Revelation 15-16: The Vials

Revelation 15‑16  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 12
There have been brought before us, in chapters 12 and 13, the fearful outburst and rebellion against God that will take place under Satan and his instruments in the sphere of the Roman Empire, during the three and a half years that will precede the coming of Christ to put all enemies under His feet and establish His kingdom.
We have further learned that during this time God will secure a people for the kingdom of Christ, announce the everlasting gospel to the nations, and deal in judgment with the wicked.
Now we are to learn in chapters 15 and 16 further details of the special judgments that will fall upon both the Eastern and Western spheres of the kingdom in which the beasts will exercise their dominion.
These judgments are referred to as “the seven last plagues” that will precede the appearing of Christ, and we are told that “in them is filled up the wrath of God.”
Before we hear of the judgments that will come upon those who wear the mark of the beast, and worship his image, we are assured of the blessing of those who will get the victory over the beast and his image. In the vision John sees these saints standing on a sea of glass, mingled with fire, having the harps of God. Does this not set forth in symbolic language that these saints have passed through fiery trial and reached a scene of fixed purity, where there will be no more fear of defilement, and where sorrow will give place to songs of joy and praise? They are seen as having been delivered from “the seven last plagues,” even, as of old, Israel was delivered from the plagues that fell upon the Egyptians. As that deliverance called forth from Moses a song of praise, so, again, this future deliverance will be followed by a similar burst of praise, that will ascribe their deliverance to the great and marvelous works of the Lord God Almighty, who is just and true in all His ways, and the “King of nations” (JND). Under the influence of the two beasts, led by Satan, the world will rise in rebellion against God and the Lamb. These saints who have gotten the victory over the beast will sing the song of the Lamb by which they delight to own that the Lamb that was slain is worthy “to receive power and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:1212Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. (Revelation 5:12)), and they foresee that the time has come when all nations shall worship before God; for, at last, His judgments are no longer, as hitherto, of a providential character, but they are “made manifest.”
Having learned the blessing of those who get the victory over the beast, we at once see that the way is opened for judgment upon those who have the mark of the beast. By the symbols used, are we not to learn that these final judgments, before Christ comes, will not only deal with the evil of the nations, but will also be a testimony to the holiness of God's dwelling place, for the angels that are used to execute these judgments come forth from “the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven?” In witness to, and in suitability with, the holiness of God's temple, the angels are “clothed in pure and white linen,” and, as becoming those who are about to execute judgment, their affections are held in by a golden girdle that speaks of the righteousness of God.
Directly the angels come forth, “the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from His power,” and during the time of these judgments “no man was able to enter into the temple.” May this not set forth that when God is acting in judgment there will, in this solemn time, be neither worship nor intercession in His presence?
The wrath of God expressed by the first vial is poured out upon “the earth” which signifies people under a settled government. The reference to the beast suggests that this will be the sphere of the revived Roman Empire. This judgment afflicts the men who have the mark of the beast, and worship his image, with “a noisome and grievous sore.” This would seem to symbolize some terrible fretting trouble that on the one hand will fill the minds of those who submit to the tyranny of the beast which takes away all liberty in buying or selling; and, on the other hand, will plunge them into misery through having thrown off all fear of God. Whether in the world, or amongst God's people, the principle remains true that to seek our own gratification, by doing our own will, only leads to sorrow. What we sow in the gratification of the flesh we reap in misery of mind.
In contrast to the first vial which is poured out upon the earth, the second vial is poured “upon the sea.” Does this not represent the world in a state of unrest? May it not be that the bondage and tyranny of the beast will turn an orderly people into a restless people? This worship of the beast, and the restless condition involved, will lead to a judgment that signifies moral death or separation from God of “every living soul” who falls under this awful apostasy.
The third angel pours out his vial upon “the rivers and fountains of waters.” As a symbol a river is used in Scripture to set forth a source of life and blessing, whether temporal or spiritual. We read of “rivers of living water” and the “river of water of life” (John 7:3838He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38); Rev. 22:11And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. (Revelation 22:1)). The river becoming blood would seem to signify that all the springs of thought which form men's lives will become vitiated, and instead of leading to life and happiness, will lead to misery and moral death.
