Monday, August 27, 2018
Scripture quotations are from English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise state.
Chapter 17 is a complex chapter that may be a little difficult to follow. Nevertheless it contains valuable information. It contains several symbols, but is careful to define or explain those symbols. Although, at first reading, there does not seem to be any action, when one carefully reads the chapter, one can discern either certain actions or preparation for actions.
In presenting this chapter, I shall divide it into four functional sections. These sections do not follow the order of the chapter throughout, but they are helpful in understanding the role of each part of the chapter. The four functional sections are “Title/Introduction,” “Description,” “Transition to Explanation,” and “The Explanation.” Again, note that these sections will not follow the verses in strict order.
The first two verses serve as the introduction. Verse 17:1 refers back to the seven angels with the seven bowls of wrath. One of those angels will be John’s tour guide to characters of this chapter. The angel is not interested so much in showing John the Great Prostitute, but, rather, he will show him the judgment of the Great Prostitute. This prostitute sits on many waters. This will be explained later.
In verse 17:2 the prostitute is, well, a prostitute, so her sexual immorality is defined as ensnaring two groups of people. First, “the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her.” This expression depicts her as having the characteristics of a prostitute. A prostitute is someone who has intimate relations for hire. This means that a person who hires a prostitute crosses the boundary into forbidden sexual behavior with someone who is not his or her spouse.
It is jumping ahead of the story, but we need to recognize that this “woman” is a metaphorical representation of a “city.” It is possible that the “city” is also really a metaphor, but I shall discuss that later. The present point is this: the “woman” is a metaphor and, therefore, her prostitution is a metaphor. The “kings of the earth” likely are those persons who exercise political power throughout the earth, whether or not they are designated “kings.” These powerful people have entered into a relationship with the “woman” that has the characteristics of prostitution. If we think of a prostitute as one who sells sexual favors, then the powerful of the world have bought favors from this woman.
It is possible that her “favors” are one of two kinds. It may be that power and influence are the favors she is selling. The “kings” have sought the power and influence of the “woman.” Perhaps, they have paid a price of liberty and independence. They have agreed to give up their independence in order to be in on “what is happening.” They lusted to be a part of enormous success of this “woman” and sold their souls—and the souls of those within their spheres of influence—in order to have a share of the shimmering glory and power of this “woman.”
It is also possible that this woman is simply selling degeneracy. The kings are giving up their independence as they slip into the oblivion of a party-hardy atmosphere. This seems to be the case of the other group of persons who fall under the spell of the woman.
Not only have the powerful rulers of the world entered into this fornication with the “woman,” but also the earth-dwellers have become drunk with the “wine” of her “sexual immorality.” The imagery has shifted somewhat now. Rather than a transaction of prostitution, there is now the free-flowing wine of a party. This woman is the hostess, generously filling everyone’s cup. And everyone—all the “earth-dwellers” are drinking thirstily of her cup. In verse 4, the woman is said to hold a cup “full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.” The wine that makes the world drunk is “abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.” The abominations may include religious abomination as well as common immorality.
Thus, we are introduced to the central character of the chapter—the woman filled with abomination and immorality and dragging the rest of the world down with her.
Although there is no cross-reference within the chapter to other parts of the book, this chapter is the beginning of the fulfillment of what has been anticipated earlier in Revelation. In 14:8 we read: “Another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.’” And 16:19 says: “and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.”
I have labeled 17:3-6a as the “Description.” I mean the description of the “great prostitute.”
In order to see the prostitute, John must be transported “in the Spirit” to a wilderness. It seems strange that this woman is in a wilderness. The fact that John travels there in the Spirit may imply that this scene is a spiritual display. In order to understand the prostitute, one must visit her in the Spirit and see, in the power of the Spirit, her full significance. Thus, the Spirit takes John away from all other distractions to see the prostitute. The wilderness may also signify the spiritual emptiness of the prostitute.
The description in these verses is really of two of the characters of the chapter—a woman and a beast, which she sits on. As the chapter progresses, it becomes evident that the prostitute has a very integral relationship with the beast she is riding.
The beast is described as “scarlet,” which may signify boldness and perhaps immorality. Sins are said to be “red like crimson” (Isaiah 1:18b). In the Septuagint (the Greek version of the OT), the word for “crimson” is the same as the word for “scarlet” in Revelation 17:3. The dragon of Revelation 12:3 is described with a word meaning “fiery red.” Probably, neither the exact color nor the exact significance of the color is being communicated. More likely, the reader is told that this beast’s color is similar to the dragon of chapter 12. Moreover, a bold, brazen entity is being described.
The beast is “full of blasphemous names.” Blasphemy involves pride and presumption in elevating oneself to a place of contempt for God. It is the direct opposite of the Biblical concept of the fear of God. The Beast of Revelation 13 gives us examples of blasphemy in 13:5-6: “And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.”
The beast has seven heads and ten horns. It quite obvious that that this beast corresponds to the Beast of chapter 13, with similarities to the dragon of chapter 12. See the following.
Color: Dragon of 12—fiery red, Beast of 13—no color, Beast of 17—scarlet
Heads: Dragon of 12—seven, Beast of 13—seven, Beast of 17—seven
Horns: Dragon of 12—ten, Beast of 13—ten, Beast of 17—ten
Diadems: Dragon of 12—seven on his heads, Beast of 13—ten on his horns, Beast of 17—not mentioned
Blasphemy: Dragon of 12—not mentioned, Beast of 13—blasphemous names on his heads, Beast of 17—full of blasphemous names
The woman was clothed (ESV: “arrayed”) with “purple and scarlet.” Purple suggests royalty, for this woman has rulership (see verse 18). The scarlet may refer to her brazen immorality. She is adorned with precious jewels, which reflect tremendous wealth which is flaunted. She is holding a golden cup, and it is filled with abominations and uncleanness. This cup is what she drinks: She fills herself with all the filth of the world.
The woman has her name written on her forehead. The older versions, especially King James Version, include “Mystery” as part of the name. The modern versions (including NIV and ESV) consider the word “mystery” to be a modifier of “name.” So, ESV reads as follows: “And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.’” King James Version reads as follows: “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” I’m not sure the manuscripts help with this. It seems more natural to me that “mystery” should be included in the name. “Mystery” is removed some distance from “name.” That does not always count for much in Greek. But the fact that “Mystery” begins the series of names also persuades me that it should be part of the name. Whether it should be rendered “Mystery Babylon” or “Mystery, Babylon…”—I’m not so sure.
Mystery could refer to the mystery religions, which were getting started in the first century. These religions specialized in secret knowledge that was known only by the initiated. The Gnostics also emphasized knowledge as the key to salvation. Salvation for them was freedom from the material realm. This notion grew from the idea that matter is evil and spirit is good. These ideas led either to asceticism or libertinism (see Stott, 45ff, and Carson, 15, ff).
Although modern-day “mystery” does not seem to correspond to the ancient cults, we can certainly see some similarities. The ancient mystery cults made THE mystery—a secret known only to the initiated—to be central to their cult. Mystery today is often associated with religious practices. Some versions of Christianity emphasize mystery in worship--that we are in awe of the greatness of God, who is beyond our understanding. Other forms of Christianity seek to be open and emphasize that Christ has opened up the way to God and made that way available to all who receive Christ. Rather than shroud God in mystery, the emphasis of this style of the faith is see all as understandable and available. One can see a need for both emphases. Mystery reminds us that we are finite and limited in our grasp of God. Openness reminds us that we follow a revealed religion that God has made known to us through Christ, the Word, and the church.
