An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 11 June 2011; Revised 7 December 2012
Scripture: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found here. The Revelation Scripture text is taken from the NASB (1977 Edition) and unless otherwise indicated other Scripture quotations are from the NASB 1995 Updated Edition. Other Bible versions are also quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet.
Ancient Sources: Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Works by early church fathers are available online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library or Early Christian Writings. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.). Online.
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from Walter Bauer, W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1957), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Explanation of grammatical abbreviations and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
The Bowl of Boils (16:1-2)
1― And I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God into the earth.”
And I heard a loud voice: John suddenly hears a great loud voice coming from the temple (Grk. naos) of God in heaven. (See 3:12 and 11:19 on “temple.”) Since the temple is so full of smoke as to prevent anyone from entering the temple until the judgments are finished (15:8), then John does not see the speaker, but probably the Lord is intended as Isaiah says, “A voice of uproar from the city, a voice from the temple, the voice of the Lord who is rendering recompense to His enemies” (Isa 66:6).
Go: Grk. hupagō, pres. act. imp., to proceed from a position. The voice of authority orders the seven angels into action, and the present tense means to keep on going until the job is done. and pour out: Grk. ekcheō means to pour out or empty out, and in the apostolic writings is used both literally of liquids and figuratively of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The angels are to go from heaven to the earth, each with his bowl, and empty them in accordance with specific instructions.
the seven bowls of the wrath of God: Grk. thumos. See 12:12 on “wrath.” Each of these bowls contains a substance that represents God’s omnipotent power intervening in and altering natural processes to execute His wrath. The contrast between the size of the implement and its impact is extraordinary. The same contrast occurred in plagues against ancient Egypt where Moses held out a single wooden staff and the plague affected the entire country (Ex 7:20-21; 8:5-6, 16-17; 9:10, 22; 10:12-15, 21-23). The real power, of course, resided not in the staff, or in this case, the bowls, but in the limitless power of God unleashed as these physical acts are completed.
There is no reason not to take this narrative literally, although there is much information not provided. Johnson suggests taking the description of the bowl plagues “less literally,” although he states that God’s judgment will one day be actually done in the world. Such an ambiguous interpretation does not seem to do justice to John’s plain narrative of what he saw and heard.
Nothing is said of the duration of each bowl judgment, the season of the year or at what point in the beast’s reign the bowls occur. The story, too, is told in sequential fashion, but some of the bowls could have been actually poured simultaneously. And, if the bowls were poured in strict sequence, there is no mention of how much time delay occurred between the bowls or the length of time for all seven bowls to be poured. Juster proposes that the period of the bowls might be ten days, which is symbolized on the Jewish calendar as the time between the blowing of the trumpet on Rosh-HaShana and the holy day of Yom Kippur (Juster 79). Certainly, the sixth bowl could take several days to accomplish.
into the earth: The actual point where each angel pours his bowl is not given, except one, and it is not clear how long it takes for the bowl judgment to reach its full impact. All of these indefinite factors necessitate caution in speculating beyond what is written. Perhaps the most important truth about the account of the bowls is that the prayer of the martyrs for justice is answered with disturbing and escalating severity.
2― And the first angel went and poured out his bowl into the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore upon the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.
And the first angel: The word “angel” has been supplied (indicated by the italics) in each of seven verses identifying the individual angels even though the Greek text only lists them by sequential number. The first angel is immediately obedient and pours his bowl on the earth. a loathsome: Grk. kakos is used in both a moral sense and circumstantial sense and may mean bad, worthless, evil, inferior, injurious, dangerous, pernicious or harmful. and malignant: Grk. ponēros, when used as an adjective to describe something physical, may mean in poor condition, sick, painful, virulent, serious or ulcerated. sore: Grk. elkos refers to a sore, abscess or ulcer. While the word is singular, NETN refers to it as a collective singular.
The description of a “malignant sore” refers to an ulcerated boil. In medicine a boil, also referred to as a skin abscess, is a localized infection deep in the skin. The most common boils are of two kinds. The furuncle is a local inflammatory, pus-producing infection of the skin and surrounding tissues. The carbuncle is a “super boil,” really a closely knit collection of boils that extend into deeper surrounding tissues. Normal furuncles and carbuncles are generally caused by staphylococcus aureus, a bacterial germ common to the skin and nasal passages (Donald G. Cooley, ed. Family Medical Guide, Better Homes & Gardens Books, 1978, p. 38). The word “sore” in the text is singular, but the severity may indicate a carbuncle.
Scripture describes two other incidents of supernaturally caused boils. God inflicted boils in the sixth plague on the Egyptians (Ex 9:9-11; cf. Deut 28:15, 27, 35) and Satan attacked Job with these terrible sores (Job 2:7-8, 13). The bowl being poured into the atmosphere is similar to Moses taking soot from a brick kiln and throwing it into the air, thereby causing the boils. Morris suggests that the beast’s mark may have been made with an irradiated chemical and the angel releases an agent into the atmosphere that reacts with the chemical. Perhaps the heavenly agent merely activates the resident staph in the vicinity of the mark. In any event the single sore implies that the beast’s mark is obliterated and the sufferer afflicted with God’s mark of judgment.
upon the men: Grk. anthrōpos is used generically of both men and women (NETN). who had the mark of the beast: As each of the following bowls are poured out, John is reminded again and again that the targets of God’s wrath are the wicked people who have surrendered their wills to the beast and accepted. The mention of the mark reinforces the fact of the world's loyalty to the beast. The good news is that any saints alive on the earth do not suffer these terrible judgments: “For God has not intended that we should experience his fury, but that we should gain deliverance through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah” (1 Thess 5:9 CJB). The same pattern occurred in ancient Egypt where God’s people in Goshen were protected and suffered no harm or loss from God’s wrath on the Egyptians (Ex 8:22; 9:4). Likewise, Noah was protected and saved while at the exact same time the unbelieving were being destroyed by the global flood. While most of the saints alive at the beginning of the great tribulation will be martyred by the Antichrist, the surviving saints still awaiting the return of Yeshua will be protected from God’s wrath as it is poured out on their enemies.
