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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 16

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

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Verses 1-21


Section Thirteenth

Earth-picture of the Seven Vials of Anger, or the End-judgment in its general aspect. (Ch. 16.)

General.—The special homiletical treatment of this section is, like that of others, made more difficult by the disagreement of exegeses. According to Hengstenberg, for instance, the earth denotes the earthly-minded; the sea, the sea of nations, the unquiet wicked world (in antithesis to the earthly-minded!); the fountains of waters, the sources of prosperity; the sun, that luminary in its burning quality, the type of the sufferings of this life; the throne of the Beast, the government of the Roman emperors; the Euphrates, the hinderance to the advance of the God-opposed world-power into the Holy Land, against the Holy City, against the Church.

According to Brandt, the earth is the Holy Land, which has become the scene of the world-kingdom of the Dragon; the sea is the mass of peoples united under the sceptre of the Beast; the rivers and fountains are the peoples and families in their still subsistent sunderment; the sun is the glowing sun and nothing more; the throne of the Beast is the sovereign power of the Beast; the Euphrates is the Beast out of the Earth, or Babylon.

The exposition of Sabel is in part better; The earth denotes the positive foundations of State and Church; the sea, the Gentile-Christian world of nations. Next, however, come some abortive interpretations: The waters of life [rivers] are the refreshing truths of salvation, and the fountains of waters are the schools at which they are taught; the sun is the Church of Jesus Christ; the throne of the Beast is the Antichristian world—its darkening is the confusion and shattering of that world—The Euphrates is well characterized as emblematic of the boundary line of the civilized world; the drying up of it betokens a change in political wisdom resulting in a new migration of nations, as it were.

The Vials of Anger should, above all, be compared with the Trumpets; and the antithesis between the Trumpets calling to repentance and the judgments of hardening, should be noted. The judgments of hardening may be elucidated by the Egyptian plagues, Isaiah 6:10 and analogous passages. They are indicative of such judgments as ripen corruption—when it has come to be past healing—into its final development and consummation, thus resulting in blasphemy, which in itself is damnation (Revelation 16:9; Revelation 16:11; Revelation 16:21), whilst, the Trumpets were designed to produce repentance. The first Vial of Anger readily suggests examples of the moral corruption and dissolution of individual states and communities (Babylon, Jerusalem, Rome, etc.) as warning signs.

In treating the second Vial of Anger we may touch upon the symptoms, of the empoisonment of popular life by writings, tendencies, conspiracies. The symbolic import of the rivers is sufficiently attested by Scripture—the Nile, the Euphrates, the Jordan, the brook of Siloah; the same remark applies to the fountains. A consideration of poisoned and poisoning, death-dealing currents and fountains or fountain minds, would be appropriate here. The transformation of the sun of revelation into a glowing and scorching mass, by human fanaticism, negative as well as positive, is easily intelligible. The darkening of the throne and kingdom of darkness may be explained by the crumbling of the power of falsehood into contradictions, partyisms and suicidal complots. The drying up of the Euphrates, as the abolition of the boundary line between the civilized and the barbarian world, has a rich significance. Abolition of the distinctions of religions, stations, culture, of the sexes (emancipation of women), etc.—Symbolic import of the frogs.—The dissolution and decomposition of the common spiritual vital air must be a presage that the common existence of those who breathe it is drawing to a close.—The downfall of things in the evening of the world will be, first, a downfall of the spirit-world (Revelation 16:19); secondly, a downfall of nature; thirdly, a downfall of the relation between the human world and the life of nature.

Special.—[chap. 16] The Vials of Anger in comparison with Christ’s Cup of Suifering: 1. The similarity; 2. The contrast,—[Revelation 16:2.] The noisome sore in a social and a spiritual sense: Deficit; corruption of morals; mortality, etc.—[Revelation 16:3; Revelation 16:14.] Transformation of the waters into blood, as a retribution for the nefarious and mock-holy shedding of blood (Revelation 16:5-7).—Apology for the avenging righteousness of God.—The blasphemies (Revelation 16:9; Revelation 16:11; Revelation 16:21). How are they punished? Primarily, through themselves, (1) their madness, (2) their impotence, (3) their torment.—[Revelation 16:12.] The dangers to Christian humanity lying dormant in the Orient. An Orient of mischief over against the Orient of salvation.—[Revelation 16:13.] The three frogs. Even in respect to the terrors of the last time, a sacred irony of the Spirit is manifested, testifying to the freeness of the Spirit,—[Revelation 16:14.] Enthusiasm of those inspired by the frogs.—[Revelation 16:15.] The Coming of the Lord compared with the coming of a thief: 1. Strangeness of the figure; 2. Design of this strangeness.—[Revelation 16:16.] Armageddon, or the theocratic battle-fields.—Battle-fields of the world, from their dark and their bright side.—The last battle-field: Armageddon, the scene of a conflict between the world and the spirit-realm.—[Revelation 16:17.] It is done!—The last glorious revelation of Christ’s Spirit in His Church (Revelation 16:18).—[Revelation 16:19.] The falling of great Babylon into three parts, the announcement of the three judgments.—Crisis of nature in the evening of the world (Revelation 16:20-21).

