|<< Revelation 16 >>|
Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Analysis Of The Chapter
The previous chapter Revelation 15:1-8 had described the preparation for the last plagues that were to come upon that mighty anti-Christian power to which this series of prophetic visions refers. All is now ready; and this chapter contains the description of those seven last "plagues" under which this power would reel and fall. These "plagues" are described as if they were a succession of physical calamities that would come upon this anti-Christian power, and bring it to an end; though perhaps it is not necessary to look for a literal infliction of such calamities. The course of the exposition thus far will lead us to regard this chapter as a description of the successive blows by which the papacy will fall. A part of this is still undoubtedly future, though perhaps not far distant; and, in reference to this, and to some portions of the remainder of the book, there may be more difficulty in satisfying the mind than in the portions which pertain to past events.
The chapter comprises statements on the following points:
A command is issued from the temple to the seven angels, to go and execute the commission with which they were entrusted, Revelation 16:1.
The first angel pours out his vial upon the earth followed by a plague upon those who had worshipped the beast and his image, Revelation 16:2.
The second angel pours out his vial upon the sea - followed by the death of all that were in the sea, Revelation 16:3.
The third angel pours out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters, and they become blood. This is followed by an ascription of praise from the angel of the waters, because God had given to those who had shed the blood of the saints blood to drink, with a response from the altar that this was just, Revelation 16:4-7.
The fourth angel pours out his vial upon the sun, and an intenser heat is given to it to scorch people. The consequence is, that they blaspheme the name of God, but repent not of their sins, Revelation 16:8-9.
The fifth angel pours out his vial upon the very seat of the beast, and his kingdom is full of darkness. People still blaspheme the name of God and repent not of their sins, Revelation 16:10-11.
The sixth angel pours out his vial upon the great river Euphrates. The consequence is, that the waters of the river are dried up, so that the way of the kings of the East might be prepared. The writer sees also, in this connection, 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, that go forth into all the earth to gather all nations to the great day of the battle of God Almighty, Revelation 16:12-16.
The seventh angel pours out his vial into the air, and a voice is heard answering that "it is done:" the time of the consummation has come - the formidable anti-Christian power is to come to an end. The great city is divided into three parts; the cities of the nations fall; great Babylon thus comes up in remembrance before God to receive the punishment which is her due. This terrific scene is accompanied with voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake, and with great hail - a tempest of wrath beating upon that formidable power that had so long stood up against God, Revelation 16:17-21. The detail of the actual destruction of this power is carried forward in the subsequent chapters.
1And 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.
And I heard a great voice out of the temple - A loud voice out of the temple as seen in heaven (notes on Revelation 11:19), and that came, therefore, from the very presence of God.
Saying to the seven angels - That had the seven vials of wrath. See the notes on Revelation 15:1, Revelation 15:7.
Go your ways - Your respective ways, to the fulfillment of the task assigned to each.
And pour out the vials of the wrath of God - Empty those vials; cause to come upon the earth the plagues indicated by their contents. The order in which this was to be done is not intimated. It seems to be supposed that that would be understood by each.
Upon the earth - The particular part of the earth is not here specified, but it should not be inferred that it was to be upon the earth in general, or that there were any calamities, in consequence of this pouring out of the vials of wrath, to spread over the whole world. The subsequent statements show what parts of the earth were particularly to be affected.
2And 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 first went - Went forth from heaven, where the seat of the vision was laid.
And poured out his vial upon the earth - That is, upon the land, in contradistinction from the sea, the rivers, the air, the seat of the beast, the sun, as represented in the other vials. In Revelation 16:1, the word earth is used in the general sense to denote this world as distinguished from heaven; in this verse it is used in the specific sense, to denote land as distinguished from other things. Compare Mark 4:1; Mark 6:47; John 6:21; Acts 27:29, Acts 27:43-44. In many respects there is a strong resemblance between the pouring out of those seven vials, and the sounding of the seven trumpets, in Revelation 8-9, though they refer to different events. In the sounding of the first trumpet Revelation 8:7, it was the earth that was particularly affected in contradistinction from the sea, the fountains, and the sun: "The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth." Compare Revelation 8:8, Revelation 8:10, Revelation 8:12. In regard to the symbolical meaning of the term earth, considered with reference to divine judgments, see the notes on Revelation 8:7.
And there fell a noisome and grievous sore - The judgment here is specifically different from that inflicted under the first trumpet, Revelation 8:7. There it is said to have been that "the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up." Here it is that there fell upon people a "noisome and grievous sore." The two, therefore, are designed to refer to different events, and to different forms of punishment. The word rendered "sore" properly denotes a wound (Homer, Iliad xi. 812), and then, in later writers, an ulcer or sore. It is used in the New Testament only in the following places: Luke 16:21, "The dogs came and licked his sores"; and in Revelation 16:2, Revelation 16:11, where it is rendered "sore," and "sores." It is used in the Septuagint, in reference to the boils that were brought upon the Egyptians, in Exodus 9:9-12, and probably Deuteronomy 28:27; in reference to the leprosy, Leviticus 13:18-20, Leviticus 13:23; in reference to the boil, ulcer, or elephantiasis brought upon Job JObadiah 2:7; and in reference to any sore or ulcer, in Deuteronomy 28:35.
In all these places it is the translation of the word שׁחין shechiyn - rendered in our English version as "boil," Exodus 9:9-11; Leviticus 13:18-20, Leviticus 13:23; 2 Kings 20:7; Job 2:7; Isaiah 38:21; and "botch," Deuteronomy 28:27, Deuteronomy 28:35. The proper meaning, therefore, is that of a sore, ulcer, or boil of a severe and painful character; and the most obvious reference in the passage, to one who was accustomed to the language of Scripture, would be to some fearful plague like what was sent upon the Egyptians. In the case of Hezekiah 2 Kings 20:7; Isaiah 38:21, it was probably used to denote a "plague-boil," or the black leprosy. See the notes on Isaiah 38:21. The word "noisome" - κακὸν kakon, "evil, bad" - is used here to characterize the plague referred to as being especially painful and dangerous. The word "grievous" - πονηρον ponēron - "bad, malignant, hurtful" - is further used to increase the intensity of the expression, and to characterize the plague as particularly severe. There is no reason to suppose that it is meant that this would be literally inflicted, anymore than it is in the next plague, where it is said that the "rivers and fountains became blood." What is obviously meant is, that there would be some calamity which would be well represented or symbolized by such a fearful plague.
Upon the men - Though the plague was poured upon "the earth," yet its effects were seen upon "men." Some grievous calamity would befall them, as if they were suddenly visited with the plague.
Which had the mark of the beast - notes on Revelation 13:16-17. This determines the portion of the earth that was to be afflicted. It was not the whole world; it was only that part of it where the "beast" was honored. According to the interpretation proposed in Revelation 13, this refers to those who are under the dominion of the papacy.
And upon them which worshipped his image - See the notes on Revelation 13:14-15. According to the interpretation in Revelation 13, those are meant who sustained the civil or secular power to which the papacy gave life and strength, and from which it, in turn, received countenance and protection.
In regard to the application or fulfillment of this symbol, it is unnecessary to say that there have been very different opinions in the world, and that very different opinions still prevail. The great mass of Protestant commentators suppose that it refers to the papacy; and of those who entertain this opinion, the greater portion suppose that the calamity referred to by the pouring out of this vial is already past, though it is supposed by many that the things foreshadowed by a part of these "vials" are yet to be accomplished. As to the true meaning of the symbol before us, I would make the following remarks:
(1) It refers to the papal power. This application is demanded by the results which were reached in the examination of Revelation 13. See the remarks on the "beast" in the notes on Revelation 13:1-2, Revelation 13:11, and on "the image of the beast" in the notes on Revelation 13:14-15. This one mighty power existed in two forms closely united, and mutually sustaining each other - the civil or secular, and the ecclesiastical or spiritual. It is this combined and consolidated power - the papacy as such - that is referred to here, for this has been the grand anti-Christian power in the world.
(2) it refers to some grievous and fearful calamity which would come upon that power, and which would be like a plague-spot on the human body - something which would be of the nature of a divine judgment, resembling what came upon the Egyptians for their treatment of the people of God.
(3) the course of this exposition leads us to suppose, that this would be the beginning in the series of judgments, which would terminate in the complete overthrow of that formidable power. It is the first of the vials of wrath, and the whole description evidently contemplates a series of disasters, which would be properly represented by these successive vials. In the application of this, therefore, we should naturally look for the first of a series of such judgments, and should expect to find some facts in history which would he properly represented by the vial "poured upon the earth."
(4) in accordance with this representation, we should expect to find such a series of calamities gradually weakening, and finally terminating the papal power in the world, as would be properly represented by the number seven.
(5) in regard now to the application of this series of symbolical representations, it may be remarked, that most recent expositors - as Elliott, Cunninghame, Keith, Faber, Lord, and others - refer them to the events of the French revolution, as important events in the overthrow of the papal power; and this, I confess, although the application is attended with some considerable difficulties, has more plausibility than any other explanation proposed. In support of this application, the following considerations may be suggested:
(a) France, in the time of Charlemagne, was the kingdom to which the papacy owed its civil organization and its strength - a kingdom to which could be traced all the civil or secular power of the papacy, and which was, in fact, a restoration or reconstruction of the old Roman power - the fourth kingdom of Daniel. See the notes on Daniel 7:24-28; and compare the notes on Revelation 13:3, Revelation 13:12-14. The restoration of the old Roman dominion under Charlemagne, and the aid which he rendered to the papacy in its establishment as to a temporal power, would make it probable that this kingdom would be referred to in the series of judgments that were to accomplish the overthrow of the papal dominion.
