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THE SEVEN VIALS OF WRATH
The visions of chapter sixteen carry the scenes of the execution of the seven plagues, and the pouring out of the woes, in the recapitulation of the events enfolded in the seven seals and trumpets of the first series, which ended with chapter eleven. The symbols of the plagues of this chapter envisioned the same successive and progressive developments of the events surrounding the war against the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem; with additional visional scenes and intensified symbols of calamity and devastation; in the execution of the consuming judgment of God upon the beast, the false prophets, and the idolatrous worshipers of the imperial image.
The principle of the recapitulation of the first part of Revelation, from chapters one to eleven follows through this series. There was a consistent correspondence between the seals of the first series and vials of the second, but with the enlargement and intensification of the symbols of retributive judgment. An example of it was in the plague of sores-the subjects of the Roman beast received his mark by the worship of the imperial image, and God marked them in retribution with the noisome sores. The delineations of these penalties and punishments were concealed within visional folds, reserved for symbolic disclosure. The entire structure was metaphorical, which renders literalism impossible. A preliminary survey of the chapter is essential to bringing the signs and symbols of the chapter into its apocalyptic focus.
THE SEVEN PLAGUES OF PENAL WOES
(Chapter 16 Con’t)
The introduction of an extensive excursus on the Destruction of Jerusalem, foretold in chapter fourteen of the prophecy of Zechariah, was the occasion for the interruption in the course of comments, and the reversed order of the verses in the dissertation of this chapter on the plagues and the woes, the symbolic imagery of which reverts to a continuation of chapter sixteen.
There was a very certain continuity in the imagery of the first and second series of visions in the striking analogy between the seven trumpets of the first part and the seven vials of the second part--showing the symbolism of the same period and events in a recapitulation with an enlargement and intensification of the signs. For an example there was the darkening of the sun in the symbolism of the first part, but of intensified heat in the same symbolism of the second part. Both series were apocalypses of the crises of two cities--Jerusalem and Rome--one in siege and destruction, the other in political government and imperial authority, but they covered the same period of events. The object of the apocalypse was not Rome, but the apostate and harlot Jerusalem. Rome was only collateral to the apocalyptic narrative as the power by which the symbolism was executed and accomplished. The affinity of events in the two series is apparent in the correspondence between the objects of the trumpets and the vials.
The first vial like the first trumpet produced an effect upon the earth; the second alike caused an effect on the sea; the third in each symbol made bloody the fountains and the rivers; the fourth of both changed the normal function of the sun; the fifth sign in each imagery operated on the seat of imperial power; the sixth in similarity dehydrated the Euphrates; and the seventh of both vial and trumpet transfused the air. All of these potent signs were descriptive of the order of events which removed the evil powers of Judaism and heathenism from the path of the church and cleared the way for the expansion of the kingdom of God.
THE ROMAN WAR AGAINST JERUSALEM AS FORETOLD
BY JESUS CHRIST
( Mat_24:1-51 )
The parallels and comparisons between the signs of the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew and the symbols of Revelation have been repeatedly mentioned. In order to support this parallel a full discussion of Mat_24:1-51 is here inserted from GOD’S PROPHETIC WORD:
The idea that “signs of the times” portend the coming of the Lord and the end of all things is based on a misinterpretation of the 24th chapter of Matthew.
(1) The two questions answered.
Mat_24:1-51 , Mar_13:1-37 , and Luk_21:1-38 , are parallel chapters. Jesus was in the city of Jerusalem with the disciples, viewing the temple. The disciples, like all of the Jews, admired the temple buildings. Looking upon the massive stones of the mighty structure of Solomon’s temple, Jesus amazed the disciples with the declaration: “There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.” The disciples naturally thought that when such a stupendous thing as that happened, it would be the end of the world-- the end of all things. So the two questions: “When shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming?”
Answering the question--“ What shall be the sign of thy coming.?" Jesus told them plainly there would be none. “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” There would be no signs of his coming. No man knows the time of his coming; the angels do not know; and Mar_13:32 adds “neither the Son” --the Lord in his state of humanity had not been shown the things of the future that belonged only to the Father. The Son’s enlightenment and illumination on all things were subject to the time that it was the Father’s will to show him-- Joh_5:19-20 ; but “no man” could ever by any “signs of the times” know the time of the Lord’s coming. In proof of this I need only to call your attention to the expression: “So shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” So shall “be” the coming--it will be that way when he comes. No man will know until he comes. Yet, men in their audacity have the gigantic gall and colossal cheek, in the face of a statement like that, to say that they do know.
The answer of Jesus disillusioned the disciples regarding signs of his coming and pointed to the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age.
(2) The fall of Jerusalem.
In his answer to the question, “When shall these things be?” Jesus mentioned the signs of the impending siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the city, the demolition of the temple and the end of the Jewish state. When he answered the question as to the time of his coming he said that “no man knows”--there would be no signs. When he answered the question on the destruction of Jerusalem, he mentioned and described in detail the signs.
The indication that the siege of Jerusalem is the subject of the Mat_24:1-51 discourse is to be seen in the application of the numerous expressions peculiar to prophecies and apocalypses of the Old Testament concerning the destruction and desolation of ancient cities and nations, which are used throughout this chapter, and the parallel chapters of Mark and Luke.
1. The abomination of desolation mentioned in verse 15, taken from the prophecy of Daniel, was said by the Lord to be fulfilled when the Jews should see the presence of the signs and symbols of the Romans “standing in the holy place,” as stated by Mark. This is the Lord’s own interpretation and explanation both of the prophecy of Daniel and the fulfillment in Mat_24:1-51 .
2. The exhortation to flee to the mountains with haste, with no opportunity or means to arrange for the carriage and transport of personal belongings and supplies, when they beheld the Roman armies in full march, indicates the beginning of the siege.
3. The distress and tribulation that would accompany the prolonged and bitter siege, confirmed by eye witness historians such as Josephus and Pliny in appalling descriptive detail, can be given no other application.
4. The reference to pseudochrists and imposters, pretenders claiming to be the Christ, with deceptive signs such as the magical wonders of Simon Magi, shows that the effort to imitate the Messiah was widespread, thus identifying the time with the works of Jesus belonging to that age and generation.
