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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 16

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Contents. This chapter is occupied with the seven Bowls, and judgment assumes its last and highest form.

Verse 1

Revelation 16:1. The voice heard is that of God, for He alone was in the temple (chap. Revelation 15:8); and it comes from the innermost shrine. Nothing of this kind had been said at the opening of the trumpets (chap. Revelation 8:7); and the distinction is important, for it shows us that it is not now the people of God who continue the conflict, but God Himself who acts directly for them. He takes His own cause in hand. The earth is to be distinguished from the ‘sea’ (comp. Revelation 16:3).

Verse 2

Revelation 16:2. The first angel poured out his bowl into the earth. The whole earth is thought of, and no more only a third part of it as at chap. Revelation 8:7.

And there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast and which worshipped his image. The idea of the plague is taken from that of Egypt in Exodus 9:8-12, but it cannot be literally understood, for literal interpretation is wholly inapplicable to the sixth bowl, and all the bowls must be interpreted on the same principles.

Verse 3

Revelation 16:3. The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea. The whole sea, and not merely a part of it as at chap. Revelation 8:8-9, is affected by this plague. The increased potency of the plague is also shown in the description given of the blood, not merely blood, but blood as of a dead man, thick, unnatural, offensive to the eye.

Every living soul, too, died, and not merely ‘the third part’ of the creatures that were in the sea. It can hardly be doubted that we have in this bowl a reference to one of the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7:19). But literal interpretation cannot be thought of.

Verse 4

Revelation 16:4. And the third poured out his bowl into the rivers and the fountains of the waters, and they became blood. Again we see the increased potency of the third bowl as compared with the third trumpet, chap. Revelation 8:10-11. All rivers, etc., are affected, and they become more than bitter, they become blood.

Verses 5-6

Revelation 16:5-6. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, Thou art righteous, which art, and which wast, the Holy One. No episode of this kind had intervened at the close of the third trumpet. But at the highest stage of judgment it is fitting that even those who suffer from it should answer that it is right. The answer is given by the ‘angel of the waters,’ not the angel ‘who was set over the waters,’ and surely not the angel who now poured out his bowl upon the waters, but the waters themselves speaking by their angel, and responding to the fact that the judgment which they have incurred is just. The ascription of praise is to God as ‘righteous,’ and it will be observed that He is described in three particulars; first, ‘which art,’ secondly, ‘which wast,’ thirdly, ‘the Holy One.’ ‘Which art to come’ can be no longer used, for God is come (comp. chap. Revelation 11:17). The particular method of judgment is also commended. It is again the lex talionis; those who had poured out blood shall drink blood.

They are worthy (comp. chap. Revelation 3:4).

Verse 7

Revelation 16:7. Not only is an acknowledgment of the righteousness of God’s judgment given by the ‘waters;’ the martyred saints also respond. The altar (not as in the Authorised Version ‘another out of the altar’) speaks. It is the altar of chap. Revelation 6:9 beneath which is the blood, that is the lives, of the saints. They who have suffered own that the judgments of the Almighty upon those who persecuted them even unto death are true and righteous, conformable to the realities of things and to the demands of perfect righteousness.

Verse 8

Revelation 16:8. The fourth poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given unto him to scorch men with fire. We have not yet passed into a world different from that with which the previous bowls were connected. ‘Men’ are still plagued, though through the instrumentality of the sun which is used by the angel of judgment for this purpose, the ‘fire’ referred to being the scorching heat of that luminary. As compared with chap. Revelation 8:12 there is again increased intensity of judgment, for the whole sun is affected, and not merely a third part of it; and its scorching heat, which had not there been spoken of, is now particularly noticed.

Verse 9

Revelation 16:9. And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God, which hath the power over these plagues, and they repented not to give him glory. The blaspheming is produced not by the last plague alone, but by the four that have been spoken of, ‘plagues’ not plague. The effect is worthy of notice. There is no repentance. Those visited are the followers of the beast. They have chosen their portion; they have hardened themselves; and they are made worse by judgment.

Verse 10

Revelation 16:10. The fifth poured out his bowl into the throne of the beast. With the fifth bowl we pass into a different region, that of the spiritual powers of darkness. This bowl attacks the very centre of the beast’s authority, and the advance from the fifth trumpet is very perceptible. There the hosts of the bottomless pit come forth to plague men. Here the king of these hosts is himself plagued. The ‘throne’ of the beast is no particular city, but is a symbol of the beast’s general power.

