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Bible Study: The Book of the Revelation – LESSON 14

Calvary Bible Church Bible Study

The Book of the Revelation


LESSON 14:  The Seven Vial Judgments, 15:1 – 16:21

The chapters now under consideration form a unit that follows logically after chapter 11, giving the third series of the judgments of God.  Undoubtedly, the vial judgments take place in the Great Tribulation in its last stages. The implication seems to be that they will transpire in a very brief period of time. They will be both rapid and severe.  Also, since they cover the entire earth, the Rapture of the Church must have taken place before the vials begin, since the redeemed are not subject to the wrath of God.


Vrs     15:1              In 10:7 it was stated that the mystery of God was finished, but no details were given. They are now seen in chapters 15–16. To introduce these fearful judgments called plagues, John is shown a sign in heaven (cf. 12:1, 3), which is characterized as great and marvelous. The concept of greatness is here, because in scope and intensity there has been nothing previous to this to compare with them. The idea of marvel is introduced, because the inflictions will excite amazement and wonder. These plagues are marked as last, because in them the wrath of God is fully spent upon ungodly mankind.

Vrs     2–4               Before judgment falls, John saw a group of victors with harps of God. They are the ones mentioned in 14:2–3. Why the reference to a sea of glass?   Note from your Symbolism Chart that “sea” refers to an endless expanse, while “glass” refers to purity: thus we see the endlessness of God’s purity.   The theme of their harp playing is the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb (Exodus 15:1–18). What do these songs have in common? They both celebrate redemption and deliverance. In the first case, it was God’s physical release of Israel from Egyptian slavery through the Passover Lamb; here it is liberation spiritually from the bondage of Satan and his agents through “Christ our Passover” (1st Corinthians 5:7). In their singing they recount and praise God’s great and marvelous works, His righteousness and truth, His sovereignty over the nations, His holiness, and ultimate reception of universal worship through the disclosure of His righteous dealings.

Vrs     5–8               In order to underscore the holiness of God in His righteous judgments on sinful man, John is granted a view of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven. Ready to perform their duties, the seven angels proceed from the temple fully equipped for their tasks.    Notice how all that is seen is gold, an emblem of the holiness and righteousness of God (for example, the cherubim of gold over the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies). One of the four living creatures presents the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God.  The word “vials” of the KJV (derived from the Greek “phialeµ”) is too weak to convey the idea that the receptacles were bowls, like those used for pouring drink offerings in the Old Testament. (Zechariah 12:2 where the translation “cup” is inadequate; “bowl” is intended from the Hebrew word employed.)   Two attributes of God are now underscored: His power and His glory. Where God’s glory is manifested, man is unable to abide the sight. So it was with Moses (Exodus 40:34–35) and in Solomon’s day (1st Kings 8:10–11).

Vrs     16:1              For a comparison of these plagues to other Biblical judgments, see those recorded of Egypt in Exodus 7:20–12:30. The great voice out of the temple is evidently that of God who authorizes the fearful final pouring out of His wrath on all nature and man. Notice throughout the chapter how the ultimate objects of the visitations are men (see verses 2–3, 8–11, 14, 21). Moreover, the increased intensity and range of the plagues are easily seen in this final series of God’s dealings in judgment with ungodly men.  In previous judgments it was common to learn that the inflictions touched a third part of the earth; the areas were limited. But no such restriction is recorded concerning the vial judgments. There is an unmistakable finality about all the transactions. The pouring out indicates an overflowing measure without stint or reserve.


Vrs     2                  “The first went … and there fell a noisome and grievous sore.”   The first visitation reminds us at once of the sixth plague in Egypt (Ex 9:10–11). The contents of this vial were loathsome, unsightly, and malignant (cancerous) sores, which afflicted all men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.   Physical ulcers will outwardly reveal their inner corrupt moral and spiritual condition. Since no symbolism is indicated, the plague must be considered as literal as the judgment on Egypt of old.