5. The mention in Luke’s narrative of the distress upon the land of Judea, the mass massacre of the inhabitants by the sword, the carrying away of the captives into all the surrounding nations, the encompassing of the city by foreign armies, and the trodding down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles permanently--all of these things can be descriptive of only one event of history: that final crisis of the ages concerning Jerusalem, in which transition from the dispensation of Judaism to the age of Christianity became published through all the world. The complete and final overthrow of the Jewish capital and temple, representing the cult of Judaism, and the consequent expansion of the new kingdom of Christ, are seen in these evidences to be the main subject of Mat_24:1-51 --the conquest and establishment of Christianity in all the world.
6. The climax of all the statements of the whole chapter, to settle the question of time, is in the declaration that all the things indicated by the signs would have fulfillment in that generation. The narrative of Luke adds to the strength of Matthew’s statements: “So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled”-- Luk_21:28-31 . Matthew’s account reads, “till all these things be fulfilled.” Notice the expression: when YE see, know YE, and, I say unto YOU, statements which identify the people of that generation with the fulfillment of the events depicted. A significant statement is made by Luke in verse 31. He says, “When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” Mark’s account adds, “even at the doors"-- Mar_13:29 . The obvious meaning is: that in the midst of these ominous developments the believing disciples need not be frantic because the kingdom was with them, nigh at hand, and even at the doors: and the Lord was as near to them as the kingdom which hovered over and surrounded them with all the divine assurances of the Lord’s own presence. The truth of this is further seen in verse 28: “When ye see these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” It is here evident that redemption meant their deliverance from the siege, and it is given the same application in this context with the phrase “the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” In this connection the two expressions have the same significance. The kingdom was nigh at hand in the same sense that redemption or deliverence was even at the doors.
The teaching of both the old and new testaments concerning the kingdom of Christ is: that it contemplates the full length of time from his ascension to heaven after his resurrection to his descension from heaven at the end. “For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet” -- 1Co_15:25 . The overthrow of Jerusalem and the temple was the final sign to the world that he was seated “on the right hand of power,” as he had declared in Mat_26:64 to the high priest of the Jews; and as further announced to this Jewish official that he and his fellow officials of the Sanhedrin should thereafter see it. Methinks they did--at the destruction of their capital city and their national temple.
(3) The end of the Jewish state.
1. “After the tribulations of these days.” The millennialists teach that “the tribulation” will be at the time of the rapture. The saints, they say, will be caught up in the rapture, and while the saints are in the rapture, “somewhere in the heavens,” the tribulation period will be in process on earth; but the saved will be spared the tribulation, for the saints will be up in the heavens somewhere with Jesus in rapture until the tribulation period is over, when with the Lord, they say, will return to earth for the millennium. But Mat_24:1-51 does not fit the picture. The record says that the disciples were told to flee to the mountains when this tribulation begins. According to the millennial theory there would be no disciples on earth to flee--they would all be up in the rapture !
2. “Pray that your flight be not in the winter, nor on the sabbath.” The law would be nailed to the cross, the sabbath abolished; Christians would not be observing it, but the Jewish authorities would be enforcing it. Why pray that the flight be not on the sabbath? Simply because the gates of the city would be closed, and the enforced restrictions of the sabbath would hinder their flight. The reference to winter--“pray that your flight be not in the winter"--shows that Jesus was referring to hindrances to flight. The Jewish state did not end until the destruction of Jerusalem. Hence, the Jews maintained their state and enforced the law. That fact furnished the ground for the Lord’s warnings on hindrances to their flight. He surely did not mean that “winter” was a holy season or that the sabbath is a holy day, which could not be violated even in an emergency of life or death. Women “with child,” or nursing babes, would be subject to delay, temporal privations, and increased trouble and hardship, besides the difficulty of providing for actual needs of subsistence itself. In the winter their infants and children might perish with cold and hunger.
3. “The day of visitation.” That expression also has to do with the things that occurred in connection with the destruction Jerusalem. “The things which ye behold,” is the key to it all. Mark and Luke must be regarded as faithful reporters, along with Matthew, and the application of the language, therefore, must be in harmony with all three records. A comparison of the three reports clearly places the events in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish state. The two questions, as recorded by Matthew, read: “when shall these things be? and what are the signs of thy coming and of the end of the world ?" Mark’s record says: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?” Then Luke’s record reads: “Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?” The answers of Jesus to these questions were the augurs of total destruction to the ears of men who had been taught that their temple and city would abide forever.
Many of the figures of speech used in Mat_24:1-51 , in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem were used in Isa_13:1-22 , in referring to the destruction of Babylon. Note Isa_13:10 : “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.” Similar language is used is reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, similar symbolic language was used. When it says that “the sun shall be darkened” and “the moon shall not give her light” and “the stars shall fall from heaven,” people are wont to believe these expressions denote the second coming of Christ; but the same figures of speech were used in the Old Testament description of the destruction of Babylon, when Isaiah said of that event that the sun should be darkened and the moon should not give light. The reference is to the darkness that would settle over the Babylonian state in Isa_13:1-22 , and the Jewish nation and the city of Jerusalem in Mat_24:1-51 .
The language cannot be taken literally in either case, but as representing the end of the Babylonian nation and of the Jewish state. Thus Jesus disillusioned the disciples on both of their questions, showing them that he was prophesying the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish state, rather than of the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. When Mat_24:1-51 is taken from millennialists, the argument for the imminent return of Christ based on signs of the times is destroyed.
(4) The signs--verse by verse.
1. False teachers--verse 5. “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” Jesus simply warned the disciples that false teachers would be numerous, more than ever before. Josephus, the historian, verifies the fact that near the time of Jerusalem’s fall, many false Messiahs appeared, claiming to be the Christ. He says these became more numerous before the siege of Titus. Luke, the historian, records such pseudo-signs and false wonders as the magical deceptions of Simon Magus-- Act_8:1-40 --which were employed on an accentuated scale before the destruction of Jerusalem by the professional deceivers mentioned in the Lord’s predictions.
2. Wars and rumors of wars--verse 6: “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars.” Many smaller nations were at war with the Romans at that time, enemies at war with each other and rumors of war in abundance on every hand, and from every quarter as the destruction of Jerusalem drew near. Josephus verifies the fact that from every part of the empire wars followed in succession, and in waves of revolt, like the swells of the ocean, to the final dissolution of the empire.
