Commentary on Revelation 16

Notes (NET Translation)

1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple declaring to the seven angels: “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls containing God’s wrath.”

The loud voice is that of God since no one else could enter the temple until the seven angels complete their mission (15:8). The pouring out of the bowls is a metaphorical representation of the execution of divine judgment (cf. Ps. 69:24; Jer. 7:20; 10:25; Zeph. 3:8). “That this is imagery, pure and simple, is highlighted here by the fact that there is no content as such in the bowls—they were introduced only as expressions of God’s wrath” (Fee 217).

2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth. Then ugly and painful sores appeared on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.

The sores recall the Egyptian plague of boils (Ex. 9:8-12; Deut. 28:27, 35). Those who received the mark of the beast now receive a mark of punishment. The punishment fits the crime.

3 Next, the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea and it turned into blood, like that of a corpse, and every living creature that was in the sea died.

This plague recalls both Moses turning the Nile to blood (Ex. 7:14-24) and the second trumpet (Rev. 8:8-9). The blood like that of a corpse refers to the cold, coagulated blood of the dead. The similarities to 8:8-9 and 18:17-19 suggest an economic disaster may be in view.

As stated in Rev. 8:8, it is important to realize that the sea was the lifeblood of the Roman Empire. Not just food supplies but most commerce and trade depended on the sea lanes because Rome was in the southern boot of Italy, and land trade was limited. Thus, this was tantamount to the destruction of all civilization. In fact, each of the plagues would end civilization as we (or the Romans) know it. Such hyperbole/overkill is characteristic of apocalyptic. Beale (1999: 815) brings out these implications, linking it with both the economic connotations of the “mark of the beast” that deprived believers from “buying and selling” in 13:16–17 and the economic dissolution of Babylon the Great in 18:15–17, 19. It is possible that ψυχὴ ζωῆς can mean not only the life in the sea but also those people who make their living from the sea, though that is difficult because there is no hint that “every” sailor and ship captain died. Hence, it is likely that this refers only to all sea life. But that is devastating enough, for such a disaster would bring down our economic system today as well. (Osborne 580)

4 Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and the springs of water, and they turned into blood.

The third bowl mirrors the third trumpet (8:10-11). As with the last bowl, this one may also refer to economic disaster.

5 Now I heard the angel of the waters saying: “You are just – the one who is and who was, the Holy One – because you have passed these judgments, 6 because they poured out the blood of your saints and prophets, so you have given them blood to drink. They got what they deserved!”

The angel of the waters is presumably the angel from v. 4. “As in 11:17, God is addressed as the one who is and who was. In 1:4, 8 and 4:8 the title was expanded to include a future reference (‘who is to come’), but in the present context this is unnecessary because the final sequence of events has already begun” (Mounce loc. 5474-5476). The description of God in v. 5 is similar to that in 6:10. This indicates that this judgment is a response to the prayer of the saints in ch. 6. God is the Holy One because his punishment fits the crime.

7 Then I heard the altar reply, “Yes, Lord God, the All-Powerful, your judgments are true and just!”

In light of the connection with 6:9-10 the altar may represent the corporate reply of the saints. Another option is that it is the reply of the angel who presented the prayers of the saints to God (8:3-5).

8 Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was permitted to scorch people with fire.

In contrast, the saints were promised to never be scorched by the heat of the sun (7:16). The picture here is of tongues of fire burning people.

9 Thus people were scorched by the terrible heat, yet they blasphemed the name of God, who has ruling authority over these plagues, and they would not repent and give him glory.

The name of God represents his attributes and character. To blaspheme is to slander or defame God. The wicked now join the beast in blaspheming God (13:1, 5, 6; 17:3).

10 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast so that darkness covered his kingdom, and people began to bite their tongues because of their pain.

The throne of the beast represents the beast’s sovereignty over his realm (13:2). The darkness over the kingdom of the beast indicates his ability to rule has been affected. The darkness recalls the Egyptian plague of darkness (Ex. 10:21-29). The fifth bowl may represent political or religious power being taken away from the beast’s earthly representatives.