The final observation in the description of the woman is that she is “drunk.” She is not drunk with wine; she is drunk “with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” The word “martyr” is from the Greek word (martus in the nominative, but marturos in genitive) that means “witness.” The verb form means to “bear witness,” and there is a cognate noun for “testimony” or “witness.” However, the word for “witness” also could mean “martyr” in some places, such as Acts 22:20 and Revelation 2:13. Thus, there is a close connection between “witness” and “martyr.” Some translations render Revelation 17:6 “the martyrs of Jesus” (ESV and King James Version”), and others translate the phrase as “witnesses of Jesus” or an equivalent (New American Standard Bible, New Revised Standard Version, and New International Version). Probably both are implied. In many cases, to be a witness is to risk martyrdom. One does not think that drinking blood makes one drunk. But there is a form of drunkenness that comes from habituation to evil. Like all habits, the need to do evil must be satisfied again and again. So, this woman must get her fix by killing more Christians.
As much as anything, this is the “back story” of Revelation: the martyrdom of those who stand for Jesus. As John and the churches he oversaw faced the threat of the pagan Roman system, the Lord assured the church that the he always is acutely aware of the suffering of his saints, his witnesses, his martyrs. That was true in the first century and will be true in the last days.
TRANSITION TO EXPLANATION:
Verses 6b-7 are a transition from the description to the explanation. In the description, the two major characters are a “woman” and a “beast.” Such characters cause consternation, so John “marveled.” The guiding angel responds by saying that these characters are really a “mystery.” The use of the word here seems to mean: a symbol or riddle that needs to be explained. The angel responds to the fact that John marvels by promising to unravel the mystery. Whether this means that John marveled at how perplexing were the things he had seen or that he marveled at how frightening and horrifying they were is not clear. It may mean both. Unraveling the mystery does not seem to reduce the horror quotient. So, perhaps the angel responded to John’s perplexity by explaining these mysteries.
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Carson, Herbert M. The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and Philemon. Tyndale
New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 12. R. V. G. Tasker, Gen. Ed. Grand
Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980.
Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ of the
United States of America. New Revised Standard Version. 1989.
The Lockman Foundation. New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA: Lockman
Stott, John R. W. The Epistles of John. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 20. R. V. G. Tasker, Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ., 2002
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.
ESVSB = English Standard Version Study Bible
NIVSB = New International Version Study Bible
The following are notes from commentators:
Rist infers that the speaker is “God himself.” He describes the seven plagues to be “patterned in part” after the plagues of Exodus. He refers to verses 15:2-3 and considers the martyrs by the sea of glass are patterned after the victory celebrated by Moses by the sea. He notes that the pattern in chapter 15 and 16 is the reverse of the Exodus: the martyrs of Revelation celebrate before the plagues whereas the Israelites celebrate after crossing the sea. But in Revelation the “author” wishes to “show that the martyrs will be safe in heaven…when the seven bowl plagues are poured out.
He considers the plague of sores to be a “retelling” of the sixth plague of boils in Exodus 9:8-12. These sores are in “partial fulfillment of the warning of the angel in 14:9-10” against worship of the Beast.
The second plague is “derived” from the first Exodus plague of turning the Nile into blood (Exodus 7:14-25).
He considers the third bowl plague to be a “variant of [the] theme” of the first Exodus plague, which was extended from the Nile to all the sources of water in Egypt. He notes that the angel of the water is consistent with the angels of the winds (7:1) and the fire (14:18). He describes the water angel’s utterance to be “liturgical.” The angel’s pronouncement of justice is considered by Rist to be an example of “lex talionis, the law of retribution, which permeates all of Revelation…”
It is important to understand that, Jesus’ abrogation of the law of retribution in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-39) is addressing personalhumanvindictiveness. ESVSB considers that Jesus was not concerned with punishment by civil government. In any case, God’s authority to punish wrongdoing is reserved to himself and cannot be questioned (Deuteronomy 32:35, Psalm 94:1, Isaiah 34:8, Romans 12:19, Genesis 18:25, Romans 2:16, II Timothy 4:1, Isaiah 13:11). Rist implies that he is not questioning God, but rather is critiquing the “author” of Revelation from a “higher criticism” standpoint.
Rist comments on the oddity of the altar speaking: “That an altar can speak is not surprising in a book where an eagle, the dragon, the beasts from the sea and land, and other nonhuman creatures are given the power of speech.” He relates the statement of the altar to the cry of the “martyrs under the altar in 6:10…” The altar “speaking for the martyrs affirms that it [God’s judgment] is just.”
Rist discusses “apocalyptic speculation” of the destruction of the world by fire. He includes II Peter 3:10 as well as the Apocalypse of Peter 5, which, he says, was “written at the time of II Peter, ca. the middle of the second century.” Note that this statement is made as absolute fact. In fact conservative scholars disagree on this dating of II Peter and attribute II Peter to the apostle Peter, writing shortly before his death around AD 65. (See introductions to the book in ESVSB and NIVSB. See also the lengthy discussion of all of the problems in Green, 13-55.)
However, he considers that the plague of Revelation 16:8-9 is not a fiery destruction but an increase in the heat of the sun to scorch the wicked. He notes that the victims blaspheme God but do not repent. He says that “we may…be amazed that these series of apocalyptic woes…will have little or no effect upon the attitude and behavior of the idolatrous Romans toward the Christians.” This statement is consistent with Rist’s interpretative scheme. That scheme understands the book to have been written around AD 95 in the reign of Domitian. Rist understands the Beast to be ancient Rome. The author is writing to encourage martyrs that Christ will come soon and destroy Rome. So the time frame for the events is the next few years. From our frame of reference most of the events of the book, including the various plagues under the seals, trumpets, and bowls, would take place in final years of the first century AD, and Christ would come around AD 100. With this time frame in mind, Rist makes the statement concerning the lack of effect of the plagues on the Romans. (See Rist, 365.)
Rist notes that the fifth bowl plague—darkness—corresponds closely with the ninth plague on the Egyptians in Exodus 10:21-29. In the fifth bowl, “the emperor [the Beast] himself becomes a direct target of God’s terrible wrath. This is an omen of his coming defeat and destruction.”
He considers the mention of frogs to be derived from the plague of frogs in Exodus (Exodus 8:1-15). There is no correspondence between the role of the frogs in the sixth bowl of wrath and their role in Exodus. He says that the frog plague of Exodus is combined with the sixth trumpet (Revelation 9:13-19). There is some correspondence between the sixth trumpet and the sixth bowl. The Euprhates Rivers is mentioned in both passages. It the place where four angels are kept bound in the trumpet narrative. The river is dried up in the bowl narrative. In the trumpet narrative 200 million “troops” seem to be activated by the unbinding of the four angels. In the bowl narrative, the “kings of the east” are given a way across the Euphrates. Later, the kings of the whole earth are gathered for battle. So, there is some vague correspondence between the two narratives, but not a very close one.
Rist interprets the “kings of the east” as the “satraps of Parthia.” He compares the frogs to various mythologies from Zoroastrianism. It is his practice often to point to as many similarities as he can find in a passage to other Biblical and myths and legends. His implication is that John is drawing from all this literature to fashion the narratives of Revelation. In some cases, his comparisons are almost ludicrous.
