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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 16

Luscombe's Commentary on Selected Books of the NTLuscombe's NT Commentary

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Verse 1


The previous chapter was a short introduction to what is coming here in chapter 16. As stated in the introduction to chapter 15, this chapter contains the most difficult section of the book. There is greater variety in the explanations and interpretations of this passage.

In this chapter the bowls of wrath are actually poured out. We had seals opened to reveal God’s will. Then we heard the trumpets, which warned us of the plan of God. Now we are about to see the wrath of God as it is poured out. There does appear to be some similarity between the trumpets and the bowls of wrath.

1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.”

A. God (the loud voice from the temple) issues the final command. “Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.” In very rapid succession these bowls are poured out.

B. God is clear and direct. This is what he revealed would happen in the seals. This is what the trumpets warned would happen. Now it is about to happen.

C. No one can say they were not warned.

Verse 2

2 So the first went and poured out his bowl upon the earth, and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.

A. The first bowl is poured out.

B. There is a great sore (boil) that rises on the beast. One of the 10 plagues on Egypt was the spreading of very painful boils. ( Exo_9:8-11 )

C. These sore boils were poured on the beast and those who worshiped his image. All who followed and obeyed the beast, as well as the beast itself are under the condemnation and wrath of God.

Verse 3

3 Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.

A. Immediately the second angel moves forward and pours his bowl on the sea.

B. Since the “earth” of the first bowl is described as the people who worship the beast, it is clear to me that each of these descriptions are not literal. We are not here discussing some great poison poured on the oceans.

C. Rather, the sea represents the sea of humanity. Some would argue that this would make this bowl similar to the first. True. Both of these plagues are against the same people. The same is true with the 10 plagues against Egypt. All 10 plagues were directed against the same people.

D. Every living creature died. All evil humanity, all those who worship the beast are harmed.

Verse 4

4 Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.

A. The third angel is now center stage and pours out the third bowl of wrath. This bowl is poured on the rivers and springs of water. The water was turned to blood. Again, there is a similarity with the first plague in Egypt.

B. The next verses will help us understand the meaning of this plague.

Verse 5

5 And I heard the angel of the waters saying: “You are righteous, O Lord, The One who is and who was and who is to be, Because You have judged these things.

A. The angel declares that the judgment of God is righteous. God is Just. I made some extended comments on this matter in the notes in chapter 15.

B. When God judges the wicked, all the saints will agree that the judgment was the only thing that a Righteous and Holy God could do. If God did not judge them in this way, He would not be a Holy and Just God.

Verse 6

6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, And You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due.”

A. Who are these under this plague? They are the ones who have shed the blood of the saints. God, in response to this violent bloodshed, gives them blood to drink.

B. The angel also explains that this is “their just due.” They get what they deserve.

Verse 7

7 And I heard another from the altar saying, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”

A. A second angel affirms the righteousness of the judgment of God. Jehovah is Almighty.

B. The judgments of God are correct and righteous.

Verse 8

8 Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire.

A. Next comes the fourth angel with a bowl of wrath to pour out on the sun. It is clear that this is not taken as the literal sun in the solar system.

B. The sun in this plague has the power to scorch men with fire. Therefore, this plague is on the same people as the previous plagues.

C. When God issues judgment, wicked men will feel the heat. They will know that their end will be in a place of fire, smoke and torment.

Verse 9

9 And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.

A. When these men are burned with this great heat of judgment, they have two choices.

1. They could weep, repent, seek forgiveness and plead for mercy from God.

2. The plague could just make them more determined and angry. This is what they did. They blasphemed the name of God. The refused to repent. Even while they are suffering the pain of this plague, they still do not give God the recognition that He is God.

B. It is clear that there is no willingness to repent. God is longsuffering. God will be patient as long as men are willing to repent and correct their behavior. Here, they are not willing to repent. God cannot allow this rebellion to continue.

Verse 10

10 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.

A. Subsequently, the fifth angel pours out his bowl of wrath on the seat of the beast.

B. The seat of the beast represents the place or territory of his power. When the wrath of God is poured out, the kingdom is thrown into darkness. In some way this darkness caused them extreme pain. They gnawed their tongues because of the pain.

C. Many people have put their trust in physical kingdoms of this earth. It would be very painful if those kingdoms collapsed.

D. NOTE: If you can imagine this, visualize some nation invading the USA, conquering it, overthrowing our government, and placing all of us under the dictatorship of some ruthless leader of the invading army. Would you be in pain? Of course. This is the picture being painted by John’s brush.