(b) In an important sense France has always been the head of the papal power. The king of France has been usually styled, by the popes themselves, "the oldest son of the church." In reference to the whole papal dominion in former times, one of the principal reliances has been on France, and, to a very large extent, the state of Europe has been determined by the condition of France. "A revolution in France," said Napoleon, "is sooner or later followed by a revolution in Europe" (Alison). Its central position; its power; its direct relation to all the purposes and aims of the papacy, would seem to make it probable that, in the account of the final destruction of that power, this kingdom would not be overlooked.
(c) The scenes which occurred in the times of the French revolution were such as would be properly symbolized by the pouring out of the first, the second, the third, and the fourth vials. In the passage before us - the pouring out of the first vial - the symbol employed is that of "a noisome and grievous sore" - boil, ulcer, plague-spot - "on the men which had the mark of the beast, and on them which worshipped his image." This representation was undoubtedly derived from the account of the sixth plague on Egypt Exodus 9:9-11; and the sense here is, not that this would be literally inflicted on the power here referred to, but that a calamity would come upon it which would be well represented by that, or of which that would be an appropriate emblem. This interpretation is further confirmed by Revelation 11:8, where Rome is referred to under the name of Egypt, and where it is clear that we are to look for a course of divine dealing, in regard to the one, resembling what occurred to the other.
See the notes on that passage. Now, this "noisome and grievous sore would well represent the moral corruption, the pollution, the infidelity, the atheism, the general dissolution of society, that preceded and accompanied the French revolution; for that was a universal breaking out of loathsome internal disease - of corruption at the center - and in its general features might be represented as a universal plague-spot on society, extending over the countries where the beast and his image were principally worshipped. The symbol would properly denote that "tremendous outbreak of social and moral evil, of democratic fury, atheism, and vice, which was specially seen to characterize the French revolution: that of which the ultimate source was in the long and deep-seated corruption and irreligion of the nation; the outward vent, expression, and organ of its Jacobin clubs, and seditious and atheistic publications; the result, the dissolution of all society, all morals, and all religion; with acts of atrocity and horror accompanying, scarce paralleled in the history of people; and suffering and anguish of correspondent intensity throbbing throughout the social mass and corroding it; what, from France as a center, spread like a plague throughout its affiliated societies to the other countries of papal Christendom, and was, wherever its poison was imbibed, as much the punishment as the symptoms of the corruption within."
Of this sad chapter in the history of man, it is unnecessary to give any description here. For scenes of horror, pollution, and blood, its parallel has never been found in the history of our race, and, as an event in history, it was worthy of a notice in the symbols which portrayed the future. The full details of these amazing scenes must be sought in the histories which describe them, and to such works as Alison's History of Europe, and Burke's Letters on a Regicide Peace, the reader must be referred. A few expressions copied from those letters of Mr. Burke, penned with no design of illustrating this passage in the Apocalypse, and no expectation that they would be ever so applied, will show with what propriety the spirit of inspiration suggested the phrase, "a noisome and grievous sore" or plague-spot, on the supposition that the design was to refer to these scenes. In speaking of the revolutionary spirit in France, Mr. Burke calls it "the fever of aggravated Jacobinism," "the epidemic of atheistical fanaticism," "an evil lying deep in the corruptions of human nature," "the malignant French distemper," "a plague, with its fanatical spirit of proselytism, that needed the strictest quarantine to guard against it," whereof, though the mischief might be "skimmed over" for a time, yet the result into whatever country it entered, was "the corruption of all morals," "the decomposition of all society," etc. But it is unnecessary to describe those scenes further. The "world has them by heart," and they can never be obliterated from the memory of man. In the whole history of the race there has never been an outbreak of evil that showed so deep pollution and corruption within.
(d) The result of this was to affect the papacy - a blow, in fact, aimed at that power. Of course, all the infidelity and atheism of the French nation, before so strongly papal, went just so far in weakening the power of the papacy; and in the ultimate result it will perhaps yet be found that the horrid outbreaks in the French revolution were the first in the series of providential events that will result in the entire overthrow of that anti-Christian power. At all events, it will be admitted, I think, that, on the supposition that it was intended that this should be descriptive of the scenes that occurred in Europe at the close of the last century, no more expressive symbol could have been chosen than has been employed in the pouring out of this first vial of wrath.
3And 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 second angel poured out his vial upon the sea - So the second trumpet Revelation 8:8, "And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea; and the third part of the sea became blood." For the meaning of this as a symbol, see the notes on that verse.
And it became as the blood of a dead man - "Either very bloody, like a mangled corse, or else colored, as it were, with the dark and almost black blood of a dead man" (Prof. Stuart, in loco). The latter would seem to be, most probably, the meaning; implying that the ocean would become discolored, and indicating that this was the effect of blood shed in great quantities on its waters. In Revelation 8:8 it is, "the sea became blood"; here the allusion to the blood of a dead man would more naturally suggest the idea of naval conflicts, and of the blood of the slain poured in great quantities into the deep.
And every living soul died in the sea - In Revelation 8:9 it is said that "the third part of the creatures that were in the sea died, and the third part of the ships were destroyed." Here the destruction is more general; the calamity is more severe and awful. It is as if every living thing - πᾶσα ψυχὴ ζῶσα pasa psuchē zōsa - had died. No emphasis should be put on the word "soul" here, for the word means merely "a creature, a living thing, an animal," Acts 2:43; Acts 3:23; Romans 13:1; 1 Corinthians 15:45. See Robinson, Lexicon sub voce, c. The sense here is, that there would be some dreadful calamity, as if the sea were to be changed into dark blood, and as if every living thing in it were to die.
In inquiring into the proper application of this, it is natural to look for something pertaining to the sea, or the ocean (see the notes on Revelation 8:8-9), and we should expect to find the fulfillment in some calamity that would fall on the marine force, or the commerce of the power that is here referred to; that is, according to the interpretation all along adopted, of the papal power; and the proper application, according to this interpretation, would be the complete destruction or annihilation of the naval force that contributed to sustain the papacy. This we should look for in respect to the naval power of France, Spain, and Portugal, for these are the only papal nations that have had a navy. We should expect, in the fulfillment of this, to find a series of naval disasters, reddening the sea with blood, which would tend to weaken the power of the papacy, and which might be regarded as one in the series of events that would ultimately result in its entire overthrow.
Accordingly, in pursuance of the plan adopted in explaining the pouring out of the first vial, it is to be observed that immediately succeeding, and connected with, the events thus referred to, there was a series of naval disasters that swept away the fleets of France, and that completely demolished the most formidable naval power that had ever been prepared by any nation under the papal dominion. This series of disasters is thus noticed by Mr. Elliott (iii. 329, 330): "Meanwhile, the great naval war between France and England was in progress; which, from its commencement in February, 1793, lasted for above twenty years, with no intermission but that of the short and delusive peace of Amiens; in which war the maritime power of Great Britain was strengthened by the Almighty Providence that protected her to destroy everywhere the French ships, commerce, and smaller colonies; including those of the fast and long-continued allies of the French, Holland and Spain. In the year 1793, the greater part of the French fleet at Toulon was destroyed by Lord Hood; in June, 1794, followed Lord Howe's great victory over the French off Ushant; then the taking of Corsica, and nearly all the smaller Spanish and French West India Islands; then, in 1795, Lord Bridport's naval victory, and the capture of the Cape of Good Hope; as also soon after of a French and Dutch fleet, sent to retake it; then, in 1797, the victory over the Spanish fleet off Cape Vincent; and that of Camperdown over the Dutch; then, in succession, Lord Nelson's three mighty victories - of the Nile in 1798, of Copenhagen in 1801, and in 1805 of Trafalgar. Altogether in this naval war, from its beginning in 1793, to its end in 1815, it appears that there were destroyed near 200 ships of the line, between 300 and 400 frigates, and an almost incalculable number of smaller vessels of war and ships of commerce. The whole history of the world does not present such a period of naval war, destruction, and bloodshed." This brief summary may show, if this was referred to, the propriety of the expression, "The sea became as the blood of a dead man"; and may show also that, on the supposition that it was intended that these events should be referred to, an appropriate symbol has been employed. No language could more strikingly set forth these bloody scenes.
4And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood.
And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters - This coincides also with the account of the sounding of the third trumpet Revelation 8:10-11; "And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters." As to the meaning of the phrase, "rivers and fountains of waters," see the notes on that passage. We found, it was supposed, in the application of that passage, that the invasion of the Roman empire by Attila, king of the Huns, was referred to, affecting mainly those parts of the empire where the rivers and streams had their origin. The analogy would lead us, in the fulfillment of the passage before us, to look for some similar desolations on those portions of Europe. See the notes at the close of Revelation 16:7.
And they became blood - This would properly mean that they became as blood; or became red with blood; and it would be fulfilled if bloody battles were fought near them, so that they seemed to run blood.
5And 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.
And I heard the angel of the waters say - The angel who presides over the element of water; in allusion to the common opinion among the Hebrews that the angels presided over elements, and that each element was committed to the jurisdiction of a particular angel. Compare the notes on Revelation 7:1.
Thou art righteous, O Lord - In view of the judgments that reddened these streams and fountains with the blood of people, the angel ascribes righteousness to God. These judgments seemed terrible - the numbers slain were so vast - the bloody stream indicated so great slaughter, and such severity of the divine judgment; yet the angel sees in all this only the act of a righteous God bringing just retribution on the guilty.
Which art, and wast, and shalt be - That is, who art eternal - existing now; who hast existed in all past time; and who will exist ever onward. See the notes on Revelation 1:8. The reason why this attribute of God is here referred to, seems to be that the mind of the angel adverts to it in the changes and desolations that were occurring around him. In such overturnings among people - such revolutions of kingdoms - such desolations of war - the mind naturally turns to one who is unchanging; to one whose throne is from everlasting to everlasting.
