Chapter XVI

Seven Plagues Devastate the Earth

Verse 1 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. 2 And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshiped his image.

This chapter is a description of the seven vials of the unmingled wrath of God, and the effects that follow as they are poured upon the earth. Our first inquiries are, What is the true position of these points? Are they symbolical and mostly fulfilled in the past? Or are they literal, and all future?

Time of the Plagues.--The description of the first plague clearly reveals at one the time when it shall fall upon the earth, for it is poured out upon those who have the mark of the beast, and who worship his image--the very work against which the third angels warns us. This is conclusive proof that these judgments are not poured out until after this angel closes his work, and that the class who hear his warning and reject it, are the ones to receive the first drops from the overflowing vials of God's indignation. If these plagues are in the past, the image of the beast and his worship are in the past. If these are past, the two-horned beast, which makes this image, and all his work, are in the past. If these are past, then the third angel's message, which warns us in reference to this work, is in the past; and if this is ages in the past, then the first and second messages which precede it were also ages in the past. Then the prophetic periods, on which the messages are based, especially the 2300 days, ended ages ago. If this is so, the seventy weeks of Daniel are thrown wholly into the Jewish period, and the great proof of the Messiahship of Christ is destroyed. But it has been shown in remarks on Revelation 7, 13, 14, that the first and second messages have been given in our own day; that the third is now in process of accomplishment; that the two-horned beast has come upon the stage of action, and is preparing to do the work assigned; and that the formation of the image and the enforcement of the worship are just in the future. Unless all these positions can be overthrown, the seven last plagues must also be assigned wholly to the future.

But there are other reasons for locating them in the future and not in the past.

Under the fifth plague, men blaspheme God because of their sores, the same sores, of course, caused by the outpouring of the first plague. This shows that these plagues all fall upon one and the same generation of men, some being, no doubt swept off by each one, yet some surviving through the terrible scenes of them all.

These plagues are the wine of God's wrath without mixture, threatened by the third angel. (Revelation 14: 10; 15: 1.) Such language cannot be applied to any judgments visited upon the earth while Christ pleads with His Father in behalf of our fallen race. Therefore we must locate them in the future, when probation shall have closed.

Another and more definite testimony on the beginning and duration of these plagues is found in the these words: "The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from His power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled." Revelation 15: 8. The temple here introduced is evidently that which is mentioned in Revelation 11: 19: "The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament." In other words, we have before us the heavenly sanctuary. When the seven angels with the seven golden vials receive their commission, the temple is filled with smoke from the glory of God, and no being can enter into the temple, or sanctuary, until the angels have fulfilled their work. There will therefore be no ministration in the sanctuary during this time. Consequently, these vials are not poured out until the close of the ministration in the tabernacle above, but immediately follow that event. Christ is then no longer a mediator. Mercy, which has long stayed the hand of vengeance, pleads no more. The servants of God are all sealed. What could then be expected but that the storm of vengeance should fall, and earth be swept with the besom of destruction?

Since the time of these judgments places them in the very near future, treasured up against the day of wrath, we proceed to inquire, into their nature, and the result when the solemn and fearful mandate goes forth from the temple to the seven angels saying, "Go you ways, and pour our the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth." Here we are called to look into the "armory" of the Lord, and behold the "weapons of His indignation." Jeremiah 50: 25. Here are brought forth the treasures of hail, which have been reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war. (Job 38: 22, 23.)

The First Plague.--"The first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beat, and upon them which worshiped his image." (See also Zechariah 14: 12.)

There is no apparent reason why this should not be regarded as strictly literal. These plagues are almost identical with those which God inflicted upon the Egyptians as He was about to deliver His people from the yoke of bondage, the reality of which is seldom, if ever, called in question. God is now about to reward His people with their final deliverance and redemption, and His judgments will be manifested in a manner no less literal and terrible. What the sore here threatened is, we are not informed. Perhaps it may be similar to the parallel plague which fell upon Egypt. (Exodus 9: 8-11.)

Verse 3 And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.

The Second Plague.--A more infectious and deadly substance can scarcely be conceived of than the blood of a dead man; and the thought that the great bodies of water on the earth, which are doubtless meant by the term sea, will be changed to such a state under this plague, presents a fearful picture. We have here the remarkable fact that the term living soul is applied to irrational animals, the fish and living creatures of the sea. This is, we believe, the only instance of such an application in the Authorized Version. In the original languages, however, it occurs frequently, showing that the term as applied to man in the beginning (Genesis 2: 7) cannot be taken as furnishing any evidence that he is endowed with an immaterial and immortal essence called the soul.

Verse 4 And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because Thou hast judged thus. 6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. 7 And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments.

