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I heard a great voice. As in several more instances John hears the voice, but does not see the speaker. This voice comes from "the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven," from the abode of God. This signifies that God's hand will shape the events symbolized. They represent his judgments.
Pour out the vials of the wrath of God. Punishment sent for sins. As the plagues were sent on Egypt in order to secure the redemption of Israel, so these plagues are sent in order to redeem God's Israel from the slavery of spiritual Babylon. See Rev 18:4.
Upon the earth. The term "earth" is still used by John in his usual meaning of the Roman world.
And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth. John sees the vial poured out, and marks its effect; very grievous ulcers fall upon men; that is, upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image. Those who suffer are those who listen to the lamb-like dragon, the anti-Christ, the false spiritual power, or, as has been found in chapter 14, the votaries of Rome. As the vials of the wrath of God are a series of events leading to the destruction of this false power, we must look for the first of the vials, not while it is at the zenith of its power. We have found that a number of distinct prophecies seem to point to the year 1793 as a period when its power will give signs of decay, and its hold upon the nations weaken; hence, we need not look for the first vial before this. Let the reader note the nature of the plagues to be sent. It is described as a grievous ulcer, that afflicts those who have the mark of the beast. An ulcer is not only a painful and dangerous sore, but is often malignant and foul with corruption. The term is often used to describe moral corruption, and the ulcers described may be moral or spiritual. Can we find aught in history about the end of the 1260 years of Papal dominion that corresponds with the symbolism? For many centuries France was the stoutest and staunchest of the supporters of the Romish Church. It was Charlemagne, the emperor of France, who bestowed the temporal power upon the Popes. It was to Avignon in France that, at one time, the Papacy was transferred for seventy years. The ruler of France was long styled "the eldest son of the Church." It was France that had perpetrated the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the dragonnades of the Cevennes, and the banishment of the Huguenots. The French nation had the mark of the beast to at least as great an extent as any other nation. In 1793, exactly at the close of the period of 1260 years, there breaks out in France a fearful moral ulcer that had long been festering. The French Revolution, the uprising of enslaved masses who were maddened into fury, sent Catholic king, royal families, nobles, and priests to the guillotine by tens of thousands, impelled the nation in its madness to publicly declare itself atheistic, leavened it with skepticism, and broke the hold of Rome to such a degree that she can never more control France. The ulcer was awfully corrupt and deadly. At one time 200,000 citizens of all conditions and both sexes were in prison, and often in Paris alone, fourscore were sent to the scaffold in a day. As the result of breaking forth of this ulcer, the mightiest Catholic nation was convulsed with civil war, every Catholic country in Europe was deluged in blood, and the Papal power received a shock from which it can never recover. The first vial, the breaking forth of grievous, painful, malignant ulcers, most fitly represents the breaking out of the French Revolution, its awful excesses, and irreparable injury done to the great spiritual despotism by the events of which it was the beginning and the cause.
And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea. The first calamity has been upon the earth; the second is upon the ocean. The second angel pours his vial upon the sea. Then the waters become red as blood and in the great mortality that follows it seems to John as if every soul in the sea was dead. Again we ask if, in this series of calamities, there is one that smites the Catholic powers from the seas? Under the second trumpet a great and burning mountain fell into the sea. The Vandal power swept the Mediterranean, destroyed the Roman navy and then laid siege to the old imperial Rome. From the sea spiritual Rome, under the second vial, is weakened. The symbolism is fulfilled in the mightiest naval strife ever known. In 1780 France and England, upon the ocean, were nearly equally matched. Among the shores of the struggling colonies of the United States sometimes the English, sometimes the French fleets, rode in triumph. At Yorktown, the superiority of the French at sea cooped Cornwallis in until Washington compelled his surrender. With 1793 begins another contest for the mastery of the seas. It continues after Napoleon sits on the imperial throne, and did not end for twenty years. France, again a Catholic power by Napoleon's concordant with the Pope, rallies under the imperial flag with herself, Catholic Spain, Portugal and Italy, in the struggle. Protestant England and Catholic Europe strive together upon the ocean. The old Catholic powers, those which in the past have been the vile instruments of Papal wrong, the nations whose kings have committed fornication with the great spiritual harlot, suffer the loss in this long and deadly struggle of six hundred ships of the Line, the largest war vessels that then went to sea, besides the thousands of ships of war of smaller size. At the close of the contest, the naval power of Catholic Europe had been swept from the ocean. Once the Pope had claimed the dominion of the seas, and had given away newly discovered islands and continents, but now that proud claim has gone forever.