Because thou hast judged thus - Hast suffered these wars to occur that have changed rivers and fountains to blood.
6For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.
For they have shed the blood of saints - The nations here referred to. They have been engaged in scenes of bloody persecution, and this is a just recompense.
And prophets - Teachers of religion; ministers of truth. It is not necessary to understand the word "prophets" here in its technical sense, as denoting those who are raised up by God and sent forth as inspired men, but it may be understood in its more common signification in the New Testament as denoting teachers of religion in general. See the Romans 12:6 note; 1 Corinthians 14:1 note.
And thou hast given them blood to drink - To wit, by turning the streams and fountains into blood, Revelation 16:4. Blood had been poured out in such abundance that it seemed to mingle with the very water that they drank. This was a recompense for their having, in those very regions, poured out so much blood in persecuting the saints and prophets - the pious private members of the church, and the public teachers of religion.
For they are worthy - That is, they deserve this; or this is a just recompense for their sins. It is not intended that those who would thus suffer had been individually guilty of this, or that this was properly a punishment on them; but it is meant that in those countries there had been bloody persecutions, and that this was a fit recompense for what had there occurred.
7And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.
And I heard another - Evidently another angel, though this is not specified.
Out of the altar - Either the angel of the altar - that is, who presided over the altar (Prof. Stuart), or an angel whose voice seemed to come from the altar. The sense is essentially the same. The writer seemed to hear a voice coming from the altar responding to what had just been said in regard to the judgment of God, or to his righteousness in bringing the judgment upon people, Revelation 16:5. This was evidently the voice of someone who was interested in what was occurring, or to whom these things particularly pertained; that is, one who was particularly connected with the martyrs referred to, whose blood was now, as it were, to be avenged. We are naturally reminded by this of the martyr-scene in Revelation 6:9-11, in the opening of the fifth seal, though it cannot be supposed that the same events are referred to. There "the souls of those that had been slain for the word of God" are represented as being "under the altar," and as crying to God to "avenge their blood on them who dwelt on the earth." Here a voice is heard with reference to martyrs, as of one interested in them, ascribing praise to God for having brought a righteous judgment on those who had shed the blood of the saints. They are both, for similar reasons, connected with the "altar," and the voice is heard proceeding from the same source. In regard to the meaning of the word "altar" here, and the reason why the martyrs are represented in connection with it, see the notes on Revelation 6:9.
True and righteous are thy judgments - Responding to what is said in Revelation 16:5. That is, God is "true" or faithful to his promises made to his people, and "righteous" in the judgments which he has now inflicted. These judgments had come upon those who had shed the blood of the martyrs, and they were just.
In regard to the application of this there are several things to be said. The following points are clear:
(a) That this judgment would "succeed" the first-mentioned, and apparently at a period not remote.
(b) It would occur in a region where there had been much persecution.
(c) It would be in a country of streams, and rivers, and fountains.
(d) It would be a just retribution for the bloody persecutions which had occurred there.
The question now is, where we shall find the fulfillment of this, assuming that the explanation of the pouring out of the first vial is correct. And here, I think, there can be no mistake in applying it to the events bearing on the papacy, and the papal powers, which followed the French revolution. The next material event, after that revolution, was the invasion of Italy, where Napoleon began his career of victories, and where he first acquired his fame. At this stage of my examination of this passage, I looked into Alison's History of Europe to see what events, in fact, followed the scenes of confusion, crime, blood, atheism, and pollution in the French revolution, and I found that the next chapters in these eventful scenes, were such as would be well represented by the vial poured upon the rivers and fountains, and by their being turned into blood.
The detail would be too long for my limits, and I can state merely a summary of a few of the chapters in that history. Chapter xix contains the "History of the French Republic from the fall of Robespierre to the establishment of the Directory" - comprising properly the closing scenes of "the Reign of Terror." Chapter xx contains an account of the campaign in Italy in 1796, embracing, as stated in the summing up of contents in this chapter, the "Battles of Montenotte, Millesimo, Dego; the passage of the bridge of Lodi, and fall of Milan; the siege of Mantua, and the battle of Castiglione; the battles of Caldero and Arcola; and the battles of Rivoli and Mantua." This is followed (chapter xxiii) with an account of the campaign of 1797, which closed with the fall of Venice; and this is followed (chapter xxvi.) with an account of the invasion of Switzerland, etc. It is unnecessary to dwell on the details of the wars which followed the French revolution on the Rhine, the Po, and the Alpine streams of Piedmont and Lombardy. The slightest acquaintance with that history will show the propriety of the following remarks:
(a) These wars occurred in regions under the influence of the papacy, for these were all papal states and territories.
(b) These scenes followed closely on the French revolution, and grew out of it as a natural consequence, and would be properly represented as a second "vial" poured out immediately after the first.
(c) The country is such as here supposed - "of rivers and fountains" - for, being mostly a mountainous region, it abounds with springs, and fountains, and streams. Indeed, on the supposition that this is the land referred to, a more appropriate description could not have been given of it than is found in this passage. One has only to look upon a map of Northern Italy to see that there is no other portion of the world which would more naturally be suggested when speaking of a country abounding in "rivers and fountains of water." The admirable map of this region prefixed to the volume, for which I am indebted to the work of Dr. Alexander Keith, on the Signs of the Times, will clearly illustrate this passage, and the corresponding passage in chapter viii., x., xi.,. Let anyone look at the Po and its tributaries on the map, and then read with attention the twentieth chapter of Alison's History of Europe (vol. i. pp. 391-424), and he will be struck with the appropriateness of the description, on the supposition that this portion of the book of Revelation was designed to refer to these scenes; for he cannot but see that the battles there described were fought in a country in every way corresponding with the statement here.
(d) This country corresponds with the description here given in another respect. In Revelation 16:5-6 there is a tribute of praise rendered to God, in view of these judgments, because he was righteous in bringing them upon a land where the blood of saints and prophets had been shed - a land of martyrs. Now this is applicable to the circumstances supposed, not only in the sense that Italy in general had been the land where the blood of martyrs had been shed - the land of Roman persecution, alike under paganism and the papacy - but true in a more definite sense, from the fact that this was the very region where the persecutions against the Waldenses and the Albigenses had been carried on - the valleys of Piedmont. In the times of papal persecution these valleys had been made to flow with the blood of the saints; and it seemed, at least, to be a righteous retribution that these desolations of war, these conflagrations, and these scenes of carnage, should occur in that very land, and that the very fountains and streams which had before been turned into blood, by the slaughter of the friends of the Saviour, should now be reddened with the blood of men slain in battle. This is, perhaps, what John saw in vision: a land where persecution had raged, and the blood of the holy had flowed freely, and then the same land brought under the awful judgments of God, and the fountains and streams reddened with the blood of the slain. There was a propriety, therefore, that a voice should be heard ascribing righteousness to God for avenging the blood of the saints Revelation 16:5-6, and that another voice should be heard from the "altar" of the martyrs Revelation 16:7 responding and saying, "Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments."
(e) It may be added, to show the propriety of this, that this was one of the series of events which will be found in the end to have contributed to the overthrow of the papal power; for a blow was struck, in the French invasion of Italy, from which Rome has never recovered, and sentiments were diffused as the result in favor of liberty which it has been difficult ever since to suppress, and which are destined yet to burst out in favor of freedom, and to be one of the means of the final destruction of the power. Compare Alison's History of Europe, vol. 1, p. 403.
8And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire.
And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun - Toward the sun, or so as to reach the sun. The effect was as if it had been poured upon the sun, giving it an intense heat, and thus inflicting a severe judgment upon people. This corresponds also with the fourth trumpet Revelation 8:12, where it is said, that the "third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars." For the general meaning of this symbol see the notes on that place. The idea is, that a scene of calamity and woe would occur as if the sun should be made to pour forth such intense heat that people would be "scorched." It cannot be supposed that the sun would be literally made hotter, or that the exact nature of these calamities would be that people would be consumed by its rays.
And power was given unto him - To the sun. The meaning is, that a calamity would follow as if such an increased power should be given to its rays.
To scorch men with fire - Literally, "And it was given him to scorch men with fire" - that is, with heat so great that it seemed to be fire. The Greek word - καυματίσαι kaumatisai - meaning "to burn, to scorch" - is used in the New Testament only in Matthew 13:6; Mark 4:6; Revelation 16:8-9, in all which places it is rendered "scorch" and "scorched." Compare, however, the use of the word καῦμα kauma, in Revelation 7:16; Revelation 16:9; καῦσις kausis, in Hebrews 6:8; καυσόω kausoō, in 1 Peter 3:10, 1 Peter 3:12; and καύσων kausōn, in Matthew 20:12; Luke 12:55; James 1:11. The notion of intense or consuming heat is implied in all the forms of the word; and the reference here is to some calamity that would be well represented by such an increased heat of the sun.
9And 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 men were scorched with great heat - That is, as above expressed, calamity came upon them which would be well represented by such heat. It is said that this calamity would come upon people, and we are to suppose that it would be such that human life would be particularly affected; and as that heat of the sun must be exceedingly intense which would cut down people, we are to suppose that the judgment here referred to would be intensely severe.
And blasphemed the name of God - The effect would be to cause them to blaspheme God or to reproach him as the author of these calamities; and in the fulfillment of this we are to look for a state of things when there would be augmented wickedness and irreligion, and when people would become worse and worse, notwithstanding the woes that had come upon them.
Which hath power over these plagues - Who had brought these plagues upon them, and who had power to remove them.
And they repented not - The effect was not to produce repentance, though it was manifest that these judgments had come upon them on account of their sins. Compare the notes on Revelation 9:21.
To give him glory - To turn from sin; to honor him by lives of obedience. Compare the notes on John 9:24.