11 They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their sufferings and because of their sores, but nevertheless they still refused to repent of their deeds.

What is perhaps most striking about their response is that “people” both gnawed their tongues in agony and then used their tongues, not in this case to “curse the name of God,” but to curse the God of heaven because of their pains and sores. Thus in typical fashion the unbelieving world refuses to acknowledge God when things go well for them, but when things go badly, God is to blame. And the result tends regularly to be the same—they refused to repent of what they had done. Indeed, one need only consider that in our modern English-speaking world, natural disasters are regularly referred to as “acts of God”! And as with ancient Rome, such acts seldom lead to repentance, but to blaming God for all that goes wrong in the world. Thus the opportunity to repent is squelched by cursing. (Fee 221-222)

12 Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates and dried up its water to prepare the way for the kings from the east.

Verse 12 evokes OT language of a military force coming from beyond the Euphrates and being used by God to judge Israel. But in this verse the kings from the east symbolize the world system in opposition to God. Note that in v. 14 they are called the kings of the earth, not just the east.

13 Then I saw three unclean spirits that looked like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

Recall that the dragon is Satan (12:9), the beast is the Satanic political system (13:1-10), and the false prophet is the Satanic religious system (13:11-17). The mouth symbolizes royal proclamations so the unclean spirits are something like the messengers of the dragon, beast, and false prophet. That the spirits are unclean indicates that they are deceivers (cf. 17:4; 18:2-3; 21:27). The frog-like appearance of the spirits alludes to the plague of frogs (Ex. 8:1-15). The frogs in Egypt may have appeared harmless but they destroyed (Ps. 78:45), corrupted (Ps. 77[78]:45 LXX), and devoured (Josephus, Ant. 2.296) the Egyptians. Likewise, one should not view these unclean spirits as harmless.

14 For they are the spirits of the demons performing signs who go out to the kings of the earth to bring them together for the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-Powerful.

The phrase translated “spirits of demons” could also be translated as “demonic spirits” or “spirits who are demons”. That the demons are “performing signs” further indicates that they are deceptive (13:13-15; 19:20). This verse looks ahead to a final battle between the Satanic forces and God (chs. 19-20). While the kings of the earth may think they are going to destroy the saints they are, in fact, going to face final judgment.

15 (Look! I will come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays alert and does not lose his clothes so that he will not have to walk around naked and his shameful condition be seen.)

This verse is a warning from Christ to remain alert (Matt. 24:42-44; Luke 12:39; 1 Thess. 5:2–4; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3). The image in v. 15b contrasts a man who stays awake, clothed, and alert with a man who goes to sleep naked. Garments symbolize righteousness and therefore nakedness symbolizes a lack of righteousness (cf. 3:3-5).

The danger of failing to keep their spiritual garments on is of “walking around naked and shamefully exposed.” This idea is similar to 3:18, where “shameful nakedness” pictures the sinful church “exposed” by God, continuing an OT image in which nakedness is a symbol of judgment (Isa. 20:1–4; Ezek. 16:36; 23:10, 29), and “shame” means to be disgraced and liable to judgment. For the Jews nakedness was shameful (as in Isa. 20:4; Ezek. 16:36; 23:29). This is the picture here as well. (Osborne 593–594)

16 Now the spirits gathered the kings and their armies to the place that is called Armageddon in Hebrew.

The verse literally begins with: “Now he gathered.” While the NET takes this to be a reference to the spirits it could just as well be to God or Christ. Armageddon (har-mĕgiddôn) literally means “mount of Megiddo”. Rev. 20:9 links the final battle to the “beloved city”, Jerusalem, thereby implying the location is figurative. Moreover, there is no reference in Jewish literature to a literal “Mount of Megiddo”. The site of the ancient city of Megiddo is now a tell which is too small (70 feet) to be called a mountain. In the OT Megiddo was a place where righteous Israelites were attacked by wicked nations (Judg. 5:19-21; 2 Kgs. 23:29-30; 2 Chron. 35:20–25). It is used in this passage because here the people of God are attacked by the kings of the earth.