And the third poured out his vial upon the rivers and the fountains of the waters. John sees the third "vial poured upon the rivers and fountain of waters; and they become blood." This vial will symbolize another event calamitous to Rome. The seat of the disasters is described as the rivers, and we may expect some historical events, connected in some way with rivers, that result in the injury of the Papacy. There are two marks given which help us to locate the seat where the plague of the third vial is poured. 1. It must be a region of rivers and fountains of waters. 2. It has evidently been the scene of terrible persecutions of the people of God. When the judgment is inflicted the angel of the waters exclaimed, "Thou art righteous, O Lord, who art and wast and shall be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets and thou hast given them blood to drink, for they are worthy." A land of persecution is to become the scene of calamities which are justly visited upon it for its sins. (1) The river system of northern Italy, we have seen, was indicated under the third trumpet. If the reader will look upon the map he will find it crowded with rivers. The streams rush down from the Alps and haste away to the sea. The river region of Italy has always been a battle ground where the fate of Italy has been decided. Here Attila the Hun, the "blazing Star," the wormwood of the rivers, laid Rome prostrate at his feet. See Rev 8:10-11. This vial seems to point to the same locality by the use of the same language. (2) But the locality marked must have been the scene of persecutions (Rev 16:6); none more terrible, more bloody or more continued, have been known in the dark history of Rome. This very region was the home of the Albigenses. Against them the Papacy had hurled its fanatical legions from generation to generation. The blood of the Protestants of the Alps had for centuries dyed the rocks and streams with crimson. (3) In the year 1796, a general, aged 27, led a French army across the Alps. On the river system of Italy, on the Rhone, the Po and its tributaries, he battled with the Austrians and their allies. It is remarkable that every one of his great conflicts were fought upon the rivers. The battle of Lodi was fought on the Adda, Arcola on the Adige, Marengo on the Bromida. I will briefly give the results of the struggle. In 1796 Bonaparte entered Italy. The next year his armies took the city of Rome and proclaimed an Italian Republic. Previously an armistice had been granted, for which the Pope paid 21,000,000 francs and gave up a hundred masterpieces of art to be carried to Paris. In 1798 Pope Pius VI. was carried as a prisoner into France to die. His successor was not elected in Rome, which was still in the hands of the spoiler, but in Venice. Other results that follow from this invasion will be given under the fourth vial. Ah! how triumphantly the long persecuted Waldenses, as they saw the Pope carried a prisoner into exile, must have joined in the voice from behind the altar: "Yes, O Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments!"
The fourth poured out his vial on the sun. Since these vials of the wrath of God are "poured into the earth" (Rev 16:1), the sun must be used as a symbol. It is a symbol of a supreme ruler--a ruler or king. Any one who becomes a great light and occupies a pre-eminent position, may be indicated by this symbol. The Saviour is described as the Sun of Righteousness. In the dream of Joseph, his father Jacob, the patriarchal ruler, is represented by the sun. Among the orientals it is the well-known symbol of a king or ruler. The fourth vial is poured upon this sun, and power is given it to scorch men with fire. Fire, the instrument of bitter pain, is a symbol of suffering.It is therefore evident that the ruler, symbolized by the sun, shall be the means of inflicting great suffering upon men. As we have found that these calamities are directed against the Papacy, it would follow that the sufferers are those who have received the mark of the beast. Though these adherents of Rome are in great anguish from the calamities that befall them, still they do not repent of their crimes. Like ancient Egypt under the plagues, Rome will still persist in her wicked deeds, still refuse to liberate the people from her spiritual slavery.
The fifth angel poured out his vial upon the throne of the beast. By the throne of the beast must be meant the seat of his power. There are few students of the Bible, whether Catholic or Protestant, who deny that Italy and Rome are the throne of the great world power of which the seven-headed beast is the symbol. Then, the scene of the calamities of the fifth vial will be Italy and Rome. That has been the seat of the beast for 1300 years. In the very seat of his power the beast shall receive a blow that will fill his kingdom with darkness, and those who worship him with anguish. Something shall occur that will cause great dismay and anguish to the Roman priesthood and devotees. Have any changes occurred in Italy and Rome which have caused them to gnaw their tongues in pain?
