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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Revelation 16

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

REV:16

This is the famed chapter of the bowls; and what we have here is a "free adaptation, with modifications and amplifications,"[1] of the series of trumpet judgments depicted in Revelation 8 and Revelation 9, which "the prophet wishes to emphasize by recapitulation."[2] "These bowls are final but not complete."[3] God's saints are not harmed by them. What they represent is the total corruption of earth's environment, not the physical environment which is here used as a symbol, but the moral, intellectual, religious, and spiritual environment. This perversion of the moral and cultural world of mankind will be the final culmination of evil upon the earth, presenting the true saints of God with their final and most effective challenge.

It is the literalism of scholars, quite unconsciously in many, it seems, that totally dismantles the efforts of some to understand this marvelous chapter. "These plagues cannot be interpreted in a literal sense."[4] "It is difficult indeed to believe that any such happenings as these would take place in history."[5] Some who see this, however, fail utterly to come up with an answer as to just what is symbolized. For example, Pieters, who enthusiastically accepted the principle that "literalism here is hopeless,"[6] " did not even hazard a guess as to what the various bowl symbols mean, declaring that, "The true interpretation has not been found, and probably cannot be found."[7] Roberson, another highly respected scholar, speaking of interpreting these bowls, wrote, "It may be that no attempt to do so will ever be successful."[8] Such views are a little embarrassing to this writer who confidently believes that a valid understanding of what is symbolized by the bowls can be presented, an interpretation that is both logical and fully in harmony with what the rest of the New Testament teaches. This will be spelled out below.

These seven bowls are poured out, if not simultaneously, then nearly so; because, as Beckwith noted, "The pains and sores of Revelation 16:11 (in the fifth bowl) refer to the first plague,"[9] thus showing that the plagues were operating co-extensively. We might refer to all seven bowls as ""Satan's Propaganda Apparatus." But does not God send this? Of course. It is the divine judicial hardening of mankind due to sin and rebellion against God which is undoubtedly in view here, as several very discerning scholars have observed. "This means that the great and final interdiction of God has come."[10] Exactly the same hardening is here which Paul discussed in Romans 1:24,26,28. "God gave them up." This means that God darkened their minds, hardened their hearts and delivered them over to the devices of Satan whom they preferred to serve. It is impossible to understand this chapter without due attention to God's hardening of the entire pre-Christian world, because this chapter is a prophecy of exactly the same thing happening again before the Second Coming of Christ. That is the reason that the ominous shadow of the plagues of Egypt falls over these bowls, as so many have pointed out. See discussion of, "When God Gives Men Up," my Commentary on Romans, pp. 38-51, and "The Hardening of Israel," and also at pp. 392-395. The principle that God does what he allows and requires fully hardened people to do is clear. A good New Testament example is the command of Jesus to Judas, ""Get on at once with the betrayal" (John 13:27, a paraphrase). Thus, these bowls are actually the culmination of human wickedness; but they are also, in a very real sense, the judgments of God upon the incorrigibly evil. Wicked men, hardened finally by God himself, due to their obduracy and rebellion, at last "receive in themselves that recompense of their error which was due" (Romans 1:27). When God at last allows sinful man to walk fully and unrestrained in the evil ways he has chosen, the total pollution of the moral, intellectual, spiritual, and religious environment will happen again, just like it did in the case of the pre-Christian Gentiles; and that ultimate hardening of all mankind is the dreadful eventuality symbolized by these seven bowls. The repeated mention in Revelation 16:9,11,21 of the absolute refusal of people to repent proves this view to be correct. The chapter deals with the final and ultimate hardening of the human race.

[1] James Moffatt. Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 446.

[2] Ibid.

[3] William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 190.

[4] R. C. H. Lenski. The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House. 1943), p. 463.

[5] Michael Wilcock, I Saw Heaven Opened (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press. 1975), p. 154.

[6] Albertus Pieters, Studies in the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 243.

[7] Ibid., p. 244.

[8] Charles H. Roberson, Studies in Revelation (Tyler, Texas: P. D. Wilmeth, P.O. Box 3305,1957), p. 118.

[9] Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 681.

[10] W. A. Criswell, Expository Sermons on Revelation in IV Vols. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), III, p. 174.

And I heard a great voice out of the temple, saying to the seven angels, Go ye, and pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God into the earth. (Revelation 16:1)

Go ye, and pour out ... In the chapter introduction, it was noted that these seven bowls are poured out quickly and almost simultaneously. Criswell commented on this:

The Greek indicates that these come one after the other in rapid succession. Just like that! When the judgment (or hardening) finally comes, it comes in a hurry.[11]

Some interpreters apply these to the destruction of Rome, as Summers, for example, who saw them as, "The swiftly executed wrath of God ... on the Roman Empire";[12] but whatever fulfillment occurred in that does not mitigate against the application of them in a much more extensive frame of reference to the final judicial hardening of the entire race of man. The fact of the totality of these judgments (all instead of merely one third, as in the trumpets) forbids our limitation of it to pagan Rome alone. What happened in the fall of Rome is a preview of what is yet to happen, or may indeed be in the process of happening now. Furthermore, there have been many fulfillments of this historically, Pharaoh being the great Old Testament example of it; and all such occurrences are types of these seven bowls of wrath which are the final, ultimate, and "last" manifestation of the same phenomenon. Many have associated these bowls of wrath, and for very good reasons, with the French Revolution.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1961), p. 186.


