The Purpose of the Plagues

THE QUESTION

Nobody is saved during plagues.  This is indicated by the empty temple (15:8), which symbolises that intercession and therefore salvation is no longer available, and by the repeated mention of unbelievers not repenting (v9, 11, 21).

Many believe that the plagues are punitive in nature. “Punitive” means it is for punishment only, without any saving purpose.  In other words, God will “punish” the wicked for the sake of punishment only.  Many also believe that the wicked that will be resurrected after the millennium, will then again be severely punished (either by burning forever or as long as “they deserve”), for no other reason but to make them suffer.  This is the average Christian’s idea of a “loving God.”

These views are not supported in this commentary.  But the question remains, why does a loving God, which dearly loves His creation, even the people that received the mark of the beast, torment men in the fearful manner described in Revelation 16 when there will be no opportunity for Intercession and salvation?  Why doesn’t Christ return and end the reign of sin immediately after everybody have made their final choice?

EGYPT TYPOLOGY

The Egypt typology in the plagues can lead us to the answer.

Both the catastrophes that befell Egypt and the end time scourges are called plagues.  Both the Egyptians and the end time plagues include sores, water turning to blood, darkness and frogs (Ex. 7:17-21; 8:2-13; 9:8-11; 10:21-23).  The fact that the plagues of Egypt underlie the symbolism in Revelation 16 informs us that the principles are the same in both sets of plagues.

As Israel was enslaved and subjected to harsh treatment in Egypt, the persecution of God’s people (13:15) will act as catalyst for the end time plagues.

As in Egypt, the plagues testify to the authority of God.  Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? (Ex. 5:1, 2)  Then the LORD said to Moses … Go to Pharaoh … say to him … By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned to blood.  (Ex. 7:14-17 NASB; see also 8:22)

As in Egypt, God will deliver His people and defeat their enemies through supernatural means.

We usually think of slavery as the problem God solved in sending the ten plagues on Egypt, and this is certainly correct.  But the bigger issue, the one that fuelled the slavery problem, was false worship.  The Egyptians worshiped the sun, the river, and other things.  The Hebrews in Egypt did not have religious liberty.  Moses was not free to teach them what they had, over generations, forgotten.  Similarly during the end time plagues the bigger issue is false versus true worship.  As in Egypt, the plagues are designed to demonstrate how false the claims of false religion are, and how futile the reliance was upon them:

‘For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments (Ex. 12:12 NASB)

But there is still a more profound principle involved.  In redeeming Israel from Egypt God chose to act very visibly.  In redeeming Israel from historical Babylon He acted less visibly.  He sent strong forces against Babylon and arranged that these strong forces are favourable towards Israel.  God could have done the same in the redemption of Israel from Egypt.  Why did He act so visibly?  He could have controlled events in such a way that people would not be able to see that He is at work.  In contrast, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and that His purpose was to instruct the Egyptians and the nations of the true God:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, (Exo 10:1 NASB)

“Thus I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.”  (Exo 14:4 NASB; see also 7:3; 4:21; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:8)

The deliverance from Egypt served as visible lesson to the peoples of the world.  He wanted to instruct His people, and perhaps also the other nations, through the plagues.  In His mercy He wanted them to learn of the existence and power of the real God:

“TheEgyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.”  (Exo 7:5 NASB)

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.”  (Rom 9:17 NASB)

It is therefore concluded here that the same applies to the end time plagues, namely that the end time plagues serve as a visible lesson.  It is submitted that God will not let people suffer simply for the sake of punishment.  But the question is, for whom is it a lesson, what is that lesson, and why is the lesson needed?

RESPONSES TO THE PLAGUES

Revelation chapter 16 consists of descriptions of the plagues, but also includes responses to the plagues:

  • The response of unbelievers; not repent + blaspheme God (16:9, 11, 21)
  • Warning to the believers to watch their clothes (16:15)
  • Declarations of the righteousness of God’s judgements (15:3-4; 16:5-7; 19:2)

Most commentaries spend much time on the plagues, with fleeting references to the responses to the plagues.  It is proposed here is that the responses to the plagues contain the real messages to us, because they explain the plagues.

Three times (16:9, 11, 21) it is said that the people blaspheme God and do not repent, as if the purpose is to see whether they would.  Remember that before the plagues start to fall, the people of the world are divided into two clearly demarcated groups.  The people with the mark of the beast are not allowed to buy and sell.  The others are not.  Remember also that the plagues only fall on one of the two groups, namely the large group with the mark of the Beast (16:2).  They must therefore become increasingly aware of some sort of supernatural support for the hated minority.  The plagues therefore lead men to increasingly realize that they have been fighting against God.  But instead of repenting, they curse Him even more bitterly than ever and become even more resolute in their opposition.  Those suffering from the plagues refuse to admit themselves wrong, even in the face of these severe judgments that would lead honest contrite men to amend their ways.  It is therefore concluded that one purpose of the plagues is to show that these people are hardened beyond repentance.  The plagues serve to graphically demonstrate and to reveal the spirit of rebellion which controls their hearts, and to show what becomes of God’s beautiful creatures when they separate themselves from Him.  As it is put in the warning with respect to Armageddon, men will walk about naked and all will see their shame (16:15).  Armageddon is where God reveals what really is inside people, as Paul also wrote:

on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.  (Rom 2:16 NASB)

Sin changed people.  There is a point where it becomes impossible for a person to freely turn to God.  Then that person has received the mark of the beast, or stated in different words, committed the unpardonable sin.  Then that person cannot be saved, not because God does not want to save the person.  Something has changed in that individual which makes it impossible to become one with God again:

but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy.  (2Ch 36:16 NASB)

The plagues are not some arbitrary punishment.  It has an eternal purpose and benefit.  The tares as it were are proved to be tares, (cf. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) When those being tested have passed the point of no return, God continues to test them to provide abundant witness of their unwillingness and inability to return.  They refuse to yield to His will and show themselves to be what they really are; devoted servants to Satan.  The refusal to repent proves them to be unalterably opposed to God.

The second category of response to the plagues is the warning to God’s people to “keep their clothes” (16:15).  The plagues follow and continue the period of the most intense persecution of believers ever.  Under the extremely difficult circumstances created by the plagues, their persecutors continue to blaspheme God, and therefore continue to persecute the saints.  God will withdraw His restraining Spirit, to allow the lost to do whatever they want to God’s people.  This trial will test the characters of the saints.  It will show what have become of sinners who were washed clean with the blood of Christ.  The plagues will demonstrate that the remnant would rather die than disobey God.

The third type of response to the plagues is praise to God for His righteous judgements.  Satan is called the accuser by Revelation (12:10).  He accuses God of poor judgement, for instance in the case of Job (Job 1:9, 10) and Joshua (Zech. 3:1).  Throughout history Satan has maligned the character of God who sentenced Satan and his angels to the lake of fire (Matt. 25:41).  The plagues prove to the intelligent creatures of the universe that the distinction that God made between the peoples of the world is faultless.  It proves that the people that follow the beast are so hardened that they would not repent even under the most trying circumstances.  The plagues also prove that the people with the seal of God are willing to forsake everything for the promise of God.  Together these issues prove thatGod judged rightly, as confirmed in the plagues (16:5, 7) and afterwards (19:2).  This is a major purpose of the plagues.

LOVE REQUIRES UNDERSTANDING

The question is who needs to learn these lessons, and why.  To answer these questions require some abstract thinking.

A fundamental principle, easily overlooked due Revelation’s graphic word pictures, is that God’s government is based on unconditional love.  He loves all His creatures.  He loved them so much He was willing to die for them (John 3:16).  And He wants us to love Him.  That is the greatest commandment (Mat 22:37-38), but love cannot be commanded.  Love that is commanded is no love.  Fear cannot generate love.  Love can only be generated by an appreciation of the other’s character.  You can only love somebody that you know and understand.  Therefore God wants us to know and understand Him.  He wants us to trust Him.  He wants us to understand and agree with His decisions and actions.

Most importantly, in the context of Armageddon, He wants us to understand why He destroys people that we love.  God desires everybody to understand that His decisions are right.  He is not a dictator.  He wants to be loved.  He wants us to be completely convinced of His trustworthiness; that He can be trusted to always make the best decision for every person.  That is why Armageddon is a revelation of what is really inside each person.  Then we will understand the indescribable greatness and rightness of His love and judgement.  Then we will all understand God as completely reliable and live in complete safety and trust is the wonderful, perfect world which He will create out of this mess on earth:

“Behold, I am making all things new” (21:5).

LOVE REQUIRES UNQUALIFIED FREEDOM

But the issue is actually more profound than this.  Love is only love it is the result of free will.  Therefore, all God’s creatures are completely free.  The only obedience that God wants is the obedience that springs from love.  Obedience that is forced, or based on fear, even in the slightest degree, is no obedience at all.  God desires only the obedience of complete admiration and love.

Now this results in a weighty conclusion.  If we fear that God will punish us if we do something that He does not like, then we are not completely free, and our obedience is forced.  Therefore God’s intelligent creatures are free to do whatever they wish, without fear of retribution.  Because love is the foundation of God’s government, we have to conclude that freedom is complete.

Satan was a “covering cherub” (Ezek. 18:16).  He perhaps was the created being that was the closest to God, with the most complete understanding of Him, but still Satan sinned, because he did not fear punishment.

GOD MUST EARN THE RIGHT TO BRING EVIL TO AN END.

God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  (1Jn 1:5 NASB)  God is love (1Jn 4:8, 16).  Therefore God’s character is to allow unqualified freedom.  Under the principle of complete, unqualified freedom God has no right to bring Satan and his government to an end.  But the Bible is clear that Satan’s government will be eliminated.  So let us try to probe this through a series of questions.

(1) Perhaps the most fundamental question about God’s character is why He allowed sin to develop in the first place.  Why does sin exist?  It is proposed here that God could have chosen to create robots, programmed to always say “i love you”.  But He wanted to create free intelligent creatures, with the ability to say “no” to Him.  This automatically created the potential for resistance to the will of the Father (sin).

(2) Why did He not “zap” Satan when he harboured the first thoughts of sin?  He could have erased any memory of Satan from our minds, could He not?  It is proposed here that that would be contrary to God’s character.  We can take extreme comfort in the fact that God is not an exterminating dictator.  God allows us freedom.

(3) Why did God not make an end to sin after Jesus won the victory on the cross?  It is certainly obvious that God would make an end to sin as soon as possible.  It is submitted here that the victory on the cross was sufficient for our salvation, but on the basis of the fact that sin is still alive and well 2000 years after the cross we must unfortunately conclude that the cross does not provide God with the right to make a complete end to evil.