He describes the “battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (verse 16:14) as “the apocalyptic conflict in which the forces of evil are to be finally defeated and destroyed.”
Although some critics regard verse 16:15 as a “displacement from another chapter…or else a scribal interpolation…” Rist considers that John has placed this “beatitude” here on purpose to warn people to be on guard and to give assurance. He interprets the “garments” as “garments of immortality.”
Rist comments that Armageddon “like the number 666, has been magnified in popular thinking out of all proportion to its significance.” Rist mentions some “solutions” to the meaning of the term. Some believe it is a corruption of Hebrew for “his fruitful mountain.” I am very limited in access to Hebrew. Using Young’s concordance, I could not find a Hebrew word for “fruitful” that would come close to any of the syllables of Armageddon.” Others suggest it comes from the Hebrew for “the desirable city.” I could not find anything helpful along these line in Young’s. He indicates the interpretation that is more agreed on is “the mountains of Megiddo.” Because the area near Megiddo was where a number of battles were fought, “the name Armageddon was used by John to symbolize the site of the eschatological conflict between the cohorts of God and Satan.” He notes that there are no “mountains of Megiddo,” but one can consider that “the term refers to the mountains in the neighborhood of Megiddo.” He speculates that John refers to mountains because he follows Ezekiel, who says “the conflict was to take place on ‘the mountains of Israel.’” (See Ezekiel 38-39.) He concludes that the “derivation…is not as important as the fact that John has chosen this memorable name to signify the final battle between the forces of good and evil, a battle in which the latter will overthrown and destroyed.”
Rist compares three announcements from heaven:
Verse 11:15: Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Verse 16:17: The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”
Verse 21:6: And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.
He is not necessarily equating these three, but notes that each is a “divine exclamation” announcing the completion of the “apocalyptic drama.”
He also notes the parallels between the “phenomena” of verse 16:18 and 11:19. He could have also mentioned similar phenomena in verse 8:5. He compares the earthquake of 11:13 to the one of 16:18-19, the latter being even worse than the former. He considers the mention of Babylon in the latter part of verse 16:19 to be evidence to identify “the great city” in the first part of the verse with Babylon. He further identifies Babylon with Rome. He considers that this is the fulfillment of the predictions of 14:8 and 14:10. In those verses Babylon is described as “fallen” and the followers of the Beast are promised that they would drink the wine of the wrath of God. He believes that “the cities of the nations” in 16:19 are pagan cities outside the Roman Empire. (Why he concludes that is not clear.)
Rist notes that in 6:14 the mountains and islands were removed, and this is similar to 16:20. He concludes that this “is just one of the indications that the different series of plagues are not actually to be considered as following one upon the other, but are probably…differing versions of the same series of eschatological woes preparing the way for the end of the world and age.” I believe that another interpretation would be that seventh of each of the series is at the same end point, but that the later series may fill in chronology that is implied by earlier series.
He notes that the hailstones (16:21) weighed about a talent and that is about a 100 pounds. The plague of hail does not bring repentance, but only cursing of God.
He notes that the hailstones complete the seven bowl plagues and, so, “the end is at hand.” However, he says, “a number of events are yet to occur before the final act of this cosmic drama is staged.”
In his introduction to this chapter, Morris notes that there are some similarities to other plagues, the plagues of Exodus and the trumpet plagues in Revelation. However, there are differences of extent. For example, in the bowl plagues, people are directly attacked in the very first plague (sores), whereas this is not true of the early plagues in Exodus or the trumpet plagues. He quotes Swete to say of the bowl plagues: “They are not tentative chatisements, but punitive and final.” Morris says: “It is this air of finality which sets this series of plagues off from all the others.”
The “great voice” or “loud voice” from the temple is likely from God himself.
He compares this plague, of the sea turning to blood, with the second trumpet plague, which only affected one-third of the sea. This reminds us that we are “face to face with the last plagues.”
He states that the Jews understood that various angels were given charge over “specific areas of the universe,” so an “angel in charge of the waters” is not surprising. He notes that the fact that the altar speaks can be related to the fact that a voice came from the horns of the altar in 9:13. He also considers that it is significant that the altar is connected with the prayers of the saints and the fire of the altar brings about judgment in 8:3-5.
He comments on the King James, “it was given,” (verse 16:8), which is “it was allowed” in ESV. This “reminds us once more that God is over the whole process.” He notes that men did not repent and the consequence is that they failed to give God glory. He also notes that in verse 16:9 there is again a mention of the sovereignty of God in that God has power over the plagues.
He describes the results of pouring the fifth bowl onto the throne of the Beast as “curious.” He says this because he notes that there is no reason given for the darkness nor the pain. He surmises that the pain came from the sores of the first plague and the burning of the fourth plague. He believes that it is possible that the darkness comes from “a waning of the power of the beast…” As with the fourth bowl, “the sinners reacted in the wrong way.” They blasphemed God. They “were preoccupied with their pains…” “Even grievous pain did not awaken them to the realities of the situation.”
The sixth bowl “resulted in men being prepared for the End. It did not usher in the End, but prepared for it.” He considers that the drying up of the Euphrates is parallel to the “drying up of waters…” in several Old Testament accounts. He mentions the Red Sea in Exodus 14:21 and the Jordan in Joshua 3:16ff. In both of these accounts “dry ground” is mentioned. However, in both cases the central miracle is the parting of the waters. The Red Sea water was parted and this allowed the sea bed to become dry. The Jordan River was halted and the waters “piled up” well upstream and this allowed the river bed to become dry. He also refers to prophetic passages concerned with end-times and the nation of Israel. In three Scriptures—Isaiah 11:15, Jeremiah 51:36, Zechariah 10:11—there are mentions of bodies of water or rivers being dried up or otherwise rendered passable. In all these cases, Israel is enabled to get where it needs to go.
He also quotes Swete, who refers to an ancient historical incident: Cyrus of the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon by damming the Euphrates so his army could march into the city. Swete says: “a new Babylon is to be surprised [the Babylon of chapters 17 and 18], and the drying up of the river marks the removal of the last obstacle to its fall.”
Morris refers to the Parthians and the “Nero redivivus” myth. The reference to the drying of the Euphrates would evoke fears of the Parthians with Nero at their head. Morris says: “John is suggesting that at the end all these fears and more will be realized.” But Morris emphasizes that Revelation is not simply expressing fears of the late first century. Morris believes that this is saying that “at the end of time the divided forces of evil will engage in a terrible conflict.” However, he also notes that “kings” of the east are not mentioned again in the book.
He comments on the three unclean spirits and concludes that the “false prophet” is the “beast from the earth” (13:11). He considers the frogs to evoke “evil associations”—such as slime and meaningless croaking, “but no solid achievement.” But the “main idea” is that the evil spirits are like the “’lying spirit’ who [enticed] Ahab into battle (I Kings 22:21ff).” However, these spirits entice “the whole world into battle.” He points out that, although the “dirty spirits” are enticing the leadership of the world, their activity is leading up, not to their day, but to the Day of the Lord. That day “is associated with the culmination of divine purposes.”
He points out that the “interjection” from Jesus is “seen against the gathering forces of evil.” Jesus uses “thief” to mean his coming is “unheralded and totally unexpected.” The “thought [of the warning to be clothed] is that believers caught unprepared will be put to shame at the critical time in the world’s history. They will be like those outside the people of God.”