Verse 2

And the first went, and poured out his bowl into the earth; and it became a noisome and grievous sore upon the men that had the mark of the beast, and that worshipped his image.

And the first went and poured out ... The word for "sore" is "the same as that used to describe the boils and sores in the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 9:8-11)."[13] Moffatt translated it as a "noisome and painful ulcer."[14] "Noisome," of course, means "stinking." Before taking up the meaning of this, note that this plague fell only upon those identified with the beast.

Upon the men that had the mark of the beast ... "These evils (the bow]s) do not affect other men (the Christians)."[15] A mandatory deduction here is that no literal destruction of the land is meant.

But what is meant? The earth itself, its populations out of which the land-beast arose, will become one vast propaganda factory advancing the teachings of the devil, with the result that all kinds of "stinking ulcers" shall spring up all over the world. Within a few blocks of where this is written, there are a dozen of them, as proclaimed by their gaudy neon signs: "Totally Nude Girls," "Adult Theater XXX Movies," "Bottoms Up Club," "Sylvia Sin's Lounge," etc. If anyone does not believe such places are "stinking ulcers," let him ask the police of any great city. Tragically, there is no way to stop the pornographic, liquor, prostitution, and perversion palaces which today fill half the world. An angel of the wrath of God has poured out his bowl upon the earth, not upon a third of it, but upon all of it.

Scholars who think they can get rid of this prophecy by limiting it to ancient pagan Rome, or by dismissing it as, "merely a retelling of the sixth Egyptian plague of boils,"[16] need to read it again. The things mentioned above are merely the tip of the iceberg. The printing and publication industries of the world are glutted with vicious, anti-God, atheistic, subversive, immoral, and destructive propaganda of every evil kind. Every grocery store has its magazine section devoted to the secularization and corruption of humanity. The movies and entertainment business have so far been corrupted that there is hardly any market for decent and helpful material.

Likewise, the art, and even the music of the world, have been lowered to a level of jungle rhythm, guttural screaming, and the mouthing of obscenities. The art forms of our day betray a ruptured, fractured, and broken culture.

All over the world, evil religious cults are springing up. What are these but more "stinking ulcers"? Recently, in Houston, "The Church of Atheism" was unveiled. Satan has so perverted the laws and opinions of mankind that such monstrosities are endowed with all of the rights and privileges that should belong to righteousness and truth.

The bitter delusions of Marxism are being peddled all over the earth by means of every device of propaganda and subversion ever invented by Satan. But why go on? It would take a library to describe what is meant by the bowl of the wrath of God being poured out upon the earth. How about all those learned men who see nothing here except some ancient historical event?

We do not offer this interpretation as meaning that "the end of time is upon us" or that the final judicial hardening of the race of mankind has already occurred. Nor, are the things we have pointed out intended as an affirmation, for it is not true, that all art, music, literature, publications, entertainment, etc., are evil. Thanks to the God of heaven through Christ, there are still many wonderful, beautiful, and uplifting things available in every one of these fields; and it could be that the complete fulfillment of this prophecy lies yet a great distance into the future, or that the things we have understood as pertaining to the whole world could be merely the astounding perversions that mark the decline of our own isolated culture in America. Therefore, we make no claim whatever that this bowl of wrath, or any of the others, is totally fulfilled by the aberrations noted.

However, our interpretation is that the bowls of wrath mean exactly the type of moral and spiritual pollution of the total human environment that we have attempted to point out. It is not merely that lust, vulgarity, pornography, violence, perversion, and obscenity are present in our culture. They have always been present in greater or lesser extent in every culture. What is alarming today is the toleration, acceptance, and justification of such things, even to the extent of their being advocated and encouraged by and political institutions; and that is what signals a frightening new aspect of such wickedness today. It could be later than we think.

The festering, malignant, noisome ulcers which are breaking out over the earth are represented as hurting the worshippers of the beast, the followers of Satan. How is this true? The parasitic and destructive nature of all satanic "sores" causes them to hurt all kinds of legitimate and constructive endeavors. The "stinking ulcer" of the late Jim Jones' Communist Camp in Guyana literally destroyed everyone connected with it. Look what communism has done all over the world.

In the interpretation of this first bowl, we have also, in part, the interpretation of all seven, for they are concurrent, intermingled, mutually supported; and each one is but a part of the total corruption of mankind's moral and spiritual environment.

[13] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 126.

[14] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 446.

[15] Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 20, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 193.

[16] Martin Rist, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York-Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 481.


Verse 3

And the second poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living soul died, even the things that were in the sea.

And the second poured out his bowl into the sea ... This sea was the origin of the sea-beast described earlier, which was nothing other than the teeming populations of the earth. The earth of the first bowl and the sea of this bowl are therefore identical, their mention separately being due to the nature of the figure. The figure is the total physical environment (which necessarily includes the sea) symbolical in this vision of the moral, intellectual, and spiritual environment of mankind.

