Commentary on Revelation (covers all chapters from 1 thru 22, including Introduction)
Copyright © 2019 by Steve Sewell, Theology First. All Rights Reserved
All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
As I discussed in chapter 15, it seems certain that all the bowl judgments of this chapter take place at the end of the world at the return of Christ. Chapter 15 introduces the events of this chapter. If you haven’t already done so, please read the commentary on that chapter before you read this one. Based on what chapter 15 reveals, the Church is complete and all believers are resurrected as these plagues are poured out on mankind. Therefore, these are judgments against the world of unbelievers only. This is the outpouring of God’s wrath against sin, against the kingdom of darkness, against the kingdom of the world, against those who love their sins and reject Christ and His authority.
Initially, this is one of the most difficult chapters to interpret in the book of Revelation. I read of two commentators who didn’t even think that an accurate interpretation could be given. However, I don’t share their conviction. The question that must first be answered is, are these judgments symbolic or literal? Or do we spiritualize them? If symbolic, what do they symbolize? If we try to spiritualize them, how can we possibly know we’re getting the meaning right? It’s pretty much left up to one’s own imagination. That’s no way to interpret the Bible. That’s the difficulty. Because of the nature of these bowl descriptions, I believe any ideas commentators may offer in interpreting these judgments in those ways, is pure guesswork. Up to this point, the symbolism in Revelation has been fairly “easy” to identify and interpret. There’s been a reasonable amount of Scripture to provide an accurate interpretation of the symbolism of this book. Not so with the judgments of this chapter.
It seems reasonable that if the symbolism of this book is not apparent and interpretation is completely left up to the imagination, then I believe we need to reject the idea of symbolism and look for clues that might indicate a literal interpretation. A close look at the seven trumpet revelations provide those clues. However, while I believe the trumpets reveal a literal meaning of the judgments of this chapter, in general, how they come about is another matter.
How does God carry out His judgment? My belief is that these bowl judgments are, at least in part, the result of the release of nuclear weapons and the resulting nuclear fallout. The descriptions of these judgments fit very well with what happens when there is a nuclear explosion. When one reads about the effects of nuclear explosions and how people and the environment are impacted, the similarity to what we read in this chapter is quite amazing (also Zech 14:12-15). On the other hand, while I believe this provides a reasonable explanation, I cannot be dogmatic about it. We simply cannot be certain. It’s quite possible that these judgments are directly from God and nuclear explosions are not in the picture. A parallel passage is Rev 20:7-9, which says:
(Rev 20:7-9) – 7 And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 8 and shall come forth to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. 9 And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them.
Notice that John says that “fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them.” This seems to indicate that this is a judgment directly from God. Therefore, God’s judgment on the world is either a direct strike from God (via return of Christ) or He uses mankind to judge the world via nuclear explosions (via return of Christ), or it’s a combination of the two. Because of what Rev 17:17 says about God putting it “in their hearts to do his mind, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God should be accomplished,” I tend to believe that God judges the world via the carelessness of man via nuclear weapons. On the other hand, if God’s judgment is directly from Him, without the use of mankind, then that is what this chapter (and Rev 20:7-9) describes.
However, and I think this is the key: When we consider the seven trumpet revelations (Rev 8,9,11) and the fact that they’re fulfilled naturally or by man’s carelessness, I believe that suggests that we should interpret these seven bowl judgments in the same manner. Furthermore, when we compare the trumpets with these plagues, we can see a partial fulfillment in the trumpets that is completed in these plagues. Therefore, I believe, at least in large part, God’s judgment is due to the carelessness of mankind via the explosions of nuclear weapons and the resulting fallout.
With that in mind, with each bowl judgment, I’ve provided the corresponding trumpet revelation within the commentary. This helps us see the complete picture of what’s going on in this chapter, and gives us the needed confidence that we’re correctly interpreting these bowl judgments.
