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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 16

Ironside's Notes on Selected BooksIronside's Notes

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Verses 1-21

Chapter Sixteen The Vials Of The Wrath Of God

The seven vials (more properly, bowls) of the wrath of God are all included in the judgments of the last half of the great tribulation. They show the intensive character that these judgments will take as the end draws on. It seems to me the series covers just a very brief period at the close of the last half of Daniel’s seventh week. The pouring out of the bowls depicts the judgments that will fall on the kingdom of the beast and the antichrist’s sphere of authority at the very end of the great tribulation.

The First and Second Bowls (Revelation 16:1-3)

As this chapter opens a great voice out of the temple is heard saying to the seven angels, “Go your ways, and pour out [empty] the [bowls] of the wrath of God upon the earth” (1). As in the case of the seven trumpets and the seven seals, I cannot tell you just how much we are to take as symbolic and how much as literal in this septenary series of judgments. We know that the book of Revelation is a book of symbols. Yet there may be a great deal more in it that is literal than many of us suppose. The literal judgments may be intimately linked with the symbolical. No one reading this chapter carefully can fail to observe how intimately the results of the bowls of wrath are linked with the plagues that fell on Egypt preparatory to Israel’s deliverance. God is again about to deliver His people for the last time. The outpouring of these bowls depicts, in large measure, the woes that were visited on the kingdom of Pharaoh. But descriptions perhaps must be taken symbolically rather than literally; or perhaps both interpretations coalesce.

In verse 2 we read, “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 worshiped his image.” This answers to the plague in Egypt where God inflicted man and beast with boils and sores. It perhaps symbolizes a spiritual plague on those who have received the mark of the beast and worship his image. This plague will cause as great an annoyance as the physical suffering that would follow such a grievous sore on the bodies of men. Notice that the sphere of this plague is the earth and it answers to the first trumpet of Revelation 8:0. But it is very evident that while the sphere is the same, the judgment is more intense.

In the same way the second angel’s bowl links with the second angel’s trumpet which affected the sea. But again we have greater intensity, for in verse 3 we read, “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.” What a scene of death and desolation, whether we think of it as physical or spiritual or both. “All they that hate me,” says Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, “love death” (8:36). And so death is the portion for those who have refused the life that is in Christ Jesus.

The Third and Fourth Bowls (Revelation 16:4-9)

The third angel’s trumpet affected the rivers and fountains of waters. In verse 4 we read that the very sources of life are destroyed, as in the plague that fell on Egypt when the river itself became blood. In verses 5-7 God’s righteousness in thus dealing with those who had slaughtered His servants is fully attested. Every right-thinking person will add his “Amen,” for God is righteous in all His ways, whether in grace or in judgment.

The fourth angel’s bowl is poured out on the sun, even as at the sounding of the fourth trumpet the third part of the sun was struck (8:12). But again we have greater intensity in the judgment than in the trumpet series. “Power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory” (16:8-9). The sun is the supreme source of light. This implies that that which should have been for man’s comfort becomes a curse instead and the means of his bitter suffering. But, though their anguish is so great, men are not brought to repentance by punishment. God’s name is blasphemed, and His creatures refuse to give Him glory. This is a solemn consideration for those who teach that punishment is really only chastisement and is always corrective.

The Fifth Bowl (Revelation 16:10-11)

The next section intensifies this in a remarkable way. The fifth angel empties his bowl on the seat of the beast, striking the center of the last great confederation and filling his kingdom with darkness. Then we read that “they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds” (10-11). Darkness and anguish do not tend to soften men’s hearts or lead them to confess their sins. Their very suffering stirs them up to blaspheme God more. So in the outer darkness of a lost eternity, our Lord has told us there will be weeping and wailing because of suffering endured. But there will also be the gnashing of teeth, which implies rage and indignation against God. With permanency of character he who rejects Christ is guilty of eternal sin and eternal punishment necessarily follows.

At the sounding of the fifth angel’s trumpet, we were told the bottomless pit was opened, “and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit” (9:2). This explains the darkness that fills the kingdom of the beast when the fifth angel’s bowl of wrath is poured on the seat of the beast. It is judicial darkness brought about by demoniacal delusions.

The Sixth Bowl (Revelation 16:12-16)

We now come to the bowl of the sixth angel, which was very much on the minds of people during the past years of bloody warfare. Again and again the question was raised whether World War I was the Armageddon conflict predicted in the Bible. Teachers instructed by the Word have invariably assured anxious questioners that while that war may have set the stage for Armageddon, it cannot be that great conflict itself. Armageddon is a definite locality in the land of Palestine. The word means “the mountain of Megiddo.” It refers to the mountain that overlooks the valley of Esdraelon- the great plain of Jezreel in the northern part of the land of Palestine. Napoleon Bonaparte said this plain would make an ideal battleground for all the armies of the world. There, the last great battle is to be fought, just before the appearing of the Lord in glory.

The great river Euphrates was formerly the eastern boundary of the Roman empire and later of the Turkish dominion. Thus, I believe, the sixth angel’s vial of wrath poured out on the Euphrates speaks of the destruction of that latter power. Luther said, “When the Turk is driven out of Europe, then comes the day of judgment.” And, in a certain sense, this will undoubtedly be true-not the day of judgment for the wicked dead, but the day of judgment for the living nations. The Turk is an intruder in Europe, the enemy of both God and man; but I am convinced that his hold on Constantinople and the surrounding country is very nearly ended. God will drive the Ottoman empire from Europe and punish that nation. (Since the above was written the Ottoman empire has fallen). The cry of martyred Armenia, and of other peoples who have suffered fearfully from these Asiatic hordes, will be answered by the destruction of the nation that brought such havoc. It is very evident, I think, that God is already beginning to bring this to pass. If you have a map of Europe of one hundred years ago, notice the place that the Turkish empire then had and compare it with a map of the present day, and see how much of its territory has been wrested from it.

I am convinced that it will not be long before Turkey is driven out of Europe altogether. Then, according to the book of Daniel, it will “plant the tabernacles of [its] palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet [it] shall come to [its] end, and none shall help [it]” (11:45). Driven into Asia Minor, it will finally, I take it, attempt to establish itself in the land of Palestine. And this will arouse not only the European powers in the league of the ten kingdoms, but it will stir up the eastern and northern nations besides. Turkey will, if I understand the prophetic scheme aright, be backed in the last days by Russia, and possibly by Germany too, in opposition to western confederation. Both these great powers will be anxious to hold the land of Palestine, which is admittedly the key to the so-called Eastern question. But the activity of these European nations will arouse the races of the far East, for when the Euphrates is dried up, we are told it is “that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared” (Revelation 16:12).

Who are the kings of the east? Various theories have been suggested. Some consider they may be the so-called lost ten tribes of Israel returning to their land, or perhaps the dominions of Persia, Afghanistan, and so on. It is significant that the word rendered “the east” is really “the sun-rising.” Is it only a coincidence that for at least a millennium Japan has been known as “the kingdom of the rising sun”? May not the Mongolian races, possibly allied with India be the kings of the east depicted in Revelation 16:0 as coming in conflict with the powers of the west? Thus the whole world will be thrown into bloody warfare, and all nations be gathered together against Jerusalem to battle.

This great world-conflict will be the direct result of the working of demons, for we are told that three unclean frog-like spirits came out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. These demons will work miracles, visiting the kingdoms of the earth (that is the prophetic earth) and of the whole world (that is, the nations outside the prophetic earth) “to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (16:14). This will be the great and final Armageddon conflict-the place where they will meet one another in an attempt to settle the final issues.

Notice that there is a parenthetical statement in verse 15. It comes in just before the close of this section, thus preceding the seventh bowl. It is the voice of the Lord Himself, “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 time of His appearing is very close. Those who look for His coming should be watching and keeping their garments undefiled, lest they be put to shame before the ungodly. The undefiled are those who keep themselves from all fellowship with the Satan-inspired movements of the last days. They will walk with God in holy separation from the abounding iniquity, as directed by His Word. The voice is for us as well as for the saints in a future day.

The Seventh Bowl (Revelation 16:17-21)

The seventh angel’s bowl poured out into the air indicates the utter destruction of every spiritual and religious institution that man has built up apart from God. It is the absolute overthrow of civilization and the complete wreck of all man’s hopes to bring in even livable conditions in this world, while rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ. The scene is one of anarchy and confusion. Despite the signs of divine wrath resting on the souls of men, they still blaspheme God and give no sign of repentance.

Let me remind you that the church of God is to be caught up before these scenes take place on the earth. We are looking for the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Savior from the coming wrath. Do you know Him? If not, I plead with you in the light of all we have had before us, “Flee from the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7).

Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Revelation 16". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/isn/revelation-16.html. 1914.
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