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.