Babylon the Great: As I’ve already stated, I believe these bowl judgments occur at the very end of the world once the Church is complete and at the time of the physical return of Christ. This chapter talks about “Babylon the Great” (vs. 19). This is Babylon the Great and the “great harlot” of Rev 17. Previously, I had believed Babylon merely symbolized all the false religions and gods of the world. However, as I’ve been studying this and comparing all the war scenes in this book, I’m now totally convinced that Babylon the Great is more than that; I believe that it’s the whole world system — which, of course, would include all the false religions and gods of the world.
Therefore, in Revelation 18, we see the destruction of both the world system and the end of the physical world—with the physical world primarily in view. This chapter (16) details the plagues that are used to destroy “Babylon.” In other words, both chapters 16 and 18 (along with Rev 19:11-21 and 20:7-9) have the same judgment in view—the judgment of the entire world. To be clear, this is God’s judgment on the world, but as Rev 17:16-18 seems to indicate, this chapter (16) provides the means by which He accomplishes that, which is via the careless hands of mankind.
Armageddon: This so-called War of Armageddon is normally understood as a literal battle between the Antichrist (and his army) and Christ (and His army) upon Christ’s return. However, let’s be realistic. How does an army of the world gather to fight against the Christ (God) of Heaven who hasn’t even shown up yet (Rev 16:13-14; 11:7; 19:19; 20:7-10)? How could they possibly gather to fight against Jesus and His army when they don’t even know about His return? Or even if they did know, how could they possibly know when? Or, if Christ returned first, how could they possibly have enough time to gather together the armies of the whole world? They couldn’t!
I believe a much more reasonable interpretation is that this War of Armageddon refers to the all-out assault against Christians around the world that will take place just prior to the bowl judgments of this chapter and the return of Christ (see commentary on Rev 11). When you make war against the people of Christ, you’re actually making war against Christ Himself. So to be clear, there will come a time when the whole world of unbelievers (led by the “man of sin” of 2 Th 2; the “eighth king” of Rev 17:11) will turn against the followers of Christ worldwide (Rev 11:7-10). This “war” ends upon Jesus’ return in judgment, which we see in the plagues of this chapter. This is the true War of Armageddon.
Seven Trumpets: As mentioned above, I will provide the corresponding trumpet revelation with each bowl judgment. That helps us to interpret these plagues correctly, and what’s going on in this chapter overall.
A word about God’s judgment upon mankind. In the Old Testament, we see God’s judgment upon mankind many times. That’s because they were not in the age of grace of the New Covenant like we are now. The judgments of the OT are meant to reveal God’s hatred for sin and the eternal judgment of those who die apart from God’s grace, which is given only in Christ, the Savior of the world. Under the New Covenant of Christ, we don’t see God’s judgment upon people and nations as we did in the OT. That’s because we are in the age of grace, which is in Christ. However, as God’s judgment is poured out on the world—as we see in this chapter—the Church is complete, the people of Christ are resurrected, and the world is no longer in the age of grace, as we are now. Thus, at the time of the end, we see a return of the OT type of judgments upon the unbelieving world.
(Rev 16:1) – 1 And I heard a great voice out of the temple, saying to the seven angels, Go ye, and pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God into the earth.
“wrath of God”
(Rev 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:10,19; 15:1,7; 16:19; 19:15)
This refers to God’s judgment upon the whole world of unbelievers in the physical return of Christ.
(Rev 16:2) – 2 And the first went, and poured out his bowl into the earth; and it became a noisome and grievous sore upon the men that had the mark of the beast, and that worshipped his image.
NET – 2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth. Then ugly and painful sores appeared on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.
First Trumpet: (Rev 8:7) – 7 And the first sounded, and there followed hail and fire, mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of the earth was burnt up, and the third part of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
First Bowl – Sores
As I talked about in my introduction, I tend to believe that all of these bowl judgments are a result of nuclear explosions around the world, and the resulting fallout (see Zech 14:12-15). Again, I can’t be sure of that, but I do believe it’s plausible. I think there’s sufficient evidence for that idea. With the trumpet revelations, we see partial destruction, and with the bowl judgments we see the complete destruction of the same. Since the trumpet revelations are a result of natural disasters and the carelessness of man, that suggests that we must interpret these bowl judgments in the same way since these appear to be the completion of what began with the trumpets in partial. Use of nuclear weapons by careless man fits what’s described here in this chapter (and in Rev 17:16; Rev 18). In other words, as indicated in Rev 17:17; 18:5,8,10,20; 19:2, I believe God uses man’s own carelessness and the means of their own creation (nuclear weapons) to destroy the world—and consequently, the whole world’s system.
