THE SEVENTH PLAGUE
16:17 Then the seventh angel
poured out his bowl upon the air,
and a loud voice came out of the temple
from the throne, saying, “It is done.”
16:18 And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.
16:19 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,
came down from heaven upon men;
and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail,
because its plague was extremely severe. (NASB)
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 (Exo 2:24; cf. Gen 8:1 and 19:29).
“The cup” which God gives to Babylon is a common Biblical expression denoting suffering and judgments meted out (Psa 11:6; 75:8; Isa 51:17, 22, 23; Jer 25:15-17, 28; 49:12; Matt 26:39).
According to verse 17, God’s throne is in the temple. The Greek word used for the temple in this verse (naou) describes the inner sanctuary. Elsewhere, it is stated that the temple is in heaven (Rev 11:19; 16:17).
THE EARTHQUAKE AND HAIL ARE NOT LITERAL.
For the following reasons, the (1) lightning and (2) sounds (or voices), (3) thunder, (4) a great earthquake, and (5) huge hailstones in this plague are not literal:
(A) Elsewhere in Revelation, this group of five is symbolic:
REVELATION 4; THE THRONE ROOM
The first time that we read about this group is in the description of the temple in heaven in Revelation 4. There we only read about the first three, namely “lightning, sounds and thunder” which came “out from the throne” (Rev 4:5). For the following reasons, it is proposed that these three represent the activities, discussions, decisions, and instructions emanating from the throne in heaven:
- “Lightning, sounds and thunder” happen in the air during a thunderstorm.
- The four living beings that are “in the centre and around the throne” (Rev 4:6) run “to and fro like bolts of lightning” (Ezek 1:14), and their voices sound like thunder (Rev 6:1).
REVELATION 8; TRUMPETS
The next time that we find this group is in the introduction to the seven trumpets, where fire is thrown down from heaven on the earth and there “thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake” (Rev 8:5). This, therefore, adds an earthquake to the previous three.
This group also appears in Rev 11:19. In this verse, “the temple of God which is in heaven was opened, and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple.” Then all five follow. In other words, hail is added to the four in Rev 8:5.
Since every main part of Revelation begins in the temple in heaven, we assume that this verse introduces the main section of Revelation contained in chapters 12 to 14.
THE EARTHQUAKE AND HAIL SYMBOLIZE EARTHLY CONSEQUENCES.
If the lightning, sounds, and thunder symbolize what happen in heaven, for the following reasons, it is proposed that the earthquake and hail symbolize the consequences on earth:
(1) Earthquakes do not happen in the air. They destroy things on earth.
(2) In Rev 8:5 the group of four is mentioned after fire has been thrown on the earth. Subsequently, fire (Rev 8:8; 9:17; 11:3-5), burning (Rev 8:7, 10), and smoke (Rev 9:2-5) are mentioned often in the trumpets. Therefore, it is proposed that the earthquake (Rev 8:5) is a summary description of the trumpet plagues.
(3) Revelation 11:19 has a similar connection to the next three chapters: While this verse, which is the introduction to Revelation 12-14, reveals the ark of the covenant (a box which housed the Ten Commandments), Revelation 12-14 contains frequent veiled references to the Ten Commandments (Rev 12:17; 14:12; 13:6, 15, 16; 14:1, 7; 15:5). For that reason, it is proposed that the earthquake and hail in Rev 11:19 is a summary description of the events of Rev 12-14.
In summary, these five manifestations are high-level descriptions of activities in heaven, followed by events on earth. The same then applies in the seventh plague.
(B) Babylon is destroyed by ten kings.
In Rev 16:18-19, a great earthquake splits “the great city … into three parts.” Rev 16:19 continues that God gave Babylon “the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.” The “great city” is the same as Babylon (Rev 17:18; 3, 5). Revelation 17 elaborates on the seventh plague (Rev 17:1) and, in that chapter, Babylon is destroyed by “the ten horns” (Rev 17:16) which symbolize “ten kings” who receive “receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour” (Rev 17:12). In other words, while Babylon is destroyed by an earthquake in the seventh plague, she is destroyed by the kings of the world according to Rev 17. This is another indication that the earthquake is symbolic.
(C) A literal reading does not make sense.
Read literally, this earthquake is so huge that “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (Rev 16:20). Given that the sea has already turned to blood (Rev 16:3), such a worldwide earthquake would cause tsunamis of blood that bury all islands, and therefore also all coastal regions.
A literal earthquake of this magnitude would kill all people on earth, but according to Rev 16:21, people continue to blaspheme God, indicating that the earth is still populated.
Furthermore, according to Rev 16:19, this earthquake splits the great city into three parts. A literal earthquake of this magnitude would not do this to a literal city. It would completely destroy all cities.
(D) Babylon is not a literal city.
In the seventh plague, as result of the huge earthquake, the great city Babylon splits into three parts (Rev 16:19). This symbolizes that the coalition of the evil trinity (Rev 16:13) breaks up. Babylon, therefore, is symbolic.
A previous article concluded that Babylon, in Revelation (Rev 17:5, 18), is a symbol of the false religious system that has corrupted mankind for thousands of years. Since Babylon is not literal and since she is destroyed by an earthquake, the earthquake is also not literal.
(E) The plagues use literal historical events as symbols.
The plagues use literal historical events as symbols for end-time events. For example, the first five plagues use literal events from Israel’s liberation from Egypt as symbols. The last two plagues – the drying up of the great river Euphrates and the fall of Babylon (Rev 16:12, 19) – similarly use actual events from Israel’s liberation from ancient Babylon as symbols for the liberation of God’s people from this earth. This symbolic context requires us to interpret the earthquake and hail also as symbols.
