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And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.
"The vials of the wrath of God"
These are the seven last plagues.
And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.
And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.
And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood.
And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.
And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.
And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire.
And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.
And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain,
And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.
And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.
"The great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up"
The sixth plague is the drying up of the water of the great river Euphrates. This immediately precedes the complete destruction of "the great city . . . Babylon" (verse 19) under the seventh plague.
Since the literal city of Babylon no longer exists, this is obviously a reference to Apocalyptic Babylon. You will remember from our comments on Daniel chapter 5 that the river Euphrates flowed through the middle of the ancient city of Babylon, supporting all life in the city. The fall of Babylon was accomplished when the Persian armies diverted the river, "drying up" the waters under the city, that the way of the kings of the east (Cyrus and his armies) might be prepared.
Since Revelation 16 speaks of Babylon in apocalyptic terms, the "waters" supporting that city must be symbolic. In Revelation 17 Babylon is pictured as a great whore which "sitteth upon many waters." Those waters, upon which Babylon sits, are identified in Revelation 17:15 as "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." The Bible's own interpretation of Revelation 16:12, therefore, is as follows: The sixth plague is the "drying up" of the "waters" which have supported Babylon - in other words, the withdrawal of the support previously given to Apocalyptic Babylon by the "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues."
This withdrawal of the people's support happens because at this point in the pouring out of the seven plagues the people realize that they have been deceived by the false religious system which the Bible calls "Babylon." They realize that they are lost, and they cast the blame upon the false religious teachers who have led them to disregard God's commandments.
This turning against Babylon is described in Revelation 17:16, 17. "These shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. For God hath put in their hearts to . . . give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled." That point arrives at the sixth plague.
"That the way of the kings of the east might be prepared"
"The kings of the east" refers to Jesus and the armies of heaven, described in Revelation 19:11-16, at the return of Jesus to this earth.
And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
"And I saw"
The events described in verses 13-16 do not happen at the time of the sixth plague. These verses are parenthetically placed here to explain how the religious and political powers of earth assemble against God prior to that time.
This insertion of parenthetical information between the discussion of the sixth and seventh plagues is in keeping with a pattern already set in Revelation. Similar parenthetical material is placed in chapter 7 between the presentation of the sixth and seventh seals, and in chapters 10 and 11 between the presentation of the sixth and seventh trumpets.
That these verses do not actually occur during the time of the plagues is evident from the spiritual appeal made in verse 15. That verse could have no effect after the close of probation.
"Three unclean spirits"
Sometimes we hear these three unclean spirits being identified as the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. But that's not actually what the text says. The three unclean spirits come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
The only other place we find frogs in the Bible is in reference to the plague of frogs in Egypt. Notice the description in Exodus. "And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneading troughs." "And the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt." Exodus 8:3, 6. The picture we get here is that the frogs were everywhere. So the three unclean spirits of Revelation 16:13 would become pervasive everywhere.
"Come out of the mouth of"
What comes out of our mouths? Words. Our mouths are the channel for what we say. The context seems to indicate that these unclean spirits are unclean teachings.
The use of the word "spirits" in reference to teachings is not new. Take, for example, the following text: "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." 1 Corinthians 14:32. Substitute the word "teachings" for "spirits" and Paul's words become clear: The teachings of each new prophet are subject to the criteria of established prophets.
Also, in 1 John 4:1 the writer of Revelation says, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." Substitute the word "teaching" for "spirit". Isn't he really saying, Believe not every teaching, but test the teachings that you hear? The apostle then goes on to provide a few doctrinal tests (1 John 4:2, 3, 15), and observes, "Hereby know we the sprit of truth, and the spirit of error." Verse 6.
The dragon is identified in Revelation 12:9 as Satan; yet Satan uses human agents. Satan worked through Herod under the authority of Rome in his attempts to destroy Christ as soon as He was born (Revelation 12:4; Matthew 2:16). The dragon, which gave his power, and his seat, and great authority to the beast (Revelation 13:2), has long been identified as the ancient Roman Empire and its religion, paganism. Placed in Revelation 16:13 in connection with the beast and the false prophet, both of which symbolize religious powers, the "dragon", when representing a religion, would indicate paganism.
This is the beast described in Revelation 13:1-10. It represents the Roman papacy. See comments on those verses.
"The false prophet"
This symbol appears again in Revelation 19:20, where it is described as having "wrought miracles before him [the beast], with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image." Those are the very activities which in Revelation 13:11-17 are attributed to the beast from the earth. Notice the parallel. We may therefore equate the two symbols. When described as a "beast" in chapter 13, the focus is on the political government, for a "beast" in prophecy represents a kingdom (See Daniel 7:17, 23). But when described as a "false prophet" in chapters 16 and 19, the focus is on the predominant religious element of that country, as a prophet is definitely a religious figure. The beast from the earth in chapter 13 is the United States of America, and the primary religious element of that country is Protestantism. So the false prophet symbolizes American Protestantism.
Notice that it is called a false prophet. This is because Protestantism has departed from its original purpose. A true Protestant is a "protest-ant." The word derived its origin from the fact that its founders protested against the Roman Church. But that protest has now been largely silenced. What better term, then, could Scripture use to describe modern pseudo-protestantism than "false prophet?"
Revelation 16:13 thus describes an ecumenical combining of paganism (the "dragon"), Catholicism (the "beast"), and apostate Protestantism (the "false prophet"). These, then, are the religious influences comprising spiritual Babylon.
The text, however, is actually speaking of three unclean spirits (or teachings, see above), which came out of the mouth of paganism, out of the mouth of Catholicism, and out of the mouth of apostate Protestantism. Here we see a line of doctrinal influence which has extended from the days of pagan Rome down to the present time. Pagan doctrines which were absorbed into Catholicism, and not weeded out by the Protestant Reformation. These teachings become the common points upon which the "whole world" will "gather" or unite (Revelation 16:14). They comprise the concentrate for Babylon's wine of which all nations shall drink.