(4) What would give God the right to make an end to evil?  It is proposed here that the agreement of all His intelligent creatures (complete consensus for all eternity) is required before God can exterminate evil.  God cannot afford to make an end to evil until all questions with respect to evil have been completely answered.  Thus, and only thus, will evil be prevented from ever again erupting anywhere in the universe.  In the new heavens and new earth the redeemed will exercise their complete freedom knowing what the end result of selfishness is.

Many people of God as a judge, wanting to condemn.  God is not a judge.  In the judgement scene in Daniel many thrones are set up, and the books were opened (Dan 7:9).  It is therefore not only God that judge, and God does not need books.  According to Revelation the judgement will be given to the saved (20:4).  God wants His created being to judge for themselves.  Obviously God knows and understands everything, but He wants us to understand.  And once the universe agrees that this is the right thing to do, God will eliminate all destructive forces from the universe, and love will again be the source of all actions and decisions.  If we want to compare God to a human professional, He is more of a doctor, trying to save.

WHO NEEDS ANSWERS?

Most people think that all sinless heavenly beings do not need more information to understand that rebellion against God is bad, but this is or at least was not so.  We need to understand a little of how sin developed.

Sin existed before man was created, and was brought to earth by the Serpent of old (12:9).

Sin originated in Satan.  God said of him: “You were blameless in your ways From the day you were created Until unrighteousness was found in you” (Ezek. 28:15).  His sin was that he wanted to be the most adored being.  He wanted to be adored even as God (Isa 14:13, 14).  This sin developed because of his extraordinary beauty, as described by Ezekiel 18:13.  This implies that his beauty exceeded that of the other heavenly beings.  Logically sin did not spring up in Satan one bad morning.  It developed over a long time.  Knowing how God deals with sinners on earth, Satan must have been warned repeatedly of the consequences of the direction he was taking.  Based on the principle of freedom God would have told Satan what the end result will be of his sin.  But we know that eventually Satan gave himself over to sin.

But sin did not remain only with Satan.  We know that he succeeded in leading a very large portion of the perfect angels away from God (Rev 12:7).  He was therefore able to convince some of the angels, but the others not.  What was Satan’s modus operandi?  Satan obviously did not openly admit his intentions.  He obviously covered his motives under a blanket of words, masterfully flattering the angels when they agree with him and accusing them of not willing to suffer for the best interest of the universe when they disagree with him.  It was not clear from the beginning what the end result of Satan’s strategies would be.  He marketed his strategies as evolvement to a higher state of being, beneficial to all, and consistent with God’s principles.  He created in his followers a desire for power and self-reliance and to be honoured by fellow creatures.  Many (most? all?) of the angels did not understand what the end of this new development will be, even those that stayed loyal to God.  Therefore even the loyal angels need answers.

Satan is the extreme master debater.  He, with the assistance of his myriads of angels, is able to put a convincing slant on anything.  Against this verbal onslaught the purpose of the plagues is to provide answers to all the intelligentsia of the universe.

SIN DESTROYS, NOT GOD.

God had to let sin develop to where we are today, and also to where the world will be during the plagues, to provide answers.  A further question which may be added to the list above is what causes the death of sinners.  When God said in the garden of Eden “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17), was He saying that He will kill Adam and Eve, or did He say that the fruit are poisonous?  It is submitted here that the purpose of the plagues is to prove that separation from God results in degeneration and finally destruction.  The purpose is to understand that it is not God that destroys, but separation from God that destroys.

To elaborate on this principle: To reject God out of one’s life is to reject the source and the principle of life.  God is the Source of everything, and He continually upholds everything by His power.  He is not somewhere out there, while we carry on down here.  No.  We cannot see Him because He works at such a micro level that He is invisible to us.  But still, the law of the universe is the law of love.  He gives us everything.  We return to Him a flood of love and thanksgiving.  To disconnect this circuit of life is what Satan did, and that started the degeneration which eventually also engulfed our planet.

GOD WILL DESTROY

Once this principle is proven beyond doubt, namely that it is not God that destroys, but separation from God that destroys, then God will destroy the destroyers of the earth (Rev 11:18; compare 19:21).  However:

‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! (Ezek. 33:11).

Through the plagues God’s justice in destroying the unbelievers and delivering the believers is made evident.  It is proven that Satan’s followers will kill God’s people, as they would kill each other.  It is proven abundantly that Satan’s kingdom is an evil that must be destroyed before there will be peace and freedom in the universe.  Through the unconverted Satan is permitted to demonstrate what the universe would be like if he was allowed to control it.  This gives God the right to destroy evil.  This is the ultimate purpose of the plagues, namely to ratify the justice of God’s judgements.  The plagues are described as “great and marvellous” (15:1) because because God’s judgements are wonderfully perfect.  The justice of God in ending human history is made evident to men as well as angels:

For it is written, “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.”  (Rom 14:11 NASB; compare Isa 45:23)

so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  (Php 2:10 NASB)

These plagues are therefore not vindictive.  God is never vindictive, because He is Love.

GOD ONLY RELEASES THE PLAGUES ONCE HIS PEOPLE ARE READY.

God wants to make an end to sin as soon as possible because He hates sin and the results there-of.  Furthermore, He is Almighty.  He can do what He pleases.  The question is therefore why He has not made an end to sin a long time ago.  What is God waiting for?  Why has He not made an end to sin immediately after Jesus’s victory on the cross?

One possible response is that God wants to give everybody time to repent (2 Peter 3:9).  This is true with respect to individuals, but if this principle is applied to the world as a whole, the end will never come.

At some point in time God will make an end to the current world.  To be able to do that, while still giving everybody ample opportunity to repent, He will create an intensified spiritual war on earth, by allowing Satan much increased influence on earth (Revelation 13), but at the same time by proclaiming the gospel with more power than ever before (Revelation 14).  This will allow and also compel every thinking person to make a choice between God’s and Satan’s government.  Thus God can make an end to the world while still giving everybody sufficient opportunity to repent.

But this still begs the question; why did God not bring this crisis about long ago, so as to bring an end to sin thousands of years ago?  Certainly He wants to.  The only reason can be that He is not able to do.  If we look into Revelation for a reason, we find that He is delaying the end until there is a group of believers that are able stand in the time of utmost testing, when the winds are released:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.  And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”  (Rev 7:1-3 NASB)

Now what has this to do with the plagues?  Answer: The winds are the plagues.  This may be proved as follows: Immediately before the plagues are poured out the world’s population is divided between two clearly demarcated groups:

After the seven plague angels are introduced (15:1), but before the plagues are poured out (16:2), we are shown “those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass” (15:2).  This is therefore everybody that was victorious in the conflict of Revelation 13.

The plagues fall “on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image” (16:2).  This is therefore all the other people of earth.

We find the same two contrasting groups of people in Revelation 13 and 14, but there the “victorious” group is called the 144,000:

The Image “causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead” (13:16). … the name of the beast or the number of his name

Although it is in the next chapter, only three verses later we read about the 144,000 with the seal of God on their foreheads (14:1).

The group in Revelation 13 is the same as the group in Revelation 16; both groups have the mark of the beast.  This means that the other two groups are also the same; the “victorious ones” (15:2) are the 144,000 (14:1).  The number of the 144,000 is therefore complete before the plagues are poured out (15:2).  This means the plagues are held back until the 144,000 are sealed (ready).  Therefore, God will not release the plagues before He has a group of people that are able to remain standing in this severe period of time, when the restraint of His Holy Spirit will be removed, and Satan will be able to do whatever he wants to God’s followers.  God’s people will have to be able to remain standing for Him without the protection of the Holy Spirit.

The previous conclusion can also be proved in another way:

The sixth trumpet is the same as the plagues.  (Only in these two sections we find the mention that the people repent not. See more detail in the discussion of the sixth trumpet.)

The sixth trumpet starts with the releasing of the winds.  (Notice that four angels “hold back’ the winds (7:1), while four angels are release at the start of the sixth trumpet.)

This again means that the plagues (sixth trumpet), are held back until the 144,000 are sealed.

Satan has studied the Bible since it was written, and knows much better than we do what it says.  And still He resists.  The Bible is clear that Satan will never be reconciled to God.  His end will be in the lake of fire (Rev 20:10).  Therefore he tries his best to postpone his destination.  And he has been successful for 2000 years since the cross.  He knows that God cannot bring sin to an end before God has a group of followers that will not compromise their believe in God, even in the most severe situation, when—like Job—every support system will be taken away from them, and death at the hands of their enemies will seem sure.  Therefore Satan does whatever he can to prevent God’s people from achieving that level of commitment.  That is why Satan is working so hard to create division between churches and church members, and to lure God’s people into every form of temptation.  His life depends on it.

But that is also why it is now time that we stop giving in to Satan temptations, and learn to always and in all respects follow God.  This is probably the most important conclusion of this commentary.

IN CONCLUSION

The explanations offered here perhaps only scratch the surface of the real issues in the universe, but it is important to understand that this little planet is important in the universe wide conflict between good and evil.  This planet is Satan’s last stronghold (12:9) because he lost the war in heaven (12:8).  Here the final battles in the cosmic war will be fought.  Are we ready?

TO: General Table of Contents

The Seventh Plague

16:17  Then the seventh angel (messenger—YLT) poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple (sanctuary of the heaven—YLT; temple of heaven—KJV) from the throne, saying, “It is done.”  [It hath come!—YLT]

16:18 And there were flashes of lightning and sounds (voices—KJV, YLT) 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.  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.  20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.

16:21 And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each (as of talent weight–YLT), came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God (did speak evil of God—YLT) because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.  (NASB)

The articles on the first six plagues and on the identity of Babylon should be read before this article.

That Babylon “was remembered before God” does not mean that God forgot and now remembers.  “Remember” means to act.  For instance, God “remembered” his covenant with Abraham when the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt (Exodus 2:24).  See also Gen 8:1 and 19:29.

The “cup” which God gives to Babylon is a common Biblical expression denoting suffering and judgments meted out (Psalm 11:6; 75:8; Isaiah 51:17, 22, 23; Jeremiah 25:15-17, 28; 49:12; Matthew 26:39).

The seventh plague informs us explicitly that God’s throne is in the temple in heaven (16:17).  The Greek word for temple (naou) describes the inner sanctuary.  According to 11:19 (NASB), and also according to the KJV of 16:17, the temple is in heaven.

THE PLAGUE IS NOT LITERAL

In this plague there are five manifestation, namely lightning and sounds (or voices), thunder, a great earthquake and huge hailstones.  These are not literal, for the following reasons:

(A) The group of five manifestations appears several times in Revelation, where they are symbolic:

The first time we read about this group is in the context of the vision of the temple in heaven in Revelation 4.  There we only read about the first three, namely “lightning, sounds and thunder”.  They came “out from the throne” (4:5).  “Sounds” are also be translated as “voices” (KJV) and in Revelation voices often sound like thunder (6:1; 10:3).  The lightning may reflect movement.  The four living being that are represented as “in the centre and around the throne” (4:6) run “to and fro like bolts of lightning” (Ezekiel 1:14) and their voices are like thunder (6:1).  For these reasons it is proposed that the lightning, sounds and thunder represent the activities, discussions and decisions and instructions emanating from the throne in heaven.

