Chapter 16: Judgment from the Sanctuary

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of The Book of Revelation


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Chapter Text

The Seventh Trumpet was the sign that “there shall be no more delay” (cf. 10:6-7). Time has run out; wrath to the utmost has now come upon Israel. From this point on, St. John abandons the language and imagery of warning, concentrating wholly on the message of Jerusalem’s impending destruction. As he describes the City’s doom, he extends and intensifies the Exodus imagery that has already been so pervasive throughout the prophecy. Again he mentions “the Great City” (16:19), reminding his readers of a previous reference: “the Great City, which Spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (11:8). Jerusalem is called Sodom because of its sensual, luxurious apostasy (cf. Ezek. 16:49-50), and because it is devoted to total destruction as a whole burnt sacrifice (Gen. 19:24-28; Deut. 13:12-18). But St. John’s more usual metaphors for the Great City are taken from the Exodus pattern: Jerusalem is not only Egypt, but also the other enemies of Israel. He has shown us the Egyptian Dragon chasing the Woman into the wilderness (Chapter 12); a revived Balak and Balaam seeking to destroy God’s people by war and by seduction to idolatry (Chapter 13); the sealed armies of the New Israel gathered on Mount Zion to celebrate the feasts (Chapter 14); and the saints standing in triumph at the “Red Sea,” singing the Song of Moses (Chapter 15). Now, in Chapter 16, seven judgments corresponding to the ten Egyptian Plagues are to be poured out on the Great City.

There is also a marked correspondence between these Chalice-judgments and the Trumpet-judgments of Chapters 8-11.[1] Because the Trumpets were essentially warnings, they took only a third of the Land; with the Chalices, the destruction is total.

Chalices Trumpets Plagues on Egypt
1. On the Land, becoming sores (16:2) 1. On the Land; ⅓ earth, trees, grass burned (8:7) 1. Boils (sixth plague: Ex. 9:8-12)
2. On the sea, becoming blood (16:3)


2. On the sea; ⅓ sea becomes blood, ⅓ sea creatures die, ⅓ ships destroyed (8:8-9)


2. Waters become blood (first plague: Ex. 7:17-21)


3. On rivers and springs, becoming blood (16:4-7)


3. On the rivers and springs; ⅓ waters become wormwood (8:10-11)


3. Waters become blood (first plague: Ex. 7:17-21)


4. On the sun, causing it to scorch (16:8-9)


4. ⅓ of sun, moon, and stars darkened (8:12)


4. Darkness (ninth plague: Ex. 10:21-23)


5. On the throne of the Beast, causing darkness (16:10-11)


5. Demonic locusts tormenting men (9:1-12)


5. Locusts (eighth plague: Ex. 10:4-20)


6. On the Euphrates, drying it up to make way for kings of the east; invasion of frog-demons; Armageddon (16:12-16)


6. Army from Euphrates kills ⅓  mankind (9:13-20


6. Invasion of frogs from river (second plague: Ex. 8:2-4)


7. On the air, causing storm, earthquake, and hail (16:17-20


7. Voices, storm, earthquake, hail (11:15-19)


7. Hail (seventh plague: Ex. 9:18-26)


The First Four Chalices: God’s Creation
Takes Vengeance (16:1-9)

  1. And I heard a loud Voice from the Temple, saying to the seven angels: Go and pour out the seven Chalices of the wrath of God into the Land.
  2. And the first angel went and poured out his Chalice into the 
Land; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore upon the men who had the mark of the Beast and who worshiped his image.
  3. And the second angel poured out his Chalice into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living soul in the sea died.
  1. And the third angel poured out his Chalice into the rivers and the springs of waters; and it became blood.
  2. And I heard the Angel of the Waters saying: Righteous art Thou, who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things;
  3. for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink: They are worthy!
  4. And I heard the altar saying: Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments.
  5. And the fourth angel poured out his Chalice upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch the men with fire.
  6. And the men were scorched with great heat; and the men blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues; and they did not repent, so as to give Him glory.

1          The command authorizing the judgments is given by a loud Voice from the Temple, again underscoring both the divine and ecclesiastical origin of these terrible plagues (cf. 15:5-8).[2] “The judgments of the vials are the overflow of the wrath of God blazing forth and filling his temple, a visitation or presence vouchsafed in response to the prayers of his saints.”[3] The seven angels (cf. 15:1) are told to pour out the Chalices of God’s wrath: The Septuagint uses this verb (ekcheō) in the directions to the priest to pour out the blood of the sacrifice around the base of the altar (cf. Lev. 4:7, 12, 18, 25, 30, 34; 8:15; 9:9). The term is used in Ezekiel with reference to apostate Israel’s fornication with the heathen (Ezek. 16:36; 23:8), of her shedding of innocent blood through oppression and idolatry (Ezek. 22:3-4, 6,9,12,27), and of God’s threat to pour out His wrath upon her (Ezek. 14:19; 20:8, 13, 21; 21:31). In the New Testament, it is similarly used in contexts that parallel major themes in Revelation: the spilling of wine (Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37), the shedding of Christ’s blood (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20), the shedding of the martyrs’ blood (Matt. 23:35; Luke 11:50; Acts 22:20; Rom. 3:15), and the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2:17-18, 33; 10:45; Rom. 5:5; Tit. 3:6; cf. Joel 2:28-29; Zech. 12:10). All these different associations are in the background of this outpouring of plagues into the Land that has spilled the blood of Christ and His witnesses, the people who have resisted and rejected the Spirit: The old wineskins of Israel are about to split open.