In regard to the "application" of this the following things may be remarked:
(a) That the calamity here referred to was one of the series of events which would precede the overthrow of the "beast," and contribute to that, for to this all these judgments tend.
(b) In the order in which it stands it is to follow, and apparently to follow soon, the third judgment - the pouring of the vial upon the fountains and streams.
(c) It would be a calamity such as if the sun, the source of light and comfort to mankind, were smitten, and became a source of torment.
(d) This would be attended by a great destruction of people, and we should naturally look in such an application for calamities in which multitudes of people would be, as it were, consumed.
(e) This would not be followed, as it might be hoped it would, by repentance, but would be attended with reproaches of God, with profaneness, with a great increase of wickedness.
Now, on the supposition that the explanation of the previous passages is correct, there can be no great difficulty in supposing that this refers to the wars of Europe following the French revolution, the wars that preceded the direct attack on the papacy and the overthrow of the papal government, for these events had all the characteristics here referred to:
(a) They were one of a series in weakening the papal power in Europe - heavy blows that will yet be seen to have been among the means preliminary to its final overthrow.
(b) They followed in their order the invasion of Northern Italy, for one of the purposes of that invasion was to attack the Austrian power there, and ultimately through the Tyrol to attack Austria itself. Napoleon, after his victories in Northern Italy, above referred to (compare chapter xx of Alison's History of Europe), thus writes to the French Directory: "Coni, Ceva, and Alexandria are in the hands of our army; if you do not ratify the convention I will keep these fortresses and march upon Turin. Meanwhile I shall march tomorrow against Beaulieu, and drive him across the Po; I shall follow close at his heels, overrun all Lombardy, and in a month be in the Tyrol, join the army of the Rhine, and carry our united forces into Bavaria. That design is worthy of you, of the army, and of the destinies of France" (Alison, i.401).
(c) The campaign in Germany in 1796 followed immediately this campaign in Italy. Thus, in chapter xx. of Alison's History, we have an account of the campaign in Italy; in chapter xxi. we have the account of the campaign in Germany; and the other wars in Europe that continued so long, and that were so fierce and bloody, followed in quick succession - all tending, in their ultimate results, to weaken the papal power and to secure its final overthrow.
(d) It is hardly necessary to say here that these wars had all the characteristics here supposed. It was as if the sun were smitten in the heavens and power were given to scorch people with fire. Europe seemed to be on fire with musketry and artillery, and presented almost the appearance of the broad blaze of a battlefield. The number that perished was immense. These wars were attended with the usual consequences - blasphemy, profaneness, and reproaches of God in every form. And yet there was another effect wholly in accordance with the statement here, that none of these judgments brought people to "repentance, that they might give God the glory." Perhaps these remarks, which might be extended to great length, will show that, on the supposition that it was intended to refer to those scenes by the outpouring of this vial, the symbol was well chosen and appropriate.
10And 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 the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast - The previous judgments had been preparatory to this. They all had a bearing on this, and were all preliminary to it; but the "seat" - the home, the center of the power of the beast - had not yet been reached. Here, however, there was a direct blow aimed at that power, still not such yet as to secure its final overthrow, for that is reserved for the pouring out of the last vial, Revelation 16:17-21. All that is represented here is a heavy judgment which was merely preliminary to to that final overthrow, but which affected the very seat of the beast. The phrase "the seat of the beast" - τὸν θρόνον τοῦ θηρίου ton thronon tou thēriou - means the "seat" or "throne" which the representative of that power occupied, the central point of the Anti-christian dominion. Compare the notes on Revelation 13:2. See also Revelation 2:13. I understand this as referring to the very seat of the papal power - Rome - the Vatican.
And his kingdom was full of darkness - Confusion - disorder - distress, for darkness is often the emblem of calamity, Isaiah 59:9-10; Jeremiah 13:16; Ezekiel 30:18; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Ezekiel 34:12; Joel 2:2.
And they gnawed their tongues for pain - This is a "most significant expression of the writhings of anguish." The word rendered here "gnawed" does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, nor is the expression elsewhere used in the Bible; but its meaning is plain - it indicates deep anguish.
11And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.
And blasphemed the God of heaven - The same effect which it was said would be produced by the pouring out of the fourth vial, Revelation 16:9.
Because of their pains and their sores - Of the calamities that had come upon them.
And repented not of their deeds - See the notes on Revelation 16:9. Compare Revelation 9:21.
In regard to the fulfillment and application of this, the following general remarks may be made here:
(a) It would succeed, at no great interval probably, what is referred to under the previous "vials," and would be one in the series tending to the same result.
(b) It would fall directly on the seat of the authority of the "beast" - on the central power of the papacy, according to the interpretation of the other symbols; and we should look, therefore, for some calamity that would come upon Rome itself, and still more specifically upon the pope himself, and those immediately around him.
(c) This would be attended with deep distress and darkness in the papal dominions.
(d) There would be an increase of what is here called "blasphemy"; that is, of impiety and reproaches of the Divine Being.
(e) There would be no repentance produced. There would be no reformation. The system would be as corrupt as it was before, and people would be as much under its influence. And,
(f) we should not expect that this would be the final overthrow of the system. That is reserved for the outpouring of the seventh and last vial in the series Revelation 16:17-21, and under that the system would be overthrown, and would come to an end. This is distinctly stated in the account of that "vial"; and therefore we are not to expect to find, in the application of the fifth "vial," that the calamity brought upon "the seat of the beast" would be such that it would not recover for a time, and maintain, apparently, in some good degree, its former power and influence.
With this view of what we are to expect, and in connection with the explanations of the previous symbols, it seems to me that there can be no hesitation in applying this to the direct attacks on the papal power and on the pope himself, as one of the consequences of the French revolution, and to the calamities that were thus brought upon the papal States. In order to show the appropriateness of this application, I will state a few facts which will show that, on the supposition that it was the intention in this symbol to refer to the papal power at that time, the symbol has been well chosen, and has been fulfilled. And, in doing this, I will merely copy from Alison's History of Europe (vol. 1, pp. 542-546) a few statements, which, like many that have been quoted from Mr. Gibbon in the former part of these notes, would seem almost to have been penned in view of this prophecy, and with a view to record its fulfillment. The statement is as follows:
"The Ecclesiastical States were the next object of attack. It had long been an avowed object of ambition with the Republican government to revolutionize the Roman people, and plant the tricolor flag in the city of Brutus," and fortune at length presented them with a favorable opportunity to accomplish the design.
"The situation of the pope had become, since the French conquests in Italy, in the highest degree precarious. Cut off by the Cisalpine Republic from any support from Austria; left by the treaty of Campo Formio entirely at the mercy of the French republic; threatened by the heavings of the democratic spirit within his own dominions; and exposed to all the contagion arising from the complete establishment and close vicinity of republican governments in the north of Italy, he was almost destitute of the means of resisting so many seen and unseen enemies. The pontifical treasury was exhausted by the immense payments stipulated by the treaty of Tolentino; while the activity and zeal of the revolutionary clubs in all the principal towns of the Ecclesiastical States was daily increasing with the prospect of success. To enable the government to meet the enormous demands of the French army, the principal Roman families, like the pope, had sold their gold, their silver, their jewels, their horses, their carriages - in a word, all their valuable effects; but the exactions of the republican agents were still unabated.
In despair they had recourse to the fatal expedient of issuing a paper circulation; but that, in a country destitute of credit, soon fell to an inconsiderable value, and augmented rather than relieved the public distress. Joseph Bonaparte, brother to Napoleon, had been appointed ambassador at the court of Rome; but as his character was deemed too honorable for political intrigue, Generals Duphot and Sherlock were sent along with him, the former of whom had been so successful in effecting the overthrow of the Genoese aristocracy. The French embassy, under their direction, soon became the center of the revolutionary action; and those numerous ardent characters with which the Italian cities abound, flocked there as to a common focus, from whence the next great explosion of democratic power was to be expected. In this extremity, Pius VI., who was above eighty years of age, and sinking into the grave, called to his counsels the Austrian general Provera, already distinguished in the Italian campaigns; but the Directory soon compelled the humiliated pontiff to dismiss that intrepid counselor. As his recovery then seemed hopeless, the instructions of government to their ambassador were to delay the proclamation of a republic until his death, when the vacant chair of Peter might be overturned with little difficulty; but such was the activity of the revolutionary agents, that the train was ready to take fire before that event took place, and the cars of the Romans were assailed by incessant abuse of the ecclesiastical government, and vehement declamations in favor of republican freedom.
"The resolution to overturn the papal government, like all the other ambitious projects of the Directory, received a very great impulse from the re-ascendant of Jacobin influence at Paris, by the results of the revolution of 18th Fructidor. One of the first measures of the new government was to despatch an order to Joseph Bonaparte at Rome, to promote, by all the means in his power, the approaching revolution in the papal States; and, above all things, to take care that at the pope's death no successor should be elected to the chair of Peter. Napoleon's language to the Roman pontiff became daily more menacing. Immediately before setting out for Rastadt, he ordered his brother Joseph to intimate to the pope that three thousand additional troops had been forwarded to Ancona; that if Provera was not dismissed within twenty-four hours, war would be declared; that if any of the revolutionists who had been arrested were executed, reprisals would immediately be exercised on the cardinals; and that, if the Cisalpine Republic was not recognized, it would be the signal for immediate hostilities.
