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Bible Commentaries

Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 16

Verses 1-21

The First Bowl Poured Out

(vv. 1-2)

A great voice from the temple now commands the execution of judgment.

Grace has been patient; justice has not been hasty, but is to be apportioned out precisely according the measure of guilt. Yet when it comes, it cannot spare: it will be swift, unerring, awesome. The first angel pours out his bowl on the earth with a resulting loathsome and grievous sore upon those who receive the mark of the beast and who worship his image (Revelation 13:15-16). Since the image is set up at the middle of the week of seven years, the bowl judgments begin after this. This sore is worse than a mere physical sore. Note that it is singular (not sores), for it represents a general moral condition everywhere by which people are affected: it is the breaking out of the inward corruption that has moved people in their defiance of God. Their moral and spiritual state will be loathsome and repulsive. This condition is exposed by God's judicial action. It reminds us of the plague of boils upon the Egyptians in Moses' day when the Egyptian magicians could not stand before Moses because they themselves were afflicted (Exodus 9:10-11).

The Second Bowl Poured Out

(v.3)

The second bowl is poured on the sea which became as the blood of a dead person. Death claimed every living thing. This is not blood that has been shed, but blood still in the body of one who has died. This speaks of the putrid stagnation of death which affects the Gentile nations. They have refused the truth of the gospel of grace and become like Nabal, the husband of Abigail, of whom it is recorded when told of his having been nearly killed by the hand of David, "his heart died within him and he became as a stone" (1 Samuel 25:37-38). Because man wilfully hardens himself against God, God eventually judicially (governmentally) hardens man's heart so that he is impervious to the grace of God: he becomes dead while he lives.

The Third Bowl Poured Out

(vv. 4-7)

The poured out bowl of the third angel reminds us of Moses turning the water of the Nile River into blood (Exodus 7:20). Rivers and fountains, sources of refreshment, are turned into death's corruption. Again, this is not literal, but indicates that whatever remains of "religion" will have no refreshment in it whatever, but being totally given up to Satan's falsehood, will exude only the corruption of spiritual death.

God's judgment has thus turned man's false religion into the corruption that is its actual character, exposing it for what it is, and the angel of the waters absolutely justifies God in this. It is a perfectly righteous judgment because those who propagate the religion of falsehood and idol worship are guilty of shedding the blood of saints and prophets. They merit the resulting judgment of being given blood to drink, again speaking of their own blood being required.

The Fourth Bowl Poured Out

(vv. 8-9)

The fourth angel's bowl is poured on the sun, and men are scorched with fire (vv. 8-9). The sun, the supreme source of light, heat and blessing, is a marvellous friend, but can be a relentless enemy in a desert land. This plague again is worse than literal heat: it is God's burning anger against man's defiant rebellion. We have seen before the sun turned into darkness (Revelation 6:12), speaking of the light of God withdrawn because of man's "apostasy," man's complete giving up the truth of God. The two conditions of the sun can be true at the same time only in a spiritual sense, not literally.

People even today recognize that God is dealing with them, for there are many inflictions that they designate as "acts of God," but they don't honor Him and they won't at this later time either. Rather, they will blaspheme the God of heaven. What folly to think that they can defy God and prosper! Their foolish pride keeps them from repenting.

The Fifth Bowl Poured Out

(vv. 10-11)

The fifth angel pours his bowl upon the throne of the Beast. This is the Beast from the land, the political military leader who has his throne over the revived Roman empire. His kingdom became darkened. This is spiritual and moral darkness. The Beast and his followers have chosen darkness rather than light. Therefore, God afflicts them with more intense darkness that brings with it such pain as to cause people to chew their tongues. This is surely a warning of the more awful darkness of eternal judgment that will engulf those who do not repent.

However, no repentance is seen here at all. Rather than having sense enough to acknowledge their sins before God and seek His mercy, they blaspheme the God of heaven. Their pains and sores ought to make them cry to God for mercy, but instead they only cry out against their great Creator.

The Sixth Bowl Poured Out

(v. 12)

The pouring out of the sixth bowl embraces a wide scope. It is poured upon the Euphrates River, drying up its waters. This does not appear to be literal, but refers to God's opening the way for the kings of the East. The Euphrates River is a natural dividing line between Israel and the East, just as it is also a dividing line between Israel and the King of the North. Revelation 9:14 mentions the Euphrates where the loosing of four angels speaks of God's loosing the Assyrian, the King of the North, to invade Israel. At that time the King of the North will come against Israel like a whirlwind and will "overflow them and pass through" (Daniel 11:40). After causing terrible desolation in the land of Israel, he will continue down to Egypt, Libya and Ethiopia, and bring those nations into subjection (Daniel 11:42-43).

Then "news from the east and the north shall trouble him" (v. 44) and he will rush back to Jerusalem. The "news from the east" seems to refer to the kings of the East in motion,- perhaps just what we read of here in Revelation 16:12. The King of the North considers the East a challenge to him, as he also considers news from the north a challenge. Israel will be north from him at that time since he has invaded North African nations, and the Beast and his armies will be coming to Armageddon at the same time in order to help Israel against the King of the North. This movement of the Beast and his armies is likely the news from the north that reaches the ears of the King of the North while in Africa. He will come back to Jerusalem when the Beast and his Western-allied armies and other armies with them will be massing in the valley of Armageddon, about 60 to 80 miles north of Jerusalem.