The next mention of this group is in the introduction to the trumpets, where fire is thrown down from heaven on the earth, “followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake” (8:5).  Earthquake is therefore added to the previous three.  The trumpets describe all sorts of devastating effects on earth, and most of them have reference to fire (8:8; 9:17; 11:3-5), burning (8:7, 10) or smoke (9:2-5).  It is proposed that the earthquake is a summary symbol for all this fiery devastation.  Lightning, sounds and thunder are the decisions and activities in heaven and the earthquake symbolise the consequences on earth.

The next mention of this group is in the introduction to Revelation 12 to 14, where “the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple”, followed by all five manifestation (11:19).  Hail is therefore added to the previous four.  In the introduction to the trumpets fire was thrown to the earth, resulting in fire everywhere in the trumpets.  Similarly in the introduction to Revelation 12-14 the ark of the covenant is seen (a box which housed the ten commandments) and in Revelation 12-14 veiled references to the 10 commandments are everywhere (12:17; 14:12; 13:6, 15, 16; 14:1, 7; 15:5).  It is therefore proposed that the earthquake and hail is a summary symbol for the events of Revelation 12 to 14.

(Since each major section of Revelation is introduced with a scene of the temple in heaven, 11:19 must be the introduction for the section of Revelation in chapters 12 to 14.)

B. Babylon is not destroyed by an earthquake, but by the ten kings.

Revelation 17 expands on the seventh plague, and according to 17:16 Babylon is destroyed by the gathered kings.  Both the seventh plague and chapters 17 and 18 describe the destruction of Babylon, but with different sets of symbols.

C. A literal earthquake of this magnitude would destroy all human life and physical cities

This earthquake is so large that “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (16:20).  A literal earthquake of this magnitude would exterminate all human life on earth, but according to 16:21 the people do not die.  They continue to blaspheme God (16:21), indicating that the earth is still well populated.

Furthermore, according to 16:19, the earthquake split the great city into three parts.  A literal earthquake of this magnitude would not do this.  It would completely destroy all cities.

The three parts into which Babylon splits must be a symbol, implying that the “great city” is symbolic, and therefore also the earthquake.

D. This use of Old Testament events to describe future events confirms that these descriptions should be read symbolically.

The first five plagues use literal events from the Egypt Exodus to describe future events.  The two final plagues – the drying up of the great River Euphrates and the fall of Babylon (Rev 16:12, 19) – use actual events from the fall of ancient Babylon.

E. Babylon symbolizes false religion.

The “great city” is Babylon (14:8), which is a symbol for “false religion” (see article on Babylon).  Babylon is also the main target of the earthquake.  If Babylon is not a literal city then the earthquake must also be a symbol.

The physical manifestations are not literal, but symbolic of massive destruction.  As a literal earthquake leaves a literal city in ruins, so a figurative earthquake brings ruin and desolation to the symbolic “great Babylon” (16:19).

LITERAL VERSUS SYMBOLIC

One can take nearly any portion of Revelation and try to read it literally, and it would not make sense literally.  For instance:

In the second plague all fresh waters turn to blood (16:3), but in the sixth the Euphrates dry up (16:12).  There would not be water to dry up.

In the sixth plague, why would a river be a barrier to kings, given the use of aeroplanes and missile (16:12)?

All people received malignant sores (16:2), sending them all to look for medical help, but receive none.  The sea and all fresh waters have turn to blood (16:3-4).  The sun scorches people with fire (16:8).  Where would literal kings get the resources, including food and water, and energy to group and attack another kingdom (16:14, 16)?  Under such circumstances people will die in their billions, and everyone on earth would just be trying to survive, perhaps for another day.

How do spirits of demons that look like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, beast and false prophet, and why to the three only have one mouth (16:14)?

How could all the armies of all kings gather in a single place on earth (16:16)?  How do they get there if the oceans turned to blood, on which no ship can travel?

Taken literally, why would God’s people be warned to watch their clothes, so that they not walk about naked (16:15)?

After a world-wide earthquake that levels all mountains and results in tsunamis of blood that bury all islands, and therefore also all coastal regions, what people would then be left to blaspheme God (16:18-21)?

Given these insurmountable obstacles to a literal reading, literal interpretations allocate much space and time to justify a literal interpretation, and consequently completely miss the mark.

To say that these plagues are symbolically does not mean they have no meaning.  They represent real devastations.  To determine what they mean require a careful study of the symbols in their immediate and wider context.

THE SEVENTH PLAGUE IS THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BEAST AND THE FALSE PROPHET.

The sixth plague ends with the kings of the earth gathered at Armageddon (16:16).  Logically the seventh plague describes what happens at Armageddon afterwards.  What happens at Armageddon is also described in 19:11-21, because there we also see the gathered kings (19:19).  This is followed by the Beast and the False Prophet being thrown in the lake of fire (19:20).  Therefore, when Babylon is destroyed, as in the seventh plague, it is also the elimination of the Beast and the False Prophet.

This conclusion is supported by the fact that Babylon (false religion) is the driving force behind the Beast-power.  (See the article on Babylon.)  When the Beast-powers are mentioned, the involvement of Babylon is implied.  When Babylon is mentioned, the Beast and its Image, and the False Prophet are the political powers on earth through which she acts.  It therefore follows that when Babylon is destroyed, the Beast-powers are destroyed as well.

The seventh plague then includes both the destruction of Babylon as described in Revelation 17 and 18, and the destruction of the Beast-powers at the end of Revelation 19.

Babylon seems to be destroyed before the return of Jesus, because the political kingdoms of the world will destroy her (17:16).  This may seem to contradict the conclusion that the destruction of Babylon is also the destruction of the Beast and the False Prophet.  However, the destruction of Babylon by the kings could be seen as simply part of the process by which these powers are destroyed.  In other words, the world-wide religio-political anti-God coalition fight among themselves and destroy each other.  We should accept that the return of Christ is much more involved, and of a much longer duration than we often think of.

The seventh plague ends with the people cursing God, while Revelation 19 ends with the people dead.  The horrible killing of the people at the return of Christ, in which God and Christ find no pleasure, is not part of the seventh plague.

THE ROAD TO ARMAGEDDON

The seventh plague (Armageddon) can only be understood if one considers the background-situation on earth against which it occurs.

During the final events of earth history a powerful anti-God power (The Beast), that previously was practically dead, revives (13:3, 4).  It persecutes God’s people through the False Prophet and the Image of the Beast (13:15, 17).  The final political-religious power will command all to bow to the Image  (accept its authority), or die (13:15).  The right to buy and sell and every earthly support will be taken away from believers (13:17).  Simultaneously God’s message is powerfully proclaimed all over the world (14:6-11), compelling everybody on earth to choose; either for God (and receive the seal of God—14:1) or against God (and receive the mark of the beast—13:17).

Chapter 15 represents the point in time when everybody has made their eternal choices.  We will not know when that is, but God will.  From this point forward nobody else will be saved, as indicated by the symbol of nobody being allowed inside the temple (15:8), and by the frequent references during the plagues of people not repenting (16:9, 11, 21).

At this point in time God unleashes the plagues.  God’s people are being persecuted, but the plagues targets selectively the persecutors of God’s people (16:2, 6, 10).  However, the people are so hardened that they cannot change.  It is not that God does not want to save them:

‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! (Ezek. 33:11).

However, the wicked are beyond the point of no return, and continue to blaspheme God (16:9, 11, 21) and to persecute His people.  But their support for their religions wane, depicted by the symbol of the Euphrates drying up, because they now realise that it is false.

But then Satan strikes back with a renewed attack, using his supernatural forces to unite the kings of the earth behind him  False religion is replaced with outright Satanism.  Previously Satan corrupted true religion to create false religion, and the people did not know that they were really following Satan, but now they know exactly who they are following.  Knowingly they join forces against God, determined to exterminate all His followers on earth.

It is in this context that the seventh plague (Armageddon) brings an end to Babylon (Satanism at this stage), the Beast and the False Prophet.

Next: Purpose of the Plagues

TO: General Table of Contents

The Sixth Plague

This plague is comprised of five verses. Perhaps the most important question is why the Euphrates has to dry up to prepare the way for the kings from the east. This question is addressed in the very last section of this article.

16:12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. (NASB)

The Euphrates is world-wide.

All followers of the Beast receive sores in plague one (16:2). All sea and fresh water turn to blood in plagues two and three (16:3, 4). The sun scorches the whole earth in plague four (16:8). Even the darkness of the fifth plague is global because the beast rules the entire world: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him” (13:8). The first five plagues are therefore world-wide. Furthermore, there are no indication of fractions in the plagues, such as the quarter mentioned in the seals (6:8) and thirds mentioned in the trumpets (8:7, 8, 10, 12, etc.). It therefore seems logical that the drying up of the waters of the Euphrates in plague six should also be understood as a global event.

Literal interpretations sometimes think of the Euphrates as literally drying up to allow literal kings from the east of literal Babylon to attack the city. Given the ability today to send aircraft and missiles to almost any place on earth, this would indeed be a strange interpretation. A river might have deterred an army in the time Revelation was written, but certainly not today.

“Euphrates” symbolises all the peoples of the world.

The Euphrates is one of the oldest rivers of history, being one of the four rivers which was fed from Eden in the pre-flood world (Gen. 2:10).  It is not likely that its modern source and location match that of the pre-flood Euphrates due to the great changes in geography which almost certainly attended the breakup of the fountains of the deep at the Flood. But the pre-flood Euphrates is probably not what Revelation directs our minds to.

After the flood the flood plain of the Euphrates was the site of the first human city (Babel). Much later, in the days of Daniel the prophet, it was the site of Nebuchadnezzar’s magnificent capital city Babylon. At that time the Euphrates flowed through the ancient city of Babylon—Israel’s great Old Testament enemy Babylon—providing its water source (Jeremiah 51:12-13, 63-64). As such, it was an integral part of the city, nurturing its crops and providing water for the city’s inhabitants. Without that river, Babylon could not survive.

In the Old Testament, therefore, the ancient enemy of Israel–Babylon, which destroyed their city and temple and exiled their people, was associated with the river Euphrates. Revelation twice use the name “Euphrates” and six times the name “Babylon”, but nowhere directly specifies a relationship between the two. But Revelation does say that Babylon “sits on many waters” (17:1) and “many waters” is used in Jeremiah 51:13 as a reference to the Euphrates. The historical relationship between Babylon and the Euphrates also implies a relationship between the Babylon and the Euphrates of Revelation. It is therefore logical that in Revelation the “Euphrates” is the same as the “many waters” on which Babylon sits (17:1).

