In Clarence Larkin’s classic, The Book of Revelation, his opening statement in the section dealing with chapter 16; states, “These “VIALS” and their contents are LITERAL.” [Clarence Larkin, The Book of Revelation, pg. 142] I concur with Dr. Larkin. It is important that we understand as we go through that which John witnessed and recorded for the Church for all time; that we are dealing with horrific, albeit literal, plagues that those who dwell on the earth will face during the future Great Tribulation. Admittedly, it is difficult to wrap our brain around that which we are reading. No wonder Jesus said concerning this time that it will be a time like no other before, [See Matt. 24:11] and that unless the days were “shortened” (Lit. “Docked, abridged”) [See Matt. 24:22] no one on the earth would survive. There will be no natural explanation for these plagues, though I am sure many will attempt an explanation at this time.
If putrid, oozing ulcerated blisters, the sea and all other water sources being contaminated with blood, and men being scorched with great heat from the Sun were not enough; this most awful series of final plagues continues. John writes, And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds. [Rev. 16:10, 11 KJV] This particular plague, the vial of the fifth angel, will obviously be centered strictly in the Antichrist’s headquarters. We see a couple of things here. Not the least of which is that this shows us that the “Wild beast” of chapter 13 is indeed a man. He will be the “king” of this evil “kingdom.” This plague causes “darkness” all over the beast’s headquarters, which very possibly could refer to Jerusalem, as it will be at least the religious headquarters of his operation by this time. This darkness will probably extend however to all of his kingdom, which would be the territory of the old Roman Empire.
This will be a very strange darkness, that we might refer to as, “black light.” We have heard of it in the modern times. It will be a frightening thing. As the Sun’s wattage is increased, it grows darker instead of lighter. The heat will be greater, but the light will be less. It has a striking similarity to the plague that struck Egypt in Exodus 10:21, 22, And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt. And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days: [Ex. 10:21, 22] This is darkness so deep that there is no light visible anywhere, and you have to grope and feel around because you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. That is the degree of darkness that fell in Egypt, and it is the darkness that will fall in the Antichrist’s kingdom under the fifth vial judgment.
Groping in the darkness, in extreme pain due to the sores that fell upon the worshipers of the Beast, the people will gnaw (lit. chew, or consume) their tongues because of the pain. This will be horrible beyond description. Lest one think that judgment and plagues of this magnitude would bring people to their knees in repentance, the Bible says they will blaspheme (lit. vilify) the God of Heaven, and they will refuse to turn from their deeds. Their rebellion will be complete and they will be turned over to a “reprobate mind.”
And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
There is much here. The Euphrates is referred to as, “The Great River”, just as the Mediterranean is the “Great Sea.” This river is given great significance in the Word of God. It is first mentioned in Genesis 2, and is referenced some twenty-five times in scripture. It was prominent in the the first state of man, and it will figure prominently in his last state – The Great Tribulation. It was the cradle of man’s civilization, and it will prove to be the grave of man’s civilization. It was a border between East and West, eighteen hundred miles long. It was wide and deep, which made it difficult for an army to pass over it. Abraham was called a, Hebrew, and some interpret that to mean that he came from the other side of the Euphrates. The Euphrates was the eastern border of the land God promised to Abraham. [See Gen. 15:18] It also became the eastern border of the Roman Empire. This “great river” that figures so prominently in both biblical and world history will be miraculously “dried up”. How can this be? Because God said in His Word, sent by the Lord Jesus Christ, through an angel; and then given to His servant John to in turn give unto the Body of Christ, that it would be.
Reading after some of the old commentators on this passage proves very interesting. Barnes, for example, saw the reference to the Euphrates as purely symbolic pointing to some future happening to the Turkish power. Matthew Henry gave it a symbolic meaning. Jameison, Fausett, and Brown saw it as referring to the powers of the Apostate Church (i.e. the Papacy) drying up. Adam Clarke saw it as speaking figuratively of the people in the vicinity of this river. None of these classic commentators saw this prophecy as having any literal application or fulfillment at all really. It is not until we get to more modern, more recent times that we see Bible teachers more clearly understanding that which John wrote. For example, the late Dr. J. Vernon McGee in his, Thru The Bible commentary notes states, “The Euphrates River will be miraculously dried up, thus erasing the border between East and West, so that the kings of the sunrising might come to the Battle of Armageddon.” [Thru The Bible Dr. J. Vernon McGee, note on Rev. 16:13] Dr. McGee had a clearer understanding of that which John penned than past generations had. Why is that? I would like to suggest a couple of reasons.
