek term psuche, rendered “soul,” can mean, “soul, self, life, person, living being, life principle” (Trenchard, pg. 125). It is very similar to the Hebrew term nephesh. Just as the word “soul” can mean all sorts of things pertaining to animation in English, it is just the same for psuche [pronounced psookay] and nephesh.
This verse makes it clear that sin has brought about a complete opposite to God’s original intent for creation. In Genesis 1 God brings forth all matter and energy through his Word, and forms it carefully and expertly over the course of 6 days. On day 5 he filled the waters of the globe with every great sea creature and every teeming thing. Now the waters turn into red death. Although nothing in the Old Testament directly predicts what is written here in Revelation, there does appear at least to be an interesting foreshadow.
Ezekiel chapters 40-48 describe the coming Messianic Age. When the Lord Jesus comes again the Kingdom of God will be restored to ethnic Israel, as the Jews will once again be uppermost in the blessings of heaven. This will come about in fulfilment of the promises made to the Jewish men Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thousands of years ago. In chapter 47, Ezekiel sees water flowing from the temple and notes it going down throughout the Jordan Valley and on into the Dead Sea…
And he [an angel] said to me, “These waters [are] going out to the eastern region, and they go down to the Jordan Valley, and they come [to] the sea [and flow] into the sea [where] they issue out, and the waters [in the sea] will be healed. And then every living creature [with] which it teems, to every place the waters come it will live; [and] very many fish will live because these waters came there, and [so] the [water] will be healed and everything [will be] alive everywhere that the stream will come. And then fishers from En Gedi and [on] up to En Eglaim will stand beside it, a sea-girt drying yard for nets; their fish for the dragnets will be of every kind, like the fish of the great sea, [and] very many. -- verses 8-10 (LEB)
Now the immediate context would seem to refer to the salinity of the Dead Sea being removed. This is probably the authentic, connotative meaning, yet more seems to be going on as well. For it is written that everywhere God’s water flows the fish will live. The diction seems to indicate that there are a lot of dead fish that come to life. That obviously isn’t true of the Dead Sea now. This perhaps foreshadows mass marine death, and also that when the Lord Jesus returns, not only will the waters be restored, but the billions of sea creatures that perished will also be brought back to life…
And then on that day, living waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea, and the other half to the western sea; it will happen both in the summer and in the winter. -- Zechariah 14:8 (LEB)
And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “You are righteous [(1)*], the [one] being and the [one who] was, the Pious [or, “O Pious [One]”] [(2)*]; because you decreed [or, “judged”] these [things]. For they poured out [the] blood of holy [ones] and of prophets, and you gave to them blood to drink. They are worthy. And I heard [something from] [(3)*] the altar saying, “Yes, [O] Lord God, the Almighty [(4)*], true and righteous [are] your judgments!”
[*1] Righteous: This term is obviously one of the most important concepts in the entire Bible. The major root in Hebrew is tsadaq, and in Greek this is dikaios [pardon me for mixing adjectives and verbs with these 2 terms]. Since the Jewish apostles would have had their greatest understanding of “righteousness” from the Hebrew concept presented in the Old Testament, let’s look at the word tsadaq.
According to William Holladay, the Qal [i.e., basic, active form] of the Hebrew term means:
1. be in the right, be right, have a just cause…2. carry one’s point, be vindicated…3. be just, righteous (pg. 303)
From this base is formed a plethora of related stems and terms.
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament gives a succinct development of how the root is employed…
The root presents a development or variety of usage.
1. The abstract meaning of conformity to some standard (Gen 15:6), Abraham measuring up to the requirement of trust.
2. As a descriptive characteristic of God (Deut 32:4), as just and righteous, the standard being his own will and nature as the supreme being. The illustration of the potter and the clay, (Isa 45:9-12) points to the appropriateness of the divine decision.
3. ṣĕdāqâ or ṣedeq when applied to God mean righteousness, his characteristics then becoming the ultimate standard of human conduct.
4. The visitation of punishment on moral infractions is an example of righteousness, as were God’s judgments on Pharaoh for refusing to release the Israelites (Ex 9:27). To judge sin is, one may say, a divine necessity for a righteous God.
5. God shows his righteousness in vindicating the deserving among his people (Gen 18:25). Although that righteousness may require punishment, it is followed by mercy on repentance.
6. The work of justification is seen when David pleads for forgiveness (Ps 51:14 [H 16]), calling on God to bestow deliverance without regard to merit to fulfill his obligation to his own standards. Implicit in this justification is the substitutionary sacrifice for sin sincerely offered as noted in Ps 51:16-19 [H 18-21]. These verses are no later addendum to the Psalm. They give the ot parallel to Rom 3:26.
