Chapter 14: The First Four Vials (Revelation 16:1-9)

In the second place, we may also notice that these plagues this time are universal in their character. There is no ex­ception. There is no escape from them. This is one of the characteristic distinctions between the vials and the trumpets. Notice, in general, that there is progress in the succession of the seals and the trumpets and the vials. In connection with the seals we found that there was mention of one-fourth. And one-fourth, we found, indicates the regular rate of death and destruction upon the earth. Always one-fourth of men die. Always one-fourth of the crops is destroyed. Always one-fourth of the ships are lost. Always there is one-fourth of darkening of the sun, resulting in loss of crops. In the trumpets, however, we found that the one-fourth is changed to one-third, indicating that God at stated times and to con­trol the history of the world and of the nations sends just a little more than the ordinary death rate and destruction of crops, thus influencing the history of nations and of the world in general. But in the vials there is no mention of a fraction whatever. All of the earth is affected by the first vial. The entire sea is changed into blood by the second. All the rivers and fountains of water are poisoned by the third. And the sun scorches terribly and evidently affects the whole earth. This is also indicated in the difference between the symbols used. The trumpets indicated by their loud resounding that the judgment of God is very near and heavy. But the vials are completely emptied. God has emptied His wrath into the vials, and they again are emptied upon the earth. And therefore the wrath of God in these vials is complete. Further, we may also notice that these plagues differ from the ones symbolized in the trumpets in that they do not affect the saints. The plagues of the trumpets naturally also were plagues for the children of the Most High. They were still on earth; and they suffered from the famine and sickness as well as the children of wrath even though these plagues could not touch them as children of God. But the vials touch only the children of wrath, the worshippers of the beast. And I know of but one reason, namely, this, that the church has been taken away. At the beginning of these signs they have been taken up into glory, and they do not have to suffer because of these universal plagues. Even as in the plagues of Egypt the children of Israel were at first also affected, but with the latter plagues they were ex­empted, so in these vial plagues the children of God do not suffer with the children of wrath for the simple reason that they have been taken up into glory. Hence, we come to the conclusion that the plagues of these first four vials are plagues affecting nature in its various spheres, that they are universal in their character, leaving no exception, and that only the worshippers of the beast are troubled by them. This also indicates that these vials are poured out almost at the very end of time.

If now we try to explain these four vials in their individ­ual significance, we may first of all say that it behooves us to be careful. The history of these vials belongs entirely to the remote future. True, in principle we find the four vials upon earth all through this dispensation. They are also in the trumpets, and even in the seals. But in their universal character they have not yet been realized. They belong to the future. And therefore we shall do well not to go beyond the text in this respect. We must not go into detail and try to explain exactly how God shall work in those days, through what agencies He shall bring about the changes in nature, exactly what is meant by the sore on the men that wor­shipped the beast, by the blood into which the sea and the rivers are turned. All these questions we would not be able to answer with any reasonable amount of certainty. But what we must do is obtain the general idea of each vial, ascertain its effect upon man and upon the kingdom of Anti­christ that still exists in those days. And then we shall be satisfied that the Lord has also here given us a clear revela­tion of the future.

The first vial is poured out upon the earth. If we may at all compare the trumpets with the vials, as must be inferred from their resemblance, we find that with the earth is meant the dry land in distinction from the sea and the rivers, and that too, the dry land and all that it contains. The earth brings forth the substance with which man must prolong his life. On its crops he depends for health and strength, yea, for very life itself. And so we found in connection with the first trumpet that it destroyed the crops, the trees, and the grass for one-third. The earth, therefore, must be taken in the sense of its being the habitation of men, upon which man is dependent for very life. From the earth he derives his food and substance. From that earth he obtains his gold and silver. From the earth he derives his fuel wherewith to protect himself against the cold of winter. In a word, from that earth he derives all the necessities, as well as the luxuries, of life. It is from this same point of view that we must con­sider the earth here. And then the effect of the first vial is such that man does not die, but that he is stricken with disease. The earth upon which man depends for life and health is affected so that terrible and universal disease breaks out. The text speaks of sores, which may indeed be taken in the literal sense of the word, but which I would rather take as indicating disease in general. A universal disease breaks out. Everybody is suffering from it because the earth is, as it were, poisoned with the wrath of God. The crops do grow indeed, but they are filled with God’s wrath. They supply no health and strength, but poison men, so that sores break out on their bodies and so that they are stricken universally with all kinds of disease. Medical science stands aghast and dumfounded. For even the drugs and medicines that might otherwise be employed must be obtained from the same earth; and therefore they offer no alleviation from suffering. Universal sickness prevails. No more one-third, but all men are stricken. It has become a world of universal misery.