At the same time ten thousand troops of the Cisalpine Republic advanced to Leon, in the papal duchy of Urbino, and made themselves masters of that fortress; while at Ancona, which was still garrisoned by French troops, notwithstanding its stipulated restoration by the treaty of Tolentino to the Holy See, the democratic party openly proclaimed the 'Anconite Republic.' Similar revolutionary movements took place at Corneto, Civita Vecchia, Pesaro, and Senigaglia; while at Rome itself, Joseph Bonaparte, by compelling the papal government to liberate all persons confined for political offences, suddenly vomited forth upon the capital several hundreds of the most heated republicans in Italy. After this great addition, measures were no longer kept with the government. Seditious meetings were constantly held in every part of the city; immense collections of tricolor cockades were made to distinguish the insurgents, and deputations of the citizens openly waited on the French ambassador to invite him to support the insurrection, to which he replied, in ambiguous terms - 'The fate of nations, as of individuals, being buried in the womb of futurity, it is not given to me to penetrate its mysteries. '
"In this temper of men's minds, a spark was sufficient to occasion an explosion. On the 27th of December, 1797, an immense crowd assembled, with seditious cries, and moved to the palace of the French ambassador, where they exclaimed, 'Vive la Republique Romaine!' and loudly invoked the aid of the French to enable them to plant the tricolor flag on the Capitol. The insurgents displayed the tricolor cockade, and evinced the most menacing disposition; the danger was extreme; from similar beginnings the overthrow of the governments of Venice and Genoa had rapidly followed. The papal ministers sent a regiment of dragoons to prevent any sortie of the revolutionists from the palace of the French ambassador; and they repeatedly warned the insurgents that their orders were to allow no one to leave its precincts. Duphot, however, indignant at being restrained by the pontifical troops, drew his sword, rushed down the staircase, and put himself at the head of one hundred and fifty armed Roman democrats, who were now contending with the dragoons in the courtyard of the palace. He was immediately killed by a discharge ordered by the sergeant commanding the patrol of the papal troops; and the ambassador himself, who had followed to appease the tumult, narrowly escaped the same fate. A violent scuffle ensued; several persons were killed and wounded on both sides; and, after remaining several hours in the greatest alarm, Joseph Bonaparte, with his suite, retired to Florence.
"This catastrophe, however, obviously occasioned by the revolutionary schemes which were in agitation at the residence of the French ambassador, having taken place within the precincts of his palace, was, unhappily, a violation of the law of nations, and gave the Directory too fair a ground to demand satisfaction. But they instantly resolved to make it the pretext for the immediate occupation of Rome and overthrow of the papal government. The march of troops out of Italy was countermanded, and Berthier, the commander-in-chief, received orders to advance rapidly into the Ecclesiastical States. Meanwhile, the democratic spirit burst forth more violently than ever at Ancona and the neighboring towns, and the papal authority was soon lost in all the provinces on the eastern slope of the Apennines. To these accumulated disasters the pontiff could only oppose the fasts and prayers of an aged conclave - weapons of spiritual warfare little calculated to arrest the conquerors of Arcola and Lodi.
"Berthier, without an instant's delay, carried into execution the orders of the Directory. Six thousand Poles were stationed at Rimini to cover the Cisalpine Republic; a reserve was established at Tolentino, while the commander-in-chief, at the head of eighteen thousand veteran troops, entered Ancona. Having completed the work of revolution in that turbulent district, and secured the fortress, he crossed the Apennines; and, advancing by Foligno and Narni, appeared on the 10th of February before the Eternal City. The pope, in the utmost consternation, shut himself up in the Vatican, and spent night and day at the foot of the altar in imploring the divine protection.
"Rome, almost defenseless, would have offered no obstacle to the entrance of the French troops; but it was part of the policy of the Directory to make it appear that their aid was invoked by the spontaneous efforts of the inhabitants. Contenting himself, therefore, with occupying the castle of Angelo, from which the feeble guards of the pope were soon expelled, Berthier kept his troops for five days encamped without the walls. At length, the revolutionists having completed their preparations, a noisy crowd assembled in the Campo Vaccino, the ancient Forum; the old foundations of the Capitol were made again to resound with the cries, if not the spirit, of freedom, and the venerable ensigns, S. P. Q. R., after the lapse of 1,400 years, again floated in the winds. The multitude tumultuously demanded the overthrow of the papal authority; the French troops were invited to enter; the conquerors of Italy, with a haughty air, passed the gates of Aurelian, defiled through the Piazza del Popolo, gazed on the indestructible monuments of Roman grandeur, and, amid the shouts of the inhabitants, the tricolor flag was displayed from the summit of the Capitol.
"But while part of the Roman populace were surrendering themselves to a pardonable intoxication upon the fancied recovery of their liberties, the agents of the Directory were preparing for them the sad realities of slavery. The pope, who had been guarded by five hundred soldiers ever since the entry of the republicans, was directed to retire into Tuscany; his Swiss guard relieved by a French one; and he himself ordered to dispossess himself of all his temporal authority. He replied, with the firmness of a martyr, 'I am prepared for every species of disgrace. As supreme pontiff, I am resolved to die in the exercise of all my powers. You may employ force - you have the power to do so; but know that, though you may be masters of my body, you are not so of my soul. Free in the region where it is placed, it fears neither the events nor the sufferings of this life. I stand on the threshold of another world; there I shall be sheltered alike from the violence and impiety of this.' Force was soon employed to dispossess him of his authority; he was dragged from the altar in his palace, his repositories all ransacked and plundered, the rings even torn from his fingers, the whole effects in the Vatican and Quirinal inventoried and seized, and the aged pontiff conducted, with only a few domestics, amid the brutal jests and sacrilegious songs of the French dragoons, into Tuscany, where the generous hospitality of the grand-duke strove to soften the hardships of his exile. But, though a captive in the hands of his enemies, the venerable old man still retained the supreme authority in the church. From his retreat in the convent of the Chartreuse, he yet guided the counsels of the faithful; multitudes fell on their knees wherever he passed, and sought that benediction from a captive which they would, perhaps, have disregarded from a ruling pontiff.
"The subsequent treatment of this venerable man was as disgraceful to the republican government as it was honorable to his piety and constancy as the head of the church. Fearful that from his virtues and sufferings he might have too much influence on the continent of Italy, he was removed by their orders to Leghorn, in March, 1799, with the design of transferring him to Cagliari in Sardinia; and the English cruisers in the Mediterranean redoubled their vigilance in the generous hope of rescuing the father of an opposite church from the persecution of his enemies. Apprehensive of losing their prisoner, the French altered his destination; and forcing him to traverse, often during the night, the Apennines and the Alps in a rigorous season, he at length reached Valence, where, after an illness of ten days, he expired, in the eighty-second year of his age, and the twenty-fourth of his pontificate. The cruelty of the Directory increased as he approached their dominions, all his old attendants were compelled to leave him, and the father of the faithful was allowed to expire, attended only by his confessor. Yet even in this disconsolate state he derived the highest satisfaction from the devotion and reverence of the people in the provinces of France through which he passed. Multitudes from Gap, Vizelle, and Grenoble flocked to the road to receive his benediction; and he frequently repeated, with tears in his eyes, the words of Scripture: 'Verily, I say unto you, I have not seen such faith, no, not in Israel. '
"But long before the pope had sunk under the persecution of his oppressors, Rome had experienced the bitter fruits of republican fraternization. Immediately after the entry of the French troops, commenced the regular and systematic pillage of the city. Not only the churches and the convents, but the palaces of the cardinals and of the nobility, were laid waste. The agents of the Directory, insatiable in the pursuit of plunder, and merciless in the means of exacting it, ransacked every quarter within its walls, seized the most valuable works of art, and stripped the Eternal City of those treasures which had survived the Gothic fire and the rapacious hands of the Spanish soldiers. The bloodshed was much less, but the spoil collected incomparably greater, than at the disastrous sack which followed the death of the Constable Bourbon. Almost all the great works of art which have since that time been collected throughout Europe, were then scattered abroad.
The spoliation exceeded all that the Goths or Vandals had effected. Not only the palaces of the Vatican, and the Monte Cavallo, and the chief nobility of Rome, but those of Castel Gandolfo, on the margin of the Alban Lake, of Terracina, the Villa Albani, and others in the environs of Rome, were plundered of every article of value which they possessed. The whole sacerdotal habits of the pope and cardinals were burned, in order to collect from the flames the gold with which they were adorned. The Vatican was stripped to its naked walls; the immortal frescoes of Raphael and Michael Angelo, which could not be removed, remained in solitary beauty amid the general desolation. A contribution of four million in money, two million in provisions, and three thousand horses, was imposed on a city already exhausted by the enormous exactions it had previously undergone. Under the direction of the infamous commissary Haller, the domestic library, museum, furniture, jewels, and even the private clothes of the pope were sold. Nor did the palaces of the Roman nobility escape devastation. The noble galleries of the Cardinal Braschi, and the Cardinal York, the last relic of the Stuart line, underwent the same fate. Others, as those of the Chigi, Borghese, and Doria palaces, were rescued from destruction only by enormous ransoms. Everything of value that the treaty of Tolentino had left in Rome became the prey of republican cupidity, and the very name of freedom soon became odious, from the sordid and infamous crimes which were committed in its name.
"Nor were the exactions of the French confined to the plunder of palaces and churches. Eight cardinals were arrested and sent to Civita Castellana, while enormous contributions were levied on the papal territory, and brought home the bitterness of conquest to every poor man's door. At the same time the ampie territorial possessions of the church and the monasteries were confiscated, and declared national property - a measure which, by drying up at once the whole resources of the affluent classes, precipitated into the extreme of misery the numerous poor who were maintained by their expenditure, or fed by their bounty. All the respectable citizens and clergy were in fetters; and a base and despicable faction alone, among whom, to their disgrace be it told, were found fourteen cardinals, followed in the train of the oppressors; and, at a public festival, returned thanks to God for the miseries they had brought upon their country."