And it became blood as the blood of a dead man ... It is clearly the whole of earth's people who are meant in all this. "Souls" do not literally live "in the sea." The figure here is an ocean completely turned into rotting, stinking blood; but, "When the entire sea is stinking blood, what about the land which it surrounds?"[17] It is clearly the physical environment that is ruined in the figure; therefore, we look to the spiritual environment for the fulfillment. When man himself as a factor in his environment becomes popularly and generally devoted to selfishness, greed, lust, violence, and every form of evil, when the "in thing" for the vast majority is indulgence in sex, homosexuality, blasphemy, drunkenness, corruption, hatred, and irreligion, the human race itself becomes a "dead sea."

Thus, this bowl is merely another and extended phase of the first. We shall note some of the types of corruptions indicated. The universities and schools have taken up the task of preaching Satan's lies, such as evolution, which leads undeniably to the conclusion that man is merely an animal with no more cosmic value than a worm or a rat. What has this done for the human moral and spiritual environment? Besides this, there are a thousand other evil postulations which are being swallowed, advocated and taught almost universally in our culture today, such as humanism, the self-sufficiency of man, the lie that his favorite sins of adultery, drunkenness, homosexuality, criminality, etc., are in no sense sins at all, but merely diseases which society is obligated to pay for and treat! Another lie is that man is not morally responsible for what he does, that society owes every man a good living with all of the conveniences and luxuries thrown in, that man is essentially good, that he is thoroughly capable of solving all of his problems, etc., etc. The great theological seminaries devoted unreservedly to the destruction of the Bible; the churches that ordain homosexuals, adulterers, and even atheists to their pulpits, and contradict the Scriptures in practically all that they either do or teach; the "love cult" that robs God of any other prerogative except that of loving us wicked sinners (what else is God for?) ... these are just a few of the evidences of man's intellectual environment having been polluted. An angel of God has poured out the bowl of his wrath upon the sea!

ENDNOTE:

[17] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 467.


Verse 4

And the third poured out his bowl into the rivers and the fountains of waters; and it became blood.

And the third poured out his bowl ... The figurative nature of this is evident in the truth that with both the sea and the land already ruined, there would have been no need to bother with the rivers and fountains. What can be meant? A vast number of earth's great cities are located upon the rivers; and just as the rivers move downward to the sea, so the influences of earth's great cities flow downward from them into all mankind. We interpret the blight upon the rivers and fountains as the ultimate blight upon the urban civilizations of the world which will change the influences descending from those great cities into blood. People cannot worship self and sensuality without degrading, at last, their joys, recreations, and all creative activity and reducing them to lower and lower levels. "When the public taste grows corrupt, the literature, for example, will become so."[18]

Are not all of earth's great cities today in trouble as never before? The proliferation in many of them of a vast army of the incompetent, idle, non-productive dependents upon the public charity, the erosion of authority by the rapacious greed of godless labor unions controlled by thieving, looting bosses in league with the underworld, the spread of lawlessness, official corruption, fiscal irresponsibility, and the encroaching malignant godlessness that has spread terror like a fog over every one of them ... such things appear to have crossed a boundary between what can be contained, corrected, and reduced, and to have become a demonic engine running away. As to which it is now, we do not pretend to know; but this prophecy reveals what it will be like when the angel of the wrath of god pours his bowl upon the rivers and fountains. There are today coming out of earth's cities influences which spiritually are the blood of dead men. See comment on Revelation 11:13, above, in which the fall of urban civilization is a forerunner of the final judgment. In this context, Lenski spoke of the contamination of "such things as marriage, political science, public morals, and good taste being rivers and springs turned into blood."[19] These are only a few examples of many that could be cited.

[18] W. Boyd Carpenter, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 607.

[19] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 469.


Verse 5

And I heard the angel of the waters saying, Righteous art thou, who art and who wast, thou Holy One, because thou didst thus judge:

And I heard the angel of the waters ... It is probably a mistake to tie this reference in with the extensive angelology of the Jews. What is probably meant is merely the angel who had poured out the bowl of wrath on the waters.

Righteous art thou, who art and who wast ... We might have expected the phrase "and who is to come" until it is remembered that this vision reveals the state of things when the coming of Christ has already begun.

Thou Holy One, because thou didst thus judge ... This with the next two verses is a kind of parenthesis to show that such terrible judgments are in no sense to be construed as unbecoming or out of character in the one true and living God who gave his Son for our redemption. No! These judgments are exactly what the God of love should do. "The pouring out of the bowls is not a series of arbitrary actions, but a solemn judgment."[20] When people are fully determined and have decided that they will not obey God, nothing could be more just and honorable on the part of the Father than to turn them loose, give them up, harden their hearts, and deliver them completely into the hands of the devil whom they have chosen to obey. That is exactly the state of the situation prophesied here.

ENDNOTE:

[20] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 194.


Verse 6

for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and blood hast thou given them to drink: they are worthy.

For they poured out the blood of saints ... Violence has a way of destroying itself through the operation of the divine law of retribution. Where were the saints and prophets of God murdered? Almost without exception, they were murdered in earth's great cities, indicating that we are on the right track in our interpretation of the rivers and fountains. God will reward ruthless, barbarous, violent cultures with a liberal dose of their own medicine. They shed innocent blood; very well, God will give them blood to drink.