But the “many waters” is defined by Revelation as the “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (17:15). In Revelation the Euphrates is therefore not a physical river, but the population of the entire world.

“Dried up” symbolises the end of Babylon’s corrupting influence, in preparation for the deliverance of God’s people.

The historical Euphrates was dried up in preparation for the escape of Israel from Babylon.  According to the famous Greek historian Herodotus, and confirmed in modern times by the Cyrus Cylinder, Babylon was overthrown when Cyrus, the Persian king, diverted the Euphrates River that runs through the centre of Babylon, allowing the Persians to wade into the city unexpected.  This was prophesied by Bible prophets:

“A sword against the Chaldeans,” declares the LORD, “And against the inhabitants of Babylon … “A drought on her waters, and they will be dried up! For it is a land of idols …  (Jer. 50:35-38 NASB)

Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am going to plead your case And exact full vengeance for you; And I will dry up her sea And make her fountain dry.  (Jer. 51:36 NASB)

“It is I who says to the depth of the sea, ‘Be dried up!’ And I will make your rivers dry.  It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.'”  (Isa 44:27-28 NASB)

Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, To subdue nations before him … To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:  (Isa 45:1 NASB)

Revelation uses events and objects from the Old Testament to describe the future, but the meaning changes.  As argued above the literal Euphrates became a symbol for the peoples of the whole world.  Now we will also argue that “sits on many waters” (17:1) and “water was dried up” (16:12) have symbolic meanings in Revelation.

In the Old Testament Babylon is described as “you who dwell by many waters” (Jer. 51:13).  This had a literal meaning.  In Revelation Babylon is described as “the great harlot who sits on many waters” (17:1).  But if we understand that the many waters symbolise the peoples of the world, then Babylon’s “sitting” on the “many waters” becomes a symbol for her corrupting influence over the peoples of the world:

… those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”  (Rev 17:2 NASB)

Therefore the drying up of the Euphrates becomes a symbol for the end of her corrupting influence.

But even though physical objects and events became symbols in Revelation, the underlying meaning remains.  As the Red Sea parted to allowed God’s people to flee from destruction (Ex. 14:21-22), and the Jordan physically dried up for Israel to cross into the Promised Land (Jos. 3:14-17; 4:22), and the physical Euphrates dried up before the release of Israel from Babylon, and to restore His people to their land, so the symbolic Euphrates in Revelation dries up to prepare for the deliverance of God’s end time people from symbolic Babylon.

The end of Babylon’s corrupting influence is only the beginning of her complete end; she is only finally destroyed in the seventh plague (16:19).

Babylon is mentioned in this discussion without an explanation of who she is.  In the final section of the discussion of the sixth plague—see below—more is said about her.

“Kings from the east” are Jesus and those that are with Him when He returns.

The fact that both the “Euphrates” and “dried up” are symbols implies that the other major feature of Rev. 16:12—the kings from the east—may be a symbol as well.

Note the name “Cyrus” in two verses quoted above.  He was the commander in chief of the allied forces of the kings of Media and Persia; the king of many kings:

Consecrate the nations against her, The kings of the Medes, Their governors and all their prefects, And every land of their dominion.  (Jer. 51:28 NASB cf. 51:11).

Cyrus was also “from the east”:

“Who has aroused one from the east Whom He calls in righteousness to His feet? He delivers up nations before him And subdues kings.  …  (Isa 41:2 NASB)

a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country (Isa. 46:11).

Therefore, in the Old Testament, Cyrus and the kings under his command were literal “kings from the east” associated with the literal drying up the literal Euphrates.  Revelation packs all three (Euphrates—dry up—kings) into a single verse.  The very fact that something literal, of such importance in the Old Testament, finds its way to the pages of Revelation implies that it is used as symbol in Revelation.  The question is what this symbol means.

To identify these kings, note that there are two groups of kings in the sixth plague:

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east.  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;  for they are 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.  (Rev 16:12-14 NASB)

These two groups of kings therefore stand in opposition to each other.  Because the “kings of the whole world” oppose God, the “kings from the east” are probably God’s kings.  Daniel and Revelation do not simply describe wars between political kings.  These books focus on the cosmic war between God and Satan.

But we are able to identify these two groups of kings with certainty.  Note that the verses quoted (16:12-14) above do not describe either of the two groups of kings.  The drying up of the Euphrates is not the coming of the “kings from the east”, but only prepares their “way” (16:12).  This implies they will be moving from one point to another.  Arguably they will be moving towards the “kings of the whole world”.  Similarly, we do not already see the “kings of the whole world” gathered.  The text only describes the demons that go out to gather them.  So where in Revelation is described the movement of the “kings from the east” and the “gathered” “kings of the whole world”?

We find them in Revelation 19; in the description on Jesus’s return.  This section describes the kings of the earth “gathered” (19:19).  The NASB uses the word “assembled”, but the KJV and many other translations use “gathered”.  In the underlying Greek it is exactly the same word as in 16:14 and 16:16.

We also find a second group of kings in Revelation 19, because it says the kings of the earth are gathered “to make war against” the “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (19:16, 19).  This Person “is called The Word of God” (19:13).  Because He is the “King of kings”, He must be leading many kings.

A third link between Revelation 16 and 19 is the movement.  While the “kings of the earth” are stationary in one place, the kings led by the “King of kings” move from heaven to earth.  This is the “way” that has been prepared by the drying up of the Euphrates (16:12):

“The armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses” (19:13).

The links between Revelation 16 and 19, mentioned thus far, are:

  • The gathered kings
  • Two groups of kings
  • The movement of the two groups

A fourth link may be added, namely that both sections actually mention five parties.  On Satan’s side both sections refer to the Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet and the gathered kings of the earth.  It follows therefore that the fifth party mentioned, referred to as the “kings from the east” in 16:12, and the “kings” that are with Christ in 19:16, must refer to the same group.  The “kings from the east” is therefore Jesus, and those that are with Him when He returns.

Supporting evidence for this conclusion includes:

TYPE: Cyrus is a type of Christ when He delivers God’s people.  God used Cyrus and his kings to deliver His people from their oppressors and bring them back from captivity to their homeland (Jer. 50:33-34).  God said: “He will build My city and let My people go free” (Isa. 45:13; cf. 44:28).  God therefore calls him the “anointed one” (Isa. 45:1) and “My shepherd” (44:28).  These most honourable titles (Isa. 45:4) were later reserved for Jesus.

EAST: East” in Revelation is associated with God.  The angel brings the seal of God from the east (7:2) and Jesus is called “the bright morning star” (22:16).  “Morning” reminds us of the east, because the sun rises in the east, and the term in Greek for the east is literally “the rising of the sun”.  “East” is also associated with God in the Old Testament:

and behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory (Eze. 43:2).

The darkness causes the drying up of the Euphrates.

The first four plagues only fall on people with the mark of the beast, while the persecuted minority are free from these plagues.  The persecuting majority must therefore start to realise that they are wrong.  Then, in the fifth plague, the messages of Revelation 18 are proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, destroying the Beast’s religious authority and convincing the people that the Beast’s kingdom is actually darkness.  (See the discussion of the fifth plague.)  This results in the people withdrawing their support from Babylon, symbolised by the drying up of the Euphrates.  In this way the plagues follow each other logically.

An important question is why the water of the Euphrates has to dry up before the return of Jesus Christ.  This question is deferred because the answer is given by what follows.

16:13 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;  (NASB)

This is a turning point in the plagues.  Up to this point in the plagues the Beast only suffered defeat.  But now it seems as if the attack of the Beast power is renewed.  It also seems as if the tactics of the Beast changes.  Their claims to speak for the true God has been destroyed, resulting in the Beast losing popular support, symbolised by the Euphrates drying up, but the unclean spirits like frogs seem to give them renewed power to deceive.

The False Prophet is the beast out the earth.

Both the False Prophet and the Earth-Beast are described as performing miraculous signs on behalf of the Beast and deceiving the inhabitants of the earth (13:13-14; 19:20).  They are therefore the same.  The “Earth” is where it comes from.  A “False Prophet” is what it is.

The False Prophet, although at first appearing like a lamb, speaks like a dragon (13:11)—He tells those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast (Rev. 13:14).

The False Prophet always appears in tandem with the Dragon and the Beast (Rev 13:1, 11, 12; 16:13; 19:20-20:2; 20:10).  The Dragon appears first on the scene, as the “serpent of old” (12:9), but also represents the fourth Beast of Daniel 7 (the Roman Empire) when it tries to devour Jesus (12:4).  (See the article on the seven headed beasts of Revelation.)  Later it calls “The Beast” out of the sea (13:1).  This Beast receives a deadly wound, but recovers (13:3).  Then the false prophet arrives on the scene (13:11).  These three then work together until the return of Christ, at which stage their paths separate.  The Dragon spends the Millennium (thousand years) in the abyss (20:1-2), while the Beast and False Prophet are in the lake of fire (19:20).  After the thousand years the Dragon joins the other two in the lake of fire, where they will remain “forever and ever” (20:10).

The Beast is the same as the fifth beast of Daniel 7 (the 11th horn), (see the article of the seven headed beasts of Revelation), and is identified in the discussion of Daniel 7.  The False Prophet is identified in the discussion of Revelation 13.

What comes from mouths symbolises will and deeds.

In Revelation things often symbolically come out of mouths.  “Fire, smoke and brimstone” come out of the mouths of the two hundred million horses in the sixth trumpet (9:16, 17).  If anyone wants to harm God’s two witnesses, “fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies” (11:5).  The Dragon, also represented as the serpent of old (Satan in the Garden of Eden) “poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman” in an effort to destroy her (12:15).  (There are two women in Revelation.  The Serpent tries to destroy the pure woman.  The harlot woman is described in Revelation 17.)    From Jesus’s “mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations” (19:15).  At His return He will kill everyone that has the mark of the Beast with this sword (19:21).

It should be clear that these are not literal things coming out of literal mouths.  The mouth is the organ which reflects the will as evidenced by one’s words.  For example, the Earth-Beast (the False Prophet) “spoke as a dragon” (13:12), which means “he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence” (Rev 13:12-13).  Another example is the image, which will “speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (13:15).  What comes from mouths therefore represents the character’s will and actions.

The unclean spirits symbolise the doctrines of demons

The question is then; what are the “unclean spirits” coming out of the mouths of the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet?  The next verse (16:14) explains the unclean spirits as demons.  In the Gospels the term “unclean spirit” is used interchangeably with “demon.” (Mark 1:27, 34; 3:11, 15; 6:7; etc.)  We find several stories where Jesus cast out such spirits (Mar 1:23; 5).  Jesus healed a man in a synagogue who had an unclean spirit (Mark 1:23-27).  In the country of the Gadarenes Jesus cast out a legion of unclean spirits into a herd of pigs (Mark 5:2-13).  When Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two, He gave them power over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7, 12).  The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was attributing an unclean spirit to Jesus (Mark 3:30).

