The Messianic Judgments, 6:1-16:21
4. The judgment of the seven bowls, 15:5-16:21
iii] The outpouring of the fifth and sixth bowlsSynopsis
John continues with his vision of the judgment of the seven bowls. In the fifth judgment he sees the bowl of God's wrath poured out on the throne of the beast. Darkness covers the earth and the people of the earth (presumably those who carry the mark of the beast) are covered with painful sores. Even so, they refuse to repent. The sixth judgment follows with the Euphrates river drying up, so giving free access into Palestine for the kings of the East. John then sees three evils spirits setting out to gather the kings of the earth for the final battle against God and the Lamb at Armageddon. In the face of this terrible day, Jesus encourages the redeemed with the announcement of his coming and their need to stay awake.
The kingdom of God is at hand; those who persevere in faith will be blessed.
i] Context: See 15:5-8.
ii] Background: See 1:1-8.
iii] Structure: The outpouring of the fifth and sixth bowls:
The judgment of the seven bowls:
The outpouring of the fifth bowl, v10-11;
The outpouring of the sixth bowl, v12;
The Euphrates river dries up.
The three evil spirits call for war, v13-16;
A word from Christ, v15;
The kings gather at Armageddon, v16.
The unfolding judgment of the bowls has devastated the associates of the beast, but now the beast itself starts to feel the full force of the judgment, but even so, its associates refuse to repent. As Blount puts it, the divine agent "goes exclusively after the cause of the oppression, blasphemy and idolatry, the throne of the beast from the sea." The "throne" is representative of the beast and its powerful reign on earth, as against the heavenly throne and the powerful reign of God. "The beast's rule is targeted and about to be put to an end", Blount. With the angelic assault upon the beast / Babylon / the secular city, its citizens are thrust into anguish and gloom, cf., the fifth trumpet, 9:1-6, Ex.10:22-23.
The next judgment is interesting in that it alludes to an invasion of Palestine from the kings of the East, with an implied assault on Jerusalem itself. Palestine was usually invaded from the South or North, along the fertile crescent, with the desert to the east serving as a buffer, but here John describes the barrier as the river Euphrates, a barrier now removed for the secular powers in the East to move against God's people. The implication is that God is removing the final barrier, so making the task of the enemy of God's people easier. It's as if God removes the final restraints on the children of darkness, giving them over to their self-destructive ways. Of course, John is developing apocalyptic imagery here, ie., the Euphrates river and the kings of the East are symbolic. As the judgment progresses, the associates of the beast don't just refuse to repent, but they are allowed to join together with the forces of darkness to rage against the Lamb and his associates.
The idea that God's enemies grow more frantic as the day draws near is developed in an interlude covering v13-16. John develops the image of three evil spirits from Satan, the beast and the false prophet. John describes them as "demonic spirits" who are able to "perform signs" and bring together the nations in a final assault on God in the battle at Armageddon. These "demonic spirits" are best understood as secular / religious ideas, philosophies, supported by signs and wonders, which unify humanity against God and the Lamb, the redeemed and the gospel. We witnessed samples of this horror as Communism took hold in China and Russia.
The Christian community, confronted by this final amalgamation of evil, is given a word of encouragement, v15. It is obviously intended from Christ, although this is unstated. In the day of darkness, know that Christ is coming unannounced and that those who persevere in faith will stand blessed before him.
The Battle of Armageddon: This battle is the culmination of the words of the Psalmist, "The kings of the earth stand ready, and princes conspire together against the Lord and his anointed king." Armageddon represents the final throw of the dice by Satan and his allies. In the terms of realized eschatology, it has already taken place on the cross with Satan's seeming victory over the messiah turned on its head; Christ has won the victory and now rules in power and glory. In the terms of inaugurated eschatology, Armageddon, Satan's final solution, still lies in the future, while at the same time bleeding into the present (ie., "while the consummation of the warfare is likely to take place in history, the conflict between good and evil, justice and injustice, is meantime always to be found in progress", Smalley). The Battle of Armageddon is a symbolic metaphor representing the final rebellion of the powers of darkness against God. Armageddon "is basically a mythical formulation which represents the apocalyptic and universal mountain where hostile forces, assembled by the agents of Satan, will come together to wage war at the end against God and his people", Smalley, so also Hendriksen, Aune, ... See Osborne, and also Mounce, for the many alternative interpretations offered for the battle of Armageddon.
The subject makes for a great sermon, but sadly it can often end up with armies of planes, tanks and guns attacking Jerusalem and the Jewish State of Israel. In this scenario, the Jews then become the goodies and the Arabs the badies, when Middle Eastern politics is far more complex with good and evil on both sides (and the Palestinians like pawns in the middle!). Armageddon has nothing to do with the secular state of Israel; it is a metaphorical depiction of the battle of good against evil, rather than the State of modern Israel battling with invaders from the East. Most scholars see no evidence that the modern state of Israel has anything to do with Biblical prophecy; it is a secular entity like any other State and should be judged accordingly.