2          As the first angel pours out his Chalice into the Land, it becomes a loathsome and malignant sore upon the men who had the mark of the Beast and who worshiped his image. The sores are a fitting retribution for apostasy, “a hideous stamp avenging the mark of the Beast”[4] – as if the mark had “broken out in a deadly infection.”[5] Just as God had poured out boils on the ungodly, state-worshiping Egyptians who persecuted His people (Ex. 9:8-11), so He is plaguing these worshipers of the Beast in the Land of Israel – the Covenant people who have now become Egyptian persecutors of the Church. This plague is specifically mentioned by Moses in his list of the curses of the Covenant for idolatry and apostasy: “The LORD will smite you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors and with the scab and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed…. The LORD will strike you on the knees and legs with sore boils, from which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head” (Deut. 28:27, 35).

3          The second angel pours out his Chalice into the sea, and it becomes blood, as in the first Egyptian plague (Ex. 7:17-21) and the Second Trumpet (Rev. 8:8-9). This time, however, the blood is not running in streams, but instead is like that of a dead man: clotted, coagulated, and putrefying.[6] Blood is mentioned four times in this chapter; it covers the face of Israel, spilling over the four corners of the Land.

While the primary significance of this plague is symbolic, referring to the uncleanness of contact with blood and death (cf. Lev. 7:26-27; 15:19-33; 17:10-16; 21:1; Num. 5:2; 19:11-19), there are close parallels in the actual events of the Great Tribulation. On one occasion, thousands of Jewish rebels fled to the Sea of Galilee from the Roman massacre of Tarichaeae. Setting out on the lake in small, flimsy boats, they were soon pursued and overtaken by the sturdy rafts of Vespasian’s superior forces. Then, as Josephus recounts, they were mercilessly slaughtered: “The Jews could neither escape to land, where all were in arms against them, nor sustain a naval battle on equal terms…. Disaster overtook them and they were sent to the bottom, boats and all. Some tried to break through, but the Romans could reach them with their lances, killing others by leaping upon the barks and passing their swords through their bodies; sometimes as the rafts closed in, the Jews were caught in the middle and captured along with their vessels. If any of those who had been plunged into the water came to the surface, they were quickly dispatched with an arrow or a raft overtook them; if, in their extremity, they attempted to climb on board the enemy’s rafts, the Romans cut off their heads or their hands. So these wretches died on every side in countless numbers and in every possible way, until the survivors were routed and driven onto the shore, their vessels surrounded by the enemy. As they threw themselves on them, many were speared while still in the water; many jumped ashore, where they were killed by the Romans.

“One could see the whole lake stained with blood and crammed with corpses, for not a man escaped. During the days that followed a horrible stench hung over the region, and it presented an equally horrifying spectacle. The beaches were strewn with wrecks and swollen bodies, which, hot and clammy with decay, made the air so foul that the catastrophe that plunged the Jews in mourning revolted even those who had brought it about.”[7]

4-7      The plague of the Third Chalice more directly resembles the first Egyptian plague (and the Third Trumpet: cf. 8:10-11), since it affects the rivers and the springs of waters, turning all the drinking water to blood. Water is a symbol of life and blessing throughout Scripture, beginning from the story of creation and the Garden of Eden.[8] In this plague, the blessings of Paradise are reversed and turned into a nightmare; what was once pure and clean becomes polluted and unclean through apostasy.

The Angel of the Waters responds to this curse by praising God for His just judgment: Righteous art Thou, who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things. We should not be embarrassed by a passage such as this. The whole Bible is written from the perspective of cosmic personalism – the doctrine that God, who is absolute personality, is constantly active throughout His creation, everywhere present with the whole of His being, bringing all things to pass immediately by His power and mediately through His angelic servants. There is no such thing as natural “law”; rather, as Auguste Lecerf has said, “the constant relations which we call natural laws are simply ‘divine habits’: or, better, the habitual order which God imposes on nature. It is these habits, or this habitual process, which constitute the object of the natural and physical sciences.”[9]

This is what guarantees the validity and reliability of both scientific investigation and prayer: On the one hand, God’s angels have habits – a cosmic dance, a liturgy involving every aspect of the whole universe, that can be depended upon in all of man’s technological labors as he exercises dominion under God over the world. On the other hand, God’s angels are personal beings, constantly carrying out His commands; in response to our petitions, He can and does order the angels to change the dance.[10]

There is, therefore, an “Angel of the Waters” (in terms of St. John’s zodiacal progression, this is presumably the cherub of the fourth quarter, Aquarius);[11] he, along with all of God’s personal creation, rejoices in God’s righteous government of the world. God’s strict justice, summarized in the principle of lex talionis, is evidenced in this judgment; the punishment fits the crime. They poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. As we have seen, the characteristic crime of Israel was always the murder of the prophets (cf. 2 Chron. 36:15-16; Luke 13:33-34; Acts 7:52): Jesus named this fact as the specific reason why the blood of the righteous would be poured out in judgment upon that generation (Matt. 23:31-36).

The Angel of the Waters concludes with an interesting statement: By the apostates’ shedding of blood, they are worthy! This is a deliberate parallel to the message of the New Song: “Worthy art Thou to take the Book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase us for God with Thy blood” (5:9). Just as the Lamb received His reward on the basis of the blood He shed, so these persecutors have now received the just recompense for their bloodshed.

