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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 16

Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NTBurkitt's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

Observe here, 1. The command given to the seven angels, the executioners of God's justice, to do their office, namely, in pouring out the vials of his wrath upon the earth. The command is here said to be given by a voice, by a great voice, because it was the command of a great God, and about a great work; and it is said to come out of the temple, in allusion to the holy of holies, the place of God's exhibiting himself, and from whence he gave forth oracles of old.

Observe, 2. How the seven angels (the instruments of God in executing his judgments) receive their commission from God and pour not out one vial on the earth till they are required so to do; and being called vials of the wrath of God, it gives us this intimation, that what is done against antichrist, is not the effect of man's revenge, but the fruit of God's wrath; and whereas vials are vessels of large content, but of narrow mouths, which pour out slowly, but distill effectually, and drench deeply, it imports that the wrath of God is, though slow, yet sure; it comes upon sinners gradually; but if upon its approach they repent not, it will at last, like a mighty torrent, wash them away from off the earth.

Verse 2

Observe here, 1. What allusion this plague inflicted upon Babylon has to that plague which God of old inflicted upon Egypt, Exodus 9:9. Egypt had her boil, breaking forth with blains, upon men and upon beast; in like manner the worshippers of the beast have noisome and grievous sores upon them; that is, great trouble and uneasiness of mind, upon the first prospect of the shaking of their kingdom, by discovering the vanity, blasphemy, hypocrisy, and tyranny, of their devised religion; even as sores and blains do vex and torture those that are troubled with them.

Learn hence, That it is no small vexation and trouble to the wicked, when they have their sins detected and discovered; it is as great a torture to their minds as an ulcer or boil is to their bodies.

Verse 3

Observe here, That this second and third plague poured out upon the sea, and the rivers of waters, whereby they became blood, have a manifest allusion to that plague of Egypt whereby all the waters were turned onto blood, Exodus 7:19.

Observe farther, That by the sea and the rivers full of blood, the bloody persecutors in the antichristian church are supposed to be meant, who by slaughter and bloodshed seek to plant and propagate a bloody religion throughout the earth.

Observe lastly, That the pouring out of these vials gradually and successively upon idolaters and persecutors, and not altogether and all at once, but one after another, teaches us how abounding the patience, forbearance, and long-suffering goodness of God is, even towards the worst of sinners; not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Verse 5

These verses seem to be a key to let us into the right understanding of the verses immediately foregoing; and clearly show, that as the idolatrous enemies of the church did shed the blood of saints and martyrs, so should theirs be shed: which is called their having blood to drink.

Here note, 1. The approbation which the angel gives of the equity and righteousness of God's judgments upon these bloody persecutors. Righteous art thou, O Lord, for thou hast given them blood to drink. Where the retribution which God makes of blood for blood, shows the righteousness of God in his judgments inflicted; and also declares that Almighty God doth sometimes so suit his judgments to the sin committed, that persons may read their sin in their punishment. As these persecutors thirsted after blood, so here they get blood to drink.

Note, 2. How the angel in the fifth verse, and the other in the seventh verse, do both rejoice in the execution of God's judgments, and in the terrible revenge of the blood of saints. For thus they sing, Righteous art thou, O Lord, and just are thy judgments.

Verse 8

Observe here, 1. That the fourth vial is said to be poured forth upon the sun, which metaphorically taken in scripture usually signifies some great prince or potentate: here the head of the antichristian party is supposed to be the sun, upon which the wrath of this vial falls.

Observe, 2. The effect which followed hereupon, power was given him to scorch men with fire; and the event which ensued was double, men blasphemed the name of God, and repented not to give him glory.

Learn hence, 1. That although God sends his judgments to call the wicked to repentance, yet they will not repent of sin, even when they lie under the wrathful hand of God, but will rather break forth to further wickedness, even to blaspheme the holy name of God.

Learn, 2. That what the damned do in hell, where the wrath of God is poured out upon men to the uttermost, that do incorrigible and unreclaimable sinners upon earth; they are scorched with great heat, the vengeance of God cometh upon them, they are mad and enraged, and blaspheme the holy and just God, who bringeth such plagues upon them; but they have no sense of their sins, no thoughts of turning unto God, or of giving glory to him: these men here blasphemed, but repented not.

Verse 10

Observe here, 1. The gradual approaches which Almighty God makes by his plagues and judgments towards the antichristian beast; he began farther off at first, and then came nearer and nearer to him; the first vial was poured out upon the earth, the second upon the sea, the third upon the rivers, the fourth upon the sun, now the fifth upon the seat of the beast; that is, probably, the seat of his empire, the chief place where he appeareth in the highest majesty and glory. This should teach us all at the first alarm of judgments to draw near to God by a true and timely repentance, before he comes nearer to us by a succession of plagues and punishments.

Observe, 2. The effect and consequent which did ensue and follow upon the pouring out of this vial upon the throne or seat of the beast.

1. His kingdom was full of darkness; this vial did not destroy, but distress him; it filled his kingdom with the darkness of misery and trouble, of calamity and confusion; not but that the kingdom of the beast was a kingdom of darkness before, but that darkness was a darkness of ignorance and error: this is a darkness of calamity and horror; by the loss of that lustre, respect, and reverence, which the throne of the beast had before, but was wanting now.

