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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 16

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations

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Revelation 16:1 The seven angels are commanded to pour out their vials on the earth.

Revelation 16:2-14 Great plagues follow thereupon.

Revelation 16:15-21 Christ cometh suddenly as a thief: blessed are they that watch.

Chapter Summary

God having showed unto his servant John in the vision of the first six seals, the fate of the church under the pagan emperors of Rome, Revelation 5:1-17, and its fate under antichrist, in the vision of the six first trumpets, under the seventh seal, Revelation 8:1-21, and diverted him by the vision of the little book opened, Revelation 10:1-11, and by the contents of it, Revelation 12:1-20, and instructed him concerning the affairs of the church during all the time of the reign of the dragon, and antichrist, who was the image of the dragon, comes now to instruct him particularly how and by what means he would ruin antichrist, and restore peace to his church.

Verse 1

And I heard a great voice out of the temple; either out of the church triumphant, Christ, the Head of it, commanding the executioners of his justice to go and do their office; or out of the church militant, by their prayers soliciting God to execute vengeance upon the beast. All the beast’s territories, or the several parts of his kingdom, are expressed in this chapter, under the notions of the earth, the sea, the rivers and fountains, the sun, and the seat of the beast. The first command to the executioners of God’s justice, is, to pour out his wrath on the earth. By the earth; Pareus understands some parts of the earth; others, the common people; others, the Roman empire; but others, considering the earth as the firmest part of the universe, say, that by the earth is meant the popish clergy, the basis of the papacy; and I am very much inclined to judge that the most probable sense of it, not only because there is little of heaven in them, and their whole frame and model is the product of earthly policy, but because experience hath told us that the pope here received his first wound, in the diminution of their power and authority, and a contempt of them. God hath used many instruments to pour out this vial, even so many (whether princes or ministers) as he hath made use of to root out monasteries and abbeys, and to expose mass priests to scorn and contempt. Mr. Mede seemeth to be of another mind, thinking, that by earth is meant the commonalty of the people, whose defection from the pope was his first plague: but that which is to be understood by the earth, being the affected part of antichrist, I cannot agree with that learned man; for though the beast suffered by the defection of the commonalty, yet I cannot see how those that made the defection suffered at all by it.

Verse 2

Here is a plain allusion to the plagues which God brought upon Pharaoh king of Egypt for his oppression of his ancient Israel; God hereby showing us, that he would deal by this Romish beast for his persecutions of his gospel churches, as he dealt by Pharaoh: as he turned the Egyptian rivers into blood, so as the fish died, and the waters stunk, Exodus 7:20,Exodus 7:21, and as he plagued the Egyptians with boils and blains, Exodus 9:9; so he would plague the papacy by proportionable judgments, until, as Pharaoh with his whole party was at last drowned in the Red Sea, so all the antichristian party shall be rooted out. Here are two of the Egyptian plagues mentioned, but this vision begins with the sixth of the Egyptian plagues, viz. that of boils breaking out in blains. What is meant by this

grievous sore I must profess myself not to understand, but think Dr. More speaks very probably, interpreting it of trouble and vexation, which the popish party should have upon the first prospect of their kingdom’s going down; it being of the nature of sores to vex and disturb those that are affected with them, so as they are very uneasy so long as they are affected with them. And, indeed, I find many interpreters agree in this notion.

Verse 3

This answered the first plague upon Pharaoh, Exodus 7:20, All the waters that were in the river were turned to blood; and the fish that was in the river died. By the sea here Dr. More understands the jurisdiction and dominion of the papacy, wherein he agrees with Mr. Mede. I rather agree with those who understand the whole system of the popish religion; their rites and ceremonies, their doctrines of indulgences and purgatory, &c. God showeth his prophet, and instructeth us, that he will bring the papacy to ruin:

1. By bringing his clergy (which are the earth upon which he stands) into scorn and contempt; discovering their frauds and cheats.

