3. The chapter of the destruction of Babylon by batteries of wrath poured from Jerusalem, Revelation 16:1-21.
a. The four creational vials upon earth, sea, waters, and sun. Revelation 16:1-9.
1.And—The preparations of war are complete; (see introduction to xiv;) the officers are armed with their ammunition of plagues; the object is Babylon, the beast; and from the inmost holy place, where omnipotent Justice is secreted, the command for action comes forth. Go’
pour’ earth—For this Babylon is not wholly local; Rome is, indeed, with John, its primal representative, but its virtual presence, wickedness, and liability to retribution, cover the human earth. And so the angels receive their vials from one of the four beasts who represent creation; and the first four are poured upon the four creational points. The plagues, like the menaces of the fourteenth chapter, appear, at first, general, but at each advance grow in definiteness until the real object is struck with the final blow.
2.Went—As commissioned, from the temple, (Revelation 15:5,) the Christic citadel.
Upon the earth—The Babylonic land or soil; the ground element. Earth was first cursed for man’s sake. Sin has created a discord between man and nature. When man comes right, all will for him be right. But, at any rate, at this crisis of judgment the creation must reflect that retribution upon Babylon.
Sore—Like Egypt’s plague of “boils.”
Exodus 9:10. The broad land is plague-smitten, as in Egypt, for the crime of the capital. The earth is, perhaps, made to give forth miasms that corrupt and disease the systems of the Babylonic peoples.
3.Blood of a dead man—The magnificent blue and billowy sea’ became, not like the crimson and fluid blood, still living, but black and coagulated, as being dead. This was fatal not only to the fisherman, the sailor, and the merchant, but to the life of every living thing in its waters. Notes on Revelation 18:15-19; Revelation 18:24.
Living soul—Literally, every soul of life; that is, the animal soul, in which the vitality is inherent. To the power that has used the sea for oppression, the sea must pour back corruption and death.
4.Rivers and fountains—Like the first plague of Egypt which ensanguined “the waters of Egypt,” “their streams,” and “their rivers, and their ponds.” Exodus 7:19. This blood was a vivid image of the slaughter of the martyrs.
5.The angel of the waters—Note on Revelation 14:18. The water-angel might have complained at this sanguinary invasion of his domain, but he humbly acknowledges the divine justice. Note Revelation 18:6. Not for his own sin, nor for the guilt of the waters, is this terrible transformation; but for the guilt of man, the idolatry of Babylon.
6.For they—The Babylonian men of Revelation 16:2.
Are worthy—Deserving this recompense in kind. Revelation 18:6.
7.To the angel of the waters now there comes a response from the altar. Really, the words another out of are not in the Greek; and Alford truly says, that the “simplest understanding is,” that it is the altar itself that speaks and is heard. The altar is cognizant of blood. The “souls” of the martyrs who were as sacrificed victims are under the altar.
8.Unto him—To the sun, and not, as some think, to the angel. With (solar) fire—A very intense expression. Note Revelation 18:8.
9.Blasphemed—Penalty sometimes admonishes and reforms, as in Revelation 11:13; but it aggravates the hardened, as here and in Revelation 9:21. Like the hardened Israelites of Isaiah 8:21, these sun-scorched sinners could only “curse their God and look upward.”
From the four creation points the avenger now approaches nearer and nearer the beast. Clearly, (notwithstanding Dusterdieck’s denial,) there is a distinct transition from the previous four vials, poured upon points of inanimate nature, on account of man, and the three directly poured upon the bestial throne, his Euphratean population, and his metropolis.
b. Fifth vial on kingdom of the beast, Revelation 16:10-11.
10.Seat—More truly, throne.
Of the beast—As the throne of God is in the temple of the mystic Jerusalem, so, antithetically, the throne of the beast should be in the citadel of the mystic Babylon. Its pride, power, and darkening are chanted in Revelation 18:7-8. Bold and terrible was that stroke of the angel-plague! From that high centre it would radiate darkness through his kingdom; and no wonder his subjects gnawed their tongues for pain.
11.Blasphemed’ because’ pains—It strikingly illustrates this passage to note that the papacy has grown more bold in its theological blasphemies as its political power has waned. The syllabus of Pope Pius IX, and his assumption of infallibility, were his blasphemous defiance of the modern age, wrung from the beast by the plagues upon his throne. Dusterdieck notes, that there is in the four vials no such limitation of the ruin to the third part as appears in the seals and trumpets, and so infers that they indicate the final destruction of the world. The mistaken inference arises from his not noting the fact that Babylon’s destruction alone is the object of this triad of chapters; and the non-limitation signifies simply that the whole of Babylon is to be destroyed, and the destruction is to be total.
c. Sixth vial on the Euphrates, for the kings of the East, Revelation 16:12.