The Bowl of Blood (16:3-7)
3― And the second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died.
the second…poured…into the sea: While the first angel poured his bowl on the land, the second angel pours his bowl into “the sea.” (See 4:6 on “sea.”) In the second trumpet judgment a third of the sea became blood-red after a volcanic explosion (see 8:8), but now apparently the whole sea is contaminated. and it became blood: This plague replicates in horrifying measure the first plague on Egypt when the Nile, reservoirs and even household containers of water were turned to blood for seven days (Ex 7:14-25), causing the fish to die and fouling the water supply. The bloody characteristic of the angelic plague is like that of a dead man. In living flesh the blood moves freely transmitting oxygen and nutrients to the cells. Death brings coagulation, and decay. Thus, the water takes on toxic properties as a dead man’s blood.
If the “sea” refers to the global oceans, it is not clear whether the change into blood occurred simultaneously or the effect traveled with the prevailing currents, which could take weeks to complete. The point of entry for the bowl chemical could also be an area adjacent to the beast’s headquarters as in the fifth bowl. every living thing: lit. “soul of life” (Marshall). in the sea died: In any event, the immediate result of God’s judgment is that every “living soul” in the sea died, which probably corresponds to the “living creatures” of Genesis 1:21. The word “creature” in the Genesis reference literally means “soul,” and a distinguishing characteristic associated with having a soul is the capacity to breathe. The original concrete meaning of the Heb. word nephesh, or “soul,” probably was “to breathe” (TWOT, II, 588). And, according to the Genesis description the “souls in the sea” also have the capability of locomotion. Thus, the consequence of the second bowl of wrath is that those creatures in the sea with respiratory organs and the ability to swim, which in modern taxonomy includes sea mammals and fish, all die.
4― And the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood.
the third…poured…into the rivers: The same judgment as the second bowl is now visited on fresh water sources. In the third trumpet judgment a burning asteroid affected a third of the rivers (8:10-11), but now apparently all or most of the rivers, streams, underground springs and wells are polluted. These water sources are especially critical since they feed lakes and reservoirs that supply drinking water for communities. The hydrologic cycle that supplies fresh water for people and rain for crops relies on an exchange between the oceans, rivers, and the atmosphere. The second bowl struck one major component of this cycle and now the third bowl strikes the second component. As the second bowl this bowl also replicates the first plague on Egypt, contaminating all the fresh water rivers and reservoirs. In Moses’ time one country was affected, but in the final judgment the whole earth will suffer.
5― And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous art Thou, who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things;
angel of the waters: Before the fourth angel can pour out his bowl the third angel interrupts the action with a voluntary declaration of praise. Since the third angel had poured his bowl on fresh water sources, he is referred to as the “angel of the waters,” which may be an allusion to division of labor within angelic ranks. In 7:1 John saw four angels with authority over winds and in 14:8 there was an angel with authority over fire. Righteous art Thou: The angel rightly declares the righteousness of the Lord (15:2-4; cf. Ps 119:137). Righteousness (or justice) is concerned with setting things right, both to uphold the rightness of God’s Law and to recompense those who have been wronged. God’s righteousness is eternal, which means that His absolutes do not change with the variable winds of human values.
O Holy One: The angel of the waters addresses God as “the Holy One,” using the same word as found in 15:4 to assert that God alone is holy (Grk. hosios). Rabbinic writings often refer to God as HaKadosh, barukh ha, “the Holy One, blessed be he” (Stern) Thus, because God is the only unique Holy One He must by His very nature bring judgment on the sin of every rebellious nation, ethnic group and tribe, and He does so by violently shattering the world that rejects His ownership. Many people view God as an indulgent grandfather and do not seem to understand that holiness requires justice and justice requires judging.
6― for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it.
they poured out the blood: The angel continues by reading an indictment against the enemies of God for their terrible slaughter of God’s people. In Scripture the expression of pouring out blood is typically used to describe sacrificial offerings of animals, which usually involved cutting the throat. Yeshua described His blood as poured out, and a Roman spear accomplished the deed (Mark 14:24; John 19:34). The angel then acknowledges God’s summary judgment issued in favor of His saints (6:10).
They deserve it: Justice requires equity in punishment, so those who murder “deserve” the corresponding sentence (cf. Gen 9:5-6). This does not mean that the beast’s followers will actually drink blood, but people can live only a few days without drinking water. Community water treatment systems will be overwhelmed and humans cannot live many days without drinking water. Great suffering will be the inevitable result. The populace might well complain of being punished unfairly for the wholesale slaughter of the saints. After all, under the Torah only the person(s) that actually committed a crime deserved to be punished. However, one can be an accessory to a crime by knowing of it and failing to oppose it, thus incurring the same punishment (cf. Lev. 5:1; 19:17; Deut. 17:12; Josh. 7:19; Acts 5:1-10; 12:22-23).
7― And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments.”
And I heard: The KJV reads, “I heard another out of the altar,” but there is no manuscript support for the TR inserting the words “another out of.” John betrays no surprise when he suddenly hears the altar speak! John must have been able to see the altar when he heard it talking in order to be able to identify the source of the voice (cf. 9:13). Mounce views this account as a personification of the testimony and prayers of the martyrs who were pictured under the altar (6:9; 8:3-5), and that this voice agrees with the pronouncement of the third angel. However, labeling John’s report as a “personification” assumes the use of a literary device instead of accepting it as first-hand experience. “Personification” seems to be the only reasonable conclusion, because inanimate objects do not talk! Even Morris, who takes Revelation literally, treats the altar as a metaphor of the martyrs under the altar, saying, “obviously a physical altar cannot speak.”
In 9:13 John heard a voice speak from one of the four horns of the altar and the voice gave direction to the sixth angel. On that occasion the horn obviously served as a “megaphone” for an angel or the Lord’s voice, and John is probably implying here that the speaking occurred in the same manner as before. John recorded a simple fact of his experience and it is just as scientifically accurate as for someone to say, “I saw the sun rise.” He was looking at the altar and suddenly a voice came from it. Imagine the wonder John might experience if he came into a modern home and heard a voice coming out of a box, such as a radio or television. How would John record such an experience? Most likely, just as he did here.