And his kingdom was darkened, and they gnawed their tongues for pain. The Egyptian plague of darkness is the foundation of the figure. The addition of the ‘gnawing of the tongue for pain’ is remarkable, for the pain could not proceed from the darkness. It could come from nothing but the effects of the previous plagues. Each successive plague thus supposes those that had gone before it to be still raging. Each successive woe is added to its predecessors without the latter being suppressed. If it be so, it becomes more impossible than ever to interpret any one of these plagues literally.

Verse 11

Revelation 16:11. And they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and they repented not out of their works. Compare on Revelation 16:9.

Verse 12

Revelation 16:12. And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river, the river Euphrates. The sixth trumpet had related to the river Euphrates, chap. Revelation 9:14, and the principles of interpretation necessary there are also to be applied here. The Euphrates is the river of Babylon, the seat of antichristian power, from which proceed assaults upon the people of God.

And the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings from the sunrising may be prepared. At the foundation of this figure of the drying up of the Euphrates may lie the drying up of the Jordan when Israel took possession of the promised land; but it is more probable that the Seer has in view that diverting of the course of this river by means of which Cyrus captured Babylon. When Cyrus is predicted as the destroyer of Babylon he is twice spoken of by Isaiah as from the East or the sunrising (Isaiah 41:2; Isaiah 46:11). Cyrus was indeed generally thought of by the fathers as a type of Christ, and it may be observed that, when He is first alluded to, it is in the chapter immediately succeeding that in which Isaiah prophesies of the Baptist as ‘preparing the way of the Lord’ (chap. Revelation 11:3). The figure of drying up waters is one often met with in the prophets, where it is used to express the steps by which God prepares the way for the deliverance of His people and the destruction of their enemies (Isaiah 44:27; Isaiah 51:10; Jer. 1:38; Zechariah 10:11). In addition to this, the words, ‘that the way may be prepared,’ lead us directly to the thought of the ‘preparing of the way of the Lord’ by the Baptist, and thus to a preparation of which the good, not the wicked, shall avail themselves. Further, this very expression, ‘from the sunrising,’ has already met us in chap. Revelation 7:2, in connection with the angel who comes from that quarter with the seal of the living God in his hand; and, as it is always necessary in the Apocalypse to interpret the same expression in the same way, we are once more led to the thought not of evil but of good. This view is confirmed by another remarkable fact, that in the prophets Christ Himself is sometimes designated by the word ‘The East.’ Thus in Zechariah 3:8, where we read in the Authorised Version ‘Behold I will bring forth my servant the Branch,’ the LXX. read ‘my servant the East;’ so also in Zechariah 6:12; while, in Jeremiah 23:5, ‘I will raise unto David a righteous branch,’ is in the LXX. ‘a righteous East.’ Once more, it is difficult to resist the impression that there is a contrast between these kings ‘from the sunrising,’ and those described in Revelation 16:14 as ‘the kings of the whole world,’ who are evidently evil.

Putting these circumstances together we seem compelled to come to the conclusion that the persons described as ‘kings from the sunrising’ are the very opposite of what they are often interpreted to be. They are not ‘the forces of rude and open evil which have been long restrained;’ still less are they the princes who would fain return with a Nero redux for the destruction of Rome. They are representatives of all Christ’s faithful ones who are not only priests but kings unto God, and for whom the waters of the Euphrates are dried up that their march to the destruction of Babylon may be easy and triumphant.

Christ’s people are now gathered together as an army. But they shall not need to fight. We shall see that they do not fight (comp, chap. Revelation 20:9). They shall rest in Christ. God shall fight His own battle. The war shall be that ‘of the great day of God, the Almighty’ (Revelation 16:14).

Verse 13

Revelation 16:13. The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet are again before us. They are the three great enemies of the people of God who have already been described; although here we have for the first time the second beast of chap. Revelation 13:11 spoken of as the ‘false prophet,’ a designation afterwards applied to it in chaps. Revelation 19:20 and Revelation 20:10. The point to be chiefly noticed is that all the great enemies of God’s people are gathered together. All the demoniacal powers of the world in their united forces are on the stage.