And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up. The angel of the sixth trumpet is connected with the river Euphrates (Rev 9:14). There a movement is symbolized which ends in the overthrow of the Eastern Roman Empire, the old Roman world power. Here a movement is probably signified which will work to the same end in the case of the Roman dominion revived in the Papal world power. The river Euphrates was the seat of the great city which once oppressed Israel and carried God's people into captivity. It was taken by Cyrus, God's chosen agent, and the means employed was the drying up of the Euphrates. Cyrus turned the river, which ran through the city, unto new channels, dried up the old bed, then marched in this bed under the walls where they crossed the river on arches, and took the city. In some way the drying up of the Euphrates shall overthrow, or tend to overthrow, spiritual Babylon. Possibly this may be accomplished by the exhaustion of the resources of that power. The nations which once supplied them have been falling away.
That the way might be made ready for the kings that come from the sunrising. In the infancy of the Christ, the wise men of the East, also called kings in the Psalms, came to offer homage to the kingly child. The prophecy implies that when this obstacle is removed, the way of the inhabitants shall be opened. The drying up of the Euphrates will, in some manner, open the way for those that are signified to come to Christ, as those of the old did to the manger.
I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon. Let the reader observe there is an alliance of three powers described as the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. From their mouths came three unclean spirits, like frogs, who go forth to the kings of the earth, rally their forces under the banners of the three allied powers, and march them to the battle of the great day of the Almighty. We have met these three powers before, and know that these are really one, animated by one spirit, but appearing in different forms. The dragon, the Satan (chapter 12), wars against the woman, in the form of old Pagan Rome; he then (chapter 13) transfers this warfare to the seven-headed beast, the political world power shown both in the form of Imperial and Papal Rome; this power was supported, reanimated when about to perish, by the lamb-like dragon who is the false prophet (Rev 13:11).
As it were frogs (Revision). Unclean, loathsome, suggesting the plagues of Egypt.
For they are the spirits of devils. The Greek is "demons." They are demoniacal influences, and will show forth false miracles by which to deceive men.
Unto the kings of the whole world. They will marshal their forces for the last conflict. The conflict that shall then take place will decide the fate of Babylon. The drying up of the Euphrates will prepare the way for its destruction. For an account of the battle of that great day, see Rev 19:11, Rev 19:19.
Behold, I come as a thief. This is interposed in order to give a place for exhortation to be always ready. The Lamb comes when men do not see him.
They gathered them (Revision). The three unclean spirits.
To a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. If this is a literal conflict of arms the place where it will take place is probably indicated. Probably the conflict will be moral and spiritual. The place named is not only Hebrew, but is a famous spot in Hebrew history. Armageddon means simply the hill Megiddo. Upon the Hill Megiddo was fought the battle in which King Josiah was slain. It was in the midst of the battle-ground of Israel. The plain of Esdraelon, the depression between Judea and Galilee, was tracked with armies. If Eze 37:8-17 is understood literally, it signifies that Palestine will be the theatre of this struggle, but of all these passages I am inclined to believe that they have a spiritual signification. The Israel of Ezekiel represents the church, the true Israel. Armageddon, the battle-ground of Israel, is used metaphorically to describe the great conflict of the Israel of God.
And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air. From Eph 2:2 we learn that the air is the region of the power of evil The fifth vial was poured upon the seat of the beast; the seventh on the seat of the dragon.
Came a great voice. The voice so often heard but not seen. Whether the divine voice or not, it speaks the divine will.
It is done. It is finished. The work is complete. The seventh vial brings the work to an end.
A great earthquake. A mighty agitation, and rupturing such as was never seen before. Society will be upheaved to its very foundations.
And the great city. The great spiritual Babylon, the woman that sitteth on the beast (Rev 17:5).
Was divided into three parts. It was broken asunder, and shaken into pieces by the great upheaval. It is difficult to settle what is meant by three parts. Perhaps the three "evil spirits" (Rev 17:13), which represent the dragon, the beast and the false prophet, are henceforth parted from each other. If this should be signified, it would mean that worldly government would henceforth be rescued from Satan's influence, and that spiritual powers would never henceforth give homage to the world.
Great Babylon came in remembrance. The wrath of God is poured out because of her sins.
And every island fled away. Islands and mountains denote earthly powers. Perhaps the meaning is that the old lines between states and nations shall pass away, and that henceforth there shall be one nation, one kingdom, one people, that of Jesus Christ.
There fell upon men a great hail out of heaven. Upon the men who were judged and punished. Hail is a symbol of God's judgment. Hailstones of such weight signify awful judgments.
The men blasphemed God. Not all men, but the men punished. In Rev 16:9 and Rev 16:11 it is declared that they repented not, and here it is again implied that they were incorrigible. The thought is that they perish in impenitence.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Original work done by Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on Revelation 16". "People's New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30