Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Revelation 16

Verse 1

1. φωνῆς μεγάλης. It is not expressly said that the voice is the voice of God: it speaks of Him in the third person, cf. Genesis 22:16. Perhaps the Seer intends us to notice the pure inaccessible spirituality of the Godhead. Cf. St John 5:27.

εἰς τὴν γῆν. Lit., “into the earth,” here and in the next verse. Here “the earth” seems to mean the lower world generally, there the dry land only.

Verse 1-2

Revelation 16:1-2. THE FIRST VIAL

Verse 2

2. ἀπῆλθεν. Lit. “went away,” from the Angels’ place in Heaven before the Temple to the edge or “window” whence they can look down upon the earth.

ἔλκος κακὸν καὶ πονηρόν. The plagues that accompany these vials have a close analogy to those of the trumpets in ch. 8 sqq., and, like them, have some to the plagues of Egypt: here cf. Exodus 9:9. The epithets need not mean more than “bad and evil.” “Noisome and grievous” A. V[570] points out the distinction if one is intended.

τοὺς ἔχοντας. This refers back to the previous vision, Revelation 14:9-11, as in Revelation 9:4 we have a reference to the previous vision, Revelation 7:3.

Verse 3

3. ὁ δεύτερος, without ἄγγελος, as in 4, 8, 10, 12, 17. This is a contrast to the vision of the Trumpets.

αἷμα ὡς νεκροῦ. Lit., “blood as it were of a dead man,” and so more foul and horrible. See Exodus 7:17 sqq., esp. 21. Compare in this Book ch. Revelation 8:8; but here the plague has a wider reach.

πᾶσα ψυχὴ ζωῆς. Cf. ὅ ἔχει ψυχὴν ζωῆς, Genesis 1:30.

Verse 4

4. εἰς τοὺς ποταμοὺς καὶ τὰς πηγὰς τῶν ὑδάτων, Revelation 8:10, see on Revelation 14:7.

Verses 4-7


Verse 5

5. τοῦ ἀγγέλου τῶν ὑδάτων. Here at least there is no question (see on Revelation 7:1, Revelation 14:18) that we have an elemental Angel; see Exc. I.

ὁ ὤν καὶ ὁ ἦν. Without ὁ ἐρχόμενος, as in Revelation 11:17. A. V[571] “Which art and wast and shalt be,” a noteworthy translator’s error.

ὁ ὄσιος, see on Revelation 15:4. If the article be inserted we have two Divine Names, the Eternal, the Holy; if it be omitted we have an interesting parallelism:

Righteous art Thou the Eternal,

Holy for this Thy judgement.

Perhaps the latter gives the preferable sense: it is certainly supported by the best MSS., though we have none good enough to decide whether a letter has been left out or doubled by mistake.

Verse 6

6. αἷμα ἁγίων καὶ προφητῶν. See Revelation 11:18, Revelation 18:20; Revelation 18:24.

πεῖν. See crit. note. This form is also found in St John 4:7; John 4:9. The infinitive being in the aorist would make the perfect indicative strange.

ἄξιοί εἰσιν. Contrast Revelation 3:4; compare Revelation 14:5 for asyndeton.

Verse 7

7. τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου. There is no angel (Revelation 15:8) to speak from the altar, as perhaps in Revelation 9:13 (cf. Revelation 14:18): the altar itself can bear witness (Revelation 6:9) to the righteous blood shed upon earth, and so say Amen to God’s vengeance against the persecutors.

Ναί. Revelation 1:7, Revelation 14:13.

Verse 8

8. ἐπὶ τὸν ἥλιον. The three first vials are poured out εἰς, the last four ἐπί. The change may be intentional to mark the distinction between the two groups of plagues (in the Vision of the Trumpets the second group of the three Woes was the smallest as well as the severest): there is no other obvious reason for writing εἰς τὴν θάλασσανἐπὶ τὸν ἀέρα, though in 8, 10, and even 12, ἐπὶ may seem more appropriate as marking the stricken object, while εἰς marks the receptive medium.

ἐδόθη αὐτῷ καυματίσαι. Cf. Revelation 8:12 (the fourth trumpet); but there the light of the sun is diminished, here his heat is increased. It is barely possible with Bengel to explain αὐτῷ of the Angel.