Recently, J. Day has argued on the following cumulative grounds that Zech. 12:11 is the precise background for “Armageddon” in Rev. 16:16: (1) Zech. 12:11 is the only text prior to Rev. 16:16 where “Megiddo” appears in an apocalyptic context concerning God’s end-time destruction of ungodly nations. (2) It is also the only OT text where the Hebrew spells “Megiddo” as mĕgiddôn rather than mĕgiddô. Though there are a few instances in the LXX where the precise Greek form found in Rev. 16:16 occurs (see above), Day points out that Rev. 16:16 specifies that the name is dependent on a Hebrew source: “the place … is called in Hebrew Armageddon.” (3) Zech. 12:11 is cited in Rev. 1:7, and John alludes clearly to Zechariah elsewhere in the book (Zechariah 6 in Rev. 6:2–8; Zechariah 4 in Rev. 11:4; Zech. 14:7–8, 11 in Rev. 21:25 and 22:3), and there are other possible allusions to the same Zechariah context in Revelation 16 itself (Zech. 13:2 in 16:13; Zech. 14:4–5 in 16:18–19; Zech. 14:1–2 in 16:14; on the probability of the first and third of these allusions see above on 16:14). (4) The term “mountain” in the place name of Rev. 16:16 was influenced by Ezek. 38:8; 39:2, 4, 17, which are also alluded to in John’s narration of the last battle (Rev. 19:17–21; 20:7–10) and which prophesy that the final conflict of history is to occur on “the mountains of Israel.” Such a conflation of Zechariah 12 and Ezekiel 38–39 would be in keeping with John’s tendency to conflate OT passages elsewhere in the book (e.g., the seraphim of Isaiah 6 and the four creatures of Ezekiel 1 in Revelation 4; Ezekiel 47 and Zechariah 14 in Rev. 22:1–3).

Day’s argument is probable, but it does not rule out the inclusion of the other “Megiddo” passages cited above from Judges, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, and 2 Chronicles. Perhaps Zech. 12:11 is the focus, and the other texts are supplemental or secondarily in mind. (Beale 840–841)

The outcome of the war is described in 17:13-14; 19:14-21; and 20:7-10.

17 Finally the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying: “It is done!”

The air is sometimes associated with demons (Eph. 2:2; Rev. 9:2) so the judgment here is on the Satanic realm. Again, the voice is probably that of God. It states that God’s wrath has been completed (15:1). It echoes Jesus’ words on the cross: “It is completed” (John 19:30).

The Greek perfect tense used here has the sense of a past event which has ongoing implications in the present. Though it could be a proleptic perfect, indications earlier in the Apocalypse suggest that it is a declaration of what has been achieved in the death and resurrection of the Lamb (e.g. 12:10–11). The long-awaited saving judgement of God (cf. 10:6–7) has already arrived and is being worked out systematically on earth as in heaven. (Boxall 235)

18 Then there were flashes of lightning, roaring, and crashes of thunder, and there was a tremendous earthquake – an earthquake unequaled since humanity has been on the earth, so tremendous was that earthquake.

This is imagery of the last judgment we have seen before (Ex. 9:16-18, 24; 19:16-18; Dan. 12:1; Rev. 4:5; 8:5; 11:19).

19 The great city was split into three parts and the cities of the nations collapsed. So Babylon the great was remembered before God, and was given the cup filled with the wine made of God’s furious wrath.

The great city, Babylon the Great, is associated with the cities of the nations. The splitting of the city into three parts indicates the completeness of its destruction. The point is that anyone associated with the evil world system will face God’s wrath.

20 Every island fled away and no mountains could be found.

This language indicates the absolute, universal destruction of earth on judgment day (cf. 6:14; 20:11).

21 And gigantic hailstones, weighing about a hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people, but they blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, since it was so horrendous.

John says the hailstones weighed a talent, which varied in ancient times between about 45 and 130 pounds. The seventh Egyptian plague was a plague of hail (Ex. 9:13-35; cf. Josh. 10:11).

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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