2. As an evidence of this distress, it is here said, that they gnawed their tongues for pain, that is, they were almost distracted at the declining of their grandeur.

Where note, 1. From the gnawing of their tongues, which was an indication of the horror of their consciences, that as Almighty God makes the guilty consciences of the wicked to be their own accusers, so he can make them, whenever he pleases to be their own tormentors.

Note, How Almighty God so suits his judgments sometimes to a people's sins, as that if they do not wink hard, or willfully shut their eyes, they may and must see and read their sin in their punishment. These worshippers of the beast seduced others by their false doctrine, and sinners with their tongues, and now God makes their tongues like so many scorpions' tails, the instruments of their torment: They gnawed their tongues for pain; it is added, That they blasphemed the God of heaven, and repented not of their deeds.

Where note, That as the plagues he inflicted resembled the plagues of Egypt, so the worshippers of the beast, whom they were inflicted upon, resembled Pharaoh king of Egypt, who hardened his heart yet more and more against the Lord, and repented not.

Verse 12

Observe here, 1. In the drying up of the river Euphrates, a manifest allusion to the manner of old Babylon's destruction. The river Euphrates ran through old Babylon, and was a greater defence to it than its celebrated walls, which for thickness and height were the wonder of the world. Cyrus, when he took Babylon, cut many ditches, and let the river Euphrates run out, and so he and his soldiers entered the city, then fordable, and took it.

Now, as the drying up of Euphrates, then, was an immediate forerunner of the destruction of Babylon, in like manner the drying up of Euphrates, signify it what it will, shall be the immediate forerunner of the destruction of antichristian Babylon, whenever it shall be. The Romish Erpharates being dried up, the Romish Babylon will hasten amain towards its final ruin.

Quest. But what is meant by Eupharates here?

Ans. Probably the Turkish empire, according to Mr. Mede and Dr. More, the Turks first taking up their habitation about this great river: so that by Euphrates may be understood the people inhabiting about Euphrates; and by drying up its waters, the diminishing and lessening of their empire.

By the kings of the east, the Jews are said to be understood, who inhabit the eastern countries, to whom God made a promise, Exodus 19:6 that they should be a kingdom of priests: so that here seems to be a prophecy of the Jews' conversion to the Christian religion, which two things do chiefly hinder, namely the idolatry of Rome, and the power of Constantinople; the image-worship of the Papists, and the puissance of the Turks: but both these being taken away by the fall of Babylon, and the ruin of the Turks, the way then will seem prepared for the Jews' receiving of the Christian faith.

Taking the words in this sense, the notes are these,

1. That the days will come wherein Christian princes and states shall pour out the wrath of God upon Popish idolatry and Turkish tyranny.

2. That the pouring out of the wrath of God upon both these grand enemies of God, will prepare and make ready the way for the Jews' conversion to him.

Verse 13

In the foreginng verses an account was given of the subject upon which the sixth vial was poured out, namely, upon the river Euphrates. Here we have an effect that followed thereupon, namely, a war-like expedition, or gathering to battle.

Where note, 1. The principal commanders in this battle, namely, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.

2. The instruments employed and made use of by them, who are here said to be, for their nature, spirits, for their quality, unclean, for their number, three, for their similitude and resemblance, like frogs; namely with respect ot their original, they breed of corruption, and in great numbers swarm and and croak in all places, and live both in the water and upon the earth: by all which many interpreters understand emissaries, missionaries, negotiators, solicitors, and legates, sent forth and employed by antichrist for the support and strengthening both of him and his kingdom, by soliciting the kings of the earth to join together in a battle against the church.

Behold here how the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, do send forth all their emissaries, and employ all their instruments, do stir up princes, and engage them in battle, to withstand the reformation of Christians, and the conversion of the Jews: I saw unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and go forth to the kings of the earth to gather them to battle.

Observe farther, The actins here said to be performed by them, namely, their working miracles by the power of the devils; that is, such wonderful things as Satan can sometimes produce, or at least delude people's senses, and make them believe that they are produced and effected by him.

Where note, That the advantage which the false church makes of a pretended power with her to work miracles, the Spirit of God both here and elsewhere 2 Thessalonians 2:9 makes to be a badge of antichrist and his followers: They are the spirits of devils, working miracles.

Verse 15

These consolatory words of Christ seem to be inserted here for the support of the faithful servants of God, against those great preparations of the enemy in the day of battle.

Behold, says Christ, I then come as a thief, secretly, suddenly, and unexpectedly, to destroy these enemies when they least expect me; and then I am at hand to take vengeance on them, and to deliver my church when they least think of me: Blessed is he that watcheth, namely, against those temptations which he will be then exposed to: and keepeth his garments, that is, his profession unspotted from sin, and the defilements of antichrist; lest he walk naked, that is, appear as a man destitute of uprightness and sincerity; and they see his shame, which ever follows upon a sinful course.

Note here, 1. That when Christ comes, he comes suddenly, even as a thief cometh.