2. By discovering the folly and vanity of their pompous and theatrical religion, consisting only in vain shows, and idle rites and ceremonies, without any regard to that religion which is spiritual, and pure, and undefiled before God; discovering the cheats of their confessions and absolutions, their masses, pardons, and indulgences; making them appear to be not only idle, but pernicious and damnable; so as Christians could not live in the communion of their church, but it must be damnable to those who keep in the communion of it.

Verse 4

Mr. Mede and Dr. More both agree in interpreting this of the Jesuits and other popish emissaries, and the laws made for the execution of them in England in the time of Queen Elizabeth, not excluding those civil powers which are the upholders and maintainers of antichrist, as the Spaniard, who also within these last hundred years hath had blood enough given him to drink, both in 1588, and in the Low Countries. It seemeth a little hard to interpret a prophecy relating to the whole church, by what is done in so small a part of it. We know in what credit these emissaries are at this day, both in the empire, and in Spain, and in France, and Venice, from whence they sometime were expelled. We have, indeed, laws against them in England, but principally relating to those of them who, being native subjects of England, have apostatized. So as I had rather think this vial is not yet poured out, or that interpreters mistake the meaning of these

rivers and fountains, than agree with them in that interpretation of this prophecy. I am much disposed to believe that we are not further than the pouring out of the second vial. God, indeed, hath made the Romish clergy contemptible enough, and hath vexed and enraged them sufficiently. He hath also made their scenical religion as contemptible to, and justly abhorred by, a great part of the Christian world; but how far he hath proceeded further to the ruin of antichrist, I do not understand.

Verse 5

This and the two following verses do but express the honour and glory that shall be given unto God, when he shall have accomplished his great work in destroying those who feed, and uphold, and maintain the beast, partly by those instruments he shall use in that work, expressed here by

the angel of the waters, partly from others.

Thou art righteous. O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus; acknowledging the Lord’s justice and righteousness in such destruction.

Verse 6

Because of their persecutions of, and cruelty towards, God’s faithful ministers and people, which rendered the spilling of their blood but a condign punishment suited to their sin.

Verse 7

Others also, either members of the church triumphant or militant, or both, shall in that day give glory to God, as a God of power, able to do such things; of righteousness, thus giving these bloody men their due; and of truth, thus fulfilling both his promises to his people and his threatenings against his enemies. But it is easier to determine who shall thus rejoice, than the time when this joy shall be. This certainly is God’s work, but in fieri, now doing, but not yet done.

Verse 8

Here we have no history to guide us in the government of our fancies and judgments, but their opinion seems most probable to me, who, by

the sun, understand some great prince or potentate, or the whole civil power in the antichristian heaven; suppose the Spaniard, or the emperor. It seems to signify either some destruction of such civil powers, or some defection of them from the papacy, which will vex and enrage antichrist and his party, as if they were scorched with fire. This I look upon as much more probable than theirs who interpret it of the natural sun, or the word of God.

Verse 9

What the damned do in hell, where the wrath of God is poured out upon men to the utmost, that reprobates do upon earth, they are

scorched with great heat, the vengeance of God cometh upon them; they are mad and enraged, and speak evil of a just and righteous God, who bringeth such plagues on them; but they have no sense of their sins, nor any thoughts of turning to God, confessing their sins, and giving him glory. This will be the upshot of God’s lesser judgments upon the papacy: they will be mad at them, and rage, and reproach God’s justice, but prove a hardened generation, given over to ruin, that will never be sensible that these judgments come upon them for their idolatries and superstitions, and for their persecutions, and the shedding the blood of God’s holy ones. Not that all adhering to that church will be so, (many, probably, will convert, and be brought to acknowledge the truth), but there will be a great party of them, whom nothing but the wrath of God come upon them in the bottomless pit to the utmost, will ever make sensible that they have done amiss, being given up to strong delusions, to a blind mind, and a hard heart, and a reprobate judgment.