7. The word describes the righteous standing of God’s heirs to salvation, with no charge to be laid against them (Isa 54:17), this righteousness, actually possessed by Messiah (Jer 23:6), is bestowed by him, thus pointing toward the nt doctrine of Christ our righteousness. The righteousness of God’s heirs of salvation is the righteousness of the Messiah attributed to them by God through faith in the redemptive work of Messiah in which God declares them righteous only because of the grace provided through that redemptive work.
8. Finally in post-exilic times the root develops to mean benevolence, alms-giving etc. as acts of a godly man (cf. Ps 112:9).
[*2] Pious: Most translations render the Greek term hosios as “holy.” However, it should be pointed out that the word is not the standard word for “holy.” The typical Greek word for “holy” is hagios/hagion, and is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew qodesh. The word given in our passage in Revelation is completely different, and is found in the Septuagint as a substitute for the Hebrew word chasid. This is the term used to describe Hasidic Jews. According to Holladay, it means “one who is faithful, devout” (pg. 111). I translate it “pious” because this hearkens back to one of the most important uses of the Hebrew term…
…For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol; you will not give your faithful one to see [the] grave. -- Psalm 16:10 (LEB)
The Messiah was faithful to God; i.e., he was godly, thus pious.
[*3] [Something from]: It’s not necessary to include these words just because of the genitive case of the noun “altar,” for in verse 5 “angels” are found to be in the exact same grammatical construct. I included the words rather because there is an important textual variant in the Textus Receptus that adds the words “another out of”. The question is thus: is someone speaking from under the altar, or is the altar itself speaking? A similar question and a similar textual variant is found in Revelation 11:1. In that verse is a rod speaking, or an angel? I’m quite partial to the simplicity of the Textus Receptus. I don’t think it’s in keeping with the plain sagacity of Revelation to have inanimate objects speaking.
[*4] Almighty: Translating this term [Greek pantokrator] as “Almighty” is a pretty straightforward rendering of the simple etymology. The interesting thing is that there is a complete lop-sidedness in the use of pantokrator across the Testaments. Albeit the Old Testament Hebrew words rendered by the Septuagint authors as pantokrator were a bit more nuanced, the scribes nevertheless used pantokrator close to 150 times (about a third of those are in Zechariah). There is only 10 uses in the entire New Testament, and 9 of these are in Revelation. The other use is in 2 Corinthian 6:18, and Paul is simply quoting the Old Testament. The point is, the book of Revelation, as has been noted by an army of commentators, is very Jewish in character, and very much oozes forth from a mind and heart filled with the 39 books of the ancient Tanakh (especially Zechariah). And since God was the author in a special way, we see his desire to return his kingdom to ethnic Jews, fulfilling the promises to the patriarchs and the words of the hoary prophets.
…I call your attention to the fact that God has special angels over certain things. One angel is over fire [Revelation 14:18], another angel is over water, and another holds the winds [Revelation 7:1]. God has angels. People talk about “nature” and leave God completely out of the picture. Some people will not say “God.” There is a studied revolt against mentioning God. They may talk about “nature,” but nature is God’s handiwork. The Bible says that God is operating in nature and the weather, that He makes His rain to descend upon one city and He withholds it from another (Amos 4). It is God who sends the rain. How many of us believe that He sends the rain here and stops the rain there? People are trying to run God out of His universe, but He is sovereign and He is running the show. He hasn’t just wound everything up, as you wind up a clock. He doesn’t let it run on its own. He is active and operative every day in the affairs of men as well as in heaven. The Lord is in control! (Hendley, pg. 168)
Salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. It comes simply by confessing to God one’s sinfulness and professing to him belief in the sufficient sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, via his atoning death and conquering resurrection. What’s the difference between saying these simple truths in earnestness versus ordering a pizza in earnestness (not that such is sinful of course)? It seems like nothing, but the existence of an everlasting Hell and an everlasting Heaven beg otherwise.
Though they hide on the summit of Carmel, I will search them out and take them from there; and though they conceal themselves from My sight on the floor of the sea, from there I will command the serpent and it will bite them. -- Amos 9:3
And the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch [(1)*] the people [technically, “men”] with fire. And the people [technically, “men”] were scorched [with] great heat; and the people [technically, “men”] blasphemed the name of God, the [one] having authority over these plagues. And they did not repent to give to him glory [(2)*].
[*1] Scorch: The Greek word meaning “scorch” is kaumatizo…
Kaumatizo is a verb found in four places, meaning “scorch” in the sense of “burn with intense heat.”
Reference is made in Matt. 13:6; Mark 4:6 to plants “scorched” or “withered” by the sun. Rev. 16:8, 9 refers to “scorching” the wicked -- an indication of their fiery torment. (Renn, pg. 858)
Human beings, created in the image of God, will be comparable to grass of the field, dried up and withered by the parching heat of the sun.