12.Great river Euphrates—Viewed here not as a part of the framework of creation, but as a symbol of the populations (Revelation 18:3) that sustain Babylon and the beast. Revelation 9:14. This symbol is drawn from a signal passage in profane history. When Cyrus the Great came with his mighty armies from the east, with many a king and prince in command of the various sections of his hosts, to conquer old Babylon, he found “the great city” impregnable. At length, in a master-stroke of military genius, he set his men to work to turn the direction of the channel of the Euphrates, which ran through the city. When its channel was sufficiently dry he led his soldiers on its bottom into the city, and so conquered it. So, then, the Euphrates was literally dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. Most beautifully does our seer appropriate this historic event to his symbolic purpose.
Cyrus is styled by God himself (Isaiah 45:1,) “mine anointed,” that is, my messiah, and so, if not exactly a type, is certainly an illustrative figure of our Messiah. One is from the east, and the other is from “the day-spring from on high.” Luke 1:78. One conquered the literal, and the other conquers the mystical, Babylon. Here as elsewhere John’s symbols are taken from sources within the biblical range. The meaning, then, is, that the population and powers of Babylon are wasted away, that the way of our Messiah, with his kings of the east leading his armies, might be prepared to the capture of the mystic Babylon. Alford objects, that to introduce an “auspicious event” like this here, where all is adverse, would be incongruous. But the event is very inauspicious to Babylon, and so is congruous with all the previous plagues.
13.From this infernal triad—the pagan dragon, pseudo-orthodox beast, and the hierarchic
false prophet—three unclean spirits go forth. One goes from the mouth of each, and so is the symbol of utterance and propagation of principles according to the utterer.
Like frogs—Unseemly figures issuing from the mouths of the monsters, like frogs from a miasmatic morass. The only appearance of the real frogs in Scripture previous to this is as one of the plagues of Egypt. The Hebrew word for frog signifies marsh-leaper; and the Egyptian conception was, that he was truly slime-born. Hence the slimy frog well represents the earthborn errors and depravities of the three monsters sent into the air in opposition to the heavenborn forces bearing down upon them. And, with their dismal croaking, they are the proper missionaries of atheistic despair, and fit pleaders for a falling cause. The pagan frog-form comes forth from the dragon; and modern atheism is essentially pagan. It substitutes a falsity in the place of the true God. Sometimes, with ancient Epicurus and Lucretius, it substitutes blind law, abolishing any intelligent lawgiver. Or, with Holbach, it substitutes the great material whole, under the name of Nature, as evolving all the changes we see. Or, with Comte, it makes an object of worship of what he calls the Great Being, the human race, and establishes a ritual in honor of the greatest specimens of humanity. Or, with Spencer, it imagines an Unknown Absolute, which, without consciousness or sense itself, is author of the intelligent system. The deity last invented seems to be god, Force, which produces motion, and in some unexplained way moves things into intellectual forms and operations. All these conceptions are simply the antitheistic workings of the old rebellious, godless spirit which transformed the first archangel into that old serpent the devil, here symbolized as the dragon.
The beast—Is the power of spiritual despotism. It assumes to take the place of God in overruling the consciences of men, and thereby ruling over men themselves, to its own supreme aggrandizement. Its primal apocalyptic representative is the Romish spiritual empire, personally individualized in the pope, and brought to a climax in the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility. But developed by that expansion of which we have repeatedly spoken, it applies to all the great spiritual despotisms, whether Christian, Mohammedan, or Pagan, which have organized force and persecution, interfering between man and God.
The false prophet—The lying theologian, the framer of mendacious dogmas, superstitions, and systems of error. He is often subservient to the spiritual despot, and often becomes the spiritual despot himself. And thus the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet are a sort of anti-trinity. The first, as pagan and atheistic, is opposed to God; the second, as lord of a hostile kingdom, is opposed to Christ; and the third, as the spirit of error, is opposed to the Holy Spirit of truth. Alford insists that these demons are literal; but as two of them come from the mouths of symbolical beings they may well be held as symbols. Not, indeed, as symbols of “classes of men” or “sects,” but of malign principles, infernal influences, and depraved systems and organisms.
Working miracles—Or supernatural wonders, pretended or real. These prodigies are, of course, wrought through the agencies of men. The pseudo-“spiritism,” or demonism, of the present day may at least serve as illustration.
Unto the kings’ world—Correcter reading, Upon the kings of the whole inhabited world. Revelation 18:3. The universality of kings symbolized by the ten horns. Neither the summons to war or the fight itself is limited to a single locality.
The battle—A battle of ideas, resolving itself into perhaps a corporeal battle, a series of wars for centuries. Yet there may be great critical contests, or even one all-decisive contest, greatly decisive of the vast result.
d. The three frogs—Antichristic rally in behalf of Babylon, Revelation 16:13-16.