As the day of judgment draws near, we taste something of its gloom settling over the secular city, with society determined to crush the environment with overpopulation, the wasteful use of limited resources, and pollution. And even though these are signs of our end, few repent and believe.
I am reminded of my skin doctor who commented about skin cancer being a parasitoid that kills its host. To his mind, it seemed strange that a parasitoid would evolve to kill its host, and by so doing, kill itself. I suggested that it tells us something about the nature and extent of sin. I also observed that the human race, now affected by sin, was like a parasitoid killing its host, namely the world - overpopulation, environmental degradation, etc. Our exchange was but a moment of philosophical speculation engaged in while he was slicing a skin cancer out of my leg. I guess I could have gone on about God having acted to excise sin from the human race, but I was somewhat traumatized by the size of the hole he had created.
Text - 16:10
The outpouring of the fifth and sixth bowls, v10-16: i] The outpouring of the fifth bowl - darkness, v10-11. In the fifth judgment the angel goes after the cause of all the problems, Babylon itself. For John, in his day, all the images of Rome would fill his mind; for us, it all depends on our political perspective! The judgment results in an ongoing gloom. A literal darkness is unlikely (contra Mounce); John is using another metaphor for the Great Day of the Lord.
epi + acc. "[poured out his bowl] on" - [and the fifth angel poured out the bowl of him] on. John clearly uses the spacial preposition epi + gen. to mean "on, upon", but when he uses it + acc. a sense like "over" may be in his mind. Either way, the difference is unimportant.
tou qhriou (oV) gen. "[the throne] of the beast" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive.
kai "and" - A consecutive sense is possible here; "so that, with the result that ....."
askotwmenh (skotow) perf. mid./pas. part. "was plunged into darkness" - [the kingdom of it became] darkened. Most translations, inc. NIV, treat the participle with egeneto, "became", as a periphrastic construction, although we would expect an imperf. verb to-be for a periphrastic pluperfect; "his kingdom became darkened." Although somewhat awkward, the participle does stand in agreement with "the kingdom", so it may be better classified as a predicate adjective, "was darkened; see Wallace who argues that especially perfect passive participles in the Revelation better fit this classification, #90, p649. Given John's constant verbal use of participles one suspects a periphrastic classification is better, but it is unwise to argue against the master! Mathewson classifies it as a predicate adjective, and Osborne as an attributive adjective (although I suspect that's a typo). Beale doesn't go there, as usual - say no more! However we classify the construction, John does seem to be emphasizing durative aspect; "the beast's kingdom was shrouded in darkness", Cassirer.
ek + gen. "in [agony]" - [and they were biting the tongues of them] from = because of [the pain]. Here the preposition, expressing source / origin, "from the source of the pain", takes on an adverbial function, causal, "they were biting .... because of the pain", but possibly modal, expressing manner, as NIV, "its people began biting their tongues in pain", CEV.
tou ouranou (oV) gen. "[the God] of heaven" - [and they blasphemed the god] of heaven. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, idiomatic, probably best local, "the God who dwells in heaven", but Mathewson also suggests subordination, "the God who rules over heaven."
ek + gen. "because of [their pains]" - from [the pains of them and] from [the sores of them]. The preposition seems to express a causal sense here, "because", as in v10.
kai "but" - and. Here adversative, as NIV.
ek + gen. "[they refused to repent] of [what they had done]" - [and they did not repent] from [the works of them]. Again John uses the construction metenohsan ek, "repent from", the preposition expressing separation, "away from", and the verb metanoew meaning "to change one's mind or direction, to turn around", the ek (sometimes apo elsewhere in the NT), "from", indicating "with respect to what", here "their deeds" = their failure to acknowledge the lordship of God, so Boring, although Smalley includes their "idolatry, murder, magic arts, immorality and theft", cf. 2:20-22.
ii] The outpouring of the sixth bowl - the Euphrates river dries up, v12. This judgment aligns with the sixth judgment of the trumpets. In the sixth judgment of the trumpets, a deadly cavalry is set loose from the Euphrates river, now the river drives up giving complete access to an invading army of kings from the Orient - the dogs of war are let loose.
ton Eufrathn (hV ou) "the Euphrates" - [and the sixth angel poured out the bowl of him on (epi, poss. "over") the great river] the euphrates. Standing in apposition to "the great river."
iJna + subj. "to [prepare the the way]" - [and the water of it was dried up] that [the way might be prepared]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that ...."; "so that the way might be free for the coming kings from the East", Cassirer.