God had once promised the oppressed of Israel that He would render to their enemies according to their evil works:

I will feed your oppressors with their own flesh,
And they will become drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine;
And all flesh will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior,
And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. (Isa. 49:26)

This has, as usual, become reversed: Now it is Israel, the Persecutor par excellence, that will be forced to drink its own blood and devour its own flesh. This was true in much more than a figurative sense: As God had foretold through Moses (Deut. 28:53-57), during the siege of Jerusalem the Israelites actually became cannibals; mothers literally ate their own children.[12] Because they shed the blood of the saints, God gives them their own blood to drink (cf. 17:6; 18:24).

Joining the angel in praise comes the voice of the Altar itself, where the blood of the saints and prophets had been poured out. The Altar rejoices: Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments! The saints gathered round the base of the Altar had cried out for justice, for vengeance on their oppressors (6:9-11). In the destruction of Israel that prayer is answered; the witnesses are vindicated. It is more than coincidental that these prayers in verses 5-7 (along with the text of the Song of Moses in 15:3-4) are actually “based on the song sung by the priests and levites during the interval between the preparation and the offering of the sacrifice.”[13] Ironically – just as God Himself is preparing for the Whole Burnt Sacrifice of A.D. 70 – the very angels of heaven were singing apostate Israel’s own liturgy against her.

8-9      The fourth angel now pours out his Chalice upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch the men with fire. Whereas the Fourth Trumpet resulted in a plague of darkness (8:12), now the heat of the sun is increased, so that the men were scorched with great heat. This too is a reversal of a basic covenantal blessing that was present in the Exodus, when Israel was shielded from the heat of the sun by the Glory-Cloud, the Shadow of the Almighty (Ex. 13:21-22; cf. Ps. 91:1-6). This promise is repeated again and again throughout the prophets:

The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul. (Ps. 121:5-7)

They will not hunger or thirst,
Neither will the scorching heat or sun strike them down;
For He who has compassion on them will lead them,
And will guide them to springs of water. (Isa. 49:10)

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
And whose trust is the LORD.
For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit. (Jer. 17:7-8)

And He who sits on the Throne shall spread His Tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the Throne shall be their Shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the waters of life; and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev. 7:15-17)

We have noticed several times already that St. John uses the passive voice to indicate divine control. He again stresses God’s sovereignty by telling us that it was given to the sun to scorch the men; and, in the very next line, he is even more explicit: God… has the power over these plagues. St. John knows nothing of a “God” who sits helplessly on the sidelines, watching the world go by; nor does he acknowledge a “God” who is too nice to send judgments on the wicked. He knows that the plagues falling upon Israel are “the works of the LORD, who has wrought desolations in the earth” (Ps. 46:8).

In his book on the Trinity, St. Augustine emphasizes the same point: “The whole creation is governed by its Creator, from whom and by whom and in whom it was founded and established. And thus the will of God is the first and supreme cause of all corporal appearances and motions. For nothing happens in the visible and sensible sphere which is not ordered, or permitted, from the inner, invisible, and intelligible court of the most high Emperor, in this vast and illimitable commonwealth of the whole creation, according to the inexpressible justice of His rewards and punishments, graces and retributions.”[14]

But the apostates refuse to submit to God’s lordship over them. Like the Beast, whose head is crowned with “names of blasphemy” (13:1) and whose image they worship, the men blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues. And, like the impenitent Pharaoh (cf. Ex. 7:13, 23; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 34-35; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:8), they did not repent so as to give Him glory. Israel has become an Egypt, hardening its heart; and, like Egypt, it will be destroyed.

The Last Three Chalices: It Is Finished! (16:10-21)

  1. And the fifth angel poured out his Chalice upon the throne of the Beast; and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain,
  2. and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.
  3. And the sixth angel poured out his Chalice upon the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings from the rising of the sun.
  4. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the Dragon and out 
of the mouth of the Beast and out of the mouth of the False 
Prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs;
  5. for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go 
out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together 
for the War of that great Day of God, the Almighty.
  6. Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked 
and they see his shame.
  7. And they gathered them together to the place which in 
Hebrew is called Armageddon.
  8. And the seventh angel poured out his Chalice upon the air; 
and a loud Voice came from the Temple of heaven, from the 
throne, saying: It is done.
  9. And there were flashes of lightning and peals of thunder and 
voices; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since the men came to be upon the Land, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.
  10. And the Great City was split into three parts, and the cities 
of the Gentiles fell. And Babylon the Great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.
  11. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.
  12. And great hail, about the weight of a talent, comes down from heaven upon the men; and the men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague is exceedingly great.

The symbolic targets of the first four Chalices were the elements of the physical creation: Land, sea, waters, and the sun. With the last three plagues, the consequences of the angelic attack are more “political” in nature: the disruption of the Beast’s kingdom; the War of the great Day of God; and the Fall of “Babylon.”

10-11 Although most of the judgments throughout Revelation are aimed specifically at apostate Israel, the heathen who join Israel against the Church come under condemnation as well. Indeed, the Great Tribulation itself would prove to be “the hour of testing, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the Land” (3:10). The fifth angel therefore pours out his Chalice upon the throne of the Beast; and, even as the sun’s heat is scorching those who worship the Beast, the lights are turned out on his kingdom, and it becomes darkened-a familiar Biblical symbol for political turmoil and the fall of rulers (cf. Isa. 13:9-10; Amos 8:9; Ezek. 32:7-8). The primary significance of this plague is still the judgment on Israel, for (in terms of the message of Revelation) that was the throne and kingdom of the Beast. Moreover, as we shall see, the people who suffer from the Fifth Chalice are identified as suffering as well from the First Chalice, which was poured out upon the Land, upon the Israelite worshipers of the Beast (v. 2).

It is also likely, however, that this judgment partially corresponds to the wars, revolutions, riots, and “world-wide convulsions”[15] that racked the Empire after Nero committed suicide in June 68. F. W. Farrar writes in this connection of “the horrors inflicted upon Rome and Romans in the civil wars by provincial governors – already symbolized as the horns of the Wild Beast, and here characterized as kings yet kingdomless. Such were Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.[16] Vespasian and Mucianus deliberately planned to starve the Roman populace;[17] and in the fierce struggle of the Vitellians against Sabinus and Domitian, and the massacre which followed, there occurred the event which sounded so portentously in the ears of every Roman – the burning to the ground of the Temple of the Capitoline Jupiter, on December 19th, A.D. 69.[18] It was not the least of the signs of the times that the space of one year saw wrapped in flames the two most hallowed shrines of the ancient world – the Temple of Jerusalem and the Temple of the great Latin god.”[19]

One brief passage from Tacitus provides some idea of the chaotic conditions in the capital city: “Close by the fighting stood the people of Rome like the audience at a show, cheering and clapping this side or that in turns as if this were a mock battle in the arena. Whenever one side gave way, men would hide in shops or take refuge in some great house. They were then dragged out and killed at the instance of the mob, who gained most of the loot, for the soldiers were bent on bloodshed and massacre, and the booty fell to the crowd.

“The whole city presented a frightful caricature of its normal self: fighting and casualties at one point, baths and restaurants at another, here the spilling of blood and the litter of dead bodies, close by prostitutes and their like – all the vice associated with a life of idleness and pleasure, all the dreadful deeds typical of a pitiless sack. These were so intimately linked that an observer would have thought Rome in the grip of a simultaneous orgy of violence and dissipation. There had indeed been times in the past when armies had fought inside the city, twice when Lucius Sulla gained control, and once under Cinna. No less cruelty had been displayed then, but now there was a brutish indifference, and not even a momentary interruption in the pursuit of pleasure. As if this were one more entertainment in the festive season, they gloated over horrors and profited by them, careless which side won and glorying in the calamities of the state.”[20]

Again St. John draws attention to the impenitence of the apostates. Their response to God’s judgment is only greater rebellion – yet their rebellion is becoming increasingly impotent: And they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent, so as to give Him glory. A distinguishing mark of the Chalice-plagues is that they come all at once, with no “breathing space” between them. The plagues are bad enough one at a time, as in the judgments on Egypt. But these people are still gnawing their tongues and blaspheming God on account of their sores – the sores that came upon them when the First Chalice was poured out. The judgments are being poured out so quickly that each successive plague finds the people still suffering from all those that preceded it. And, because their character has not been transformed, they do not repent. The notion that great suffering produces godliness is a myth. Only the grace of God can turn the wicked from rebellion; but Israel has resisted the Spirit, to its own destruction.

12       Corresponding to the Sixth Trumpet (9:13-21), the Sixth Chalice is poured out upon the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings from the rising of the sun. As we saw on 9:14, the Euphrates was Israel’s northern frontier, from which invading armies would come to ravage and oppress the Covenant people. The image of the drying of the Euphrates for a conquering army is taken, in part, from a stratagem of Cyrus the Persian, who conquered Babylon by temporarily turning the Euphrates out of its course, enabling his army to march up the riverbed into the city, taking it by surprise.[21] The more basic idea, of course, is the drying up of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:21-22) and the Jordan River (Josh. 3:9-17; 4:22-24) for the victorious people of God. Again there is the underlying note of tragic irony: Israel has become the new Babylon, an enemy of God that must now be conquered by a new Cyrus, as the true Covenant people are miraculously delivered and brought into their inheritance. As Carrington observes, the coming of the armies from the Euphrates “surely represents nothing but the return of Titus to besiege Jerusalem with further reinforcements”;[22] and it is certainly more than coincidental that thousands of these very troops actually did come from the Euphrates.[23]

13-14 St. John now sees three unclean spirits proceeding out of the mouth of the Dragon and out of the mouth of the Beast and out of the mouth of the False Prophet (the Land Beast of 13:11; cf. 19:20). A connection with the second Egyptian plague is established here, for the multitude of frogs that infested Egypt came from the river (Ex. 8:1-7). St. John has combined these images in these verses: First, an invasion from a river (v. 12); second, a plague of frogs (in the Old Covenant dietary laws, frogs are unclean: Lev. 11:9-12, 41-47). But these “frogs” are really spirits of demons, performing signs in order to deceive mankind. Again there is a multiple emphasis on the Dragon (imitated by his cohorts) throwing things from his mouth (cf. 12:15-16; 13:5-6; contrast 1:16; 11:5; 19:15, 21); and the triple repetition of mouth here serves also as another point of contact with the Sixth Trumpet (9:17-19). These unclean spirits from the devil, the Roman government, and the leaders of Israel go out to the kings of the whole world (cf. Ps. 2) to gather them together for the War of that great Day of God. By their false prophecy and miraculous works they incite the armies of the world to join together in war against God. What they do not realize is that the battle is the Lord’s, and that the armies are being brought to fulfill God’s purposes, not their own. It is He who prepares the way for them, even drying up the Euphrates for their passage.

Micaiah the prophet gave a much similar message to the evil king Ahab of Israel, explaining why he would be killed in battle against the Aramaeans:

I saw the LORD sitting on His Throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. And the LORD said, “Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?” And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, “I will entice him.” And the LORD said to him, “How?” And he said, “I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” Then He said, “You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.” (I Kings 22:19-22)

This is echoed in St. Paul’s prophecy to the Thessalonians:

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the Breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His Coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accordance with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.

And for this reason God will send upon them a work of error so that they might believe the lie, in order that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (2 Thess. 2:7-12)

Ultimately, the “work of error” performed by these lying spirits is sent by God in order to bring about the destruction of His enemies in the War of that great Day of God, a Biblical term for a Day of Judgment, of calamity for the wicked (cf. Isa. 13:6, 9; Joel 2:1-2, 11, 31; Amos 5:18-20; Zeph. 1:14-18). Specifically, this is to be the Day of Israel’s condemnation and execution; the Day, as Jesus foretold in His parable, when the King would send His armies to destroy the murderers and set their City on fire (Matt. 22:7). St. John underscores this point again by referring to the Lord as God the Almighty, the Greek translation of the Hebrew expression God of Hosts, the Lord of the armies of heaven and earth (cf. 1:8). The armies coming to bring about Israel’s destruction – regardless of their motivation – are God’s armies, sent by Him (even through lying spirits, if necessary) to bring about His purposes, for His glory. The evil frog-demons perform their false wonders and works of error because God’s angel poured out his Chalice of wrath.

15       The narrative is suddenly interrupted: Behold, I am coming like a thief! This is the central theme of the Book of Revelation, summarizing Christ’s warnings to the churches in the Seven Letters (cf. 2:5,16, 25; 3:3, 11). The coming of the Roman armies will be, in reality, Christ’s Coming in terrible wrath against His enemies, those who have betrayed Him and slain His witnesses. The specific wording and imagery seem to be based on the Letter to the church in Sardis: “1 will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you” (3:3; cf. Matt. 24:42-44; Luke 12:35-40; 1 Thess. 5:1-11). That Letter also says: “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God…. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments.…” (3:2, 4-5). Similarly, the text of the Sixth Chalice continues, in Revelation’s third beatitude: Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men see his shame (cf. 3:18, in the Letter to Laodicea: “I advise you to buy from Me… white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed”). John Sweet comments: “Here the tense of go naked and be seen is present subjunctive =’go about naked habitually.’ The danger is of being caught not momentarily but habitually off guard – not, to put it crudely, with trousers down, but without trousers at all.”[24]

Philip Carrington explains the origin of St. John’s allusion: “There was an officer on duty at the Temple whose business it was to walk round and see that those who were on watch kept awake; if he found them asleep he beat them; if he found them a second time, he burnt their clothes. This is the only possible explanation of this passage. It means, Now is the time for those who are guarding the Temple to keep awake. The whole symbolism of the Sixth Bowl, therefore, of which this is a part, has to do with an attack on the Temple.”[25] Judgment and destruction are approaching rapidly; there is no time left to waste. The churches must be awake and on the alert.

16       The narrative is resumed: The demons gather the kings of earth together to the place which in Hebrew is called Armageddon.[26] Literally, this is spelled Har-Magedon, meaning Mount Megiddo. A problem for “literalists” arises here, for Megiddo is a city on a plain, not a mountain. There never was or will be a literal “Battle of Armageddon,” for there is no such place. The mountain nearest to the plain of Megiddo is Mount Carmel, and this is presumably what St. John had in mind. Why didn’t he simply say “Mount Carmel”? Farrer answers: “One can only suppose that St. John wants to refer to Megiddo and to Carmel in one breath”[27] – Carmel because of its association with the defeat of Jezebel’s false prophets, and Megiddo because it was the scene of several important military engagements in Biblical history. Megiddo is listed among the conquests of Joshua (Josh. 12:21), and it is especially important as the place where Deborah defeated the kings of Canaan (Jud. 5:19). King Ahaziah of Judah, the evil grandson of King Ahab of Israel, died at Megiddo (2 Kings 9:27). Perhaps the most significant event that took place there, in terms of St. John’s imagery, was the confrontation between Judah’s King Josiah and the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco. In deliberate disobedience to the Word of God, Josiah faced Neco in battle at Megiddo and was mortally wounded (2 Chron. 35:20-25). Following Josiah’s death, Judah’s downward spiral into apostasy, destruction, and bondage was swift and irrevocable (2 Chron. 36). The Jews mourned for Josiah’s death, even down through the time of Ezra (see 2 Chron. 35:25), and the prophet Zechariah uses this as an image of Israel’s mourning for the Messiah: After promising to “destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (Zech. 12:9), God says:

And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born. In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. And the Land will mourn, every family by itself…. (Zech. 12:10-11)

This is then followed by God’s declaration that He will remove from Israel the idols, the false prophets, and the evil spirits (Zech. 13), and that He will bring hostile armies to besiege Jerusalem (Zech. 14).[28]

“Megiddo” thus was for St. John a symbol of defeat and desolation, a “Waterloo” signifying the defeat of those who set themselves against God, as Farrer explains: “In sum, Mt. Megiddo stands in his mind for a place where lying prophecy and its dupes go to meet their doom; where kings and their armies are misled to their destruction; and where all the tribes of the earth mourn, to see Him in power, whom in weakness they had pierced.”[29]

17       Finally, the seventh angel pours out his Chalice upon the air. The reason for this does not seem to be that the air is the domain of Satan, “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), but rather that it is the element in which the lightning and thunder (v. 18) and hail (v. 21) are to be produced. Again a Voice comes from the Temple of heaven, from the Throne, signifying God’s control and approval. St. John told us in 15:1 that these seven plagues were to be “the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished”; with the Seventh Chalice, therefore, the Voice proclaims: It is done! (cf. 21:6). “The utterance is a single word, ghegonen, which is as thunderlike as the word uai is like the scream of an eagle (8:13). ‘It is come to pass’ is the seal of an accomplishment, like that other one-word speech, ‘It is achieved,’ tetelestai [John 19:30], uttered by the Johannine Christ, as He dies upon the cross.”[30]


18       Again appear the phenomena associated with the Day of the Lord and the covenant-making activity of the Glory-Cloud: flashes of lightning and peals of thunder and voices; and there was a great earthquake. Seven times in Revelation St. John mentions an earthquake (6:12; 8:5; 11:13 [twice]; 11:19; 16:18 [twice]), emphasizing its covenantal dimensions. Christ came to bring the definitive earthquake, the great cosmic earthquake of the New Covenant, one such as there had not been since the men came to be upon the Land, so mighty an earthquake, and so great (cf. Matt. 24:21; Ex. 9:18, 24; Dan. 12:1; Joel 2:1-2).

This was also the message of the writer to the Hebrews. Comparing the covenant made at Sinai with the coming of the New Covenant (which would be established at the destruction of the Temple and the complete passing of the Old Covenant), he said:

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His Voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying: Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven [Hag. 2:6]. And this expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things that can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:25-29)

The eminent Puritan theologian John Owen commented on this text about this definitive “earthquake”: “It is the dealing of God with the church, and the alterations which he would make in the state thereof, concerning which the apostle treats. It is therefore the heavens and earth of Mosaical worship, and the Judaical church-state, with the earth of their political state belonging thereunto, that are here intended. These were they that were shaken at the coming of Christ, and so shaken, as shortly after to be removed and taken away, for the introduction of the more heavenly worship of the gospel, and the immovable evangelical church-state. This was the greatest commotion and alteration that God ever made in the heavens and earth of the church, and which was to be made once only….

“This is the conclusion of the whole argumentative part of this epistle, that which was aimed at from the beginning. Having fully proved the excellency of the gospel, and state of the church therein, above that under the law, and confirmed it by an examination of all the concernments of the one and of the other, as we have seen; he now declares from the Scripture, according to his usual way of dealing with those Hebrews, that all the ancient institutions of worship, and the whole church-state of the old covenant, were now to be removed and taken away; and that to make way for a better state, more glorious, and that which should never be obnoxious [i.e., subject] to change or alteration.”[31]

19       As we have seen, the Great City is the Old Jerusalem, where the Lord was crucified (11:8; cf. 14:8); originally intended to be “the light of the world, a City set on a hill,” she is now an apostate murderess, condemned to perish. Under the judgment of the Seventh Chalice, she is to be split into three parts. The imagery is drawn from the fifth chapter of Ezekiel, in which God instructs the prophet to stage a drama portraying the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel was to shave his head with a sharp sword and then carefully divide the hair into three parts:

One third you shall burn in the fire at the center of the city.… Then you shall take one third and strike it with the sword all around the city, and one third you shall scatter to the wind; and I will unsheathe a sword behind them. Take also a few in number from them and bind them in the edges of your robes. And take again some of them and throw them into the fire, and burn them in the fire; from it a fire will spread to all the house of Israel.

Thus says the Lord GOD: This is Jerusalem; I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her. But she has rebelled against My ordinances more wickedly than the nations and against My statutes more than the lands that surround her; for they have rejected My ordinances and have not walked in My statutes.

Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have more turmoil than the nations that surround you, and have not walked in My statutes, nor observed My ordinances, nor observed the ordinances of the nations that surround you; therefore, thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, even I, am against you, and I will execute judgments against you in the sight of the nations. And because of all your abominations, I will do among you what I have not done, and the like of which I will never do again. Therefore, fathers will eat their sons among you, and sons will eat their fathers; for I will execute judgments on you, and scatter all your remnant to every wind.

So as I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely, because you have defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable idols and with all your abominations, therefore I will also withdraw, and My eye shall have no pity and I will not spare. One third of you will die by plague or be consumed by famine among you, one third will fall by the sword around you, and one third I will scatter to every wind, and I will unsheathe a sword behind them. (Ezek. 5:1-12)

While St. John’s image of the City’s division into three parts is clearly taken from Ezekiel, the specific referent may be that conjectured by Carrington: “This refers to the division into three factions, which became acute after the return of Titus. While Titus was besieging it from without, the three leaders of rival factions were fighting fiercely within: but for this the city might have staved off defeat for a long time, even perhaps indefinitely, for no great army could support itself for long in those days in the neighborhood of Jerusalem; there was no water and no supplies. This fighting within the city delivered it quickly into the hands of Titus; ‘the days were shortened.'”[32]

Another indication that the Great City is Jerusalem is the fact that St. John distinguishes her from the cities of the Gentiles, which fell with her. Jerusalem, we must remember, was the capital city of the kingdom of priests, the place of the Temple; within her walls sacrifices and prayers were offered up for all nations. The Old Covenant system was a world-order, the foundation on which the whole world was organized and maintained in stability. She covenantally represented all the nations of the world, and in her fall they collapsed. The new organization of the world was to be based on the New Jerusalem, built on the Rock.

And Babylon the Great (cf. on 14:8) was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. As Ford observes, “the phrase suits the liturgical setting of the text. The libations have been poured, but instead of the memorial being a turning of God towards his people with grace and mercy, it is for judgment. God’s ‘remembering’ is always an efficacious and creative act, not a mere intellectual activity; he remembers in the act of blessing (transmitting vitality or life) and cursing (destroying). The irony of vs. 19 lies in the exhortation to Israel to ‘remember’ God’s covenant and kindness in general. She was especially admonished, as in Deuteronomy 6, to keep a perpetual remembrance of the Exodus and Sinai events, to recall them day and night, and never to forget God who brought them to pass….

“In this chapter the author intimates that because Israel forgot and became arrogant, the Egyptian plagues were turned back on her. Even then she did not repent but blasphemed (cr. Job 1:22; 2:10), and God remembered her for judgment.”[33]

20       In this final judgment, every false refuge disappears; the mountains and rocks no longer can hide the wicked “from the face of Him who sits on the Throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (6:16): Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.

21       We have noted several times the close relationship between Revelation and the prophecy of Ezekiel. Here again there is a parallel: Ezekiel declared that Jerusalem’s false prophets would bring her destruction by a violent hailstorm (Ezek. 13:1-16). St. John foretells the same fate: And great hail, about the weight of a talent [100 lbs.], comes down from heaven upon the men; and the men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague is exceedingly great. As with the other plagues, the imagery is borrowed from the plagues that Moses brought upon Egypt (in this case, the seventh plague: Ex. 9:18-26). The plague of hailstones also calls up associations with “the large stones from heaven” that God threw down upon the Canaanites when the Land was being conquered under Joshua (Josh. 10:11); as Deborah sang, the very stars of heaven make war against the enemies of God (Jud. 5:20).

A specific historical referent of this “hailstorm” may have been recorded by Josephus, in his strange account of the huge stone missiles thrown by the Roman catapults into the city: “The stone missiles weighed a talent and traveled two furlongs or more, and their impact not only on those who were hit first, but also on those behind them, was enormous. At first the Jews kept watch for the stone-for it was white-and its approach was intimated to the eye by its shining surface as well as to the ear by its whizzing sound. Watchmen posted on the towers gave the warnings whenever the engine was fired and the stone came hurtling toward them, shouting in their native tongue: ‘The Son is coming!’ Those in the line of fire made way and fell prone, a precaution that resulted in the stone’s passing harmlessly through and falling in their rear. To frustrate this, it occurred to the Romans to blacken the stones so that they could not be seen so easily beforehand; then they hit their target and destroyed many with a single shot.”[34]

After considering various theories about the meaning of this phrase, Stuart Russell writes: “It could not but be well known to the Jews that the great hope and faith of the Christians was the speedy coming of the Son. It was about this very time, according to Hegesippus, that St. James, the brother of our Lord, publicly testified in the temple that ‘the Son of Man was about to come in the clouds of heaven,’ and then sealed his testimony with his blood. It seems highly probable that the Jews, in their defiant and desperate blasphemy, when they saw the white mass hurtling through the air, raised the ribald cry, ‘The Son is coming,’ in mockery of the Christian hope of the Parousia, to which they might trace a ludicrous resemblance in the strange appearance of the missile.”[35]

And the men blasphemed God – their consistent reaction throughout the pouring out of the Chalices, revealing not only their wickedness but their downright stupidity: When hundred-pound stones are falling from heaven, it is surely the wrong time to commit blasphemy! But God has abandoned these men to their own self-destruction; their vicious, hateful rebellion consumes them to such a degree that they can depart into eternity with curses on their lips.

The Chalices containing the last of the plagues have been poured out; but the end is not yet. The chapters that follow will close in on the destruction of the great Harlot-City and her allies, and conclude with the revelation of the glorious Bride of Christ: the true Holy City, New Jerusalem. (Chapters 17-22 may therefore be considered a continuation of the Seventh Chalice, or an exposition of its meaning; in any case, the events are clearly governed by the angels of the Chalices; see 17:1; 21:9.) “Thus the whole book from beginning to end teaches the great truths – Christ shall triumph! Christ’s enemies shall be overcome! They who hate him shall be destroyed; they who love him shall be blessed unspeakably. The doom alike of Jew and of Gentile is already imminent. On Judea and Jerusalem, on Rome and her Empire, on Nero and his adorers, the judgment shall fall. Sword and fire, and famine and pestilence, and storm and earthquake, and social agony and political terror are nothing but the woes which are ushering in the Messianic reign. Old things are rapidly passing away. The light upon the visage of the old dispensation is vanishing and fading into dimness, but the face of him who is as the sun is already dawning through the East. The new and final covenant is instantly to be established amid terrible judgments; and it is to be so established as to render impossible the continuance of the Old. Maranatha! The Lord is at hand! Even so come, Lord Jesus!”[36]

[1] The correspondence is not exact, however; and Russell characteristically goes too far when, after a superficial comparison, he categorically declares: “This cannot be mere casual coincidence: it is identity, and it suggests the inquiry, For what reason is the vision thus repeated?” (J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983], p. 476).

