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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Revelation 16

 

 

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Introduction

The Sixth Vision. The Seven Bowls of Wrath and the Destruction of Babylon the Great (chapters 15-18).

It is noteworthy that before each vision dealing with activities on earth there is an assurance that God’s people are well catered for. The seven seals (chapter 6) are preceded by the representation of the twenty four elders in Heaven and their assurance of Revelation 5:9-10. The seven trumpets (chapter 8-9) are preceded by the sealing of the people of God and the heavenly multitude (chapter 7). The attacks on the two witnesses are preceded by the measuring of the Temple (chapter 11). The attacks of the monster and the beast (chapters 12-13) are preceded by the victory cry with respect to the redeemed and by the deliverance of the woman (Revelation 12:10-11; Revelation 12:14-16). The judgment of the world is preceded by the gathering of the redeemed on the heavenly Zion (chapter 14). Now again, before the outpouring of the bowls of wrath, we have a picture of the redeemed (Revelation 15:2-4).


Verse 1

‘And I heard a great voice out of the Temple, saying to the seven angels “Go, and pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God into the earth”.’

The great voice may be that of a living creature (see Revelation 6:1; Revelation 6:3; Revelation 6:5; Revelation 6:7; Revelation 8:13 - compare Revelation 15:7), or it may be the voice of God Himself. What is important is that it stresses that this is the will of God. Tribulations and disasters are one way by which God speaks to the world. There is emphasis now on the wrath of God. The world lies continually under His wrath (Romans 1:18), and in the end it has to be satisfied.


Verse 2

‘And the first went and poured out his bowl into the earth, and there came a distressing and grievous sore on the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshipped his image.’

Those who have received the mark of the beast now receive another mark, the mark of judgment in the form of a grievous sore. Compare Deuteronomy 28:35 where it is to be one of a number of judgments on faithless Israel. See also Revelation 16:10-11 of this chapter where it is more generalised. Such sores were the mark of someone in a desperate state, like Lazarus at the gate of the rich man (Luke 16:21). This particular sore is directly related to the mark of the beast. It thus typifies the resulting sickness in heart and spirit that destroys men, a sore from which Christ’s own are protected. Reference to the mark of the Beast (see chapter 13)demonstrates that this commenced early on.


Verse 3

‘And the second poured out his bowl into the sea and it became blood as of a dead man, and every living soul died, even the things that were in the sea.’

Compare Exodus 7:20-21; Psalms 105:29; Isaiah 50:2 where again the effect on the fish is emphasised. This parallels Revelation 8:8 to some extent but while more intense it only refers to sea creatures. Through pollution from undescribed causes man’s sources of food are attacked, and his means of sustenance are smitten. Again we are not told which sea is in mind. It is not intended to be too specific. It can be applied to many catastrophes from the time of John onwards.


Verse 4

‘And the third poured out his bowl into the rivers and the fountains of the waters, and it became blood.’

Now it is man’s water supply that is attacked in some way. The same applies as on v. 3. Here however there is probably a reference to bloody warfare, as suggested by Ezekiel 32:6 where the blood of the armies of Egypt fill the waters. John’s world was familiar with such warfare and it is a characteristic of history. But here we learn it is among other things the sign of God’s wrath against sin. In this modern day we could see biological and chemical warfare affecting man’s drinking supply.

The phrase ‘rivers and fountains of the waters’ is repeated from Revelation 8:10. There is clearly a parallel activity in mind. These blessings, which were intended to provide man with lifegiving water and fruitfulness for his fields, will instead become a curse. In both cases there is possibly a deliberate contrast with the life-giving waters of Revelation 7:17 and Revelation 22:1. For the unbeliever there will be no soul refreshment.


Verses 5-7

‘And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “You are righteous, you who are and were, you holy one, because you did thus judge. For they poured out the blood of God’s people (saints) and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. They are worthy”. And I heard the altar saying, “Yes Oh Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are your judgments”.’

All catastrophic events in nature, and all warfare, are to be seen as God’s judgments because the world is at enmity with God and attacks His people. These particular judgments are seen as like for like. They remind us that God is not only merciful but also holy and righteous. He is the Holy One. If men will not repent, then they will receive the consequence of their sin. ‘He is’ therefore He acts now. ‘He was’ and therefore He knows all that has been.

Note that God’s suffering people are now linked with the prophets. They share their sufferings, they share their blessing (compare Revelation 11:18; Revelation 17:6; Revelation 18:20). The blood of the prophets is a regular description of persecution (Matthew 23:30; Luke 11:50-51 compare Mark 12:5) and we should note that it would be ‘required’ of Jesus’ generation (Luke 11:51). Thus this bowl finds its fulfilment partly in 1st century AD. The sufferings of ‘the last days’ must not all be assigned to the final days of the age. And because of the shedding of the blood of the prophets, and of the martyred Christians, God will give those responsible ‘blood to drink’ in their turn. They too in their turn will die violently.

‘Blood to drink’. Compare Isaiah 49:26, where the phrase speaks of death in civil war, and also Zechariah 9:15 LXX. The filling of the rivers and fountains of waters with blood therefore probably refers to blood shed in wars and wholesale death. The constant references to wholesale bloodshed in Revelation are a vivid reminder that ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23). It is in total contrast with the water that the righteous are given to drink (Revelation 7:17; Revelation 22:1-2)..

These things are declared by ‘the angel of the waters’, and his words are echoed by ‘the altar’. The latter idea looks back to the souls under the altar of Revelation 6:9-11. It is God’s people awaiting resurrection, and awaiting God’s the exercise of God’s justice, who speak from the altar. The ‘angel of the waters’ is on the side of good, and is probably in contrast to the falling star of Revelation 8:10 who defiles the waters. By the defiling of the waters a part of his sphere of responsibility has been under attack, but he recognises that the fact that God has allowed it is just and right because the final consequence is justice.

It is probable that behind all this blood John has in mind in the background the death of Christ. ‘Blood as of a dead man’ (Revelation 16:3), ‘you have given them blood to drink’ (Revelation 16:6). But whereas God’s people partake in Christ’s blood as a joyous thing through faith, here the unbelievers partake of blood because of the judgments coming on them. Contrast this with references to the slain Lamb and the blood of the Lamb that enhances the whiteness of the garments of God’s people (Revelation 1:5; Revelation 5:6; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 19:13). Those who reject the offering of Christ on their behalf must themselves suffer as He suffered, for in their case there is none to bear it for them. Because they will not ‘drink His blood’ by responding to Him (John 6:53 on) they must drink blood in another way, through death.


Verse 8-9

‘And the fourth poured out his bowl on the sun and it was given to it to scorch men with fire, and men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues and they did not repent to give him glory.’

This bowl is in deliberate contrast to what happens to the people of God of whom it was promised ‘the sun will not light on them or any heat’ (Revelation 7:17). The people of God will enjoy God’s protection. But in contrast the enemies of God will not find any shelter from the sun. Rather they will endure the judgments of God. The scorching of the sun may thus be symbolic of judgment as a whole. But many men through the ages have literally died through scorching heat, so that there is a literal fulfilment. These words carry even greater significance now that man’s greed and selfishness is thinning the ozone layer, and the world is slowly getting warmer.

Man’s reaction to this judgment reveals the state of their hearts. Instead of giving them cause to stop and think they curse and blaspheme God and blame Him for their suffering, a suffering which in the light of the thinning ozone layer they have certainly brought on themselves. The Scripture constantly suggests that fire and heat will be a sore instrument of judgment and in the end will cause the final destruction of all things (see Isaiah 24:6; Isaiah 42:25; Micah 1:4; Malachi 4:1; 2 Peter 3:10)


Verse 10

‘And the fifth poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was darkened, and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and they blasphemed the God of Heaven because of their pains and their sores and they repented not of their works.’

‘On the throne of the Beast.’ The throne of Satan is mentioned in the letter to Pergamum (Revelation 2:13). It was the source of danger for God’s people. Alternately Rome itself may be in John’s mind, for the emperors had many thrones, and when persecution was in progress, they would all be seen as the throne of Satan. But in the end what is being referred to is any place which is central to anti-Christ, any place where Satan reigns. They stand up against God and will receive their due reward. The darkening of the kingdom, and the resulting pains, have in mind the swarms of locusts of the fifth trumpet (Revelation 9:2) (compare also Exodus 10:21). Here their work is centralised on the centre of godless rule. But the spiritual unrest and anguish they cause do not bring about repentance, rather they result in blasphemy. In the end whatever men sow they reap.

Note how this contrasts with the scenes and result in Revelation 11:9-13. There the earth-dwellers were partying and making merry because God’s people had been humiliated and destroyed. So not all are directly included within the effects of the bowl. Nevertheless all will face the final judgment. The description may or may not be seen as including physical plagues. Men in John’s day, and through the ages, have suffered from such great sore-producing plagues (compare Exodus 9:9-11). Each time they symbolise God’s judgment on those who follow the anti-Christ in whatever form.


Verse 12

‘And the sixth poured out his bowl on the great river, the River Euphrates, and its water was dried up in order that the way may be made ready for the kings who come from the sunrising. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the monster and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits as it were frogs. For they are spirits of devils, working signs, which go forth to the kings of the whole world to gather them together to the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (Behold I come as a thief. Blessed is he who watches and has his garments ready lest he walk naked and they see his shame). And they gathered them together to the place which is called in Hebrew ‘Har-Magedon’.’

The sixth bowl, like the sixth seal and the sixth trumpet, has in mind the final days of the age (in contrast with the remainder). Here now things are coming to a head. It is noteworthy that the monster, the Beast and the False Prophet have continued on through the centuries, as Satan has used both secular powers and religious powers to attack the people of God.

The drying up of the River Euphrates parallels the drying up of the Jordan for Joshua to cross (Joshua 3:13-17) and of the Reed Sea for Israel to cross (Exodus 14:21-22). Then it carried forward God’s purposes of deliverance. Now it will carry forward God’s final judgment (compare Isaiah 11:15; Zechariah 10:10-11). That the mighty Euphrates should be dried up would have been viewed with the greatest horror by the people of the area. It was a symbol of their life blood being destroyed. There is an indication here of water shortage on a vast scale. But the drying up may also symbolise the final destruction of the great powers who depended on the Euphrates for provision, who are also seen as ‘dried up’ (Zechariah 10:10-11).

The kings who come from the sunrising (that is, from the distant East) represent kings from the furthest parts of the earth. The judgment that is coming is to have worldwide effects. All will gather (or be gathered) for the final judgment. They are in direct contrast with the angel who ascended from the sunrising who sealed the people of God on their foreheads, preserving them from the wrath of God. These kings from the sunrising will contribute to the world’s judgment.

‘The monster, the beast and the false prophet’. These represent firstly the monster of Revelation 12:3, Satan himself, secondly the Beast from the abyss, the scarlet beast (Revelation 17:3), which incorporates within itself the beast of chapter 13, and thirdly the false prophet who incorporates within himself the second beast of chapter 13. Nothing is said after this about the false prophet apart from that he accompanied the beast (Revelation 19:20), but it is clear that there is an assumption that he is the continuation of the second beast. The latter was not actually called the false prophet. He was the beginnings of which the False Prophet was the end. But Revelation 19:20 makes a clear identification. It is obvious therefore that the assumption is made that the beast throughout history continues to have at his side a false prophet (Revelation 19:20) like the second beast (Revelation 13:11-17). The secular and the religious ever go hand in hand. The false prophet therefore refers to those who continue religiously to promote the cause of the beast. (That the first beast had seven heads and ten horns and the second beast had two horns (chapter 13) demonstrates clearly that we are considering more than one person. The beasts represent empire and false religion following in continual succession side by side until the end of time).

The bringing up of ‘frogs’ by the unholy trinity, the three arch deceivers, compares with the production of frogs by the magicians of Egypt (Exodus 8:7). They were false signs but in the end they were futile and ineffective. And they were the production of lies and deceit. Similarly will these evil spirits use false and deceitful signs to achieve their purposes (compare Revelation 13:13-14), whether by astrology, necromancy, sorcery or any other method. We see in our own day the growth of interest in the occult, even in children’s books, preparing for these events. But we need to remember that contact with the occult can only result in deceitful and lying messages, and what is worse, it can result in possession by evil spirits. Just as the days before the Flood were highlighted by the presence of fallen angels (Genesis 6:1-4), so the days before the final judgment will see a predominance of evil spirits.

Thus the deceived world will gather to battle with God, the Almighty. This battle must not be taken too literally. All pictures of it are highly symbolic. When Christ comes in His splendour the nations will cower before Him and seek to hide from his presence (Revelation 6:15). None can stand before the power of the final Word of God (Revelation 19:13). What the picture is saying is that the deceit of Satan and his minions has built up final resistance against God and His claims, but that the coming of Christ will shatter all resistance. Armageddon will not be so much a war as an abject surrender to His authority and power. The Judge will not really need to fight. Any warfare will be between the nations. The point is that the enemies of God are as it were ready to fight because they have not understood the power of the opposition, but find that they are totally deceived.

Har Magedon - the Mount of Megiddo. There was no specific Mount Megiddo that we know of but the city of Megiddo looked out over the valley of Esdraelon where many decisive battles were fought, for it was the way for the kings of the East, thus John may be referring to the mountain overlooking the plain. It may be paralleled with ‘the valley of Jeho-shaphat’, the ‘Valley of Yahweh Judges’. There Joel saw the final scene of judgment as the nations were gathered, the sickle was put in, the winepress was trodden and the multitudes were gathered in the valley of decision (Joel 3:11-14). Either way we have a vivid picture not to be taken too literally geographically. It is the idea that matters.

But in the midst of this powerful scenario a word from the Lord is slipped in, a word of warning. He is coming like a thief, suddenly and unexpectedly. Let each beware and ensure that they have their garments ready so that they will not be found naked. This has in mind the words spoken to the church of Sardis (Revelation 3:3-4) and the words to Laodicea (Revelation 3:17-18) and the parables describing servants waiting for the coming of their Lord, especially Luke 12:35 onwards. His people are to live in readiness for His coming.

2 Corinthians 4:1-6 is very apposite here. Paul did not want to be deceived by the god of this world and be found naked, rather He wanted to be clothed with his resurrection body, as a result of seeing the light of the good news of the glory of Christ Who is the image of God, and responding to Him. So those to whom John is writing must recognise in Him the glorious Saviour and live in readiness so that they are not caught out by that day coming as a thief with the result that they are found naked (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 compare Matthew 24:43; 2 Peter 3:10).

So as with the sixth seal and the sixth trumpet, the sixth bowl brings things to a close and is followed by the final judgment. This may raise the interesting question as to whether the number of the beast, 666, has partly in mind these three sixes, the six seals, the six trumpets and the six bowls, each of which leads up to the seventh. Over each series of six the Beast carries on his activities, only to be brought to a sudden halt in each case by the judgment of God. The seventh in each case signals the triumph of God. In each series Satan fails in the end.


Verse 17

‘And the seventh poured out his bowl on the air, and a great voice came out of the Temple from the throne saying, “It is done”.’

The seventh bowl brings all to conclusion. The voice from the throne declares that ‘It is done’. This bowl is poured out on the air. It produces the great hail which speaks of the final judgment of God (compare on Revelation 11:19), and the final great earthquake beyond all earthquakes (Revelation 16:18). For in that bowl all is completed. “It is done”. The voice from the throne declares the end of all things. This compares with the strong angel who declared that time was no longer to be (Revelation 10:6). The voice from the throne may be that of a living creature or it may be the voice of the One Who sits on the throne. Either way it is final.


Verse 18

‘And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and there was a vast earthquake such as there was not since there were men on the earth, so great the earthquake, and so mighty. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and Babylon the Great was remembered in the sight of God to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found, and great hail, about the weight of a talent comes down from heaven on men, and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, for the plague of it is immensely great.’

Herein we have another solemn picture of the final judgment of God. The whole world is caught up in it. ‘The great city’ collapses, every city is destroyed, Babylon the Great receives its final judgment. She who has the golden cup (Revelation 17:4) will find it replaced at the last with the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.

‘There were lightnings, and voices, and thunders and a vast earthquake.’ Similar descriptions are found elsewhere, gradually increasing in intensity. In Revelation 4:5 ‘lightnings, voices and thunders’ proceed from the throne after the description of the One on the throne accompanied by the twenty four elders on their thrones. In Revelation 8:5 ‘lightnings, and voices, and thunders and an earthquake’ follow the appearance of the angel at the altar of incense as he offers up prayers which went up before God, and then casts them down on the earth. ‘An earthquake’ is added to demonstrate that it is now connected with earth. In Revelation 11:19 ‘lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake and great hail’ follow the opening of the Temple of God to reveal the Ark of His covenant. God’s final judgment has come on the world. And now lightnings, and voices, and thunders and the greatest of all earthquakes, accompanied later by the great hail (v. 21) accompany the voice from the Temple and from the throne. All is now over.

It will be noted that each time the description appears there is reference, direct or indirect, to the Temple and to the One on the throne. First the One on the throne and the twenty four priestly elders before the throne, then the angel at the altar of incense offering prayers before the throne, then the ark of His covenant which is beneath the throne, and finally the great voice out of the Temple and from the throne. The lightnings and voices and thunders proclaim the mighty activity of God.

We note also the advancement in God’s purposes. The twenty four priestly elders before the throne plead on behalf of God’s people at the time of the visions, the angel at the altar of incense pleads on behalf of God’s people in the holy place at the beginning of the judgments, the Ark of the covenant in the holy of holies is revealed at the time of the final judgment. And now the voice of God declares the end of all things. Thus the lightnings and voices and thunders herald the presence of God in His heavenly Temple at the opening of the seals, at the sounding of the trumpets, at the revelation of the basis of judgment (the Ark and the covenant it contains) and at the final word of judgment. In the end all is of God.

‘The great earthquake.’ This destroys ‘the great city’ and it destroys the cities of the nations. It is seemingly worldwide. These are clearly aspects of the great final day of judgment.

‘The great city was divided into three parts’. But which is ‘the great city’? In Revelation 11:13 ‘the great city’ is Jerusalem and one tenth of ‘the great city’ of Jerusalem (Revelation 11:8) falls in an earthquake, a symbol of God taking His firstfruits prior to the whole, thus this earthquake following immediately after could then be seen as Jerusalem partaking of the final harvest. That ‘great city’ is described as Sodom and Egypt (Revelation 11:8) rather than as Babylon, so we should not link the great city directly with Babylon the Great. It is the earthly Jerusalem which in spite of its great claim to be the centre of religiousness has turned out to be, like Sodom, the centre of wickedness and worldliness.

However, in Revelation 14:8 ‘Babylon’ is called ‘the great’, and in Revelation 17:18 we have reference to ‘that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth’, which is called ‘Babylon the Great’ in Revelation 17:5, while in Revelation 18:16; Revelation 18:18-19; Revelation 18:21 the great city’s destruction is described in terms of Babylon the Great (Revelation 18:2). Thus some would refer ‘the great city’ to Great Babylon.

But if ‘the great city’ does refer to Babylon we have in these verses a double reference to Babylon as ‘great’ with the cities of the nations in between. It seems far more likely that the intention is to compare the judgments on the great city which is like Sodom and Egypt, that is, on Jerusalem, with the judgments on the cities of the nations, and finally with the judgment on Babylon the Great itself. ‘The great city’ here is then Jerusalem in contrast with Babylon, in which case we have the portrayal of the destruction of religious but inherently wicked Jerusalem, the destruction of the cities of the nations, and the destruction of the worldly Babylon the Great with all they signified.

As we are to have a new Jerusalem we should perhaps expect a description of the destruction of the old Jerusalem. This would tie in with this suggestion, as would the contrast between ‘the great city’ and ‘the cities of the nations’. The fact that the only description of a ‘great city’ up to this point had reference to Jerusalem, and that great Babylon and her fate is mentioned separately, would also seem to confirm this.

Alternately we could take the great city as Babylon. However, as her judgment is in fact mentioned separately in this very place, and in view of the different way in which she is seen as destroyed in chapter 18, this appears less likely. (Although it must be admitted that there is nothing to stop it being seen as destroyed by an earthquake while it is still languishing in the previous misery brought upon it).

But what is finally important is that the destruction of Babylon the Great is linked with the destruction of all cities, for Babylon the Great is more than Babylon, it is more than Rome, it is the final fruition of Babel, the very idea of ‘cityness’. It represents worldly ‘civilisation’ over against God.

‘Into three parts.’ Compare Deuteronomy 19:3 where the land was to be divided into three parts, each to have a city as a refuge for the manslayer. Is this seen as an ironic division of the city in a similar way? Israel having failed in its ministry to provide places of refuge for the world, is now divided into three as a commentary on its failure? Or is it ironically seen as divided between the monster, the beast and the false prophet, mentioned as a trio in Revelation 16:13, to whom it has given its obedience (Revelation 11:2)? Alternately there may be behind it the idea that just as ‘three’ is a symbol of completeness, this division into three parts is a rending of that previous completeness. It is no longer whole.

‘And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found, and great hail, about the weight of a talent (a hundredweight) comes down from heaven on men.’ This description is similar to that in Revelation 6:14. Here the islands disappear and the mountains become level. This is not just a great earthquake, it is a huge cataclysm. The great hail is reminiscent of huge hailstorms which have been known in the Mediterranean region where hailstones weighing more than twelve pounds have been known to fall, but these are huge even by that comparison, weighing a hundredweight (twelve times as much), hailstones such as have never been known before. This vast shaking of the earth and the huge hailstones can only signify the end of time, which is what we saw in Revelation 11:19.

‘And men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail.’ It is surely significant that the only place where the final hour causes men to give glory to the God of Heaven is in Jerusalem (Revelation 11:13). That supremely religious city is depicted as seeing things differently from the remainder. But its end is the same, for the great day of judgment has arrived, and its religiosity is not sufficient. It too has rejected Christ. That this is one more vivid way of describing the final judgment is clear once we consider what is stated.

‘And Babylon the Great was remembered in the sight of God to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.’ Babylon the Great is singled out because of the idea she represents. It is not said that she is destroyed as such in the earthquake. Indeed God has already dealt with her (chapters 17-18). And yet she is involved in the earthquake for she in reality sums up all those cities.

But what is meant by Babylon the Great? It is an idea that has come from the mists of time, the symbol of all that is worst in the cities of the world. When Cain left the presence of the Lord and went to live in the desert regions he ‘built a city’. It was only a tent encampment, but it contained the seed of an idea. It was the beginnings of men gathering to live together to produce ‘civilisation’, and a multiple society for belligerence and protection, away from the presence of God (Genesis 4:16-17 with Genesis 4:20-24).

The next growth we learn of is when Nimrod, the mighty warrior, so great that even God saw him as great (‘before the Lord’) founded his empire in the land of Shinar. It is significant that an element of that empire was Babel (Genesis 10:9-10). This then resulted at some stage in the building of the tower in the city of Babel, probably a religious ziggurat, in order that men may ‘make a name for themselves’ (Genesis 11:4 with 9). In other words they established idolatry as against the worship of the One true God, they began to expand by conquest in order to build up an empire, and they wanted to prevent others doing the same. They wanted ‘world-wide’ control. So from the beginning Babel (possibly ‘babilu’, the gate of god) signifies empire building, idolatry, and rebellion against, and replacement of, the living God.

When later Babylon, its namesake, came into the picture it took over this image in the minds of the prophets. It was prominent through the centuries, but it came into its greatest prominence when it defeated the Assyrian empire and subjugated Jerusalem. Of all nations it alone conquered Jerusalem and took its inhabitants into captivity, destroying the Temple in the process (2 Kings 25:9). For this alone it would be remembered for ever and was seen as finally doomed to be destroyed by God (Psalms 137:8; Isaiah 13:19; Isaiah 14:22; Isaiah 21:9; Jeremiah 51:24; Jeremiah 51:29; Jeremiah 51:64). We can also consider Nebuchadnezzar’s cry, ‘Is not this great Babylon that I have built?’ It was the perfect example of the pride and arrogance that made Babylon a symbol of such pride (Daniel 4:30), compare ‘Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride’ which will be made like Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 13:19).

Babylon was also the first of the four wild beast empires in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the ‘head of gold’, the supreme empire (Daniel 2:38-39) which along with the other empires would be destroyed by the stone without hands (Daniel 2:45) which represented the setting up of God’s kingdom. And its king was famed as the one who had himself set up a golden image, representing either himself or Babylon (compare the golden head of the great image - Daniel 2:32), and demanded that all nations should worship it (Daniel 3:1; Daniel 3:4-5). Indeed the king of Babylon was the one who declared that he would ascend to the throne of God and be like the most High (Isaiah 14:13).

Thus Babylon had become synonymous with overweening pride, with arrogance, with rebellion and blasphemy, with idolatry, with ambitions of empire, above all with setting itself against God. It had became a symbol of all such empires. Any similar empire which arose, filled with pride at itself, could thus be looked on as the continuation of ‘Babylon’, without being the whole of it. So John in Revelation sees the last great world empire in terms of Babylon. It must be so, for all that Babel and Babylon stood for has to be destroyed.

No doubt, looking from his standpoint, if asked, John would have thought in terms of Rome as probably representing that empire (how could he not?), but he says enough to demonstrate that he did not limit it to Rome, as we shall see. The very idea and nature of Babylon has to be destroyed, and it is nowhere stated to be only Rome.

In the next chapter the destruction of Babylon comes slightly before the end. But that is due to the symbolism. ‘Babylon’ has first to be dealt with, destroyed by those it sought to nurture, and then comes the final day of Judgment. The central feature in that final day is to be the defeat of Satan himself, and thus the destruction of Babylon the Great is first to be seen as accomplished at his hands. First Babylon, then Satan. Ironically He who raised her, destroys her, and then moves on to his own defeat. Satan is self-destructing. We must not literalise the detail too much for its purpose is theological to bring out the many aspects of the judgment and those involved around it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 16:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/revelation-16.html. 2013.

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Monday, December 16th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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