Verse 10

And the fifth angel; the fifth of the seven angels mentioned Revelation 16:1; by which, as was said, is to be understood the instruments which God will use gradually to destroy the papacy; the fifth rank of persons, whom God will employ in the execution of this his purpose, by his acts of providence.

Poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; shall execute God’s wrath upon the city of Rome itself, wholly destroying the papacy in their power.

And his kingdom was full of darkness; upon which his whole kingdom shall be full of the darkness of misery, trouble, and affliction. (Darkness was one of the plagues of Egypt).

And they gnawed their tongues for pain; and they shall be full of calamities, like men in so much pain that they bite their own tongues for pain. When this shall be God alone knows. I think, and experience hath proved, that they were much too hasty in their speculations, that prophesied it should be in the year 1656, or 1660, or 1666. For my own part, I do not believe it will be before 1866, or between that and the year 1900. The determination of it depends upon the right fixing of the epocha, or beginning of the forty-two months, or one thousand two hundred and sixty prophetical days, which I think most probably fixed upon the year 606, or (according to Mr. Stephens’s notion) 666, which, according to the Julian account, is the same: See Poole on "Revelation 13:18".

Verse 11

This is the same that was said, Revelation 16:9, of a former party belonging to the beast, and doth but signify, that there will be found the same vein of blindness of mind, hardness of heart, and reprobacy of sense, running through that whole party, until they be wholly ruined.

Verse 12

Upon the great river Euphrates; upon the Turkish empire: See Poole on "Revelation 9:14".

And the water thereof was dried up; their force, power, and strength shall be destroyed.

That the way of the kings of the east might be prepared; that a way may be prepared for the conversion of the Jews. This I find to be the sense of the most learned and judicious interpreters of this mysterious book, amongst whom I count Mr. Mede, Dr. More, Pareus, Mr. Durham; &c. But it will be reasonable to say something further to show the probability of this sense. Euphrates was a great river that ran by Babylon, the depth of it was (as historians tell us) about two men’s height. When Cyrus and Darius came to conquer Babylon, they diverted this river, Jeremiah 51:32,Jeremiah 51:36. Here is an allusion to that history. The Turks first took up their habitation about this great river, as was said in our notes on Revelation 9:14, where the providence of God restrained them for many years, till the sixth trumpet sounded. The Jews, who are observed to be in greatest numbers in the Eastern countries, having had a promise, Exodus 19:6, to be a kingdom of priests, may well be called here the kings of the east. Two things hinder their embracing the Christian faith:

1. The image worship and idolatry of the papists.

2. The power of the Turks, with the success they have had against Christians.

But both these being taken away, by the fall of Babylon and the ruin of the Turks, the way seems to be prepared for the Jews’ receiving of the Christian faith. In a case where nothing can be certainly determined, this seemeth a very probable opinion. To which it contributes a little, that it is probable, that the sixth vial answereth the sixth trumpet; and that as they were the people first let loose by Euphrates, where they were bound, so they are the people to be destroyed under the notion of drying up the waters of Euphrates: and this seemeth to be a work of providence brought forth after the ruin of Rome, and the total breaking of the power and dominion of the papacy. Thus we have foretold the breaking both of pope and Turk, and all their upholders; but we must not imagine them so ruined, but that parties of both should be left in the world, which combining, made up the army to fight the devil’s last battle in Armageddon, of which we shall read, Revelation 16:16.

Verse 13

God here showeth John, that after the power and strength both of the pope and Turks should be broken, the devil would yet make one push more; to which purpose he would influence some on the behalf of the antichristian secular power, others on the behalf of

the beast with two horns, or

the false prophet.

Verse 14

Which, from the influence of the devil, should solicit the kings of the earth to join together in a battle against the church. This is, undoubtedly, the battle in Armageddon, Revelation 16:16.