The angel justifies God in His righteous judgment. It is just, that those who have shed the blood of saints and prophets, who have testified to the truth, should themselves drink of the cup of death—and that in its most terrible form as everlasting separation from God—seeing they have poisoned men's minds with error. Men may be mighty and, for a time, be allowed to show the evil of their hearts in persecuting God's people, but the Lord God is Almighty and, in His own time, will avenge the blood of His people. The allusion to the martyrdom of saints would again show that these judgments are specially directed against the kingdom of the beast.
The fourth angel pours out his vial upon the sun. As a figure, the sun speaks of supreme authority. May this not refer to the reign of the beast who in this solemn time will hold the supreme power of a dictator? Under this ruthless power men will be deprived of all liberty, and like one scorched with fire, all power of resistance destroyed. Alas I instead of repenting of their idolatry, and giving God the glory that alone is His, they will blaspheme the name of God who they will realize has power over these plagues.
The fifth vial is poured out on the seat or “throne of the beast” with the result that his kingdom becomes full of darkness. This surely speaks of the spiritual darkness that must result in a kingdom ruled over by one that derives his power from Satan. Men are reduced to gnawing misery, but, alas I in spite of their pains and sores they neither turn to God nor repent of their deeds.
The sixth vial is poured out on “the great river Euphrates.” This river has ever been the Eastern boundary of the Roman Empire. The river being dried up would symbolize that the barrier that keeps the Eastern and Western nations from intermingling will be removed.
The way of the kings of the East being prepared would suggest that all the evil superstitions of the East will be allowed to overflow the West. Moreover, the three unclean frogs from the trinity of evil represented by the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, working miracles, would imply that the Eastern nations will be corrupted by the leaders in the West. In result “the kings of the earth and of the whole world,” having mutually corrupted one another, will gather together in united opposition to God, the Almighty. Men may think, at this awful juncture of the world's history, that the East and the West have joined for their own glory and to bring in a new order according to their own wills. They will little realize that they are being gathered together by the devil to oppose God.
A word of encouragement and warning is given to those who, in this terrible time, fear God. Such are reminded that if the whole world is united under the devil in opposition to God, yet God, through the coming of Christ, will unexpectedly intervene in judgment upon the world, for His coming will be as a thief. But if His coming will be unexpected judgment for the world, it will bring blessing for those who are watching, and who walk in separation from the world as set forth by keeping their garments clean. The reference to Armageddon carries us in thought to Megiddo of the Old Testament, where, in the days of the Judges, the nations, gathered together against God's people, found that God was against them in judgment, as we read, “They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera” (Judg. 5:19-2019The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money. 20They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. (Judges 5:19‑20)). When God sends out His “everlasting gospel” to every nation to gather a people for the kingdom of Christ, the dragon, the beast, and the Antichrist will combine to gather “the kings of the earth and the whole world” to fight against God the Almighty, only to meet overwhelming judgment at the hands of the Almighty.
With the outpouring of the seventh vial the judgment of the nations will reach its solemn climax as we learn from the great voice from heaven and from the throne of judgment, which proclaims, “It is done.”
This final judgment falls upon “the air” setting forth surely that the very life-breath of man is affected by an upheaval, set forth by a “mighty earthquake” which will so affect the whole of society that it will be impossible for family, social, or political existence to continue. It will break up the power of Rome—“the great city”—as indeed all the powers of the world, set forth by “the cities of the nations.” But above all, that corrupt religious system, symbolized by “great Babylon,” that through the ages has opposed God and His people, will come into remembrance before God and will have to drink of the cup of the fierceness of His wrath. All earthly refuges will fail to hide men from the storm of judgment for “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.” There will be no escape from the hurricane of judgment that is likened to a mighty hailstorm. Alas! instead of confessing that their sins have brought down this storm of judgment, men will blaspheme God as being the author of all their troubles.
As we read of these terrible judgments that will fall upon the sphere of Christendom, how solemn to realize that in the very portion of the world in which our lot is cast, and which for centuries has enjoyed the outward privileges of Christianity and where the grace of God in the gospel has been proclaimed, there the great apostasy will develop and there the wrath of God as expressed in these vials will be poured out.