16:17 Then the seventh angel (messenger—YLT) poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple (sanctuary of the heaven—YLT; temple of heaven—KJV) from the throne, saying, “It is done.” [It hath come!—YLT]
16:18 And there were flashes of lightning and sounds (voices—KJV, YLT) and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.
16:21 And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each (as of talent weight–YLT), came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God (did speak evil of God—YLT) because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe. (NASB)
The articles on the first six plagues and on the identity of Babylon should be read before this article.
That Babylon “was remembered before God” does not mean that God forgot and now remembers. “Remember” means to act. For instance, God “remembered” his covenant with Abraham when the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt (Exodus 2:24). See also Gen 8:1 and 19:29.
The “cup” which God gives to Babylon is a common Biblical expression denoting suffering and judgments meted out (Psalm 11:6; 75:8; Isaiah 51:17, 22, 23; Jeremiah 25:15-17, 28; 49:12; Matthew 26:39).
The seventh plague informs us explicitly that God’s throne is in the temple in heaven (16:17). The Greek word for temple (naou) describes the inner sanctuary. According to 11:19 (NASB), and also according to the KJV of 16:17, the temple is in heaven.
THE PLAGUE IS NOT LITERAL
In this plague there are five manifestation, namely lightning and sounds (or voices), thunder, a great earthquake and huge hailstones. These are not literal, for the following reasons:
(A) The group of five manifestations appears several times in Revelation, where they are symbolic:
The first time we read about this group is in the context of the vision of the temple in heaven in Revelation 4. There we only read about the first three, namely “lightning, sounds and thunder”. They came “out from the throne” (4:5). “Sounds” are also be translated as “voices” (KJV) and in Revelation voices often sound like thunder (6:1; 10:3). The lightning may reflect movement. The four living being that are represented as “in the centre and around the throne” (4:6) run “to and fro like bolts of lightning” (Ezekiel 1:14) and their voices are like thunder (6:1). For these reasons it is proposed that the lightning, sounds and thunder represent the activities, discussions and decisions and instructions emanating from the throne in heaven.
The next mention of this group is in the introduction to the trumpets, where fire is thrown down from heaven on the earth, “followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake” (8:5). Earthquake is therefore added to the previous three. The trumpets describe all sorts of devastating effects on earth, and most of them have reference to fire (8:8; 9:17; 11:3-5), burning (8:7, 10) or smoke (9:2-5). It is proposed that the earthquake is a summary symbol for all this fiery devastation. Lightning, sounds and thunder are the decisions and activities in heaven and the earthquake symbolise the consequences on earth.
The next mention of this group is in the introduction to Revelation 12 to 14, where “the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple”, followed by all five manifestation (11:19). Hail is therefore added to the previous four. In the introduction to the trumpets fire was thrown to the earth, resulting in fire everywhere in the trumpets. Similarly in the introduction to Revelation 12-14 the ark of the covenant is seen (a box which housed the ten commandments) and in Revelation 12-14 veiled references to the 10 commandments are everywhere (12:17; 14:12; 13:6, 15, 16; 14:1, 7; 15:5). It is therefore proposed that the earthquake and hail is a summary symbol for the events of Revelation 12 to 14.
(Since each major section of Revelation is introduced with a scene of the temple in heaven, 11:19 must be the introduction for the section of Revelation in chapters 12 to 14.)
B. Babylon is not destroyed by an earthquake, but by the ten kings.
Revelation 17 expands on the seventh plague, and according to 17:16 Babylon is destroyed by the gathered kings. Both the seventh plague and chapters 17 and 18 describe the destruction of Babylon, but with different sets of symbols.
C. A literal earthquake of this magnitude would destroy all human life and physical cities
This earthquake is so large that “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (16:20). A literal earthquake of this magnitude would exterminate all human life on earth, but according to 16:21 the people do not die. They continue to blaspheme God (16:21), indicating that the earth is still well populated.
Furthermore, according to 16:19, the earthquake split the great city into three parts. A literal earthquake of this magnitude would not do this. It would completely destroy all cities.
The three parts into which Babylon splits must be a symbol, implying that the “great city” is symbolic, and therefore also the earthquake.
D. This use of Old Testament events to describe future events confirms that these descriptions should be read symbolically.
The first five plagues use literal events from the Egypt Exodus to describe future events. The two final plagues – the drying up of the great River Euphrates and the fall of Babylon (Rev 16:12, 19) – use actual events from the fall of ancient Babylon.
E. Babylon symbolizes false religion.
The “great city” is Babylon (14:8), which is a symbol for “false religion” (see article on Babylon). Babylon is also the main target of the earthquake. If Babylon is not a literal city then the earthquake must also be a symbol.
The physical manifestations are not literal, but symbolic of massive destruction. As a literal earthquake leaves a literal city in ruins, so a figurative earthquake brings ruin and desolation to the symbolic “great Babylon” (16:19).