[*2] Glory: According to Abbott-Smith the Greek word for “glory” [doxa] means “opinion, estimation in which one is held, repute; in NT, always good opinion, hence reputation, praise, honour, glory.” In Hebrew the force is slightly different…
The main Hebrew word referring to glory, kabod, has the root meaning “heavy” (1 Sam. 4:18), which in other contexts can mean “intense” (Exod. 9:3; NIV: “terrible”), “wealthy” (i.e., “heavy in possessions” (Gen. 13:21), and “high reputation” (Gen. 34:19; NIV: “most honored”). When used of God, it refers to his person and his works. God reveals his glory to Israel and to Egypt at the crossing of the sea (Exod. 14:4, 17-19). He carefully reveals his glory to Moses after Israel’s sin with the golden calf in order to assure him that he will not abandon them (33:12-23).
God’s glory is often associated with a cloud. Perhaps better stated, God’s glory often is intentionally obscured by a cloud so that people are not overwhelmed by the radiance of his presence. Such is the case on top of Mount Sinai as Moses ascends it (Exod. 24:15-18). God’s glory as associated with the cloud is also closely connected to the tabernacle and the temple. When the tabernacle is completed, God makes his presence known there by filling it with the cloud that represents his glory (Exod. 40:34-38). Later, the temple too is filled with God’s glory made manifest in the cloud (1 Kings 8:10-11)… (Longman, pg. 1156)
This association with the glory of God and clouds is particularly observable in the book of Revelation. Clouds are mentioned more in the book of Revelation than in any other New Testament book. It accounts for over a quarter of every mention of the word. The majority of the other New Testament occurrences appear either during the account of the Mount of Transfiguration or while referencing the Old Testament. All the cloud and smoke symbolism of Revelation paint a picture of overwhelming majesty being displayed. It is this overwhelming majesty that the sinful people of earth refuse to acknowledge in humility and faith.
In the first verse of our chapter God tells the angels to go pour their bowls towards/into the earth. The Greek preposition was “eis,” and it was the same word found in the text when each of the first 3 angels did the pouring. Now the preposition changes, and it will remain changed throughout the rest of the chapter. The word used here is “epi,” which has a very wide semantic range, but generally means “upon.” It will remain “epi” for each of the last remaining plagues; thus 3 feature “eis” and 4 feature “epi.”
Because Greek prepositions can have such a wide range of meanings it is very hard to definitely say what could be the significance. It really all depends on how “eis” is taken, and it could be taken a lot of different ways. I’ll show you what I mean.
One of the most thorough yet accessible treatments on prepositions available today is An Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek by Beale, Brendal, and Ross.
According to this source eis can mean:
1. into, in, toward, to, among, near, on, at; L [meaning, locative]
2. to, until, on, for, throughout; T [meaning, temporal]
3. into, to, in order to, toward, at, by…; M-Ed or C-E [meaning, means unto end/cause and effect]
4. for, to, with respect to, with reference to; Gn-Sp or Ft-In [meaning, general unto specific/fact unto interpretation] (pg. 39)
Because of context we can narrow down the meaning to the first category, the “locative,” but that doesn’t really help, for then we are still left with “into, in, toward, to, among, near, on, at.” Going a bit further with context however probably clears up the picture. Later an angel will pour out his bowl “upon” (epi) the Euphrates. Why would a different preposition be used other than the one employed with the third bowl, where the angel poured his bowl “eis” the other rivers? I just think it makes more sense to see the first 3 as being poured “towards,” and the last 4 as being poured “upon,” denoting an increased intensity in proximity, execution, and perhaps causation.
It is chiefly noteworthy however that a distinct 3/4 pattern emerges, for this is in keeping with the emphasis on numeral themes employed throughout Revelation. As has been pointed out by many commentators, the number 7 is everywhere in the book. Just for a quick bit of proof, the cardinal number occurs well over 50 times in Revelation, accounting for over half of all uses of it in the New Testament. In comparison, the number 7 only occurs 3 or 4 times in the much longer book of Isaiah.
[On a footnote, it’s come to my attention that in some of my past writings I may have been statistically inconsistent in relating how many times a Hebrew or Greek word occurs, sometimes simply focusing on verse references as opposed to how many times a word occurs altogether. I.e., sometimes a word appears multiple times in a single verse, but I fear I didn’t always make my mode of computation clear. I apologize and from now on I’m always referring to total usage, and not just verse references.]
Moreover, there are other uses of the number in Revelation, for various things appear in a group of 7 without being labelled as such.
What’s more, very often the 7 is divided up between 3 and 4, or 4 and 3. For example, in Revelation chapters 2-3 the Lord Jesus addresses 7 churches. With the first 3 churches he concludes his exhortation by saying, “The one having an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies;” this is followed by a promise to the overcomers within the church. With the last 4 churches however the pattern is completely flip-flopped, and he gives the promise first, and then says, “The one having an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.”
Another example is in Revelation 14. Here 7 angels are mentioned (without being labelled “7”). 3 are angelic announcers, and then 4 appear, working in 2 pairs of teams to reap the earth.
