The fall of Babylon, the coming of the King on the white horse for battle, the loosening of Satan with a view to the nations—all these things will be reviewed before our vision once more before we get the vision of the New Jerusalem that is to come down out of heaven from God. But here we have nevertheless the picture of the end. For in the seven vials which the seven angels pour out the wrath of God is finished.
We must make no mistake as to the time element in these seven vials of wrath. If we do, we shall never be able to understand the whole. Especially must we warn you once more not to consider these seven vials as being strictly successive. It is not thus, that the first of these seven vials must be finished before the second is poured out, that the third must wait till the second has had its effect, the fourth for the fulfillment of the third, etc. Much rather must we conceive of these seven vials as being upon the earth at the same time, so that all their misery together finally combines into one great effect. It may be that the one precedes the other in its coming. And especially is it very well possible, nay, even probable, that the first four vials shall be witnessed before the others. But for the rest we may not refer them to seven different periods in the history of man and of the world. Nor must we, on the other hand, conceive of them as bearing no relation to one another. That is generally not the way in which God works in the history of the world; and that will not be the case in the period of the end. No, also at that time one thing will bring on the other till all the world is steeped in misery and pain and agony. The first four vials evidently belong together from this point of view, and they form one definite group. They are the plagues of God in nature. That they have a combined effect is very plain. The earth and the sea and the rivers and the fountains of water are poisoned with the wrath of God; and the sun is so inflamed by it that it scorches men with its heat. All these plagues together cause sickness and want, hunger and thirst and great suffering, so that they have their influence upon the kingdom of Antichrist. I conceive of these plagues as coming on gradually, and not all of a sudden, so that one moment man enjoys life and the other moment he is lost in the depth of misery. No, rather gradually they come. It shall hardly be noticeable perhaps that anything special is coming upon the world. But gradually the earth shall become more and more poisoned, the sea shall show itself more and more as a rotten pool, the fountains of water shall afford no more relief and refreshment, and the sun shall become more and more intolerably hot, so that it scorches men. Gradually the kingdom of Antichrist, which was such a glorious kingdom, shall lose control of its blessings. And gradually its downfall shall be prepared. And so I also imagine that during this period gradually the fifth vial shall be realized, which shall darken the kingdom of the beast.
We read that the fifth vial is poured out upon the throne of the beast. The beast here is evidently Antichrist. And the throne of the beast stands for the seat of his authority and power to rule. The throne is always a symbol of royal power and authority. The king on his throne issues the laws for his kingdom, executes judgment, and expresses sentences. The king on his throne is obeyed and honored by all his subjects. The king on his throne is the symbol of royal power. When a king is dethroned, he has lost his royal dominion. Thus it is here. Antichrist was enthroned by all the nations of the world. He had a great and glorious dominion. All the nations of the world bow down to him and acknowledge him. They willingly pay him homage. They admire him. They wonder after him. They glorify him. They worship him. People put their trust in him as they do in a god. They expect everything from him. They deem nothing too wonderful for him. They look upon him as their god. And everywhere they make images of him, and worship the image of the beast. The beast, therefore, had a glorious dominion. And it seemed indeed as if the last millennium of peace and bliss had come under his rule upon the world of man. He had control over all things—control over commerce and industry, control over science and art, control over philosophy and religion. And for all these different spheres he freely issued his laws. And those that refused to obey them he banished from the kingdom, made them social outlaws, so that they could occupy no position, find no job, could neither buy nor sell, were miserable and poor. That is implied in the throne, in the dominion and royal authority and power of the beast. But now the fifth vial is poured out upon that throne. And the result is, so our text tells us, that his dominion is darkened. There are some interpreters who have it that “dominion” here must be taken in the sense of territory, the kingdom as the territory over which the beast rules. And then the darkness is to be taken as a darkness in nature. But I do not think so. In the first place, this is little to be harmonized with the scorching heat of the sun, which shall continue, no doubt, also at this time. But besides, the entire contents of this fifth vial is against this interpretation. The meaning evidently is that the dominion of the beast is darkened, his glory wanes, his authority is questioned, his power ceases to be, his appearance ceases to inspire with awe and confidence. People and nations lose their trust in the beast. They used to worship him; they now begin to doubt his divinity. They used to shout, “Who can make war with the beast?” They now are not so sure of his unconquerable power and his unconquerable nature. They used to admire him. They now withhold their admiration. A sort of political unrest is noticeable in the dominion of the beast, so that the power of his kingdom is darkened.