It is not proposed that literal demons come out of the mouths of the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet, but rather that they represent the persuasive and deceptive propaganda which in the last days will lead men to an unconditional commitment to the cause of evil.  Paul calls false teaching the doctrine of demons:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron. (1Ti. 4:1-2)

“Like frogs” indicate the repulsiveness of the unclean spirits.

Some believe the demons are compared to frogs because frogs catch their prey with their tongues.  Others see some symbolic meaning in the fact that the frogs were the last plague on Egypt which the Egyptian wizards were able to replicate.  The view here is that the frogs must be understood like the unclean and hateful birds, which are also mentioned with unclean spirits (18:2), namely simply something that highlights the repulsiveness of the unclean spirits in the sight of God.

16:14 for they are 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.  (NASB)

Demons are angels that were deceived by Satan to rebel against God (Rev. 12:4).

The demonic realm is real.  The manipulation of the kings will be so complete that they themselves will think they are following their own will, but it is the demons who drag them forward.

Signs are supernatural manifestations of various kinds.

Signs constitute a means by which Satan works through human agencies.  The dazzling miracles will enchant and deceive the whole world.  They will “authenticate” the claims of power and authority of the person performing them, and succeeds in uniting the world behind his purpose:

Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, (2Th 2:8-11 NASB)

false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See I have told you beforehand” (Mtt. 24:24 cf. Mark 13:22).

He (beast from the earth) performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men.  And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.  (Rev 13:13-14 NASB)

Please note that in all three instances quoted the purpose of the miracles are to deceive.  Signs may be legitimate miracles, but that does not mean it is the power of God.  All it means is that it is supernatural:

“If a prophet … arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods … and let us serve them,’  you shall not listen to the words of that prophet … for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  (Deut. 13:1-3 NASB)

The gathered kings are not the Image of the Beast.

In Revelation 13 the evil trio of the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet are mentioned (13:1, 2, 11, 12).  The False Prophet deceives the peoples of the world through miracles to create an image to the Beast (13:14).  It is then the Image that kills and otherwise persecutes God’s people (13:15-17).  Because it is through signs and wonders that both the Image is created (13:14) and the kings gathered (16:14), and because it is the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet that create the Image and gather the kings, one might be inclined to think that the Image is the same as the gathered kings.

However, they are not the same.  It is the Image that gives the people the mark of the beast (13:16).  The Image is therefore created before people are given the mark.  The kings, on the other hand, are gathered after the plagues start to fall on the people with the mark.  The kings are therefore gathered after the mark is given to the people.

16:15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”)  (NASB)

To come like a thief means it is not possible to know when Christ will return.

Sometimes the “coming like a thief” is used to justify an invisible and inaudible rapture seven years before the visible return of Christ.  However, “coming like a thief” does not indicate that the event is inaudible or invisible.  It indicates that the event is not predictable.  It means that nobody would know when Jesus will return:

… if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Mtt. 24:42-44)

… be like men who wait for their master, when he will return … they may open to him immediately.  … if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched …  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Luke 12:35-40)

… For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.  For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them … But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.  … Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.  (1Th. 5:1-6)

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  (2Pe 3:10 NASB)  (See also Rev 3:3)

Coming like a thief therefore consistently indicates unpredictability.  Notice also in the verses quoted that the Lord’s coming like a thief is associated with “sudden destruction”, “heavens will pass away with a roar” and “the earth and its works will be burned up”.  “Coming like a thief” clearly does not refer to something inaudible or invisible.  In two of the verses quoted it is indicated twice that it is the “day of the Lord” that come like a thief.

The church will be on earth during the plagues.

While Dispensationalists postulates a secret rapture which would come at an hour the world does not expect, they also hold that the timing of the events after the rapture—often referred to by Dispensationalists as the Tribulation–is not subject to uncertainty.  They hold that numerous time-indicators in the Bible give a precise number of days between the secret rapture and the visible return of Christ.  Further, in their view the rapture occurs in Revelation 4:1, while the plagues are poured out later.

But then we have a contradiction when 16:15 uses the familiar NT expression “coming like a thief” to indicate unexpectedness.  Dispensationalists therefore propose that 16:15 refers to events before 4:1.  It is agreed that the warning in 16:15 is very similar to the advice to the churches.  To the Church in Sardis He says:

… I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.  (Rev 3:3 NASB)

To the Church in Laodicea He says:

I advise you to buy from Me … white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed …  (Rev 3:18 NASB)

Added together, these two verses sound very similar to 16:15.  It is therefore same warning, given to the same people, at the same time.  However, it is not agreed with Dispensationalists that the warning in 16:15 belongs before a secret rapture.  Rather, the interpretation here is that the Church would still be on earth during the plagues.

Keeping one’s clothes symbolises righteous behaviour or good works.

Consistent with the image of the surprise coming of a thief, the image portrayed by 16:15 is of a person having disrobed and fallen asleep, and then awakened by surprise and forced to parade about naked.

In Revelation garments is often use to symbolise one’s spiritual condition.  Revelation sometimes uses “defiled garments” (3:4) or nakedness (3:17-18) as a symbol for sin, while “white” or “clean” garments (3:4-5; 6:11; 19:8) symbolise the spiritual condition of the people who “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14).  The righteous deeds we therefore receive from God.  He is the Source of all that is good.

Note that God’s people are urged to “keep their clothes” (16:15).  Unlike the Laodiceans (3:18), they are not to advised to buy white garments.  Consistent with the idea that entrance into the temple is barred and the time for repentance has therefore passed when the plagues fall, Rev 16:15 is only a call to God’s people, not a call to sinners for repentance.  This is consistent with the message in Revelation 18, which also is only a call to God’s people (18:4).

Saints are called to courage in 16:15 because the world is uniting against them.

The message of 16:15 is brought to the believers at the time the demons gather the kings of the earth.  Revelation 16:15 explains the issue in the final plagues.  No war between nations is in view here.  The climax of Revelation is a far more serious evil in God’s sight:  apostate religious forces will lead ALL political and religious powers on earth to unite in one common cause, waging war against God’s people!

The interlude is not missing.

Many commentators mention that the customary interlude between the sixth and seventh elements of the sequence seems to be missing in the plagues.  However, the interludes are not between the sixth and seventh, but part of the sixth:

In the sixth seal the peoples of the world try to hide from “Him who sits on the throne” and ask “who is able to stand” (6:16, 17).  They are therefore asking who are able to stand before the throne of God.  Then follows a description of the 144,000 (7:1-8), but they are not presented as standing before the throne.  Then the innumerable multitude is presented (7:9-17), and they áre standing before the throne.Because the innumerable multitude is standing before the throne, it is concluded that they are the answer to the question above.  The description of the innumerable multitude is there the continuation after the question, while the 144,000 is an interruption.  Further, because the seventh seal only follows in chapter 8, the description of the innumerable multitude is part of the sixth seal.  The interruption is therefore not between the sixth and seven seals, but part of the sixth seal.

In the trumpets the sixth trumpet ends (11:14) with a “great earthquake” and the unbelievers being terrified giving glory to the God of heaven (11:13).  The interruption, starting with 10:1, is therefore not between the sixth and seventh, but also part of the sixth.

The same applies to the sixth plague, where the plague is interrupted by the warning to believers to keep their clothes (16:15).  The interlude is therefore still there—part of the sixth plague—but much shorter.

16:16 And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.  (NASB)

The gathering is described here, but not the war for which they are gathered (16:14).

There is no place called Har-Magedon.

Har means mountain.  Magedon is normally connected with Megiddo, an ancient fortress-city located on a plain in the southwest portion of the Valley of Jezreel (Jewish name) or Esdraelon (Greek name), some sixty miles north of Jerusalem.  Har-Magedon would mean “the Mountain of Megiddo,” but here a difficulty arises: there is no Mount Megiddo.  None of the solutions offered is especially persuasive:

Har-Magedon could be a reference to the hill country surrounding the Plain of Megiddo.  More than two hundred battles have been fought in that region.

It could be a reference to Megiddo and Mount Carmel in the same breath.  Mount Carmel hosted one of the most significant battles in Israel’s history—the battle in which the prophet Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal (1 King 18).  This spiritual battle may stand behind the battle of Armageddon.

One frequent suggestion is that it refers to Ezekiel’s prophecy of a great eschatological slaughter of the nations on “the mountains of Israel” (Ezek. 38:8-21; 39:2, 4, 17) and then made the reference more specific by adding the name Megiddo as the place where so often in Israel’s history the enemies of God were destroyed.

Others interpret Har-Magedon without reference to Megiddo.

The symbolic context and the fact that there is no literal Har-Magedon indicate that it should be understood figuratively.

Armageddon is not a physical war, but God’s judgement between the sheep and the goats.

Literal interpreters understand Armageddon to be a literal war.  They propose that all the armies of the world will fit into the Megiddo valley.  This is not possible.  A major part of warfare today is on sea and by air.  Through missiles, aircraft and aircraft carriers a modern army can strike very precisely anywhere in the world.   The interpretation of a literal war in this valley also does not fit with the global nature of the plagues.

To understand Armageddon it is important to understand that it is described in many places in the book of Revelation, even though the name Armageddon only appears in 16:16:

REVELATION 19:  In the discussion of the “kings from the east” the many similarities between the sixth plague and Revelation 19 were noted.  In both Revelation 16 and 19 there are two groups of kings (16:12, 14; 19:16, 19).  In both the “kings of the earth” are gathered to one place (16:16; 19:19) while the other kings move from one place to another (16:12; 19:14).  In both we find five parties; the Dragon, Beast, False Prophet, the “kings of the earth” and the other group of kings (16:12-14; 19:20; 20: 2).  In both the kings are assembled together for war (16:14; 19:19).  Both are also called “the day of God”.  The sixth plague explicitly says that the kings are gathered for “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14), while Revelation 19 ends with all the people of the world dead (19:21).  This—according to Isaiah 13:9 and Zephaniah 1:18—will happen on the “day of the Lord”.  Then God “will exterminate all sinners” (Isa 13:9).  “He will make a complete end, Indeed a terrifying one, Of all the inhabitants of the earth (Zeph. 1:18).  The war at the end of Revelation 19 therefore also the “day of the Lord”.  It is therefore concluded that the war at the end of Revelation 19 is also “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14).  The “place” where this war takes places is called Armageddon in Hebrew (16:16).

HARVEST:  The harvest at the end of Revelation 14 is also a description of Armageddon because, like the war at the end of Revelation 19 (19:15), it refers to the treading of the wine press (14:20).