3. Famine and pestilence--verse 7: “For nations shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” In the days of Claudius Caesar, before the destruction of Jerusalem, there was an unparalleled famine --the greatest famine the world ever knew occurred. The record of Mat_24:1-51 is corroborated by the Spirit in Agabus, the prophet, as reported by Luke in Act_11:28 : “And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.” Again Josephus testified that the famine actually occurred before the destruction of Jerusalem, and the fulfillment is a matter of historical record.
4. Earthquakes--verse 8: “All these are the beginning of sorrows.” That great earthquakes occurred during the reign of Nero is a historical fact, and the testimony of Jesus is added to that of Josephus of an unusual number of earthquakes occurring in various countries, before the destruction of Jerusalem. Many cities of Asia Minor were destroyed by earthquakes.
5. Delivered to death--verse 9: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” Paul, Peter, and James, and James the Less were all put to death before the destruction of Jerusalem.
6. Apostasies--verse 10: “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” This is the Lord’s warning of many apostasies, when the faith of the disciples would fail, as under pressure of persecution many should become offended. Such apostasies were everywhere in evidence prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, the evidence of which are not only mentioned in the sacred text, but in parallel secular history. The most valuable of such historical evidence is the testimony of Josephus, who was an eye-witness to the destruction of Jerusalem.
7. The gospel to all of the world--verse 14: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations: and then shall the end come.” Within this period of gospel history the sound of the messengers’ feet had been heard all over the Roman world-- Rom_10:15 --and the gospel was, in fact, preached to the whole creation before the destruction of Jerusalem. Read Col_1:23 : “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; for which I Paul am made a minister.” Hence, before the death of Paul this “sign” was actually fulfilled--literally enough, indeed, to satisfy a most exacting literalist. Eusebius says “the gospel was like the sun, enlightening the world at once.” It was universally published; the Gentile nations were illuminated with Christianity, providing the events to correspond with the prophecies, a fact so striking as to be convincing without disputation.
8. The end of the Jewish world--verse 14: “Then shall the end come.” Here, at once, with one accord, the millennialist jumps to the conclusion that this “end” means the end of the world--“then shall the end come”--but the end of what? The end of Jerusalem; the destruction of the temple and the end of the Jewish state and the end of Judaism.
9. The abomination of desolation--verse 15: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (who so readeth, let him understand:) " This description refers to the heathen symbols and the Roman standards raised in the temple. Every orthodox Jew looked upon the temple as sacred and holy. When the Romans conquered the city, and entered it, the Roman soldiers marched into the temple, hauled down the ornaments and images of the temple, and raised instead the symbols and standards of paganism and Romanism. That is what was called the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place. The “abomination of desolation” was fulfilled when those Roman standards and pagan symbols were seen in the holy place “where they ought not to be.”
10. The disciples flee--verses 16:18: “Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house; neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.” The destruction of Jerusalem was regarded by all pious Jews as pestilence and desolation and was taken as a sign that the time for them to escape had come--to do what Jesus had warned them to do--to flee to the mountains. The disciples did as Jesus said-they heeded the warnings and fled. From the flat roofs of their houses in the city or from their fields in the country, they saw the Roman army in full march, there was no time to go inside for goods or raiment. Life was more than personal property. When they saw the sign of the standards and symbols of the Romans in the temple, they remembered that Jesus had warned them of that very thing, and at the news of the Roman approach they fled to Pella, the northern boundary of Perea.
It is a remarkable but historical fact that Cestius Gallius, the Roman general, for some unknown reason, retired when they first marched against the city, suspended the siege, ceased the attack and withdrew his armies for an interval of time after the Romans had occupied the temple, thus giving every believing Jew the opportunity to obey the Lord’s instruction to flee the city. Josephus the eyewitness, himself an unbeliever, chronicles this fact, and admitted his inability to account for the cessation of the fighting at the time, after a siege had begun. Can we account for it? We can. The Lord was fighting against Jerusalem-- Zec_14:2 : “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.” The Lord was besieging that city. God was bringing these things to pass against the Jewish state and nation. Therefore, the opportunity was offered for the disciples to escape the siege, as Jesus had forewarned, and the disciples took it. So said Daniel; so said Jesus; so said Luke; so said Josephus.
And so it was--it was left for Titus, the Roman general, to execute the siege, after the faithful disciples had fled.
Verses 19-22: “And woe unto them that are with child, and them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” These verses deal with the hindrances to flight from the besieged city, the tribulation of the siege, and the lifting of the siege for the escape of the disciples.
11. Pseudo-signs--verses 263 -2: “Then if any ma n shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Here was the Lord’s warning against deceivers, fake prophets, false alarms and fraudulent signs--the forewarnings to enable the disciples to discriminate between the spurious and the genuine. “Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not." These warnings observed by the disciples of the Lord enabled them to escape the traps incident to the approaching siege.
12. The eagles and the carcass--verses 27-28: “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”
“The coming" here refers to the approach of the Roman armies. The Jewish nation was the carcass which the Roman eagles were sent to devour.
These verses describe the swiftness of the events and the suddenness of all the occurrences connected with the land of Judea.
13. After the tribulation--verse 29: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from the heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” After the tribulation of these days--that is, after the things that occurred during the siege. The siege began August 10, A. D. 70, six hundred years after Nebuchadnezzar’s siege and destruction of the first temple. All of the houses and underground chambers were filled with putrified corpses. One million one hundred thousand people perished, and the remnants were scattered.
Think of it--in only two months with only two armies fighting in the limited areas around Jerusalem, one million one hundred thousand people perished. Every building was filled with perishing bodies; famished people ate the putrified flesh of human carcasses; mothers ate the flesh of their own babies. And outside the besieged city the families of the expatriated race of Jews in many places throughout the empire were slaughtered. Josephus, the historian, verifies the fact that there was never anything like it before or since, nor ever shall be.
The signs in the heavens, the darkening sun and falling stars, refer to the falling of Jewish dignitaries, casting down of authorities and powers, long established, and signified the darkness that settled upon the Jewish state. The sun of the Hebrew temple was darkened, the moon of the Jewish commonwealth was as blood, the stars of the Sanhedrin fell from their high seats of authority. Isaiah and Joel describe the ruin of both ancient Babylon and Jerusalem in similar description, in Isa_13:1-22 and Joe_2:1-32 .