So anyway, the real point I’m trying to make is that the book of Revelation is very, very special. It was written by the only true genius in the universe. It has the mind of divinity running through it more than can be imagined.
Moving on now to the text itself, God had promised through the mouth of the ancient Israelite prophets that the time of the Day of Hashem would bring intense heat and signs in the sun…
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” -- Malachi 4:1
[When the] mountains saw you they writhed; a torrent of waters swept by; the deep gave its voice; it raised its hands on high. Sun [and] moon stood still in [their] place [reminiscent of Joshua at the conquest of the Canaanites at proto-Armageddon; cf. Joshua 10]; at the light of your arrows they moved about; at the gleam of the flashing of your spear. In fury you marched through [the] earth; in anger you trampled the nations. You went forth for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of wickedness, laying bare [from the] foundation to the top. -- Habakkuk 3:10-13 (LEB)
The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left. -- Isaiah 24:5-6
On every lofty mountain and on every high hill there will be streams running with water on the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times [brighter,] like the light of seven days, on the day the LORD binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted. -- Isaiah 30:25-26
The sum total of all of these various prophesies (and others) is: earthquakes, plagues, intense heat/sunlight, and the coming of the Lord to save and bless his people. The book of Revelation makes clear and orderly what the ancient prophets related in piecemeal.
And the fifth [angel] poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened [more literally, “became his kingdom having been darkened”] [(1)*]; and they were chewing [(2)*] their tongues from the pain [or, “distress,” “suffering”]. And they blasphemed the God of heaven from their pains and from their ulcers, and they did not repent of their works [or, “deeds”].
[*1] Darkened: The sense of “became [past tense verb] darkened [perfect participle]” compared with the rest of the verse is that the darkness having occurred, they then were continually chewing [imperfect verb, showing continuous action] their tongues in pain. I’m probably speaking beyond myself, for I’m certainly not a Greek scholar, but it seems therefore it’s their pain that is the real brunt of the plague. This makes perfect sense…
The pains from the ulcerated sores have continued on throughout, and each judgment has brought more misery. First they lost the water to wash and soothe, and now the wealthy can’t travel for treatment and pain relief. They have nothing to do but focus on their pains, which only serves to intensify them.
[*2] Chewing: Most translations choose “gnaw” here, which is fine, yet there is something about it that seems idiomatic. To “gnaw your tongue” doesn’t really bring out the horror of what is happening. The word means to chew, as you would chew gum. It is extremely severe. The Greek term only appears here in the New Testament. It was used rarely by the authors of the Septuagint as well. Job 30:4 seems to be its only appearance…
Who pluck mallow by the bushes, and whose food is the root of the broom shrub.
Their idea I suppose was food that is hard to chew.
The passage of course goes to show the amazing impertinence of these hardened sinners. There is not even the slightest love for God or fear of him. There is nothing but darkness, animosity, and fierce hatred. Ironically, they are unable to see that they are receiving the contents of their souls upon their flesh. It is their hatred that is leading to their being hated; it is the blasphemous venom that causes their noxious inflammation. The Lord returns the twistedness of the sinners upon the sinners themselves, and then they blame him for being twisted…
Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes. With the kind You show Yourself kind; with the blameless You show Yourself blameless; with the pure You show Yourself pure, and with the crooked You show Yourself astute [Lit twisted]. -- Psalm 18:24-26
The last word [titpatal] is interesting. Holladay says it means to “prove (onesf.) torturous, subtle” (pg. 301). This is doubtless what will consist of the blasphemy issuing forth from the condemned. Refusal to admit wrong leads to a world of problems, as well as to prolonged bitterness and strife with all concerned parties.
Many escalated conflicts arise from the failure to admit culpability. Many tensions between the police and minority groups in England and Scotland have come about because the police made some sort of mistake in the line of duty and were then unwilling to admit it to the affected parties. Cities have been set on fire because of lack of transparency. God asks us to be transparent with him, to be honest to him about our guilt. Failure to do so distorts our own conception of his justice.
And the sixth [angel] poured out his bowl upon the great river Euphrates [(1)*], and its water dried up, in order that the way of the kings from [the] sun-rising [(2)*] might be prepared. And I saw from the mouth of the dragon [(3)*] and from the mouth of the beast and from the mouth of the false prophet three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are spirits of demons, producing signs, which go forth upon the kings of the whole inhabited earth, to bring them together to the war [or, “fight,” “battle”] of that great day of God Almighty.