SIXTH SEAL:  The sixth seal is also the “day of the Lord” because it is described as the “great day of their wrath” (6:17), which links it to “the great day of God” in the sixth plague, for which the kings are gathered (16:14).

Once we understand that Armageddon is described repeatedly in Revelation, and that it is the war of the “day of the Lord” it is no longer possible to understand it as a literal war between the nations of the earth.  It must be interpreted according to the frequent references in the Bible to the “day of the Lord”.   The sixth plague is the only place in the Bible where the exact phrase “the great day of God, the Almighty” occurs.  But the variations of this phrase “great day of the LORD” and “the day of the LORD” appear in nearly 30 verses.

An analysis of these verses reveals that the most frequently mentioned characteristic of this day is that it is presented as near and coming very quickly (Zeph. 1:7, 14; Isa 13:6; Ezek. 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1; 3:14; Oba 1:15).

We find the same principle in Revelation, where the predicted events are described as “the things which must soon take place” (1:1) and “the time is near” (22:10).  Interpreters often want to interpret “near” as literal, but Revelation also contains a prophecy of a period of 1000 years.  Could it literally be said that the events after the 1000 years are near?  No, it is preferable to understand “near” figurative.  It should rather be understood as a call to immediate repentance by us, to be contrasted to what the rich fool who thought himself save for many years to come:

“I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’  (Luk 12:18-20 NASB)

A second characteristic of that day is that “The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood” (Joel 2:31; Act 2:20).  In Revelation, before it describes the peoples of the world hiding from the Lord in caves and under rocks, the sixth seal elaborates on these signs:

The sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind (6:12, 13)

A third characteristic of the “day of the Lord” is that it is “the day of the LORD’S anger” (Zep 2:2, 3) and “wrath” (Zep 1:18 NASB).  It is “Cruel, with fury and burning anger” (Isa 13:9).

This is consistent with Revelation’s representation of that day.  All the peoples of the world will scream “to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”  (Rev 6:16-17 NASB).  And “He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.  (Rev 19:15 NASB)

Fourthly, the “day of the Lord” is a day of “destruction from the Almighty” (Isa 13:6; Joel 1:15).  It “will make the land a desolation” (Isa 13:9).  “All the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy” (Zeph. 1:18).  The heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2Pe 3:10).

This is also consistent with Revelation’s representation of that day: “The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (Rev 6:14 NASB).  “Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (Rev 16:20 NASB).

But the most important characteristic of the “day of the Lord” is that it is a day of judgement.  “As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head” (Oba 1:15).  Joel calls it “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14).  On that day clear and utter distinction will be made.  God “will exterminate all sinners” (Isa 13:9).  “He will make a complete end, Indeed a terrifying one, Of all the inhabitants of the earth (Zeph. 1:18).  But God’s people will “be hidden in the day of the LORD’S anger” (Zeph. 2:3).  They will “be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1Co 5:5 NASB).

It is worth studying Joel’s powerful description of that day in more detail.  Please note the many similarities to the three main Armageddon-passages in Revelation, highlighted in blue:

Proclaim this among the nations: ‘Prepare for war! Wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near, let them come up.’ Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’  Assemble and come, all you nations, and gather together all around. Cause your mighty ones to go down there, O LORD. Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.  Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; for the winepress is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness. The LORD also will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the LORD will be a shelter for his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, dwelling in Zion my holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be holy, and no aliens shall ever pass through her again. (Joel 3:9-17)

Therefore, both Joel and Revelation, when describing the “day of the Lord”, refers to a harvest, a winepress, preparation for war, assemble and gather together, sickle, signs to the sun moon and stars and terrible earthquakes.

But more importantly, distinction will on that day be made between the lost and the redeemed.  In the sixth seal the lost try to hide in the rocks and caves (6:15), while the saved stand before the throne (7:9).  In the harvest the lost are symbolised by “the clusters from the vine of the earth” (14:18), which “was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles” (14:20).  In contrast the saved is called the “harvest of the earth” (14:15) because they “have been purchased from among men” (14:4).  In Revelation 19 the lost are killed (19:21), while the saved are described as “kings” (19:16).  In Joel the wicked are trampled in the winepress while LORD will be a shelter for his people.  This distinction is also described by the parable:

“All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.  (Mat 25:32-33 NASB)

Joel’s valley of decision and Mount Magedon is therefore the same place.  There God “will sit to judge” (Joel 3:12).  After thousands of years of religious persecution, God will make distinction between His people and unbelievers at Armageddon.

The kings of the earth (Rev. 16:14) are therefore not gathered by the spirits of demons (Rev. 16:13) to a physical place, but to unity in mind and spirit.  The kings of the earth are “gathered” in the sense that they are all convinced to join forces against the enemy of the world, namely the Lamb, represented by His people living on earth.

Why must the water dry up to prepare the way of the kings from the east?

Before the plagues are poured out, the Image of the Beast persecutes God’s people, and kills some of them (13:15; 14:13).  We know they are not all killed because later—in the sixth plague—they are warned to keep their clothes (16:15).  The Image is able to identify God’s people by their non-acceptance of the mark of the Beast (13:16-17).  The peoples of the world are therefore divided into two clearly demarcated groups.

The point it time when everybody has been sealed for eternity, either by acceptance of the mark of the Beast or the seal of God, is symbolised by the temple filling up “with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple” (15:8).  In the Old Testament Israelites went to the temple to obtain forgiveness for sins.  The same applies in the New Testament, but the temple is now in heaven:

“He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebr. 2:17).  “Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.  (Heb 8:2 NASB)  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Heb 4:16 NASB)

Therefore, when the temple is closed for entrance (15:8), the time for “mercy” and “grace” has passed.  From this point forward, nobody will repent.

Then the plagues start to fall, but only on the majority with the mark of the Beast (16:2).  The people start to realise they are wrong.  In the fifth plague the Beast’s kingdom is darkened when the plague falls on its throne.  The Beast’s throne is interpreted as its religious authority.  (See the discussion of the fifth plague.)  Therefore, when the plague falls on its throne, it means that its religious authority suffers humiliation in the eyes of the peoples of the world.  They then realise that the Beast’s claims to be speaking for the true God are false, symbolised by the darkness in his kingdom.

Then the Euphrates dries up.  This is interpreted above as Babylon losing control over the peoples of the world.  Babylon is identified in a separate article.  In short, Babylon is the religious element of the trio of evil powers that we so frequently read about in Revelation; the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet.  Therefore, when the Euphrates dries up, the Beast power loses its religious authority over the peoples of the world.  They previously thought that the Beast represents the true God, but now they realise that it does not represent the true God.

But then there is a new development.  Up to this point, in the plagues at least, the Beast power has suffered blow after blow.  It is on its knees, but now receives renewed power in the form of “spirits of demons, performing signs” (16:14).  The entrance on the scene of demons that perform signs is a new and intensified attack by the evil powers.  Satanic powers are now allowed an even more direct involvement in the control of the peoples of the world.  These spirits are so powerful that they are able “to go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14).

Now follows an important but horrible conclusion; earlier the people thought they were serving the true God, but realise they do not.  They realise they are actually controlled and led by Satan.  When Satan sends his demons to gather the kings, they now realise know that they are serving Satan.  It was argued before that the messages of Revelation 18 are proclaimed with the fifth plague.  The people therefore understand that Babylon “has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit” (18:2), but at this stage they are so hardened that they find it impossible to change, and the miracle working spirits are able to convince them to follow Satan.  The fact that the world is the kingdom of Satan is no longer covered by a cloak of deception.  The people know they oppose the true God; the God of the Bible.

This brings us back to a question previously deferred, namely why does the Euphrates have to dry up before the return of Jesus?  How is the new weapon of the Beast—the miracle working demons—different from what it used before?  Stated differently; why do the people have to realise that the Beast is not speaking for God, but is actually speaking for Satan, before Jesus can return?

The answer to these questions is related to the purpose of the plagues, which is discussed in a separate article.  The question is why Jesus does not return immediately when everybody is marked for eternity.  In that article it is argued that the purpose of the plagues is to prove to all of God’s intelligent creatures, throughout the universe, that God’s judgement of people is right and perfect.  God knows exactly what is in each person, but His intelligent creatures do not.  Remember that this crisis on earth occurs against the backdrop of a rebellion against God’s government which originated in heaven, when a vast number of holy angels joined the ranks of Satan (Gen 3:1, read with Rev 20:2; Rev 12:4; Dan 10:13; Job 1:6).  God wants His intelligent creature to understand His judgement because He wants them to trust Him completely.  Therefore He does not simply judge between people.  He proves to the universe that He judges right.  Please read the article on the purpose of the plagues should a better explanation of this principle be required.

The reason why the drying up of the Euphrates paves the way for the kings from the east is related to this principle.  Up to this point the peoples of the world thought they are Christian; or at least they thought they are following the true God.  What would happen if the understood they are Satan’s followers?  Would they then repent?  This then is the final test that is required before Jesus may return to the world He created.  The people must clearly understand they are following Satan.  They must clearly understand the issues.  And this they do, due to the mighty angel of Revelation 18 illuminating the whole world with his power.  Now, in full realisation of what they do, people choose against God and for Satan.  This is the final evidence required by God’s intelligent creatures.  Now God has answered every question that any of His followers—peoples, angels and other beings—may ever ask with respect to His judgement.  When all questions are answered, Jesus may return.

Next: Seventh Plague

TO: General Table of Contents

The Fifth Plague

16:10-11 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds. (NASB)

The fifth plague confirms, like the first plague (16:2), that the plagues specifically target those within the kingdom of the Beast.

The transition from the fourth to the fifth bowls is most striking. The one had been the fiery, scorching, blinding brightness of the sun; the next is an impenetrable darkness, bringing cold and misery.

The Beast receives its throne and power and great authority from the Dragon (13:2). In the article on the seven headed beasts of Revelation it is argued that the Dragon, when it has seven heads and ten horns, and stands before the woman, ready to devour her Child (12:3-4), represents the fourth kingdom of Daniel 7, which is identified in the study of Daniel 7 as the Roman Empire. The article on the seven headed beasts also argues, because it the Sea Beast inherits characteristics from each of the four beasts of Daniel (Rev 13:2), that the Sea Beast is the same as the 11th horn that comes forth from this fourth beast of Daniel 7. The Sea Beast is therefore, in some way, a continuation of the Roman Empire, and receives its throne in that sense from the Roman Empire.

Symbolic versus Literal Interpretations

A literal interpretation might be that a literal chemical is poured on a literal throne resulting in a literal darkness in a literal kingdom. However, the throne must be figurative because the throne is received from the Roman Empire, and the kingdom must be figurative because all the peoples of the world worship it (13:3, 4) and the Beast’s kingdom is therefore world-wide.