14. The coming of the Son of man--verse 30: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.”
The sign of the Son of man in the heaven was a signal, the evidence of divine visitation and intervention in the downfall of the Jewish authorities and in all the transpiring events. The mourning of all the tribes of the earth refers to the lamentation of the Jewish families all over the world because of the destruction of their city and their temple and their state. The coming of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven is not a reference to the second coming of Christ but to the coming foretold by Jesus to Caiaphas in Mat_26:64 : “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Jesus told Caiaphas that he would see it, he would be a living witness to these events. The reference to the Son of man coming “with power and great glory” and “sitting on the right hand of power” is emphasis on the magnitude of the things that occurred. The Son of man came in power in the transpiring events.
15. Sending forth his angels--verse 31: “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Here is the grand announcement of the world-wide success of the gospel, the universal expansion of Christianity after the destruction of Jerusalem. The angels of this verse were messengers, emissaries of the gospel. The gathering of the elect from the four winds meant that these messengers would carry the gospel to every nook and corner of the inhabited world.
This is the history of what occurred. With the downfall of Judaism the greatest foe of the church was removed, the path cleared of the chief obstacle, resulting in the universal sweep of Christianity. The knowledge of God covered the earth as waters cover the sea.
16. The signs that it was near--verses 32-33: “When the branch is yet tender . . . ye know that summer is nigh . . . so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” The signs of the approaching events would serve as portents to all faithful disciples that the things of which they were being warned would be near. The disciples would recognize these signs up to the time of the siege, and would know that it was “near, even at the doors.” It is here that Luke’s account says: “When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” -- Luk_21:28 . The providential means for the escape of the faithful was divinely prearranged and when they should see these things “begin to come to pass” they were told to “look up” and “lift up” their heads in full confidence that their redemption, their deliverance, was at hand. This redemption extended beyond the mere escape from the siege-- it was a greater deliverance from the persecutions of the Jewish authorities and the oppositions of Judaism, brought to an end by the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish state.
To say that the expression “it is near” refers to the end of the world, the end of time, or a “rapture” theory is contrary to the context of Mat_24:1-51 . When these signs appeared the Lord said, “Let them which are in Judae flee"-- and they did. “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh"--and they did know it. If it meant the end of the world, why say “let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains”? And why say, “let not them that are in the country enter thereinto”--into Jerusalem? These sayings show clearly that the whole thing is a description of the destruction of Jerusalem. Reverting in verses 41 and 42 to these surroundings the Lord said that where two would be “in the field,” or “grinding at the mill”--one would be taken and the other left--that is, the believing disciple would recognize the signs and take flight, while the unbelieving companion would remain and perish in the siege.
The statement that all the tribes of the earth shall mourn, as has been previously explained, is a reference to the Jewish families scattered all over the Roman empire-- they would mourn the downfall of Jerusalem and the end of their Jewish commonwealth.
17. All these things fulfilled--verse 34: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" In Luk_21:31-32 , the Lord said: when YE see, and know YE, and, I say unto YOU--so here is the Lord’s own statement of the period to which “these things” belonged and during which they would all be fulfilled. All of the “signs” mentioned in Mat_24:1-51 are mentioned above verse 34. After having mentioned these signs, Jesus then said, “this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Notice--"all these things”--not some of them --all of them would be fulfilled before that generation passed. But we are told that “this generation” meant that race--meaning only that the race of the Jews would not pass till all this was fulfilled. The Lord would not be guilty of such a truism--telling the Jews what would happen to their race, and then saying that the race will not pass away until everything that will happen to the race happens to it!
A truism would not be the word for that. It is sheer nonsense to have Christ say that certain things would happen to the Jewish race, but the Jewish race would not pass away until what would happen to the Jewish race happened to it! No, Jesus said “this generation”--the generation living then--would not pass “till all these things be fulfilled.” The Lord’s use of the same language after pronouncing the woes on the Pharisees in the previous chapter of Matthew shows clearly the reference was to their own time.
There are nine woes pronounced upon these Jewish officials in Mat_23:1-39 , which are followed by verse 36: ‘Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation.” Immediately following this statement is the pronouncement on Jerusalem in verse 37, “0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” and the verdict of verse 38, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” There is but one conclusion, and it is clear--all the woes of Mat_23:1-39 and all the signs of Mat_24:1-51 referred to that generation of time and span of life, and were all fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, and immediately thereafter.
18. Words shall not pass away--verse 35. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” The vouchsafement of the word of Christ is the surety of the fulfillment of “all these things” in the period that he designated as “this generation.” His words are the seal. And upon the integrity of his word another stupendous fact is predicted: that is, heaven and earth shall pass away.
The “shall” and “shall not” are equally significant: his word concerning the signs and events is as sure as the fact that heaven and earth shall pass away. And it is here that the transition in the subject of the context of Mat_24:1-51 takes place, from the destruction of Jerusalem to the second advent of Christ.
19. The coming of the Son of man--verses 36-51. The expression “that day and hour” in verse 36 connects with the pronouncement “heaven and earth shall pass away” in verse 36--that day and hour being when heaven and earth shall pass away, and is therefore related to the coming of the Son of man. In 2Pe_3:10 it is declared that “the day of the Lord shall come . . . in the which the heavens shall pass away . . . the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” Thus the passing away of heaven and earth, mentioned in verse 35 of Mat_24:1-51 , shall be an event accompanying “the coming of the Son of man” in verses 36 and 37, and with these verses the Lord’s discourse turns from the destruction of Jerusalem to the second coming of Christ. It is of that day and hour, respecting the time, that neither men nor angels know, and of which there shall be no impending signs to portend its imminence. It is not a subject for revelation, it belongs to the Father alone, excluding the Son while he was on the earth in the flesh of his incarnation; in the state of humanity. It is on this point that Mark introduces the phrase “neither the Son” which Matthew omits. “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father."-- Mar_13:32 . The statement of Joh_5:20 that the Father “showeth him all the things that himself doeth” evidently did not apply to the time of his fleshly humiliation; for it is positively stated by Mark that the time of the coming of the Son of man was not known by the Son himself. “Neither the Son, but the Father.” But having now returned to the Godhead, no longer clothed with humanity, God has shown to the Son all the things that he will do. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."-- Col_2:9 . The fact stands that of that day and hour no man knows now, and no man shall ever know beforehand-- for “so shall the coming of the Son of man be.” It shall so be when he comes.