12And 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 the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates - On the situation of that river, and the symbolical meaning of this language, see the notes on Revelation 9:14-21. The reference there was supposed to be to the Turkish power, and the analogy of interpretation would seem to require that it should be so understood here. There is every reason, therefore, to suppose that this passage has reference to something in the future history of the Turkish dominions, and to some bearing of the events which are to occur in that history on the ultimate downfall of the anti-Christian power referred to by the "beast."
And the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared - That is, as the effect of pouring out the vial. There is an allusion here, undoubtedly, to the dividing of the waters of the Red Sea, so that the children of Israel might pass. See Exodus 14:21-22. Compare the notes on Isaiah 11:15. In this description the Euphrates is represented as a barrier to prevent the passage of "the kings of the East," on their way to the West for some purpose not yet specified; that is, applying the symbol of the Euphrates as being the seat of the Turkish power, the meaning is, that "that power" is such a hindrance, and that, in some way that hindrance is to be removed as if the waters of an unbridged and unfordable river were dried up so as to afford a safe and easy passage through. Still there are several inquiries as to the application of this, which is not easy, and, as it refers to what is still future, it may be impossible to answer. The language requires us to put upon it the following interpretation:
(a) The persons here referred to as "kings of the East," were ready to make a movement toward the West, over the Euphrates, and would do this if this obstruction were not in their way. Who these "kings of the East" are is not said, and perhaps cannot be conjectured. The natural interpretation is, that they are the kings that reign in the East, or that preside over the countries of the eastern hemisphere. "Why" there was a proposed movement to the West is not said. It might have been for conquest, or it might have been that they were to bring their tribute to the spiritual Jerusalem, in accordance with what is so often said in the prophets, that under the gospel kings and princes would consecrate themselves and their wealth to God. See Psalm 72:10-11; "The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him." So also Isaiah 60:4-6, Isaiah 60:9,Isaiah 60:11; "Thy sons shall come from far - The forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee - All they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense - The isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them - Thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought." All that is fairly implied in the language used here is, that the kings of the East would be converted to the true religion, or that they were, at the time referred to, in a state of readiness to be converted, if there were no hindrance or obstruction.
(b) There was some hindrance or obstruction to their conversion; that is, as explained, from the Turkish power: in other words, they would be converted to the true faith if it were not for the influence of that power.
(c) The destruction of that power, represented by the drying up of the Euphrates, would remove that obstruction, and the way would thus be "prepared" for their conversion to the true religion. We should most naturally, therefore, look, in the fulfillment of this, for some such decay of the Turkish power as would be followed by the conversion of the rulers of the East to the gospel.
13And 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 three unclean spirits - They assumed a visible form which would well represent their odiousness - that of frogs - but still they are spoken of as "spirits." They were evil powers, or evil influences (Revelation 16:14, "spirits of devils"), and the language here is undoubtedly designed to represent some such power or influence which would, at that period, proceed from the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.
Like frogs - βατράχοι batrachoi. This word does not occur in the New Testament except in the passage before us. It is properly translated frogs. The frog is here employed clearly as a symbol, and it is designed that certain qualities of the "spirits" here referred to should be designated by the symbol. For a full illustration of the meaning of the symbol, the reader may consult Bochart, Hieroz. P. II. lib. v. cap. 4. According to Bochart, the frog is characterized, as a symbol:
(1) for its rough, harsh, coarse voice;
(2) on this account, as a symbol of complaining or reproaching;
(3) as a symbol of empty loquacity;
(4) as a symbol of heretics and philosophers, as understood by Augustine;
(5) because the frog has its origin in mud, and lives in mud, as a symbol of those who are born in sin, and live in pollution;
(6) because the frog endures all changes of the season cold and heat, summer, winter, rain, frost - as a symbol of monks who practice self-denial;
(7) because the frog though abstemious of food, yet lives in water and drinks often, as a symbol of drunkards;
(8) as a symbol of impudence;
(9) because the frog swells his size, and distends his cheeks, as a symbol of pride.
See the authorities for these uses of the word in Bochart. How many or few of these ideas enter into the symbol here, it is not easy to decide. We may suppose, however, that the spirits referred to would be characterized by pride, arrogance, impudence, assumption of authority; perhaps impurity and vileness, for all these ideas enter into the meaning of the symbol. They are not here, probably, symbols of persons, but of influences or opinions which would be spread abroad, and which would characterize the age referred to. The reference is to what the "dragon," the "beast," and the "false prophet" would do at that time in opposing the truth, and in preparing the world for the great and final conflict.
Out of the mouth of the dragon - One of which seemed to issue from the mouth of the dragon. On the symbolic meaning of the word "dragon," see the notes on Revelation 12:3. It, in general, represents Satan, the great enemy of the church; perhaps here Satan under the form of paganism or paganism, as in Revelation 12:3-4. The idea then is, that, at the time referred to, there would be some manifestation of the power of Satan in the pagan nations, which would be bold, arrogant, proud, loquacious, hostile to truth, and which would be well represented by the hoarse murmur of the frog.
And out of the mouth of the beast - The papacy, as above explained, Revelation 13. That is, there would be some putting forth of arrogant pretensions; some loud denunciation or complaining; some manifestation of pride and self-consequence, which would be well represented by the croaking of the frog. We have seen above (notes on Revelation 16:5-6), that although the fifth vial was poured upon "the seat of the beast," the effect was not to crush and overthrow that power entirely. The papacy would still survive, and would be finally destroyed under the outpouring of the seventh vial, Revelation 16:17-21. In the passage before us we have a representation of it as still living; as having apparently recovered its strength; and as being as hostile as ever to the truth, and able to enter into a combination, secret or avowed, with the "dragon" and the "false prophet," to oppose the reign of truth upon the earth.
And out of the mouth of the false prophet - The word rendered "false prophet" - ψευδοπροφήτου pseudoprophētou - does not before occur in the Book of Revelation, though the use of the article would seem to imply that some well-known power or influence was referred to by this. Compare the notes on Revelation 10:3. The word occurs in other places in the New Testament, Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:11, Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22; Luke 6:26; Acts 13:6; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1; and twice elsewhere in the Book of Revelation, with the same reference as here, Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10. In both these latter places it is connected with the "beast:" "And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet"; "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are." It would seem, then, to refer to some power that was similar to that of the beast, and that was to share the same fate in the overthrow of the enemies of the gospel. As to the application of this, there is no opinion so probable as that it alludes to the Muhammedan power - not strictly the Turkish power, for that was to be "dried up," or to diminish; but to the Muhammedan power as such, that was still to continue for a while in its vigor, and that was yet to exert a formidable influence against the gospel, and probably in some combination, in fact, if not in form, with paganism stud the papacy. The reasons for this opinion are:
(a) that this was referred to, in the former part of the book, as one of the formidable powers that would arise, and that would materially affect the destiny of the world - and it may be presumed that it would be again referred to in the account of the final consummation, see Revelation 9:1-11;
(b) the name "false prophet" would, better than any other, describe that power, and would naturally suggest it in future times - for to no one that has ever appeared in our world could the name be so properly applied as to Muhammed; and,
(c) what is said will be found to agree with the facts in regard to that power, as, in connection with the papacy and with paganism, constituting the sum of the obstruction to the spread of the gospel around the world.
14For 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 - On the meaning of the word used here, see the notes on Revelation 9:20. It is used here, as it is in Revelation 9:20, in a bad sense, as denoting evil spirits. Compare the notes on Matthew 4:1-2, Matthew 4:24.
Working miracles - Working what seemed to be miracles; that is, such wonders as to deceive the world with the belief that they were miracles. See the notes on Revelation 13:13-14, where the same power is ascribed to the "beast."
Which go forth unto the kings of the earth - Which particularly affect and influence kings and rulers. No class of people have been more under the influence of pagan superstition, Muhammedan delusion, or the papacy, than kings and princes. We are taught by this passage that this will continue to be so in the circumstances referred to.
And of the whole world - That is, so far that it might be represented as affecting the whole world - to wit, the pagan, the Muhammedan, and the papal portions of the earth. These still embrace so large a portion of the globe, that it might be said, that what would affect those powers now would influence the whole world.
To gather them - Not literally to assemble them all in one place, but so to unite and combine them that it might be represented as an assembling of the hosts for battle.
To the battle of that great day of God Almighty - Not the day of judgment, but the day which would determine the ascendency of true religion in the world - the final conflict with those powers which had so long opposed the gospel. It is not necessary to suppose that there would be a literal "battle," in which God would be seen to contend with his foes; but there would be what might be properly represented as a battle. That is, there would be a combined struggle against the truth, and in that God would appear by his providence and Spirit on the side of the church, and would give it the victory. It accords with all that has occurred in the past, to suppose that there will be such a combined struggle before the church shall finally triumph in the world.
15Behold, 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 - That is, suddenly and unexpectedly. See the Matthew 24:43 note; 1 Thessalonians 5:2 note. This is designed evidently to admonish people to watch, or to be in readiness for his coming, since, whenever it would occur, it would be at a time when people were not expecting him.
Blessed is he that watcheth - Compare Matthew 24:42-44. The meaning here is, that he who watches for these events, who marks the indications of their approach, and who is conscious of a preparation for them, is in a better and happier state of mind than he on whom they come suddenly and unexpectedly.
And keepeth his garments - The allusion here seems to be to one who, regardless of danger, or of the approach of an enemy, should lay aside his garments and lie down to sleep. Then the thief might come and take away his garments, leaving him naked. The essential idea, therefore, here, is the duty of vigilance. We are to be awake to duty and to danger; we are not to be found sleeping at our post; we are to be ready for death - ready for the coming of the Son of man.
Lest he walk naked - His raiment being carried away while he is asleep.
And they see his shame - Compare the notes on Revelation 3:18. The meaning here is, that, as Christians are clothed with the garments of righteousness, they should not lay them aside, so that their spiritual nakedness should be seen. They are to be always clothed with the robes of salvation; always ready for any event, however soon or suddenly it may come upon them.