This is the first of the plagues. However, it’s important to understand that all of these plagues occur virtually at the same time. In other words, these plagues are not to be understood as one following the other. So keep that in mind as we go through these bowl judgments.
However, I believe this series of plagues actually begin with the fifth and sixth bowl judgments. I think the reason why these two aren’t revealed as the first two in this series is because they coincide with the fifth and sixth trumpets. Thus it wouldn’t make any sense to reveal them as the first and second bowl judgment.
In regard to the seven seals and the seven trumpets, those are spread out over the entire Church age—except of course as those events that happen at the time of God’s judgment, which is what we see in this chapter (16). These seven bowl judgments all occur in the final days of our world. This chapter is all about the final judgment.
In this first trumpet, we see the partial destruction of the “earth,” where the earth is destroyed by fire and hail (‘mingled with blood”), and that this occurs throughout the Church age. Likewise, with this first bowl judgment (actually, all of these bowl judgments), we see that it’s a judgment upon the “earth,” where “painful and ugly sores appear.” This sounds different, but it actually describes the same thing, but with a different focus or view. With the first trumpet revelation, we see destruction by “fire,” but here we see destruction by “sores.” However, I believe that these sores are the result of the fire and heat of nuclear explosions. Thus the same thing is in view.
We can see the destruction by fire in the following passages: Rev 14:18; 16:8; 17:16; 18:8-9,18; 19:3; 20:9.
As a completion of the first trumpet revelation, we see that these sores are on all the people of the world. Keep in mind that all of these bowl judgments are against unbelievers only: those who “had the “mark of the beast, and that worshipped his image” (those who belong to the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of the world. See commentary chapter 13 and 17). Before these bowl judgments are released, the Church will be complete and God’s people resurrected (includes the rapture of those still alive). Therefore, only unbelievers are left at this time. I encourage you to read the commentary on chapter 11.
(Rev 16:3) – 3 And the second poured out his bowl into the sea; and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living soul died, even the things that were in the sea.
Second Trumpet: (Rev 8-9) – 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; 9 and there died the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, even they that had life; and the third part of the ships was destroyed.
Second Bowl – Sea death
In the second trumpet we see the partial death of sea life primarily through the carelessness of man by means of pollution, oil spills, and sea battles…..and also volcanic eruptions. Here in this second bowl judgment, we see the death of all sea life—completing what began with the partial. When nuclear weapons are set off around the world, the fallout will contaminate all the oceans, killing all sea life, and all people in the oceans.
(Rev 16:4-7) – 4 And the third poured out his bowl into the rivers and the fountains of the waters; and it became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of the waters saying, Righteous art thou, who art and who wast, thou Holy One, because thou didst thus judge: 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and blood hast thou given them to drink: they are worthy. 7 And I heard the altar saying, Yea, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.
Third Trumpet: (Rev 8:10-11) – 10 And the third angel sounded, and there fell from heaven a great star, burning as a torch, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of the waters; 11 and the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
Third Bowl – River death
As with all the oceans of the world, all the rivers and streams of the world will also be contaminated through nuclear fallout. Again, this is the completion of the partial of the third trumpet.
All life within is killed, which is what “blood” refers to. Just as the world of unbelievers shed the blood of God’s people throughout the whole Christian era, so does God give them “blood to drink.” Since the “blood of the Saints and prophets” is literal, I believe we must also regard the blood of this third bowl judgment to be literal. One interprets the other.