Starke: (This expositor continues his presentation of opposite views.) Revelation 16:2. Those who regard this as already fulfilled, explain it mystically thus: The sore is the manifestly shameful and hurtful condition of the whole papistic Church. (In contrast to this view, there is a literal exposition of the empoisonment of earth and of life, and also an allegorical interpretation, referring the passage to the bad conscience and anguish of soul of the wicked.)—The wrath of man is greater than his power, but God has power to carry out His wrath (1 Kings 19:2-3).

Revelation 16:4. Those who regard this plague as fulfilled see in it the blood-thirsty doctrines and counsels of the Pope.

Revelation 16:6. God, in proportioning His punishments to the sins which have provoked them, teaches us that we should proportion our penitence to our sins.—The blood of saints is precious in God’s eyes; He forgetteth it not, but recompenseth it with righteous vengeance.

Revelation 16:8. Interpretations of the sun: [1] The natural sun; [2] A mighty king; [3] The Beast (! Reinbeck).

Revelation 16:9. Application to the wars of Charles VIII. and subsequent French kings in Italy.—As all things work together for the good of the pious, so all things, even the beams of the sun, work evil to the wicked (Romans 8:28).—Quesnel: The scourgings of God discover the heart; out of a perverse heart they bring forth blasphemies, out of a penitent heart they bring praise, humility and love.

Revelation 16:10. Even thrones and majesties are not secure from the chastisement of God. He can in His wrath destroy entire and flourishing kingdoms—Dimpel: Misuse not thy tongue for the flattery and excessive exaltation of the lofty, the distinguished and the rich, that thou mayest not afterwards, when God taketh such idols from thee, have to moan and lament, aye, and gnaw thy tongue for vexation; but let thy tongue daily tell of God’s righteousness.

Revelation 16:10. Singular interpretation: The darkening of the Beast’s kingdom is the revelation, reaching far and wide, of all the abominations and vices of the Pope and the whole Roman clergy. Opposite (?) interpretation: The kingdom of the Beast despised by men.

Revelation 16:12. Some: The drying up of the Euphrates is yet to come, although it might seem to be partially fulfilled in the kingdom of France, that being the most powerful kingdom of Europe, and the one that has afforded most protection to the Beast, in the persecution of the Huguenots, etc.—A great religious war is in prospect, the issue of which is greatly to be desired for the true Church.

Revelation 16:13. The frogs: considered in respect of the Antichristian hellish trinity in which they originate—viz., the Dragon, the Beast and the False Prophet. Many a one who has a horror of the Devil when Scripture calls him a Dragon, listens to him with complacency when he speaks by the mouth of an unchaste woman, or a false teacher or godless babbler. The Devil has his apostles, as well as the Lord.—Quesnel: Satan has his designs when he assembles armies, men have theirs, and God has His, to the realization of which last all things must conduce (Isaiah 10:6-7).

Quesnel: [Revelation 16:17.] There is a seventh and last Vial for every individual sinner, but who knows it?

Revelation 16:18. Some apprehend this mystically as referring to the Church: there shall be voices, open preaching of the Gospel, the thunder of the Divine word, and lightnings, the bright light of the Gospel, shall break forth again with power, and a remarkable movement of men’s souls shall be the result.

Revelation 16:20. How foolish it is to attach ourselves to a world that fleeth away, and, like our desires, vanisheth.

Revelation 16:21. God’s chastisements do not always make men better—they sometimes have a directly opposite effect.

Bengel, Sechzig erbauliche Reden. The Trumpets make a wide circuit in a long time, but the Vials make quick work of it.—The four holy Beasts [Living-beings] are nearer to the Throne than the Angels in general, and these seven Angels in particular (recte!) [ch. Revelation 15:7].—The earth is Asia, the sea Europe, the rivers Africa (which contains the two principal rivers, the Nile and the Niger, etc.). The sun is the whole surface of the earth (partly, therefore, Asia, Europe and Africa again).