16And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
And he gathered them together - Who gathered them? Prof. Stuart renders it "they gathered them together," supposing that it refers to the "spirits" - πνέυματα pneumata - in Revelation 16:13, and that this is the construction of the neuter plural with a singular verb. So DeWette understands it. Hengstenberg supposes that it means that God gathered them together; others suppose that it was the sixth angel; others that it was Satan; others that it was the beast; and others that it was Christ. See Poole's Synopsis, in loco. The authority of DeWette and Prof. Stuart is sufficient to show that the construction which they adopt is authorized by the Greek, as indeed no one can doubt, and perhaps this accords better with the context than any other construction proposed. Thus, in Revelation 16:14, the spirits are represented as going forth into the whole world for the purpose of gathering the nations together to the great battle, and it is natural to suppose that the reference is to them here as having accomplished what they went forth to do. But who are to be gathered together? Evidently those who, in Revelation 16:14, are described by the word "them" - the "kings of the earth, and the whole world"; that is, there will be a state of things which would be well described by a universal gathering of forces in a central battlefield. It is by no means necessary to suppose that what is here represented will literally occur. There will be a mustering of spiritual forces; there will be a combination and a unity of opposition against the truth; there will be a rallying of the declining powers of paganism, Mohammedanism, and Romanism, as if the forces of the earth, marshalled by kings and rulers, were assembled in some great battlefield, where the destiny of the world was to be decided.
Into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon - The word "Armageddon" - Ἀρμαγεδδών Armageddōn - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and is not found in the Septuagint. It seems to be formed from the Hebrew הר מגדּו har Megidow Har Megiddo - Mountain of Megiddo. Compare 2 Chronicles 35:22, where it is said that Josiah "came to fight in the valley of Megiddo." Megiddo was a town belonging to Manasseh, although within the limits of Issachar, Joshua 17:11. It had been originally one of the royal cities of the Canaanites Joshua 12:21, and was one of those of which the Israelites were unable for a long time to take possession. It was rebuilt and fortified by Solomon 1 Kings 9:15, and thither Ahaziah king of Judah fled when wounded by Jehu, and died there, 2 Kings 9:27. It was here that Deborah and Barak destroyed Sisera and his host Judges 5:19; and it was in a battle near this that Josiah was slain by Pharaoh-Necho, 2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Chronicles 35:20-25.
From the great mourning held for his loss, it became proverbial to speak of any grievous mourning as being "like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon," Zechariah 12:11. It has not been found easy to identify the place, but recent searches have made it probable that the vale or plain of Megiddo comprehended, if it was not wholly composed of, the prolongation of the plain of Esdraelon, toward Mount Carmel; that the city of Megiddo was situated there; and that the waters of Megiddo, mentioned in Judges 5:19, are identical with the stream Kishon in that part of its course. See Biblical Repository, vol. 1, pp. 602, 603. It is supposed that the modern town called Lejjun occupies the site of the ancient Megiddo (Robinson's Biblical Researches, vol. 3, pp. 177-180). Megiddo was distinguished for being the place of the decisive conflict between Deborah and Sisera, and of the battle in which Josiah was slain by the Egyptian invaders; and hence it became emblematic of any decisive battlefield - just as Marathon, Leuctra, Arbela, or Waterloo is.
The word "mountain," in the term Armageddon - "Mountain of Megiddo" - seems to have been used because Megiddo was in a mountainous region, though the battles were fought in a valley adjacent. The meaning here is, that there would be, as it were, a decisive battle which would determine the question of the prevalence of true religion on the earth. What we are to expect as the fulfillment of this would seem to be, that there will be some mustering of strength - some rallying of forces" - some opposition made to the kingdom of God in the gospel, by the powers here referred to, which would be decisive in its character, and which would be well represented by the battles between the people of God and their foes in the conflicts in the valley of Megiddo.
As this constitutes, according to the course of the exposition by which we have been conducted, an important division in the Book of Revelation, it may be proper to pause here and make a few remarks. The previous parts of the book, according to the interpretation proposed, relate to the past, and thus far we have found such a correspondence between the predictions and facts which have occurred as to lead us to suppose that these predictions have been fulfilled. At this point, I suppose, we enter on that part which remains yet to be fulfilled, and the investigation must carry us into the dark and unknown future. The remaining portion comprises a very general sketch of things down to the end of time, as the previous portion has touched on the great events pertaining to the church and its progress for a period of more than one thousand eight hundred years. A few general remarks, therefore, seem not inappropriate at this point:
(a) In the previous interpretations, we have had the facts of history by which to test the accuracy of the interpretation. The plan pursued has been, first, to investigate the meaning of the words and symbols, entirely independent of any supposed application, and then to inquire whether there have been any facts that may be regarded as corresponding with the meaning of the words and symbols as explained. Of this method of testing the accuracy of the exposition, we must now take our leave. Our sole reliance must be in the exposition itself, and our work must be limited to that.
(b) It is always difficult to interpret a prophecy. The language of prophecy is often apparently enigmatical; the symbols are sometimes obscure; and prophecies relating to the same subject are often in detached fragments, uttered by different perseus at different times; and it is necessary to collect and arrange them, in order to have a full view of the one subject. Thus the prophecies respecting the Messiah were many of them obscure, and indeed apparently contradictory, before he came; they were uttered at distant intervals, and by different prophets; at one time one trait of his character was dwelt upon, and at another another; and it was difficult to combine these so as to have an accurate view of what he would be, until he came. The result has shown what the meaning of the prophecies was; and at the same time has demonstrated that there was entire consistency in the various predictions, and that to one who could have comprehended all, it would have been possible to combine them so as to have had a correct view of the Messiah, and of his work, even before he came. The same remark is still more applicable to the predictions in the Book of Revelation, or to the similar predictions in the book of Daniel, and to many portions of Isaiah. It is easy to see how difficult it would have been, or rather how impossible by any human powers, to have applied these prophecies in detail before the events occurred; and yet, now that they have occurred, it may be seen that the symbols were the happiest that could have been chosen, and the only ones that could with propriety have been selected to describe the remarkable events which were to take place in future times.
(c) The same thing we may presume to be the case in regard to events which are to occur. We may expect to find:
(1) language and symbols that are, in themselves, capable of clear interpretation as to their proper meaning;
(2) the events of the future so sketched out by that language, and by those symbols, that we may obtain a general view that will be accurate; and yet.
(3) an entire impossibility of filling up beforehand the minute details.
In regard, then, to the application of the particular portion now before us, Revelation 16:12-16, the following remarks may be made:
(1) The Turkish power, especially since its conquest of Constantinople under Muhammed II. in 1453, and its establishment in Europe, has been a grand hindrance to the spread of the gospel. It has occupied a central position; it has possessed some of the richest parts of the world; it has, in general, excluded all efforts to spread the pure gospel within its limits; and its whole influence has been opposed to the spread of pure Christianity. Compare the notes on Revelation 9:14-21. "By its laws it was death to a Mussulman to apostatize from his faith, and become a Christian; and examples, not a few, have occurred in recent times to illustrate it." It was not until quite recently, and that under the influence of missionaries in Constantinople, that evangelical Christianity has been tolerated in the Turkish dominions.
(2) the prophecy before us implies that there would be a decline of that formidable power - represented by the "drying up of the great river Euphrates." See the notes on Revelation 16:12. And no one can be insensible to the fact that events are occurring which would be properly represented by such a symbol; or that there is, in fact, now such a decline of that Turkish power, and that the beginning of that decline closely followed, in regard to time, if not in regard to the cause, the events which it is supposed were designated by the previous vials - those connected with the successive blows on the papacy and the seat of the beast. In reference, then, to the decline of that power, we may refer to the following things:
(a) The first great cause was internal revolt and insurrection. In 1820 Ali Pasha asserted his independence, and by his revolt precipitated the Greek insurrection which had been a long time secretly preparing - an insurrection so disastrous to the Turkish power.
(b) The Greek insurrection followed. This soon spread to the Aegean isles, and to the districts of Northern Greece, Epirus, and Thessaly; while at the same time the standard of revolt was raised in Wallachia and Moldavia. The progress and issue of that insurrection are well known. A Turcoman army of 30,000 that entered the Morea to reconquer it was destroyed in 1823 in detail, and the freedom of the peninsula was nearly completed by the insurgents. By sea the Greeks emulated their ancestors of Salamis and Mycale; and, attended with almost uniform success, encountered and vanquished the superior Turkish and Egyptian fleets. Meanwhile the sympathies of Western Christendom were awakened in behalf of their brother Christians struggling for independence; and just when the tide of success began to turn, and the Morea was again nearly subjected by Ibrahim Pasha, the united fleets of England, France, and Russia (in contravention of all their usual principles of policy) interposed in their favor; attacked and destroyed the Turco-Egyptian fleets in the battle of Navarino (September, 1827), and thus secured the independence of Greece. Nothing had ever occurred that tended so much to weaken the power of the Turkish empire.
(c) The rebellion of the great Egyptian pasha, Mehemet Ali, soon followed. The French invasion of Egypt had prepared him for it, by having taught him the superiority of European discipline, and thus this event was one of the proper results of those described under the first four vials. Mehemet Ali, through Ibrahim, attacked and conquered Syria; defeated the sultan's armies sent against him in the great battles of Hems, of Nezib, and of Iconium; and, but for the intervention of the European powers of England, Russia, Prussia, and Austria, by which he was driven out of Syria, and forced hack to his proper pashalic, Egypt, he would probably have advanced to Constantinople and subdued it.