This time the voice from the altar is not the Lord, for the voice in antiphonal praise lauds God’s nature and His judgments, perhaps intentionally echoing the Song of the Lamb in 15:3-4. See 15:3 on the title “Lord God, the Almighty.” The fact that His judgments are referred to as “true” probably is meant to emphasize His loyalty to His people and His faithfulness to His promise to do justice. To call His judgments “righteous” means they are rendered in accordance with the standards He set forth in the Torah.
The Bowl of Heat (16:8-9)
8― And the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.
And the fourth…poured out…upon the sun: While the first three angels went to the earth, the fourth angel traveled to the sun to empty his bowl. In the third trumpet judgment the light from the sun, moon and stars was diminished by a third (8:12). scorch: Grk. kaumatizō means to burn or to scorch (Rienecker). men with fire: Now the heat is increased, perhaps in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned and few men are left” (Isa 24:6). Malachi announced a similar prophecy of intense burning (Mal 4:1). God created the sun to provide light and life on the earth (Gen 1:14-15). To accomplish its purpose God set the sun in an orbit as David says, "Its rising is from one end of the heavens and its circuit to the other end of them" (Ps 19:6; cf. Josh 10:10-14). Modern scientists have theorized that the sun moves in a gigantic orbit around the center of the Milky Way galaxy, an orbit that would take 230 million years to complete, with a tangential speed of 600,000 miles per hour (BBMS 165). The truth is that only God knows its circuit.
God exercises sovereign control over the burning of the sun and indeed over all natural processes. The earth will not perish from any depletion of ozone caused by man’s carbon emissions or from a nuclear exchange. God simply turns the heat up! The surface temperature of the sun is in excess of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit and the 93,000,000-mile distance from the earth assures the right balance of heat, light and photosynthesis (J. Timothy Unruh, “The Greater Light to Rule the Day,” Impact, Institute for Creation Research: #263, May 1995, i). Even so, heat injuries from excessive exposure to the sun are a present reality, and gazing directly at the sun’s light for more than an instant can cause serious, permanent eye injury or even blindness. However, the substance in the angel’s bowl, once poured, manipulates the thermonuclear processes of the sun to boost the solar radiation many times greater than present levels to catastrophic degrees (cf. Isaiah 30:26, which prophesies an increase in light from the sun of seven times its normal strength). Man’s air conditioning technology will not be sufficient to provide any respite from such a great temperature increase.
Two obvious destructive consequences of this “heat wave” would be melting and drying. Morris suggests that such intense heat would melt the great ice sheets on Greenland, as well as the Arctic and Antarctica. Scientists estimate that the ice caps cover more than 6.6 million square miles of land and that if they all melted, the sea level would rise by about 260 feet (“Water Cycle,” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000. Microsoft Corporation, 1993-1999). Depending on the rate of melting, coastal areas, including some of the most populated cities in the world, could experience severe flooding if not complete destruction. Morris theorizes that God may have preserved these ice sheets for use on the day of this judgment, which may be hinted at in several passages (cf. Job 38:22-23; Ps 147:17-18; Amos 9:5-6). Conversely, the melting would be followed by catastrophic lowering of sea levels and water tables, thus dramatically inhibiting normal rainfall needed for sustaining crops.
The scenario proposed by Morris is problematic for a number of reasons. First, the suggested rise in sea level is based strictly on the volume estimate of the ice caps and there are many factors that influence sea levels. Second, other scientists writing on the subject of global warming point out that evaporation from melting the ice caps would retard any significant rise in sea levels. After all, when ice melts, losing its solid form, not all the water changes to liquid. Indeed, the scorching of the sun caused by the sixth bowl will more likely cause severe evaporation that will far exceed any transfer of the ice caps into liquid form. Third, Scripture indicates a firm boundary for the oceans as Jeremiah says, “For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, an eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it. Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail; though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it” (Jer 5:22; cf. Job 38:8-11; Ps 104:9; Prov 8:29). Fourth, the only effect mentioned in these verses is that men are scorched. Revelation states that the cities of the nations in the end are finally destroyed primarily by a great earthquake, not by a great flood (16:19; cf. Gen 9:11). Finally, any amount of melting or drying is contingent on the length of time the scorching lasts, which is not stated here.
9― And men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.
And men were scorched: At the speed of light only a few minutes would be needed for the increase in solar radiation to reach the earth. The enemies of God will then suffer severe burns to exposed skin. Rather than admit they are wrong, the wicked respond with bold insults to God similar to the Antichrist they serve. (See 13:5 on “blasphemies.”) A sensible person would repent to God who has the power to impose these judgments, which this verse indicates is one way to give glory to God. (See 4:9 on “give glory.”) However, being materialistic in their worldview the followers of the beast do not comprehend the causal connection between their behavior and the judgments (Stern). Yet they still curse the God they supposedly do not believe in. The saints, however, need have no fear of the sun’s heat (7:16; cf. Ps 121:6). While the earth withers in the heat, Israel will be spared, as prophesied by Isaiah, “They will not hunger or thirst, nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; for He who has compassion on them will lead them and will guide them to springs of water” (Isa 49:10).
The Bowl of Darkness (16:10-11)
10― And then the fifth angel poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain,
And then the fifth…poured out…upon the throne: Since men love darkness God gives them their heart’s desire (John 3:19). In contrast to the fourth angel’s work at the sun, the fifth angel’s bowl is emptied first on the power center of the Antichrist, which he had received from Satan (13:2). The "throne" could refer literally to a special chair built for the Antichrist in order to hold court in auspicious surroundings, but more likely it is a metaphor referring to the city where the Antichrist establishes his global governing headquarters. In John’s day Pergamum was the location of Satan’s throne (2:13). Most commentators favor Rome, and Morris prefers Babylon, Iraq (near modern Hilla), but the beast could establish his capitol in any major city of the world. Neither the Lord nor John specifies the city, and the beast is not going to destroy the city in which his throne is located (cf. 17:16).
his kingdom became darkened: The immediate consequence of the bowl emptying was a special pervasive darkness, which probably does not provide any respite from the heat of the fourth bowl of wrath. In ancient Egypt the ninth plague imposed a thick darkness that could be felt (Ex 10:21-23). Most likely the Egyptian darkness resulted from an exaggerated environmental condition known as Chamsin, in which electrically charged air draws the fine dust and sand from the soil into the atmosphere blotting out the sun (Albert Edersheim, Bible History Old Testament, 182f). The Chamsin covered the whole country except Goshen and lasted three days, causing more than a little inconvenience.