[*1] Euphrates: This is one of the most ancient and important rivers in the Old Testament…
The river Euphrates here called “the great” is one of the prominent rivers of the world and forms the eastern boundary of the ancient Roman Empire as well as the prophesied eastern boundary of the land which God promised to the seed of Abraham (Gen. 15:18; Deut.1:7; 11:24; Joshua 1:4). In Genesis 15:18, Deuteronomy 1:7, and Joshua 1:4, it is called “the great river Euphrates” as it is here. These references seem to establish unmistakably the geographic usage in this passage. In Isaiah 11:15 and Zechariah 10:11 there is a similar prediction of the drying up of the Euphrates River, though the name of the river is not mentioned. (Walvoord, pg. 236)
And The Complete Word Study Dictionary adds:
The Hebrew name [phrat] comes from the Akkadian, purattu. It and the Tigris encompass the area of Mesopotamia (“between the rivers”). It has shifted its riverbed several times through the millennia. It begins in modern eastern Turkey and flows through Syria and modern Iraq to the Persian Gulf. It and the Tigris meet shortly before emptying into the gulf. It has seen the rise and fall of villages, cities (e.g. Babylon, Carchemish), and great empires (Assyria, Mitanni, Babylon, Persia, etc.) over the years. It was one of the rivers in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:14)… (pg. 925)
[*2] Sun-rising: This is an expressive/idiomatic way to say “east.”
[*3] Dragon: It’s clear from the other occurrences of this creature in the book of Revelation that Satan is meant here (cf. 12:9).
Note the amazing hypocrisy displayed by humankind. The end days will be the era when God will “prove” himself over and over again, only people will turn a deaf ear.
These times will begin with God rapturing millions and millions of Christians, taking them to heaven in a blink of an eye. People will mostly not repent, but naysay: “Oh, it couldn’t have been the ‘Christian rapture.’ Sure, the Pope is still here on earth. And by the way, my drunken father disappeared, so it just can’t be true.”
God will then turn up the heat, sending forth the outworking of the seal judgments, turning nature on its head, and setting nation against nation. Again, people will naysay: “You see, the problem is that we don’t use enough halogen bulbs. If only people would quit flushing their toilets so much and burning coal, everything would be fine.”
God will then turn up the heat, causing heavenly bodies to descend from above and demonic creatures to ascend from below. Again, people will naysay: “Oh, it must be aliens. Or it must be some sort of secret NASA or Kremlin operation. We’re too smart to fall for it; after all, we have GoPro cameras. We know better.”
After even more powerful judgments and more naysaying, Satan unleashes some carnal spirits as frogs, and people will immediately capitulate: “This is truly from the Almighty Spirit; we will do as you command!”
…The three evil spirits (dragon and the two beasts) spur on the kings of the whole world to a real world war. “There have been times when nations have been seized by a passion for war which the historian can but imperfectly explain” (Swete). (Robertson, Revelation 16:14)
…The spirits are like frogs in form. The ancient Jewish people regarded frogs as unclean and repulsive, but the Egyptians revered a frog-goddess…“We can only explain the similitude from the uncleanness, and the pertinacious noise, of the frog.” (Alford)…“Christ expelled unclean spirits, but His enemies send them forth.” (Swete)…The frogs are “a devastating caricature of the failure of evil. That which men fear most because it appears to be mighty and eternally entrenched becomes at long last only a ridiculous spawning of sickly creatures of the night.” (Love)…These demons are like the lying spirit who led Ahab into battle (1 Kings 22:19-23). (Guzik, Revelation 16)
There is a famous story in the world of psychology where test-case individuals seemingly shocked someone to death in a nearby room, simply because some authority figure kept assuring them that the shocking should continue (cf. The Milgram Experiment). People have always been too enamoured with their leaders. In the chest of some rulers however lies more than the remains of last night’s dinner. Demons will deceive the rulers, and the rulers will urge on the world.
Two great errors may permeate people’s perceptions throughout the apocalypse: 1. God is not merciful. 2. Evil surprises God and is beyond his control.
On the subject of the Mystery of the Beetle I do not propose to pronounce a confident opinion. Atherton and I have talked it over many and many a time, and at the end we have got no ‘forrarder.’ So far as I am personally concerned, experience has taught me that there are indeed more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy, and I am quite prepared to believe that the so-called Beetle, which others saw, but I never, was -- or is, for it cannot be certainly shown that the thing is not still existing -- a creature born neither of God nor man. (Marsh, pg. 312)
There is no evil that acts independently of God, so we have nothing and no one to fear but God himself.
Moving on, a second point to be made from this passage is to note how the stage is now set for a truly world war. There has really never been a global war. There will be. A major part of this possibility will be every impediment being taken out of the way for the East to unite and march…
…The time has now come for those tremendous hordes of the East to assert themselves, to mobilize, and to hurl themselves westward. So far they have been held back by an impassible barrier, but that barrier, “the Euphrates,” is now removed. For a hundred years it was the British Empire that sat astride the Euphrates and that held down the East. In recent times, Russia has dominated this key area. Later on, it will be held by the revived Roman Empire commanded by the Beast. But his kingdom is now in turmoil, and his power in the East has dried up, making it possible for China, India, Japan, and other Eastern powers to unite. The nightmare that has haunted world leaders for generations becomes a reality. The industrial might of Japan is wedded to the manpower and nuclear knowhow of China and to all the manpower of the East. The way of the kings of the East is prepared, and at long last the awakened millions of Asia see their way clear to avenge themselves on the hated powers of the West. (Phillips, pg. 195)
It’s natural to ask a question here: why will these kings march? Or put another way, what will the demons say to motivate this invasion. John MacArthur offers a couple of plausible suggestions…
“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed [or, “happy”] [is] the [one] watching and keeping his garments, so that he might not be walking about naked and they might be seeing his unseemliness [(1)*].” And he brought them together to the place being called in Hebrew, Armageddon [(2)*].