While the way of the kings of the East has been prepared, we do not read of what significance they are in the actual conflicts. Since they are found in connection with the sixth bowl, the context seems to connect them with being gathered by the spirits of demons to the place called Armageddon, where the western European armies will gather under the Beast. But I don't know of any scripture that speaks directly of the kings of the East coming either to Armageddon or to Jerusalem.

Evil Propaganda Leading to Armageddon

Verse 13 shows the trinity of wickedness (the Dragon, the Beast and the False Prophet ) in its insolent challenge to the true Trinity, with the outpouring of its cunning evil doctrine likened to the croaking of frogs, creatures accustomed to slime. The Beast, the head of the Roman empire, imitates God the Father; the False Prophet (or Antichrist) takes the place of the true Christ, the Son of God; while Satan, behind the scenes, simulates the Holy Spirit. Their doctrine and their ability to work miracles of deception will have powerful influence in deceiving many national leaders to bring their armies to Israel to "the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (v. 14). This evil trinity will plead the cause of Israel, which has been invaded by the King of the North, to persuade many nations to come to fight in what they claim is a great humanitarian effort to liberate Israel from oppression. But they are fighting against God, for God has sent the King of the North to punish His people Israel because of their idolatry (Isaiah 10:5-6).

For this reason verse 15 is inserted here. The Lord will come as a thief, unexpected and unwanted, in great power and glory against this proud Western alliance that considers itself the police system of the world. Those whom God will bless are those who watch and are thus not deceived by fair appearances. They keep their garments, not being exposed to the shame and humiliation that comes through ignoring the truth and grace of God. While King Saul slept, the skirt of his robe was taken from him, a symbol of the exposure of his sinful course (l Sam. 24: 3-4). Thus, one who is asleep to the truth of the Word of God because of his own preference for sin is in immediate danger of being exposed. One who does evil cannot expect to remain undetected for long.

Verse 14 has indicated that the power of demons is exerted to gather many nations to Israel, but verse 16 shows that it is really God's acting sovereignly behind the scenes to gather them to Armageddon, north of Jerusalem, for He has a purpose in great contrast to theirs. Those gathered there by the influence of Satan, the Beast and the False Prophet intend to come to the defense of Jerusalem, but they never get there. Revelation 19:11-21 describes their humiliating destruction by the Lord on the white horse, who fights against them with the sword of His mouth. There is no defensive-fighting on their part: they are simply destroyed. This is not the same engagement as that at Jerusalem, at "the valley of Jehoshaphat," also called "the valley of decision" (Joel 3:2; Joel 3:14), which will take place very soon after Armageddon, and will involve the Lord and the Jewish armies against the King of the North and those with him (Zechariah 14:3; Zechariah 14:14).

The Seventh Bowl Poured Out

(vv. 17-21)

The seventh bowl is poured into the air, the domain of Satan's activity (for he is "the prince of the power of the air"-Ephesians 2:2). This indicates a world-wide summing up of God's ways in defeating all the power of the enemy. In fact, God's great voice from the throne, out of the holy place, announces, "It is done."

This is followed by noises, thunderings and lightnings and a great earthquake (v. 18). All these things are intended to make people realize the majesty of the power of God. While we do not question that these manifestations will be literal and that the earthquake will be the most violent of all history, yet the great shaking of people's souls is the more important matter.

The events of verses 19 to 21 are not chronological any more than are the events of Revelation 11:18 which are found under the seventh trumpet. The facts they describe, however, are all connected with God's conclusive judgments in bringing everything into subjection to His beloved Son.

"The great city" is divided into three parts (v. 19). Some consider this to be Rome (Revelation 17:18), but it is far more likely to be Jerusalem since Jerusalem is called "the great city" inRevelation 11:8; Revelation 11:8, and since it is added, "the cities of the nations (distinct from Israel) fell" and then great Babylon (Rome) also is mentioned. Babylon will be totally destroyed, but not Jerusalem. The three parts may speak of the godly remnant, the worshipers of the Beast and the mixed company of others present But I should be glad to hear of a more satisfactory interpretation.

The cities of the nations, centers of commerce and industry and authority, fall under the hand of God. Great Babylon (Rome) is specially singled out as finally to receive the cup of the wine of the fierceness of God's wrath. Revelation 17:1-18; Revelation 17:1-18 shows how this is accomplished and Revelation 18:1-24 describes the judgment from God's standpoint. The fleeing away of every island (v. 20) teaches us that no isolationism will be permitted: every nation will be involved in the judgment. The mountains not being found speaks of governments being reduced to nothing.

Last is the great hail from heaven, each stone being about a talent weight (v. 21), which is about 55 pounds or 102 pounds, depending on the definition of a talent. Some years ago it was reported that 75 pound hailstones fell in Arabia. However terrifying this literal infliction will be, it surely signifies also the heavy weight of God's direct judgment upon people that will make them feel its crushing force. In spite of this, rather than being led to repent, they blaspheme God because of the hail.

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Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Revelation 16". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/revelation-16.html. 1897-1910.