Meanwhile in verses 37 to 39 the Lord says that the course of human society shall be as it was “in the days of Noah” before the first destruction of the world by the deluge. “They knew not until the flood came.” In 2Pe_3:3-10 the apostle compares this past universal flood with the future universal conflagration, when the world “reserved for fire against the day of judgment” shall be brought to the end. Here is the passage: “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”
The comparison of this passage with Mat_24:1-51 , verses 36 to 39, shows that the references are to the second coming of Christ and the judgment, at the end of time. The point of emphasis established is this one thing: of that day and hour no man knows, and there shall be no portents as that phraseological anachronism “the signs of the times,” so prevalent in religious parlance, would means.
20. One shall be taken and the other left--verses 40-51. In reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, the disciple of Jesus who believed his warnings, recognized the signs and fled to the mountains, as the Lord has admonished; while the unbelieving Jew beside him remained to perish in the siege. The same is true of the Lord’s coming. Though there will be no signs to usher his return, for “ye know not what hour your Lord doth come,” and “in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." But when he descends to take the living righteous, they shall ascend to meet him, while the living wicked shall remain to perish in judgment with the wicked dead. Pertinent to this point are Paul’s comforting words to the Thessalonians, chapter 4, verse 15-18: “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
The apostle here states that the righteous who shall be alive at the coming of the Lord shall not "prevent"--precede-- the righteous dead in the ascension to meet him; but the dead in Christ shall rise first---that is, before the living in Christ are caught up; and together the ascending saints shall meet the descending Saviour; and “so shall ever be with the Lord.” As for the resurrection and judgment of the wicked, other passages teach that the wicked will be raised and judged at the same last day upon which the righteous will ascend to meet the Lord--the difference exists not in the time of the resurrection but in the retribution and the reward.
The parable of the faithful and wise servant, in verses 43-51, contrasted with the evil servant, provides the example for the practical application of the Lord’s teaching in reference to his future coming. He would make the wise and faithful servant “ruler over all his goods”; but the evil servant he would “cut asunder”--a reference to the method of punishment among the orientals, the Greeks and the Romans, a form of which was referred to by Jesus in Luk_13:1 . The reference to the faithful servant being made “ruler over all his goods” is not a rulership in a millennium, which some of that persuasion have interpreted it to mean; for the unfaithful shall at the same time be cut off and consigned to the infernal region of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Consequently, there would be none over whom the faithful could rule--unless millennialists are willing the yield to the inconsistent consequence that weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth will be a prevailing condition during the millennium! That would be a freak millennium to anticipate. The parable is, of course, only illustrative of the opposites in retribution and reward; and of the fact that at the judgment of the last day God will cut off the unfaithful and appoint their portion to the realm of “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” a phrase that is suggestive of the utter despair which is beyond the power of all language to describe and deplore.
It is incumbent upon us all, and immediately imperative, that we heed the Master’s behests, as did the disciples who took warning and fled the siege, that we may be “that servant, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find so doing.”
As for the signs of Mat_24:1-51 , the generation that despised the Christ beheld with their own eyes these events of judgment. It was only thirty-seven years from the crucifixion of Christ to the coming of the Roman armies to initiate the events in which all these things were completely effected.-- GOD’S PROPHETIC WORD , pp. 233-260.
(1) A prologue to the plagues--16:1-14.
1. The voice of verse one is not that of an angel but of God himself. The seven angels were commanded to Go your ways-each had a special and separate work to perform, to pour out the vials of wrath. The vials corresponded with the cup of his indignation in chapter 14:10, the contents of which were the components of the penal woes which were to descend on the subjects of God’s wrath. It was during this period of divine wrath that no man was able to enter into the temple to appear in the presence of God for the prayer of intercession to avert the destruction of old Jerusalem and the devastation of the old temple.
2. The subjects of the plagues were the adherents of the Roman empire in Palestine; and the judgments which commenced with verse two were commensurate with the Roman beasts and the worshipers of his image who were the recipients of his mark.
The significance of the seven plagues may now be summarized as follows:
(1) The noisome sore upon the adherents of the imperial beast: “And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image"--16:2.
The object of this plague was the people in Judea and other provinces of Palestine who had submitted to the imperial decree of the emperor of idolatry in the form of his image-worship, which was the mark of the beast. The effect of this plague was signified by a noxious malodorous sore, a stench in the nostrils, the symbol of the civic posion of idolatry; and it was grievous as a spiritual contagion, being inimical to the ultimate degree to Christianity. In this role the emperor was the veritable embodiment of the antichrist of 1Jn_2:18 and 1Jn_4:3 and 2Jn_1:7 . The mention of “the last time” by John in this connection was comparable to Paul’s “present distress” 1Co_7:1-40 , and similar allusions in other epistles in the same sort of reference to the grievous times connected with the end of Jerusalem and of the Jewish state.
3. The plagues followed the pattern of the experiences of the Israelites in Egypt, as indicated in verses three through four; and Pharaoh Rameses, the oppressor of Israel, parallels Nero Caesar, the imperial persecutor of the church. It again presented the comparison of the old testament and new testament people of God--Israel and the Church.
(2) The sea of dead blood which putrified the society of imperial idolatry: “And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea."--16:3.
In accordance with the definitions of the symbols in the first section, the sea represented society in various descriptions- tossed and troubled, or placid and peaceful. Here the sea became as the blood of a dead man --signifying the complete dissolution of the emperor-beast and his subject.
(3) The conversion of the rivers and fountains of waters into blood: “And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood” --16:4.
The pollution of the fountains and streams of water resulted in epidemics of deadly disease. The sickening figure of the total contamination of the streams of water by the effluence of blood was symbolic of retribution for the blood of the martyrs. In chapter 6:10 the souls under the altar of martyrdom cried: How long, 0 Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? This plague symbol was the answer to the martyr-cry. It was the squaring of the account in this symbolic retribution of blood, the avenging of the martyrs. And verse six so declares: For they have shed the blood of the saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. The statement “for they are worthy” means that they deserved the recompense of blood for the blood they had shed.