In 16:16, it is the evil spirits who gather the kings and their armies to Armageddon. He considers this name to be “symbolic…but its meaning is uncertain.” He discusses the problems (that there is no mountain, but, rather, a plain, etc.). He suggests that the “mountain” is “the great mound on which the city stood…” He refers to the battle between Israel, led by Deborah and Barak, and the forces of the Canaanite King Jabin, led by Sisera (Joshua 4). The battle is described in Joshua 5:19 as near to Megiddo. It was a battle won by the Lord, and Morris believes that “the deliverance under Deborah [sets] the pattern” for the “final overthrow of all the forces of evil by an almighty God.”
He describes this bowl as “the complete fragmentation of earthly life.” The bowl is poured into the air, “which was held to be uniquely the abode of demons…The evil spirits are being attacked in their own element.” His interpretation of “the great city” is: “It stands for civilized man, man in organized community, but man ordering his affairs apart from God. It symbolizes the pride of human achievement, the godlessness of those who put their trust in man. This great city is now shattered.” He notes that, as the “great city” falls, so do the cities of the nations. He notes that “nowhere” in the book is there an expression as emphatic as that which describes God’s wrath on Babylon.
He notes that Zechariah 14:10 looks to a time when the mountains of Israel will become a plain, just as the mountains disappear in 16:20. He notes that verse 16:21 uses a special Greek word (sphodra) to indicate the severity of the plague of hailstones. He comments that the disaster is a “decisive event.”
Ladd introduces the chapter by saying that the bowl plagues “must be seen in the context of the titanic struggle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan…[These plagues] are the outpouring of [God’s] wrath upon…the beast—and upon those who have given their loyalty to him.”
The plague of sores is upon the people who have been enticed by the Beast. The only ones who have not done so are those “who are loyal to the Lamb…In the end-time, religion will be no longer a merely nominal thing; all men will have to declare their loyalty for Christ or for Antichrist.”
There is no limitation on this plague—such as was seen in the Exodus plague of blood or in the trumpet plague of blood.
Again, there is no limitation: all of the fresh water is affected. The comments of the “angel of the water” and of the altar declare that God’s judgments are not “arbitrary and capricious but are true and just. In the end, God’s acts of judgment will be completely vindicated.”
The plague is not due to anything “inherent in the sun’s heat, but is due to the sovereign judgments of God overruling the processes of nature.” Ladd notes that, although the people know that God is the source of their affliction, their hearts are “hard and recalcitrant…because of the choice…to follow the beast…” Therefore, rather than repent, they curse God.
The bowl is poured out “directly upon the center of the beast’s power.” Ladd believes that the intense darkness magnifies the pain from previous plagues. Again, he notes that people do not repent, but, instead, curse God.
As did Morris, Ladd refers to Isaiah 11:15 (as well as 11:16) as an example of how the “prophets…looked upon the drying up of the river Euphrates as the prelude to the gathering of God’s…people…” In this instance from Revelation, the drying of the River is “the removal of the barrier which holds back the pagan hordes.” Whereas some see a “civil conflict” between the kings of the east and the rest of civilization (see Morris above), Ladd rejects this. He believes the pagans “join forces with the kings of the whole (civilized) world to do battle with Messiah…” He rejects the idea that the “kings from the east” is a reference to Parthians under Nero. He believes that these kings become allies of the Beast. This is not consistent with the Nero myth, in which the Parthians attack Rome.
Ladd notes, as do other commentators, that there is a reference to the “false prophet.” He concludes, with Morris, that the false prophet is the beast “rising out of the earth” (ESV) of 13:11. The three spirits that are like frogs are “John’s way of describing the demonic inspiration of the foes of God in the last great battle.” He goes on to say that “this is no mere military or political movement but the manifestation in eschatological history of the age-long struggle between God and Satan.”
He discusses the term “the great day of God the Almighty.” He refers to various phrases, such as “day of the Lord” or “day of the Lord Jesus Christ” that are found in the New Testament. He rejects the idea that these terms refer to different days, but insists that the terms are “interchangeable.” He defines “the day of the Lord” as “the time when the total redemptive purpose of God will be consummated, both for salvation and judgment, both for individuals, the church, and the whole creation.” He states that “John sees” hatred, hostility, and persecution reaching “a last grand finale” in the final battle. He refers to Old Testament references to this battle in Psalm 2:2-3, Isaiah 5:26-30, Jeremiah 6:1-5, Ezekiel 38, and Joel 3:9-15.
Jesus’ “interjection” in verse 16:15 is a reassurance to the “church.” He assures his people that war led by the Beast “is not the ultimate reality; the ultimate reality is the fact of the Lord’s return.” That Christ comes like a thief refers to the “unexpectedness” of his return. Referring to I Thessalonians 5:4, Ladd states that this unexpectedness is only for those who are unprepared. For those who are ready, Christ’s return will be a “glad deliverance” from their situation. He argues that people have misconstrued the blessing on the one who “stays awake.” The King James Version translates this “watcheth.” Therefore, many, says Ladd, have believed this supports a “Pretribulation Rapture” theory. (See below for my additional commentary.) Although “watch” is a possible translation, Ladd argues that the main meaning is to “stay awake.” Probably the best argument for this is in Mark 13:32-37. In that passage, Jesus is warning that the time of his coming is unknown. Therefore, it is important to “keep awake” (Mark 13:33). The Lord uses the analogy of a man who goes on a journey and returns suddenly. The disobedient servant will be “asleep” (Mark 13:36). The contrast, then, is between being awake and being asleep. So, the same message, most likely, is conveyed in Revelation 16:15: to keep awake.
My additional commentary: It should also be noted that the context of 16:15 is importance. It is difficult to see how this verse can be related to warning saints in the Pretribulational period, since it is set squarely within the Tribulational period. So, using this verse to rationalize a Pretribulational Rapture does not seem logical.
Ladd goes on to explain that for a person to be spiritually asleep in this context is “to lose sight of the ultimate issues of life and to assume security is to be found on the human level instead of in terms of one’s relationship to Christ.” He goes on to say that John assumes that this spiritual sleep is not characteristic of the last-days church “in spite of the triumphant rule of the beast among the nations.”
He explains the warning about not being naked in 16:15 is a “summons to spiritual diligence.” He refers to 3:17-18, which describes the church at Laodicea as “naked” because of its “spiritual poverty.”
He considers verse 16:16 to resume the narrative of the unclean spirits who entice the kings to battle. They are brought to Armageddon. “This is preparatory for the actual battle which takes place in 19:11ff…” He discusses, as do other commentators, the meaning of “Armageddon.” He concludes that no clear explanation for the name can be determined. Nevertheless, “John means by Armageddon the place of the final struggle between the powers of evil and the Kingdom of God.”
Ladd believes that the description of the seventh bowl is a “proleptic statement of the judgment of God upon Babylon.” This judgment is detailed in chapters 17 and 18.
Verse 16:17 uses a “literary technique..of announcing a completed fact, and later expounding the content of that fact.”
Verse 16:18 mentions “apocalyptic phenomena” that are “common manifestations of the divine power and glory.”