[*1] Unseemliness: This word is hard to translate. The only other New Testament occurrence is in Romans 1…
For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable, lustful passions, for even their females exchanged the natural use for the [use] against nature, and likewise also the males having left the natural use of the female were inflamed in their craving for one another; males with males committing shameful behavior and receiving back in themselves the penalty which was fitting [for] their deception [or, perversion]. -- verses 26-27
Although it wasn’t used often in the New Testament, it was employed around 40 or so times by the authors of the Septuagint. There it often was a substitution for the Hebrew ervah, meaning, “nakedness, genital area” (Holladay, pg. 283). Hence Abbott-Smith says it means “unseemliness,” and then citing the Septuagint, “shame, nakedness.”
What it means here in Revelation is clearly a spiritual metaphor. Yet what metaphor? Is it a final warning for the lost to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ, or an encouragement for Christians to seek to be unspotted by the world at the coming of Christ? We’ll consider this issue in the commentary below.
[*2] Armageddon: This is the only occurrence of this term in the Bible, but there was an Old Testament site in Israel named Megiddo…
…The vast Valley of Megiddo has seen tremendous battles through the centuries. Over 200 battles have been fought in the region, from 1468 B.C. (with Pharaoh Tuthmosis III) to 1917 (with Lord Allenby of the British)…It is best to see the place as literal, as the region of Megiddo and the valley of Esdraelon. Revelation 16:14, 17:14 and 19:19 described an organized battle that must center somewhere, even if it extends much further…“But what is the battle of Armageddon? How ridiculous have been the conjectures of men relative to this point! Within the last twenty years this battle has been fought at various places, according to our purblind seers and self-inspired prophets! At one time it was Austerlitz, at another Moscow, at another Leipsic, and now Waterloo! And thus they have gone on, and will go on, confounding and being confounded.” (Clarke)… (Guzik, Revelation 16)
We saw in previous verses that the Lord will dry up the river Euphrates to make a way for the Eastern kings to march westward. Immediately after this pronouncement it was also related that 3 demonic entities will go forth to bring all the nations of all the world to a great war of God. In the verses we’re now considering we’ve been instructed as to the specific name of the place, and have seen that it is a certain valley in Israel. Although the head or centre of the war might be fought here, it’s obvious from other Scriptures that mention this great event that the fighting might actually stretch out for a significantly longer distance. Also, if it’s a proper war, there might be several different major battles.
I raised the question above concerning the Lord’s admonition to keep watch over one’s garments. In order to fully appreciate his comments we must take a step back and see that there is always a pause when one of the series of 7-fold judgments is being unleased in Revelation.
First, chapter 6 of Revelation describes the Lamb opening the 6 seals, and then there is a pause consisting of chapter 7. The 7th chapter mainly describes those redeemed by God during the tribulation period.
Then in chapters 8-9 the seventh seal gives way to 6 trumpets, and then there is another pause. This time the pause is pretty substantial, consisting of chapters 10-14. A lot happens in this large portion, but included in it is God’s redeeming, as in the Jerusalem ministry of his witnesses in chapter 11, the fleeing of Israel in chapter 12, and the harvesting of the earth in chapter 14.
Finally we have the 6 bowls unleashed, followed by this pause. Therefore, I think it’s more than just a simple exhortation, but a final brief respite for people to come to the Lord before his looming advent.
Of course this raises a pertinent question that I’ve ignored up to this point. If the whole world has received the mark of the beast by now, then what chance will there be for anyone to repent? It’s hard to say for sure, but I’ll take my bravest stab at this question.
First of all, a year or two ago I did a little booklet on the mark of the beast. During that time I gave the subject of the mark a lot of thought. One thing that struck me was the enormous difficulty in actually administering such a mark to every person on the earth. The beast will surely try, but logically there will be millions and millions of people who will be able to stay off the radar. Plus, the full implementation of the mark seemingly won’t begin until the Antichrist betrays the nation of Israel half-way through the last 7 years; it’s at that point that the false prophet causes everyone to worship him. This will be the “great tribulation,” and it will be a highly chaotic time. Full implementation of the mark is bound to remain elusive.