John’s report does not explain the exact cause of the darkness, unlike the fourth trumpet in which darkening occurs from changing the light output of a portion of the sun and stars. Perhaps the bowl contains a chemical that causes the atmosphere to reflect away the incoming light. The special darkness at this time spreads out from the point of the bowl’s emptying action to cover the beast’s “kingdom,” which may mean the whole earth except for the holy land. Just as in ancient Egypt God will protect Israel from this last-days plague: “For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you” (Isa 60:2-3). While darkness covers the earth, Israel will be in light.
and they gnawed: Grk. masaomai means to bite. their tongues: Grk. glōssa refers to both the physical organ of the tongue in humans and animals and language spoken with the tongue (DNTT, III, 1078f). Many figurative uses of the tongue as representative of sin occur in Scripture. because of pain: Grk. ponos, to experience great physical pain, distress, affliction, discomfort or suffering. Without explanation John says that people chewed on their tongues, an indication of intense pain. Their tongues may be afflicted because of blasphemy, or there may be some property in the darkness itself that causes the pain. Also, if people went very long without water painful swelling of the tongue would result. Of course, the pains and sores may simply refer to the residual effects of the first and fourth bowl judgments and have nothing to do with the darkness or the scorching.
11― and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.
The agony of the previous bowls of wrath continues into the fifth bowl-judgment without abatement and characteristic of the stiff-necked nature of man people resort to verbal attacks against God as they did during the fourth bowl. The Lord is willing to offer the blessings of His kingdom in exchange for repentance, but the people have become so identified with the beast-master (13:5) that they refuse to humble themselves before God. While many people profess an intention to repent "some day," these people deliberately and doggedly refuse to think differently and turn from their idolatry.
The Bowl of Drying (16:12-16)
12― And the sixth angel poured out his bowl upon the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east.
And the sixth…bowl…upon the great river: The drying effect of the sun’s scorching from the fifth bowl apparently is not sufficient to totally evaporate large bodies of water, particularly those fed by glacial ice caps, and thus it takes the action of the sixth angel to dry up the Euphrates River. The Euphrates originates primarily from the snow and perennial ice cap near the 17,000-foot summit of Mt. Ararat in east-central Turkey and where, at the 15,000-foot level, many explorers claim to have seen the prow of the biblical ark of Noah (Morris). The Euphrates river then flows south, then southeast through Syria and Iraq. In southern Iraq it joins the Tigris and flows about 100 miles to the Persian Gulf, culminating in a total length of 1,700 miles. The Euphrates River was the center of power and commerce for the major pagan civilizations that pressed against Israel in ancient times and, when Revelation was written, it was the heart of the Parthian kingdom, which continually warred with Rome (Stern).
Morris suggests that the ice cap will melt as a result of the four angels stopping the winds (7:1) and the two witnesses imposing a 3½ drought (11:6), and thus finally unveiling Noah’s ark. Morris thinks that the revealed ark will serve as a reminder to the world of the veracity of the biblical record of the ancient global cataclysmic flood and that God will keep His promise of the final destruction of the earth by fire. Of course, just how many in the world would learn of the ark or even care is difficult to assess. Also, nowhere in Revelation does it say that the two witnesses actually cause a drought and the angels in 7:1ff are told not to harm the earth. Contrary to the alleged sightings of the ark, Moses reported that the ark settled in the mountains of Ararat not on Mount Ararat (Gen 8:4). Scripture only gives the general region, not a specific location, and the rudderless ark could simply have drifted with receding flood waters coming to rest at a much lower and flatter location. Instead of being encased in glacial ice the ark would then be subject to the elements and disintegrate over time (Michael Phillips, A Rift in Time, Tyndale: 1997, p. 596f).
its water was dried up: Grk. xērainō, aor. pass. ind., to cause a dry non-functioning condition, specifically of liquid ceasing to flow. God singles out this one river from all the rivers of the world for total elimination. Why? the way would be prepared: The reason given is that God wants to make it easy for the kings of “the east” (lit. “the rising of the sun,” Marshall), mostly likely all the Asian countries, to come to Armageddon (verse 16). The description of God’s action does not support Hal Lindsey’s claim in 1973 that the drying up will be made possible because of the Russian construction of a dam in the early 1970s near the headwaters of the Euphrates (There’s a New World Coming, p. 221). Evaluating the terrain with military logistics in mind, there would probably not be enough bridges to accommodate rapid movement of armies of the size envisaged in 16:16 and 19:19, and God is not going to prolong the completion of His wrath for the lack of bridges. The riverbed needs to be dry. The coming of the Asian armies is not to do battle with the West, but to join with the Antichrist’s western forces in the final battle against the returning King of Kings.
13― And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs;
John next sees a strange sight as demonic spirits come out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet. The idiom refers not only to the actual scene that John witnessed, but the powerful influence exercised by this unholy trio over the rest of the nations to gain their cooperation. The spirits are likened to frogs, but the reason is not given. The contrast may refer to their physical appearance. Outside of Leviticus 11:10, which declares frogs to be unclean, the only other references to frogs in Scripture are in relation to the second plague on Egypt (Ex 8:1-15), which brought significant destruction (Ps 78:45). To the Egyptians frogs were not repugnant, but in fact an object of worship (Albert Edersheim, Bible History Old Testament, 179). Yet, the severity of the plague forced Pharaoh to beg for their removal. Johnson suggests that the frogs relate to pagan metaphors for evil, because to the Persian, the frog was the double of Ahriman, god of evil and agent of plagues. However, John does not write in pagan metaphors but the reality of observation. The end result of the evil spirits doing their work is the destruction of the beast’s army.