For they are worthy ... This carries the meaning that wicked, hardened men fully deserve the divine sentence of wrath being executed upon them. Conspicuous in the present day is the blurred sense of justice. There are many now who do not believe that anyone is worthy of punishment, no matter what were their crimes. The "Reign of Terror" in Paris during the French Revolution was brought about primarily from the reluctance or outright refusal of legitimate authority to punish criminals. "Had Louis XVI been the tyrant that the extremists accused him of being, there would have been no Revolution."[21] "France had a revolution because she tolerated and invited every conceivable kind of dissension,"[22] even that of the mob murder of duly elected assemblymen of the central government! A society that is incapable of taking care of its Murats will inevitably perish.

[21] Stanley Loomis, Paris in Terror (Philadelphia and New York: The J. S. Lippincott Company, 1964), p. 102.

[22] Ibid.


Verse 7

And I heard the altar saying, Yea, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.

A voice from the altar ... In connection with that altar, we remember the prayers of the martyrs for the execution of God's judgment upon the wicked, and these bowls of wrath are the answer of those prayers.

True and righteous are thy judgments ... It is startling to find some commentators of the opinion that the profound condemnations and punishments of this chapter are "unworthy of the kind of God revealed in the New Testament." Our own view is that such sentiments are unworthy of Christian commentators. People are not wiser than God, a delusion which these visions were designed to correct! Note, also, that these awful punishments of a world gone berserk in its rebellion against God are not capricious reactions of a peevish God who is annoyed with human "mistakes." Ah no! These are the just retributions which the wicked bring upon themselves. The only way in which such wicked men can be contained and corrected by God is in removing the restraints, giving them up (Romans 1:24,26,28), and throwing the derail switch at the head of the canyon.


Verse 8

And the fourth poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given unto it to scorch men with fire.

And the fourth poured out his bowl upon the sun ... Can there be any doubt now, that the total physical environment of the earth is the figure here? What is the specific analogy? The sun in the physical realm is "the light of the world," even as Christ and his truth are the true spiritual light of people (John 1:9). When that which should be light is so polluted that it will only scorch and burn with fire, then the bowl of the wrath of God has been poured upon the sun. How ridiculous must be accounted any physical, literal interpretation of this. Lactantius thought that:

God will cause the sun to stand still for three days so that it (the earth) will catch on fire; whereupon the impious and hostile people of earth will suffer by excessive heat and burning.[23]

"This fourth bowl has no parallel in the Egyptian plagues,"[24] which certainly stops the writers who cannot find anything in this series except those plagues. Although there are certainly overtones and resemblances here and there to the plagues of Egypt, this vision is distinctly John's. "Strange how little commentators venture to say with regard to this bowl!"[25]

All of these bowls are represented as destroying, not merely injuring, the physical environment. Any one of them would have been sufficient to that purpose, but the absolute corruption and ruination of all of it are made overwhelming by the seven bowls. That the physical environment is not meant is made evident in the promise of Genesis 8:22, to the effect that the ordered seasons of day and night, summer and winter, seedtime and harvest shall not cease while the earth remains. We cannot believe that anything in this prophecy contradicts that promise.

And it was given unto it ... The sentence of judicial hardening is inherent in this. That the very light which should illuminate human life should be changed into scorching destruction denotes a condition mentioned by Jesus, "If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness" (Matthew 6:23).

What does this mean? It means that institutions of learning, and even churches and religious organizations, are teaching: evolution, humanism, communism, libertinism, a new morality, atheism, and a host of other lies. It means that churches are preaching the philosophies of men, the commandments of men, the prejudices of men, and the traditions of men instead of the word of God. It means that the prophetic voice of the Scriptures no longer disturbs what few church-goers are left, the great worldwide mission of saving souls having been replaced by "social programs," endowing the church with her new status of carrying the bedpan for the sick society, instead of proclaiming the true light of the fire of God's word to a wicked world. Thank God, this picture is by no means true of all, but it is sufficiently true to raise the question of whether or not the angel of God has poured the bowl of heavenly wrath upon the sun. The general apostasy of Christianity is almost certainly indicated by this. Instead of being lamp-bearers of the true light, many are instead merely waving the smoking torches of human wisdom.

[23] Lactantius, Of the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Divine Institutes, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), VII, 26.

[24] James D. Strauss, The Seer, the Saviour, and the Saved (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1972), p. 204.

[25] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 471.


Verse 9

And men were scorched with great heat: and they blasphemed the name of God who hath power over these plagues; and they repented not to give him glory.

And they were scorched with great heat ... The wars, revolutions, social unrest, bitterness and frustrations of our present times may only be a token of what is indicated by this. The less true light possessed by people from the word of God, the more they are scorched and burned by the fires of evil.

They blasphemed ... they repented not ... Eller and several others viewed this and a similar statement in Revelation 16:11 as, "a possible reference to the possibility of repentance";[26] but the more likely view is that it is intended for us to see by the final and terminal nature of these judgments that, "Not for one moment did these men think of repenting."[27]

[26] Vernard Eller, The Most Revealing Book of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 148.

[27] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 473.