Verse 8-9


Verse 9

9. ἐβλασφήμησαν. Contrast Revelation 15:4. This, which marks a new and intenser stage of suffering, is henceforth repeated after every vial but the sixth, which describes preparations for active rebellion.

τοῦ ἔχοντος. Must refer to God: it would be yet more forced to interpret it (with Winer?) “they blasphemed the name of the God of (the angel) who had power &c.,” than to interpret αὐτῷ of the Angel.

τὴν ἐξουσίαν. Here, as in St Luke 12:5, Romans 9:21, it is impossible to find any trace of the common sense of a committed authority. Probably also in St Matthew 7:29, St Mark 1:22, St Luke 4:32, the contrast is between the inherent independent authority of Christ, and those who sat in Moses’ seat and had the best right to be believed when they were content to quote their predecessors.

οὐ μετενόησαν δοῦναι αὐτῷ δόξαν. Contrast Revelation 11:13, which therefore cannot refer to the same judgements as here, nor probably to judgements on the same place or people.

Verse 10

10. τὸν θρόνον. The throne: the word is best taken quite literally, not in the vague sense of his capital, the “seat” of his empire.

ἐγένετο ἡ βασιλεία αὐτοῦ ἐσκοτωμένη. Was his throne the light thereof (Isaiah 50:10-11), as God and the Lamb will be of the new Jerusalem, in whose light the nations will walk? Cf. on the whole plague Exodus 10:21, ch. Revelation 9:2.

ἐκ τοῦ πόνου. The darkness was of itself distressing, and deprived them of such distractions from pain as they had before. It is clear from the next verse that the seven last plagues are more terrible than even the woes, for of these we are told that each passes before the next comes, while each of the last plagues continues till the end.

Verse 10-11


Verse 11

11. Primas[555] omits; Beatus quotes as follows (? from Tyc[556]) et comedebant linguas suas a doloribus suis, blasphemantes ex ira Dei, et paenitentiam non egerunt.

ἐκ τῶν πόνων αὐτῶν καὶ ἐκ τῶν ἑλκῶν αὐτῶν. א omits the second half of the clause. Cop[557] reads et per opera sua.

ἐκ τῶν ἔργων αὐτῶν. א omits.

Verse 12

12. [τὸν] Εὐφράτην, Revelation 9:14 sqq. Where Babylon confessedly stands for Rome, we should naturally understand the Euphrates to be used also in a symbolical sense, possibly as meaning the Tiber. But the Tiber is not a very “great river”: and the mention of “the kings of the east” (lit., “the kings from the rising of the sun”) as needing to pass the Euphrates seems to mark it as meant literally.

ἐξηράνθη τὸ ὕδωρ αὐτοῦ. Referring to the way that the ancient Babylon was actually captured by Cyrus, by drawing off the water of the Euphrates into a reservoir, so as to make its bed passable for a few hours. Though not mentioned in Daniel 5, nor by Cyrus in his lately discovered account of the capture, there seems no doubt that this incident is historical: the details given in Hdt. I. 191 agree exactly with those of the predictions in Isaiah 44:27; Isaiah 45:3; Jeremiah 50:38; Jeremiah 50:44; Jeremiah 51:30-32; Jeremiah 51:36.

ἵνα ἑτοιμασθῇ ἡ ὁδός. Compare the prophecies (Isaiah 41:2; Isaiah 41:25) of the advance of Cyrus. It may have been felt that his success and services did not exhaust their meaning. He is spoken of as advancing on Babylon “from the East”; much more would any invader of the apocalyptic Babylon come from the East, if he had to cross the literal Euphrates.

