Tag Archives: rev 16

Some Practical Thoughts on Armageddon (Plagues 8)

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). This verse is a clear allusion to Revelation 3:18, the warning of Christ to Laodicea (see comments on Revelation 3:17-18). There are four major words in Revelation 16:15 that are found together in only one other place in the Bible, Revelation 3:17-18. These are the Greek words for seeing, clothes, shame and nakedness. You will find all four concepts in the story of the Fall (Gen. 3:6-15) but not all of the specific words. So there is a specific and clear connection between the message to the church of Laodicea God’s final call to the world in the context of Armageddon. This indicates that 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 and are further echoed by Paul (Matt. 24:42-44; Luke 12:37-39; 1 Thess. 5:1-6). All three of these passages 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 in the gospels, Paul in the epistles, and Jesus’ message 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.

The Meaning of Armageddon (Plagues 7)

The word “Armageddon” is really “Har-Magedon” in the Greek. Revelation 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 with that reading is that there is no mountain in the whole world named Megiddo. The Bible refers to the waters of Megiddo (Jdg. 5:19), a Valley of Megiddo (2 Chr. 35:22) and a city of Megiddo (1 Kgs. 9:15). But nowhere is there a reference to a mountain of Megiddo.

There are a couple of other possibilities. In Zechariah 12:11 the LXX translator translates the Hebrew for “Megiddo” with “slaughter.” The mourning of Jerusalem in the future is compared to the mourning “of” or “for” Haddad-rimmon. We don’t know who or what Haddad-rimmon was, it is a Syrian name and the event referred to occurred outside Scripture. Relevant to our purpose, the mourning, whatever it refers to, is not in the city of Megiddo, but in a place where slaughter occurred. If this is what the author of Revelation had in mind, “Armageddon” would be a reference to Zechariah 12:11, and would mean “mountain of slaughter.”

Another option suggests that “Armageddon” is a reference to the fall of Lucifer in Isaiah 14. Lucifer fell from the “Mount of Assembly” (echoing Isa 14:12). But the expression in the Hebrew of Isaiah 14:12 is quite different from that of Revelation.

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). If this was John’s intent, 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).

Cyrus the Persian and the Second Half of Revelation (Plagues 6)

In Revelation 16:12 it is “kings from the east” who dry up the Euphrates River. Since the Euphrates River passed right through the city of Babylon, it in part was and in part supplied the moat that protected the city. To in the Old Testament, the Euphrates River became a symbol of Babylon’s political and military support system (Jer. 50:37-38; 51:35-36). As a defense system for the city the Euphrates came to represent the officials, wise men, warriors, treasury and mercenaries that made the city strong (Jer. 50:33-36. So in the original story, when the Euphrates River dried up it left the city defenseless. This symbolic meaning of the river is taken up in this part of the book of Revelation.

Ancient Babylon was a nearly impregnable fortress. Revelation 16:12 recalls how the armies of Cyrus came from the east and camped north of Babylon. Cyrus’ engineers excavated a large depression in the nearby landscape and diverted the flow of the Euphrates River into that depression, thus causing the river to “dry up.” Cyrus’ soldiers used the dry river be 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. The army of Cyrus 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.

The story of Babylon’s fall was taken up as the back story for the last third of the book of Revelation. Notice the total sequence once more: In Old Testament times, Cyrus, king of Persia, dried up the literal Euphrates River in order to conquer literal Babylon, to let literal Israel (Judah) go free and to rebuild the literal city of 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. The conquest of Babylon by Cyrus is, so to speak, a subtext for everything that happens in Revelation 16-22. To notice this connection is to understand what is going on in the Battle of Armageddon. To miss this connection is to miss the point of this vision.

Two Gospels in Revelation (Bowl Plagues 5)

The three angels of Revelation 14:6-12 together proclaim the final gospel message to the entire world. It is the “everlasting gospel” to every nation, tribe, language and people (Rev. 14:6). “Everlasting gospel” means that while it arrives in the special context of the End-time, it is not a different gospel than the one that was taught by Jesus and the apostles. It is a call to worship the creator (Rev. 14:7) rather than the beast or his image (13:4, 8, 12, 15). This gospel produces the faith of Jesus (14:12), a trust in God grounded in abundant evidence of His character. At its simplest, the gospel can be summarized as “What we could not do, God did.” And at the heart of the gospel is the truth about what God is truly like, God’s character. He is infinitely powerful, yet infinitely gracious. While He is all-powerful, He chooses to resolve the issues in the universe without violence, without force or intimidation of any kind.

What many readers of Revelation have missed is the counterfeit gospel also proclaimed to the world in Revelation 16:13-14. The dragon, the beast and the false prophet (the counterfeit trinity of Revelation 13) each produce an unclean spirit like a frog out of their mouths (Rev 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).