Verse 10

And the fifth poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast; and his kingdom was darkened; and they gnawed their tongues for pain,

And the fifth poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast ... The kingdom of the world, marshaled by Satan against God and his truth, is the object of this judgment, particularly irreligious, atheistic, humanistic states. "This throne of the beast may aptly apply to the Roman Empire in John's day, but its position varies at different times. Wherever the world-power is worshipped, there the beast has his throne."[28] This prophesies the corruption of human governments into instruments of suppression, persecution, and destruction of God's truth in Christ. Russia is an excellent example from our own times of what Rome was in John's. This pouring out of the bowl upon the kingdom of the beast prophesies that the brutal godless governments faced by the first Christians will reappear at the end, or near the end-time. It should not be overlooked that the hardening of the pre-Christian Gentile nations is again to take place when "the times of the Gentiles" is fulfilled (Luke 21:24). When history has run its course, once more the judicial hardening of impenitent mankind will occur. Romans 1is therefore a vital comment upon what is prophesied here.

And his kingdom was darkened ...

When men shut out the higher light, the smoke of their own candles soon obscures the whole heavens. When moral evil is mixed with intellectual light, the moral evil will be found the stronger.[29]

Twice the Holy Scriptures reveal that, "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps"; and the darkening of the true light, as by this bowl, results inevitably in the deterioration and ultimate collapse of godless states, always accompanied by the proliferation of woes upon mankind.

And they gnawed their tongues for pain ... Inevitable agony and suffering must follow the perversion of government to satanic purposes. Has such a thing happened? A government that legalizes and pays for murder by abortion, that extensively subsidizes drunkenness, adultery, bastardy, illegitimacy, idleness, incompetence, laziness, and corruption might indeed qualify as an example. Does such wisdom (?) solve the problems. No! There's a lot of tongue-gnawing going on right now! "The pain arises from the darkness of their minds and their misgivings as to the future."[30] Well, that's only part of it. A state that departs from the principles of the word of God soon finds plenty of occasions for tongue-gnawing, because of the present conditions that immediately follow. "God is grimly vindicated when godless society proudly rises against the church and claims to provide a viable alternative, and then proves unequal to the task."[31]

This satanic take-over of human government is but another environmental factor in the total picture.

[28] A. Plummer, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 20, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 395.

[29] W. Boyd Carpenter, op. cit., p. 608.

[30] A. Plummet, op. cit., p. 395.

[31] Michael Wilcock, op. cit., p. 147.


Verse 11

and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they repented not of their works.

See notes on Revelation 16:9, which is very similar. The fact of the bowl-judgments being collective is seen in this mention of their sores, which are associated with the first bowl (Revelation 16:2).


Verse 12

And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river, the river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might be made ready for the kings that come from the sunrising.

And the sixth poured out his bowl ... upon the Euphrates ... Pieters thought that, "The interpretation of this has not been found, and probably cannot be found."[32] Despite this, he mentioned an understanding of it that might well have the key to what is meant:

Dr. Grijdamus looks upon the Euphrates as the symbolical prophetic boundary between Christendom and heathendom.[33]

This must be at least a part of the correct answer. One of the most hurtful and damaging corruptions of the spiritual environment is the breaching of barriers between the church and the world. Of course, that is not exactly what Grijdamus meant, but his comment suggested it. The extent of this breach is seen when a so-called Christian church ordains a homosexual preacher, throws a drinking party in the physical plant of the church itself, or teaches adultery and fornication under the guise of their being a "new morality." Plummer approached this view when he wrote, "It means that a barrier that wards off hostile hosts is lost."[34] The making of sin to be popular and acceptable in churches themselves would indeed be exactly that type of removing barriers. Carpenter's perceptive comment was:

There may come a time, after false principles have been taught, corrupt manners tolerated, and the light of better things darkened, when the public sentiment loses all sense of shame, and when the decorums of life, which have acted as a breakwater against the tide of outrageous evil, are swept away; then is the Euphrates dried up, and then may the hostile powers of evil, unrestrained by any considerations, unchecked by the popular conscience, cross boldly over and invade the whole sacred soil of human life.[35]

Valvoord noted that, "as many as fifty different interpretations have been advanced regarding the dried up Euphrates,"[36] but we are confident that the meaning lies somewhere within the sector indicated above.

That the way may be ready for the kings that come from the sunrising ... When the boundary between right and wrong, between the church and the world, is dried up, "the kings of the east" will come to exploit their advantage. These are not to be understood as allies of righteousness, but as enemies of it. But they come from the east, "the sunrising." In our interpretation, this merely means that they come from "beyond" the violated boundary. Forces of evil will enter and dominate what was once true religion. Their being called kings should not mislead us; their names are given in the very next verse.

[32] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 244.

[33] Ibid.

[34] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 395.

[35] W. Boyd Carpenter, op. cit., p. 608.

[36] Valvoord as quoted by Robert H. Mounce, Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p. 298.


Verse 13

And I saw coming 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 it were frogs:

Out of the mouth of the dragon ... the beast ... the false prophet ... Ah! Here are the "kings of the east" mentioned above. Their purpose in crossing the boundary will quickly appear.

Three unclean spirits, as it were frogs ... "Their evil influence is shown under the figure of frogs, because it was by producing frogs that the magicians deceived Pharaoh (Exodus 8:7).[37] The next verse tells us more about these frogs. "To say that they come out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet is to say that their words are like plagues, unclean, empty futilities and allies of the powers of darkness."[38] The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet were accurately identified by Summers as "the devil, godless government and false religion."[39] Lange called these frogs "the modern nightingales who announce the new springtime of mankind."[40] From the dirtiness and slimey nature of the frogs, we may conclude that they are the devil's propaganda agents, making a lot of noise like frogs, but being in themselves small, weak, dirty, and despicable.