Three unclean spirits as it were frogs. An unclean spirit comes out of the mouth of each; and the spirits are as ‘frogs,’ unclean, boasting, noisy, offensive animals. There may perhaps be a reference to the frogs of Egypt. The land of Egypt had ‘brought forth frogs in the chambers of their kings’ (Psalms 105:30) so does this spiritual Egypt.

Verse 14

Revelation 16:14. For they are spirits of demons working signs. They thus show at once their hellish origin, and the power lent them in order that they may be the better enabled to effect their end.

Which go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together to the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. We have now the purpose for which mention of these unclean spirits is introduced. It is that Satanic might and deception may be exerted to their utmost, so that the enemies of God from all parts of the world may be led to go up to the war in which they shall be destroyed. The representation may rest upon 1 Kings 22:20-22, when a lying spirit goes forth to persuade Ahab to rush upon his late. These lying spirits in like manner persuade the kings of the whole godless world to rush upon the fate prepared for them in the last great judgment of God ‘His day.’

Verse 15

Revelation 16:15. The wonderful character of the great day of God, and of the issues that belong to it, leads to the interposition of this verse.

Behold, I come as a thief. The Lord Himself speaks, not the Seer in His name. The words are those of Matthew 24:1; Matthew 25:1, Mark 13:34, Luke 12:37, and they embrace the thought both of the suddenness of Christ’s coming, and of the destruction which it brings with it to the wicked (comp. on chap. Revelation 3:3). In the remaining words of the verse the Seer seems to take up the strain, as he pronounces blessedness upon him who is ready for the events of the day so rapidly approaching. Similar parentheses occur at chaps. Revelation 13:9 and Revelation 14:12.

Verse 16

Revelation 16:16. And they gathered them together into the place which is called in the Hebrew tongue Har-Magedon. The ‘they’ spoken of in these words refers to neither God nor the angel, but to the unclean spirits of Revelation 16:14. These spirits had gone forth to gather together all who had submitted themselves to the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. They now accomplish their mission, but the conflict does not yet take place. The spot where the hosts assemble is mentioned only by anticipation. The battle itself is that of chap. Revelation 19:19-21.

By the mention made of the fact that the name of the place is in the Hebrew tongue Har-Magedon, we are invited to think of the meaning of that compound term, and of the associations connected with it. There can be no doubt as to the composition of the word, Har, a mountain, and Magedon, or Megiddon, or Megiddo, the name of an extensive place in the north of Palestine which has been in all ages the battlefield of the Holy Land, and derived from the Hebrew verb signifying to destroy; so that, apart from any particular associations, the simple meaning of the word is ‘the mountain of destruction.’ In addition to this, however, we have to recall to mind two great slaughters at Megiddo mentioned in the Old Testament. The first is that celebrated in the Song of Deborah and Barak (Judges 5:19), and again alluded to in Psalms 83:9. The second is that in which King Josiah fell (2 Kings 23:29), a fall which produced the striking lamentation described in 2 Chronicles 35:25, and which is afterwards referred to by the prophet Zechariah (chap. Revelation 12:11). It is not easy to say which of these two slaughters is most probably present to the mind of St. John in the words before us. In one respect the first may seem most suitable, because there the enemies of Israel were completely overthrown. In another the second appears to be the more appropriate, owing not only to the fact that the mourning is recorded with so much pathos in 2 Chron., but that it becomes in Zechariah the type of mourning on that day when the Lord ‘will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem’ (chap. Revelation 12:9). There is no improbability in the supposition that both slaughters may be in the mind of the Seer; and it is at least evident that Megiddo was a name associated with the thought of the sudden and terrible defeat of the enemies of God. In this sense then the word Har-Magedon is to be understood. No particular place either in Palestine or elsewhere is pointed at; nor is any particular event referred to. The word, like Euphrates, is the expression of an idea, the idea that swift and overwhelming destruction shall overtake all who gather themselves together against the Lord. In Joel 3:2 we have a similar use of the name ‘Jehoshaphat.’ The meaning of Jehoshaphat is ‘God judges;’ and, when the heathen are summoned to that valley, they are really summoned to meet God in judgment.

Verse 17

Revelation 16:17. And the seventh poured out his bowl upon the air. The air is the dwelling-place of the powers of darkness, whose head is ‘the prince of the power of the air.’