14― for they are the spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.
spirits of demons, performing signs: Perhaps assuming that the national leaders of the east will not be easily convinced to assist the beast, the demonic spirits perform “signs” in order to validate their message. Miracles, then, are not necessarily from the Lord (cf. 1 Kgs 22:19-23; Matt 7:22-23; 2 Thess 2:8ff; 1 Tim 4:1). kings of the whole world: Grk. oikoumenē, refers to the inhabited earth or the world in the sense of its inhabitants. Although there are only three demonic agents they visit every major world leader to deliver the edict for them to send military units to be included in a combined international army under the unified command of the Antichrist.
to gather: Grk. sunago, aor. act. inf., means to lead together, to gather or to assemble (Rienecker). Cf. Matthew 3:12; 13:30; 24:28; 25:32 for similar usage in the harvest parables of the Day of the Lord. them together for the war: Calling the coming confrontation at Armageddon “war” may seem hyperbole. The word “war” in human experience suggests years in longevity. One war in European history was known as the “Hundred Years War” (1337-1453). Overwhelming combat power and modern technology can shrink time considerably as in the 100-hour Gulf War in 1992. However, the concept of war relates not to the length of its duration, but the total marshalling of resources, whether political, military, industrial or financial, against an enemy to fulfill a specific purpose.
The phrase “to gather them together” alludes to the purpose of this war. The famous philosopher of war, Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), said,
“War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale. … War therefore is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will. … In order to attain this object fully, the enemy must be disarmed, and disarmament becomes therefore the immediate object of hostilities in theory.” Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Penguin Classics, 1968), 101.
Consideration should be given to the fact that the beast, Satan and God have different purposes for this war. The beast and Satan are obsessed with the destruction of Israel (cf. 12:13ff, 17; 13:7), indeed ever since the nation was created. With the Church defeated the beast turns his wrath on the one nation that has escaped calamity on every side and remains the one stronghold of defiance against his tyranny. As Juster suggests, the beast may think that if he destroys Israel, the plagues will end and the dragon will restore order (Juster 82). Zechariah prophesied this black day for Israel,
“For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city” (Zech 14:2).
Satan has another purpose that’s related to the destruction of Israel and that is to destroy Israel’s hope and salvation. Not having learned his lesson from assaulting heaven and being unwilling to accept Yeshua as his superior, he plans to defeat Yeshua when He returns to earth (19:19). The devil’s plan is simple, but he fails to grasp the obvious. In military terms he will marshal the largest army in history in order to “fire his final protective fires,” that is, unleash all the available weaponry on earth in one immense showdown in order to keep his kingdom from being overrun. Satan is quite willing to cede the destruction of mankind in this final battle, because he is not interested in submission to Yeshua, much less peaceful co-existence. As god of this world, Satan will settle for nothing less than total victory and annihilation of his enemies. In modern human wars an attacking force has normally needed at least three times the combat power to overcome a fortified defender. However, the army descending from heaven will be utterly invincible and unstoppable.
great day of God: From God’s viewpoint the meeting at Armageddon will be a “great day” for Him and the saints. This idiom, a variation of “the great day of their wrath” in 6:17, is a parallel expression to the “day of the Lord” (1 Thess 5:2), the “day of the Messiah” (Phil 1:10 CJB), or the “day of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah (1 Cor 1:8 CJB). The last day of earth’s history is expressed in a variety of ways in the apostolic writings: cf. John 6:39; 11:24; 12:48; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Peter 3:12. It should be noted that the gathering of the international army may take several days or even weeks depending on the type of transport available and thus should be distinguished from the Day of the Lord itself. (See 6:17 on “day of the Lord.”) Many things will happen until that final day, but within 24 hours earth standard time the Almighty God will redeem the righteous and destroy the devil’s evil empire. This passage, along with 17:14, indicates that the battle will take place after the great tribulation, after the trumpet and bowl judgments, right at Yeshua’s glorious Second Coming.
15― (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”)
Behold, I am coming: Grk. erchomai, pres. mid. ind., means to come, come back, return or appear. When used of persons erchomai often indicates traveling or a journey. The verb occurs about 15 times in Revelation in reference to the Lord Yeshua return to earth. See 1:4 on “coming.” like a thief: Grk. kleptēs, one who steals. The term is used in various literal and figurative senses in the apostolic writings. In the midst of the account of the sixth bowl, the Lord offers a brief warning of His imminent return and likens His coming as a thief. A similar warning occurs in 3:3 in the letter to the congregation at Sardis.
Pretribulationists tend to be puzzled by this warning in the midst of the description of the bowls of wrath. Many Bible versions (as the ASV, BBE, CJB, ESV, NAB, NASB, NET, NRSV, RSV) foster this supposed enigma by placing the verse in parentheses, which do not exist in the Greek manuscripts. Some commentators even declare the verse was misplaced from its mention in 3:3. Engaging in scriptural surgery should be an admission that the evidence does not support their theory (Mounce). The reason pretribulationists are confused is because they attach the thief metaphor to the “secret rapture.”
Yeshua used the thief metaphor in a sermon to the Pharisees in which He said of Satan, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Later, in the Olivet Discourse Yeshua said, "If the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert" (Matt 24:43). The association of the idiom with the Day of the Lord by both Paul (1 Thess 5:2, 4) and Peter (2 Pet 3:10) means that the Lord is primarily warning of the suddenness and unexpected nature of His planned destruction of His enemies, not a secret teleportation of the saints.
Blessed: Grk. makarios means happy, blessed or fortunate. See 1:3 on “blessed.” is the one who stays awake: Grk. grēgoreō, pres. act. part., be fully awake. Yeshua calls His faithful disciples “blessed” if they “watch.” The translation of the KJV, “Blessed is he that watcheth,” somewhat obscures the meaning of the Greek. The English word “watch” means to keep one’s attention on something and not allow distraction. However, the Greek word used here simply means to be awake as a sentry who keeps his eyes open while he is on duty (Ladd).
