I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (March 10-16) Sabbath School Adult Teacher’s Edition for people to compare with the edited version. The changes were not massive or disruptive in most cases. I share my analysis of the changes in the next blog. These comments are related to the standard quarterly edition written primarily by my friend Ranko Stefanovic.
THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES
Part I: Overview
Key Text: Rev. 15:4.
Study Focus: Revelation sixteen describes the seven last plagues (Rev. 15:1) of earth’s history. Included in these plagues is the only mention of the exact title “Armageddon” in the Bible.
Introduction: This section begins with the end-time people of God standing by the sea of glass singing the song of Moses and the Lamb, an allusion to the Exodus (Rev. 15:1-4). Then the seven plagues are introduced with a vision of the heavenly temple emptied because of the glory of God, a reversal of the original inauguration of the Mosaic sanctuary (Rev. 15:5-8; Exod. 40:34-35). This is close of probation imagery. Seven angels were then told to pour out bowls of wrath upon the earth one by one (Rev. 16:1-21).
Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage introduce the following themes:
1. God’s People Named by Many Names. Evidence of the text is that names like remnant, 144,000 and saints all refer to the same end-time group.
2. Why Plagues When No Repentance Will Result?
3. The Symbolic Meaning of the Euphrates River in Rev. 16:12.
4. Two Gospels in Revelation. The three angels (Rev. 14:6-12) and the three frogs (Rev. 16:13-14) are contrasting symbols of the gospel.
5. Cyrus the Persian and the Second Half of Revelation. A pagan king foreshadows the Messiah.
6. The Meaning of Armageddon.
Life Application. The Life Application section explores how the description of the Battle of Armageddon in Revelation promotes spiritual preparation for the End-Time.
Part II. Commentary
See Introduction of Part I for summary of Rev. 15-16.
Main Themes of Lesson 11 Elaborated:
1. God’s People Named by Many Names. We saw in the previous lesson’s TE that God’s faithful end-time ones are called remnant in 12:17 and 144,000 in 14:1. The allusion to Joel 2:32 in Rev. 14:1 made it clear that John sees the two groups as the same. There is further evidence in Rev. that the multiple names for God’s people all refer to the same end-time group rather than multiple end-time groups.
The 144,000 and the Great Multitude appear to be opposites. But we saw in the Teacher’s Edition for Lesson Six (Theme 4) that these are also two ways of describing the same end-time group. God’s end-time people are called 144,000 in Rev. 14:1 and “saints” in Rev. 14:12 and 17:6. So God’s one end-time people are called by many names in Revelation: 144,000, Great Multitude, Remnant, and Saints. They stand by the sea of glass (Rev. 15:2), they are the ones who keep their garments (16:15) and are the called, chosen and faithful followers of the Lamb (17:14).
2. Why Plagues When No Repentance Will Result?. What is the purpose of the seven bowl/plagues if no repentance will occur (after the close of probation)? First of all, Revelation makes clear that God is not the author of death, pain and destruction (Rev. 7:1-3), Satan is the destroyer (9:11). God allows Satan a certain freedom of action. Second, Satan’s actions can be used by God to fulfill His purposes (17:17). The deceptions and plagues of the final crisis expose the truth about Satan and those who follow him (2 Thess 10-12). It is not God’s fault that the wicked are unredeemed, neither the grace of God (Rom 2:4) nor the plagues of the End (Rev 16:9, 11, 21) bring about any repentance. They are hardened in the course they have chosen. Thus, even the destruction of the wicked glorifies the character of God in the end (Rev. 15:3-4). They have made themselves unsafe to save and God sadly lets them go (Hos 11:7-8). Even after the millennium and a clear perspective on God’s character, nothing in their character has changed (Rev. 20:7-10). The plagues expose their settled unfitness for eternity and vindicate God’s judgment in each case.
3. The Symbolic Meaning of the Euphrates River in Rev. 16:12. What is the meaning of the Euphrates River in Rev. 16:12? We need not remain in doubt when the text itself defines a symbol. Rev. 17:1 introduces an explanation of one of the bowl plagues, one that has something to do with water. It must be referring to the sixth plague, because the woman who sits on the water is called Babylon (Rev. 17:5) and the “many waters” of Babylon describe the Euphrates River (Jer 51:13). The meaning of the river is defined in Rev. 17:15. The waters of verse 1 represent “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (ESV), in other words, the civil and secular powers of the entire world. These powers give their allegiance to Babylon for a short time (Rev. 17:3, 12-13), creating a worldwide, end-time confederacy in opposition to God and His end-time people.