[2] Cf. Isa. 66:6 – “A Voice of uproar from the City, a Voice from the Temple: The Voice of the LORD who is rendering recompense to His enemies!”

[3] Austin Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 175.

[4] Ibid., p. 175.

[5] J. P. M. Sweet, Revelation (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1979), p.244.

[6] In passing, we may note here an example of the constant tendency of the so-called “literalist” interpretation to indulge in fanciful speculations regarding the fulfilment of these prophecies. Dr. Henry Morris, who has written what his publishers have called “the most literal exposition of Revelation you will ever read!” offers his interpretation of this phenomenon: “It is merely a chemical solution, water containing iron and other chemicals which give it a blood-red appearance” (The Revelation Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Revelation [Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983], p. 298). This is especially interesting in light of his stated principle of interpretation: “Actually, a ‘literal interpretation’ is a contradiction in terms, since one does not interpret (that is, ‘translate’ saying ‘this means that’) if he simply accepts a statement as meaning precisely what it says. Furthermore, the terms ‘more literal’ or ‘most literal’ are redundancies. Literal is literal” (p. 24).

[7] Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, iii.x.9.

[8] David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 18ff, 30f.

[9] Auguste Lecerf, An Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics, trans. Andre Schlemmer (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [1949] 1981), p. 147.

[10] Cf. ibid., pp. 147-49.

[11] The mention of the Angel of the Waters also serves as another of the many subtle connections between the Book of Revelation and St. John’s Gospel; see John 5:3-4.

[12] See Josephus, The Jewish War, vi.iii,3-4.

[13] J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1975), p. 266.

[14] St. Augustine, On the Trinity, iii.9; Henry Bettenson, ed. and trans., The Later Christian Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1972] 1977), p. 191.

[15] Cornelius Tacitus, The Histories, iii.49.

[16] The rulers during 69, “the year of the four emperors.”

[17] Tacitus, The Histories, iii.48; Josephus, The Jewish War, iv.x.5.

[18] Tacitus, The Histories, iii.71-73; Josephus, The Jewish War, iv.xi.4.

[19] F. W. Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity (Chicago and New York:

Belfors, Clarke & Co., 1882), pp. 555f.

[20] Tacitus, The Histories, iii.83: trans. Kenneth Wellesley (New York: Penguin Books, 1964, 1975), pp. 197f.

[21] Herodotus, History, i.191; see the prophecies of this in Jer. 50:38; 51:32, 36.

[22] Philip Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation (London: SPCK, 1931), p. 265.

[23] See Josephus, The Jewish War, iiLi.3; iii.iv.2; v.i.6; vii.i.3.

[24] Sweet, p. 249.

[25] Carrington, pp. 265f.; cf. Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services As They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), pp. 142, 148.

[26] Cf. the similar phrasing in John 19:13:”Pilate… sat down at the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.” Carrington (p. 267) comments: “Whatever may be our views about the authorship of the Johannine literature, it is certain that the resemblances in thought, plan, and diction between the Revelation and the Gospel are at times extraordinarily close, and those scholars who hold that they are from different authors and are inspired by different motives have some difficult points to explain. In the present case there is a contrast intended between Jesus, judged and going to his death at the hands of the Emperor’s procurator, and Jerusalem, judged and going to her destruction at the hands of the Emperor.”

[27] Farrer, p. 178.

[28] Carrington (pp. 268-71) provides an extensive list of St. John’s allusions to Zechariah, observing that “next to Ezekiel it has influenced St. John most. It is important to realize, therefore, that it speaks of the destruction of this Jerusalem and a vengeance upon its inhabitants; it looks forward to the glory of a New Jerusalem under the house of David, and the gentiles coming to worship there” (p. 271).

[29] Farrer, p. 178.

[30] Farrer, p. 179.

[31] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, W. H. Goold ed., seven vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [J855] 1980), Vol. 7, pp. 366f. Owen further observes: “Although the removal of Mosaical worship and the old church-state be principally intended, which was effected at the coming of Christ, and the promulgation of the gospel from heaven by him, yet all other oppositions unto him and his kingdom are included therein; not only those that then were, but all that should ensue unto the end of the world. The ‘things that cannot be moved’ are to remain and be established against all opposition whatever. Wherefore, as the heavens and the earth of the idolatrous world were of old shaken and removed, so shall those also of the antichristian world, which at present in many places seem to prevail. All things must give way, whatever may be comprised in the names of heaven and earth here below, unto the gospel, and the kingdom of Christ therein. For if God made way for it by the removal of his own institutions, which he appointed for a season, what else shall hinder its establishment and progress unto the end?” (p. 368).

[32] Carrington, p. 266; cf. Josephus, The Jewish War, v.v.l-5.

[33] Ford, p. 275.

[34] Josephus. The Jewish War,

[35] Russell, p. 482.

[36] F. W. Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity (Chicago and New York: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1882), p. 557.