Criticism often levied against symbolic interpretations is that there are so many different symbolic interpretations that most (all?) of them clearly must be wrong. It is agreed that most symbolic interpretations are wrong, but then a literal interpretation is always wrong. Literal interpretations are based on the assumption that something is literal unless clearly or specifically said to be symbolic. This cannot be a valid assumption. There are too many things that must clearly be symbolic, like fire flowing from the mouths of God’s witnesses, a flood of water pouring out of the mouth of the Dragon, a sword coming out of the mouth of Him who sits on a white horse, frogs coming out of the mouths of the Dragon, Beast and False prophets, and fire and smoke and brimstone coming out of the mouths of 200 million horses, to mention but a few. In a book where symbols are everywhere it is not valid to assume something is literal unless it cannot be literal. The context must be allowed to determine whether something is literal or symbolic, without the interpreter trying to apply some preconceived rule.

Another criticism against symbolic interpretations is that such interpretations are only limited by the interpreter’s imagination. It is agreed that creative interpretations cannot be correct. Symbolic interpretations should be based on a detailed comparison of Scripture with Scripture, and allowing Scripture to interpret itself. This does not guarantee a correct interpretation, often because interpreters come to the text with different a priori assumptions.

A criticism against literal interpretations is that it never ask what something means, and therefore fails to benefit from the message in the text. The next topic is a good example.

The beast’s throne is religious authority

The word “throne” appears in 35 verses in Revelation, of which 32 refers to the throne of God (4:2-3, 9-10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:9-10, 15; 19:4; 21:5). His throne is in the temple (16:17) which is in heaven (11:19). In the center and around the throne are four living creatures full of eyes (4:6). Before His throne is a sea of glass, seven lamps of fire, which are the seven Spirits of God (4:5-6; 1:4) and the golden altar (8:3). Around His throne are 24 thrones on which 24 elders elders sit (Rev 4:4) and angels; myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands (5:11; 7:11). Out of His throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder (4:5), a loud voice (16:17; 19:5; 21:3), and the water of life, clear as crystal (22:1). Jesus sat down on His Father’s throne (3:21; 15:5). He is in the center of the throne (7:17; 5:6). The throne is called the throne of both God and of the Lamb (22:1) The 144,000 who had been purchased from the earth sing a new song before the throne (14:3). The final judgement is before a great white throne (20:11). All the dead stand before this throne; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books (20:12). Finally, in the eternal state, the throne of God will no longer be in heaven. It will be in the New Jerusalem (22:3).

Often in Revelation we find references to God’s throne without a direct reference to God. In these cases God’s throne is used as a symbol of His authority. For example, when Revelation refers to “the seven Spirits who are before His throne” (1:4), or the great multitude standing before the throne (7:9) it is actually saying the seven Spirits and the great multitude are before the Authority of the whole creation; the One that has the right to rule (see also 4:3-6, 10; 5:6, 11; 7:11; etc.). Also often in Revelation God is referred to as “Him who sit on the throne” (4:2, 9, 10; 5:1, 7, 13; etc.). This is equivalent to saying “Him Who has authority to rule”. Therefore, just as a throne is a symbol of a king’s authority, God’s throne represents His authority. Similarly the Beast’s throne is a symbol of its authority.

When the bowl is poured out on the throne of the beast, its whole kingdom becomes darkened. There exists therefore a cause-effect relationship between the Beast’s throne and its kingdom. Damage to its authority results in damage to its whole kingdom. It is therefore important to understand what the beast’s authority is. What gives it the power to rule? Is it military might, or economic power, or perhaps religious authority? A further possibility is that miracles, frequently mentioned in Revelation (13:13; 16:14), may give the beast the power to rule.

The question is related to the question about the nature of the final conflict. More precisely: who will persecute God’s people (13:7, 15)? Is it the government, or perhaps the economic powers of the world, or is it another religion like Islam or is it perhaps the Church itself that is persecuting God’s people? The Sea Beast (11th horn) is identified in the study of Daniel 7. Its nature is therefore known, but the Sea Beast receives a fatal wound. The wound heals, but then another power—the Earth-Beast—takes over as the active force, creating an image to the Sea Beast. The question is therefore what the nature of the Earth Beast and of the Image is.

It is proposed here that the nature of the end time conflict is persecution by and within the Church, of God’s real people. This is based on the following:

1. Interpreted in the context of the surrounding plagues, the fifth plague means that the followers of the Beast thought they are worshiping the true God, but now realise that they are opposing God. They are therefore a religious group.

The fifth plague is very cryptic. It simply says that the plague is poured out on the throne of the Beast, and the Beast’s kingdom became darkened. The fifth plague therefore must be interpreted in terms of the preceding and subsequent plagues.

The first four plagues attack man’s whole environment—earth, sea, waters, heaven; compare 14:7—somehow without affecting the people that do not have the mark of the beast (16:2). This happens in the context of a world in which the people are polarised into two visibly delineated groups. The one group worships the Image because of the sign and wonders performed by the beast. The signs and wonders apparently clearly prove that the False Prophet is God’s true prophet. The minority group, on the other hand, is not willing to worship the Image, and are persecuted and killed because of their belief in the Creator (14:7). Once these two groups are clearly demarcated, the plagues start to fall, but do not affect the minority group. The peoples of the world therefore must begin to suspect they are wrong, and that the False Prophet is not God’s true representative.

In the sixth plague the waters of the Euphrates dries up. The Euphrates is the river on which ancient Babylon was situated, sustaining life in the city. In Revelation the end time Babylon is also represented as sitting on many waters (17:1), but in Revelation the “many waters” become a symbol for the peoples of the world (17:15) and “sitting” becomes a symbol for her corrupting influence over them (17:2). Drying up therefore implies that her influence over them wanes.

If the fifth plague is then interpreted in the context of the surrounding plagues, it must be something that adds to the evidence of the first four plagues to finally convince the people that the Beast power is not speaking for God, resulting in them cutting their umbilical cord with Babylon in the sixth plague. This implies that the people previously thought that the Beast represents God. This means that the Beast throne is religious authority.

2. In the Bible God’s people were always persecuted by people that pretend to speak for God, never by foreign nations.

The Beast will make war with the saints and to overcome them (13:7). In the Bible foreign nations never selectively persecuted God’s true people. It always was the people that pretended to be God’s people that persecute God’s real people. For instance, Jesus was killed by the Jews, manipulating the power of government to do it. It was the Jews that killed Stephan and also all the prophets of old, not foreign nations. Applying this principle to the end time, God’s people will be persecuted by their own community—the Church—because of what they believe and do.

3. The conflict in the letters is within the Church.

The nature of the conflict in the letters should be the same as the nature of the final conflict because the letters serve as introduction to the book of Revelation. A study of the letters, and specifically of the powers that oppose God’s people, will informs us that God’s people are not persecuted or threatened by forces outside the Church, but by forces within the Church. Twice we read in the letters of people who “say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (2:9; 3:9). The opposition of God’s people are referred as evil men “who call themselves apostles, and they are not” (2:2), and “the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess”, but she teaches God’s bond-servants to commit acts of immorality (2:20). Four times, therefore, we have indications that the powers that oppose God are from within the Church. This provides strong support for the proposal that the conflict at the end time will be within the Christian Church.

Some people might find the references to Jews confusing. An in depth separate article is available that discusses “Israel in Prophecy”. This is a critical study, and the point where the paths of interpreters separate.

The reference to people that call themselves Jews, but are not, would not make sense if taken literally. Why would only people that claim to be of Jewish descent be a danger to the Church? Why would they, and only they, be called a “synagogue of Satan” (2:9; 3:9)? This reference must therefore be understood symbolically. In those early days most Christians were Jews, because for the first few years after the cross the gospel has been preached to Jews only (Acts 10:45; 11:18). Further, the believers thought of themselves as part of Israel. In fact, they thought of themselves as the only true Jews. The Jews that rejected Christ were considered as unfaithful. In Romans Paul explains that a true remnant remains, into which branches from the wild olive (non-Jews) have been grafted in, and natural branches (unbelieving Jews) have been cut off. In this context a person claiming to be a Jew, but that is not a Jew, would be somebody that claims to be a believer, but is not true a true believer.

4. The powers that persecute are described as a woman.

Revelation 17 uses a different set of symbols. Instead of the Dragon, Sea Beast and False Prophet of the previous chapters we find the symbols of a harlot woman—Babylon—sitting on a scarlet Beast (17:3). In this representation it is the harlot that persecutes God’s people (18:24).

In Revelation there are two women. The first is the pure woman (12:1); the bride of the Lamb (19:7). The second is this harlot Babylon, claiming she is “NOT A WIDOW” (18:7). She therefore claims to be the wife of the Lamb (compare 21:9).

By describing Babylon as a woman, the Author of Revelation is telling us that she is in some respects similar to, but in other respects very different from the woman representing God’s people. Since they are both woman, and since both Israel (in the Old Testament) and the Church (in the New Testament) are described as women, and as adulteress women when unfaithful, both women represent the Church. But the Bride is the true people of God. They are part of the Church, but called out of Babylon (18:4). The harlot woman Babylon is the false Church; the Church that “has become a dwelling place of demons” (18:2).

This explains the statement that the 144000 never defiled them with women (14:4). These women are the daughters of Babylon, because she is the mother of harlots (17:5). The fact that the 144,000 never defiled them with women means they never agreed with what Babylon does.

As mentioned, it is Babylon that persecutes God’s true people.  The conclusion is therefore again that the final conflict is a war within the Church; the faithful minority against the authority of the Church.

5. Signs and wonders

Moses performed “wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years” (Act 7:36 NASB). Jesus was “attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” (Act 2:22; Heb. 2:4). The Lord confirmed the word of the apostles “by the signs that followed” (Mar 16:20 NASB). “… many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles” (Act 2:43; Act 5:12).

However, in the end time conflict, the anti-God powers will be confirmed by signs and wonders. The Sea Beast “performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (Rev 13:13 NASB). “He deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast … (Rev 13:14; Rev 19:20). In the sixth plague the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet will be assisted by “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” (Rev 16:14 NASB).

This has also been predicted elsewhere in the New Testament, but notice it is not a military or economic power that perform these sign and wonders. It will be done by people pretending to speak for the Christian God:

“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Mat 24:24; Mar 13:22)

“the man of lawlessness … who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. … that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” (2Th 2:3, 4, 9 NASB).

6. The 11th horn of Daniel 7—the Beast of Revelation—blasphemes God, persecutes His saints and tries to change God’s law. This is the behaviour of false religion.

 The fourth beast of Daniel 7 is the Roman Empire, and the 11th horn—the Sea Beast of Revelation—grew out of it.  (Refer to the article on the seven headed beasts of Revelation.)  The Roman Empire’s right to rule was its military might.  But the 11th horn is said to be “different” (Dan 7:24).  It therefore does not necessarily follow that the throne of the beast (its authority) is military might.