Verse 15

I come as a thief; that is, I come suddenly and unexpectedly: see Matthew 24:43,Matthew 24:44; Luke 12:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 3:3. It may be understood either of Christ’s coming to the last judgment, or of his coming in his vindicative providence to be revenged on his enemies.

Blessed is he that watcheth, he is a happy man that maketh it his business to keep himself from sin, in prospect of any such coming,

and keepeth his garments, and that persevereth in my ways and truth;

lest he walk naked, and they see his shame; for if he doth not, he will be found one of those that are not clothed with my righteousness, and his hypocrisy will appear to all men.

Verse 16

Either the devil brought them together, or God by his providence ordered that they should be gathered together, into the place where God designed to destroy them and their armies, for so the word

Armageddon signifieth, say some; but others make it to signify the mountain of the gospel, or the mountain of apples, or fruits; but the first etymology in this place seems best. The word doth not signify any particular place; but here is an allusion, as some think, to that Megiddo, mentioned Judges 5:19, where Barak overcame Sisera with his great army, and where Josiah was slain, 2 Kings 23:30. Of the issue of this last battle with the enemies of the church of Christ we shall read more, Revelation 19:1-21.

Verse 17

And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air: I take this to be best interpreted (as Mr. Mede doth it) by the power of the air, of which Satan is called the prince, Ephesians 2:2, that is, upon all the children of the devil, that had so long given disturbance to the church of Christ.

It is done; that is, the work of God is done, his counsels for the destruction of his enemies, and the deliverance of his people, are brought forth in the issue of his providence, not fully yet brought to an issue, but accomplishing.

Verse 18

See Revelation 4:5; Revelation 6:12; Revelation 11:13,Revelation 11:19. Either declarative of the majesty and power of God, {as Exodus 19:16, when God came forth to give his law} the violation of which God here was coming out to punish; or of the great stirs and confusions in that part of the world where the beast’s greatest interest lay. Or, the

voices, thunders, and lightnings, may be understood as declarative of the former, and the great earthquake of the latter.

Verse 19

The great city; Rome, afterwards called great Babylon in this verse.

Was divided into three parts; the pagan part, the evangelical part, and the antichristian part, (saith Dr. More), the three parties that made up the armies that fought in Armageddon: or else this is added as the effect of the great earthquake.

And great Babylon came in remembrance, &c.; God now took vengeance on the papacy, and all their adherents, though he had for twelve hundred and sixty years spared them, notwithstanding their idolatries and persecutions, and behaved himself toward them as if he had forgot them.

Verse 20

These are the effects of great earthquakes: see Revelation 6:14. Some, by islands and mountians, understand the inhabitants of both. I know not whether those reverend authors, who by this term understand their idol worship and superstition, or ecclesiastical dignities, (I suppose because the heathens, and Jews, in imitation of them, committed idolatry on mountains and high hills), be not here too critical.

Verse 21

The hail was another of the Egyptian plagues, Exodus 9:22-25. The allusion also may be to the hailstones by which God fought against the five Canaanitish kings, Joshua 10:11. It signifies only further great judgments with which God will pursue the beast and his party, until they all be destroyed. The latter words only show the continued hardness of heart of the beast, and all his party; wherein also they answered Pharaoh and the Egyptians, (their type), who would relent with no steadiness and certainty, until they were all ruined by the waters of the Red Sea. In all this prediction of the final ruin of the papacy, Pharaoh and the Egyptians are apparently made the type of the pope and all his party:

1. As to their sins, which were idolatry, and the oppression of God’s Israel.

2. In the plagues by which they were destroyed gradually; turning waters into blood, boils and blains, darkness, hail.

3. In their impenitency, and hardness of heart; only with these two differences, by which the antitype exceeded the type in wickedness:

(1.) We read of Pharaoh oft relenting, though his goodness was like a morning dew, and he returned to his former stubbornness.

(2.) We read nothing of the Egyptians blaspheming God, because of their plagues, which is often said of these Egyptians.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Revelation 16". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/revelation-16.html. 1685.
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