1) In the days of Matthew Henry, Adam Clarke, Jameison, Fausett, and Brown, and others, there was no National Israel in existence. Israel and the city of Jerusalem were under the control of Gentile powers for some two thousand years, and the Jewish people were in diaspora (scattered) throughout the nations of the world. Yet God declared that He would regather them and bring them back into their own land. Beginning in May of 1948 that is exactly what God began to do. According to the prophet, a nation would be born in a “day.” [See Isa. 66:7, 8] I will not take the space here, but a study in how exactly the re-birth of Israel occurred, really beginning with the Zionist movement back in the 1800’s which encouraged Jews to move to Israel (at that time called Palestine), is a study in the providential hand of God working on behalf of His Covenant people. Is Israel all that God intended today? Are they really at this time fulfilling their role in the plan of God? No, not entirely. That will occur during the Kingdom Age and on into the Perfect Age to come. The point is though, God has indeed brought His people back and established them as a sovereign State once again. This occurrence, this movement of God that resulted in the re-birth of Israel marked a prophetic milestone that lets us know if we have ears to hear that God’s end-time program is right on schedule! 2) God in these Last Days is pouring out His Spirit on all flesh, which began really on the Day of Pentecost 33 A.D. Around the turn of the Century a fresh, one might say, “latter day”; outpouring of the Spirit began to occur. It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that with this came a great increase of knowledge and understanding. Prior to the turn of the 20th Century people pretty much lived as they had for thousands of years.
However, after the turn of the Century things began to be invented and discovered that mankind had never seen before! This is in line with the words of God’s Prophet Daniel, But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. [Dan. 12:4 KJV] This Hebrew word translated, knowledge means perception, skill, and even cunning. I believe it applies to not only an increase in knowledge and skill technologically, but an increase in knowledge and skill as it regards the things of God, specifically the prophetic Word. This generation has a greater understanding, I believe, of the things of God, and again specifically the prophetic Word, than any past generation. Why is that? Because of the place in time we have been privileged to live.
I said all of that to say this, when John wrote that the great River Euphrates would be “dried up”, that is exactly what he meant. A brief word study of “dried up” proves very enlightening and exciting. “Dried up”, is from the Greek, xeraino, and this particular verb is used some sixteen times throughout the New Testament. It is translated variously as, “To make dry, dry up, wither, diminish, to waste or pine away.” It gives the thought of something drying up or withering gradually over a period of time. Interestingly, the great Euphrates River is doing exactly that even now! For example, The New York Times carried a story entitled, “Iraq suffers as The Euphrates River dwindles.” [See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/14/world/middleeast/14euphrates.html . Also, the UK’s The Independent ran a story on this as well concerning a plague of snakes striking Iraq as a result of their natural habitat being destroyed with the dwindling Euphrates River. [See http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/as-iraq-runs-dry-a-plague-of-snakes-is-unleashed-1705315.html . What are we seeing here? Bible prophecy being fulfilled right before our very eyes!
Why is the great Euphrates drying up? John says, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. “Kings of the East” might better be translated, “Kings of the sun-rising”, as that is how it reads in the Greek. This will include no doubt China, Japan, and maybe others. Why are they coming? What is the end-game here? This is all rolling toward the final great battle that will involve all of the nations of the world gathering in the valley of Jezreel, in the plain of Megiddo, known in the Hebrew tongue as Armageddon. Notice that which will summon them and persuade them to join this campaign, that at this time may have been going on for some three-and-one-half years. John writes,
And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. [Rev. 16:13, 14 KJV] This sounds very strange to us, and well it should because John is seeing things that would be invisible to normal human vision and perception. He is seeing things in the spirit realm. This entire book is written from that perspective. These are “unclean” spirits. This would really be much the same as the demon horses of Revelation 9:7, and the infernal cavalry of 9:17. Make no mistake, demon spirits play a strong part in the evil events of earth. These spirits are “unclean” because they deal in immorality of every sort, in death and dying, in sickness and disease, in rebellion and bondage. All evil spirits are “unclean” but it seems there are spirits who are even more so than others.