These phenomena result in the “complete collapse of the godless human civilization” (verse 16:19). He considers the “great city” of 11:8 to be Jerusalem, but, in 16:19, the “great city” is Babylon. This “utter ruin” that is caused by an earthquake “is described in different terms in the two chapters that follow.” The announcement of the fall of the “cities of the nations” is “proleptic” of the war of the Lamb against the ten kings, which is announced in 17:12-14. Ladd points out the mirror images of the two cups: the cup of wine of sexual immorality (14:8) offered by Babylon to the world and “the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.” (16:19) This wrath comes from God as he “remembered Babylon the great.” Ladd notes that, in the short term, the reign of Antichrist makes it appear that “God has forgotten his people,” but he remembers and gives Babylon “her just due.”
Ladd considers the description (16:20) of the islands fleeing and the mountains being flattened to describe “proleptically the consummation.” It is the anticipation “of the breakup of the old order.” Although this is possible, I think it is jarringly out of place. The chapter has been progressing through what we might call “penultimate” (just short of the ultimate) events. The very next verse (16:21) continues within that timeline. Why does this verse leap-frog to the situation described in 20:11 and 21:1? Is it not more likely that the immense upheaval of the overthrow of Babylon and associated cities (which is described in chapters 17-18) is referred to by 16:20?
Ladd’s comment on 16:21 is very brief. He only says that the hailstones would be over a hundred pounds.
In his introduction to the chapter, Johnson notes similarities and differences between the seven bowls of wrath and the seven trumpet judgments and the plagues of Exodus. He notes that, as with the other series, there is an attack on earth, sea, rivers, and sky, which are the “traditional divisions of nature.” He notes, as do other commentators, that the bowl judgments involve directly the suffering of people. They also are much more complete than, for example, the trumpet judgments—“all” rather than “a third.” The last three bowl judgments are “social and spiritual” and “shift from nature to humanity.” He asks whether the judgments should be taken more or less literally, and he believes “less literally.” Nevertheless, “they depict God’s sure and righteous judgment that will one day be literally and actually done in the world.”
His comments on the first three bowls are very brief. He refers to verses 16:5-7 as the “dialogue between the angel and the altar.” The blood in the water “vindicates the blood of the martyrs.” The choice is clear: “Peaople must choose whether to drink the blood of saints or to wear robes dipped in the blood of the Lamb.”
In commenting on those who curse God in response to their pain from the heat of the sun in verses 16:8-9, he remarks that “their problem goes beyond the awful physical pain and is moral and spiritual.”
In discussing the darkness on the throne of the Beast in verses 16:10-11, he says the throne “symbolizes the seat of worldwide dominion for the great satanic system of idolatry.” He understands the darkness to mean that the “system” (of Beast worship) is disrupted, which is chaotic for those who seek “life and meaning in it.” It is a “moral and spiritual” darkness.
In his comments on 16:12-16, he rejects the idea of some that the description of the events of the sixth trumpet and of the sixth bowl are essentially the same. They both mention the Euphrates and groups from the east, but otherwise they are quite different. The events in the sixth bowl are preparatory for the kings of the east to meet God in battle. Johnson considers the mention of the Euphrates to signal two evils found in Revelation—Babylon and the entrance of the “evil hordes” (of 9:13ff). “Thus in mentioning the Euphrates by name, John is suggesting that the unseen rulers of this world are being prepared to enter into a final and fatal battle with the Sovereign of the universe.” He rejects two ideas about the warfare that is referred to in 16:12-16: one is that this represents the Parthians attacking the Roman Empire and the other is that it represents a future “political” invasion of Israel. Johnson seems to believe that the future battle (which is the Battle of Armageddon) is much bigger than what human beings can muster. Rather, he calls what is about to take place as the “eschatological defeat of the forces of evil, [which he believes is symbolized by] the kings from the East.” The “froglike evil spirits” deceive the kings and gather them to Armageddon.
The warning from Jesus to be alert is to warn against “satanic deception.” It is relevant for any time in history, but, in the gospels, these kind of warnings are connected with the return of Christ. He rejects the idea that John is “reinterpreting the second coming of Christ” as simply found in “the crises of history.” John is dealing with “eschatological judgment.”
Johnson does not believe that Armageddon is a reference to the city of Megiddo, but is a symbolic name. He considers various possibilities. He argues for one possible meaning from the Hebrew: “His place of gathering in troops.” It “would allude to the prophetic expectation of the gathering of the nations for judgment (Joel 3: 2, 12).” He dismisses any possibility of discovering a geographical location for Armageddon and maintains that it is symbolic and “describes the eschatological confrontation where God will meet the forces of evil in their final defeat.” He quotes Mounce: “The great conflict between God and Satan, Christ and Antichrist, good and evil, which lies behind the perplexing course of history will in the end issue in a final struggle in which God will emerge victorious and take with him all who placed their faith in him. This is Har-Magedon.” He adds: “Nevertheless, the name refers to a real point in history and to real persons who will encounter God’s just sentence.”
He describes the lightning, thunder, etc. as symbols of the destruction of evil. He considers the earthquake as symbolic of God’s judgment that reaches the “strongholds of organized evil” in pagan cities. He asks the question whether the descriptions, which are “geophysical” (islands disappearing, huge hailstorms), are really describing the destruction of “merely natural or even of politico-historical entities,” or whether we should understand this to be the destruction “exclusively of the unseen powers of evil.” He considers that there is, in the passage a “rising pitch of God’s wrath on the rebellious powers of the earth.” He does not see in this passage merely reference to Rome’s evil or to a first-century crisis for the church. Rather, he understands this chapter is referring to end-time events: “He is speaking of the great realities of the end, when God has put down all his enemies.”
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News
Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Green, Michael. The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude.
Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 18. R. V. G. Tasker,
Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980.
Johnson, Alan F. Revelation. The Expositor’s Bible
Commentary, Revised Edition. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John.
Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.
Morris, Leon. The Revelation of St. John. Tyndale New
Testament Commentaries. Vol. 20. R. V. G. Tasker, Gen.
Ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980.
Rist, Martin. “The Revelation of St. John the Divine” Exegesis.
The Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. XII. Nolan B. Harmon, Ed.
New York: Abingdon Press, 1957.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ.,
Sunday, February 11, 2018
Revelation 16 is directly continuous with chapter 15, which introduces the outpouring of the seven bowls of wrath. In 15:7, seven angels are each given a bowl filled with the wrath of God. Chapter 16 describes the plague that results when each of the bowls is poured out onto earth.
The following is my personal study of the chapter. I shall post a summary of commentaries on the chapter later.
John reports that he heard a loud voice from the “temple.” I have discussed this term in the commentary on chapter 15. I believe “sanctuary” is a better translation. It appears to me that the place is the part of heaven that served as a model for the Holy of Holies—the innermost room—of the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple. The loud voice possibly is the voice of God. The voice commands, or encourages, the angels to pour out the wrath that is in their bowls.
The first angel pours out his bowl and it causes painful sores on the people. The people who experience these sores are those who have the Mark of the Beast and have worshiped his image. The passage makes clear that the wrath of God is directed at the enemies of Christ and his people. These are the people who have participated in the empire of the Beast/Antichrist and have directed their worship toward him rather than God, in direct contradiction of the first and second commandments (no other gods and no graven image).
The second bowl is poured out into the sea and turns the sea to blood—“the blood of a corpse.” The blood of a corpse is clotted, so that is the image we have—an ocean that is a giant clot of blood. No longer does it function to sustain life and so every “living thing” (or “animal”) dies. There is no comment as to how this affects people, so we are left with our own conclusion that it would bring a sense of horror and would certainly affect fishermen and others who harvest sea life for food. It is also possible that ships could no longer navigate within the coagulated waters.