The second vial affects the sea. Also here there is correspondence between the vials and the trumpets. The second trumpet turned one part of the sea into blood, de­stroyed one-third part of the living creatures and one-third part of the ship’s. But now the whole sea is turned into a pool of rottenness. Also here we do not have to ask how and through what agencies the Lord will bring this about. This is of little importance. The main fact is clear: the sea is turned into a rotten pool, into blood as of a dead man. This means, in the first place, that the sea as a source of other necessities for man has become worthless. For every living thing in the sea is now dead. Man, who cannot find on the earth what he needs, may turn to the sea to feed himself with the creatures that are in it. But this is now cut off. The earth is poisonous, the sea offers nothing to relieve the suffering. In the second place, we may depend on it that this rotten pool of ocean and sea makes life unbearable and spreads the disease and pestilences still more rapidly. And, in the third place, the sea is no more a means of communica­tion between nation and nation. Commerce is now at a stand­still. All the beautiful castles of the sea which man has built and with which he travels around the earth are now lying still in their harbors, or they perish in the rotten sea. The sea, that mighty treasure to man, has lost its value. It no more offers him any aid or comfort.

Still more, the waters and the rivers are also affected. If man in his distress only might turn to these waters for help and feed on its living creatures, drink from its fountains, he might perhaps find some relief. But this is not the case. Also these are influenced and filled with the wrath of God. Again, exactly in what way we do not know. This is certain, however, that they afford man no pleasant and refreshing drink any more. Most likely all this will come upon the earth gradually, rather than suddenly, although it will be but a short time before the end. All the comforts and necessities of life are taken away from man. For certain it is that he does not immediately die. But all spheres of nature are affected. By the third vial the rivers and fountains of waters are turned into blood as the sea and the ocean. And they add to the universal suffering of man.

And finally, the sun is affected. The fourth vial is turned empty upon the sun. It is not darkened. That will be still later. But now it is increased in heat to such an extent that it scorches men by its heat. Naturally, it does not only affect men, but also the crops and the cattle of the meadows and the beasts of the field. In short, it has become a terrible world to live in. The earth poisoned and bringing disease. The sea and the waters rot and afford no help. The sun scorches with its terrible heat. Nowhere in all creation is there help or comfort. The whole world is now filled with the wrath of God.

In order to understand the combined effect of these seven vials we must first of all recall the actual condition of affairs at this time. Antichrist has established his universal king­dom, a kingdom uniting all nations and having sway over all things in the world. As we have said before, that kingdom shall from a worldly point of view be a glorious kingdom. There shall be great development of human power and talents. There shall be peace and plenty in every way. There shall be joy and luxury. All the world shall be in subjection unto that kingdom of Antichrist. And they shall know how to use all things in creation. It shall be chiefly because of the blessings of that kingdom that it shall be able to establish and maintain itself. It is because of the outward prosperity and because of the wonderful things the beast performs that the whole world wonders after him. But it is a kingdom under Satan and against God and His Christ. God’s children, who refuse to worship the beast, may not participate in the blessings of that marvelous kingdom. God is not acknowl­edged. The beast is supreme. The people of God may not buy or sell.

Now if we view the first four vials in this light, it is very plain what is their significance. In the first place, through them God makes plain that He after all is the one who sells things in the world. Antichrist acted as if he were supreme. But after all, he was dependent upon God Almighty. Antichrist acted as if he could sovereignly determine who were to buy and sell and enjoy the blessings of the kingdom of earth and sea and river and sun. But now God comes to show that He is sovereign. And He deter­mines that none that worship the beast shall be able to buy or sell, to enjoy the blessings in His creation. He takes every­thing away from them. He takes the earth away from them, the crops and the rain, the food and the clothing. Just as Antichrist in his godlessness had done to God’s people, so God now does to Antichrist. And all of a sudden all things become a curse. And therefore, in the first place, there is just revenge in these four vials. We find an indication of this in the voice of the angel that pours out the third vial. He says: “Righteous art Thou, who art, and who wast, thou holy one, because thou didst thus judge: For they poured out the blood of the saints and prophets, and blood thou hast given them to drink; for they are worthy.” The implication is, of course, that in this third plague God metes out unto Antichrist as he has meted unto His people. And that is not only true of the third plague, but of all of them. A short while ago the people of God were outcasts, so that they could neither buy nor sell. Now God shows that He is powerful and supreme, and that the people of Antichrist cannot procure in all creation wherewith to feed and clothe themselves. It is an act of just revenge. It is for the same reason that the souls beneath the altar also are satisfied. For the voice comes from the altar, saying, “Yea, Lord God, Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.” Once more, therefore, the first four vials constitute a just revenge upon the subjects of the beast, who worship his image.