(d) There has been for centuries a gradual weakening of the Turkish power. It has done nothing to extend its empire by arms. It has been resting in inglorious ease, and, in the meantime, its wealth and its strength have been gradually decreasing. It has lost Moldavia, Wallachia, Greece, Algiers, and, practically, Egypt; and is doing nothing to recruit its wasted and exhausted strength. Russia only waits for a favorable opportunity to strike the last blow on that enfeebled power, and to put an end to it forever.
(e) The general condition of the Turkish empire is thus described by Mr. Walsh, chaplain to the British ambassador to Constantinople: "The circumstances most striking to a traveler passing through Turkey is its depopulation. Ruins where villages had been built, and fallows where land had been cultivated, are frequently seen with no living thing near them. This effect is not so visible in larger towns, though the cause is known to operate there in a still greater degree. Within the last twenty years, Constantinople has lost more than half its population. Two conflagrations happened while I was in Constantinople, and destroyed fifteen thousand houses. The Russian and Greek wars were a constant drain on the janizaries of the capital; the silent operation of the plague is continually active, though not always alarming; it will be no exaggeration to say that, within the period mentioned, from three to four hundred thousand persons have been swept away in one city in Europe by causes which were not operating in any other - "conflagration, pestilence, and civil commotion."
The Turks, though naturally of a robust and vigorous constitution, addict themselves to such habits as are very unfavorable to population - the births do little more than exceed the ordinary deaths, and cannot supply the waste of casualties. The surrounding country is, therefore, continually drained to supply this waste in the capital, which, nevertheless, exhibits districts nearly depopulated. We see every day life going out in the fairest portion of Europe; and the human race threatened with extinction in a soil and climate capable of supporting the most abundant population" (Walsh's Narrative, pp. 22-26, as quoted in Bush on the Millennium, 243, 244). The probability now is, that this gradual decay will be continued; that the Turkish power will more and more diminish; that one portion after another will set up for independence; and that, by a gradual process of decline, this power will become practically extinct, and what is here symbolized by the "drying up of the great river Euphrates" will have been accomplished.
(3) this obstacle removed, we may look for a general turning of the princes, and rulers, and people of the Eastern world to Christianity, represented Revelation 16:12 by its being said that "the way of the kings of the East might be prepared." See the notes on that verse. It is clear that nothing would be more likely to contribute to this, or to prepare the way for it, than the removal of that Turcoman dominion which for more than four hundred years has been an effectual barrier to the diffusion of the gospel in the lands where it has prevailed. How rapidly, we may suppose, the gospel would spread in the East, if all the obstacles thrown in its way by the Turkish power were at once removed!
(4) in accordance with the interpretation suggested on Revelation 16:13-14, we may look for something that would be well represented by a combined effort on the part of paganism, Mohammedanism, and Romanism, to stay the progress and prevent the spread of evangelical religion. That is, according to the fair interpretation of the passage, we should look for some simultaneous movement as if their influence was to be about to cease, and as if it were necessary to arouse all their energies for a last and desperate struggle. It may be added that, in itself, nothing would be more probable than this; but when it will occur, and what form the aroused enemy will assume, it would be vain to conjecture.
(5) and in accordance with the interpretation suggested on Revelation 16:15, we are to suppose that something will occur which would be well represented by the decisive conflicts in the valley of Megiddo; that is, something that will determine the ascendency of true religion in the world, as if these great powers of paganism, Mohammedanism, and Romanism should stake all their interests on the issue of a single battle. It is not necessary to suppose that this will literally occur, and there are no certain intimations as to the time when what is represented will happen; but all that is meant may be, that events will take place which would be well represented by such a conflict. Still, nothing in the prophecy prevents the supposition that these combined powers may be overthrown in some fierce conflict with Christian powers.
17And 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 the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air - This introduces the final catastrophe in regard to the "beast" - his complete and utter overthrow, accompanied with tremendous judgments. Why the vial was poured into the air is not stated. The most probable supposition as to the idea intended to be represented is, that, as storms and tempests seem to be engendered in the air, so this destruction would come from some supernatural cause, as if the whole atmosphere should be filled with wind and storm; and a furious and desolating whirlwind should be aroused by some invisible power.
And there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven - The voice of God. See the notes on Revelation 11:19.
From the throne - See the notes on Revelation 4:2. This shows that it was the voice of God, and not the voice of an angel.
Saying, It is done - The series of judgments is about to be completed; the dominion of the beast is about to come to an end forever. The meaning here is, that that destruction was so certain, that it might be spoken of as now actually accomplished.
18And 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 there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings - Accompanying the voice that was heard from the throne. See the notes on Revelation 4:5; Revelation 11:19.
And there was a great earthquake, ... - See the notes on Revelation 6:12; Revelation 11:19. The meaning is, that a judgment followed as if the world were shaken by an earthquake, or which would be properly represented by that.
So mighty an earthquake, and so great - All this is intensive, and is designed to represent the severity of the judgment that would follow.
19And 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 the great city was divided into three parts - The city of Babylon; or the mighty power that was represented by Babylon. See the notes on Revelation 14:8. The division mentioned here in three parts was manifestly with reference to its destruction - either that one part was smitten and the others remained for a time, or that one form of destruction came on one part, and another on the others. In Revelation 11:13 it is said, speaking of "the great city spiritually called Sodom and Egypt" - representing Rome, that "the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand" (see the notes on that place); here it is said that the whole city, in the calamities that came upon it, was divided into three portions, though it is evidently implied that, in these calamities, the whole city was sooner or later destroyed. Prof. Stuart (in loco) supposes that the number three is used here, as it is throughout the book, "in a symbolical way," and that the meaning is, that "the city was severed and broken in pieces, so that the whole was reduced to a ruinous state." He supposes that it refers to pagan Rome, or to the pagan Roman persecuting power. Others refer it to Jerusalem, and suppose that the allusion is to the divisions of the city, in the time of the siege, into Jewish, Samaritan, and Christian parties; others suppose that it refers to a division of the Roman empire under Honorius, Attalus, and Constantine; others to the fact, that when Jerusalem was besieged by Titus, it was divided into three factions; and others, that the number three is used to denote perfection, or the total ruin of the city. All that, it seems to me, can be said now on the point is:
(a) that it refers to papal Rome, or the papal power;
(b) that it relates to something yet future, and that it may not be possible to determine with precise accuracy what will occur;
(c) that it probably means that, in the time of the final ruin of that power, there will be a threefold judgment - either a different judgment in regard to some threefold manifestation of that power, or a succession of judgments, as if one part were smitten at a time. The certain and entire ruin of the power is predicted by this, but still it is not improbable that it will be by such divisions, or such successions of judgments, that it is proper to represent the city as divided into three portions.
And the cities of the nations fell - In alliance with it, or under the control of the central power. As the capital fell, the dependent cities fell also. Considered as relating to papal Rome, the meaning here is that what may be properly called "the cities of the nations" that were allied with it would share the same fate. The cities of numerous "nations" are now, and have been for ages, under the control of the papal power, or the spiritual Babylon; and the calamity that will smite the central power as such - that is, as a spiritual power - will reach and affect them all. Let the central power at Rome be destroyed; the papacy cease; the superstition with which Rome is regarded come to an end; the power of the priesthood in Italy be destroyed, and however widely the Roman dominion is spread now, it cannot be kept up. If it falls in Rome, there is not influence enough out of Rome to continue it in being - and in all its extended ramifications it will die as the body dies when the head is severed; as the power of provinces ceases when ruin comes upon the capital. This the prophecy leads us to suppose will be the final destiny of the papal power.
And great Babylon - See the notes on Revelation 14:8.
Came in remembrance before God - That is, for purposes of punishment. It had been, as it were, overlooked. It had been permitted to carry on its purposes, and to practice its abominations, unchecked, as if God did not see it. Now the time had come when all that it had done was to be remembered, and when the long-suspended judgment was to fall upon it.
To give unto her the cup of the wine, ... - To punish; to destroy her. See the notes on Revelation 14:10.
20And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.
And every island fled away - Expressive of great and terrible judgments, as if the very earth were convulsed, and everything were moved out of its place. See the notes on Revelation 6:14.
And the mountains were not found - The same image occurs in Revelation 6:14. See the notes on that place.
21And 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.
And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven - Perhaps this is an allusion to one of the plagues of Egypt, Exodus 9:22-26. Compare the notes on Revelation 11:19. For a graphic description (by Com. Porter) of the effects of a hailstorm, see the notes on Isaiah 30:30. Compare the notes on Job 38:22.
Every stone about the weight of a talent - The Attic talent was equal to about 55 lbs. or 56 lbs. Troy weight; the Jewish talent to about 113 lbs. Troy. Whichever weight is adopted, it is easy to conceive what must be the horror of such a storm, and what destruction it must cause. We are not, of course, to suppose necessarily, that this would literally occur; it is a frightful image to denote the terrible and certain destruction that would come upon Babylon - that is, upon the papal power.
And men blasphemed God - See the notes on Revelation 16:9.
Because of the plague of the hail - Using the word "plague" in allusion to the plagues of Egypt.
For the plague thereof was exceeding great - The calamity was great and terrible. The design of the whole is to show that the destruction would be complete and awful.
This finishes the summary statement of the final destruction of this formidable anti-Christian power. The details and the consequences of that overthrow are more fully stated in the subsequent chapters. The fulfillment of what is here stated will be found, according to the method of interpretation proposed, in the ultimate overthrow of the papacy. The process described in this chapter is that of successive calamities that would weaken it and prepare it for its fall; then a rallying of its dying strength; and then some tremendous judgment that is compared with a storm of hail, accompanied with lightning, and thunder, and an earthquake, that would completely overthrow all that was connected with it, We are not, indeed, to suppose that this will literally occur; but the fair interpretation of prophecy leads us to suppose that that formidable power will, at no very distant period, be overthrown in a manner that would be well represented by such a fearful storm.