“true and righteous are thy judgments”
God’s judgments on humanity are just, for He is a holy and just God and must punish sin. The world of rebellious sinners and evil people and rejectors of Christ are deserving of God’s wrath.
(Rev 16:8-9) – 8 And the fourth poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given unto it to scorch men with fire. 9 And men were scorched with great heat: and they blasphemed the name of God who hath the power over these plagues; and they repented not to give him glory.
Fourth Trumpet: (Rev 8:12) –12 And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; that the third part of them should be darkened, and the day should not shine for the third part of it, and the night in like manner.
Fourth Bowl – Scorching Heat
The fourth trumpet reveals all the various catastrophes related to climate and weather throughout the Church age (please read commentary). Though as many and widespread as they are, they do not completely destroy the earth. Complete destruction is what we see in the fourth bowl judgment. People all over the world will be “scorched by fire and heat,” the result of the blasts of nuclear weapons. Note that this bowl indicates the exact opposite of the trumpet revelation, in that, with the one the sun is darkened, and with the other the sun is intensified. That’s understandable, since one shows limited destruction of the world throughout the Church age, and the other sees complete destruction of the world at the end of history.
Note that it refers to the “sun” as the source of the fire and heat. With so many nuclear blasts going off around the world, who knows how this may affect the ozone that protects us from the sun? I believe this is what we’re seeing here. The following quote seems to back this up:
The atmosphere surrounds Earth and protects us by blocking out dangerous rays from the sun. The atmosphere is a mixture of gases that becomes thinner until it gradually reaches space. It is composed of Nitrogen (78%), Oxygen (21%), and other gases (1%).
Oxygen is essential to life because it allows us to breathe. Some of the oxygen has changed over time to ozone. The ozone layer filters out the sun’s harmful rays. Recently, there have been many studies on how humans have caused a hole in the ozone layer.
It’s easy to see how the release of nuclear weapons around the world could affect the ozone layer that protects us from the sun’s harmful rays. So it appears that “fire” and “heat” may come from both the sun and the release of nuclear weapons. One does not have to wonder how this would destroy the whole earth. People have been talking for many years about how man might destroy themselves through the use of nuclear weapons, and I believe that’s exactly how it will end up.
“they repented not”
This is another reason why I believe that all of these bowl judgments occur at the end of the world. All through the Church age people have the opportunity to repent of their sins and trust Christ as their Lord and Savior. But here (and in vs. 11) we see that no one repents. That indicates that the opportunity to repent is now past, that the Church is complete and believers have been removed via resurrection.
(Rev 16:10-11) – 10 And the fifth poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast; and his kingdom was darkened; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, 11 and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they repented not of their works.
Fifth Trumpet: (Rev 9:1-3) – 1 And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven fallen unto the earth: and there was given to him the key of the pit of the abyss. 2 And he opened the pit of the abyss; and there went up a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. 3 And out of the smoke came forth locusts upon the earth; and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
Fifth Bowl – End of demonic activity
In the fifth trumpet we see demonic activity that is active all around the world to bring the world against the Church. It’s a time of preparation for that event, which is seen in the sixth trumpet. And, quite obviously, this time of gathering of nations occurs before Christians are resurrected. Notice that in verse 9:2 of the fifth trumpet, it mentions that “the sun and the air were darkened.” In the fifth bowl judgment we see that the kingdom of the beast is “darkened.” I believe at this point in time the beast is the “man of sin” (“man of lawlessness”) of 2 Thes 2:3, whom I also believe is the “eighth king” of Rev 17:11 (please read commentary on Rev 13).
I believe this term “darkened” has a dual meaning, both literal and symbolic:
I believe the literal meaning is that the world is engulfed in nuclear fallout, which of course would block the rays of the sun. The symbolic meaning refers to the darkening or the ending of demonic activity. In other words, this is the end of the kingdom of darkness over the world. Thus this ending of the fifth bowl is the completion of the fifth trumpet. The gathering of the world of the fifth trumpet occurs before Christians are resurrected, and the judgment of this fifth bowl is after that event. We see demonic activity at its highest point in the fifth trumpet, and it’s lowest point (end) in the fifth bowl judgment. We have to remember that this chapter is all about God’s judgment upon the unbelievers of the world and the world system and the kingdom of darkness.