The third angel pours his bowl upon the fresh water sources—rivers and spring—and they also turn to blood. Now an angel who is “in charge of the waters” responds to this event. What does it mean that this angel is “in charge of the waters”? (A literal translation would be: “the angel of the waters.”) We are given a brief insight into God’s superintendence of the universe. It appears that God has delegated responsibility for various aspects of creation into the hands of various angels. Angels are perhaps mentioned more in Revelation than any other book of the Bible (I have not researched this.). We get a glimpse of how many and how varied and how powerful these angels are.
This particular angel responds to the transformation of the waters for which he is responsible. An analogy might be if the superintendent of a factory observed a group of people from corporate headquarters come into “his” factory and totally repurpose it. Though he had responsibility, he had to accept the decision of headquarters, yes, and even applaud that decision. So, this angel declares that the Lord is just. He is just because of his character. There need be no further rationale. So, the angel describes the Lord as the “Holy One” and the one “who is and was.” The Lord God is holy—absolutely perfect. And he is eternal. He is, present tense—a tense denoting continuing action—and past tense. So he has always been and always will be. This is true of only the Lord God. Therefore, by definition, this one is just: because he is holy and because he is God.
But not only is God just because of his character, but also he is just because he has made the correct decision regarding the earth-dwellers. They have shed blood, so they should drink blood. This is justice.
Now there is a response to the declaration of the angel of the waters. It is spoken by “the altar.” How can an altar speak? Well, this is an altar in heaven. Our experience on earth is that such a piece of furniture would be an “inanimate object.” But in heaven, that is evidently not the case. This altar, which serves the almighty God in heaven, is far more marvelous that anything a person might build on earth, and it can speak. It affirms that the almighty God makes “true and just” judgments. That is both frightening and reassuring. It is frightening because it means that there is no hiding nor are there any excuses or explanations to cover our evil. It is assuring because the Lord God will see perfectly well who is innocent as well as who is guilty. We learn far too often of people who have spent years behind bars for crimes that they did not commit. God would never make that kind of mistake.
The fourth plague inflicts injury to the earth-dwellers through the heat of the sun. The sequence is as follows: the bowl of wrath is poured on the sun. This “allows” the sun to scorch people with fire. The people are scorched by the heat. They curse the name of God.
We observe in this chapter descriptions of God’s “management” of the universe. These descriptions seem odd and, perhaps to some, archaic and naïve. In this case, a bowl of wrath is poured onto the sun. I understand that to mean that the Lord God directs his attention to the sun as an instrument of his wrath. This results in permission being given to the sun. ESV uses “allowed.” Literally, the wording is: “it was given to it [the sun] to…” Or, it was “granted.” The thing that is granted is “to scorch people with fire.”
What does this mean? We are not given further explanation. However, what is implied is that there is some sort of ability within the sun to respond to orders from God. We can make a few observations regarding the universe from the Scripture:
· The Lord God created all things. Those things that pagans revered as gods are revealed in Genesis 1 to be the result of the creative power of God.
· In general, the Bible depicts people as having common-sense understandings of nature. For example, the fact that the axe head floated is understood to be a miracle that defied the normal experience that dense materials sink in water. (II Kings 6:1-7)
· There are, however, descriptions that are not strictly naturalistic. For example, the creation account in Genesis 1 includes a number of commands—“let there be”—that seem to be orders given by God to the universe and especially the earth. In some cases, the order is followed by a more detailed account of God’s creating activity, so it may be that, at least in some cases, the initial “command” is a statement of intention that is followed by the actual creative work.
· Hebrews 1:3 states that Jesus Christ “upholds the universe [all things] by the word of his power.” This implies that the universe, though it has laws, many that are known and some that are still to be discovered, does not actually remain intact without the direction from the Second Person of the Trinity.
· Romans 8:18-23 depicts creation to be in a condition of futility. As it waits for the last days, it groans, waiting to “be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” This creation is groaning “in the pains of childbirth.” Thus, creation itself is waiting for the completion of our destiny as children of God.
With these observations in mind, we can say that from the heavenly point of view, the universe (including the “inanimate” universe) is responsive to the commands of God and to God’s grants of permission, such as the sun receives in verse 16:8.
The result is that the people were burned severely. One would imagine their burns were beyond the ordinary sunburn. Their response was to curse the name of God. Exactly what such a curse would sound like is not clear to me. Perhaps it was using the name of God blasphemously or perhaps it was simply using God’s name as a curse word. Or perhaps it was declaring a wish for something terrible to happen to God. Combined with their curses were two sins of omission.
First, they refused to repent. There are several references to repentance in Revelation. Repentance is called for in the letters to five of the seven churches. (chapters 2 and 3) After the 6th trumpet, it is noted that those who survived the plagues refused to repent. (9:20-21) Now, refusal to repent is observed as God pours out his wrath in these last seven plagues.
Second, they refused to give God the glory. Psalm 96:8 says: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.” The failure to recognize the awesome glory of God is failure to see the Lord God as he really is. If God is a question mark, a theory, an hypothesis, then God has not been revealed to us. If we are unrepentant, then we do not have an appropriate conception of who God is. If we have met Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we have had a revelation of who God is. We embrace God as holy, righteous, and the judge of all the earth. We cling to God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ. We rest in the hope of the ultimate victory of God. In this fullness of God, we glimpse the utter glory of God. These people, who curse God because they are in pain, have faint knowledge of the glory of God.
The fifth bowl is poured on the throne of the Beast. We can infer that this is a judgment upon the authority and power of the Beast. The Beast/Antichrist has ruled, evidently through raw military power, through the deceptive propaganda of the False Prophet, and through economic coercion. He has gained many converts who willingly worship him, as well as those who worship him out of fear. Now, the Lord God is endangering the position of authority which the Beast holds. The consequence of this judgment is that the kingdom of the Beast becomes dark. This could be a physical darkness, but it no doubt is also a description of the spiritual darkness. Such darkness means that
· The word of God is scarce.
· Knowledge of the gospel is meager.
· The basic rules of righteous behavior are ignored.
· All sorts of unrighteousness abounds—lying, cheating, stealing, killing, racism, war, sexual perversion and immorality, gossiping, hating.
· Fear, sadness/depression, hopelessness all cast a pall over the people.
If we reflect on these characteristics of spiritual darkness, we find that this a good description of much of the world that we live in today, including the United States.
Oddly, the announcement of darkness is followed by the reaction of the earth-dwellers to “the pain.” In the following verse, “pain and sores” are mentioned. It is not clear to me whether these wounds are a result of the current bowl of wrath or because of the sores of the first bowl and the burns of the fourth bowl. The reaction to their pain is, first, to gnaw their tongues and, second, to curse (literally, “blaspheme”) God. The fact that they gnaw their tongues seems to be an indication of the extreme misery of the people. They are in deep physical pain and plunged into deep spiritual darkness. In such a condition of hopelessness, they gnaw their tongues. They also continue to blame God rather than to appeal to God. And they refuse to recognize that their own sin is what has brought these judgments upon them. So they refuse to repent.
This passage is one of those points in Revelation that has captured the imagination of many. “The Battle of Armageddon” has become symbolic of the “end of the world,” of the beginning of the “post-apocalyptic world,” of “World War III,” and so forth.