Vrs     3                  Every living soul died in the sea. Under the second trumpet (8:8) only a third of the sea was involved; here the picture is of the whole sea.  Water, a source for the sustenance of life, is here made an agent of death. So it was with the water of Egypt in the first plague of Exodus 7:17–25.  All marine life dies immediately. Coagulated blood is death-dealing and emits an unbearable stench.  Some literalist commentators see this as being some form of “Red Tide”, which is a marine plague of bacteria that causes the water to turn reddish-colored, and which binds up the oxygen in the water, so that the fish cannot breathe, and thus they die.


Vrs     4                  “The rivers and fountains of waters … became blood.”  Again, the similarity with the plagues of Egypt is undeniable (Exodus 7:19–21).  In 8:10–11, under the third trumpet, only a third of the waters was involved; here, there is no limitation whatever. Water, an indispensable commodity for life, is once more the object of God’s judgment, as in verse 3.


Vrs     5–7               It is interesting that so many subjects in the Apocalypse have their special angel. The angel of the waters has authority over this area of nature, and the judgment strikes his sphere of rule.  But he justifies the judgment of God.  God is as righteous in judgment as He is in blessing. Because men have heedlessly poured out the blood of God’s servants, He operates on the principle of what the Latins termed “lex talionis”, the law of recompense in kind.  It is attested to in numerous portions of Scripture. They deserved exactly the visitation God brought on them.


Vrs     8–9               With the fourth trumpet judgment (8:12) the sun was darkened, along with the moon and the stars; but only a third part of them was affected.   Now, only the sun is touched, but in a totally different way. Instead of the sun being darkened, its rays were heightened in heat to scorch men with fire. The sun, the source of such blessing and essential to plant and animate life on earth, is now a medium of God’s wrath. “They repented not to give him glory.”  Three times in this awesome chapter (verses. 9, 11, 21), it is declared that men reacted to their punishments with blasphemy against God and not with repentance. These judgments are not “remedial” or corrective in effect (that is, to teach a lesson and turn men to repentance), but they reveal the corruption of those undergoing them all the more.  The judgments are punitive; the dwellers on earth WILL NOT REPENT.   Men who will not be drawn by God’s love will not be taught by His wrath, either.


Vrs     10–11           The fifth vial judgment is poured out upon the seat of the beast.    The seat of the beast (evidently, the first one of chapter 13) is his “capital city” (seen by most commentators as Rome or Jerusalem).  This plague is God’s unequivocal answer to the insolent question of 13:4 (“Who can make war with him?).  The darkness is another allusion to the plague of darkness in Egypt (Exodus 10:21–23).  “Gnawed their tongues for pain” is the only expression of its kind in the Bible and speaks of the most intense agony and suffering. There is no repentance, but rather a further degradation. In verse 9 the name of God was blasphemed; here He Himself is cursed.   Is there any question as to whether there will be repentance in hell?


Vrs     12                The great river Euphrates. This important river has been introduced earlier in connection with the sixth trumpet judgment.   The river is 1,800 miles long, from 3 to 1,200 yards wide, from ten to thirty feet deep.  History records what a hindrance the river has been to military operations, because of the difficulty in crossing it.   Reminding one of the drying up of the Red Sea, this river will be dried up to allow passage of evil military forces into the Middle East area for the final conflict. The kings of the east referred to (Greek “apo anatoleµseµliou”, lit., from the sunrising) could be any forces from the eastern part of the “Middle East” or possibly from the Asiatic lands like China, Japan, and the nations of the “Far East”.


Vrs     13–14           Verses 13–16 are evidently an important portion of what transpires at the pouring out of the sixth vial.   When verses 12 and 14 are compared, the conclusion that the action of the first verse is related to that of the second as cause and effect is compelling.  Notice the evil trio—dragon, beast (13:1), and false prophet (13:11)—are out in full force, ready for mortal combat for the final consummation. All three are characterized by the same uncleanness and corruption. The three unclean spirits are not said to be frogs, but like frogs. They are further explained as spirits of devils working miracles, but of such magnitude and convincing quality that they are capable of motivating and energizing, not only the kings of the Far East but the kings of the earth and of the whole world.  What is the objective of this vast enterprise?  Simply stated, it is the summoning of all of them to the War of Armageddon, the battle of that great day of God Almighty. The mind can scarcely imagine or understand the scene and its vast implications for the world of mankind (1st Kings 22:19–38; Psalm 2:1–3; Joel 3:9–11; Matthew 24:24–25; 1st Timothy 4:1).