“sores and pains”
As a result of the nuclear blasts and the resulting fallout, people all around the world are in “pain” with their “sores.” Apparently, not everyone dies immediately. This judgment upon the world could last several hours or several days (weeks?). Furthermore, they continue to “blaspheme” God and “repented not of their works.” God’s judgment is just. Again, the fact that no one repents, reveals that this takes place after the Church is removed. Once that occurs, there’s no more opportunity to repent.
What began in the fifth trumpet as primarily spiritual torment, ends in physical torment in the fifth bowl judgment.
(Rev 16:12-16) – 12 And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river, the river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might be made ready for the kings that come from the sunrising. 13 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, as it were frogs: 14 for they are spirits of demons, working signs; which go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. 15 (Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.) 16 And they gathered them together into the place which is called in Hebrew Har-Magedon.
Sixth Trumpet: (Rev 9:13-16) – 13 And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14 one saying to the sixth angel that had the trumpet, Loose the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates. 15 And the four angels were loosed, that had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they should kill the third part of men. 16 And the number of the armies of the horsemen was twice ten thousand times ten thousand: I heard the number of them.
Sixth Bowl – End of Military Conquest
(Please read commentary on Revelation 11)
The sixth trumpet is divided into two parts: In chapter 9 (first part), the focus is on the military conquest and unifying of the world, which once complete, will move against the Christians (the Church) of the world, which is what we see in chapter 11 (the second part of the sixth trumpet). There the focus is on the actual attacks and physical defeat of Christians around the world. The sixth bowl judgment has the second part of the sixth trumpet in view, which is the actual attacks against the Church. What began as the worldwide assault against the Church in the sixth trumpet (beginning of the “War of Armageddon”), we see the defeat and end of this world military against the Church in the sixth bowl judgment (end of the “War of Armageddon” – vs. 16).
(Rev 16:12) – 12 And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river, the river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might be made ready for the kings that come from the sunrising.
NET – 12 Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates and dried up its water to prepare the way for the kings from the east.
In both the sixth trumpet and sixth bowl judgment, the “great river Euphrates” is mentioned. This is not a coincidence. As I’ve been saying all along, these bowl judgments are the completions of the partial trumpet revelations. This is the end of the world that we’re seeing in this chapter.
As I explain in my commentary on Rev 9:14, the river “Euphrates” is associated with the worship of false gods and false religion (see Josh 24:2,14-15). To get a better picture of what’s going on with this sixth bowl judgment, please read the commentary on chapter nine, the sixth trumpet.
“dried up its water to prepare the way for the kings from the east.”
I believe the “kings from the east” is both symbolic and literal. Symbolically speaking, I believe this refers to all the false gods and false religions of the world (again see commentary Rev 9:14), which is a part of the kingdom of darkness (Eph 6:12) from where all false gods and false religion originates. This involves the entire world belief system. The love for darkness and the worship of false gods, the contempt for Christ and those who belong to Him, is what leads to the worldwide attack on believers.
Literally, I believe the “kings from the east” refers to the Islamic countries that are east of Israel and the Euphrates River. I believe they will form the nucleus of the confederacy of nations (Rev 17:16-17), whom together, they represent all the false gods and false religions of the world. If one looks on the map, it seems obvious.
Just prior to the return of Christ, these nations will gather together and make “war” with all the Christians (the Church) around the world, with the purpose of annihilating them. Again, I believe this is the “War of Armageddon.” This is the final conflict between truth and falsehood, between light and darkness, between the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan.
(Rev 16:13-14) – 13 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, as it were frogs: 14 for they are spirits of demons, working signs; which go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.
Here we see the “dragon” (Satan) and the “beast” (man of sin, eighth king) and the “false prophet” (rulers of darkness), gathering the “kings” (world leaders) and people of the world against the people of Christ. I believe that the mention of all three of these (dragon, beast, false prophet), indicates a gathering of all the forces of evil. This is the whole kingdom of darkness against the Church. No warrior-demon spared.