Verse 11

11 They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.

A. They blaspheme God. They have done this wickedness and are angry that God is punishing them. They are not being falsely accused. They did the things for which they are being punished.

B. The do not repent of their deeds. This is a clue that God could not allow it to continue. There was no reason or purpose to wait.

Verse 12

Battle of Armageddon

We are now ready to study the sixth bowl of wrath. In the verses that follow, we will need to understand the term “Armageddon.” There is much confusion and dissension about this matter.

The most common view of this battle is a literal one. It is commonly held that the forces of Satan and the returned forces of Christ will meet in a great literal battle fought in the valley of Megiddo. It is believed that Christ will win the battle, bind Satan, and establish an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem for a period of 1000 years.

In order to understand the term and its symbolic meaning we must trace some history of Israel.

1. Armageddon is from the Hebrew term “Mountain of Megiddo” (In Hebrew, Har Megiddo) and refers to a very important mountain and the narrow valley below.

2. The narrow valley below Mt. Megiddo is the only passageway into Israel from the north. Syria and any nation north of Israel must march through this pass. As long as Israel could control this narrow valley, they could stop any invasion from the north.

3. At this location Gideon and his 300 defeated the Midianites. It was here that the Philistines defeated King Saul. Barak and Deborah defeat the Canaanite king, Jabin. Ahaziah was killed by Jehu here. As this location Pharaoh-Necho defeated Josiah. Do you get the picture? This was the location of many decisive battles. Israel won some and lost some. This is not a place that represents defeat or victory. It does represent a place of great and decisive battles.

4. Ray Summers observes, “Thus Megiddo fitly symbolized the worldwide distress of righteousness and evil engaged in deadly combat. This is not an actual material sword and spear battle. Such a thing would be at cross purposes with all the teachings of the New Testament, the ideals which Jesus held, his death on the cross, and all God’s purposes of grace.” (2, 189)

12 Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared.

A. The sixth angel pours out a bowl of wrath on the river Euphrates. The river is dried up. This opens the way for the kings of the east to prepare for battle.

B. IF we understand that this is symbolic, then it will be easy to see that the Euphrates was the boundary line. When there is a battle for territory someone draws a “line in the sand” and declares here is the line. We will not move. This is the boundary.

C. The Euphrates is symbolic of the boundary between the righteous and unrighteous. This is God’s “line in the sand.” The water that separates the saved from the lost is the water of the gospel in baptism.

D. In this passage the water is dried up. The gospel is not being heard. People are not obeying the gospel. The hearts of the masses are so hardened that they will not respond to the gospel. This is consistent with the previous plagues where the people were so hardened that they refused to repent. Here, if they would repent, they would be baptized. ( Act_2:38 )

E. There is a similar description of sinful men in Rom_1:1-32 . In this passage God “gave them up” to their immoral desires. God, in effect, turned them loose and let them suffer the natural consequences of their evil deeds.

Verse 13

13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

A. John next sees three unclean spirits. They are like frogs.

B. NOTE: If the battle described here is literal, then the generals of the army are frogs.

C. Here is another parallel with the plagues of Egypt - frogs. These frogs come directly from the mouth of the dragon, who is Satan. They come from the mouth of the beast (civil governmental power) and from the mouth of the false prophet (second beast of chapter 13).

D. Here are the three “generals” in Satan’s army. Satan = evil personified; Beast = persecuting governments; False prophet = false religions. When you combine these three together you have the ways in which Satan seeks to harm, kill, persecute, destroy, and eliminate Christians.

Verse 14

14 For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

A. These frogs / spirits / generals in Satan’s army, appear to have the ability to perform miracles. Of course, the miracles are done by fraud and deceit.

B. Combine the power of Satan with persecuting governments and the power of false religions, and you have a force to be reckoned with.

C. They gather their followers together for a battle. They know they will be battling against God. In their pride and arrogance, they think they can win.

D. The great Day of Judgment is coming. As the song expresses it, “There’s a Great Day Coming.”

E. Christians in every period in history have had to fight the battle of Armageddon. There will always be a struggle between good and evil. The battle goes on internally - between our flesh and our spirit. ( Gal_5:16-18 ) The battle goes on when we are faced with a temptation. Like Peter, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

F. But when the final battle is engaged - the Day of Judgment - God will be totally and completely victorious. We are told in 17:14 that there will be war against the Lamb and that “the Lamb will overcome them.”