To watch does not mean to be idle (cf. 2 Thess 3:11f) or go to a hill to continuously scan the horizons for the Lord’s return. (If the "rapture" is secret, what would we be looking for?) In fact, Paul’s lengthy explanation of the Second Coming and attendant events in two letters to the Thessalonian believers was intended to reassure them that an imminent return did not mean an immediate return. In itself, the command to “watch” does not imply that Yeshua will come back before the great tribulation, else there would be no need to watch for His coming (Gundry 25).
Yeshua warned His disciples (Matt 24:42-51), as well as the Sardis congregation (Rev 3:3), about using their time productively. Until that day arrives disciples are to be watchful against the deceits and schemes of the enemy and to be industrious and fully employed in the work of the kingdom, so as not to be caught unprepared by the end time events and the Lord’s return. The warning, of course, will have special meaning to those saints still alive at the end of the great tribulation and who must keep faithful in spite of doubts and fears.
and keeps his garments: The Lord offers the interesting comment that the one who stays awake will “keep his clothes.” The clothes probably refers to the heavenly white garments alluded to in 3:18 bought from the Lamb with gold refined by fire. The saints of the great tribulation period will themselves be refined by the fire of persecution and in this time of testing they must not “shrink back to destruction” (Heb 10:39), because “the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matt 24:13). To live for God only to fail Him at the end would bring terrible disgrace.
lest he walk about naked and men will not see his shame: Grk. aschēmosunē refers to indecency and is a euphemism for the genitals. This warning may be a parallel to the rabbinical report of the first century practice of the captain of the guard at the Jerusalem temple checking to make sure the temple guards on the night watch were awake. If the officer found any asleep the guard’s clothes could be taken and burned and he was then sent away naked in disgrace (Rienecker). The Rabbinical account of it is curiously confirmed by the somewhat naive confession of one of their number, that on a certain occasion his own maternal uncle had actually undergone the punishment of having his clothes set on fire by the captain of the Temple as he went his rounds at night (Edersheim 112; M. Middoth 1:2).
16― And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.
And they gathered them together: The unclean spirits are successful in their mission. Modern versions report that “they gathered” to indicate the completion of what the spirits set out to do, but the literal translation is “he gathered.” “He” could refer to Satan as in 20:8 where he gathers the vast multitude to attack the beloved city. One would expect unclean spirits to be part of Satan’s kingdom and, like the beast and false prophet, do his bidding. More likely is that “he” refers to God, as in 17:17, who causes even His enemies to accomplish His sovereign purposes. The action described here is that of moving military forces from their home bases in foreign nations to an assembly area in the holy land where they can make final preparations before launching an offensive campaign.
to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon: John’s narrative goes on to say that the kings of the east cooperate in sending their armies to a specific place. For the location the Greek text transliterates the Hebrew word to identify the area for Gentile readers. BAG renders the place-name as “Armageddon,” which is followed by most translations. In Zechariah 12:10-11 the Heb. word is actually Megiddon (Stern). Johnson believes that the name is symbolic and does not refer to any specific geographical site and suggests that magedon is derived “from the secondary sense of the Heb. gadad that means ‘to gather in troops or bands’ (cf. BDB 151). The simple way in Hebrew to make a noun from a verb is to prefix a ma [sic] to the verbal form. Thus we have maged, ‘a place of gathering in troops,’ and the suffix o, meaning ‘his,’ yielding ‘his place of gathering in troops.’” However, Stern notes that there is no Greek letter to represent the Hebrew “h” sound and “n” is often added to Greek renderings of foreign words. The NASB translation seeks to preserve the sound of the Greek word.
Commentators debate whether the actual Hebrew should be either Har Megiddo (Mount Megiddo) or Ir Megiddo (City of Megiddo). Megiddo was an ancient town located on the north side of the Carmel ridge and overlooking the Valley of Jezreel, but the name was not attached to any mountain. Megiddo was the site of Israel’s decisive victory over Sisera, which is celebrated in Deborah’s song (Judg 5:29), and Israel’s ill-fated attack on the Egyptians, resulting in the death of King Josiah (2 Chr 35:22). In modern times both Napoleon (1799) and General Allenby (1918) defeated the Turks near Megiddo. Today, Israel has a key air force base there. The hundred square miles of the Jezreel Valley would provide more than enough space for the conflict envisioned in the book of Revelation (Stern). Since the size of the armies described in 19:19 will fill much of Israel’s territory, Megiddo may serve as the equivalent of a theater headquarters.
Whatever map coordinates might be assigned to Har-Magedon, this is not the battlefield of a future World War III of Asian nations attacking Western nations to throw off the yoke of the beast and in so doing igniting a nuclear exchange. There is not the slightest hint in Revelation of any disunity in the beast’s empire. The question to answer is why would the dragon, from his point of view, gather the world’s armies at Megiddo. Usually in war the side that can choose the battlefield has a decided advantage over the enemy. Satan has gathered the armies here because he is anticipating Yeshua’s return and knows that the Lord will head for Jerusalem (Zech 14:3f).
The place name “Armageddon” has long been considered the place of the final great battle concluding a world war between good and evil or between East and West. However, Scripture says nothing of a battle at this location. As this verse indicates it is merely an assembly area to stage military forces. The actual battle will take place at Jerusalem:
"It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it." (Zech 12:3)
"Behold, a day is coming for the LORD when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you. 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle." (Zech 14:1-3)
However, the fact that Har Megiddo is the staging area means it is within the theater of war. Zechariah 12:11 links Jerusalem and Megiddo together in the great battle, which may indicate the northern and southern boundaries of the battlefield. Joel 3:2 depicts all the nations being gathered in the valley of Jehoshaphat for judgment. While the Kidron Valley has been known as the Valley of Jehoshaphat since the 4th century A.D. (ISBE), this association is uncertain. The "Valley of Jehoshaphat" may be poetical, parallel to the "valley of decision" in Joel 3:14. More likely is that the Valley of Jehoshaphat is an allusion to the great victory King Jehoshaphat achieved in the valley of Beracah south of Jerusalem where multitudes of Ammonites and Moabites perished (2 Chron 20:26).
