Revelation 16:12-21: When All Hell Breaks Loose

12] Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared.  13] And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.  14] For they are the spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

15] “Behold, I am coming as a thief.  Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

16] And they gathered them together to the place called in the Hebrew, Armageddon.

17] Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”  18] And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.  19] Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell.  And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.  20] Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.  21] And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent.  Men blasphemed because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great

Perhaps the title sounds unusual, perhaps a little excessive, or even profane.  Sometimes the expression in it is used when some catastrophe or violence breaks out somewhere on earth.  It means something is really terrible.

In this case, however, it isn’t profane, but an expression of a solemn reality – hell will really break loose in one final attempt to defeat the purpose of God.  It will be “terrible” beyond anything this world has experienced.

There are two parts to this vision:

1. The Deception, vs. 12-16.
2. The Determination, vs. 17-21.

1. The Deception, vs. 12-16.

We’ve already been introduced to the dragon, the beast and the false prophet.  For more than three years, they’ve pretty much had the run of things, even though the dragon, that is, Satan, knows his time is running out, 12:12, hence the increased wickedness and violence.  Now, in this last few weeks, what turns out to be the final act begins.

For most of its existence, and certainly its recent existence, Israel has been the object of scorn and hatred.  Though it’s ancient history to a lot of people today, WWII was a nearly successful attempt to wipe out Jewry.  Though some today deny any such thing as the Holocaust, the times just after the war was over and the terrible pictures of emaciated men, little more than skeletons in skin, liberated from the death camps, or the piles of corpses found in those camps, the bodies of those murdered by the Nazis say otherwise.  Yes, it was real.

This will be far beyond that.

Satan hates God, and has tried to thwart Him at every turn.  He tried in the Garden of Eden.  He tried with Abraham.  He tried in Egypt.  He tried in the wilderness wanderings and after Israel entered the land.  He tried when our Lord walked the dusty roads of Palestine.  Even that very name – Palestine, a name given to the land by her enemies – is a denial of Israel and her claim to that land, a claim still vigorously and sometimes violently disputed.

At the beginning of our verses we’re told that the River Euphrates will be dried up so that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.  The longest river in that part of the world, the Euphrates has long stood as a barrier between Western Asia and the West.  Further, it is vital to the economy of the region, several nations being dependent on it for irrigation or hydroelectric energy.

Who are “the kings of the east”?  Older commentators understood them to be from China, with her teeming millions, or from other countries in the Far East.   That may be, but there are “teeming millions” much closer – in Syria and other nearby countries.  Because of overpopulation and overuse, the water table in many of these countries has dropped, in some cases severely, and the Euphrates itself has been affected to some degree, as its sources of water begin to dry up or are closed off with dams.  It may be more than Wiley the poet in the comic strip B. C. can understand, but there’s been more than one war started over water.  This may be the last one.  (And that no doubt by now obscure cultural reference may tell how old I am.  Oh, well.)

But there’s more.  And it’s not really a joking matter, though my sense of humor often gets in the way.  We read that the sixth angel will pour out his bowl over the River and what may have begun by natural and environmental forces will be finished all at once and the River will be gone.

This will open the door for much easier access into the Levant as, not only from the east but the kings of the earth and of the whole world, will gather for an onslaught against Jerusalem.  This will turn out to be Satan’s last attempt to destroy Israel.  We see his minions energizing the beast and the false prophet as no doubt they urge this invasion once and for all to settle “the Jewish problem,” v. 13.  I want to point out once more the Scripture mentioning that these demons perform “signs,” v. 14.  If he can’t get folks to deny the Word outright, then he’ll draw their attention to counterfeit things like “signs and miracles.”

But it isn’t just Satan and his minions and his subjects.  It isn’t just political maneuvering or racial hatred.  In Zechariah 14:2, the Lord God says, I will gather all nations to battle against Jerusalem,” emphasis added.  We never want to get the idea that somehow God is outside all this, or that He’s caught by surprise or unprepared for the doings of sinful men.  While I don’t want to get into the discussion over “free will” and God’s sovereignty, let me simply say that God is quite able to work His will in the context of His own creation.  This last battle is simply His preparation for the return of His Son.

There are other Scriptures which weigh in on this.  For example, Isaiah 66:16 says,

For by fire and by His sword
The LORD will judge all flesh;
And the slain of the LORD shall be many.

And further,

At His wrath the earth will tremble,
And the nations will not be able to endure
His indignation,
Jeremiah 10:6.

See also Ezekiel 39:17-20.

It’s interesting that in the midst of this description of one of the worst times in human history, the Lord Jesus interjects a promise, “Behold, I come as a thief,” Revelation 16:15.  But there’s also a warning:  “Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

I don’t know how this last part will play out, but it’s a solemn warning not to get so caught up in current events or in trying to decipher “the signs of the times,” that we forget our personal responsibility to live holy lives, lives looking for more than the transient things of this world.  See also 1 John 2:28.  Satan will not have the final word, no matter how desperate things seem to get.

2. The Determination, vs. 17-21.

The seventh angel pours out his bowl of wrath in the climactic act of judgment in Revelation.  These judgments include a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth, v. 18.  This is the last of several earthquakes recorded in Revelation, and is likely the one associated with the physical return of our Lord as recorded in Zechariah 14:

And in that day His feet will stand on the
Mount of Olives,

Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in
two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the
north
And half of it toward the south.
…All the land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon in the south, Zechariah 14:4, 10.

By the way, this will more than make room for the temple and its environs spoken of in Ezekiel 40-45.

Isaiah 24:20 says, the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard.  With the physical and geological catastrophes ravaging this poor planet, we can certainly see why!

Revelation 16:19 refers to the judgment of the great city, identified a little later in the verse as great Babylon.  Since more than two chapters are devoted to the destruction of this city, we’ll save further comments until later.  The “chronology” of the book skips from 16:21 to 19:11.  The portion in between is explanatory, the “director’s cut,” the idea that inspired the title for this series.

Verses 20, 21 continue the description of the judgment of the seventh bowl.  Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.  These catastrophes are accompanied by great hail from heaven, with hailstones weighing from 75 to 100 pounds each.

None of this moves men toward God, but further away.  They continue to blaspheme, to curse, not to repent.  It is the “great day of His wrath.”

Paul referred to the time of the beast in 2 Thessalonians 2:9,10:  the coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved, emphasis added.

You see, we’re not saved by faith in “signs,” but by faith in the Son, His perfect life and death, what He did for sinners on the Cross, taking their place and enduring the wrath of God against their sin.  They, and they alone, are saved.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

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