But what if the mark has been received? For example, chapter 16 begins with those who have received the mark being afflicted with sores. Well, again, I’m not trying to draft dogma here, but in my opinion those who receive the mark have no hope. I can’t see anything in the Bible to lead me to believe that they have any hope. I don’t really think it’s their salvation that’s ever in view in chapter 16, but it is for the people who are looking on who haven’t received the mark and who aren’t yet Christians. Think of Egypt. God sought to heap his wrath on Pharaoh. There was really no hope for Pharaoh, but there was hope for those seeing the work of the Almighty God…
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. For [if by] now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain [Lit stand], in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. ”’” -- Exodus 9:13-16
And the seventh [angel] poured out his bowl upon the air [(1)*]; and a great voice came out from the sanctuary of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It has happened [(2)*]!” And lightning occurred and thunder and sounds [or, “voices”], and a great earthquake, such as did not occur from when people [technically, “the men” ] came upon the earth: so mighty an earthquake -- so great!
[*1] Air: Abbott-Smith states that this word was used in earlier Greek writers like Homer and Hesiod to refer to what we consider air; i.e., that which surrounds the earth in our lower atmosphere. There was another term for higher, purer regions. I just wanted to stress the point here that there’s nothing spiritual about the term or anything remote. In fact, the Greek term sounds almost identical to the way we say air, with only a slight change in vowel emphasis; i.e., “aer.”
[*2] It Has Happened: “It has happened” is admittedly a cacophonous rendering of one of the most poignant phrases in the entire Bible. I was simply trying to stick to the standard grammatical convention of translating Greek perfect verbs as something that happened in the past with ongoing effects. For all intents and purposes, the best translation is as the NKJV and NRSV have: “It is done;” or as John MacArthur stated: “It has been and will remain done.” God’s plan for salvific history has been brought to fruition.
I wanted to stress the word “air” above because I think it’s a key to what fully is going on here in the seventh seal. I fully believe that this seal corresponds with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, what else could, “It is done,” mean? Does it not mean that the Kingdom of God has come? There are several reasons why I believe the seventh seal happens simultaneously with the physical return of the God-man.
First, when the Messiah comes, earth’s atmosphere will be set ablaze with his glory…
For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. -- Matthew 24:27 (LEB)
When Israel was delivered from Egypt and led to Sinai, the people saw God (i.e., the Angel of Hashem) descend with smoke and loud noises upon the mount…
So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder [Lit sounds] and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who [were] in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai [was] all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. -- Exodus 19:16-18
I’ve written in the past that the first part of Psalm 18 provides a very lucid depiction of the God-man descending from his throne to rescue Israel at the onslaught of Armageddon when they call upon him, as can also be seen in Zechariah, chapters 12-14. It’s interesting therefore that this Greek word “aer,” mentioned above, is used in Psalm 18 by the Septuagint translators. In fact, it was only used by the translators in Psalm 18:11 (and its identical twin verse, 2 Samuel 22:12)…
He bowed the heavens also, and came down with thick darkness under His feet. He rode upon a cherub and flew; and He sped upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies. -- Psalm 18:9-11
What the NASB translators rendered as “skies,” the ancient Septuagint translators rendered as the Greek “aer.” Thus, the angel pouring out his bowl upon the “air” might be a reference to the advent of the smoky, fiery, Sinai-like disturbances in the heavens when Israel calls to Christ, and this God-man, who once appeared to Israel as the Angel of the LORD, will light up the sky from East to West.
The other reason why I believe the seventh bowl is synonymous with the return of the Lord Jesus is a survey of the destruction to come to pass. As we’ll see when we read the 3 final verses of this chapter, when the power and fury of the seventh bowl is exhausted, the entire world will be completely levelled and completely decimated. This would make sense of such happened right when Christ returned, and not before it.
Anyway, let’s now read the description of the very end…
And the great city came to be into three parts, and the cities of the nations [or, “peoples”] fell. And Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give to her the cup of the wine of the passion [(1)*] of his wrath. And every island fled away, and mountains were not found. And great hail, as of a talent’s [(2)*] weight, descends out of heaven [or, “the sky”] upon the people [technically, “men”]; and the people [technically, “men”] blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague is exceedingly great [(3)*].
[*1] Passion: The Greek word behind the rendering “passion” [thumos; see 16:1] is one of the most interesting words in the book of Revelation. Although the theme of God’s wrath is common in Scripture, what this term particularly describes is fairly rare. It occurs 10 times in Revelation and only 8 times in the rest of the New Testament combined. Of those 8 times, it only once refers to God. Let me briefly list the other uses:
1. Luke 4:28: Sinful people vent rage at the preaching of Jesus Christ.
2. Acts 19:28: Sinful pagans vent rage when they believe their goddess Artemis is being assailed.
3-6. 2 Corinthians 12:20, Galatians 5:20, Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8: In each of these verses Paul is listing a characteristic of a sinful person.