LITERAL VERSUS SYMBOLIC
One can take nearly any portion of Revelation and try to read it literally, and it would not make sense literally. For instance:
In the second plague all fresh waters turn to blood (16:3), but in the sixth the Euphrates dry up (16:12). There would not be water to dry up.
In the sixth plague, why would a river be a barrier to kings, given the use of aeroplanes and missile (16:12)?
All people received malignant sores (16:2), sending them all to look for medical help, but receive none. The sea and all fresh waters have turn to blood (16:3-4). The sun scorches people with fire (16:8). Where would literal kings get the resources, including food and water, and energy to group and attack another kingdom (16:14, 16)? Under such circumstances people will die in their billions, and everyone on earth would just be trying to survive, perhaps for another day.
How do spirits of demons that look like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, beast and false prophet, and why to the three only have one mouth (16:14)?
How could all the armies of all kings gather in a single place on earth (16:16)? How do they get there if the oceans turned to blood, on which no ship can travel?
Taken literally, why would God’s people be warned to watch their clothes, so that they not walk about naked (16:15)?
After a world-wide earthquake that levels all mountains and results in tsunamis of blood that bury all islands, and therefore also all coastal regions, what people would then be left to blaspheme God (16:18-21)?
Given these insurmountable obstacles to a literal reading, literal interpretations allocate much space and time to justify a literal interpretation, and consequently completely miss the mark.
To say that these plagues are symbolically does not mean they have no meaning. They represent real devastations. To determine what they mean require a careful study of the symbols in their immediate and wider context.
THE SEVENTH PLAGUE IS THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BEAST AND THE FALSE PROPHET.
The sixth plague ends with the kings of the earth gathered at Armageddon (16:16). Logically the seventh plague describes what happens at Armageddon afterwards. What happens at Armageddon is also described in 19:11-21, because there we also see the gathered kings (19:19). This is followed by the Beast and the False Prophet being thrown in the lake of fire (19:20). Therefore, when Babylon is destroyed, as in the seventh plague, it is also the elimination of the Beast and the False Prophet.
This conclusion is supported by the fact that Babylon (false religion) is the driving force behind the Beast-power. (See the article on Babylon.) When the Beast-powers are mentioned, the involvement of Babylon is implied. When Babylon is mentioned, the Beast and its Image, and the False Prophet are the political powers on earth through which she acts. It therefore follows that when Babylon is destroyed, the Beast-powers are destroyed as well.
The seventh plague then includes both the destruction of Babylon as described in Revelation 17 and 18, and the destruction of the Beast-powers at the end of Revelation 19.
Babylon seems to be destroyed before the return of Jesus, because the political kingdoms of the world will destroy her (17:16). This may seem to contradict the conclusion that the destruction of Babylon is also the destruction of the Beast and the False Prophet. However, the destruction of Babylon by the kings could be seen as simply part of the process by which these powers are destroyed. In other words, the world-wide religio-political anti-God coalition fight among themselves and destroy each other. We should accept that the return of Christ is much more involved, and of a much longer duration than we often think of.
The seventh plague ends with the people cursing God, while Revelation 19 ends with the people dead. The horrible killing of the people at the return of Christ, in which God and Christ find no pleasure, is not part of the seventh plague.
THE ROAD TO ARMAGEDDON
The seventh plague (Armageddon) can only be understood if one considers the background-situation on earth against which it occurs.
During the final events of earth history a powerful anti-God power (The Beast), that previously was practically dead, revives (13:3, 4). It persecutes God’s people through the False Prophet and the Image of the Beast (13:15, 17). The final political-religious power will command all to bow to the Image (accept its authority), or die (13:15). The right to buy and sell and every earthly support will be taken away from believers (13:17). Simultaneously God’s message is powerfully proclaimed all over the world (14:6-11), compelling everybody on earth to choose; either for God (and receive the seal of God—14:1) or against God (and receive the mark of the beast—13:17).
Chapter 15 represents the point in time when everybody has made their eternal choices. We will not know when that is, but God will. From this point forward nobody else will be saved, as indicated by the symbol of nobody being allowed inside the temple (15:8), and by the frequent references during the plagues of people not repenting (16:9, 11, 21).
At this point in time God unleashes the plagues. God’s people are being persecuted, but the plagues targets selectively the persecutors of God’s people (16:2, 6, 10). However, the people are so hardened that they cannot change. It is not that God does not want to save them:
‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! (Ezek. 33:11).
However, the wicked are beyond the point of no return, and continue to blaspheme God (16:9, 11, 21) and to persecute His people. But their support for their religions wane, depicted by the symbol of the Euphrates drying up, because they now realise that it is false.
But then Satan strikes back with a renewed attack, using his supernatural forces to unite the kings of the earth behind him False religion is replaced with outright Satanism. Previously Satan corrupted true religion to create false religion, and the people did not know that they were really following Satan, but now they know exactly who they are following. Knowingly they join forces against God, determined to exterminate all His followers on earth.
It is in this context that the seventh plague (Armageddon) brings an end to Babylon (Satanism at this stage), the Beast and the False Prophet.
Next: Purpose of the Plagues