John sees these spirits coming out of the mouths of the unholy trinity of the dragon (Satan), the Beast (Antichrist), and the false prophet. This lets us know the evil power and inspiration behind the words this trio is speaking. This brings to mind the words of John in his first general epistle, Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. [1 John 4:1 KJV] What is John saying here? He is letting every member of the Body of Christ know that we had better test or prove the words of any person who claims to be speaking for God. “False prophets” is the Greek, pseudoprophetes, and speaks of a “religious pretender” or, “false revelator.” It can refer to false Prophets, Apostles, Evangelists, Pastors, or Teachers. Every believer has the responsibility to be so familiar with true biblical doctrine that they can spot an impostor instantly. Don’t look at signs, so-called miracles, or even large crowds that a minister or teacher may be drawing. The question to ask is, What are they saying? Does it line up with the clear teaching of scripture? If not, you can discern right away they are not speaking by the Spirit of God. In our chapter before us, John seeing in the realm of the spirit can see very clearly what spirit this tyrannical trio is speaking by. They are the, “spirits of devils.” They persuade and seduce world leaders by their speech and “miracles” to draw them into this final world war.
John says these evil spirits are like “frogs.” Does this speak of their appearance or form, or does it speak of how they behave? I think probably both. Their spiritual form may resemble frogs, and at the same time their “croak” will be very methodical and repetitive, “Go to Megiddo, go to Megiddo.” They will speak this in the ears of world leaders through the words of the Dragon, Beast, and False Prophet.
Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. [Rev. 16:15 KJV] Listen, this message is not for the Church. He will never come as a thief for the Church. We are looking for Him. We are expecting the Bridegroom to come and get His Bride. The Antichrist will be so successful in spreading his rhetoric, those left behind on the earth will not be expecting Christ to Return. He is letting His Tribulation saints know that His Coming is not only imminent, but at this time it will be immediate! Dr. McGee has a good insight here, ““Blessed is he that … keepeth his garments.” What garments are these? Edersheim sheds light on this phrase by explaining that the captain of the temple made his rounds during the night to see if the guards were awake and alert. If one was found asleep, he was either beaten or his garments set on fire. I suppose it could be paraphrased, “Don’t lost your shirt. Be sure that you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ.” [Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible Revelation 16:15 note]
And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. [Rev. 16:16 KJV] Interestingly, this is the only place in scripture where the word, Armageddon appears. It is a compound Hebrew word made up of, Har (mountain), and Megiddo (which is a mountain in the plain of Esdraelon). This area has a violent and bloody history, having been the staging area for many past wars. Vincent writes, “Which has been a chosen place for encampment in every contest carried on in Palestine from the days of Nebuchadnezzar king of Assyria, unto the disastrous march of Napoleon Bonaparte from Egypt into Syria. Jews, Gentiles, Saracens, Christian crusaders, and anti Christian Frenchmen; Egyptians, Persians, Druses, Turks, and Arabs, warriors of every nation that is under heaven, have pitched their tents on the plain of Esdraelon, and have beheld the banners of their nation wet with the dews of Tabor and Hermon” [Vincent’s Word Studies, quoting, “Clarke’s Travels”] It will in the not too distant future be the site of earth’s final battle.
And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great. [Rev. 16:17 – 21 KJV]
This seventh angel will pour out his vial literally, “upon” the air. This is in space, with no exact location specified. We are literally at the very end of the Great Tribulation by this time. There is nothing that is going to help the world by this time other than the Second Coming of Christ. The seventh angel says, “It is done.” This is the exact Greek phrase as, “It is finished” as uttered by Jesus [Even though Jesus would have spoken it in Hebrew] on the Cross. This is the final judgment and it results in the greatest earthquake ever to strike the earth. The two adjectives, “Mighty” and “great” speak of the vastness, magnitude, and noise as a result of this quake. “The great city”, which refers to Jerusalem, will be divided into three parts. It seems as though this will be a global earthquake, causing the cities of the nations to fall. Mankind has never seen devastation of this magnitude, but they will at the end of the Great Tribulation. “Great Babylon” is about to face the fierceness of God’s wrath, and this will be covered in the next two chapters.
Great “mega” hail will fall on the earth at this time. John tells us that each hail stone will weigh about a talent, which equals approximately 100 pounds each. We have never seen hail this large. It is difficult to even imagine the damage, destruction, and death such hail stones will cause. People will blaspheme God because of this plague. As we said earlier, these judgments are about the pouring out of God’s wrath, and are not intended to call men to repentance.
We will take a detailed look at chapter 17, a chapter viewed by many as the most difficult difficult to understand. Join us then.