7. Hebrews 11:27: The wrath of Pharaoh against Moses is being mentioned.
Then, when we come to the book of Revelation the term is usually applied to God, although once it speaks of Satan’s wrath and twice of Babylon’s wickedness. The point is being made that tremendous outbursts of anger are not normally in keeping with the character of God. We expect outbursts of anger to proceed from sinful people and not holy people. Yet even when reading the Gospels or reading about Moses in the Torah or Paul in Acts, sometimes passionate anger is justified. With God, it appears chiefly justified at the very end of the age, mainly with the unleashing of these bowls.
[*2] Talent: Perhaps there is a bit of irony here due to the Old Testament meaning of the word. As the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament says concerning a talent…
This noun carries three different meanings.
(1) A round disk: of a leaden lid (Zech 5:7); of a disk of gold or silver bullion, usually weighing one talent (II Sam 12:30; I Kgs 10:10); as a unit from which smaller objects are made (Ex 25:39; I Kgs 9:14; the talent weighed c. 75 pounds or 34.3 kilograms).
(2) A (circular) district, territory, used especially of the Jordan Valley (Gen 13:10; I Kgs 7:46), or of the district of Jerusalem (Neh 3:22; 12:28).
(3) A circular loaf of bread (I Sam 2:36; Prov 6:36). (The kikkār as a talent weighed 3000 shekels.)
The Hebrew word for talent could mean circular bread. Many commentators point out the similarities between Revelation 16 and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. For example, Revelation 16 is introduced by something like the “song of Moses” (Revelation 15:3). Both Revelation and the Exodus feature water being turned to blood, darkness, frogs, hail, drying of water, and boils/ulcers. In fact, the whole chapter of Revelation 16 is best seen as a fairly strict recapitulation of the exodus from Egypt on a global scale.
After Israel escaped the clutches of Pharaoh at the hand of God the people hungered in the wilderness. They then awoke one morning to see the ground covered with strange little flakes called “manna.” The sinful, in contrast, will see their rejection of God’s offer of redemption ultimately issue forth in talents of destruction littering the entire face of the ground.
[*3] Great: I don’t want to leave this chapter without pointing out how prominent the word “great” is throughout. The Greek term for “great” is mega, which is pretty much the same as our word mega. As might be expected, the word features more in Revelation than in any other book of the New Testament. Chapter 16 features the word 11 times to describe a great: voice (twice), heat, river, day, earthquake (twice), a city (twice), and hailstones (twice).
So this is how the age will actually end. It will not happen through global warming, through the sun turning into a red giant, or through nuclear war on a global scale. It will happen because the Lord Jesus returns and shakes the heavens and the earth, just as it was prophesied back in the Old Testament…
“As for the promise [Lit word] which I made [Lit cut with] you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding [Or while…was standing] in your midst; do not fear!” For thus says the LORD of hosts, “Once more in a little while [Lit it is a little], I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations [Or the desire of all nations will come], and I will fill this house with glory,” says the LORD of hosts. -- Haggai 2:5-7
Hashem promised such to the leaders of Israel, and so will he bring it to pass.
I agree with John MacArthur in that I believe 2 cities are mentioned in this passage. One is obviously Babylon, the city which will be the Antichrist’s glory during the tribulation period. It is completely destroyed. The other city isn’t mentioned, but is likely Jerusalem. It will be perhaps the only major city not completely decimated. It will rather be refurbished, as is stated clearly in the book of Zechariah…
Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of [Lit His day of fighting] battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. You will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD, my God, will come, [and] all the holy ones with Him [So the versions; Heb You]! -- 14:3-5
And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter. And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be [the only] one, and His name [the only] one. All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site from Benjamin’s Gate as far as the place of the First Gate to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s wine presses. -- 14:8-10
As we conclude our brief look at this “great” chapter of Scripture I’d like to mention again what I alluded to at the beginning. A simple, futuristic interpretation is the only one that gives the book of Revelation due respect. For the question of interpreting Revelation isn’t a matter of how to come to terms with a complex book. For the book isn’t even complex, but it rather gives a logical, systematic, and fairly chronological picture of what the Hebrew prophets predicted for the end of time. To deny Revelation you would obviously have to deny Zechariah as well, and Daniel, and Isaiah, and a host of predictions made from across the entire Tanakh. The book of Revelation is only complex if you don’t believe in an omniscient and wise God of salvation history, who has been moving the globe to a grand redemption ever since the hoary days of Eden. The book of Revelation is only complex if you don’t believe God has a plan and that he is able to predict that plan.
And one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These, the ones having been clothed with the long, white robes, who are they, and from where did they come?” And I said to him, “My Lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, and they washed their long robes and made [them] white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they sacredly serve Him day and night in His Temple. And the One sitting on the throne will spread [His] tabernacle over [fig., will shelter] them. They will not hunger [any] longer, nor by any means will they thirst [any] longer, nor will the sun fall [fig., beat down] on them, nor any heat . -- Revelation 7:13-16
IV. Works Cited
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Beale, Gregory and William Ross, Daniel Brendsel. An Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.
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