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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Revelation 16

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-21

AS WE READ chapter 16, we shall notice that these last plagues are very specially God’s answer in judgment to the enormous evil which reaches its climax in the beast and his followers. This is mentioned specifically in verses Revelation 16:2, Revelation 16:10, Revelation 16:13, but it is also inferred, we think, in other details that are mentioned. The first plague will affect the more stable and ordered peoples, the masses of whom will have received the mark of the beast. Upon these God puts His mark in the form of “a noisome and grievous sore.” The sixth plague in Egypt was of this sort, but bearing in mind the symbolic character of the Revelation, we regard this as indicating a fretting evil in the region of mind and spirit, while not denying that it may also have a more material application. Their lives will be made a misery to them under the mighty hand of God.

The second vial affects the sea; that is, the less formed and stable masses of mankind. They too come under judgment for though the beast specially dominates the ten kingdoms, power is also given him “over all kindreds, and tongues and nations” (Revelation 13:7). The second plague means spiritual death to all who come under it. The figure is very graphic. The sea became dead blood, bringing death on all within its compass.

The third vial affected rivers and fountains in the same way. These are symbolic of the sources and channels of spiritual life, just as are literal fountains and rivers as regards our natural lives. The sources being corrupted, apostate, dead, all hope of a revivifying is gone, and men are hopelessly shut up to their doom. It will be with them even as it was with Pharaoh, when the Lord hardened his heart. Are men today inclined to cavil at this, even as they do regarding Pharaoh? It is just at this point that there comes in a two-fold angelic testimony to the rightness of this stroke of judgment; and angels have powers of observation, and opportunity for observing, far exceeding that of the greatest and wisest of men. Those smitten had themselves been smiters of saints and prophets, and this of course would be specially true of the beast and his followers. Jehovah, Elohim, Shaddai, by His angel, is acting and they are simply getting what they richly deserve.

The fourth vial affects the sun; the symbol of supreme authority. Here, however, it is clearly the symbol not of anything Divine but of the supreme power in this lower scheme of created things. The power of evil, vested for the time in the beasts, becomes oppressive and intolerable like burning heat. When their power was assumed men accepted it as great and wonderful (see Revelation 13:4, Revelation 13:14), but now it becomes under the Divine judgment a terrible infliction. Yet such is the moral and spiritual death into which men are plunged, as seen in the third vial, that instead of humbling themselves in any way they only blaspheme the God of heaven: in other words, like Pharaoh, they only harden their hearts.

The similarity that exists between the objects of judgment under the first four vials and those under the first four trumpets is too clear to be missed; only in Revelation 8:1-13 the sphere is limited to a third part. Here the judgments are more complete and more intense, and appear to be on God’s part an answer to the defiant and persecuting actions of the beast and his followers.

This is seen more particularly in the outpouring of the fifth vial. A concentrated judgment falls upon the seat of the beast, and it presents us with a terrible picture. In Egypt the last plague before the death of the firstborn was “a thick darkness,” even “darkness which may be felt” so dark that it stopped all movement. But it is even more terrible when a thick darkness descends upon the minds of men, blacking out from them every ray of light from God. There are heathen today still in very dense darkness, but it is even worse when atheists or agnostics, living in Christendom, have to say—as sometimes they do—to some simple believer that they envy him his faith, and wish they could believe but they cannot. Their experience is, they confess, a painful one. Here apostasy is complete, and their darkness painful to the last degree. Their pains and sores only provoke them to blasphemy, and they are far from repentance, which is the only door into recovery and blessing.

The sixth vial also has a resemblance to the sixth trumpet. Again the Euphrates is affected, which is one of the great natural barriers between the East and the West. Under this plague the barrier between the great masses of Asiatic peoples and the nations of Europe is removed and the assembling of both East and West becomes possible. The door is thus opened for the gathering of all the nations, as predicted in Joel 3:1-21. They little realize that they assemble for Jehovah to “roar out of Zion,” and “to sit to judge all the heathen round about.” But such is the case, as Joel says.

To begin with, it does not look like it, for verses Revelation 16:13-14 of our chapter show that the power of the devil will be exerted to gather the nations together. The unclean spirits that go forth to influence men in this direction go forth from the trinity of evil—the dragon, the beast and the false prophet—and they wield superhuman powers to sway the minds of men in the desired direction. But in all this, unconsciously to themselves, they do what God in His ways of wisdom and judgment has determined before to be done. They are simply preparing themselves for the last stroke of overwhelming judgment—that treading of the winepress of the wrath of God that has already been mentioned. It is spoken of here as, “the battle of that great day of God Almighty.”

Verse Revelation 16:15 is clearly a parenthesis. It is as if the voice of the Lord Himself breaks in at this point, announcing His appearing when He will come as a thief on the nations wrapped in their darkness. In contrast to this, His coming for His saints is spoken of as the coming of the Bridegroom. Still there will be a remnant of Israel who will be carried through this terrible time without falling as martyrs, as well as some from among the Gentiles, represented by “the sheep” in Matthew 25:33. These will be marked by watching and keeping themselves clear of defilement. But the reality of this will be tested, and apart from it a moment must come when all pretence will be stripped off and the nakedness and shame of the unreal and the untrue will be exposed.

Verse Revelation 16:16 picks up the thread from verse Revelation 16:14, though we might have expected it to read, “they gathered,” since the three unclean spirits went forth to do the gathering. It appears, however, that our thoughts are directed away from the Satanic agents employed to the Almighty God, who overruled their actions for His own purpose and glory. To Armageddon, meaning the Hill of Megiddo, were the multitudes called. In the valley of Megiddo the last godly king of David’s line fell before the advancing nations. At last on that very spot the far greater Son of David will deal the swift death blow to all the proud might of the Gentiles. The incitement to gather together for their destruction takes place, however, as an act of Divine judgment under the sixth vial. We do not get details of what takes place when they are gathered together until we reach Revelation 19:1-21, though we do get the fact of all nations being gathered predicted in Zechariah 14:2. There, too, it is God who does it, though as our chapter shows, He makes the power of the adversary serve His purpose.

The pouring out of the seventh vial completes these terrible strokes of wrath. This was declared by a voice from the inner shrine in heaven. The vial was poured into the air, which had been the seat of Satan’s power, but from which he had been dislodged. Air is the life element for man, and now destruction begins to fall on him out of that very element. Thunders and lightnings are entirely beyond man’s control, but there were voices con trolling them. Moreover the earth was affected as well as the air.

Literal earthquakes there will doubtless be, but the earthquake of colossal magnitude here predicted signifies, we think, the complete shattering of all man’s organized systems. Verse Revelation 16:19 speaks of “the great city,” of “the cities of the nations,” and of “great Babylon.” We understand by these the break up and collapse of the imposing civil system or empire which will find its centre in Rome, and also of similar systems, but subsidiary, which will be found among the more distant nations; and thirdly, of the great system of religious craft and deceit, which Babylon represents. The special fierceness of the Divine wrath is fittingly reserved for this last. Moreover, every island and mountain disappeared in the convulsion. Things that are detached from the mass like islands will not escape, and all that is lofty will go.

Verse Revelation 16:21 seems to connect itself with the thunders and lightnings of verse Revelation 16:18. Hail is symbolic of sharp, crushing judgment, inflicted directly from heaven, so direct that men cannot possibly attribute it to any other than God. Every stone is said to have the weight of a talent; that is, about 125 lb. We believe that in historic times storms of exceptional violence have been recorded in which stones weighing 1 lb., or even a little more, have fallen with terrible effect, similar to that recorded in Exodus 9:1-35. We are clearly intended to understand by stones weighing over 1 cwt. each, a judgment from God of a supernatural and crushing kind.

And what is the effect of all this? Simply additional blasphemy hurled against God. As in Egypt the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, so in this day the hearts and consciences of men will be hardened beyond any possible point of recovery. They are no longer atheists, even if once they were. There is a God, and they know it to their cost by these crushing judgments, but they defy Him. When the creature reaches such a pitch of defiant hardness as here indicated, what can be expected but the delivery of the final stroke? Two parenthetical chapters intervene, however, before we have the record of that stroke in Revelation 19:1-21.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 16:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/revelation-16.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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