Revelation 16:10. They still think that the Beast is right, and they become none other than they were, either internally or externally.

Revelation 16:21. The whole creation is like an organ with many stops, and when one stop after another shall be drawn out as a plague upon the wicked, scorners shall learn somewhat that they look not for.

Briefe über Offenb. Joh. Ein Buch für die Starken, die schwach heissen (Pfenninger).

Revelation 16:1-2. An evil and poisonous ulcer came upon the men who had the mark of the Beast and who worshipped his image. Another wonderful and repentance-preaching sparing of Christians.

Revelation 16:8-9. How strong must be our conviction of the immeliorability of these men.

Revelation 16:17-21. The great earthquake, greater than any that had ever been, will, judging from Revelation 16:20, bring about those great changes in the shape of the earth, whose embellishment is in prospect, which must precede the time of the Messiah’s government.—[Revelation 16:21.] The last hail: I, for my part, confess that as often as I think of a violent—nay, of the most violent—fever of earth, I can never picture to myself all the symptoms, in their great variety and contrast, in sufficient grandeur and extraordinariness.

[From M. Henry: Revelation 16:15. When God’s cause comes to be tried, and His battles to be fought, all His people should be ready to stand up for His interest, and be faithful and valiant in His service.

Revelation 16:21. Note here, 1. The greatest calamities that can befall men will not bring them to repentance without the grace of God working with them. 2. Those that are not made better by the judgments of God, are always the worse for them. 3. To be hardened in sin and enmity against God by His righteous judgments, is a certain token of utter destruction.—From The Comprehensive Commentary: Revelation 16:9; Revelation 16:11; Revelation 16:21. Without the special, preventing grace of God the more men suffer, and the more plainly they see the hand of God in their sufferings, the more furiously they often rage against Him. Let then sinners now seek repentance from Christ, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, or they will hereafter have the anguish and horror of an unhumbled, impenitent and desperate heart, burning with enmity against God, as well as tortured by the fire of His indignation; and thus augmenting guilt and misery to all eternity. (Scott.)

Revelation 16:15. These will be times of great temptation; and therefore Christ, by His apostle, called on His professed servants to expect His sudden coming, and to “watch,” that they might retain, and be found in, the garments of salvation, and not “walk naked,” and so be put to shame, as apostates or hypocrites; for the blessing would belong only to the watchful. (Scott.)—From Wordsworth: Vials are holy vessels. Wherever means of grace are not duly used, they recoil on those to whom they have been offered, and become means of punishment.—From Vaughan: Revelation 16:15. The garments of the watcher must not be laid aside; he must have his loins girded about (for action), as well as his lights burning (Luke 12:35).—The peculiarity of Christ’s coming is that everything which seems to defer really brings it near; everything which seems to make it improbable is an argument of its certainty and of its approach. Behold, I come as a thief.—Awake, then, thou that steepest! Be not found of Him, when He cometh, drowsy and stupefied, overcharged with cares and riches and pleasures of this life; the lamp of grace expiring, or the garment of holiness laid aside.—From Bonar: Revelation 16:15. These are words for all time, but specially for the last days. They (1) warn, (2) quicken, (3) rouse, (4) comfort. Note here, 1. The coming. Christ comes (1) as Avenger, (2) as Judge, (3) as King, (4) as Bridegroom. “As a thief;”—at midnight; when men are asleep; when darkness lies on earth; when men are least expecting Him; when they have lain down, saying: “Peace and safety.” Without warning, though with vengeance for the world in His hand: when all past warnings of judgment have been unheeded. Without further message; for all past messages have been in vain. Like a thief to the world, but like a Bridegroom to the Church. 2 The watching. Not believing, nor hoping, nor waiting merely; but watching. Watch upon your knees. Watch with your Bibles before you. Watch with wide open eye. Watch for Him Whom not having seen you love. 3. The keeping of the garments. Do not cast off your raiment either for sleep or for work. Do not let the world strip you of it. Keep it and hold it fast. It is heavenly raiment, and without it you cannot go in with your Lord when He comes. 4. The blessedness. It is blessed (1) because it cherishes our love; (2) it is one of the ways of maintaining our intercourse; (3) it is the posture through which He has appointed blessing to come, in His absence, to His waiting Church. 5. The warning. Adam was ashamed at being found naked when the Lord came down to meet him; how much more of shame and terror shall be to unready souls at meeting with a returning Lord! O false disciple, come out of your delusion and hypocrisy, lest you be exposed in that day of revelation! O sinner, make ready, for the day of vengeance is at hand!]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 16". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/revelation-16.html. 1857-84.
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