But there is more. The combined effect of these plagues is also that it causes the kingdom of Antichrist to be dis­integrated and that it prepares for the great battle that is still to be fought, the battle of Armageddon. You understand that the factor that combined the kingdom was its outward pros­perity and its outward peace. Men wondered after the beast because they were blessed under his reign with earthly things. But now the power and the glory of the beast are of a sudden gone, and the time is at hand that Gog and Magog shall break loose and prepare for battle against the center of the antichristian kingdom, to break it to pieces.

Finally, we should not forget that these plagues harden the heart of the individual subjects of the kingdom. We would perhaps imagine that such severe judgments as these would soften the hearts and would cause them to give glory to God and repent in dust and ashes. But just the reverse is the case. Man blasphemes God who has power over these plagues. The implication seems to be that they realize that the God of creation sends them these plagues. Yet they do not repent. On the contrary, they blaspheme and rise still more in rebellion in the midst of all their suffering. A ter­rible and solemn lesson this is. It teaches us clearly that absolutely nothing but the grace of God will break the sinner. If the grace of God does not enter our hearts and the Word of His gospel does not call us to His covenant, judgments will only have the effect that men harden their hearts. What a glorious comfort in these four vials! Here is the patience of the saints. As certain as Christ is King, just as certain it is that these judgments shall come. And therefore the saints can afford to be patient. Vengeance belongeth unto the Lord. And He shall surely come to justify Himself and all His people and to prepare the earth for His glorious kingdom.

Chapter 15: The Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:10-21)

10.  And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain.

11.  And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.

12.  And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.

13.  And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

14.  For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of die whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God 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 he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.

17.  And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.

18.  And there were voices, and thunders, and light­nings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earth­quake, and so great.

19.  And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before 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 there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

Again the words of our text lead us to the very end of this dispensation. That this is so a most superficial reading of the text will show. It speaks of the battle of the great day of God Almighty. It speaks of the downfall of Babylon the Great and her remembrance before the countenance of the Lord God Almighty, of a terrible shakeup of the heavens and of the earth, so that islands flee away and the mountains are found no more. And it speaks of a last and crushing hail, through which evidently the battle of Armageddon is finished. It is the end of time. It is the close of this entire dispensation. Repeatedly we have stood at the termination of history as we made study of the book of Revelation. In Rev. 6:12-17, where the sixth seal is pictured to us, we also found that all the universe was shaken and that it was the great day of the wrath of God and of His Christ. Again, in chapter 11, the chapter that speaks of the two witnesses, we saw the temple opened at the blowing of the seventh trumpet, and signs of great judgments following, the judg­ments of the final battle of Christ against His opponents. In chapter 14 we also received a picture of the end of time in the vision of the great and final harvest and of the vintage. And also there we found the end was terrible, a treading of the nations in the winepress of the wrath of God. And now again we stand before the same period of time, the very close of history. And again it is a bloody battle and terrible judgments from heaven that are pictured to us here. Those who dream of a great millennium of peace, who imagine that the kingdom of Christ will gradually have the victory over the kingdom of darkness without any great disturbance and upheaval, certainly find but very little support in the Word of our God and none at all in the book of Revelation. The wicked shall not gradually be won, but they shall be destroyed. Judgments are in store for them. And these judgments shall not gradually diminish in force, but rather increase and become more terrible. The end of time shall not be peace, but war, terrible war, war as the world has not seen before, war in which all the nations of the earth shall participate, and in which Christ shall have the victory. That end and that victory is pictured here in the words of our text more clearly than ever before. There is progress in respect to clearness and vividness of revelation and description as we proceed. And in our text the end is already definitely pictured as a great battle. It is not as if that end is already pictured here in all its detail. No, in succeeding chapters we shall find a detailed description of some of the main scenes that are pictured here in general.