The sixth bowl of wrath is poured out on the Euphrates river. Note that each of the bowl-judgments or plagues begins with a focused outpouring of God’s wrath on a particular place or category—the earth, the sea, fresh water, the sun, the throne of the Beast, and, in the sixth case, on the Euphrates river. The Euphrates River is sometimes called the “great river” (Genesis 15:18) or, simply, “the river” (II Samuel 10:16). It is the ultimate border of Israel (Genesis 15:18). It is not clear whether it is meant only to be the northern border or whether it was to serve as the northern and eastern border. Solomon briefly held control to the Euphrates at Tiphsah (I Kings 4:21-24). Tiphsah is about 70 miles east of Aleppo. In the time of the Roman Empire, the Euphrates was the western border of the Parthian Empire, which was a constant threat to the Romans.
The outpouring of wrath on the Euphrates is in order “to prepare the way for the kings from the east. The “kings from the east” possibly refers to the Parthians of that time. Certainly, Alexander had gone to India, so India also may have been included. The term “kings from the east” is a broad term that could include even the Chinese. The implication of the preparation of “the way” is to allow these kings to make war on the western powers. The Roman Empire would be in mind in John’s day. If we broaden this idea from a futurist viewpoint (see below), the making of “the way” is unleashing preparations for war. That this is war understood in John’s day to be between extremely powerful empires, it would be understood to be, in our day, a world war.
(“Futurist” is a term applied to those who interpret prophetic Scripture, especially Revelation, with an understanding that much of what Revelation depicts is yet future in its fulfillment.)
John now sees three unclean spirits emanating from the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet. They look like frogs. The reader naturally is revolted at frogs coming out of mouths. This is, I believe, exactly the reaction that is intended. We need to recognize the filth of the spiritual forces arrayed against Christ and his church. We need to recognize the filthiness of sin. From petty gossip to horrific violence, all sin is ugly. These frogs are demonic spirits who seduce world leaders. They perform “signs,” which are miracles that communicate. Whether these miracles are spectacular is not so much the issue. It is possible that, in some cases, seducing spirits will simply enable their human mouthpieces to amaze some world leaders with their insight into the needs and motivations of those leaders. Whatever the nature of their miracles, the miracles will persuade the leaders to go to war.
Notice that the Lord uses evil in this case for his own purposes. We should not infer from this that God is the author of evil. God permits evil to take place and also sets limits on its extent. In this case, the demons are warmongerers, and they seduce warmongering world leaders to go to battle. The evil is already resident in the demons and in the hearts of the leaders. The outpouring of the sixth bowl of God’s wrath allows that evil to come to full boil in order that God may have the occasion to intervene to put an end to these enemies of Christ and his people.
The spirit of war within the hearts of these leaders, which is stirred up by the seducing spirits, leads them to enter into a unique battle that is scheduled for the “great day of God the Almighty.” Though some make fine distinctions, there seems to be one particular Day that is known by several names: the “Day of the Lord,” the “Day of Christ,” the “Day of God.” The Old Testament mentions of that day refer to several outcomes of God’s action.
THE DAY OF THE LORD
A VERY BRIEF SURVEY
In some cases, near-term events are considered to be the “Day of the Lord. For example, Isaiah chapters 5, 13, and 22 refer to either the destruction of Jerusalem by ancient Babylon or the overthrow of Babylon as the Day of the Lord.
In some cases, the “Day of the Lord,” refers to God’s ultimate dealing with Israel, either in judgment or salvation. Jeremiah 30:7-9 describes how “Jacob” will go through a time of distress but ultimately be saved out of it. In Ezekiel, the end-time includes Israel’s doom when God will pour out his wrath (7:5-8), but also will be a time when the Lord will bring Israel from all of the nations into their own land and when he will lead them like a shepherd (34:11-16). Chapters 38-39 describe a time when Gog and Magog attempt to invade Israel and are destroyed. Hosea describes a time when Israel will be as numerous as sand grains of the sea and when they will be known as “children of the living God” and when Judah and Israel will be united (Hosea 1:10-11, see also 2:16-23). Micah describes how the “mountain of the house of the Lord” in Israel will be the highest and the nations will come to be taught (Micah 4:1-6). Zephaniah tells of how the Lord will pour out indignation on the enemies of God’s people (Zephaniah 3:8). Zechariah describes how nations will war against Jerusalem but the Lord will protect her and destroy those who attack her (Zechariah 12:3-9) In another prophecy, he tells of how the Lord will fight those who attack Jerusalem and eventually it will dwell in security and living waters will flow from it (Zechariah 14:1-11) Those of the nations who survive their fight against Jerusalem will go every year to Jerusalem for the feast of booths (Zechariah 14:12-21). Malachi describes how the coming of the Lord will bring purity to the sons of Levi (Malachi 3:1-4). The righteous of Israel are promised that the Lord will make them his when he makes his “treasured possession” in the last day (Malachi 3:16-18). Malachi promises a “day” in which the arrogant of Israel will be burned but those who fear God will leap like calves (Malachi 4:1-5).
In some cases the Day involves ultimate judgment. For example Isaiah chapters 24-27 describe the ultimate destruction of the earth. Ezekiel 30:3 refers to a day of clouds and doom for the nations. Joel 3:14 describes multitudes in the valley of decision.
There also is mixed with the actions of the Lord on the Day of the Lord a promise of a coming Anointed One, who would eventually be called the Messiah. He would be the “root of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:11). He would bring a time when the deaf will hear and blind will see (Isaiah 29:18). He would be a king who reigns in righteousness (Isaiah 32:1). He would be anointed to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, the opening of prison doors, and to proclaim the “year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2ff). The Messianic age would restore the land so that it would be like the garden of Eden (Ezekiel 36:33-36). In that time a fountain will come from the house of the Lord (Joel 3:18). Zechariah describes how the people of Israel will look on him whom they have pierced and mourn (Zechariah 12:10-11). In that day the Lord will be the king of the earth (Zechariah 14:11). Malachi promises that the Lord will “come suddenly to his temple” (Malachi 3:1-4).
RETURN TO COMMENTARY
Verse 16:15 interrupts the narrative of the vision with an announcement. One infers that the announcement comes from Jesus. This inference does not depend on the “red letters” in many Bibles (which print the words of Jesus in red letters). For one thing, the warning, “I come like a thief,” echoes Jesus’ message to Sardis in 3:3: “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” It also echoes the warning of Jesus in Matthew 24:43-44, in which he compares his return to the coming of a thief in the night. A second clue is the fact that the warning is in the first person singular, and Jesus is the only person that would fit the scenario.
The warning demands two actions—to stay awake and to keep one’s garments on. The demand to stay awake is found in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:42, for example), where the idea of Jesus’ coming like a thief is described. In some cases the verb may be translated “stay alert,” which conveys much the same meaning.
The word for “garments” often refers to the outer robe or cloak rather than the tunic that was like an undergarment. So, a person who is going to bed would take off his cloak. If he were awakened suddenly and, say, rushed out into the street, he would be embarrassed. However, it is possible that being without garments here means literal nakedness. In either case, the person is exposed for all to see.
