Revelation 16:12-15 – The Sixth Bowl

(12)  The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east.

    The sixth bowl carries the likeness of the sixth trumpet warning (9:14-21). The warning had affected “a third” of the people, and we can expect the pouring out of the bowl to complete the figure.

“The great river Euphrates.” The Euphrates is the iconic boundary that has long been the last hurdle to jump for ancient militia to invade Israel (also see comments on 9:14). The Euphrates is a figure for gentile armies invading Judea. Like so many inconsistencies, this figure of the Euphrates does not make sense for an interpretation that this book is about the fall of the empire in the fifth century. But someone will argue that this is a vision about spiritual Israel and the forces of the Roman persecutor coming against the figurative boundary of the people of God. That is interesting, but let’s not forget that it is an angel that is pouring out the wrath of God. The angel’s actions are to help the invading armies to pass through with ease and destroy. God is not against spiritual Israel, but he is certainly against physical Israel. The Euphrates is still a figure nonetheless, for it should not be understood that the Romans literally passed through the river to lay waste the old covenant people. There were in fact some troops which came by way of the Euphrates, but that is not the point of the symbol. Again, the river was the iconic spot where Assyria, and later Babylon, and others afterward would cross before wasting the land in destruction. The point is that the Romans and her allies are coming by the plan of God to accomplish his wrath upon the house of Israel.

“Its water was dried up.” The difficult boundary to cross has now become like any other plot of dry land. The Lord has made the provisions for the hosts to gather against Israel.

“To prepare the way for the kings from the east.” The symbolism continues. The history of the old covenant people is shrouded with kings from the east, especially Assyria and Babylon, who God raised up in order to judge and punish his people for their sins. This figure is used to reveal that God is once again bringing an idolatrous nation to accomplish his will against the wickedness of the Jewish nation.

(13)  And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs.

                   Connected to the events of the pouring out of the sixth bowl, we have the actions of the devil and the empire. We learned from verse twelve that God made the provisions that the devil is now seeing as a loose-end; however, it is not a loose-end at all. God had planned it all! But the devil does not know the mind of God.

                   “Out of the mouth of.” This statement is given three times in this verse, and is significant to the interpretation of the vision. For what comes out of the mouth but words! By words the devil and the idolatrous empire deceive the world into the depths of immorality.

                   “Three unclean spirits like frogs.” Their deceptions are symbolized as demonic spirits that traverse to corrupt individuals. They are also likened as frogs. Frogs were a torment to Egypt in the second plague (Exodus 8), which proceeded from the Nile river. In a similar picture, these torturous people will proceed from the figurative river of verse twelve and deceive many others to follow them into the destruction of many people. Little do they know that this is God’s way of fulfilling the old covenant promises.

“They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the LORD your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 28:52).

(14)  For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.

                   The devil and his followers (the idolatrous empire) see the figurative opening in the Euphrates and begin to rally the troops to finally put an end to the old covenant people.

                   “Assemble them for battle.” This is what many call the battle of Armageddon. Armageddon is a historic location in Israel, a site well known for the victory of God, not the devil and his deceived people. It is a reoccurring theme in the book that the devil never wins; even here, when it looks like he is accomplishing something, only God’s will is fulfilled.

                   “On the great day of God.” Otherwise known as “the day of the Lord” in other scriptures. This is a day of judgment; God’s judgment. It is not about the devil or the empire, this is about Christ. The Lord is judging his old covenant people.

(15)  (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”)

                   Verse fourteen is followed with the famous words of Christ, that he comes as a thief in the night. This statement is in connection to the “great day of God the Almighty.” This is all judgment language. Christ is coming to Judge; but we ought not jump out of context here. This is referring to the day of judgment for the nation of Israel in the first century. There is no harmony in the text if we view this judgment as any thing else, or at any other time in history.

                   “Coming like a thief!” Jesus said this to the church in Sardis too (3:3), but it is not a new idea, Jesus spoke of it in the context of his discussion of the destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew 24:42-43; likewise it is used by both Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:2-5) and Peter (2 Peter 3:10). It is important to recognize that the Lord comes as a thief to those who are deceived and not waiting for him. He never comes as a thief to those who are watching for him. Recall how the Lord told Sardis, “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief (3:3). Do you see the condition? If they would not wake up, then his coming would be like a thief to them; therefore, if they were awake, then they would not be surprised at his coming. Paul made the same point, saying “you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.” (1 Thessalonians 5:4). Paul expected the church to not be surprised by the judgment of Christ against the house of Israel, and so did Peter, John, and Jesus.

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