A similar pronouncement of judgment upon apostate Jerusalem was made by Jesus in Mat_23:37 : “0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”
The plague meant that they were figuratively made to drink the blood which they had made to flow from the mass murder of the saints.
4. Each apocalypse had a separate attending angel in the superintendence of the scene enacted, and each angel personified the vision he represented, as verses five to six exemplify, in the angels of waters of the sea, and of the altar of the martyrs; in each symbol the one represents the other.
5. The angel of the altar in verse seven reverted to the altar of martyrs in chapter 6:9-10 and was in the role of sending the judgment which the martyrs petitioned, and of satisfying their avenging cry.
(4) The smitten sun that scorched blasphemous men with fire: “And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire"--16:8.
This plague was the symbol of the punishment inflicted on the persecutors who had blasphemed God in the assumption of the powers and prerogatives of God by compelling the worship of the emperor’s image; and had thus branded the mark in the hands and on the foreheads of all who bowed in submission. This symbol portended the end of the activities of the emperor and his colleagues.
6. The power of the persecution was represented as broken in verse ten, when the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the throne of the beast--the seat of authority for action in Palestine, which came from the emperor. The kingdom of the beast was full of darkness in Palestine. The same metaphor was used by Isaiah (chapter 13:10) to describe the fall of ancient Babylon; and Jesus adopted the same figure of speech ( Mat_24:29 ) in foretelling the darkness that settled over the Jewish state in the fall of Jerusalem. The same use of the symbol was made here in verse ten.
(5) The vial of wrath poured upon the seat of the beast that darkened his kingdom: “And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain” -16: 10.
The king of the kingdom mentioned in this verse must be identified with the great red dragon of chapter 12:9, personified as the devil and Satan.
The seat of the beast here was on the same principle of Satan’s seat, or throne, in Pergamos; mentioned in chapter 2:13. It referred to his base of operations through his imperial agents. His kingdom was darkened by the exposure of the deceptions of his lying wonders, which resulted in his ignominious end. The subjects of this Satanic beast, who repented not of their deeds of idolatrous worship of the emperor-image, by which they blasphemed the God of heaven, suffered the same consequences.
7. The realm of the persecutor’s operations, by the wrath poured out of the vials, was subjected to the calamities narrated; and the minions of the emperor gnawed their tongues for pain --the symbol of retribution for the lies of deception and seduction their tongues had spoken; which was the method employed to brand the subjects of their deceit with the mark of emperor-worship. And in evidence of entire allegiance to the beast-power verse eleven declared that these representatives of Rome blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.
8. In the history of Israel the armies invading their lands had come from the river Euphrates, and that historical fact was used in verse twelve as the symbol of Judea being over-run from that quarter. The drying of the river Euphrates that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared represented the removal of all barriers which hindered the progress of the powers to strike the final blow of the war against Judah and Jerusalem. It was related in symbolism to the feat of Cyrus in the military operation to divert the same river Euphrates for the capture of the old literal Babylon. This historical basis may be reasonably regarded as supplying the outline of this imagery.
(6) The smiting of the Euphrates which evaporated its waters: “And the. sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared” --16:12.
It has been noted that the symbol of this verse was based on the history of Israel’s enemies invading Judea from beyond the Euphrates in their western aggressions. The drying of the river by the pouring of the sixth vial symbolizes obliterating all deterrents to the hordes overrunning Judea and besieging Jerusalem. An allusion to the Israelites crossing over the emptied bed of the Jordan was not outside the imagery, in which application judgment was executed on the nation there victorious but here apostate.
The verses that follow from thirteen to sixteen describe the gathering armies for the final battle in the overthrow of Jerusalem, with the spiritual overtones of the conflict between the forces of Judaism and heathenism on one side, and Christianity (the church) on the other. Previous comments in verse 16 of this chapter on Armageddon make further discussion here unnecessary.
It is sufficient to add that the sixth plague was descriptive of the battle which destroyed this symbolic Babylon-- the apostate harlot Jerusalem, causing great mourning for Jerusalem among the Jewish tribes everywhere.
9. The incidents of verses thirteen and fourteen are an apocalypse of the prevailing conditions before and during the siege of Jerusalem--the symbolic description of the pervading influence of seducers, deceivers, false prophets, and pseudo-signs, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect, as narrated in Mat_24:11-24 , and verified in the histories of Josephus and Pliny.
These demoniac spirits of seduction which were like frogs came out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet. The frog has ever been a symbol of magical signs and that amphibious creature was here employed to signify the combined effort of the imperial minions to deceive and seduce the dwellers of Judea and Palestine. It was this same demoniac spirit of verse fourteen that inspired the kings of the earth (the provincial kings of Palestine) and of the whole world (the imperial rulers) to gather their armies for the battle of that great day of God Almighty. All the evidence necessary to sustain the claim that this day of God referred to the destruction of Jerusalem is the comparison with the prophecy of Zechariah (chapter 14) on the destruction of Jerusalem. The chapter begins with reference to the day of the Lord, and the entire chapter was a description of the siege and devastation of the city and the employment of high metaphors of peace and blessing that followed.
In further support of the parallel between Zec_14:1 and Rev_16:14 , the analysis of the Zechariah chapter from the author’s book, GOD’S PROPHETIC WORD, is here inserted : We shall not here read the chapter, but rather refer to its contents verse by verse. Zec_14:1-21 is almost universally used as “a second coming of Christ chapter” but it is a “destruction of Jerusalem chapter” instead.
Verse 1: “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee.” The symbolic “day of the Lord” here is the same expression precisely that is used in Isa_13:9 in reference to the destruction of Babylon. If the destruction of Babylon could be called “the day of the Lord,” why not the destruction of Jerusalem? That expression does not mean the second coming of Christ in either of these passages. Compare Isa_13:1-22 as a prophecy against Babylon, Isa_17:1-14 as a prophecy against Damascus, Isa_18:1-7 as a prophecy against Ethiopia, Isa_19:1-25 as a prophecy against Egypt, with Zec_14:1-21 as a prophecy against Jerusalem, and it can be seen that the assertions of the millennialists that Zechariah is prophesying the second coming of Christ and the millennium are wrong.
