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Chapter sixteen relates the pouring out of the vials. And they bear a close resemblance to the opening of the seals and the sounding of the trumpets in the preceding section of the Book. As previously we saw plagues fall on the grass and trees, the sea, rivers, and fountains, and upon the sun, and moon, and stars; as there were clouds of locusts and armies of horsemen, and angels unloosed at the river Euphrates, so here the plagues fall on sea, and rivers, and fountains, on the sun, on the throne of the beast, on the river Euphrates, and lastly upon the air.
These were the judgments that fell on this great enemy of God, or, foretokened the judgment that was to fall.
We are told in the tenth verse that the fifth angel poured out his vial on the seat of the beast, which evidently meant the seat of government of this persecuting power. Imperial Rome.
Verse twelve tells us that the sixth angel poured out his vial on the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the East might be prepared.
We may remember in this connection that the doom of old Babylon was achieved by turning aside the waters of the Euphrates. As we use the word Waterloo as a symbol of defeat, they may have used the drying of the Euphrates as a symbol of defeat. "That the way of the kings of the East might be prepared." It is said that some of those nations in the far East first broke the prestige of Rome, and eventually the invading hordes from Asia and northern Europe completed her downfall and this suggests what is meant by the drying of the Euphrates, the coming of destructive armies.
V. 13. "And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet."
Observe carefully the terms of this verse and see what it proves. What did we have in chapters twelve and thirteen? Why, dragon, beast, and lamb-like beast, that is, the beast that had the two horns. What do we have here? The dragon? Yes. The beast? Yes. But what is the last beast called, the beast with the two horns that completes the trio? Here he is called the false prophet. Therefore John identifies that lamb-like beast with the false prophet; and thus we were right in identifying that two-horned beast with the false religion, or Pagan religion of Rome. It is by giving attention to these things that we get the meaning of the Apocalypse.
Verse fourteen tells us that these frogs that came out of the mouths of that trio are the spirits of devils, that they go to the kings of the earth to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
V. 15. Behold I come as a thief. God's judgments come unexpectedly. This seems to be a parenthesis, and then verse sixteen goes on to say: "And he, (or they, meaning the frog-like spirits) gathered them (meaning the kings or nations before mentioned) together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. Armageddon gets its name from Mt. Megiddo in Palestine. It is a place famous for battle and slaughter. It was where Deborah and Barak slaughtered the Canaanites, and where King Josiah fell in battle with the Egyptians. It would mean in those days what Waterloo means to us, and would be used in the same way. Its use here would indicate a place or scene of great slaughter. I take it that it is used here in that symbolical sense, but meant that Rome was coming to her Armageddon where she would go down in battle and slaughter.
The notion that Armageddon refers to some great cataclysm of the world's affairs in the future is hardly warranted. Any great disaster to a warring nation is an Armageddon. The Confederacy met its Armageddon at Gettysburg, and the Germans met their Armageddon at the Marne, and Rome was to meet her Armageddon.
Vs. 17,18. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air, (the Devil is called the prince of the power of the air) and a great voice from heaven said: "It is done." Yes it is done, the last vial emptied, and the judgment executed. "And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings, and a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon earth, so mighty an earthquake and so great."
These are almost the exact words that we found in the eleventh chapter at the fall of Jerusalem, and as remarked then, they are descriptive of great judgments.
And this is borne out by the next verse as we see what follows.
V. 19. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, (the Sinaitic manuscript has city, in the singular as if referring to Rome alone, yet the plural is perfectly consistent with the view we maintain, for the empire had many cities) and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath."
Now it ought to be perfectly plain to what end all this intricate story has been leading, namely to the overthrow of Rome, here called Babylon, because she was the second great persecutor of the Christian church.
Plain as this is now, it will be still more evident when we pass in examination the two chapters of this section which are to follow. The last two verses of this chapter need no special comment; they are just vividly descriptive statements or rather symbols of the great judgment that has fallen. But the saddest note that is struck is that men blasphemed God because of their judgments, instead of repenting; which shows what incorrigible sinners they were.
We are thus brought, at the end of this chapter, to the judgment on Rome, here called Babylon; the enemy of God and the persecutor of his people. We have seen how Rome as the beast, and the agent of the dragon, the Devil, through the agency of the false prophet, persecuted the woman and her seed, which represented the church, and how God has brought her to judgment for it.
The next two chapters will bring out some more details and make increasingly clear the identity of the characters that have moved in these scenes. In the meantime we are to remember that the spiritual lessons are just as applicable to us today as they were to old Rome. If she could not sin with impunity neither can we. If her opposition to God met with terrible and awful retribution in the fire and brimstone whose smoke ascendeth forever and ever, we may be sure that all sin, unrepented and unforgiven, will meet with retribution, and that the wages of sin is death.
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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26