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 of darkness is poured out on the throne of the beast, and on his kingdom.

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)

They –  The pronoun “they” is used for “his kingdom,” not “it..”   The kingdom therefore refers to the subjects of the beast’s kingdom; not to its territory.   his plague confirms what we saw in the first plague (16:2), namely that the plagues selectively target the subjects of the kingdom of the Beast.

Became darkened – The contrast between the fourth to the fifth plagues is most striking. The fourth had been the fiery, scorching, blinding brightness of the sun, while the fifth is an impenetrable darkness, bringing cold and misery.

Throne of the beast – In 13:2 we read that the Beast receives its throne and power and great authority from the Dragon.  Who is the Dragon?  Both the Beast and the Dragon have seven heads and ten horns.  The Dragon is identified in the article on the Seven Headed Beasts of Revelation:

When the Dragon stands before the woman, ready to devour her Child (Jesus – 12:3-4), it represents the fourth kingdom of Daniel 7, which is identified in the study of Daniel 7 as the Roman Empire.  This empire ruled the known world when Jesus was born.

In other words, 13:2 indicates that the Beast receives its throne from the Roman Empire.  This may be confirmed as follows:

The Beast appears for the first time in Revelation 13.  It arises from the sea (the peoples of the world) and inherits characteristics from each of the four beasts of Daniel (Rev 13:2; compare Daniel 7).  It is therefore inferred  that the Beast is the same as the fifth power in Daniel 7, which is the 11th horn that comes out of the fourth beast of Daniel 7.  Since , which is the Roman Empire.  This confirms that the Beast is, in some way, a continuation of the Roman Empire.

Symbolic versus Literal Interpretations

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

Criticism which is often levied against symbolic interpretations is that there are so many different symbolic interpretations that most (all?) of them must be wrong. It is true 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. In Revelation this cannot be a valid assumption, for there are too many things in Revelation that must be symbolic.  To mention a few examples of things coming out of mouths:

● Fire and smoke and brimstone coming out of the mouths of 200 million horses (9:18);
● Fire flowing from the mouths of God’s witnesses (11:5);
● A flood of water pouring out of the mouth of the Dragon; also called Serpent (12:15);
● Frogs coming out of the mouths of the Dragon, Beast and False prophets (16:13); and
● A sword coming out of the mouth of Him who sits on a white horse (19:15).

In a book where symbols are found 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 asks 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

Revelation 16; The first four plagues

The closing of the temple in heaven in Revelation 15:8 is a major turning point in the history of mankind.  From this point in time forward, nobody will be saved.  Revelation 16 explains what happens on earth after the temple has been closed, and the plagues start to fall.  This happens at a time when the population of the world is divided into two groups:

Those with the mark of the beast, and
Those with the seal of God.

Somehow this distinction will be visible, for the people with the seal of God will be persecuted.  But these horrible plagues—malignant sores, water and sea turning to blood and a scorching sun—only affect the people with the mark of the beast.   They must see that they are in the wrong.  How do they respond?  Do they repent?

16:1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” (NASB)

Focus shifts from heaven to earth

In Revelation 15 we were shown heaven:

First John was shown those who refused to worship the Beast and who refused to accept his mark.  He saw them standing on the sea of glass, before the throne of God in the temple in heaven (15:2-4).

After this, John saw the seven angels receiving the seven last plagues and leaving the temple in heaven (15:5-7).

Lastly he saw the temple in heaven becoming filled with the glory of God (15:8).

Rev 16:1 is still part of the heavenly scene, for the voice comes from the temple.  Since “no man was able to enter into the temple” (15:8), this must be the voice of God Himself.  As from 16:2 the focus shifts to the earth, describing the pouring out of the seven bowls upon the earth.

Not seven literal bowls

It is obvious that the first angel does not pour a literal chemical from a literal bowl upon men who had received a literal mark inflicted by a literal beast.  These bowls are temple vessels associated with the altar of incense (Zech. 14:20; Num. 7:84; Rev 5:8).  Bowls are used here as symbols of the consequences of decisions taken in the temple in heaven.

Nor is the number seven to be understood literally.  In Revelation the number seven has to do with the completion of a process.  It is based on the first seven in the Bible, namely seven days of the week.  In Revelation, in any series of seven, the second follows after the first, the third after the second, and so forth, and the seventh is the last.  Seven therefore is symbolic for a “completed process.”  The number seven may therefore simply mean that plagues will be poured out until God’s purpose with them has been achieved.

16:2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image. (NASB)

The people who …

In Revelation 13 the image of the beast is created by the people of the earth (13:14).  This image then causes all to worship the image and to receive the mark of the beast (13:15, 16).  The people who have the mark of the beast and the people who worship his image are therefore not two categories of people, but one group.