Verse 2: “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.”
The historical accounts of the siege of Jerusalem by Josephus, Pliny, Horne and Clarke fulfill Zechariah’s descriptions. Reference to “nations gathered for battle” is a description of besieged Jerusalem, the houses rifled and the women ravished. The same description is found in Isa_13:1-22 , verses 15 and 16, concerning the fall and destruction of Babylon. The comparison is forceful.
Verse 3: “Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.” Factually, all the nations were represented in the Roman army, and God afterward fought against them by means of the Northern nations. Read Zec_9:14-15 : “And the Lord shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning; and the Lord God shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south. The Lord of hosts shall defend them; and they shall devour, and subdue with sling stones.” The visitations are figurative, of course, but nevertheless significant of the fact that all the nations referred to “against” whom the Lord “fought” were destroyed.
Verse 4: “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.”
The prophetic declaration that “his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives which is before Jerusalem,” does not refer to the second coming of Christ but rather to the siege of Jerusalem. Jesus Christ stood with his feet on the mount of Olives when he uttered the doom of the city. The Roman general stood on the mount of Olives when Jerusalem was besieged. The formations of the battle lines, entrenchments and redoubts, the circumvallations of the Romans, all enter into the graphic description and portrayal of the prophet that the mount should “cleave in the midst” and “toward the north” and “toward the south.”
Verses 5-7: “And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: But it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.”
Obviously, these verses are a metaphorical description of the mixture of divine mercy with justice. After the visitation there would be light--the diffusion of divine knowledge. This did follow the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish state.
Verses 8-9: “And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. And the Lord shall be King over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one.”
The only consistent application of this language is a spiritual fulfillment in the gospel of Christ and the church. Who is ready to deny that the clause “in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one,” refers to the present dispensation? There is one Lord, his name is one, and the Lord is “king over all the earth.” It finds its fulfillment in the church of Christ where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but all one in Christ, and one Lord over all.
Verses 16-17: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem, shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.” If these verses are not figurative, if they are to be taken literally, then all nations and families must literally go up to Jerusalem and literally offer animal sacrifices and keep the Passover, restore Judaism with all of its literal ceremonies, in order in fulfill the prophecy. That would be a complete re-establishment of old Judaism and everything that characterized it, all of which was taken away. But if these verses are not literal, then the application made of the whole chapter by the millennialists loses its force. These last verses refer to the expansion of the blessings of the gospel dispensation after the destruction of Jerusalem. Upon all who received the gospel, its blessings descended as rain; but to the unbelievers who rejected the gospel “upon them shall be no rain”--all such are barred from its promises and privileges.
The simple truth of the matter is that as Isa_13:1-22 is a prophecy on the destruction of Babylon, Zec_14:1-21 is a prophecy on the destruction of Jerusalem. It does not teach millennialism in “a sentence or a syllable.“-- GOD’S PROPHETIC WORD, pp. 246-9.
Thus the downfall of Babylon in Isa_13:1-22 , and of Jerusalem in Zec_14:1-21 , Mat_24:1-51 , and in Revelation were described with identical symbolism. The evidence is preponderant that the gathering for the battle of that great day of God portended the over-running of Judea and the onslaught against Jerusalem by the Roman armies, set forth in numerous visional developments; which included the uprisings, insurrections and rebellions that diverted the powers of evil from the afflictions of the church.
(2) A parenthesis of beatitudes--16:15.
Among the portents of persecution and catastrophe of the apocalypse, there are to be found declarations of consummate bliss and blessedness in a series of beatitudes. This cluster of precious and promising assurances to besieged, encompassed and beleaguered Christians shine through the text of Revelation with the brightest luster, like diamonds that flash and send forth a thousand rays as the sun falls upon them. These apocalyptic beatitudes, seven in number, are collated with comments in chapter 22:14. One of these scintillating assurances mingled with ominous overtones is in this verse: “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.”
The warning words of verse fifteen are the interposition of another parenthetical beatitude comparable to chapter 1:3 and 14:13. A blessing is pronounced on all that watch, for God would come in these events as a thief. The phrase as a thief does not indicate the element of surprise, but rather of preparedness. Jesus gave the signs of these events in Mat_24:25 : “Behold, I have told you before”; and in Verse 33, “so likewise ye, when he shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” This same event must have been the object of Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians, first epistle, chapter 5:1-4, in reference to “the day of the Lord,” saying that they were “not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief"-- that is, having knowledge of it, they would abide in preparation for the ominous events.
(3) The gathering forces of Armageddon--16:16. The outpouring of the seventh vial into the air, verses sixteen and seventeen symbolized the sphere of life and influence in contradistinction with the earth as the place of nations, and with the heaven, which denoted the ruling authorities.
In this context the great battle of Armageddon was envisioned : And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. The name Armageddon was derived from mount Megiddo, which was located in a valley now known as the plain of Esdraelon. It was the battlefield of nations in Jewish history. It was in this valley of Megiddo that Deborah and Barak overthrew Sisera and annihilated the hosts of Midianite oppressors. ( Jdg_5:19 ) It was in “this valley of Jehoshaphat” where he triumphed over the ambushments of the combined armies of Ammon and Moab and “the fear of the Lord was on all the kingdoms of those countries, when they had heard that the Lord fought against the enemies of Israel.” ( 2Ch_20:22-30 ) In this valley (designated in later history as the plain of Esdraelon) the Jews and the Saracens and the Egyptians, the Druses and the Turks and the warriors of many hostile nations, pitched their battles; and thus the battlefield of mount Megiddo became a universal proverb.
Under the word Armageddon, the original Bible Dictionary of Philip Schaff states that it was “a name used figuratively in Rev_16:16 , and suggested by the great battlefield noted in the Old Testament and now known as the Plain of Esdraelon.” This figure in the text of the apocalypse was employed not for the physical location but for the battle imagery. The deepest affliction of Jerusalem could be symbolized in no stronger terms of mourning, as prophesied by Zechariah in chapter 12:11: “In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon.”
