Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.CHAPTER 16
The great voice commands the seven angels to go on their way and to empty the bowls upon the earth (Ps. 49:24). And these vials of judgments affect not only the Roman Empire, but the entire world, for the whole world is guilty before God. The first vial poured out produces a grievous sore upon the worshipers of the beast. While it is undoubtedly true that we have symbols also in these vial judgments, it is nevertheless possible that some of these plagues may have, besides the symbolical, also a literal meaning. The sixth plague which came upon Egypt, the first judgment upon the persons of the Egyptians, was also a sore (Exodus 9:10-11). The worshipers of the beast and of the image will be dreadfully afflicted.
This is poured out into the sea. The sea represents the Gentiles. These will now experience the wrath of God. See the plague in Egypt (Exodus 7:17-25). That was a literal thing; but not so here. Some apply it to the continued carnage which will be one of the leading features of the final history of the times of the Gentiles. That it presents a state of the most unspeakable corruption and spiritual death is obvious.
Another scene in which the blood is prominent. The apostates denied the blood, sneered at it as the Unitarians and Christian Scientists do in our own days, and now the angel of the waters saith, “Thou has given them blood to drink, for they are worthy.” They have to feel the dreadful results of having rejected the Christ of God and accepted the man of sin. The children of Israel had to taste their own idolatry when Moses put the ashes of the burnt golden calf in the water and made them drink it (Exodus 32:20). They have to taste the vileness and bitterness of their apostasy. They reap what they sow. All the joys of life typified by rivers and fountains of water, are poisoned and corrupted. It is a retributive judgment of God falling upon the earth.
The fourth vial is poured into the sun and men are scorched with great heat. Some also apply this literally, but the symbolical meaning is to be preferred. There can be no doubt that the powers of nature will also bear witness to the wrath of God. Famines, droughts, great floods, volcanic disturbances, great and widespread earthquakes and other physical phenomena will occur throughout these days of tribulation. However, the sun here is not the physical sun, but means, as under the fourth trumpet, the supreme authority governing them (the Roman empire). Under the fourth trumpet great moral darkness came upon all; here it is fearful, fiery agony “scorched with great heat.” The government, Satan-ruled as it is, becomes now the source of the most awful torment to those who are under its dominion. God, in judgment and in His wrath, permits those terrible things to come to pass. Everything under these vial judgments will become more aggravated than under the trumpet judgment.
Under the fifth trumpet we saw the star fallen from heaven. It synchronizes with Revelation 12:7-12 - Satan cast out of heaven. Then Satan fallen from heaven gave his power and authority to the beast, the head of the empire. Here the throne (not seat) of the beast is dealt with. His throne and his kingdom are deluged with wrath. All becomes darkness.
Once more the river Euphrates is mentioned. It dries up when the sixth bowl is poured out so that the way of the kings of the east (literal: from the rising of the sun) might be prepared. We have hinted before at the correspondence between the trumpet judgments and the pouring out of the vials. This now becomes very marked, for under the sixth trumpet the river Euphrates is also mentioned. There the forces which keep back hostile powers are removed and here the river is dried up.
As already stated the Euphrates was the boundary of the Roman empire and the land of Israel. It is a kind of barrier which separates the west from the east. This barrier symbolized by the river Euphrates is now completely removed, so that the kings from the sunrise can invade the land. This invasion is also seen in connection with the sixth trumpet. The nations must gather from all quarters in and about Palestine. We find much of this revealed in the Old Testament and it would be strange if the Revelation were silent on so important an event. Ezekiel describes a great invader, a confederacy of nations (Ezekiel 38:1-23; Ezekiel 39:1-29). Gog, Magog, the Prince of Rosh (Russia), Meshech, Tubal, Persia, Cush and Put are mentioned as forming this confederacy. The term “Kings of the sunrise” may even mean the far Eastern Asiatic nations, like China and Japan. The drying up of the Euphrates seems therefore to mean the removal of the barrier, so that the predicted gathering of the nations may take place (Joel 3:2). What began under the sixth trumpet is consummated when the sixth vial is poured out. It is an act of judgment-wrath, while at the same time these opposing nations are gathering for the great day of God Almighty.
Just as we had a parenthetical vision between the sixth and seventh seal, and between the sixth and seventh trumpet, so we find here a very brief one between the sixth and seventh vial judgments. Armageddon is not yet, but it now comes in view. Unclean spirits, like frogs, creatures of the slimy, evil-smelling swamps and of the night, now proceed out of the mouth of the trinity of evil. The dragon is Satan; the beast, the political head of the empire, and the false prophet, the Antichrist. Satanic influences, emanating from him and his two master-pieces are then at work; and they are of such a nature that we cannot fully understand them. They are the spirits of demons, working miracles.
The seventh angel pours his vial into the air. This is Satan’s sphere. His power and dominion are now dealt with in wrath. While Satan was cast out of heaven, he may still maintain part of the atmosphere immediately above the earth, thus upholding his claim as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). A great voice declares “It is done.” All that follows shows that the climax is reached. The judgment shown is sweeping everything. A great earthquake as under the sixth seal and the seventh trumpet takes place. The great city Babylon is divided into three parts; the cities of the nations fall. It is the hour of collapse, when the stone from above does its smiting work (Daniel 2:1-49). “It is done!” The Lord has come. The nineteenth chapter will furnish us the particulars.