Multitudes of the nations will perish in the final battle against Jerusalem. Revelation 14:20 says that blood from the destruction of men and horses flowed for two hundred miles, which is close to the length of biblical Israel from Dan to Beersheba. What the devil does not appreciate is that the sovereign omnipotent God is orchestrating this great contest of wills. The outcome is already decided.
The Bowl of Completion (16:17-21)
17― Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.”
Then the seventh: The seventh angel carries out God’s judgment on the atmosphere of the earth. Previous bowls had been poured upon the land (verse 2), the sea (verse 3), the fresh waters (verse 4) and the sun (verse 8). Robertson suggests that this bowl is the worst because man breathes the air. Morris points out that the atmosphere is the third component of the hydrologic cycle that replenishes the earth with fresh water for drinking and sustaining crops. Without the conversion of water vapor in the atmosphere into rain the land and streams will not be replenished with fresh water and mankind will suffer greatly.
Another way to interpret this verse is that while the previous bowls targeted the beast and his followers this bowl attacks Satan’s realm. Satan is known as the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2) and the domain of his spirit kingdom is the atmosphere of the earth (cf. Eph 6:12). Satan is also the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19) and God will demonstrate that Satan is not as much in control as he thinks he is.
a loud voice: Although not identified, this voice is probably the same voice as in 16:1. Only the Almighty God can make the following climactic declaration. It is done: Grk. ginomai, perf. act. ind., to come to be, to become or to originate. The translation of “it is done” renders the perfect tense of the verb, which signifies both a completed event and its continuing results. With the seventh bowl God’s wrath on the earth is complete, and over.
18― And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.
And there were: The combination of lightning, sounds, thunders and earthquake repeat as previously experienced when an angel threw a censer of fire to the earth (8:5) and when the ark of the covenant appeared in heaven (11:19). In 4:5 lightning, sounds (lit. “voices,” probably angelic) and thunder proceed from the throne. Indeed, lightning and thunder mark the very presence of God (cf. Ex 19:16-17). What occurs in earth’s climate is an archetype of what is in heaven (Heb 8:5). Since ancient times man has had a dread of lightning and thunder associated with storms. The combination of these awesome elements continually warns man to fear the Lord because the Day of Judgment is coming.
there was a great earthquake: Following the meteorological response the “great earthquake” previewed in 6:12-14 occurs. (See 6:12 and 11:13 on the great earthquake.) While the account is brief, there is enough detail given in verses 19-21 to indicate its cataclysmic scope. The Lord warned Isaiah of this day: “Therefore I will make the heaven’s tremble and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the Lord of hosts in the day of His burning anger” (Isa 13:13).
not been since man came to be: The narrative offers a historical comparison, which first occurs in Daniel 12:1 in reference to a “time of distress” that will precede the “rescue” of God’s people and the resurrection of the righteous. Yeshua also used the historical comparison in describing the “great tribulation” (Matt 24:21). In this context the comparison phrase is the first of three superlative descriptions of the earthquake. Marshall translates the phrase as "from when man was on the earth" (Marshall). The meaning is that since Adam was created no earthquake of this scale and magnitude has occurred.
so great an earthquake was it: The superlative “so great” may refer to the magnitude, at least a "ten" or more on the Richter scale. and so mighty: Grk. tēlikoutos, a demonstrative pronoun, means so great, so large, so important, so mighty, etc. In the Greek text tēlikoutos actually occurs before megas, rendered more accurately by the KJV, “so mighty an earthquake, and so great.” The third superlative illustrates the paucity of the human language to describe the importance and the sheer global scope of this earthquake. Isaiah offers the following descriptive prophecy:
“Behold, the Lord lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants. …The earth is broken asunder, the earth is split through, the earth is shaken violently. The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard and it totters like a shack, for its transgression is heavy upon it, and it will fall, never to rise again” (Isa 24:1, 19-20; cf. Nah 1:5).
In 1966 Chan Thomas, an electrical engineer, geologist and nuclear physicist, predicted that between 1991 and 2001 there would be such a breaking up of the earth’s surface that 99% of the earth’s population would be destroyed (Bart Everett, “Engineer Revives Old Cataclysmic Theory of Earth’s Evolution,” The Kansas City Star, November 16, 1966, 4B). In 1960 Thomas had accurately predicted earthquakes to the month in Chili, Morocco and Johannesburg, but his predictions of planetary cataclysm were met with both skepticism and wonderment. What mechanism could cause the greatest earthquake in history to move every island and mountain out of their places and the cities of the nations to fall (cf. Jer 4:23-26; Nah 1:5)?
Thomas speculated that just below the earth’s crust is another layer, some 60 miles thick, which, though very hot (2000 F), usually acts like a solid. However, he pointed out that electromagnetic forces would cause it to operate like a liquid. The heart of the earth would then react as a well-oiled ball bearing, resulting in the crust suddenly sliding over it and causing cataclysmic destruction. Dr. Perry Byerly, formerly professor of seismology at the University of California, also observed, “Something worldwide is going on, but it is hard to say just what it is…we do not know what. But great forces are…trying to pull our continent in one direction or another. This is due to something below, a great strain that is accumulating” (quoted in Dale M. Yocum, God the Master Scientist, I, 187f). One day God will relieve the strain. This information is not offered to vouch for these views, but to show that scientists make predictions that support biblical prophecy.
19― The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.
The great city: The description of the rending of the earth continues with specific mention of its impact on population centers. As Wesley surmised the verse probably intends three separate points of emphasis. The first mention of “the great city” in Revelation refers to Jerusalem, so the sequence of “the great city” being given first and Babylon being listed third would imply that the great city in this verse means Jerusalem. (See 11:8 on “great city.”) was split into three parts: The “great city” is only divided into three parts without any reference to damage, perhaps indicating mercy, but nonetheless an understatement of the power of this earthquake. The description of the great city being split may be an allusion to Zechariah’s prophecy,
“In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south” (Zech 14:4).
the cities of the nations fell: The second geographic reference, “cities of the nations,” probably means “of the Gentiles,” which reinforces taking “the great city” as Jerusalem. In contrast the cities of the nations from the least to the largest on the face of the earth “fall,” that is, are totally destroyed, from the intense shaking of the mighty earthquake. Of course, even slight movement of the earth’s surface can cause severe damage to man-made structures. The only thing that could cause the cities on separate continents to fall from the same event would be a global shifting of the earth’s crusts (see 6:14 on “earthquake”). How right was Jeremiah when he said, “But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation” (Jer 10:10).