Vrs     15                Before a concluding word about this horrific conflict, the Spirit indicates a parenthetical item in verse 15.   It is Christ speaking and declaring that He will come as a thief.   Remember that the phrase “come as a thief in the night”, and the reference to “keepeth his garments”, refers to the coming of the High Priest into the Temple in the morning to see if the priest he had left on duty during the night had kept the altar-fire burning.  If the priest had fallen asleep and had let the fire go out, the High Priest would light the offending priests garments on fire, and would make him walk to his home clad only in his undergarments, which would truly shame him.


Vrs     16                “And he gathered them together.”  There is no question that this verse carries on the thought of verse 14, because the same verb (Greek “sunagoµ”, to gather together) is found in both texts.   “A place called … Armageddon.”  The additional information of verse 16 is that the place of the conflict is named in Hebrew, Har-Megiddo.  The conflict has been foretold in various passages in the Old and New Testament (for example, Ps 2:1–3), but now the geographical location is added.  The more popular name is Armageddon (the Greek noun has a rough-breathing equivalent to the letter H).  Har is a well-known common noun for “mountain.”  Megiddo comes from a verb, meaning “to slaughter” (Hebrew “gadad”; its basic concept is to cut off). The site was the great battleground of the Old Testament.   It was the place of the victory of Deborah and Barak (Judges 5:19); Josiah met his death before Pharaoh Nechoh in the Valley of Megiddo (2nd Chronicles 35:22–24).   Megiddo is the mountain overlooking the Valley of Esdraelon (Greek for Jezreel), the great plain in the northern part of Israel.  Napoleon is credited with having said of Megiddo: “What an excellent place into which all the armies of the world could be maneuvered.”


Vrs     17                When the seventh vial is poured out, it is into the air.  This is the domain of Satan as “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).   The voice from heaven utters one word (Greek “Gegonen”, It is done, with strong emphasis), which declares that all God’s plagues have thus been exhausted.  By contrast, the word of the Lord Jesus on Calvary (Greek “Tetelestai”, “It is finished” in John 19:30) has all the blessedness of a finished redemption for sinful men.


Vrs     18                Since all judgments are completed with this vial plague, it is valid to see the remaining chapters concerning God’s visitations (chapters 17–19) as summarized here.   When the seventh vial has done its intended work, all judgment to be given prior to the Millennial Reign will have been accomplished.    An earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, occurs. It is characterized by the words great (twice) and mighty. Its scope is unlimited.


Vrs     19                “The cities of the nations fell.”   This is the second mention of judgment on great Babylon (see 14:8). It is remarkable in that two chapters (17–18) are occupied at length with Babylon and her fate. In chapters 14 and 16 the city is described as great; the same is true of the portrayal in the following chapters.  If the great city is other than Babylon, whose identity will be dealt with at length in he following two chapters, why is Babylon introduced here without further introduction?   Also, the catastrophe will strike not only Babylon the Great, but the great cities of the nations.

Vrs     20–21           There will be a shifting and upheaval in the island and mountainous areas of the entire world.   Whether or not these changes are to be directly related to the earthquake mentioned in verse 18 is not specifically stated, although I believe we can safely assume so.   “And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven.” Hailstones have already been mentioned in the Revelation, but not like those that are indicated here. Their magnitude and severity are emphasized.  Each hailstone weighed approximately one hundred pounds.  It takes little imagination to picture the destruction these would cause to houses and structures and, most agonizing of all, upon human beings.   Does man understand the depth of his alienation from God and earnestly seek to be reconciled to his Judge?   The more severe the judgment, the greater the blasphemy.