The proclamation of the gospel, therefore, is mirrored by the worldwide proclamation of a counterfeit gospel at the end of time. Just as the genuine gospel centers on the character of God and what God has done, the counterfeit gospel offers in its place a human construct of reality grounded in a different picture of God. At the core of Satan’s lie is a picture of human ability to save one’s self and a picture of God as very much like Satan, arbitrary, judgmental, deceptive, and cruel. Satan provokes his followers to portray God as deceptive and demanding. This counterfeit picture is described also in 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12. It is a battle between truth and lies. Those who do not rely on the words of Scripture will be deceived in the final crisis. These will accept a false picture of humanity (“you are worthless and hopeless”, yet somehow “you’re not so bad, you can make it on your own if you try” [false hope]) and a false picture of God (with a character like that of Satan).

The Meaning of the Euphrates River in Rev. 16:12 (Bowl Plagues 4)

Does the Euphrates River in Revelation 16:12 represent the literal river, the territory through which the river flows, the ruler of that territory, or something else? Through the years I have heard many interesting but implausible interpretations. The drying up of the Euphrates means the drying up of Middle Eastern oil. It pointed to death or removal of Saddam Hussein from power. It represented the nation of Iraq. In these interpretations, the Kings of the East would often be Iran or Russia. When I was much younger, it was taken literally and the Kings of the East represented the armies of Japan or China who would one day invade the Middle East. All of these interpretations are interesting, but they are contemporary speculations. If John himself defined what the Euphrates River means, we should not look elsewhere for the meaning. We need not remain in doubt on any interpretation when the text itself defines a symbol.

In Revelation 17:1 an angel introduces an explanation of one of the bowl plagues, and that bowl plagues has something to do with water. Of the seven options, three of the plagues have something to do with water; the second is poured out on the sea, the third is poured out on the rivers and springs of the earth and the sixth is poured out on the Euphrates River. Which of these three plagues is the one in view in Revelation 17:1?

I would conclude that the plague being interpreted in Revelation 17 is the sixth plague, the one which mentions the Euphrates River. First of all, the woman who sits on the water in the first verse is later called Babylon (Rev. 17:5) and the Euphrates River flowed right down the middle of the ancient city of Babylon. The reference to “many waters” in verse one is an echo of Jeremiah 51:13, where the Euphrates River is described as “many waters.” So you have a strong allusions to ancient Babylon and its position on the Euphrates River in the first five verses of Revelation 17.

The explanation of the vision of verses 1-5 (Rev 17:7-18) goes in other directions for a while, but returns to the image of verse one in verse fifteen. The meaning of the river is defined in Revelation 17:15. According to that verse, 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.

This makes sense of the sixth plague. All the other plagues are massive in their effect, most of them affect the whole earth (Rev 16:1-2). But then along comes the sixth plague, but it only effects a medium-sized river in a dry part of the earth. The plague does not seem in proportion to the other six. But if the Euphrates River represent the civil, secular, economic and military powers of the world, then it plays a huge role in the final events. The drying up of the Euphrates would mean the withdrawal of support by the secular powers of the world for the great religious confederacy called Babylon in the last days of earth’s history. At some future time the religious and secular powers of the world unite to counter the work of the gospel in the world. In the middle of this brief grand union, the civil powers of the world come to realize they have been deceived and turn on the religious authorities and institutions that have deceived them (Rev 17:16). Thus is End-time Babylon destroyed and the people of God delivered.

God’s People Named by Many Names (Bowl Plagues 2)

I have noted earlier that there is evidence in Revelation that the multiple names for God’s people all refer to the same end-time group rather than multiple end-time groups. For example, we noticed in the blogs on Revelation 14 that God’s faithful end-time people 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. But this is not the only place in Revelation where two different expressions for the people of God are clearly parallel.

We noticed in Revelation 7 that the 144,000 and the Great Multitude appear to be opposites. One group contains a fixed number of people drawn from the twelve tribes of Israel. The other group contains an uncountable number from every nation, tribe, language and people. But these two seeming opposites are drawn together by the fact that John never sees the 144,000, he only hears about them, when he turns to look he sees the Great Multitude. So these are also two ways of describing the same end-time group (see Rev 5:5-6 for the literary pattern).

Another, similar instance is in the latter part of the book. 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).

So the visions of Revelation are not intended to identify many various versions of God’s people at the end-time. The people of God are seen as a whole, although that whole can be described in a number of different ways. The primary path to God has not changed. Claims to total uniqueness are probably exaggerations of reality. The people of God can rejoice that they are sealed, but should never be proud or arrogant on account of that fact.

The Seven Last Plagues (Bowl Plagues 1)

Revelation sixteen describes the seven last plagues (Rev. 15:1) of earth’s history. Included in these plagues is the only mention of the word “Armageddon” in the Bible. This section (Rev 15-16) 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). I will explore this part of Revelation through 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.

The final blog in this series on the seven last plagues explores how the description of the Battle of Armageddon in Revelation (Rev 16:14-16) promotes spiritual preparation for the End-Time.