In conclusion, the lightning, sounds, thunder, earthquake, and huge hail are not literal but symbolic of massive destruction. Just as a literal earthquake leaves a literal city in ruins, so a figurative earthquake brings ruin and desolation to the symbolic “great Babylon.”
OTHER PLAGUES ARE ALSO NOT LITERAL.
One can take nearly any portion of Revelation and try to read it literally, and it would not make sense. Consider the following examples from the plagues:
(1) After all waters turns to blood (Rev 16:3-4), there still is water in the Euphrates (Rev 16:12).
(2) Why would a river be a barrier to an army, given modern war technology (Rev 16:12)?
(3) After all people with the mark of the beast suffer malignant sores (Rev 16:2), all waters turn to blood (Rev 16:3-4), the sun scorches people with fire (Rev 16:8), where would literal kings get the resources to assemble an army for war (Rev 16:14, 16)? Under such circumstances, people will die in their billions, and the rest would just be trying to survive, perhaps for another day.
(4) How do literal spirits of demons, that look like frogs, come out of the mouth of the dragon, beast, and false prophet, if the dragon is Satan (Rev 12:9), the beast is the church of the middle ages and the false prophet symbolizes end-time false Christianity (cf. Rev 13:11)? And why do the three only have one mouth (16:14)?
(5) How could all armies of the world gather in a single literal place on earth (Rev 16:16)? And how do they get to this place if the oceans have turned to blood, on which no ship can travel?
(6) Taken literally, why would God’s people be warned to watch their clothes, so that they do not walk about naked (Rev 16:15)?
Given these insurmountable obstacles, a literal consequently completely misses the mark.
To say that these plagues are symbolic does not mean they have no meaning. They represent real devastations. To determine what they mean requires a careful study of the symbols in their immediate and wider context.
BABYLON IS DESTROYED
BY THE KINGS OF THE WORLD.
The purpose of Rev 17-18 is to explain “the judgment of the great harlot” (Rev 17:2). The harlot is Babylon (Rev 17:5). In this explanation we see that the seven heads of the beast (Rev 17:3) symbolize seven phases of the beast (Rev 17:9-10). The beast itself is also a final and eighth phase (Rev 17:11).
That explanation also refers to ten horns of the beast (Rev 17:3). They all grow out of the seventh head (cf. Rev 17:10, 12). These ten horns, therefore, are the eighth phase. Consequently, the “ten kings … receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour” (Rev 17:12). This confederacy of kings is the same as the end-time coalition of kings at Armageddon (Rev 16:14, 16).
These ten kings “and the beast … will hate the harlot … and will burn her up with fire” (Rev 17:16). Therefore, when God gives Babylon “the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19), it is at the hands of the kings of the world. In other words, the worldwide religiopolitical anti-God coalition fights among themselves. As Revelation states, “The great city (Babylon) was split into three parts” (Rev 16:19).
THE SEVENTH PLAGUE
ENDS WITH CHRIST’S RETURN.
The sixth plague ends with the kings of the world gathered together at Armageddon (Rev 16:16) “for the war of the great day of God” (Rev 16:14). Logically, the seventh plague must be that war but we do not read about a war in the seventh plague. Rather, we read about the infighting in the evil confederation, causing Babylon to split into three parts (Rev 16:19). The seventh plague then ends with the people (the kings and their armies) cursing God.
But, while the kings and their armies are gathered in the sixth plague, at Christ’s return they are seen gathered (Rev 19:19) and all the cursing people “were killed with the sword” from Jesus’ mouth (Rev 19:21).
Therefore, the war at Armageddon is the return of Christ (Rev 19:11-21). It was previously shown that Rev 17-18 interrupts the seventh plague and that Rev 19 continues where the seventh plague has left off (cf. Rev 16:19; 19:2). Rev 19 then ends with Christ’s return (Rev 19:11-).
THE ROAD TO ARMAGEDDON
After that point in time, God unleashes the plagues. God’s people are being persecuted, but the plagues selectively target the persecutors of God’s people (Rev 16:2, 6, 10). However, the people of the world are so hardened that they are unable to repent. 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 return and continue to blaspheme God (Rev 16:9, 11, 21) and to persecute His people. But support for their religion wanes, depicted by the symbol of the Euphrates drying up, because they now realize 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 Christianity joins forces with Satanism. Previously, Satan created false religion by corrupting true religion. Consequently, the people did not know that they were really following Satan. But now they know. 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.
(A) This plague, and the plagues in general, are symbols and must not be interpreted literally.
(B) When Babylon is destroyed in the seventh plague, the Beast and the False Prophet are also destroyed.
(C) The entire Revelation 19, including the killing of the people of the world (Rev 19:21), is part of the seventh plague.
Next: Purpose of the Plagues
AVAILABLE ARTICLES ON REVELATION
Why is the title of this website Revelation BY Jesus Christ?
Every main part of Revelation begins in the temple in heaven.
Are events described in chronological sequence?
Is a consistently literal interpretation appropriate?
Does Revelation present Jesus as God?
God’s throne – the center of the universe.
Revelation 4:1-8 – Verse-by-verse
The 24 elders are human beings that rule under God.
Revelation 4:8-11 – Worship in God’s presence
Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement after His ascension.
The sealed book is the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Why can God not explain His judgments?
Revelation 5 verse by verse
The Sixth Seal concludes with Christ’s Return.
Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?
Seven seals explained
Introduction to the Seven Seals – What book is this?
The Plagues of Revelation – 16 articles
For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.