The Third Plague.--Such is the description of the terrible retribution for the "blood of saints" shed by violent hands, visited upon those who have done so, or wish to do, such deeds. Though the horrors of that hour when the fountains and rivers of water shall be like blood, cannot now be realized, the justice of God will stand vindicated, and His judgments approved. Even the angels are heard exclaiming, "Thou are righteous, O Lord, . . . because Thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets. . . . Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments."

It may be asked how the last generation of the wicked can be said to have shed the blood of saints and prophets, since the last generation of saints are not slain. Reference to Matthew 23: 34, 35; 1 John 3: 15, will explain. These scriptures show that guilt attaches to motive no less than to action.

No generation ever formed a more determined purpose to devote the saints to indiscriminate slaughter than the present generation will, not far in the future. (See comments on Revelation 12: 17; 13: 15.) In motive and purpose, they do shed the blood of saints and prophets, and are every whit as guilty as if they were able to carry out their wicked intentions.

It would seem that none of the human family could long survive a continuance of a plague so terrible as this. It must therefore be limited in its duration, as was the similar one on Egypt. (Exodus 7: 17-21, 25.)

Verse 8 And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. 9 And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give Him glory.

The Fourth Plague.--It is worthy of notice that every succeeding plague tends to augment the calamity of the previous ones and to heighten the anguish of the guilty sufferers. We have now a noisome and grievous sore preying upon men, inflaming their blood, and pouring its feverish influence through their veins. In addition to this, they have only blood to allay their burning thirst. As if to crown all, power is given unto the sun, and it pours upon them a flood of fire, and they are scorched with great heat. Here, as the records runs, their woe first seeks utterance in fearful blasphemy.

Verse 10 And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, 11 And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.

The Fifth Plague.--An important fact is established by this testimony. The plagues do not at once destroy all their victims, for some who were at first smitten with sores, are still living under the fifth vial, and gnawing their tongues for pain. An illustration of this vial will be found in Exodus 10: 21-23. It is poured upon the seat of the beast, the papacy. The seat of the beast is wherever the papal see is located, which has thus far, and without doubt will continue to be, the city of Rome. "His kingdom" probably embraces all those who are ecclesiastical subjects of the pope wherever they may be.

As those who place the plagues in the past have the first five already wholly accomplished, we here pause a moment to inquire where in past ages the judgments here threatened have been fulfilled. Can judgments so terrible be inflicted, and nobody know it? If not, where is the history of the fulfillment? When did a noisome and grievous sore fall upon a specified and extensive part of mankind? When did the sea become as the blood of a dead man, and every living soul in it die? When did the fountains and rivers become blood, and people have blood to drink? When did the sun so scorch men with fire as to extort from them curses and blasphemy? When did the subjects of the beast gnaw their tongues for pain, and at the same time blaspheme God on account of their sores? In these plagues, says Inspiration, is filled up the wrath of God, but if they can be fulfilled and nobody know it, who shall henceforth consider His wrath so terrible a thing, or shrink from His judgments when they are threatened?



Verse 17 And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. 18 And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. 19 And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. 21 And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

The Seventh Plague.--Thus has Inspiration described the last judgment which is to be inflicted in the present state of the earth upon those who are incorrigibly rebellious against God. Some of the plagues are local in their application, but this one is poured out into the air. The atmosphere envelops the whole earth, and it follows that this plague will envelop equally the habitable globe. It will be universal. The very air will be deadly.

The gathering of the nations has taken place under the sixth vial, and the battle remains to be fought under the seventh. Here are brought to view the instrumentalities with which God will slay the wicked. At this time it may be said, "The Lord hath opened His armory, and hath brought forth the weapons of His indignation." Jeremiah 50: 25.

The Scripture declares, "There were voices." Above all will be heard the voice of God. "The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shall shake; but the Lord will be the hope of His people, and the strength of the children of Israel." Joel 3: 16. (See also Jeremiah 25: 30; Hebrews 12: 26.) The voice of God will cause the great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth.

"Thunders and lightnings"--another allusion to the judgments of Egypt. (See Exodus 9: 23.) The great city is divided into three parts: that is, the three grand divisions of the false and apostate religions of the world (the great city), paganism, Roman Catholicism, and apostate Protestantism, seem to be set apart each to receive its appropriate doom. The cities of the nations fall; universal desolation spreads over the earth; every island flees away, and the mountains are not found. Thus great Babylon comes in remembrance before God. read her judgments as more fully described in Revelation 18.

"A great hail out of heaven, falling upon men," is the last instrumentality used in the infliction of punishment upon the wicked--the bitter dregs of the seventh vial. God has solemnly addressed the wicked, saying, "Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place." Isaiah 28: 17. (See also Isaiah 30: 30.) The Lord asks Job if he has seen the treasures of hail, which He as "reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war." Job 28: 22, 23.