In order to convince the people of the world to completely turn against the Christians of the world, the “man of sin” (2 Thes 2) – whom I believe will be completely indwelt by Satan – will “work signs,” which will deceive the people into believing that he is God (2 Thes 2:4). This is the “war of the great day of God, the Almighty.” Or more accurately, this is the beginning of this war (sixth trumpet), which will end when God pours out the “plagues” of this chapter in the return of Christ.
Note: As I mentioned in verse 2, all of these plagues take place virtually at the same time, but commencing with the fifth and sixth bowl judgments.
(Rev 16:15) – 15 (Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.)
Net – 15 (Look! I will come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays alert and does not lose his clothes so that he will not have to walk around naked and his shameful condition be seen.)
This is an exhortation to Christians, the soldiers of Christ to always be prepared—to live our lives in faithfulness and purity and readiness. We need to be living our lives in such a way that we will be unashamed when we stand before Him. This is an exhortation to be watchful and to stay true to Christ to the very end, no matter what befalls us. In this context, this is the all-out assault that will befall Christians right before Jesus returns as King of kings and Lord of lords.
As chapter eleven indicates, a significant number of Christians around the world—if not most—will be killed. But God will “breath life” back into them (Rev 11:11) via the resurrection. Christians who aren’t killed, will be caught up with them (1 Th 4:13-18). If you haven’t already done so, please read the commentary on chapter eleven.
May I say, Christians who believe that the Bible teaches a “pre-trib rapture,” will not be prepared for this. Yet, John makes it clear that we must be watchful and remain faithful, to be prepared for this time of worldwide persecution and death for those who are alive during that time. But let’s be clear, this is an exhortation for readiness for all Christians throughout the Church age, as Christians have been persecuted and killed for their faith from the very beginning of the Church. We’re seeing this all around the world now.
(Rev 16:16) – 16 And they gathered them together into the place which is called in Hebrew Har-Magedon.
NET – 16 Now the spirits gathered the kings and their armies to the place that is called Armageddon in Hebrew.
NET Notes on “Armageddon”: tc There are many variations in the spelling of this name among the Greek mss, although ῾Αρμαγεδών (&armagedwn) has the best support. The usual English spelling is Armageddon, used in the translation.
tn Or “Harmagedon” (a literal transliteration of the Greek), or “Har-Magedon” (NASB), meaning “the Mount of Magedon” in Hebrew.
I consulted numerous commentaries about this word “Har-Magedon” or “Armageddon,” and the explanation given by Vincent’s Word Studies is as good as any, and better than most:
The proper Greek form Ἃρ Μαγεδών . The word is compounded of the Hebrew Har mountain, and Megiddon or Megiddo the mountain of Megiddo. On Megiddo standing alone see Judges 1:27; 1 Kings 4:12; 1 Kings 9:15; 2 Kings 9:27. See also Judges 5:19; Zechariah 12:11; 2 Chronicles 35:22; 2 Kings 23:30. “Bounded as it is by the hills of Palestine on both north and south, it would naturally become the arena of war between the lowlanders who trusted in their chariots, and the Israelite highlanders of the neighboring heights. To this cause mainly it owes its celebrity, as the battle-field of the world, which has, through its adoption into the language of Revelation, passed into an universal proverb. If that mysterious book proceeded from the hand of a Galilean fisherman, it is the more easy to understand why, with the scene of those many battles constantly before him, he should have drawn the figurative name of the final conflict between the hosts of good and evil, from the ‘place which is called in the Hebrew tongue Harmagedon’” (Stanley, “Sinai and Palestine”).