This is, in the first place, in harmony with the correspondence between the fifth vial and the fifth trumpet. That trumpet spoke of the fierce locusts that rose out of the abyss, the result of which was a terrible, agonizing pessimism, so that men sought death and could not find it. The same is the case here. People had put all their trust in the antichristian kingdom and power. In that kingdom there was plenty and peace and blessing. And they deemed nothing too wonderful for Man to perform. They worshipped the beast and his image. They put their trust in him. But now they lose the object of their hope. They lose their god. The domain of the beast is darkened, and the nations gradually lose their trust in the only object of their hope. For years and years they had hoped for this kingdom. For years and years they had struggled for its establishment. And for a time it seemed possible to reach happiness and bliss without the God of heaven and without His Christ. But now all is vain. Also this hope they lose, but not in order to turn to the true God in repentance. No, they blaspheme the God of heaven. And therefore they are now without any object in which they can put their trust. They are now literally without God in the world. And hence, their despair, their complete hopelessness is coming on as the kingdom is darkened and the authority of what they looked upon as their god is questioned. They gnaw their tongues because of their trouble and their pain and their despair. And, in the second place, this is also entirely in harmony with the effect of the first four vials. As we have said before, the first four vials prepare the way for the last three. They constitute the plagues in nature that deprive the Antichrist and his kingdom of their material blessings. Instead of plenty and blessing there is now suffering and want and hunger and thirst and sickness. And since the people admired the beast especially because of the material blessings that were connected with his reign, it is but natural that his dominion gradually wanes as the plagues in nature become more and more severe. And therefore, the fifth plague brings disturbance over the reign of Antichrist. People are in despair and pain, partly because of the plagues in the nature, partly because they have lost and are losing their only god. And they blaspheme the God of heaven that hath power over these plagues.
Exactly to what extent this darkening of the throne of the beast will be and just what shall take place at that time is not told us. But clear it seems to be that the Christian nations, which, of course, are the antichristian nations proper, are affected first of all. Perhaps we must picture the relation thus, that in course of time one of the Christian, or civilized, nations has gained control and predominance over the other nations of the antichristian confederacy, so that there the throne of the beast, the government of the kingdom, is seated. Then it is possible that the rest of the civilized nations, especially under the influence of the plagues that come in the first four vials, rise against this throne of the beast and free themselves from Antichristian dominion, thus darkening the throne of the beast. In the future we shall read more about this. Now it is plain that the dominion of the antichristian kingdom has lost its hold, first of all, upon the nominally Christian nations, which are the nations of Antichrist proper. But it is not only these that are affected. On the contrary, there are still the other nations, the nations that live outside of the sphere of Christianity in its outward sense, the nations that live at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog. By these are meant all those nations that have never played a part in the history of the world, the millions and millions of Chinese and Japanese, and the inhabitants of India and Africa and Australia. Always they have lived outside of the pale of history proper, and never have they played any appreciable part in that history of the world. When we speak of the history of the world, we refer to the history of but very few nations. And since the coming of Christ, we refer to the nations that have come under the influence of Christianity. The only nations that might possibly form an exception in this respect are the Mohammedans. But for the rest, all the pagan world has had no part in the history of man and of the world. Also these nations have belonged to the antichristian kingdom outwardly. They have naturally somewhat shared in its prosperity, and have at the same time subjected themselves outwardly. But they never formed an integral part of the dominion, and on the whole they simply followed their pagan customs and religions. They lived in separation and isolation, more or less. But the time shall come, so Scripture tells us more than once, that also these nations shall take a definite stand and rise up against God Almighty and His Anointed for battle, in order that they and their gods may have dominion of the world. And that time has come with the sixth and seventh vials.
The sixth vial is poured out on the great river Euphrates, so the text tells us. Also here we may notice the correspondence between the sixth trumpet and the sixth vial. When the sixth trumpet sounded, the four angels that were bound at the great river Euphrates were liberated, and they gathered the army of monstrous warriors from the east to battle against the nations of Christendom. Then one-third of the men were killed. But now we have the sixth vial. And that sixth vial is poured out on the great river, the river Euphrates. But this time it is completely dried up, and that for the purpose that the way might be prepared for the kings that come from the sun-rising, or from the east. It is not necessary to explain again in detail what is the meaning of the great river Euphrates, since this was done in connection with the sixth trumpet.