Every hailstone is said to be "about the weight of a talent." According to various authorities, a talent as a weight is about fifty-seven pounds avoirdupois. What could withstand the force of stones of such an enormous weight falling from heaven? But mankind, at this time, will have no shelter. The cities have fallen in a mighty earthquake, the islands have fled away, and the mountains are not found. Again the wicked give vent to their woe in blasphemy, for the plague of the hail is "exceeding great."

Some faint idea of the terrible effect of such a disaster as is here predicted, may be inferred from the following sketch of a hailstorm on the Bosphorus, by Commodore Porter:

"We had got perhaps a mile and a half on our way, when a cloud rising in the west gave indications of an approaching rain. In a few minutes we discovered something falling from the heavens with a heavy splash, and of a whitish appearance. I could not conceive what it was, but observing some fulls near, I supposed it to be them darting for fish, but soon after discovered that they were large balls of ice falling. Immediately we heard a sound like rumbling thunder, or ten thousand carriages rolling furiously over the pavement. The whole Bosphorus was in a foam, as though heaven's artillery had been discharged upon us and our frail machine. Our fate seemed inevitable; our umbrellas were raised to protect us, but the lumps of ice stripped them to ribbons. We fortunately had a bullock's hide in the boat, under which we crawled, and saved ourselves from further injury. One man of three oarsmen had his hand literally smashed; another was much injured in the shoulder; Mr. H. received a severe blow in the leg; my right hand was somewhat disabled, and all more or less injured. . . .

"It was the most awful and terrific scene that I ever witnessed, and God forbid that I should be ever exposed to such another! Balls of ice as large as my two fists fell into the boas, some of them came with such violence as certainly to have broken an arm or leg had they struck us in those parts. One of them struck the blade of an oar, and split it. The scene lasted, maybe five minutes; but it was five minutes of the most awful felling that I ever experienced. When it passed over, we found the surrounding hills covered with masses of ice, I cannot call it hail, the trees stripped of their leaves and limbs, and everything looking desolate. . . .

"The scene was awful beyond all description. I have witnessed repeated earthquakes; the lightning has played, as it were, about my head; and wind roared, and the waves have at one moment thrown me to the sky, and the next have sunk me into the deep abyss. I have been in action, and have seen death and destruction around me in every shape of horror; but I never before had the feeling of awe which seized upon me on this occasion, and still haunts, and I fear will ever haunt me. . . . My porter, the boldest of my family, who had ventured an instant from the door, had been knocked down by a hailstone, and had they not dragged him in by the heels, would have been battered to death. . . .Two boatmen were killed in the upper part of the village, and I have heard of broken bones in abundance. . . . Imagine to yourself, however, the heavens suddenly frozen over, and as suddenly broken to pieces in irregular masses, of from half a pound to a pound weight, and precipitated to the earth." [9]

Reader, if such were the desolating effects of a hailstorm of ice, which discharged stones double the size of a man's fist, weighing at most a pound or so, who can depict the consequences of that coming storm in which "every stone" will be more than fifty pounds in weight? As surely as God's word is truth, He is thus soon to punish a guilty world. May it be ours, according to the promise, to have "sure dwellings" and "quiet resting places" in that terrific hour. Isaiah 32: 18, 19.

"There came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done!" Thus all is finished. The cup of human guilt has been filled up. The last soul has availed itself of the plan of salvation. The books are closed. The number of the saved is completed. The final period is placed to this world's history. The vials of God's wrath are poured out upon a corrupt generation. The wicked have drunk them to the dregs, and sunk into the realm of death for a thousand years. Reader, where do you wish to be found after that great decision?

But what is the condition of the saints while the "overflowing scourge" is passing over? They are the special subjects of God's protection, without whose notice not a sparrow falls to the ground. Many are the promises which come crowding in to afford them comfort, summarily contained in the beautiful and expressive language of the psalmist:

"I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God; in Him will I trust. Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou has made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall plague come nigh they dwelling." Psalm 91: 2-10.

[1] Lyman Abbot and T. J. Conant, A Dictionary of Religious Knowledge, pp. 326, 372, art. "Esdraelon."

[2] George Cormack, Egypt in Asia, p. 83.

[3] J. B. Firth, "The Partition of Asia," The Fortnightly Review, May, 1915, p. 795

[4] H. Huntington Powers, The Things Men Fight For, pp. 74, 77.

[5] J. Ellis Barker, The Great Problems of British Statesmanship, p. 55.

[6] New York Journal and American, January 17, 1938, p. 2.

[7] Sir Edward Grey. London Times. November 28, 1911, p. 13.

[8] Ramsay MacDonald, quoted in "Disarmament Labour Party's Motion," London Times, July 24, 1923, p. 7.

[9] David Porter, Constantinople and Its Environs, Vol. I, pp. 44-47.