Babylon the great was remembered: The global temblor applies the coup de grace to Babylon the Great, ostensibly a euphemism for Rome (see the note on 17:5), and on whom the beast confederation brings a fiery destruction (17:16; 18:8). Barnes provides the following extract from the account of a scientist that traveled around the area of Rome in 1850 and described the conditions that will facilitate the final annihilation of the city:
"I behold everywhere—in Rome, near Rome, and through the whole region from Rome to Naples—the most astounding proofs, not merely of the possibility, but the probability, that the whole region of central Italy will one day be destroyed by such a catastrophe, [by earthquakes or volcanoes.] The soil of Rome is tufa, with a volcanic subterranean action going on. At Naples, the boiling sulphur is to be seen bubbling near the surface of the earth. When I drew a stick along the ground, the sulphurous smoke followed the indentation; and it would never surprise me to hear of the utter destruction of the southern peninsula of Italy. The entire country and district is volcanic. It is saturated with beds of sulphur and the substrata of destruction. It seems as certainly prepared for the flames, as the wood and coal on the hearth are prepared for the taper which shall kindle the fire to consume them. The Divine hand alone seems to me to hold the element of fire in check by a miracle as great as that which protected the cities of the plain, till the righteous Lot had made his escape to the mountains."
Judgment comes because God has remembered all the sins of Babylon. The promise of salvation is that the sins of the past will not be remembered against the redeemed (Isa 43:25), not in the sense that God suffers amnesia, but He chooses not to bring them up again. There is no salvation for Babylon because God remembers every foul deed perpetrated by its founders and perpetuated by its descendants (cf. John 8:23-24, 44). See 14:10 on the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. There is irony in the statement here in that the wine of Babylon that made the nations drunk becomes the wine of God’s wrath for her.
20― And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.
And every island fled away: Grk. pheugō, aor. act. ind., means to flee, seek safety in flight, escape, vanish or disappear. The global shift of the earth’s crust has a cataclysmic impact on mountains (Isa 40:4f), which would include islands since islands are merely the peaks of mountains under the oceans (cf. Jonah 2:6). In 6:14 the mountains and islands "were moved out of their places." The verb “fled” used here implies rapid movement and reinforces the scientific explanation of a global shift of the earth’s crustal plates. Mountains, including islands, are the locations of many major population centers and great loss of life should be expected from such violent and rapid ground movement.
the mountains were not found: Grk. heuriskō, aor. pass. ind., to come upon something or someone that has eluded one in some way or has not been in one's purview. John also notes that not only were the mountains moved out of their places, but they "were not found," which implies that the earth would be reduced to something like a plain. The prophets, in fact, predicted that God would one day make the earth a plain by lowering the mountains and raising the valleys (Isa 40:4; Zech 14:9-10). The current mountains and valleys were formed by the surging and gouging waters of Noah’s flood, but in the end tectonic movement and volcanic flows will equalize diverse elevations into a generally uniform terrain. Again, faithful saints do not need to be afraid of such portents, as the Psalmist says,
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” (Ps 46:1-3)
21― And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.
And huge hailstones: Grk. chalaza means hail or hailstone associated with a thunderstorm. The opening phrase kai chalaza megalē lit. means “and a great hail” (Marshall). Chalaza is actually singular and may refer to the entire storm instead of individual chunks of hail. The translation of “hailstones” probably owes to the measurement of weight given. about one hundred pounds each: Grk. talantiaios, lit. “weighing a talent.” As a measurement of weight a talent varied among ancient people from about sixty pounds to something over a hundred (Rienecker). The word “each” is supplied for translation purposes, but the entire Greek phrase does not imply that every hailstone in the storm weighed the same amount. came down from heaven: the phrase may refer to the sky overhead or serve as a euphemism for God who orders the plague.
In Scripture hail can refer to either rock material (Josh 10:11) or ice (Job 38:22). Many people have experienced ice hail the size of softballs, but this hail is unusually heavy. Ancient Egypt was inflicted with a heavy downpour of hail, most likely ice, which destroyed crops, as well as killing people and animals caught in the open (Ex 9:24). This last hailstorm could be specially created ice, but more likely it is rock material blown into the atmosphere as a result of volcanoes, including previously inactive ones, exploding from the global destruction of the earth’s crust. A parallel vision of the cataclysmic earthquake and volcanic hail may have been experienced by David. After his deliverance from Saul and before his ascension to the throne over Israel, David received this revelation:
“Then the earth shook and quaked; and the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up out of His nostrils, and fire from His mouth devoured; coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down with thick darkness under His feet. He rode upon a cherub and flew; and He sped upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, hailstones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered His voice, hailstones and coals of fire. He sent out His arrows, and scattered them, and lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them. Then the channels of water appeared, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at Your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.” (Ps 18:7-15)
There are several points of commonality between David’s vision and John’s. Both speak of the shaking of the earth, indeed the foundations of the earth, the hailstones and volcanic debris, the lightning and thunder, the wrath of the Lord, the Lord coming down from heaven, and the thundering in heaven with the decree of destruction on the earth. The historical record does not indicate that these events were fulfilled before David’s coronation, so the vision must have been a preview of events preceding the coronation of the King of Kings. No doubt this vision was a mystery to David, but through his persecution experience comes a testimony of God’s deliverance that will be shared by the saints who must face the terrors of the great tribulation,
“He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (Ps 18:17-19)
men blasphemed God: As happened previously, the unbelieving people who survive this horrific catastrophe blaspheme God. This phrase reveals man’s true character. To say the judgment was “exceedingly severe” is pure understatement. A hail of 60-100 pound boulders would be utterly devastating to people caught in the open, let alone any structures still standing from the earthquake. Morris speculates the hail may be particularly intense on the beast’s massed millions in Israel, causing the blood bath depicted so graphically in 14:19-20.
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