[37] J. R. Dummelow. Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1086.

[38] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 130.

[39] Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 189.

[40] Lange as quoted by Lenski, op. cit., p. 477.


Verse 14

for they are spirits of demons, working signs; which go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.

With the barrier breached and Satan's propagandists able to operate in the church itself, the ultimate crisis will soon arrive.

They are spirits of demons ... Their teaching is satanic, motivated by the hatred of God and of his truth.

Working signs ... Not merely the priests of the ancient emperor cult, but the Medieval apostate religion with its bleeding and speaking images, and its miracles, such as driving the snakes out of Ireland, are examples of the "signs" done by the frogs. The lying miracles of the man of sin are meant (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

To gather them together unto the war ... This refers to the kings of the earth who are thus gathered. Plummer identified these as, "those who sin and delight in the possession of the pleasures of this world."[41] Thus, the frogs had the spirit of the devil, and the people had the spirit of the world. The result was a foregone certainty. They joined forces for the great spiritual battle. This brings us to the threshold of Armageddon.

ENDNOTE:

[41] A. Plummer. op. cit., p. 396.


Verse 15

(Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.)

There is no need to write this in parentheses as in our version. This warning of the Second Advent of Christ has the utility of emphasizing the spiritual nature of the conflict and the individual responsibility of Christians not to be taken unaware. This forbids our looking for any great deployment of world armies in this "war." Absolutely nothing in this whole passage justifies the notion of massive world armies deployed in some gargantuan military conflict. The war in view here is taking place in the hearts of people.

Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments ... This verse is the order of the day for the soldiers of Christ. It is not preparation for a literal battle of some kind, but a matter of prayer and watchfulness, and of "keeping" one's garments of purity, morality, and fidelity to Christ. That a soldier metaphor is employed here seems certain. Bruce relates how:

According to the Mishna, the captains of the temple in Jerusalem went their rounds of the precincts at night, and if a member of the temple police was caught asleep at his post, his clothes were taken off and burned, and he was sent away naked in disgrace.[42]

There could be another hint of the same thing in Revelation 3:17,18. "The kind of spiritual preparedness that Christ requires is the discernment which cuts through the deceptive propaganda of Satan and his henchmen."[43] Of course, the great thrust of these verses is that, "the battle of the war" (Revelation 16:14) is a daily one in which "Christians are themselves engaged."[44] It is a war going on in people's hearts. What then is signaled or symbolized by Armageddon? See below.

[42] F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 657.

[43] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 301.

[44] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 396.


Verse 16

And they gathered them together into the place which is called in Hebrew [Har-Magedon].

ARMAGEDDON

Note that there is no "battle" of any kind mentioned here. "Not a word is said about the Lord God's army."[45] Why should Almighty God need an army? "There is no such place as Har-Magedon. The name is symbolic. It signifies a conflict, not carnal, but a spiritual conflict."[46] Beckwith's comment on this, described by Strauss as "the best anywhere,"[47] states that "the name is unquestionably purely mystical, an imaginary name."[48] "John means the place of the final struggle between the powers of evil and the kingdom of God."[49] And where is any such place if it is not in the hearts of people?

The entire unscriptural concept of the so-called "Battle of Armageddon" as some kind of a super-colossal showdown on some earthly battlefield is totally illogical, and contrary to the whole teaching of Christ. Even writers who generally maintain their spiritual understanding of this prophecy have a tendency to "go literal" here. Why? Could it ever be supposed that the Almighty God will fight a literal battle on earth? Remember who God is. He needs no army.

Respect for the general opinions on this by many sincere people suggests that we list some of the places which have been suggested as the site of this battle:

The battle is to take place in Rome.[50] All the armies and leaders are gathered in Palestine.[51] It is every battle when need is greatest, and the Lord suddenly reveals his power, as when Sennacherib was slain.[52] It will be on the greatest natural battlefield in the world, in the valley of Jehoshaphat to the north of Palestine among the hills of Megiddo.[53] Etc., etc.

It is difficult to understand how such a literal earthly battle could decide either the victory or the defeat of righteousness. Even if such a battle were to take place, how could the place of a literal battle make any difference? Eller, with his usual humor, suggested that, "Some might like to know just where it is to take place in order to be able to sell tickets!"[54] No actual place of this name is known, and the term is surely symbolical."[55] "If one expects this to be a literal, material battle, he must expect Satan's army to be headed by a committee of three frogs! Both figures are symbolical; neither is literal."[56] This battle is between the truth in Christ and the evil propaganda of Satan, and the truth of Christ will win.

There is no waving of banners, no prancing of horses' hoofs; the warfare is spiritual, so there is in sight no camp, no foe. It is a conflict that arises out of various opinions and diverse principles. It is a war of principles and of morals.[57]

Har-Magedon ... is the way this word appears in our ASV; and it seems to be associated with the plain of Esdraelon in Israel."[58] "There Israel achieved some of her greatest victories and suffered some serious defeats."[59] It may not, therefore, be associated with either victory or defeat. Perhaps it suggests "the place of decision." That place, of course, is in the hearts of men, of every man, of all people.

[45] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 479.