The plagues follow after Revelation 13 and 14

The first plague is poured out upon the people who have received the mark of the beast.  The plagues are therefore poured out after the image of the beast has been created and the mark has been enforced, and also after the proclamation of the third angel, which warns against the beast and its mark.

God makes the distinction visible.

The bowls are poured out on the (entire) earth (16:1), but only those who worship the Beast will receive God’s wrath (16:2, 10).  This is important for a proper understanding of the plagues.  The plagues are poured out while God’s people are still being killed because they refuse to worship the image (13:15), for the Image is trying to force them to accept the mark of the beast (13:16-17).  But then the plagues start to fall selectively on the followers of the beast (the majority of the peoples—13:8), while God’s people do not suffer.  The people of the world see this.  How they would respond to this information?

16:3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died. (NASB)

God destroys His own creation.

That which God so lavishly created on the fifth day, He utterly destroys by means of this plague.  We can’t help but think of how pleased the Lord was when He made all the plethora of sea life for man’s pleasure and benefit. We read in Genesis 1:20-23:

God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 

16:4 Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” 

God already came.

Revelation usually describes God as “Him who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4, 8; 4:8), referring to His eternal essence.  But the “is to come” is omitted in 16:5 because He already came, in a sense.  Things have changed.  Everybody can see that God is making distinction between His people and non-believers.  In the seventh trumpet (11:17) God is described similarly, for “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (11:15).

The angel of the waters

The “angel of the waters” is the one who poured the plague on the water.   Every one of us deserves the same judgement. It is only through grace that God’s people do not suffer this punishment.

The harlot Babylon murders God’s people.

Later in Revelation we will read about the harlot Babylon, the mother of harlots.  She is “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (17:6).  “In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth” (18:24).  She sits on the “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (17:15), which implies that she uses them for her evil purposes.  The godless have shed the blood of saints and prophets throughout history (1K. 18:4; 19:4; 2K. 24:4; 2Chr. 24:21; Ps. 79:1-4; Jer. 2:30; Jer. 26:23; Lam. 4:13).  Jesus referred to this in His parables:

The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them.” (Mat 21:35-36 NASB)

Since the rejection of Messiah Jesus 2000 years ago, the toll of the shed blood of the saints has escalated dramatically.  Yet the persecutions of history will pale in comparison with that which befalls the saints in the crisis when the Beast (13:7, 10) and his image (13:15) slaughter the saints during Satan’s final attempt to overthrow God’s plan.

16:7 And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” 

Both the angel (16:5) and the altar (16:7) confirm that God’s decisions are right.  This says something about the purpose of the plagues, as discussed below.

The altar

The altar is a symbol of the martyred believers.

One does not normally expect an altar to speak, but in apocalyptic literature anything is possible.  There were two altars in the Jewish temple area.  Both are mentioned in Revelation:

Golden altar: The “golden” (8:3) altar, from which rises “the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints” (8:4), is the altar of incense, which was inside the Jewish temple.  In Revelation this altar is “before the throne” (8:3) and therefore “in the temple” (16:17), which is in heaven (11:19).

Altar of burnt offerings: The altar on which people have symbolically “been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (6:9) is equivalent to the Jewish altar of burnt offerings, which was outside the temple.  It is possible to think of this altar as on earth, because that is where these people are killed and persecuted.

The altar in view in 16:7 is probably the altar of burnt offering because it is not identified as the “golden” altar and because it reacts to the statement in the previous verse (16:6) about the pouring out of “the blood of saints and prophets.”  It was therefore the voice from this altar which we heard before (6:9-11).  It is also the voice of the martyrs, whose blood has been shed.  In 6:9-11 their blood, like the blood of Abel (Gen 4:10), speaks metaphorically at the beginning of the end-time crisis, anticipating “true and righteous” judgment between them and their enemies.  In 16:7 the same voice confirms the rightness of God’s judgments.

16:8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. 9 Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. 

Normally the sun warms and cheers men and controls plant growth, climate and many other processes necessary to maintain life.  Now it sends forth an excess of heat that torments men and destroys life.  But God’s people will somehow be protected from this scorching fire (16:2).

While voices praise God for His final judgments (16:5-7), earthly voices curse Him for His judgments.

The plagues reveal.

The plagues reveal that the people with the mark of the beast are irredeemable.

The plagues are preceded by a period of intense persecution of God’s people (13:15-17).  But to persecute God’s people, it must be clear who they are.  Therefore, during this period of persecution, a distinction between the world and God’s people becomes clearly visible to everybody.  There will be some visible mark that distinguishes the two groups.  In Revelation this is called the mark of the beast (13:16, 17) and the seal of God (14:1).  Both groups are religious.  (See the article Babylon, the mother of harlots.)  Both groups claim to represent God on earth.  But in the view of the people of the world the people of God (13:8) are a dangerous sect.