Megiddo was in the plain of Esdraelon, “which has been a chosen place for encampment in every contest carried on in Palestine from the days of Nabuchodonozor king of Assyria, unto the disastrous march of Napoleon Buonaparte from Egypt into Syria. Jews, Gentiles, Saracens, Christian crusaders, and anti Christian Frenchmen; Egyptians, Persians, Druses, Turks, and Arabs, warriors of every nation that is under heaven, have pitched their tents on the plain of Esdraelon, and have beheld the banners of their nation wet with the dews of Tabor and Hermon” (“Clarke’s Travels,” cit. by Lee). See Thomson’s “Land and Book” (Central Palestine and Phoenicia), p. 208 sqq.; and Stanley, “Sinai and Palestine,” ch. Ix.
Two great slaughters at Megiddo are mentioned in the Old Testament; the first celebrated in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:19), and the second, that in which king Josiah fell (2 Kings 23:29). Both these may have been present to the seer’s mind; but the allusion is not to any particular place or event.
With that background, it’s easy to see why the name “Har-Magedon” or “Armageddon” is used to describe this final war between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of darkness (Satan). Or more specifically, between the people who belong to the Kingdom of Christ and the people of the world who belong to the kingdom of darkness. Therefore, this name is to be understood as symbolic, and not as a literal geographical location, because the location is worldwide.
In summary: This sixth bowl judgment is what is known as “the war of Armageddon,” which is the final confrontation between the people of Christ (the Church) and the people of the world, between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. This “war” begins with a coordinated, global assault against Christians with the purpose of annihilating them. Christians will be killed on a large global scale (see commentary on chapter 11). However, God will breath life back into them via the resurrection, leaving the world with nothing but unbelievers. At that point, God unleashes His judgment upon the world via the plagues of this chapter, where this “war of Armageddon” will end with the return of Christ (Rev 19:11-21) We see this in the seventh bowl judgment, although not specifically mentioned in that particular scene.
Also, so that we’re clear on this, the judgment upon the world as revealed in this chapter, is the same judgment upon “Babylon the Great” (the “great harlot”) of Rev 17 and 18. Babylon symbolizes primarily the world system, but also has the physical world in view as depicted in chapter 18. That chapter describes the complete destruction of the physical world.
“Babylon the Great” is specifically mentioned in the last bowl judgment:
(Rev 16:17-21) – 17 And the seventh poured out his bowl upon the air; and there came forth a great voice out of the temple, from the throne, saying, It is done: 18 and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since there were men upon the earth, so great an earthquake, so mighty. 19 And the great city was divided into into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. 21 And great hail, every stone about the weight of a talent, cometh down out of heaven upon men: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof is exceeding great.
Seventh Trumpet: (Rev 11:15-19) – 15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there followed great voices in heaven, and they said, The kingdom of the world is become [the kingdom] of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign for ever and ever. 16 And the four and twenty elders, who sit before God on their thrones, fell upon their faces and worshipped God, 17 saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who art and who wast; because thou hast taken thy great power, and didst reign. 18 And the nations were wroth, and thy wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged, and [the time] to give their reward to thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to them that fear thy name, the small and the great; and to destroy them that destroy the earth. 19 And there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven; and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant; and there followed lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail.
Seventh Bowl – Judgment Complete, Eternal Kingdom
With the seventh bowl, God’s judgment upon the world is complete. This is the end of the world. While it doesn’t say, the physical return of Christ occurs at this time (Rev 19:11-21), which is followed by the Great White Throne Judgement (Rev 20:11-15), the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-10)—which may occur before the Throne Judgment—and the Eternal Kingdom of the new Heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1-2).
“Babylon the great”
One of the key verses for properly identifying “Babylon the great,” is Rev 18:24:
(Rev 18:24) – 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that have been slain upon the earth.
The “slain” of “all” people on the earth cannot be limited to one literal city. This can only describe the world itself—the whole world and its world system.
Also, in Rev 14:8, “Babylon the great” is mentioned in the context of the judgment of the world. In this chapter (16), “Babylon the great” is also mentioned in the context of the judgment of the world.
