William Kelly Major Works Commentary
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.Revelation Chapter 16
In chapter 16 we have these seven Bowls poured out. It is not now "the third" as under the Trumpets, with which the analogy is close; there is no restriction to the western sphere of Rome. The whole apostate region is smitten, and with yet more severity. "And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go and pour out the seven bowls of the fury of God unto the earth. And the first went, and poured out his bowl unto the earth, and it became an evil and grievous sore upon the men that had the mark of the beast, and those that did homage to his image." Here it is God's hand smiting with utter pain the men who were either slaves or worshippers of the Beast, though it resembled the plagues on Egypt, not yet the destruction in the Red Sea.
"And the second poured his bowl into the sea; and it became blood as of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea." The infliction here fell on the unsettled and revolutionary state outside "the earth" of the preceding stroke. Spiritual rather than physical death is meant.
Then follows another stroke. "And the third poured out his bowl into the rivers and the fountains of the waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, Righteous art thou that art, and wast, the holy (or, gracious) One, because thou didst thus judge; because they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and thou gavest them blood to drink: they are worthy. And I heard the altar saying, Yea, Lord God the Almighty, true and righteous [are] thy judgments." The moral character and springs on which men think and act become deadly; and this in retribution for the heartless cruelty of Christendom, as at that time also, toward saints and prophets. For God does not forget such ways, however concealed afterwards under tombs, and statues, and titles of pretended honour, since their death.
"And the fourth poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. And the men were burnt with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, that had the authority over these plagues, and did not repent to give him glory." Here it is not the sun, moon, and stars in accord with the great earthquake of the sixth Seal; nor yet their third part darkened as at the fourth Trumpet; but the supreme governing power scorching men beyond endurance. Yet men blaspheme God's name all the more in the hardness of their impenitent hearts.
There is the usual order, as we have seen in the other series of seven judgments: four, and then three to follow. All the different departments of nature, whatever may be symbolised by them (and their meaning seems neither indeterminate nor obscure) were to be visited by the Bowls of God's fury.
The three later Bowls, like the three Woe-trumpets, come to the closest quarters with men, and ever more and more unsparing.
The fifth angel poured out his Bowl on the throne of the Beast. It is clear therefore that we have here a Gentile sphere before us, which fits in with the prefatory scene. "The fifth angel poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast; and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven for their pains and for their sores, and repented not of their works" Assuredly this does not agree with the imaginary picture some Futurists have painted of the Beast's kingdom; any more than some poets conceive of Satan reigning in hell. We can readily presume that he held out Elysian fields as a bait to his subjects; but on his kingdom darkness fell, and his people gnawed their tongues in their blasphemy against the God of heaven.
Thence we are transported to the east. "And the sixth angel poured out his bowl upon the great river Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way of the kings [that] are from the sun-rising might be prepared." The Euphrates was the old boundary that separated the empire on its oriental frontiers from the vast hordes of uncivilised north-eastern nations destined to come into conflict with the powers of the west in the latter day. Thus the way is made plain for them to come forward and enter into the final struggle. This seems to be what the drying up of the great river means. What a striking proof of the orderly structure of the book it is, that here in the sixth Bowl occurs a parenthesis, as we saw at the same point of the sixth Seal and of the sixth Trumpet!
"And I saw 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 the spirits of demons, working signs, which go forth unto the kings (not 'of the earth and') of the whole habitable world, to gather them to the war of the great day of God the Almighty." The three unclean spirits express the hatred of the dragon as the personal enemy of Christ, of the resurrection Beast from the pit or the revived Roman empire, and of the false prophet or Antichrist in the land. There is about to be a universal uprising and fight to the death between the east and the west. But the Lord has designs which neither side knows or regards, and He is no indifferent spectator. "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And they (or, he) gathered them together unto the place called in the Hebrew tongue Harmagedon." Compare Jdg 5:19-20. From verses 13 to 16 is the parenthesis in this septenary, as always.
Here it may be seasonable to point out the difference, in principle as in fact, which distinguishes the first act in the Lord's coming again for the heavenly saints, from the second which applies to Israel and the earth. We are to be caught up to meet Him who will present us in the Father's house. The godly Jews in the day of His appearing are to be delivered at what seems to be the last gasp by His destruction of their Gentile foes and of their own apostate brethren, when He descends to establish the kingdom in power and glory over all the earth.
Lastly comes the seventh angel, who deals with the world still more decidedly and universally by pouring out on the air. "And the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of the heaven, from the throne, saying, It is come. And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and there was a great earthquake," not only vast but unexampled, "such as was not since men were on the earth, such an earthquake, so great." Clearly therefore judgment from heaven becomes yet more crushing in its blows on man here below. For the Bowl was poured on that which acts immediately on all here below, and is most essential to health and life.
"And the great city came (ἐγένετο) into three parts; and the cities of the nations fell; and great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled, and mountains were not found. And a great hail as of a talent-weight cometh down out of the heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the stroke of the hail, for its stroke is exceeding great." "The great city" is civilisation in its general extent, and is distinguished from "the cities of the nations" (that is, of the nations outside "the great city") that fell in their local centres; but "great Babylon" is envenomed by that implacable cruelty which is inseparable from worldly religion, its corruption and idolatries. God did not forget her course who had long departed from His grace and truth. This enables us to put the warning of the fall of Babylon into its true place in the sevenfold series of God's dealings in Rev. 14. The end of chap. 16 brings us there, but goes no farther. It stops short of the Lord's appearing. None of these varied intimations could be spared without loss, though the hasty mind of man may count them strange and disorderly.
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.
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.
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.
Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
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.