Then the plagues start to fall, but only affect one of these groups, namely the majority—the followers of the beast (16:2).  Now the world can see that the despised minority do not suffer as a result of the plagues, and they must realize that they themselves are wrong and are fighting against God.  But they became so hardened that they refuse to repent (16:9, 11, 21).  Even in the face of the devastation around them, their hearts are so set against Him in hatred that all they can do is to continue their pattern of cursing God.  Those who have taken the mark of the beast are irredeemable in the sense that God knows that they will not repent, even under these terrible conditions.  But to prove to all intelligent beings in the universe that they are irredeemable, and therefore that God is right when He will destroys them, the plagues are poured out.  These people have reached the point of no return. This is the meaning of the mark of the beast, namely that a person who has become unable to repent is said to have received the mark of the beast.

Because Revelation mentions that they did not repent, we need to assume that the opportunity for them to repent still exists, even at this late hour.  God’s hand of mercy is still being extended, but these multitudes will have none of it.  It is not that God does not want to forgive.  It is that men have become unable to change.

God’s people are still persecuted.

The sins of the people of the world include the worship of the image of the beast and persecution of the saints (13:15).  Since they refuse to repent, it means that the saints are still being persecuted.

The First Four of a series are general and non-specific

The first four of any series of seven in Revelation is seen in this commentary as general and highly figurative, and not individually interpreted.  Thus the first four seals (the four horsemen), the first four trumpets and the first four plagues are not individually interpreted.  This approach is justified as follows:

Firstly, in Revelation the number four symbolizes the entire earth (7:1).  This is also seen in the fact that four words are often used to describe the peoples of the world, where one word would have been sufficient:

Tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9)
Nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues (7:9)
Peoples and nations and tongues and kings (10:11)
Peoples and tribes and tongues and nations (11:9)
Tribe and people and tongue and nation (13:7)
Nation and tribe and tongue and people (14:6)
Peoples and nations and tongues and kings (17:15)

Secondly, the fourth seal is a summary of the previous three.

Thirdly, the first four trumpets respectively attack the earth, sea, waters and heavenly bodies (8:7-12).  Revelation describes the creation to be composed of those four components (“Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water”—14:7).  The first four trumpets are therefore simply viewed as an attack on man’s total environment.

Fourthly,  the first four plagues similarly target the same four components of man’s environment, namely the earth, sea, waters and sun, and are therefore simply interpreted as plagues that will fall on the entire earth.

Fifthly, the first four of a series are described in much fewer words than the whole series:

– The first four seals cover only 8 of the 35 verses of the seals (6:1-8:1)
– The first four trumpets cover 6 of the 63 verses of the trumpets (8:2-11:18)
– The first four plagues cover 8 of the 84 verses of the plagues (16:1-19:21)

It would therefore be wrong to spend much time on the first four of each series, and less on the remainder of the seals, trumpets and plagues, as some interpreters do.

The first four seals, trumpets and plagues are therefore understood as worldwide and general. By ‘highly figurative’ is meant that not each object or event should be separately interpreted:

The first four seal are various persecutions of God’s people.

The first four trumpets are plagues on the unrepentant world, in order to bring them to repentance.

Similarly the first four plagues are various plagues.

But as from the fifth (seal, trumpet and plague) very specific historical events are prophesied. They are also symbolic, but here most symbols should be individually interpreted. The descriptions of the fifth, sixth and seventh in each series are much longer than the first four.  In each of the sevens we find an interlude between the sixth and the seventh, and these interlude provide background information which explains the last three of the series, which therefore also explain the entire series:

The interlude in the seals reveal God’s people, indicating that the seals are about God’s people.
The interlude in the trumpets reveal the proclaiming of the gospel to a fallen world.
The interlude in the plagues (16:15) is discussed below.

Next: Fifth Plague

Why Revelation “by” and not “of” Jesus Christ?

The official name of the last book of the Bible is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ“.  Many commentators understand this to mean that it is a revelation about Jesus Christ, because of the wonderful revelation of Jesus which we find in the book. However, the book is clear; the purpose is “to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place” (1:1).

This is therefore “The Revelation of Jesus Christ“ in the sense that it has been provided by Him. Of all the books in the Bible, this is the book that came to us with the least interference by man. John just wrote down what he heard and saw. He did not try to interpret it.

We therefore have books by Paul and John and Luke and many other men. There is only one book directly by Jesus Christ.

TO: General Table of Contents