τῶν βασιλέων τῶν ἀπό ἀνατολῆς ἡλίου. See crit. notes. The reading of Primasius would imply a still more direct reference to Isaiah; that of Tyconius is probably based on the tradition that the ten tribes were still awaiting their return in the extreme east. The plural presents no difficulty; the Arsacidae all called themselves kings of kings: and if a more definite application were needed, we might think of the kings of Parthia and Armenia. In Revelation 17:6 we hear of the kings of the earth combining to attack Babylon, and the Euphrates may be dried up only that the kings from the east may be able to advance to take their part in the assault. But why do they specially need their “way to be prepared”? The Euphrates is a far less impassable frontier than the Alps or the Mediterranean: it was in fact in St John’s day the weak side of the empire. And probably in this fact we may see the key to the prophecy. In Daniel 8:8; Daniel 11:4 we have the division of Alexander’s empire described as “toward the four winds of heaven”: in Revelation 11:5-6 the Egyptian and Asiatic kingdoms are designated as “the kings of the south and of the north.” It is implied therefore that the kings of Macedon are kings of the West: and it remains that the other great and permanent kingdom (of smaller ephemeral ones there were more than four) which arose from the dissolution of Alexander’s shall be “the kings of the east.” Now this designation obliges us to think of the Parthians, the longest-lived of all the Alexandrine kingdoms, and the only one surviving in St John’s day. This differed from the others, in respect that its royal dynasty was native not Macedonian, but it was not the less a portion of Alexander’s empire, inheriting his traditions. (The veneer of Greek culture existing among the Arsacidae is well illustrated by the grim story of the performance of the Bacchae at the time of the death of Crassus: it is instructive also to look at the series of coins engraved in Smith’s Dictionary s.v. Arsacidae, where we see Hellenic types gradually giving way to Assyrian.) In Enoch liv. 9 we hear of “the chiefs of the east among the Parthians and Medes”: that passage throws no real light on this, except as shewing who “the kings of the east” were understood to be, by a person familiar with the same ideas as St John. Now in St John’s time (whether the earlier or later date be assigned to the vision) there were apprehensions of a Parthian invasion of the empire on behalf of a Pseudo-Nero (Tac. Hist. I. ii. 3), i.e. a shadow of Antichrist: and it is likely that St John’s prophecy is expressed (as so many O.T. prophecies are) in terms of the present political situation. But it had no immediate fulfilment: the danger from Parthia under Domitian passed off, and soon afterwards its power was broken for ever by Trajan. But its place was taken in time by the Sassanian kingdom of Persia, which remained for three centuries the most formidable enemy of Rome. Then, as Parthia had been broken by Trajan and fell before Persia, so Persia, broken by Heraclius, fell before the Arabs, who endangered the existence, and actually appropriated great part, of the Eastern Empire. To them succeeded the Turks, before whom it fell.

Now while no event in this series can be called a definite or precise fulfilment of St John’s prophecy, we may hold that this habitual relation of “the kings of the east” to the Roman empire supplies a number of typical or partial fulfilments. A pseudo-Nero, made emperor by a Parthian conquest of Rome, and ruling (as might he expected) in Nero’s spirit, would have been almost a real Antichrist; and for such a revelation of Antichrist St John’s immediate readers were meant to be prepared. Again, in the conquests and persecutions of Sapor and Chosroes, of Omar, Mohammed, and Suleiman, it was intended that the Christians of the empire should see the approaches and threatenings of the kingdom of Antichrist. But the empire—whether Roman, Byzantine, or Austrian—continued to “withhold, that he may be revealed in his season”; and its modern representatives will continue to do so “until it be taken out of the way: and then shall that Wicked be revealed.”

It may be observed that Daniel 11:40 sqq. seems to imply that the political situation in the East in the days of Antichrist will be not unlike that in the days of Antiochus: for while it is certain that the early part of that chapter applies to the latter, it is hard to regard the passage beginning at Daniel 11:36 as adequately fulfilled in him. Humanly speaking, it does not seem that the changes now going on in the east are as capable of producing a conquering empire, as they are of producing an antichristian fanaticism: but qui vivra verra.

Verses 12-15


Verse 13

13. καὶ εἶδον. Between the sixth and seventh seal, and between the sixth and seventh trumpet, there appears a vision which has nothing to do with the series in which it is inserted, but which marks the near approach of the final struggle between the kingdoms of light and darkness. We have this on the side of the former in the sealing of the Servants of God and the prophecy of the Two Witnesses: here we have it on the side of the latter in the vision of the three unclean spirits, which is also loosely attached to the context which it can scarcely be said to interrupt.

τοῦ ψευδοπροφήτου. Identified by Revelation 19:20 with the second beast of Revelation 13:11.