2. That although Christ comes suddenly, and as a thief; yet he is pleased to give us warning of his coming: Behold, I come.

3. That when Christ's coming is near at hand, there is danger that many for want of watchfulness will lose their garments.

4. That is, to such as through negligence shall lose their garments, this misery will befall them; they shall walk naked, and men shall see their shame.

5. That those few who watch and keep their garments, are certainly in a happy and blessed condition: Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments.

Verse 16

He, that is, Almighty God, by his permissive providence suffered the kings of the earth to hearken to antichrist's missionaries, who, like frogs, hop abroad even into kings' palaces, and persuade them to assemble and gather together, as Jabin and Sisera gathered together against Israel, to their own destruction: and whereas the place of their gathering together is called Armageddon, this is so named from the event of the battle; signifying such a place where the enemies of the church shall be destroyed.

Learn hence, That the event and success of that battle, which the adherents of antichrist shall fight for him, will be desperate destruction to themselves, joyful victories and triumphs to the churches of Christ.

Verse 17

These words describe and declare unto us the pouring out of the seventh vial by the seventh angel; in which we have observable,

1. The subject upon which it fell, namely, the air; not the elements of air, earth, or water, are to be understood in this chapter literally; for the vials poured forth are vials of wrath, and consequently are poured forth upon the proper objects of God's displeasure, which the elements are not; but it is the earthly antichristian church which is thought to be here intended, so called in opposition to the heavenly and pure church. So that by the air, here, Mr. Mede understands all the subjects of Satan's kingdom, who is called the prince of the air; and the pouring out of this vial upon the air denotes the full and final destruction of Satan's power.

Observe, 2. The adjunct accompanying the pouring out of this vial, namely, a voice out of heaven, saying, It is done; that is, "These last plagues are now finished, the work of God is done, and what in his counsels he designed for the destruction of his enemies, and for the deliverance of his people: this is said to be done, because it was now doing; and accomplished, because it was now accomplishing." God's threatenings of judgment (except man repent) are as sure when denounced as if they were already executed.

Observe, 3. The direful effects and dreadful consequences of this last vial's pouring forth, namely,

1. Thunder, lightning, and earthquake: all implying thus much, that the storm of God's wrath, now coming upon the kingdoms of sin, Satan, and Antichrist, would be very terrible and amazing.

2. The great city was divided into three parts; into three factions, say some, and that Antichrist's kingdom was now falling by being divided within itself. And the cities of the nations fell, namely, Heathens, nations, and places which withstood Christ and his gospel. For all Christ's enemies are now to be deposed from public authority. And great Babylon come up in remembrance before God; not that God was ever unmindful of her, either of her impiety towards himself, or of her cruelty towards his people: but as good works are said to be remembered when they are rewarded, so wickedness is then remembered when it is punished. God remembered Babylon, when for the full cup of her sins, he put into her hand a full cup of wine of the fierceness of his wrath. God is never forgetful either of his church's sufferings, or his enemies' sins, but will punish the one, and redress the other, in his own appointed time.

3. As another effect of the pouring forth of this vial, it is added, every island fled away and the mountains were not to be found; signifying, say some, that the remotest and strongest places, which owned and maintained Babylon, shall either be converted or confounded. Intimating, say others, that there shall be no place in that day of God's wrath to flee unto for safety; neither island in the sea, nor mountain on dry land.

Observe lastly, The superadded judgment of unusual hail which God poured forth upon Babylon, as before upon Egypt, Exodus 9:19-34 There fell great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent. An hyperbolical expression, setting forth the design and purpose of God to pursue Babylon, and the worshippers of the beast, until they be utterly destroyed.

A talent, say some, was an hundred pound weight; if so, these hail-stones were sufficient not only to kill men, but to dash them all in pieces. This heavy hail shows that weighty sins procure heavy judgments yet mark what a bad use these obdurate sinners made of all these tremendous judgments, they blasphemed God.

They were so obstinate in their idolatry, that they stood it out against all God's judgments; and when they should have humbled themselves under his mighty hand, they opened their mouths in blasphemies against him.

Here note, that in the book of Exodus we do not read that the old Egyptians blasphemed God when the plague of hail was inflicted upon them, nor when they lay under any of the ten plagues; but these idolaters instead of giving glory to God, they blasphemed him, because of the greatness of their plagues. This perhaps is an emblem of what the damned will do at the day of judgment: though their consciences be convinced of the righteousness of their sentence, yet they will not cease to pour out blasphemies against God, upon the account of the severity and eternity of their torments.

But verily then will all the divine attributes be conspicuously glorified, his wonderful clemency sweetly displayed, his exact justice terribly demonstrated, his perfect wisdom clearly unfolded, and all the knotty intricacies of providence wisely resolved, and the injured honour and glory of Almighty God visibly cleared and repaired, to the joyful satisfaction of all good men, and to the dreadful consternation and confusion of all impenitent sinners, who with these worshippers of the beast will gnaw their tongues for anguish, and blaspheme the holy and just God most unjustly, for bringing upon them that destruction which they had deserved, yea, that damnation which they had chosen.

Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 16". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/revelation-16.html. 1700-1703.
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