twn basilewn (euV ewV) gen. "for the kings" - [the way] of the kings. The genitive is obviously adjectival, possibly possessive, "the highway of (belonging to) the kings", Berkeley, or better idiomatic, eg., "the way that the kings travel, Mathewson; "the Euphrates river was dried up in order to prepare / make ready a roadway which would allow the kings from the East to invade." The genitive may be adverbial, consecutive, expressing result, although again elliptical, "resulting in the invasion of the kings from the East." The vast majority of translations simply state "for the kings from the East."
twn gen. art. "-" - the. The article serves as an adjectivizer turning the prepositional phrase "from the east" into an attributive adjective limiting "the king"; "the kings which come from the rising of the sun / east."
apo + gen. "from [the East]" - from [sunrise of sun = east]. Expressing source / origin. Aune classifies the genitive "of sun" as verbal, subjective. The Euphrates was a natural border for the Roman Empire, separating the Empire from the Parthians, a feared opponent. The Parthians tended to fight on horseback and the Roman military always had problems getting the better of their heavy cavalry. John may be drawing on this national fear to shape this and the following verses. He may even be alluding to the myth that a resurrected Nero (Nero redivivus) would lead an army from the East against Rome, see Beasley-Murray. Daniel refers to an invasion from the East, Dan.11:44, and so John may be drawing on this idea. John is probably identifying the source of the invasion (ie., the Orient) rather than the direction of the invasion. When it comes to direction, it is always North, or South, along the fertile crescent. Swete thinks John may be alluding to the invasion of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian who diverted the Euphrates river, exposing the city to attack. "From the Orient."
iii] The three evil spirits call for war, v13-16. Alluding to the plague of frogs in Egypt at the time of the Exodus, John describes the activity of a trinity of evil powers interacting with the "kings" to bring them together for a final assault on the kingdom of God. These dark powers emerge from the red dragon, the beast and the false prophet (probably the beast from the land). John's apocalyptic imagery is again metaphorical, painting another picture of "the Great Day of God Almighty", the day of judgment.
kai eidon "then I saw" - and i saw. The direct object is "three unclean spirits" modified by the comparative "as frogs." Indicating a step in the narrative, serving to introduce what presents like an interlude. It's relation to the sixth judgment is not overly clear. Smalley argues that the passage expands the content of the sixth judgment, with the three evil spirits released on the pouring out of the sixth bowl.
wJV "[impure spirits] that looked like [frogs]" - [and i saw come from the mouth of the dragon and from the mouth of the beast and from the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits] like [frogs]. Comparative.
ek + gen. "they came out of" - from. Expressing source / origin. The preposition is used to introduce three prepositional phrases indicating the three places where the three unclean spirits come from.
tou drakontoV (wn ontoV) gen. "[the mouth] of the dragon" - As with "the beast" and "the false prophet", the genitive is adjectival, possessive.
tou yeudoprofhtou (hV ou) gen. "the false prophet" - This is the first mention of "the false prophet" in Revelation ("the minister for propaganda", Bruce) - he is probably the beast from the earth referred to in 13:11, cf., 19:20, 20:10 (the ideology of the secular city), so Smalley, Osborne, Beale. The other two players are the red dragon (the seven headed monster, Satan), and the beast from the sea (the political power of the secular city), 13:1-8. The beast from the land / the false prophet leads the people to worship the beast from the sea, 13:12. Both believers and unbelievers are subject to the deception of the antiChrist, 13:11-17. There have been numerous attempts at aligning the false prophet with some particular person. Indeed, there will always be false prophets, but this "beast" markets his wares throughout the whole of corrupt human society - education, the media, the sciences, ..... The false prophet is the sum of everything and everyone that promotes an ideology which stands in contradiction to the revealed will of God.
"They are diabolical spirits performing wonders and they set out to muster all the kings of the world for battle on the great day of God, the Almighty", Phillips.
gar "-" - for. More reason than cause; "an explicit interpretation of the unclean spirits and frogs", Beale.
daimoniwn (on) gen. "demonic [spirits]" - [they are spirits] of demons. The NIV takes the genitive as adjectival, attributive, limiting "spirits", but it could also be epexegetic, "spirits who are demons", Osborne.
poiounta (poiew) pres. part. "that perform signs" - The NIV has taken the participle as adjectival, attributive, limiting "spirits"; "who have the power to work miracles." These "signs" are miraculous deeds that purport to demonstrate divine power", Koester.