After six such strokes of plagues the Satanic powers begin to respond with warlike movement. Three bold emissaries are sent forth to rally the world-wide forces to a world-wide conflict.
15.Behold—A solemn warning to watchfulness against being seduced by the spirits of devils into the antichristic army. He who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” steals upon us in the midst of these vain shows “as a thief;”—”a thief,” not in his hostile purpose, but in his difficulty of recognition. Yet unless one watcheth and keepeth his garments he will be left to nakedness and shame. The loose garments of the oriental sleeper are easily purloined, and the victim is liable, when he wakes, to walk naked. His safeguard is vigilance.
16.And he—Rather they, referring to the spirits of devils, Revelation 16:14. It is the three demons who go as envoys to the kings of the earth, to form alliance and compact their forces against the divine invasion.
Gathered them—The success is gained, the alliance formed, and the armies are gathered.
Armageddon—A symbolic name invented by St. John and nowhere else found. Ar is the Greek form of the Hebrew har, mountain; and Mageddon is the Greek form of the Hebrew Megiddo. Megiddo was the scene of the great defeat of Sisera by Deborah and Barak, celebrated in Hebrew poetry by the song of Deborah, and thence traditionally glorious as the scene of a great victory for Jehovah. Our seer elevates it, though a plain, into a mountain, as symbol of the pre-eminence of the future conflict.
All this indicates that the place is symbolical. When the day of this battle comes, the world will include not Europe alone, but America, Asia, and even Africa. The cities of the nations, Revelation 16:19, fall in the catastrophe with Babylon. We are not at all required to expect that such a contest will be decided in a single spot on the plain of Esdraelon or anywhere else.
e. The seventh vial, on the air—the earthquake, the battle, and BABYLON’S DOWNFALL, Revelation 16:17-20.
17.And—The great event is not given in this consecutive order. On the contrary, the tumult of the terrible conflict is reflected in the confusion of the narrative.
A great voice out of the temple—Where the avenging divine Presence is fixed until the downfall. Note on Revelation 15:8.
It is done—The catastrophe is, in immediate anticipation, complete. The capital of antichrist is prostrated. Note Revelation 18:8.
18.Voices—Though the seventh seal sends forth the seven trumpets, and the seventh trumpet the seven plagues, the seventh plague sends forth no further seven-series, but ends with this catastrophe. The voices, and thunders, and lightnings are the prelude to the great earthquake.
Such as was not’ earth—For it covers all the continents and disturbs all the islands. It changes the face of the human earth. The seer wants words to magnify our thoughts to its true magnitude.
19.Divided, by the earthquake, into three parts—Laid into three separate heaps. Of course so great an earthquake would leave no structure standing. The three, the divine number, intimates that it was the divine work. Babylon falls not so much by man as by God. And note that it is not said that the destruction was divinely limited to a third part, but that the divine destruction rested on all the parts. The great battle is a trifle to the great earthquake.
Cities of the nations fell—All the antichristian capitals, among all nations, fell by the same earthquake. And yet by the run of the commentators it is held that Babylon itself does not fall—is only menaced and partially damaged. In view of the awful menaces and dread preparation narrated, all aimed at Babylon, we have the ludicrous result that Babylon is the only city among the nations that does not fall!
Remembrance’ to give’ cup’ wrath—Here we catch a gleam of the battle. This can mean nothing less than that Jehovah here and now accomplished the destruction to the utmost. The words Revelation 18:1-2; Revelation 18:8-23, are a picture of her consequent condition.
Every island fled—Neither Megiddo nor Rome has any sea islands in sight. The picture is, that the continents were shaken by the earthquake, the islands were frightened away, and the mountains were leveled to the plain, or became invisible— were not found—to the eye of the seer amid the smoke and confusion of the earthquake, battle, and downfall.
21.Fell’ out of heaven—As if to leave a full, last impression that the destruction was from Jehovah, a new form of judgment came out of heaven. These were icebergs, sixty pounds in weight, hailed down from the sky. These fell upon men, crushing them with their cold, solid, remorseless weight. Note Revelation 18:21. Yet, though the divine hand was so apparent, the survivors repented not, but blasphemed God. They persisted in their adherence to antichrist until the battle of Revelation 19:11-21.
By our interpretation of this triad of chapters thus closed, it may be truly said that “we are living under the period of the vials;” apparently under the fifth. The Roman spiritual world-power, which succeeded the imperial Roman world-power, is smitten with serial plagues, and declines. Yet it grows spiritually more impenitent, self-asserting, and defiant with every successive smite. This world-wide Babylon presents itself before us here in America, claiming absolute supremacy over us, and ready for the battle; moral battle as long as the physical battle is not in its power; physical battle as soon as a sufficiency of the moral battle is won. How long this vial-period will endure we have no chronometer or almanac that can tell us. But every man of us would do well to be alert in duty so long as the contest lasts.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 16". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany