By William R. Newell
Part One: Judgment
Revelation 15, 16
The Day of Wrath is begun by the appearing on earth of the Lord Jesus as Son of Man, in Palestine, trampling the allied armies of all the earth (Revelation 14:20; 19:19-21). This day inaugurates the thousand-year reign.
Therefore, all judgments seen under the seals, trumpets and vials are prior to this Great Day. They are preliminary visitations of wrath before the Great Day of Wrath at Christ’s coming to earth. This fact should be constantly kept in mind. We shall repeat it again and again.
The Four Gospels furnish us with an excellent example of that method of God’s Word which we find in the book of Revelation. Matthew sets forth Christ as Israel’s Messiah; Mark, as Jehovah’s Servant; Luke, as Son of Man; John, as Son of God; each book goes over the same period, each bringing out certain peculiar phases of the Lord’s life on earth.
In The Revelation we saw that the sixth seal revealed in a panoramic, prophetic way the Great Day itself, though several years before it. Then, under the seventh seal, we went back to various particulars, leading up to that Great Day. Again, the seventh trumpet (11:15-18) revealed the anger of the nations, the coming of God’s wrath, and the accompanying tremendous matters: yet we went back, in chapters 12 and 13, to consider in vision God’s plan about Israel,—the woman’s warfare with Satan, the development of the Antichrist, etc.
Then again, at the close of chapter 14, we had a vision of the Son of Man reaping the harvest of earth, and treading the winepress of Armageddon, destroying the rebel nations, who had gathered to destroy Israel.
But now, in chapters 15 and 16 we return to consider certain particulars preceding the Great Day of Wrath and Armageddon: visitations of God’s preliminary judgments, just as the ten plagues in Egypt were preliminary to the complete overthrow of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea.
We must keep this in mind, lest we try to make the book of Revelation a mere chronological narrative.
We may call attention further to this method in the case of “Babylon the great.”
In chapter 14:8, Babylon is announced as fallen, but it is only so in anticipation. In our present chapter (16:19) we observe her visitation in the earthquake of the seventh vial. Then, in chapters 17 and 18 we go back to consider what Babylon is; her history; her relation to the world-power and to the Antichrist; and her final earthly destruction.
Chapters 15 and 16 are a complete section so we will give the outline of their contents here:
1. “Another sign in heaven”—the Seven last Wrath-Angels, 15:1.
2. The Vision of the Victors Over the Beast, 15:2-4. (As always preceding judgment, the triumph of Grace is shown: compare 7:1, 3, 9.)
3. The Connection of the Seven Vials of Wrath with the Heavenly Temple, and the Reason Therefore, 15:5-8; compare 11:19.
4. The Seven Terrible Vials of Wrath. (Literal plagues, of course, like those upon Egypt) 16:2-21.
The Seven Last Wrath-Angels
The first “sign,”98 in 12:1, revealed God’s heavenly coun- sels concerning Israel; the second in 12:3, the great opposer of those counsels, the Dragon, in his opposition to God’s plan of governing this earth by His Son through redeemed Israel. Satan opposes God’s Christ with his false Christ in chapter 13. All the nations of the earth are by this devilish scheme led into Satan-worship. This brings the flood of evil to its height and calls forth the divine judgments of the seven vials of wrath, chapters 15 and 16.
Consequently, when those judgments are about to take place, it is announced that it is a “great and marvellous” thing that is signified.
When Israel had the terrible breach with Jehovah at Sinai, and God had finally agreed to pardon them, He said in Exodus 34:10: “Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been wrought in all the earth, nor in any nation.”
These seven angels, pouring out the seven bowls of wrath, are indeed a “great” sign, for “in them is finished the wrath of God.” We shall see them proceed from the temple of God in heaven—all patience having been now exhausted. (The temple stood for mercy and worship.)
The sign is also “marvellous,” for the more we study these chapters the more the weight of these final terrible visitations grows upon us. It is the last expression of God’s indignation before Christ comes in person in the Great Day of Wrath.99
Before the out-pouring of these terrible vials, however, God gives us a vision of those who triumphed over the indescribable awfulness of the days of the Beast. (15:2-4).
Again the “sea of glass” comes into view. It was “like unto crystal” in chapter 4:6 when first seen. From that passage also we are shown its position “before the throne.” This description is of vastness—a sea: like unto glass—settled, unruffled, peace; like unto crystal—the purity of God’s own Throne. See “the terrible crystal” of the firmament above the cherubim in Ezekiel 1:22, which appears to be the same as in Exodus 24:10.
Now, in our lesson, this sea of glass is “mingled with fire.” And this has, we believe, a two-fold significance. First, these saints “that come off victorious” have been called to pass through the very worst furnace of trial ever known. It has been well said that while we are called on to oppose the world, the flesh, and the Devil, these have had a fourth foe, even Satan’s Christ, a being brought back from the abyss, and known to be such, to whom all the earth has been given over, and whose delusions were so strong as to deceive if it were possible, the very elect. Second, God Himself is “a consuming fire.” Moses saw the bush, that it was not burnt, although the fire was there! We are here beholding the last martyrs before Christ’s coming, and it should thrill our hearts to read that this glassy sea before God is now “mingled with fire.” It celebrates on the one hand what they will have passed through and on the other hand their nearness to and association with God!
We have then, “those that come off victorious (literally ‘those conquering away from’) from the beast and from the image of him, and from the number of the name of him,” standing upon this sea. We also find that they have “harps of God,” i.e., as Alford so well says: “part of the instruments of heaven, used solely for the praise of God”; and (Govett) “real instruments, of God’s making.”
Now, although the Church of God (which these are not) has an unspeakably higher vocation than they, being members of Christ Himself, yet we must not fail to give God the glory for the victory of these through the greatest possible temptation and trial God’s great enemy could bring upon them. We must not fail to enter in spirit into the glorious reward given them. Earth has bowed beneath the hideous blandishments of Satan’s Christ; these resisted him unto death. They then passed through fire, yea, all the fires and agonies possible, and now they stand on that glorious crystal sea, mingled with heavenly fire, which celebrates their victory.
And what do they sing to the accompaniment of those heavenly harps? “The song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.”100
Note then, in the song they sing, the celebration first of the works, and then of the ways of “the Lord God, the Almighty,” the “King of the ages.” No gracious heart can read verses 3 and 4 repeatedly without being profoundly moved.
The song of Moses celebrated the overthrow of Pharaoh and his hosts at the Red Sea—the mighty work of God. Jehovah is “fearful in praises, doing wonders.” The song of the Lamb brings out God’s ways as righteous and true. Christ prayed, “If it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” The ways of God with the Lamb involved for him all meekness and suffering, as the path to kingdom and power.
Moses stands for the power of Jehovah who “caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses,” who brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, by the stretched-out arm of might.
The expression, “the Lamb,” reminds us of those ways of unutterable grace, though in righteousness and truth, in which our Lord walked on earth. These witnesses, upon the glassy sea, celebrate this double song before God.
How beautiful are their words as they address them directly to the God for whom they suffered all things rather than yield to Satan! “Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify thy name?” Again, “Thou only art holy.” These witnesses chose holiness in the face of a world gone over to sin; and they have come where holiness alone is! There is exquisite beauty here.
And again, their faith in the victory of their God is declared: “All the nations shall come and worship before thee.” Not yet has this come to pass, yet they are celebrating it in God’s very presence!
Finally they cry, “Thy righteous acts have been made manifest.” Coming from those who passed through the horrors of the persecution, torment and fire of the Beast, through all the rage of Satan, these are most beautiful words!101
They find not a word of fault with their God. All His acts they call “righteous acts”! Mediate upon this, ye who feel yourselves tempted and tried and suffering over-much. Some day you will declare His ways to be good and His acts to be righteous!
The Connection of the Seven Vials of Wrath With the Heavenly Temple
1. There is a literal temple of God in heaven.
We saw in Revelation 11:19, that “there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven; and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant.” Also, in chapter 8:3, we find a golden altar before the throne of heaven.
2. It is true that in the New Jerusalem John beholds no temple; and the reason is given that our Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple thereof. In that city they will see His face directly. All formal mat- ters are past—especially governmental matters such as are connected with the temple of which we read in The Revelation.
3. With the heavenly temple in The Revelation, only judgment matters are connected. Even in 8:3-5, where the prayers of God’s saints come up, it is with the effect upon earth of thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake! Again in 11:19, upon the opening of the temple of God in heaven, and the vision of the ark of His covenant, there follow “lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail.” And now, upon the opening of the temple in our present chapter there came forth the seven angels with the seven last plagues.
4. We find in the temple, in 11:19, the ark of God’s covenant; and again, in 15:5, the remarkable expression “the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven.”
This indicates that God is about to fulfill His covenanted promises toward Israel, for to Israel belong the covenanted things (Romans 9:4).
We are back on Old Testament ground, prophetically. Consequently, we saw in 12:1, immediately after the mention of the ark of God’s covenant, the great sign which sets forth in heaven God’s counsels concerning the Woman, who represents Israel. They will involve the full accomplishment of God’s word in Psalm 2—that He will set His king upon His holy hill of Zion,—despite the opposition of all the earth!
In connection with the opening of the temple in chapter 11, we had not only the vision of the Woman and the Dragon, but the war in heaven, the casting out of Satan into earth, the bringing forth of the Antichrist and his False Prophet, and the ghastly reign of iniquity on earth, with the fearful persecutions of God’s saints.
5. Now we are to behold the last plagues, i.e., those final visitations of God upon the nations, and the vexing of them in His sore displeasure, before He sends His Christ, the Lamb of God, to execute the fierceness of
6. One of the four living creatures, those beings “full of eyes,” deep in the intelligence of the purposes of the Almighty, now gives to these seven angels “seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God.” There is a finality about this scene that brings the utmost awe into our hearts. The temple from which these angels come; their holy glittering aspect; the bowls of wrath ready to be bestowed for pouring; the solemn formal presentation of a bowl to each angel; the material of these bowls —gold, setting forth the very glory of God; the fact that these bowls are full; and that they are full, not of grace, as when David said, “I will take the cup of salvation”; nor of mixed mercy and wrath, as when Habakkuk cried, “In wrath remember mercy”—no longer this: but “full of the wrath of God.” The name of God here is connected definitely with these solemn words, “the wrath of God, who liveth unto the ages of the ages.” Let us speak in low, slow, measured words here. Let us fear; and observe earth’s wickedness with its attendant punishment, with deep humility and awe!
7. What follows should be contrasted with like scenes, when mercy was present:
We read in Exodus 40:34, 35 words of great blessedness. Moses had constructed the tabernacle which God said He desired that “He might dwell among them,” and had finished it, according to the divine directions:
This was blessing indeed! Again, when Solomon had built the temple according to the directions given David, his father, by the Spirit of God, and had made his great prayer of dedication, we read in 2 Chronicles 7:1-4:
Here again was unlimited blessing. The very priests are unable to enter the temple or to minister; for all was full of the glory of the blessed presence of Jehovah.
But what a fearful contrast here in Revelation! Sin had caused God to leave His earthly house in Jerusalem: first the glory left (Ezekiel 8-11); then the Lord of the house Himself came and saw, and left it desolate (Matthew 23:37, 38).
Now, in Revelation 14, the majority of Israel are in covenant with Antichrist himself (Daniel 9:27; John 5:43); the nations are in hellish league with Satan to refuse God’s Son His throne. So we read these awful words:
No words of ours are needed here. Only calm reflection upon the fact. God will so turn to anger, at last, that all else ceases, even in heaven! Wrath will be the only business. “Who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?” (Psalm 76:7).
Ah, Russia, could you but read and mark and turn and repent!
Ah, America, could you but know the end of your godless ways!
The world seeks today the cause of the “great depression”; but she does not seek that God who caused it, and who alone can relieve it!
That we may understand these seven last plagues, three things must be held firmly in mind:
First, that the whole earth (except God’s elect) has gone mad after the Beast (Revelation 13:8), and God’s “hot displeasure” must be manifested, according to Revelation 15:8. “God will listen to naught now but to the demands of His righteous indignation. The sin of earth is beyond endurance; the unpardonable sin is abroad.” “Ah,” cries the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, “I will ease me of mine adversaries!” There must be this divine relief for Him who declares, “Vengeance is mine.” Centuries of long-suffering mocked, despised, by a devil-worshipping earth, arouse at last divine fury. So these bowls of wrath are poured out on the whole world of rebels.
Second, that the all-nation invasion of Palestine by the Beast and his armies, while it is prepared for, under the sixth bowl (Revelation 16:12-16), and though the earth-armies are gathered to Armageddon, yet they will be given over to Christ Himself, to be trodden down at His personal coming in the Great Day of Wrath, according to Revelation 19:11-15. That great day will come as “destruction from Shaddai” (Isaiah 13:6). “Rebellion will be crushed then: for the rebels will be taken off the earth (Matthew 13:40-43). On the contrary, these seven bowls are seven visitations from God in anger on men, while the Lord Jesus is yet absent from earth; and while men are still suffered to rebel and blaspheme. They are hardening judgments, like those upon Pharaoh; indeed, men grow steadily and rapidly more hateful toward God, from the opening of the first seal of judgment in Revelation 6.
Third, that these seven bowl-judgments are literal! There is no other reasonable interpretation possible. Shall we believe that the ten plagues upon Egypt were actually as described in Exodus, and dare to turn away these “seven last plagues” of The Revelation from their evident open significance? Four of the ten Egyptian plagues are here repeated: boils, blood, darkness, and hail. What kind of interpretation is it that believes the one and denies the other! There the visitation was in a single land: here, in all the earth. Is it the extent of the horror that appalls the heart? Have we not read, through all the prophecies, of the day when God will “return judgment to righteousness” amidst earth-wide visitations? “Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?” said Pharaoh’s servants to him. Nay, he knew it not nor did he believe it, but rushed madly on into the overwhelming sea! So will earth, under Satan (Pharaoh’s antitype), rush madly to its end.102
For we need to consider, that God hates what men call “civilization,” and “human progress”! All man’s system: his philosophy (which has self-wisdom as its postulate); his science (which discovers “Nature” and denies its Creator); his art (which demands the beautiful in form, but abhors holiness in fact); his inventions (designed, from Cain’s city onward, to make earth livable without God); his religion (which denies God’s righteousness and hates God’s Christ and His shed blood); his government (which has no place whatever for the King who patiently awaits, upon His Father’s throne, the moment when He shall receive the throne to which He only has the right) and, finally, those pleasures which man delights in—all of which consists in the indulgence of that “mind of the flesh” which is “enmity against God.”
The Lord will shortly strike, crush, destroy, wipe out, efface and remove even from memory103 this hateful, abhorrent, abominable thing—man’s “independence”! “Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth,” will be carried out to the letter! And that involves crushing the present earth system as one would stamp out a nest of wasps.
Out of the heavenly sanctuary—where the redeemed multitude (Chapter 7:15) serve their God day and night—comes this awful command! God’s house, meant to be “a house of prayer for all nations” now becomes the court of judgment upon God’s enemies: for it is evidently God’s voice which we hear in this verse.
Compare Exodus 9:9, where Moses and Aaron sprinkled ashes of the furnace upward in the sight of Pharaoh, “and it became small dust over all the land of Egypt, and became a boil breaking forth with Mains (or blisters) upon man and upon beast.” Since we believe Exodus, we believe Revelation. God creates evil as well as good, as He says: “I make peace, and create evil; I am Jehovah that doeth all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). We will do well to arm ourselves with this thought. God is constantly creating judgments, as well as saving the lost Right in this world, new diseases which baffle boasted science spring forth, and men take no thought of God in the matter! The judgment of the influenza killed more people than the great war. But even in Christian circles, where is there a solemn asking of God as to the cause of either the war or of the influenza? Just as truly as the Egyptians in Pharaoh’s day turned to their magicians, so does Christendom turn to “science” to solve all its troubles. We thank God for every alleviation of misery that it pleases Him to grant. But we must not forget that He has declared in countless places in His Word that His government involves the infliction of calamity upon persistent evil doing.
Note that it is the time of the Beast, the Antichrist, all through these seven bowl-judgments. Also note that they are crowded into a relatively brief space: for the sores of the first bowl are still upon men in the darkness of the fifth bowl. The sixth bowl, involving the gathering of the hosts to Armageddon will not need more than a few months to bring to pass. It will be as in Egypt, one plague crowding upon another.
Now when this first angel pours out his bowl, sores, or ulcers, break out upon those who have the mark of the Beast, and those who worship his image. It is this infinitely hateful thing that makes God’s jealousy burn like fire. Not upon the animals also, as in Egypt under the sixth plague, but upon men only—men who have allied themselves with Satan, does this universal and horrid thing come. “A noisome and grievous sore”: “Evil—in itself; painful to the sufferers” (Alford). One feels that the words involve hideousness, and incurabil- ity (Deuteronomy 28:27, 35). These Beast worshippers are final rebels; they are shortly to be with the damned. Now they taste of hell on earth. Read Revelation 15:8 again: this will not be a time of mercy. And on their part, as we shall see, they hate God more and more, and are “still stricken.”
Blood is the vivid, terrible mark of death—the wages of sin. This was the first plague in Egypt—the Nile turned to blood.
Now the sea covers far the greater portion of this globe. God, who made it, now turns it to blood—“as of a corpse lying in its own gore.” So the billions, trillions, shoals, of sea-creatures die; and come floating to the surface in horrible, rotting witness of the wickedness of men! There is no escaping these words of God: “every living soul died.” What a frightful stench! What fearful possibilities of disease! Yet remember that this is
I stood some time ago at De Leon Springs in Florida, where a great volume of wondrous water poured like a crystal river from—whence no one knows: but it will be a fountain of blood in that day, and all the rivers of earth and all the fountains of water! (You need not be worried over God’s own elect in that time: for He called water out of the flinty rock through forty years for His people, and He will not let His elect suffer from His hand!)
Here we see that angelic being in charge of the waters that supply the earth,—a beneficent being certainly; and also the altar itself, which should have spoken for men’s forgiveness: both bowing to God’s judgments as just and true! For men had poured out the blood of those messengers of God who warned and pleaded with them: and underneath the altar were thousands upon thousands of martyrs, whose prayers for divine vengeance must now be fully answered. So the angel bows, as the beautiful rivers and fountains he had administered are now turned to blood! All sympathy of heaven is with God: note that, sinner, or world-bordering Christian! Let this speaking altar make you tremble! Flee to Christ and be safe: for the breakers of judgment show just ahead for this whole world! Oh may we be among those that “only with our eyes shall behold, and see the reward of the wicked”!
I cannot leave this third awful visitation of avenging the blood of God’s saints and prophets, without a word of earnest warning to all Christians to beware of the false security of these days! “Blood, it polluteth the land; and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it” (Numbers 35:33). Very many known man-killers are abroad in America today. God will yet remember it. And especially will He remember and avenge the blood of His martyrs.
I shall quote here from a really great man of God, already almost forgotten, but who will shine in Christ’s swift-coming day! In prison over and over for the Word of God in England, hear one of the experiences narrated in his “Journal”. (This occurred in 1651):
“Being at liberty (from prison) I went on, as before, in the work of the Lord, passing through the country into Leicestershire, having meetings as I went; and the Lord’s Spirit and power accompanied me. As I was walking with several friends, I lifted up my head, and saw three steeple-house spires, and they struck at my life. I asked them what place that was. They said, Lichfield. Immediately the Word of the Lord came to me, that I must go thither. Being come to the house we were going to, I wished friends to walk into the house, saying nothing to them whither I was to go. As soon as they were gone I stept away, and went by my eye over hedge and ditch, till I came within a mile of Lichfield; where, in a great field, shepherds were keeping their sheep. Then was I commanded by the Lord to pull off my shoes. I stood still, for it was winter; and the Word of the Lord was like a fire in me. So I put off my shoes, and left them with the shepherds; and the poor shepherds trembled, and were astonished. Then I walked on about a mile, and as soon as I was got within the city, the Word of the Lord came to me again, saying: ‘Cry, Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!’ So I went up and down the streets, crying with a loud voice, Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!’ It being market-day, I went into the market-place, and to and fro in the several parts of it, crying as before, Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!’ And no one laid hands on me. As I went thus crying through the streets, there seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down the streets, and the market-place appeared like a pool of blood. When I had declared what was upon me, and felt myself clear, I went out of the town in peace; and returning to the shepherds, gave them money, and took my shoes of them again. But the fire of the Lord was so in my feet, and all over me, that I did not matter to put on my shoes again, and was at a stand whether I should or no, till I felt freedom from the Lord so to do: then, after I had washed my feet, I put on my shoes again.
“After this deep consideration came upon me, for what reason I should be sent to cry against that city, and call it, THE BLOODY CITY! … But afterwards I came to understand, that in the Emperor Diocletian’s time, a thousand Christians were martyred in Lichfield. So I was to go, without my shoes, through the channel of their blood, and into the pool of their blood in the market-place, that I might raise up the memorial of the blood of those martyrs which had been shed above a thousand years before, and lay cold in their streets. So the sense of this blood was upon me, and I obeyed the word of the Lord. Ancient records testify how many of the Christian Britons suffered there. Much I could write of the sense I had of the blood of the martyrs, that hath been shed in this nation for the name of Christ, both under the ten persecutions and since; but I leave it to the Lord, and to His book, out of which all shall be judged; for His book is a most certain record, and His Spirit a true recorder” (Geo. Fox’s Journal, page 98).
Alas, how many faithful preachers of this our own day have died of broken hearts and starvation wages, at the hands of self-righteous professors, wicked spirit-resisting church officials, and purse-proud “influential” people: who do not dream that they, too, have shed the blood of the martyrs!
First, note the absolute power of God over His creation. The Beast, whom the earth has chosen, has no power at all to direct creation, or to deliver his votaries from these troubles.
Second, our Lord said there would be signs in sun and moon and stars: and here they are!
Third, “science” says the sun is “cooling off” which proves afresh God’s words, that “the wisdom of men is foolishness with God.” And the reason is, they leave God out!
Fourth, since “there is nothing hid from the heat of the sun” (Psalm 19), there will be no refuge from this plague: nor does God intend there shall be (except for His own, for whose sake He even “shortens” these fearful times).
Fifth, men know well—ineradicably, that the true God (whom they have abandoned and hate) has “power over these plagues.” Even Russia today cries she will drag down God from His heaven: thus advertising that she knows He is there!
Sixth, they “repented not to give him glory.” These are true God-haters. And we see anew the folly of those who claim that the fires of hell will “purify” any one! Every one who goes into judgment goes in sin’s awful hatred and resentment against God. It is the goodness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2). Men not won by grace will never be won.
Seventh, they blaspheme. Settle this, that men will increase in this fearful sin till the Lord comes. Do not look for human nature to mend: it never will! Only the restraining power of God keeps under the flaming out of “the wrath of man” from the most hideous blasphemies, this hour. And God’s restraint will by and by be fully “taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2). Ah, the wickedness that will then be loosed!
First, the Beast is a man (13:18); therefore his throne is in a definite place: rebuilt Babylon on the Euphrates, we believe,—Satan’s ancient capital, in the “land of Shinar,” where “wickedness” is to be set on its base in the end-time (Zechariah 5:5-10).
Second, darkness, like that of Egypt in the ninth plague in Exodus, suddenly falls upon the throne and capital and kingdom of the Beast. Satan cannot relieve it. How long it lasts, we know not. “Thick darkness,” that could be felt was on Egypt three days; while God’s people had “light in their dwellings” (Exodus 10:21-23).
Third, men are shut in with their horrid sores and pains: there is no alleviation. What must the “outer dark- ness for ever” be, and that with the Almighty’s wrath following them on!
Fourth, still the consciousness that “the God of heaven” is doing this, is upon them! The dragon cannot efface that consciousness, even when he is worshipped!
Fifth, these lost wretches are set in their evil ways and works: “they repented not.” If there is no repentance under God’s hand here, when men still breathe the breath of earth, how infinitely less in hell! Yet fools hope for “repentance beyond the grave.”
Sixth, it should be carefully noticed that this darkness is not that darkening of the sun and moon just before our Lord’s arrival in the Great Day of Wrath, of Revelation 19:11-15. This is merely one of the “signs” connected with The Great Tribulation, as spoken of in Luke 21 and Mark 13. For the sixth bowl, which follows this, must cover time for the nations to gather to Armageddon, whereas, immediately after the sun’s final darkening, the Lord, as “Son of man” comes as lightning upon a black heaven.
This is the literal Euphrates. There can be no other real interpretation of this passage.105 Imagination has very often substituted for exposition, even in such a plain passage as this.
Let us note regarding the Euphrates and its “drying up”:
1. It is mentioned twenty-one times in Scripture; and called “the great river” five times, as the Mediterranean was called “the great sea”: for the Euphrates was the eastern, as the Mediterranean was the western boundary of God’s own people’s inheritance.
2. It was a protection to Israel, both because of the difficulty of its passage, and because of the fact that God had placed a wilderness west of it, between it and Canaan. Only at the upper or northern part was it practically passable (so that Babylon is called by the prophets, the enemy “from the north country”). Even the Roman Empire had its eastern bound here.
3. It is nearly two thousand miles long (1,780). It rises in the Armenian Mountains, flowing at first toward Palestine, to within less than 100 miles of the Mediterranean, then turning away southeast to the Persian Gulf, winding upon itself constantly. It is navigable for 1200 miles. It flowed through old Babylon, which was (and may yet be) the commercial center of the whole world (Revelation 18).
4. It was first seen just outside Eden in Genesis 2, where human sin begins, and is last seen here in Revelation 16:12, where sin reaches its height. Twice in The Revelation does it appear: in chapter 9:13-15, where “at the great river Euphrates” we saw four angels bound, the loosing of which issued in killing the third of the earth’s population. Here in 16:12, its drying up permits countless thousands to rush forward to their doom at Armageddon.
5. The solemnity of the crossing of the Euphrates to invade God’s land, by these eastern hosts, is very awful indeed. That the western nations, under the Beast, the last Emperor of the fourth world-power, should invade Palestine does not startle us so much: (the Roman Empire often persecuted the Jews, and ruled them many centuries). But that these recently pagan hosts from the East, who have now heard the gospel of Christ from thousands of faithful missionaries and rejected it, choose the Antichrist and march to Armageddon to help destroy the Jews (since the Church has been taken up out of their reach) is appalling! That dry bed of Euphrates will be an eastern Rubicon: for all will know whither they are bound, and why, as the sequel shows.
6. Now it is well to reflect that the greater part of mankind is east, not west, of the Euphrates: witness in millions, China’s 440; India’s 330; Japan’s 80; then Siam, Indo-China; the wild hordes of Afghanistan, of Turkestan, of Tibet; not to mention old Persia. I omit purposely Siberia and Asiatic Russia, which prophecy assigns to an entirely different invasion of Palestine than that of Revelation 16—see Ezekiel 38 and 39. These vast peoples of the East have ever marched overland, in hordes like those of Genghis Khan (who conquered the earth, from China to Poland). They are not accustomed to travel as Westerners do. They come on foot and horseback. So that the drying up of the great military barrier, the Euphrates, will “open their way” to Palestine. (Otherwise, through Russia—impossible! or a long ocean voyage—likewise.)
But they must be stirred up by a mighty movement, if they are to leave their homes and their lands, and go on a vast “crusade” to a far off goal; and that with Westerners! For there is an almost unaccountable, but terribly real, enmity of jealousy, between Orientals and Occidentals. As Kipling sang,
“Oh East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till earth and sky stand presently at God’s great judgment Seat.”
But Kipling perhaps did not know what the word of prophecy plainly tells us, that East and West, like Herod and Pilate, will come together in a great meeting to oppose God and His Christ, over a thousand years before the last Judgment! All the earth will be friends in a common cause, when the hour for Armageddon strikes.106
Now comes the gathering unto the most fell war, fallen man, under Satan, has ever yet rushed into.
1. Note, that it is a war for which they gather: the battle is never joined: for the Lamb has but to come forth, and the Beast is taken, and the False Prophet, and hurled into the lake of fire; and the Devil cast into the abyss. But the gathering unto this war becomes the business of this world for weeks, months: what a scene!
2. Note the source of this earth-wide movement:—three special evil spirits, doubtless leading millions of others who help them, from hell’s trinity, the Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet.
3. Note the means of persuasion: miracle-working, before the rulers of all the earth. Jannes and Jambres, Egypt’s magicians, thus blinded Pharaoh. They also brought up frogs! (Exodus 8:7). Scripture’s constant testimony is that “great signs and wonders” will be performed in that time by Satan’s agency.
Seiss well says: “These demon-spirits are the elect agents to awaken the world to attempt to abolish God from the earth; and they are frog-like in that they come forth out of the pestiferous quagmires of the universe, do their work amid the world’s evening shadows, and creep, and croak, and defile the ears of the nations with noisy demonstrations, till they set all the kings and armies of the whole earth in enthusiastic commotion for the final crushing out of the Lamb and all His powers.” Alford’s phrase is, “The uncleanness and the pertinacious noise of the frog.” Go by a marsh some Spring evening, when the slimy filthy unseen frogs are fully squawking. You can hear nothing else!
And now comes a solemn, direct word of warning from the Lord’s own mouth, to such saints as may be here in those days. We read in verse 15:
1. Note the aspect of His coming here emphasized by the Lord: it is as a thief—to surprise and to despoil. This is His coming to the world. It is “the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). But we are not looking for that day but for the day of Christ; as the Spirit tells us in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3: “We beseech you brethren in behalf of (huper) the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him”—that is, the rapture—“be not quickly shaken from your mind,” (into which I brought you) by feelings, or false preaching, or pretended epistle from me—into believing that the day of the Lord is just at hand: for the apostasy must come before that, etc. In 1 Thessalonians 5:4, Paul contrasts absolutely the state of the Church with that darkened state of carnal security, in which the Lord’s coming catches the world as a snare. Paul says, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief: for ye are all sons of light,” etc.
2. Note again, that the Lord faithfully keeps His saints posted as to where they are, in His dealings, (if only they will hear!).
3. Note that watchfulness (the hardest of all tasks) is necessary at all times, by all saints, since the Lord ascended.
4. Note that blessedness is connected with watching; shame, with carelessness.
5. And lastly, that there is here no promise of rapture to be waited for; but a danger of having to walk (here on earth) exposed to the gaze of angels and a godless world—naked, that is, publicly bereft of evident divine direction and protection. I know this passage is difficult, in view of the warning to Sardis (3:3), and the counsel to Laodicea (3:18). But both watchless Sardians, and naked Laodiceans share (as it seems to us) the doom of the world; with the added shame of having had a place and a name and through carelessness, lost all.
And now proceeds the vision of the great gathering of the nations by the foul spirits from hell’s trinity.
We cannot emphasize too strongly that in the three series of divine judgments—first the seals, second the trumpets, third the vials (or bowls) of wrath—we have those preliminary hardening actions of God upon an impenitent world, by which He prepares that world for the Great Day of Wrath—at Christ’s coming as King of kings, as seen in Revelation 19:11-15. From the advent of the Antichrist in chapter 13 there is no mingling of mercy with wrath. Read again 14:9-11. The purpose of God in bringing the ten plagues upon Egypt was “to show in Pharaoh his power, that his name might be published to all the earth.” Pharaoh had said, “My river is mine own and I have made it for myself” (Ezekiel 29:3). This is the exact spirit of the world today and it is intensifying hourly.
Now the effect of the judgments of the plagues was so to harden, by mighty miracle after miracle, the hearts of Pharaoh and his host, that they rushed madly upon “the thick bosses of his (the Almighty’s) buckler” into the most stupendous scene human eyes had ever witnessed: the waves of the sea piled like a wall on each side: and ahead, the hosts of Israel, marvellously lighted in their march by a vast pillar of fire.
Such a scene comes before us under the sixth seal. Then the overwhelming was of the armies of one nation, Egypt. Now, we behold the hosts of all the nations of earth gather for an indescribably vast overthrow at Armageddon.
We have seen the first bowl become a horrid sore upon the Beast-worshippers: the second turn the waters of the sea into blood; the third, the rivers and the fountains of the waters, so that all the earth had blood to drink; while the fourth bowl is the signal for power, such as has never been known, to be given to the sun (which the scientists had told them was “cooling off”!) The result of all being blasphemy against the God whom they knew had power over all these plagues. Now, under the fifth bowl, utter darkness enthralls the throne of the Beast and his kingdom—that is, all the earth, except, doubtless, the dwelling places of God’s people then on earth (Exodus 10:23).
Now out of this darkness, instead of repentance, comes only increased blasphemy and utter impenitence (Revelation 16:11). At the darkness under the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12-17) there was exhibited great terror: “they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of their wrath is come; and who is able to stand?” That men under these divine judgments will be increasingly hardened is doubtless the truth: but when the most hardened of all come to the Great Day of Wrath itself, there will be no blaspheming, but sheer blasting terror (Isaiah 2:12-22). Remember the text of the Book of Revelation (1:7): “Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him.”
Here, then, by divine appointment, but by Satanic agency, are gathered the hosts of earth; as Ahab, by God’s counsel and command, was deceived by an evil, lying spirit, to go to battle to his death (1 Kings 22).
1. What is Armageddon, or, more accurately, Har-Magedon? Its name means, “Mountain of Megiddo.” (See Stanley’s Sinai and Palestine, chapter 9; or Thomson’s Land and the Book on “Megiddo.”) It was here the Lord so marvellously helped Barak overthrow the Canaanites (Judges 5:19). The region is named from Megiddo, a royal Canaanite city (Joshua 12:21). To the northwest is Mount Carmel where, at the mouth of the Kishon River, Elijah killed the hundreds of Baal’s prophets. Mount Gilboa, where King Saul, the persecutor of God’s king—David—fell, is southeast. And on the north or northwest, overlooking all, is Mount Tabor, where Barak assembled the hosts of the Lord against the enemy. From Judges 4:6, 12, 14, and Jeremiah 46:18, I feel that the “mountain” (Hebrew Har) in Har-Magedon is Tabor. “Megiddo” is named twelve times, the governmental number, in Scripture; and the last time in almost the form we have it here: Megiddon, in Zechariah 12:11—a reference to the mourning for poor Josiah who fell in the same region, trying to defend Babylon against Egypt (2 Chronicles 35:22-25). (Oh that he had been the only saint to fall meddling in world-quarrels!)
2. Why does God bring this host here? For destruction. God will yet deal with this earth according to His offended majesty, until a man shall be “more rare than fine gold,” until the land is “drunken with blood.”
God has no apologies for slaying the Canaanites; or giving Jerusalem over to Babylonian captivity, and then to Roman slaughter; or letting famine waste millions; or the plague, ten millions. We desire to offend this adulterous generation’s apologists for God.
3. Christians should arm their minds with this outlook as to “the rulers of this age, who are coming to nought” (1 Corinthians 2:6); so that when they “hear of wars and rumors of wars,” they may obey their Lord, and “see that they be not troubled”; knowing that whatever marchings to and fro, in this war or that, may occur, they can be only some preliminary to the earthwide crusade against God and His Christ that will gather in that great plain of Esdraelon, in Palestine—not many miles from the very town where the Christ they hate grew up before the Father as a tender plant, and of that dry ground, Israel.
Yea, they will rush as Egypt after Israel, over the Euphrates’ bed and over the “tongue of the Egyptian sea” (also dried up) in pursuit of the remnant of God’s chosen nation, to “the mountain of destruction”—Armageddon (Isaiah 11:15, 16).
So in the sixth and seventh bowls of wrath we have these two most awful things: the gathering of all earth’s nations to Palestine into actual warfare against Almighty God—this is the sixth bowl; and that fearful shaking of this earth in divine retributive anger so long prophesied, which divides Jerusalem into three, reduces all Gentile cities to ruins, engulfs in the earth restored Babylon, the last great world capital, banishes all islands and mountains, and casts those terrible hailstones over this earth, which had been reserved “against the day of battle and war” in Jehovah’s “treasuries of the hail” (Job 38:22, 23).
“It is done!” is the great voice from the throne, when this seventh bowl is poured out. Men would not have the Saviour’s “It is finished!” on Calvary; so they must have the awful “It is done!” from the Judge! Alas! Alas! Oh, that men today would hear and be warned to flee from the coming storm!
98 We find the word seemeion (translated “wonder” in the King James Version, and “sign” in the Revised Version) occurs seventy-seven times in the New Testament, beginning with Matthew 12:38, 39. It is sometimes rendered “miracle” in the King James Version (where rhetoric rather than accuracy so often governs). It is not to be confused with “mystery” (musteerion); for in the very first verse of Revelation the word is used in verb-form: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show unto his servants, the things about to come to pass … and he signified it, by his angel,” etc. The whole book of The Revelation thus is governed by this word, which sets forth the manner in general of its presentation to John. Our Lord’s use of this verb in John 12:33; 18:32 and 21:19, signifying by what … death he should die,” plainly shows that instead of the word setting forth something mysterious or hidden, 011 the contrary the plainest announcement of the facts that would occur was given.