In addition, we have an entire chapter devoted to the destruction of “Babylon the great” (Rev 18), which is followed by the same scene (Rev 19:1-6) that we see in Rev 11:15-19 (seventh trumpet). The two scenes are not exact, but similar enough to know that the same event is in view, where the worship of the “twenty-four elders” is specifically mentioned, along with the “reign” of God/Christ. The scene in Rev 11:15-19 follows the judgment and destruction of the world, while the scene in Rev 19:1-6 follows the judgment and destruction of Babylon the great. And again, in Rev 14, we see Babylon the great mentioned in the context of the judgment and destruction of the world. In this chapter (16), we see the Babylon the great in the context of the judgment and destruction of the world.
A careful (and unbiased) examination of all of these passages reveal the same event. It reveals that Babylon the Great is a symbolic name given to represent the world and its belief system—which also involves the physical world, as seen in Rev 18. Furthermore, chapter 18 refers to her “plagues” (Rev 18:4,8), which, given all the other evidence, surely refers to the plagues that we see in this chapter (16).
We have to keep in mind that the events of Revelation are not always in order. On the contrary, we’re normally given disconnected scenes of the same event scattered throughout the book. It’s much like a jigsaw puzzle that we have to put together. It’s a disastrous mistake to interpret this book as though all the events are in order. That does occur, of course, in some places, but that is not the normal pattern.
(Rev 16:17) – 17 And the seventh poured out his bowl upon the air; and there came forth a great voice out of the temple, from the throne, saying, It is done:
This bowl being poured “upon the air,” as the final judgment, fits perfectly with what happens with a nuclear explosion, it results in fallout, which pertains to the air. This is the aftermath of the explosions—which follows the first five plagues. Thus “upon the air” is global.
“It is done.”
This completes God’s judgment upon the world and its anti-Christ belief system.
(Rev 16:18-21) – 18 and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since there were men upon the earth, so great an earthquake, so mighty. 19 And the great city was divided into into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. 21 And great hail, every stone about the weight of a talent, cometh down out of heaven upon men: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof is exceeding great.
This describes the end of the world, with an emphasis on the physical aspect of the world. We see a similar description in the following passages: Rev 6:12-17; 11:19; 17:16; 18:8,21. Also Matt 24:29; Mark 13:24-25; Luke 21:25-26.
The “earthquake” and the removing of “every island” and of all the “mountains” of the world, is surely what will happen when nuclear explosions are set off all around the world. The world will be flattened, turned to ashes. And quite obviously, this includes the death of every living soul—but not before they “blaspheme God” (vs. 21). We need to understand that the release of these nuclear weapons may not be all at once, but more likely over a period of a few days or even weeks. This would explain why people are still around to suffer and blaspheme God, rather than being completely wiped out all at once.
(Rev 16:19) – 19 And the great city was divided into into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
(See Is 21:9; Jer 51:6-9)
Again, notice that “Babylon the great” is mentioned right in the middle of this world judgment, and that’s because Babylon is the world. Babylon of the Old Testament was a world Empire, which ruled over God’s people when they were taken into captivity. OT Babylon is a type of the world and of the world belief system that we live in throughout the Church age. It’s in complete conflict with the truth of Christ and of the Christian faith.
“the great city”
It should be clear by now that Babylon is not referring to a literal city, but is symbolic for the entire world.
“divided into into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell”
Since this is the judgment of the whole world, I believe that “three parts” refers to the ruling authorities of the world (government), the belief system of the world (false gods, false religion, philosophies, etc), and the physical world itself. Those three categories covers it all. In other words, everything this world stands for is destroyed.
All the “cities of the nations” reveals the complete destruction of the physical world, which of course, includes all mankind.
In conclusion, people have been talking for many years about the possibility of mankind destroying themselves via nuclear weapons, and I believe that is exactly what happens. I believe this is what God uses to judge this world. I believe that’s what Rev 17:15-18 is referring to, and we see that carried out in this chapter and in chapter 18. However, lest I be misunderstood and misrepresented, we cannot be certain that God will use nuclear explosions as a means of His judgment. Nevertheless, when we consider all that occurs in this chapter and the descriptions given, I think it’s a reasonable possibility.