For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
"For they are the spirits of devils"
These must be the "seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" that "in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to." 1 Timothy 4:1. So we could read, "For they are the doctrines of devils working miracles." Understanding "spirits" in Revelation 16:14 to denote teachings or doctrines makes a lot of sense, because devils technically don't have spirits. And if you ignore the comma that the translators inserted after the word "devils", it is clear that the devils, not the "spirits", are working the miracles.
The reference to "devils" shows the active involvement of demons in the popular religious culture. Revelation 18:2 describes the end-time religious confederacy as "the habitation of devils."
Not all miracles come from God. Just because a miracle is performed does not mean we are to trust the person who performs it. In this verse we see that the working of miracles is one of the specific activities of demons in the last days. Revelation 13:13, 14 says that "great wonders" will be performed, even making fire come down from heaven, and that those wonders are calculated to deceive people. This would advise caution in the acceptance of miracles. Not that we must reject all miracles, but simply that we are to test the spirits.
"Which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world"
Here we see the influence of organized religion upon the political powers of the world. It is this yielding on the part of political leaders to the pressure exerted by the religious leaders which creates in postmodern times an "image," or duplication, of the religio-political system that dominated medieval history.
This end-time uniting of church and state - the "image of the beast" - is described in Revelation 13:14, 15. History teaches us that removing the wall of separation between church and state always result in the persecution of those who do not conform to the decrees of the popular religious powers. Freedom of conscience is destroyed.
This process explains how the kings of the earth are described in Revelation 17:2 and 18:3 as having "committed fornication" with the end-time religious union, "Babylon".
"To gather them"
This word "gather" becomes the key word in this study. First, there is the cooperation of religions under the current ecumenical movement, based upon common points of belief. Next, under the influence of spiritualism, and accompanied by the manifestation of supernatural signs, the joint religious movement gains the support of the kings of the earth, producing an alliance of church and state. Thus all the religious and civil powers of the last days become united.
God has warned us to keep out of all such associations: "Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces. . . . Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought. . . . Say ye not, A confederacy. . . . Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread." Isaiah 8:9-13.
"To the battle of that great day of God Almighty"
The gathering described in these verses is a gathering for war. These powers unite against God. Jesus predicted this gathering in Matthew 13:30. "In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn." The wicked are binding themselves in bundles to be burned.
This was all a part of God's plan. "Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealosy." Zephaniah 3:8.
Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
"Behold, I come as a thief"
"But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober." 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6.
"Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame."
Those who are described in this blessing are those who have heeded the counsel of the True Witness to the church of Laodicea. "I counsel thee to buy of me . . . white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear." Revelation 3:18.
The insertion of verse 15 in this discussion of the gathering for the final battle, shows us that we are discussing spiritual issues. This is not the type of preparation one makes for a physical battle. The final war to which all the world is gathering is not a contest of military power. It is the final showdown of the great controversy between Christ and Satan which began in heaven before the world was created (See Revelation 12:7). We each find our place in this final struggle according to the ruler we have chosen to serve. "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" Romans 6:16.
And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
"And he gathered them together"
The "he" mentioned here could be Christ who will instruct His angels to gather the tares and bind them in bundles to be burned. Matthew 13:30, 40, 41. On the other hand, some commentators suggest substituting the word "they" for "he". It would then read, "And they gathered them together", referring to the work of the unclean spirits described in verses 13 and 14. In that case, the adhesive that unites the various parties of the end-time confederacy would be the common beliefs they hold.
"Into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon"
No battle is fought in this chapter. The narration ends with the gathering for the battle. The story is not picked up again until Chapter 19. There we find Revelation's description of the second coming of Jesus. Revelation 19:19 says, "And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army." That is just where we left them in Chapter 16. And what happens next? The beast and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20), destroyed by the brightness of Christ's coming (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
A thousand years pass. The wicked live "not again until the thousand years were finished" (Revelation 20:5), then they are resurrected. "And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them." Revelation 20:7-9.
Thus ends the battle of Armageddon. See a summary of the battle. Why is this battle called "Armageddon"? Actually, it is not. That is the name of the place of the gathering for battle. All the powers of earth are gathered in this place. But there is currently no place on the globe large enough for all the powers on earth to gather. What, then, is the significance of the name? What does it symbolize?
Scholars tell us that the correct rendering of the word is actually not Armageddon, but Harmageddon. The Greek dictionary in Strong's Concordance, word #717, says, "Armageddon (or Har-Megiddon), a symbolic name." Har in Hebrew means "mountain." So the reference is to "the mountain of Megiddo."
Megiddo is a long valley in the Middle East where many decisive battles have been fought. And rising up on the west side of that plain, prominently overlooking the valley, is Mount Carmel. It could therefore properly be said that Mount Carmel is "the mountain of Megiddo."
The gathering described in Revelation 16:13-16 is thus presented to us as the final, world-wide, end-time demonstration of the gathering which took place in the days of Elijah and King Ahab on Mount Carmel. We find that story in 1 Kings chapter 18. That famous showdown came about because, as Elijah told the king, "Ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord" (verse 18). "Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel," he instructed. "So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel" (verses 19, 20).
"And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between to opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him" (verse 21). The message of Revelation 16:13-16 is thus an appeal to us today to decide which side we will be on. As all the powers of earth assemble themselves against God, the question comes to each of us, Upon which side will we stand?
This final gathering was also foretold in Joel 3:9-14. "Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare 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 pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord. Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision."
And so that decision comes to us today. The gathering is taking place right now. Everyone is now deciding which side they will be on. "If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him."
And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.
And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.
And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.
And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.