It is necessary to rid our minds of that unbelieving: conception of The Revelation that fills it with constant secrets, making it amount to an hallucination. The Lord commanded John not to seal it up (22:10); and it is therefore not sealed, but open to Christ’s own (1:l).
The use therefore of the word “sign” in 15:1 is not intended to convey in the least the thought that this chapter and the following one contain unreal things, or those not literal facts; but the exact opposite. The word “great,” moreover, indicates that something of outstanding importance is to be set forth.
99 Remember constantly that Christ must come Himself, at the last, and tread the winepress alone, in His anger (Isaiah 63:3-5). The wrath of God is general, world-wide, and in view of man’s iniquity and idolatry. The wrath of the Lamb is particular—against Antichrist and his king and armies gathered for the double purpose of cutting off Israel from being a nation (Psalms 83:4), and of “making war” against the Lamb (whose presence, with His army, seems to be evident to those on earth—Revelation 19:19; Zechariah 12:10) to prevent His rescue of beleaguered Israel.
100 It is deeply suggestive that Moses is here called “the bondservant (doulos) of God” and the Lord is called, as is usual in this book, the diminutive arnion, which means “the little lamb”! (Compare amnos in John 1:29-36; 1 Peter 1:19; Acts 8:32). DeWette surely rightly believes that the change to the diminutive arnion, a word used only in the Apocalypse, is meant to put forward permanently the idea of His meekness and innocence. It is the exaltation noted as the result of perfect obedient patience in Philippians 2:6-11; and it is of the utmost importance that we grasp firmly and hold fast constantly the fact that it is God the Father who exalts Christ as the result of His patience; that it is God the Father who insists upon Christ’s judging and executing judgment because of His infinite patience and humiliation (He being the Creator) in becoming a Son of Man, and dying the death of the cross. In our Lord’s lovely life He left absolutely everything to the Father, who win in due season absolutely exalt Him, and that in the scene of His former rejection and shame.
101 “The fiery persecution under the Beast was a trial far exceeding in its combination of suffering anything hitherto experienced (Mark 13:19). The pagan persecutions of early times, and the still more exquisite and refined torments under Papal Rome, come short of the horrors of the Great Tribulation” (Scott).
102 Because these seven judgments, like the other judgments we have considered, are as definitely hardening judgments as were the plagues upon Pharaoh, it will be profitable to the real students of The Revelation to read the account of the plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7-12), Read the different expressions concerning Pharaoh: when he “saw that there was respite, he made strong his heart and hearkened not unto them”; “the heart of Pharaoh was stubborn (Hebrew—heavy), and he did not let the people go.” “Jehovah hardened (Hebrew—made strong) the heart of Pharoah, and he hearkened not unto them.” “When Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and made heavy his heart, he and his servants. And the heart of Pharaoh was strong, and he did not let the children of Israel go.” “Moses and Aaron did these wonders before Pharaoh: and Jehovah made strong Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land.”
Remember, in Exodus 5:2, Pharaoh’s first word to Moses: “Who is Jehovah, that I should hearken unto his voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, and moreover I will not let Israel go.” But remember chiefly God’s word to him by Moses, in Exodus 9:14-16: “For I will this time send all my plagues upon thy heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth. For now I had put forth my hand, and smitten thee and thy people with pestilence, and thou hadst been cut off from the earth: but in very deed for this cause have I made thee to stand, to show thee my power, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.”
Remember that Romans 9:14-18 is just as much inspired by the Holy Spirit as John 3:16. The whole history of this present world is meant to show forth, through God’s gift of His Son at Calvary, not only His own infinite love, but also the absolutely deadly nature, character and power of sin; together with its proud insanity, as rebellion of the mere creature against the Infinite Creator: together with the sure and just end of all such rebellion; in order that all eternity may be able to look back, and contemplate, and fear, and reverence forever, and serve the Holy One!
103 “The memory of the righteous is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot.” There goes the whole history of Adam the First, and all his selfish line! “The former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.”
104 “The first departed (apelthen): each angel, as his turn comes, leaves the heavenly scene, and, from the space between heaven and earth, empties his vial upon the appointed object” (Alford). It is astonishing to mark, in The Revelation, the direct control God gives His angels over the powers of “nature,” and the power to execute “the judgment written.”
105 “This is the only understanding of these words which will suit the context, or the requirements of this series of prophecies” (Alford). “This must mean the literal river” (Seiss). “This means the literal river Euphrates” (Larkin). Darby (Synopsis) and Kelly (Lectures) both so state. Govett (Apocalypse Expounded) 1813-1901. who wrote, as Spurgeon quaintly says, “a hundred years before his time,] and whom Seiss largely follows, says with his usual common sense: “Against anyone traveling from the East to the West, the Euphrates interposes its broad barrier, difficult to be surmounted even by individuals; and much more by kings and their armies.”
106 Prophecy after prophecy tells of the united rush of the nations into Palestine, just before the Great Day of Wrath of Revelation 19:11-15 (See Joel 33-14; Zephaniah 3:8; Zechariah 12:3, 9; Isaiah 24:1, 2, 8; Obadiah 15, etc.). Tens of millions, probably hundreds of millions will gather to that slaughter I The weak, those too old or feeble to go to war, will cry, “I am strong,” says the word of the Lord in Joel 3. The blood will be “to the bridles,” remember. That word will be fulfilled!