The 11th horn wages war with the saints and overpower them (Dan 7:21).  He “will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time” (7:25).  This is the behaviour of false religion.  That it will try to “make alterations in times and in law” means it is Christian false religion.

7. The Beast power is described by religious and even Christian words such as “lamb”, “prophet” and “worship.

The word “worship” is used five times in Revelation 13 and 14.  Four times it is used for the people worshiping the beast (13:8, 12) and his image (13:15; 14:11), while the three angels warn the people to worship the Creator alone (14:7).  This last conflict may therefore be described as a battle of worship.

The Beast from the Earth at first looks like a lamb (13:11).  The word “lamb” occurs 32 times in Revelation, and only in this one instance it does not refer to Jesus Christ.  The Earth Beast therefore appears to be Christian, but eventually it is called the False Prophet (16:13; 19:20).  Both the words “lamb” and “prophet” implies its Christian religious nature.

The article on the identity of the 11th horn will provide further support for the conclusion that the Beast’s authority is religious in nature, and specifically for the statement that the issue in the end time is a war within the Church.

In summary, the Beast is the 11th horn of Daniel 7 (Rev 13:2), which is a continuation of the fourth Beast of Daniel, which is the Roman Empire.  By being a continuation of the Roman Empire, the Beast receives its power to rule (its authority) from the Roman Empire.  It therefore is not a literal throne.  In the same way as God’s throne represents His authority in Revelation, the Beast’s throne symbolises his authority, or “right to rule”.  In the fifth plague this authority suffers defeat.  The question is what the Beast’s authority is.  Some would believe it rules by military might.  Others believe it rules with the power of money.  It is proposed here that the Beast rules through religious authority, and specifically Christian religious authority.

The fifth plague, interpreted in the context of the surrounding plagues, must be something that convinces the people of the world that they are serving the wrong god.  They are therefore a religious group.  This does not prove that they are Christian, but other evidence point to the Christian nature of the persecuting powers at the end time:

  • It is always the people within the community of faith persecute God’s true people.  Outside groups never selectively persecute only God’s true people.
  • The opponents to God’s people in the letters to the Churches are inside the Church.
  • False religion is represented in Revelation as a woman, in contrast to the Bride of Christ.
  • The Beast will deceive through signs and wonders, and according to Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonica 2 this is what false teachers in the Church will do at the end time.
  • The 11th horn—the Beast of Revelation—will try to change times and laws.  This means it will try to change God’s laws, which implies it is within the Church.
  • The Beast is described as Christian by words such as “lamb” and “prophet”.

The beast’s throne is not the power of money 

A group of commentaries view Revelation as a general description of the war between good and evil.  They do not agree that the characters and events in Revelation were ever or will ever become real characters or events.  Some such commentaries interpret the evil powers of Revelation as the power of money.  It is true that, particularly in Revelation 18, economic power is prominent.  Babylon is clothed in wealth (17:4), and in Revelation clothes depict the nature of the entity.  Her merchants became rich from her (18:15).  They “were the great men of the earth” (18:23).

However, the Beast is not economic power in general, but a specific entity with a specific date of origin, arising out of specific other entities.  It comes out of the sea (13:1) looking like “a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the Dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority” (13:2).  These are the four animals of Daniel 7, representing Babylon (lion), Mede-Persia (bear), Greece (leopard) and Rome (non-descript beast in Daniel 7—Dragon in Revelation).  It is not possible to say that economic wealth came into existence after these kingdoms or that economic power received something from each of them.

Furthermore, the Beast persecutes the saints and overpowers them (13:7).  Economic power never persecutes the true people of God selectively.  It is not able to distinguish between God’s true people and others.

The Beast’s authority is primarily religious in nature because its primary purpose is to oppose God, not to accumulate wealth.  Wealth is used as a tool by the Beast, but is not its ultimate purpose.

To return to the issue of literal interpretations; A literal interpretation never asks what something means, and therefore often fails to grasp the real meaning.  It does not ask what the throne of the Beast is, and therefore often explains the end time conflict as military in nature, which is inconsistent with the general message of the Bible.  The war on earth is a continuation of the war in heaven (12:7).  It revolves around much bigger issues than simply who is physically the strongest.  Jesus overcame by being a lamb (5:6).  He asked: “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mat 26:53)  Similarly the war we are in is not physical.  God has all power in the universe, but that is not the point.

The darkness is the “loud cry”

The first four plagues target the beast’s followers and their environment (16:2), but the fifth plague targets the beast’s kingdom right at its foundation, and its authority wanes.  Previously “the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast … they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” (13:3, 4).  But now it suffers great humiliation before the eyes of the earth dwellers.

The “loud cry” is the message of Revelation 18, so called because it starts with an angel that “cried out with a mighty voice” (18:2), while “the earth was illumined with his glory” (18:1).  This angel is followed by “another voice from heaven” (18:4).  This is apparently God Himself, because the voice says “Come out of her, my people” (18:4).  Curiously, the NASB does not capitalise the “my”.  Lastly a “strong angel” (18:21) illustrates how sudden Babylon’s fall will be.  Similar to the leaders of the seven churches that are called angels (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), and similar to the three angel-messages of Revelation 14, these are not literal angels, nor a literal voice from heaven, but messages proclaimed on earth by people, driven by the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of this discussion is to investigate when, in the sequence of the events in Revelation, the messages of Revelation 18 will be proclaimed.  After the Sea Beast’s fatal wound is healed, the Earth-Beast will perform miracles to create the image to the Sea Beast (13:12-14).  Then the image will persecute and kill God’s people, and give the mark of the Beast to its followers (13:15-17).  Because the third of the three angels in Revelation 14 warns against the image and the mark of the Beast (14:9-11), and also because God’s people are urged to persevere, even onto death (14:12-13), the message of these three angels will sound simultaneous with the work of the image.  When every person has been marked for eternity, either with the mark of the Beast or the seal of God (14:1), the temple closes (15:8).  From this point onwards nobody will change side:

“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.”  (Rev 22:11 NASB)

Then the plagues start to fall (16:1).  Babylon is finally destroyed in the seventh plague (16:19).  The question therefore is where in this sequence of events the messages of Revelation 18 fit.

The messages of Revelation 18 precede the destruction of Babylon.  This is clear from the future tenses used when referring to her destruction; her plagues will come” (18:8), “she will be burned up” (18:9), the kings “will weep” (18:10), the merchants “will stand at a distance” (18:15), “so will” Babylon be thrown down (18:21).  The messages of Revelation 18 are therefore proclaimed before the seventh plague, when Babylon is destroyed (16:19).

Both the mighty angel of Revelation 18 and the second of the three angel messages is Revelation 14 are world-wide (14:6; 18:1) and announce “Babylon is fallen” (14:8; 18:2), but the message of Revelation 18 is much more powerful and detailed.  Revelation 14:8 simply reads “And another angel, a second one, followed, saying” while Revelation 18 reads “another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory, And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying” (18:1, 2).  The angel in Revelation 18 also expands on the causes and implications of Babylon’s fall.

Because the three messages in Revelation 18 are described later in the book, and are much more detailed, and given in much more power than the three messages of Revelation 14, it would be fair to assume that they are different, with the messages in Revelation 18 later in time, when Babylon’s sins have matured fully.  Because the three messages of Revelation 14 are proclaimed while the image of the Beast is busy with its deadly work, the messages of Revelation 18 are therefore either proclaimed just before the plagues start to fall, or during the plagues.

This conclusion is supported by the fact that there is no call to repentance in Revelation 18.  While the messages of the three angels in Revelation 14 is to “every nation and tribe and tongue and people” (14:6), urging them to worship the Creator (14:7), instead of the Beast and its image (14:9), Revelation 18 does not contain a call to repentance, but is a message to God’s people only; “Come out of her, my people” (18:4).  It is therefore possible to conclude that the time for repentance is has passed and we are now in the time of the plagues.  Alternatively the plagues are about to be poured out.

There are three lines of thought that links Revelation 18 specifically to the fifth plague.  The first is the contrast between the darkness on the Beast’s kingdom in the fifth plague and the illumination of the whole world by the glory of the mighty angel of Revelation 18 (18:1).  This contrast links these two sections.  It implies that the fifth plague is the loud cry; a message from God, proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit and confirming the standing before God of the persecuted minority “sect”, resulting in humiliation for the religious authority of the Beast.  In Revelation 11 we note a similar recovery by God’s people, when the two witnesses come to life, after being dead for 3½ days, “and great fear fell upon those who were watching them” (11:11).

The second is the call to God’s people to come out of Babylon so that they would not receive of her plagues (18:4), coupled to the fact that the sixth and seventh plagues are particularly Babylon’s plagues:

  • The first five plagues are modelled on the plagues on Egypt, but that the sixth plague is modelled on the events around the fall of ancient Babylon (the waters drying up and the kings from the east).
  • Babylon is destroyed in the seventh plague (16:19).  This is confirmed by Revelation 18:5 which read “God has remembered her iniquities”.  Compare this to the seventh plague which reads “Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (16:19).  In both instances the word “remember” is used.  When God remembers something, it does not mean that He forgot.  It means that He acts.  In this case 16:19 tells us what He does, namely “to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (16:19).

If “her plagues” are understood as specifically the sixth and seventh plagues, then the call in Revelation 18 goes out just before these two plagues, and not before all seven plagues.

The third and last line of logic that links Revelation 18 to the fifth plague is the call to God’s people to “pay her back” and “to give her torment” (18:7).  This cannot be her final destruction in the seventh plague (16:19), because Babylon is not destroyed by God’s people, but by the “kings” (17:16), “for God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose” (17:17).  This means that God’s people must “pay her back” before she is destroyed in the seventh plague.  Babylon’s waters dry up in the sixth plague.  The Euphrates is the “many waters” on which Babylon sits (17:1), namely the peoples of the world (17:15).  When the Euphrates dries up it means that Babylon loses her influence over the peoples of the world, which is therefore also not something done by God’s people.  It therefore is possible that God’s people “pay her back” during the fifth plague, when the Beast’s kingdom is covered by darkness by God’s people when a powerful message is proclaimed through them, followed in the sixth plague by the peoples of the world turning their backs on Babylon, and followed by the complete destruction of Babylon by the kings of the earth in the seventh plague.

It is therefore concluded that the fifth plague is the proclamation of the messages of Revelation 18.  The darkness in the Beast’s kingdom is the result of the extremely powerful working of the Holy Spirit to confirm the persecuted minority, convincing the peoples of the world that light from their system of worship is actually spiritual darkness, while the persecuted minority, like the people of the land of Goshen (the Israelites in historical Egypt), had light in their homes.

Next: Sixth Plague

TO: General Table of Contents