Verse 15

15 “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

A. The forces of Satan may think they are ready for battle. They have not seen battle until the meet the Almighty God. Amos warned of the serious mistake of thinking we are ready or able to take on God. “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel,” ( Amo_4:12 ) is not an invitation to get ready for a social fellowship with God. These words are a warning. Do you think you can meet God in battle and win?

B. Jesus is coming. His coming is not going to be announced in advance. He will come in the same manner that a thief comes. When we least expect it. At the moment that we think He will not come. That is when he will come.

C. In Mat_24:36-51 ; Mat_25:1-46 , Jesus warns us to be always on guard, always prepared. We must constantly watch. Keep your garments clean. Don’t get caught with your pure white robe stained, blotched, or torn. Keep it always clean, always fresh.

D. The Christians at Sardis were warned to “keep your garments.” (3:4)

Verse 16

16 And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.

A. All these evil forces gather together. They think they are ready, but they are not.

B. The Hebrew transliteration is “Har Mageddon.”

C. Any time one mentions “Armageddon”, most will recognize the term and have some (usually mistaken) notion of what it means. Even movies have been made with this title.

D. In Zec_12:11 this location is referred to as a valley of great mourning. This place is the “Mountain of Sorrows.” Thus, the symbolic meaning of this term is a place of great sorrow.

E. The enemies of God will be gathered together in the place of great sorrows. The amount of sorrow they experience will be like a mountain. They will suffer immense grief. They will endure immeasurable amounts of pain.

F. I share with you some statements from Paul Rogers work.

“What does Armageddon mean to us? It still represents the conflict between good and evil and we need not expect a literal battle to usher in the coming of Christ. There is a sense in which every man has his personal Armageddon, which is fought daily, on the plains of conscience. It will be fought ever day and every hour until time is no more. However, we can take courage, as did the early disciples in the fact that God will ultimately triumph. Like them, we are surrounded by error and evil, with false religions very much in the predominance. And yet we know “our labor is not in vain in the Lord” ( 1Co_15:58 ). When the struggle is over, God will place his flag upon the highest hill, and the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever ( Rev_11:15 ).” (3, 68-69)

Verse 17

17 Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”

A. The seventh and final angel pours out his plague in the air. It seems to me that the “air” would cover everything. The entire world is under the plague.

B. A loud voice from the temple, from God, says, “It is done.” This is a similar phrase to the words of Jesus on the cross. “It is finished.”

C. The total, complete, and final wrath of God has been poured out. All the wicked, all the false teachers, all the persecutors, and all the immoral have been defeated.

Verse 18

18 And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.

A. This verse describes the final drum roll. Thunder, lightning, an earthquake; these are the signals that it is all over. The world will end. All the saints are safe with God. The wicked have suffered the wrath of God.

B. Other passages dealing with the end of time indicate fire, thunder, and stars falling. An earthquake like this has never been seen on earth. This might explain the great chaos. If the planet is literally coming apart, the molten lava coming to the surface would create the great fire of 2Pe_3:10-12 .

Verse 19

19 Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.

A. The “great city” is the same as several terms used in the book of Revelation.

 Great city - 16:19

 Great whore - 17:1

 Babylon the Great - 17:5, 18:2

B. In connection with these terms are usually terms of immoral behavior. Drunk with wine, harlot, and fornication are the trademarks. It seems clear to me that this great city represents immorality in the world.

C. In addition to persecuting governments and false religions, we also have immorality seeking to lead Christians away from faithfulness to God.

D. Divided into three parts is similar to the “third part” of the trumpets. Remember, the number 3 is the number of God, things divine, deity. God completely destroys the city by cutting, severing, and dividing it into three parts.

Verse 20

20 Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.

A. Most commentators believe that “island” represents the individual leaders of these nations. The previous verse mentions the cities of the nations.

B. Mountains are used to represent kingdoms or nations.

C. Combine these two and you have God’s judgment on the kingdoms and on the kings. On the nations and on their civil rulers. For the early church the judgment of God’s wrath is poured out on Rome AND on the Emperor.

And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great.

A. A great hailstorm, with each hailstone weighing about 100 pounds, is falling from the sky. V. E. Howard suggests that the weight of a talent is about 100 pounds. (4, 110)

B. Again, there is no repentance. There is no plea for mercy. All God hears is more blasphemy. This reaffirms the view that God’s judgment is just. Men were so hardened that they would not repent even when tasting the wrath of God. Instead of seeking mercy and forgiveness, they curse and blaspheme God.

Bibliographical Information
Luscombe, Manly. "Commentary on Revelation 16". Luscombe's Commentary on Selected Books of the NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mlc/revelation-16.html. 2021.
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