And there came forth a great voice out of the temple, from the throne, saying, It is done. The voice is from God, and from His very throne. The words are, ‘It is done,’ i.e all God’s purposes are accomplished: all the plagues are poured out; the end is reached.

Verse 18

Revelation 16:18. And there were lightnings and voices and thunders. What follows describing the end seems to be divided into seven particulars, of which this verse contains the first. The ‘lightnings,’ etc., are those which usually accompany the judgments of God. The earthquake spoken of in the second half of the verse is the second particular, and its terrors are magnified in language of much sublimity.

Verse 19

Revelation 16:19. And the great city was divided into three parts. In these words we have the third particular of the seven. The sentence of Daniel 5:28 may be in the Seer’s mind, ‘Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.’ If this reference be correct, it will confirm the view (1) that Cyrus is the type from which ‘the kings from the sunrising’ mentioned in Revelation 16:12 is taken; and (2) that these kings are messengers of Christ, and deliverers of His Church as Cyrus was. The city is divided into ‘three’ parts, not so much from any thought of the three unclean spirits as from the idea of St. John that a whole consists of three parts (but comp. also Ezekiel 5:1-5; Ezekiel 5:12). The meaning is that the city was broken up and overthrown. The question of the identification of this ‘great city’ is more difficult. It is commonly understood to be Babylon, the emblem and centre of the world power. But in chap. Revelation 11:8 mention has already been made of Jerusalem as ‘the great city,’ and it is not easy to see how we can now interpret the name in a different manner. Besides this, Jerusalem was thought of in chap. Revelation 11:8 as the city of ‘the Jews’ rather than as the metropolis of God’s kingdom, the idea of the place where Jesus was crucified being afterwards extended by the mention of Sodom and Egypt (comp. on chaps. Revelation 11:8 and Revelation 18:24). The ‘great city’ would therefore seem to be Jerusalem viewed in a less extensive sense than in chap. 11, as the principle and essence of what St. John in his Gospel calls ‘the world.’

The cities of the nations fell. This is the fourth particular of the seven. The reference may be to Micah 5:11; Micah 5:14. There, no doubt, it is the cities of Israel in which, rather than in Himself, the people had trusted that God promises in mercy to take away. But what is a merciful chastisement to Israel is a judgment on ‘the nations,’ and the destroying of their only refuge. Every city they had built for themselves ‘falls,’ and they are left houseless and defenceless.

And Babylon the great came up, etc. We have now the fifth particular of the seven. ‘Babylon the great’ is not essentially distinct from ‘the great city’ of the first clause of the verse, yet it is not exactly the same. We have already seen that the latter is degenerate Jerusalem viewed in a less extensive sense than in chap. 11. Now it is viewed in its widest meaning, as embracing not only the essence and principle of ‘the world’ once exhibited among ‘the Jews,’ but that principle as it appears in the Gentile not less than in the Jew. As in chap. Revelation 11:8 ‘the great city’ expanded until it embraced Sodom and Egypt, so here in like manner it expands into ‘Babylon the great.’ As such it must drink of the cup of God’s anger blazing out in His wrath.

Verse 20

Revelation 16:20. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. The particular thus mentioned is the sixth, and the language used is even stronger than that of chap. Revelation 6:14, ‘and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.’ The climax of judgment appears in the climax of description.

Verse 21

Revelation 16:21. And a great hail cometh down as of a talent in weight out of heaven upon men. The seventh particular, founded upon the thought of the plague of hail on Egypt. Each hailstone is magnified to an enormous extent. Each is a talent, or between 50 and 60 lbs., in weight. The stone descends upon ‘men,’ i.e upon all the inhabiters of the ‘earth’ in its mystical sense, or upon all the ungodly.

The seven particulars of judgment are ended, and we are invited to mark the effect.

And men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because great is the plague of it exceedingly. The ‘men’ spoken of are again the ungodly, nor is it possible to limit their number to that of those who survive the plague. The writer simply looks away from the fact that those struck with so great a plague die. He thinks of them as still living, but unconverted. They blaspheme; they are hardened; and, when all that ought to convert ‘men’ hardens, we have a proof that the hour of final judgment is come.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 16". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/revelation-16.html. 1879-90.
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