[46] Frank L. Cox, Revelation in 26 Lessons (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1956), p. 97.

[47] James D. Strauss, op cit., p. 266.

[48] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 685.

[49] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 216.

[50] J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John (Austin, Texas: The R. B. Sweet Company, 1974), p. 131.

[51] W. A. Criswell, op. cit., p. 176.

[52] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 196.

[53] M. R. DeHaan, M.D., Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1946), p. 211.

[54] Vernard Eller, op. cit., p. 151.

[55] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 199.

[56] Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 189.

[57] W. Boyd Carpenter, op. cit., p. 609.

[58] W. B. West, Article, Armageddon, in Gospel Advocate (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1978), February 23, p. 113.

[59] Ibid.


Verse 17

And the seventh poured out his bowl upon the air; and there came forth a great voice out of the temple, from the throne, saying, It is done:

And the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air ... Let it again be noted that the physical environment of the whole earth is indicated in every one of these bowls, in their aggregate, taking in everything that is significant in that environment; but, since the great promise of God (Genesis 8:22,23) has assured the stability of that environment as long as the earth stands, we are forbidden to literalize these symbols, and must therefore interpret them as indicating the wrath of God poured out upon the moral, intellectual, cultural, spiritual, and religious environment of the earth. The vicious propaganda of the frogs, as do all the other judgments, fits neatly into this interpretation.

We may not suppose, of course, that John had in mind any thought whatever of radio, television, etc.; but in his day people would merely have said that the very air people breathe was contaminated with evil, and it was true. Evil in the Roman empire at the time of the emergence of Christianity was one sprawling, intricate, well-organized system of wickedness. Marriage was corrupted; slavery was the rule everywhere, there being 60,000,000 slaves in the pagan empire; the black arts of magic and witchcraft enjoyed ambassadorial status at every great seat of authority on earth, as did Elymas at Paphos (Acts 13:8). The temples of Bacchus and Aphrodite Pandemas glorified and exploited sex, drunkenness, and other evils, as did also the other pagan temples all over the empire, supported and maintained by the clergy of the pagan priesthood. Thus, the fulfillment of this bowl upon the ancient empire must be admitted as true; and yet there is something here in addition to that and far-removed from ancient Rome.

So it is not strange that these words perfectly describe the pollution of the air-waves today by the excesses of radio and television. The very air, which is an essential of human environment, is in a sense contaminated. The angel of God's wrath seems to have poured out his bowl upon the air. If so, the total pollution of the air our children breathe may yet occur. We may only pray that the gathering storm may be dissipated and that decency and morality may replace the steady diet of violence, sex, drunkenness, frivolity, and general wickedness of the "air" programs, which many right-thinking people are rightly opposing. However it may be for this generation, the hardening of people and the pouring of the bowl of God's wrath upon the air surely indicate the coming of a time (when, we do not know) of the near total destruction of man's moral environment.

We have now seen all the bowls poured out. What do they mean? A very perceptive person suggested that they mean that "a time will come when all the evil in the universe shall unite to oppose truth and righteousness, making it seem for a time that all is lost." This would certainly seem to be true; but evil shall not win; right shall prevail. God's answer to the first general hardening of mankind (Romans 1) was the First Advent of Christ; and his answer to the second and final general hardening of the human race will be the Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, an event that follows very closely the pouring out of these seven bowls of wrath.

A great voice from the throne ... It is done ... This does not refer merely to the seventh bowl. "The singular refers to the whole series of plagues now completed."[60] This signals the onset of the final judgment described at once.

ENDNOTE:

[60] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 124.


Verse 18

and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since there were men upon the earth, so great an earthquake, so mighty.

Lightnings ... voices ... thunders ... earthquake ... Later, John will relate a more vivid and detailed account of the final judgment. "The account here simply presents the climax of what is substantially the same event."[61] "This section ends like the preceding ones with a very vivid description of the terror of the final judgment."[62] "A brief summary (Revelation 16:18,19) is given of what actually falls as the last extremity of God's wrath"[63] namely, the final judgment. Tenney pointed out that the phenomena cited in this verse, lightnings, voices, thunders, earthquake, etc., are "also present in Revelation 4:5; 8:5; 11:19."[64]

[61] Ibid.

[62] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 198.

[63] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 397.

[64] Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), p. 34.


Verse 19

And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.

And the great city was divided into three parts ... This is the first of three very important observations revealed in this verse, and they should not be confused.

1. The great city divided into three parts is clearly connected with the "Jerusalem-Sodom-Egypt" of Revelation 11:13, where was prophesied the collapse of the urban world. Many have missed this. Moffatt's view that the great earthquake "shatters Jerusalem into three parts and utterly destroys pagan cities"[65] is undoubtedly wrong. Moffatt failed to understand that the Jerusalem Sodom-Egypt of Revelation 11 is a figure of urban civilization, and the reference here can have no application at all to the literal Jerusalem. There is no prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem anywhere in Revelation. John of course knew Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem; but when Revelation was written, the concern of the Christians regarded Rome, not Jerusalem. Incidentally, this is almost certain proof of the writing of Revelation before Jerusalem was destroyed.