πνεύματα τρία ἀκάθαρτα. This phrase is in the Gospels usually synonymous with “devils” or rather “demons” (whom there is little or no scriptural authority for identifying with fallen Angels, though Satan, St Matthew 12:24-30, Revelation 12:7 sqq., is ruler of both). Here the term “spirit” seems to be used rather in the sense of “inspiring power” of which the “demons” are the source—hence they are called in the next verse “spirits of demons.” See St John’s 1 Ephesians 4:3; 1 Timothy 4:1, which probably refer to the same order of things as this: also 1 Samuel 16:14 &c., 1 Kings 22:21 sqq.

ὡς βάτραχοι. The nominative would be quite regular after the full formula, καὶ εἶδον καὶ ἰδού. There may be a reference to the plague of Egypt, Exodus 8:2 sqq., but the parallel is not close. Frogs were proverbial for their constant and meaningless noise, which some think helps us to interpret the likeness. If so, one would be tempted to connect it with St Hippolytus’ view mentioned on Revelation 12:12.

Verse 14

14. εἰσὶν γὰρ κ.τ.λ. The whole verse is generally taken as more or less parenthetical, so that the structure is, I saw … three unclean spirits—for these are spirits of demons which go forth. Is it possible that the parenthesis goes no farther than σημεῖα, and means “for there really is such a thing as demoniac inspiration attested by signs and wonders”? This would give a natural sense to γὰρ which hardly has any in the common view, and, though it is hard to say what is or is not probable in this Book, the connexion of ἄ ἐκπορεύεται with what goes before would be less difficult, as would also be the change from εἰσὶν to ἐκπορεύεται. It may be added that the absence of all mention of demoniacs in the Fourth Gospel implies that the superstition and charlatanism of Ephesian enchanters had produced a widespread reaction.

σημεῖα, Revelation 13:13, is the word always used for miracles in St John’s Gospel.

ἃ ἐκπορεύεται. See Revelation 19:19; cf. Revelation 20:3; Revelation 20:8. ἐκπορευόμενα in the previous verse would have been more regular and more in accordance with the usual style of this Book, which often employs participles where relative sentences would be more regular. The construction seems to be changed by the simile, the parenthesis, and the clause expressing why they go forth: possibly also by the position of ἐκ τοῦ στόματος κ.τ.λ., which is one of several traces of a tendency to attempt the rhetorical order of ordinary Greek which manifests itself as early as chap. 10.

τὸν πόλεμον. Revelation 17:14, Revelation 19:19-21.

Verse 15

15. ἰδοὺ ἔρχομαι. St John, or another prophet, apparently hears, and writes down as he hears, the words of Christ spoken in the midst of the vision.

ὡς κλέπτης. See Revelation 3:3 and references.

μακάριος ὁ γρηγορῶν. This may refer again, as in St Matthew 24:43, to a watchful householder ready for the secret and sudden coming of the thief, or, as in St Luke 12:37, to a watchful servant, ready for the coming as sudden and as secret of his Lord.

καὶ τηρῶν. The forewarned householder, if the figure be taken from him, sits up with his clothes on, and the thief will decamp as soon as he sees him. If he were not forewarned, he might hear the thief at work and start naked out of bed, but would be too late for anything but a fruitless chase in unseemly and ridiculous guise. If this be the sense, ὁ γρηγορῶν καὶ τηρῶν must mean, who watches and does not lose: there is no more authority for this sense of τηρεῖν than for the sense of λιβανωτόν in Revelation 8:3. If the figure be taken from servants waiting for their Lord, possibly we are to understand that the garments are kept not from loss but from defilement, as in Revelation 3:4. The slothful servant is careless too, and either dares not shew himself in the raiment he has defiled, or is stripped of it. As primitive Christianity had many points of contact with Essenism it is not impossible that there may be something like an allusion to the sacred white dress the Essenes reserved for their meals, which were a daily sacrifice and sacrament. This is less irrelevant than the allusion some suggest to the curious Jewish custom that if a priest fell asleep on night duty in the Temple, his clothes were set on fire—which of course would have the effect of making him throw them off and run away naked.

βλέπωσιν. Impersonal, as Revelation 12:6.

ἀσχημοσύνην. Lit. “uncomeliness,” cf. τὰ ἀσχήμονα, 1 Corinthians 12:23.

Verse 16

16. συνήγαγεν. The subject is not ὁ θεός, as in A. V[572] but the unclean spirits. The sentence goes on from the end of Revelation 16:14, Revelation 16:15 being strictly parenthetical.