a} pro. "-" - which [go forth to]. The pronoun serves to introduce a relative clause. Most translations assume that the antecedent is "spirits", but it may be "signs"; it is the miraculous signs which go forth and lead the kings astray, prompting them to take on the Lord. Maybe in the sense of a hcoV, "a report" - the signs and wonders performed by the dark powers "went out" to the kings, ie., they heard about the wondrous signs and acted accordingly. See Mathewson, Aune. Note in typical form the neuter plural a} takes a singular verb, hereekporeuetai, "go forth / go out."
oikoumenhV (h) gen. "[the kings] of the [whole] world" - The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / subordination; "the kings who rule over the whole world."
sunagagein (sunagw) aor. inf. "to gather [them]" - to gather, bring together [them]. The infinitive is adverbial, final, expressing purpose; "in order to rally them."
eiV + acc. "for [the battle]" - to [the war]. Here adverbial, expressing end view / goal / purpose. The article ton with "war, battle" may specify "the battle", ie., the battle referred to in the prophets where the nations join in a final confrontation with God and his people, Ezk.38:1-6, etc.
thV hJmeraV (a) gen. "on the [great] day" - of the [great] day. The NIV has opted for an adjectival genitive, idiomatic / temporal; "which will take place on the great day of God Almighty."
tou qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - of the god. The genitive is adjectival, possessive.
tou pantokratoroV (wr oroV) gen. "almighty" - Standing in apposition to "God".
a) A word from Christ, v15. This rather abrupt intrusion serves as a parenthetical word of exhortation from the exalted Christ warning "the faithful of the need for spiritual vigilance as they await his final appearing", Smalley, so also Sweet.
wJV "[I come] like [a thief]" - [behold, i am coming] as, like [a thief]. Comparative; "Remember what Christ said; When I come I will surprise you like a thief", CEV. This image of Christ's coming is usually understood as illustrating an unexpected coming, although Koester argues for "the suddenness of his coming", so also Blount. A home break-in and robbery is unexpected rather than sudden, so best be prepared, so Osborne, Smalley, ...., cf., Matt.24:33, 1Thess.5:2-4, 1Pet.3:10.
oJ grhgorwn (grhrogew) pres. part. "the one who stays awake" - [blessed is the one watching, being alert, staying awake [and keeping on the garments of him]. The participle, as with thrwn, "keeping", serves as a substantive. "To watch and keep one's garments is to refuse to concede to the idolatrous demands of beast-worship (3:4-5) in the face of the pressure of the final attack", Beale.
iJna mh + subj. "so as to not [go naked]" - that not / lest [he may walk naked]. The NIV has taken the construction as final, expressing negated purpose, but possibly consecutive, expressing result, "with the result that .....", even epexegetic, specifying the blessing, namely, not found naked and exposed.
blepwsin (blepw) pres. subj. "be shamefully exposed" - [and] they may see [the shame of him]. Whereas "he may walk" is singular, this verb is plural. The NIV has taken the plural, without an identified subject, for a passive; see Mathewson. "That he may not go about naked and be seen exposed", ESV. In Australia we have a colloquial phrase for being caught-out; "A blessing rests on the person who is alert and ready for action and not caught with their pants down" = shamed - exposed as associates of the beast rather than the Lamb. In Australia, this phrase is not used in polite company (eg., from a pulpit!) given its attendant connotations.
b) The kings gather at Armageddon, v16. See above.
kai "then" - and. Possibly indicating a step in the narrative, a function elsewhere in the NT performed by de. Yet, it seems likely that this verse is part of the sixth judgment so the kai is best viewed as resumptive, following on from Christ's parenthetical word of encouragement. "So they mustered the kings to the place called in Hebrew Armageddon", Barclay.
sunhgagen (sunagw) aor. "they gathered [the kings] together" - he = they gathered [them]. Typical form, a singular verb following a neuter plural. The implied subject "they" is either the evil spirits or the signs; see v14. The antecedent of autouV, "them", is obviously "the kings", as NIV.
ton kaloumenon pres. mid./pas. part. "called [Armageddon]" - [into the place] being called [in hebrew harmagedon]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "place"; "the place that is called in Hebrew Armageddon", ESV. We may have expected a translation of "Harmagedon", but in typical apocalyptic style John leaves us guessing. In Hebrew the word means "the mount of Megiddo", although there is no mount of Megiddo. There is a city called Megiddo located in the valley of Jezreel, and over the years it has witnessed numerous confrontations between Israel and her enemies, but it is no mountain. Osborne thinks it means "mount of assembly", cf., Isa.14:13. Beckwith argues that John is alluding to Ezekiel 38:8-21, and that he adds "Megiddo" as a reminder of the many times Israel defeated her enemies there. Koester suggests that "Megiddo" links with Zechariah 12:11 on the basis of spelling, indicating that the name "anticipates God's final victory over hostile nations." So, we may well have the linking of two prophetic prophecies in one apocalyptic metaphor.