2. "And the cities of the nations fell ..." This explains what was meant by the dividing of the city into three parts; it also illuminates the same figure of "a tenth of the city fell" in Revelation 11:13, where it was God's tithe of all wicked cities; here it is "a third," a very significant part, but not the majority that fell. Both figures regard urban civilization, and '"the breaking into three parts means its complete breakup."[66] "The cities of civilization, the achievement of man's demon-driven pride, will ... collapse?[67]

3. "And Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God ..." "This is the society and the philosophy represented by the two beasts, which in due course will be called Babylon."[68] We consider this comment by Wilcock one of the most discerning encountered anywhere. The Babylon described here is not pagan Rome only, but "Babylon the Great," embracing also that image of pagan Rome that became in time apostate Christianity. Therefore, both the land-beast and the sea-beast (pagan Rome and apostate Christian Rome) are here meant. They are here spoken of as one, since one was an image of the other, and both operated from the same seven hills. The expression "Babylon the Great" is no doubt "the symbol of the whole satanic structure."[69] Again from Wilcock, "Bowl seven sweeps away time and history, and replaces them with eternity."[70] "Both the preceding and the succeeding verses here must be referred to the judgment day."[71]

To give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath ... This refers to the complete destruction of the city.[72] Such awful judgments should not blind us to the fact that, "If God were not to punish unrighteousness, the concept of a moral universe would have to be discarded."[73] Although some interpreters have held that, "The utmost limit of this prophetic passage was the end of the Roman world,"[74] many of the ablest expositors have been able to see the deeper meaning that, "The fall of pagan Rome is but one illustration of the overthrow of Babylon."[75] "Each age has its Babylon."[76] We reproduce here a summary of Lenski's wonderful comment on this as it applies to our own times:

How proudly the anti-Christian propaganda builds the Babylon of today! Godless science imagines that the structure cannot fall. Its walls are granite. The Scriptures are only childish stories, myths. How can Papal Rome ever fall? It is built on Peter and overshadows the world. The outmoded "thought patterns" of Scripture have long crumbled into dust, and the scientific religion of reason alone endures. Fall? The very idea is preposterous. But the word of the Lord says, "like the chaff which the wind driveth away" (Psalms 1:4); "the multitude of the strangers shall be as small dust; yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly (Isaiah 29:5); but the WORD OF THE LORD endureth forever."[77]

We will not debate the proposition that John himself knew the full scope and depth of his prophecy, for he probably did not know. To limit the book of Revelation to the human knowledge of the apostle John is to lose sight of it altogether as "the word of the Lord"; and this is where so many fail. The prophets of the Old Testament did not understand all that they were inspired to write, as was mentioned by the apostle Peter (1 Peter 1:10-12); and it is very likely that the same was true of the New Testament writers. We believe this prophecy to be of God through John, thus being significant and relevant to every moment of the entire Christian dispensation, first to last. See in my Commentary in 1Peter (pp. 172-175) for a discussion of the phenomena of the sacred writers not understanding what they wrote.

[65] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 449.

[66] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 201.

[67] Michael Wilcock, op. cit., p. 150.

[68] Ibid., p. 141.

[69] Ibid., p. 150.

[70] Ibid.

[71] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 397.

[72] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 132.

[73] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 304.

[74] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 209.

[75] W. Boyd Carpenter, op. cit., p. 610.

[76] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 125.

[77] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 484.


Verse 20

And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.

Every island ... mountains were not found ... For ages, such convulsions of nature have been understood as symbolical references to the fall of nations and governments; but in the holy Scriptures, "such things are invariably associated with the final judgment";[78] and that is the way we understand them here. The removal of the earth itself is to be accompanied by a mighty earthquake (Hebrews 12:27,28). Therefore Ladd may have been exactly correct in viewing the last three verses of this chapter as "a renovation of the entire created order and the ushering in of a new heavens and a new earth."[79] Whatever is the exact implication of the language here, it would seem to be certain that the final judgment day itself is the occasion in view.

Barnes and other historicists see in this chapter such various things as: successive historical blows by which the Papacy will fall, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the successive revolutions that came after Napoleon, and various other events, even the battle of Armageddon! To us, however, that entire system of interpretation is erroneous. Some of the things "seen" by such. interpreters in Revelation are surely there; but no blueprint of the future is to be found. Revelation has been fulfilled, is being fulfilled, and is yet to be fulfilled. Is not this exactly the meaning of what John said in Revelation 1:19?

The great hail ... This is to be viewed as another element in the great convulsions of nature coming at the end of time.

Men blasphemed God ... In the judgment? Yes. The hardened will not change, whatever may be their experience. This vision stops short of revealing what God will do with such per sons, but later episodes in the prophecy will make it starkly clear.

[78] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 397.

[79] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 218.


Verse 21

And great hail, every stone about the weight of a talent, cometh down out of heaven upon men: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof is exceeding great.

About the weight of a talent ... No such hail was ever seen, nor could be it the result of ordinary natural processes; therefore, it must be related to the extraordinary phenomena attending the onset of the final judgment. At the time when mankind shall have completed his destruction of the moral and spiritual environment of the earth, God will destroy his physical environment also and summon all people to accountability before the judgment seat of Christ.

Men blasphemed God ... How strange is the thought that hardened sinners will not stop their blasphemy even in the judgment. How could it be supposed that the Father will accommodate to that type of persistent wickedness in any other manner than that of the final and complete destruction of it?

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 16:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/revelation-16.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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