The personage designated Gog in connection with this battle imagery, was the king of a country that sustained relations of hostility to Israel. The names Gog and Magog were used identically and are associated in chapter 20:7-9 as a type of the enemies of Christ. It becomes evident that the symbolic adaptation of Armageddon rises above the physical slaughter that overwhelmed Jerusalem and Judah to the hostile forces of evil surrounding the church, personified as Gog and Magog. It was therefore symbolic of the battle against Christianity--the forces of Judaism on the one side and of heathenism on the other. But the Rider of the white horse was the Conqueror; the Son of man appearing on the white cloud was the Victor; the saints robed in white garments were the Overcomers; in all of the symbols and imagery of the visions and in surviving the persecutions, the church emerged in victory to make the kingdoms of this world (chapter 11:15) become the kingdoms of the Lord and his Christ by the universal sway of the gospel.
This is consistent with the repeated emphasis of the early chapters of the apocalypse in the letters addressed to the seven churches, that the period through which they were passing was the tribulation era of the church.
(4) The voice from the throne--16: 17.
The great voice from the temple-throne that ordered the plagues, understood to be that of God Himself, now declared the end in verse seventeen -- it is done --that is, the plagues had been accomplished, the mission of the seven angels had been fulfilled.
The pouring out of the vial into the air symbolized that the sphere of the influence of the wicked nations was destroyed by the wrath of God in the seventh vial--it was the destroying of them that destroy; and is the same of apocalyptic characters as Isa_26:13-14 , prophesying the decease of the wicked lords who had oppressed Israel: "O Lord our God, other lords have had dominion over us . . . they are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise; therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.” No clearer explanation could be made of the visions in Revelation in the pouring out of the vials of wrath upon the nations that persecuted the Bride of Christ, the Lamb--his church.
(7) The last vial poured into the air, causing voices, thunders, lightenings and a great earthquake: “And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake; such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great”--16:17-18.
As defined before, the symbol of the air represented the sphere of life and influence of the wicked nations. In Eph_2:1 Satan was named the prince of the power of the air-- not the actual exercise of power, but of influence-- the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.
In this symbol the great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne was not the voice of an angel, but of the Great God Himself. The great voice said: It is done. The time for the end of the judgments had come; the time for fall of the Harlot City; and the time for the punishments to follow on both Jewish and imperial persecutors of the church; all of which was signified by the distant rumbling of voices, thunders and lightnings. The earthquake everywhere used in the apocalypse symbolized the shaking of nations; and the effects of the fall of Jerusalem were not limited to Judea and the Jews--the mighty influence of the terrible events had a solemn impact of worldwide significance.
With the removal of Judaism from the path of the church the way was opened for the universal expansion of Christianity, and the Lord’s words in Mat_24:31 were fulfilled: “And he shall send his angels (emissaries) with a great sound of a trumpet (the proclamation of the gospel), and they shall gather together his elect (those converted by the gospel) from the four winds (every direction), from one end of heaven to the other (the remotest bounds of the habitation of men). And it was done.
(5) The fall of Jerusalem and citadels of oppression-- 16:18-21.
The upheavals of verse eighteen in the visions of voices, and thunders, and lightnings . . . and a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the face of the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great, were the symbols of the fall of Jerusalem and the attending effects of the devastation of Judea, all of which resulted in the shaking of the nations of the empire itself; and though Jerusalem had fallen, the thunders and lightnings and earthquakes were not over until the persecuting nations received full measure of divine wrath from the cup of his indignation.
History verifies the revolutionary reactions in governments symbolized by thunders and lightnings, culminating in wars between the nations of the empire in the coup d’ e tat of the conflict for power between the rulers, as in the wars of Nero Caesar. There is no need of leaving the ten epoch period of the persecutors signified in chapter 2:10 for the fulfillment of these symbols. As was true of the signs in Mat_24:34 , it was true of these symbols also: This generation shall not pass till all these be fulfilled.
As the prophecy of Zec_14:4 foretold the city of Jerusalem as cleft in the midst before its fall, so verse nineteen sees that the great city was divided into three parts. It envisioned the partitioning of the city by the circumvallations of the Roman armies, as in Zec_14:1-21 ; and as suggested in the comments by Adam Clarke on the Zechariah prophecy and verified by the history of Josephus.
The further statement that the cities of the nations fell signified the collapse of the citadels of oppression and the strongholds of evil influence in the operations of the beast and false prophet in their lying wonders and pseudo-signs of deception and seduction. The great Babylon that came in remembrance before God was the apostate Jerusalem, that faithful city turned harlot of Isa_1:21 designated in chapter 11:8 as the spiritual Sodom and Egypt where also our Lord was crucified. In the remembrance of her apostasies God gave unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath in divine retribution for her harlotry.
In the process of this unrelenting succession of inexorable judgments, verse twenty declared that every island fled away, and the mountains were not found- -that is, all the seats of authority and power of the Jewish theocracy faded away and disappeared. The fall of Jerusalem and the demolition of the temple effected the complete abrogation of Judaism and the abolition of the Jewish state.
In the ultimate dispensation of judgment on the city and the land of the Jews and their state, verse twenty-one stated that there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven . . . and men blasphemed God because of the plaque of hail. This downpour of hail was preternatural-- for the plague thereof was exceeding great --it was beyond normal evulsions from the elements; it was strange and inexplicable in its proportions. It signified the wrath of God which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation --described in the prolepsis of chapter 14:10. But the adherents of the satanic beast were not moved to repentance by any of these manifestations of divine judgment; rather, in complete allegiance to the evil powers they blasphemed God in steeped and stubborn resistance to His will.
The statement of verse nineteen that Jerusalem was divided into three parts, had a further significance than the partitioning of the city by the Romans as described by Zec_14:1-21 . The apparent application of the symbol was to the three sources of Jerusalem’s afflictions: pestilence, sword and exile. The prophecy of Ezekiel on the siege and destruction of Jerusalem described these three parts in the following words: “Thou shalt burn with fire (pestilence) a third part in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled: and thou shalt take a third part and smite about it with a knife (sword): and a third part thou shalt scatter in the wind (exile); and I will draw out a sword after them.” There could be no closer relation between the fulfillment of a prophecy and an apocalypse than Eze_5:2 and Rev_16:19 . Again the Old Testament and the New Testament furnish accumulative evidence that the symbols of Revelation were fulfilled in the lives and experiences of the people to whom the apocalypse was addressed.
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Wallace, Foy E. "Commentary on Revelation 16". "Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26