Ἁρμαγεδών. The meaning, according as we read Ar or Har, is “the City” or “the Mountain of Megiddo.” But the insertion of “in the Hebrew tongue” perhaps indicates, that the meaning of the name Megiddo (which is apparently “cleaving”) is more important than the geographical note. There is some truth (though some exaggeration) in the description of the plain of Esdraelon as “the battle-field of Palestine”: but the only occasions when Megiddo is mentioned in connexion with a battle are Judges 5:19, 2 Kings 23:29 (cf. Zechariah 12:11 where LXX. translates ἐν πεδίῳ ἐκκοπτομὲνου). Of course Megiddo or its neighbourhood (“the Mountain of Megiddo” might be Tabor or that conventionally called Little Hermon) may be the destined scene of the gathering and overthrow of the Antichristian powers: but it is hardly to be assumed as certain. In Zechariah 14:4-5 the Mount of Olives, in Joel 3:12 the Valley of Jehoshaphat (wherever that is: it must be a proper name, though a significant one; but it is a convention, and an improbable one, that identifies it with the gorge of the Kidron) seem to be represented as the scene of the Judgement.

Verse 17

17. ἐπὶ τὸν ἀέρα. See note on Revelation 16:8.

τοῦ ναοῦ, as in Revelation 15:5, the heavenly temple. Here it seems that the Throne (that of Revelation 4:2) is inside it: but see on Revelation 4:6. Though coming from the Throne, see on Revelation 16:1, this voice is not defined, like that of Revelation 21:5, as the voice of Him that sat on it: but comparing Revelation 21:6 it is possible we ought to take it so.

Γέγονεν. More literally, “it has come to pass”: but the same word is used in St Luke 14:22, where of course the A. V[573] is right. God’s great Judgement has not come to pass yet, but everything has been done to prepare for it. “One who had fired a train would say ‘It is done,’ though the explosion had not yet taken place,” and, we may add, might use the same words again when it had, as in Revelation 21:6.

Verses 17-21


Verse 18

18. ἀστραπαὶ καὶ φωναὶ καὶ βρονταί. Revelation 8:5, Revelation 11:19.

οἶος οὐκ ἐγένετοτηλικοῦτος. So far the phrase hardly goes beyond the familiar Hebraism ὄπου ἔχει ἐκεῖ τόπον, but the addition of οὔτω μέγας after τηλικοῦτος is singular, and probably marks the entire distinction of this earthquake from that of Revelation 11:13. For the sense cf. Daniel 12:1; St Matthew 24:21.

Verse 19

19. ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη. Probably Jerusalem, as in chap. Revelation 11:8. It seems pointless to suppose Babylon to be mentioned twice over: while on the other view there is a climax. Jerusalem is (or is to be) converted—she is the City of God again, yet even she is sorely shaken (cf. 1 St Peter 4:17): other cities are wholly overthrown: while the City of God’s Enemy is to receive something more than overthrow.

εἰς τρία μέρη. There is probably a reminiscence of Zechariah 14:4-5. If so, the earthquake probably isolates the western hill and completes the division of the eastern hill into two. It is just possible that there may be a reference to the three parties of John, Eleazar, and Simon, into which Jerusalem was divided at the time of its siege by Titus. We have seen (on Revelation 11:13) that Jerusalem is to be converted at the very last: but Revelation 11:7-8 prove that this will not happen till the war with Antichrist is at least begun: consequently, this verse may be concerned with the judgement on Jerusalem still infidel.

αἱ πόλεις τῶν ἐθνῶν. Distinguished from Jerusalem on the one hand and from Babylon on the other.

τὸ ποτήριον. See on Revelation 14:10.

Verse 20

20. πᾶσα νῆσος. See Revelation 6:14.

Verse 21

21. χάλαζα μεγάλη. Revelation 8:7, Revelation 11:19.

ὡς ταλαντιαία. While natural hailstones weighing the sixtieth part of a talent are noticed as extraordinary. Some notice that the stones thrown by the engines at the siege of Jerusalem are said to have been of a talent weight: but it would be far-fetched to suppose these referred to. In this verse at least, the judgement described cannot be on Jerusalem—see on Revelation 11:13 fin.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Revelation 16". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.