When one looks at the admonitions of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, the idea of watching, being awake, being alert is a spiritual matter as is the idea of being clothed. The issues are discussed in Matthew 24:36-51. It begins by comparing the coming of Jesus to the days of Noah. The people of Noah’s day were living life as they had always done, oblivious to spiritual issues. So the flood caught them unawares. He describes how the righteous and unrighteous will be doing identical things (working a field, grinding at a mill), but one will be taken for judgment and the other left standing (some believe it is the other way around: one taken in the Rapture and the other left standing). In the same way, some will be spiritually unalert and their house will be broken into—to their destruction. One will be a faithful servant who will be rewarded, and another will beat his fellow servants and become a drunkard and he will be “cut in pieces.” So, watchfulness is a spiritual condition of attentiveness to things of the Lord and living a life of obedience. In such a condition, one has a robe that is washed in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). They have not tossed their robes aside and settled into a long winter’s nap. They will be ready when Jesus comes.
The following verse, 16:16, briefly states that “they” brought “them” together to a place called Armageddon. I discovered a new wrinkle in the Greek language. In some cases, a singular verb might be used with a plural neuter subject. So, most translators have assumed that the evil spirits (the frogs) of verses 16:13-14 is the unexpressed subject of the verb “gathered” in 16:16. The verb is singular, but “spirit” is a neuter noun. This is a possible interpretation. However, it is also possible that the antecedent to the subject is either Jesus, who is quoted in verse 16:15, or God the Almighty, who is mentioned in 16:14. However, the facts—that the spirits are described as gathering the kings to battle in 16:14 and that the same verb (as an infinitive) is used in 16:14 (“assemble” or “gather”)—seem to favor “they,” the evil spirits, as the subject of the verb in 16:16.
The various commentaries will expound on Armageddon, as do many Bible study notes (for example NIVSB and ESVSB). From these one can learn that “Armageddon” is derived from Hebrew “Har Megiddo,” which means “mountain of Megiddo.” Megiddo is a town about 55 miles north-northwest of Jerusalem. It is not really a mountain, though it may have been somewhat elevated. It is described by Wikipedia as in a strategic location for trade routes because of its location on a pass through the mountains. It has been the site of several battles, including a battle during World War I.
In verses 16:14-16 we see brought together the following concepts:
· The battle on the great day of God the Almighty (16:14)
· The location of that battle at Armageddon (verse 16:16)
· The coming of Jesus (16:16)
· His coming like a thief (16:16)
· The need to be awake (16:16)
· The need to keep one’s garments on (16:16)
However, as we move from 16:16 to 16:17, all of these concepts seem to drop out of sight. New topics are dealt with and the Battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ seem to fade into the background. This seems to be another instance of the style of Revelation. Many times events are anticipated that will come into full view later. So it seems that is true of the Battle of Armageddon. It will not be mentioned again, but it is very likely that the events of 19:11-21 are in fact the completion of that Battle.
There are three sequences of seven in Revelation—seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. In the first two sequences there is an interlude between the sixth and seventh in the series (see chapter 7 and 10:1-11:14). This is not true of the seven bowls. There are commonalities and differences in the seventh of the three sequences, as follows (events listed in the order found in the Scripture):
The seventh seal results in thunder, rumblings (or voices), lightning, and and earthquake.
The seventh trumpet results in lightning, rumblings, thunder, an earthquake, and hail.
The seventh bowl results in lightning, rumblings, thunder, the greatest of all earthquakes, and 100-pound hailstones.
The pattern throughout these sequences is that the plagues will get worse and worse.
The bowl judgment begins with the seventh angel pouring his bowl of wrath “into the air.” I am not sure the significance of this target. The one possible clue is Ephesians 2:1-2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.
The “prince of the power [authority] of the air” is obviously Satan. So, the air can be considered a component of Satan’s stronghold. The wrath of God will be poured on that stronghold.
Then, a voice comes from the temple (sanctuary), more specifically, from the throne. This possibly is implying that the voice is from God himself. His announcement: “It is done!” This is in the perfect tense, and it could be translated: “It has been done,” or “It has happened.” The perfect is an action in the past that brings about a present state according to Brooks and Winbery (104). The use in 16:17 seems to fit their category of “Intensive Perfect.” This category emphasizes the completed action and the finished product. The thing that has been done is the pouring out of the last bowl of God’s wrath. God has completed this phase of dealing with the earth-dwellers.
There follows the lightning and rumblings and so forth as indicated above. Two of these events are focused on—an earthquake and hail.
First there is the earthquake, which is described as unprecedented. The quake seems to involve most of the earth since verse 19 says the “cities of the nations fell.” The use of “nations” indicates the Gentiles. Also one particular city is singled out—the “great city.” It is split into three parts.
Then, another city is mentioned, or the “great city” is given a name—Babylon. Babylon is mentioned in the New Testament in the following ways. In Matthew 1, the Babylonian captivity is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. In Acts 7:43, Stephen mentions the Babylonian captivity. In I Peter 5:13, “she” who is in Babylon sends greetings to the recipients of Peter’s letter. Probably “she” refers to the church, and “Babylon” probably refers to Rome. Earlier, in Revelation 14:8 an angel announces that Babylon is fallen. Babylon in 16:19b is the object of God’s remembrance. It is as though now God recalls the sinfulness of this city. This is an antropomorphism projected upon God. We know that God is not forgetful, nor does he need memory aids to remind him. But the language of remembrance is really from the human viewpoint. In other words, as we observe the sequence of events, we see all these other plagues coming out of the wrath of God. Then, we see God’s wrath turn upon Babylon. It as though God suddenly remembers. The truth is that all the world now becomes mindful that God does not forget. And so, Babylon is given a cup of wine to drink—the wine of the fury of God’s wrath. This mention of Babylon is to be greatly expanded in the next two chapters.
The comment is then made that “every island fled away and no mountains were to be found.” Possibly these events are components of the great earthquake. Possibly they are metaphors for the severe terror and upheaval that is going on.
The second event is the hail. The hail stones are said to weigh about a “talent” (ESV: one hundred pounds). The United Bible Societies dictionary (Newman) says a talent is ninety pounds. (NIVSB gives 75 pounds.) Obviously these, like the earthquake, are unprecedented. They are described as falling from “heaven,” which could be the sky or from “heaven” in the usual sense of the special location of the throne of God. Whatever the case, the ultimate source of the hail is certainly the throne of God.
As in verses 16:9 and 16:11, the earth-dwellers curse God. The word, as in the other verses, is the word from which “blaspheme” is derived. They curse God because “the plague was so severe.” In a sense, these people are sitting in judgment upon God. Rather than admitting the severity of their sin and their need for forgiveness, they are judging that God is being too severe with them. They fail to realize that the severity is a measure of the depths of the depravity of their hearts. Only 90 pound hail stones can come close to getting their spiritual attention.
The seven bowls of wrath have been poured out in quick succession. Toward the end of the series, events take place that presage concepts and events that will be expanded in later chapters. The Battle of Armageddon is mentioned, and it is probably the same battle described in 19:11-21. Babylon is mentioned, and it is focused on in chapters 17 and 18.
Although the wrath of God that is poured out in these plagues is completed, so that “It is done!” is the pronouncement of the voice from the throne (16:17), in fact God’s final sentence upon sin is not completed until 20:11-15. These bowls of wrath differ from that final sentence. They are exhibitions of God’s wrath, but their purpose is that they will bring about repentance among sinful people. See 16:9 and 16:11. The hope of God is that all will come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)
Brooks, James A. and Carlton L. Winbery. Syntax of New Testament Greek. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979.
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Newman, Barclay M., Jr. A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament.
Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1971.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ., 2002