4. Two Gospels in Revelation. The three angels of Rev. 14:6-12 together proclaim the final gospel message to the world. What many readers of Revelation have missed is the counterfeit gospel also proclaimed to the world in Rev. 16:13-14. The dragon, the beast and the false prophet (the counterfeit trinity of Rev. 13) each produce an unclean spirit like a frog out of their mouths (16:13). According to verse 14 these frogs are the “spirits of demons” who go out to the kings of the whole inhabited world to gather them for the final battle of earth’s history, Armageddon (see also 16:16). Demons are evil angels, thus you have three angels presenting the gospel of God in chapter fourteen and three evil angels presenting a counterfeit gospel in chapter sixteen. Both “gospels” go out to the entire world (Rev. 14:6; 16:14). This counterfeit is described also in 1 Thess. 2:9-12 and Matt. 24:24-27. Those who do not rely on the words of Scripture will be deceived in the final crisis.
5. Cyrus the Persian and the Second Half of Revelation. In Rev. 16:12 it is kings from the east who dry up the Euphrates, Babylon’s political and military support system (Jer. 50:37-38; 51:35-36). This brief description recalls how the armies of Cyrus came from the east and camped north of Babylon. His engineers excavated a depression in the nearby landscape and diverted the flow of the Euphrates River into that depression, allowing Cyrus’ soldiers to march under the river gates into the city. Timing the diversion to take advantage of a feast day inside the city, Cyrus’ soldiers discovered that drunken guards had left open the gates along the river bank. They poured into the city, conquering it and killing its ruler, Belshazzar (as described in Daniel 5). In the months and years that followed Cyrus initiated a process in which the scattered remnant of Israel were encouraged to go back home and rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem.
Notice the total sequence once more: In Old Testament times, Cyrus, king of Persia, dried up the literal Euphrates River in order to conquer Babylon, to let Israel go free and to rebuild Jerusalem. This narrative clearly sets the foundation for the last portion of the Book of Revelation. In the Book of Revelation an end-time Cyrus (the “kings from the rising of the sun”) dries up the end-time River Euphrates, conquers end-time Babylon to deliver end-time Israel and build a New Jerusalem! The fundamental narrative substructure of the battle of Armageddon is grounded in the Old Testament story of Cyrus and Babylon’s fall.
6. The Meaning of Armageddon. The word “Armageddon” is really “Har-Magedon” in the Greek. Rev. 16:16 explains that the word is based on the Hebrew. In Hebrew “Har” means mountain. So the most natural meaning of Armageddon is “Mountain of Megiddo.” The problem is that there is no mountain in the whole world named Megiddo. There are waters of Megiddo (Jdg. 5:19), a valley of Megiddo (2 Chr. 35:22) and a city of Megiddo (1 Kgs. 9:15). Others suggest “mountain of slaughter” (based on Zech. 12:11) or Mount of Assembly (echoing Isa 14:12).
The Anchor Bible Dictionary concludes that the best explanation of “Har-Magedon” is to associate it with the mountain that looms over the waters, valley and city of Megiddo, Mount Carmel. Mount Carmel is the place where Elijah called fire down from heaven to earth to demonstrate who the true God is (Rev. 13:13-14). In the last days of earth’s history there will be a showdown between the true God (Rev. 4-5) and the counterfeit trio (Rev. 16:13-14), between the three angels (Rev. 14:6-12) and the three frogs. In that final contest, the fire will fall on the wrong altar (Rev. 13:13-14), but the true God will be vindicated in the end (Rev. 15:3-4).
Part III: Life Application
1. In the midst of the Battle of Armageddon account (Rev. 16:13-16) is a blessing on the one who keeps watch and hangs onto his clothes (16:15). In Lesson 3, Theme 5, we saw that this is a clear allusion to Rev. 3:18, the warning of Christ to Laodicea. There is, therefore, a clear connection between the Laodicean church and God’s final call to the world in the context of Armageddon. The church that will pass through the final crisis of earth’s history will be seriously flawed, but very much the object of Jesus’ solicitude. This should be a source of both warning and encouragement to God’s people today.
2. In one single verse (Rev. 16:15) John brings together a variety of New Testament appeals in light of the end. Both “I come like a thief” and “Blessed is he who stays awake” echo statements of Jesus which are further echoed by Paul (Matt. 24:42-44; Luke 12:37-39; 1 Thess. 5:1-6). All three of these texts are about readiness for the coming of Jesus. By echoing these concepts in the middle of the Battle of Armageddon, the Book of Revelation makes it clear that the military language of Revelation is not to be taken in a military way. The Battle of Armageddon is a battle for the mind. In the final battle of earth’s history, it is our spiritual task to keep watch over our attitudes, thoughts, and behavior, and to remain faithful no matter the deception or the coercion we may face. There is a need for both faithful endurance and discernment, fortified with the words of Jesus, of Paul and to Laodicea. When we choose to be faithful today in the midst of various temptations, we are being prepared for even greater battles at the end of time.