Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #17)
There is a lot that will happen in the coming tribulation period, but the three separate waves of judgment that will strike the earth during those seven years will serve as some of the anchor events. The first wave of judgments is known as the Seal Judgments. The second wave is known as the Trumpet Judgments. The third wave is known as the Bowl Judgments. The first two waves will occur during the first half of the tribulation period, and the third one will occur during the last half. In my previous post, I covered the first four of the bowl judgments. With this post I’ll cover the remaining three.
Bowl Judgment #5 (Revelation 16:10-11): Darkness
The fifth angel poured out his bowl “on the throne of the beast (the Antichrist), and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain” (Revelation 16:10-11). The fifth bowl judgment is a bit different from the previous four in that it locally affects the Antichrist’s throne and kingdom rather than the entire world. While it’s true that at this point the whole world will, in a sense, be the Antichrist’s kingdom, he will have a specific throne and base territory from which he reigns.
There are three options that get bantered about as to where this throne will be. First, it might sit inside the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, in close proximity to the image the False Prophet will have erected. Second, it might sit someplace in the city of Rome, which presumably will be the headquarters for the Antichrist’s revived Roman empire. Third, it might sit somewhere in a rebuilt city of Babylon.
Since 2 Thessalonians 2:4 says the Antichrist will sit “as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God,” I tend to believe his actual throne will be in Jerusalem. This also makes sense in light of the fact that he wants to mimic or imitate Jesus and Jesus will reign from Jerusalem for the 1,000 years of His earthly reign. At any rate, wherever the exact location of the Antichrist’s throne is, that’s the immediate area that will be struck with supernatural darkness.
I take this darkness to be literal because God did this same thing to Egypt during the 9th of the 10 plagues. For three days, a thick darkness engulfed that land. This darkness was so thick that it could actually be “felt” (Exodus 10:21). The Egyptians couldn’t even see one another, which prompted all of them to stay inside their homes for the three days (Exodus 10:23). Miraculously, though, “all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings” in the Egyptian region of Goshen where they lived (Exodus 10:23). Interestingly, the fifth bowl judgment acts as the opposite to the ninth plague. While the world has light, darkness covers the immediate region of the headquarters of the Antichrist.
In a strange way, this supernatural darkness will at least offer those affected by it a relief from the scorching heat of the intensified sun of the fourth bowl judgment (Revelation 16:8-9). However, their pain won’t stop and it will be bad enough to cause them to “gnaw their tongues.” Have you ever chewed on your tongue to take your mind off the pain? I haven’t either, but it sounds gruesome.
But what kind of specific pain is John describing? Well, it doesn’t seem to be the result of the sores from the first bowl judgment. I say this because he speaks of the pain and the sores as two separate things in Revelation 16:11 when he says, “They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.” Could it be pain from being blistered by the intensified sun in the fourth bowl judgment? That’s certainly possible. Then again, perhaps the darkness itself will somehow involve physical pain in a way we can’t understand. We simply aren’t given all the details.
Bowl Judgment #6 (Revelation 16:12-16): The Euphrates River Dried Up
The sixth angel poured out his bowl “on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up” (Revelation 16:12). If you recall, the sixth trumpet judgment also involves the Euphrates river. I can’t imagine that’s a coincidence. During that sixth trumpet judgment, four powerful fallen angels (demons) will be released from their imprisonment at the Euphrates river. The old King James translation says these angels are “in” the river, but modern translations more accurately render the Greek as “at” the river. So now we learn that in the 6th bowl judgment the river itself will be dried up.
As we total up the effects of all the events of the tribulation period, it isn’t hard to see that the Euphrates river will have a rough seven years. First, there’s the distinct possibility that it will be affected by the third trumpet judgment in which that great star (called Wormwood) falls from heaven and somehow makes one-third of the earth’s rivers and springs bitter (Revelation 8:10). Second, it will no doubt be affected by the three-and-a-half years of drought that will accompany the ministries of God’s two witnesses (Revelation 11:6). Third, it will be turned to blood as a part of the third bowl judgment (Revelation 16:4). Fourth, much of its water will be lost due to the increased evaporation produced by the intensified sun of the fourth bowl judgment (Revelation 16:8-9). Finally, in the sixth bowl judgment the river will become a dry river bed.
John, for his part, doesn’t dwell on the details of how the river will be dried up. Instead, he emphasizes why it will be dried up. And what is that reason? He says, “so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared” (Revelation 16:12). In the Bible, all directions are given in relation to the land of Israel (most specifically to the city of Jerusalem). So, these kings from “the east” will be kings from countries east of Israel. If you look at a world map, you’ll see that the countries that lie immediately east of Israel are Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. To the far east are India, China, and Japan.
It’s no coincidence either that an army of 200 million is mentioned as a part of the sixth trumpet judgment. That army, which will be demonically inspired and energized by those four fallen angels that will be released from their binding at the Euphrates river, will march out in the first half of the tribulation period and slay “a third of mankind” (Revelation 9:16). The only nation on earth that has the population numbers to field an army of 200 million is China, but the reference is to “the kings (plural) of the east.” Obviously, an alliance army consisting of soldiers from China, India, Japan, and perhaps a few other countries such as Mongolia could add up to 200 million soldiers. This is why virtually all prophecy experts identify “the kings of the east” with these countries.
Historically speaking, the Euphrates river is the most important river in the world, even more important than Egypt’s Nile. The river that flowed through the garden of Eden became the heads of four other rivers once it exited Eden, and one of those rivers was the Euphrates. The flood plain of the Euphrates was the site of Babel, the first city built after the flood of Noah. Centuries later, Babylon, the capital city of the Babylonian empire, was built on the banks of the Euphrates river.
Perhaps the most historically significant thing about the Euphrates is the fact that in some strange way it has always served as a barrier that has kept the armies of China, India, Japan, and Mongolia from invading Israel and then marching either southwest toward Egypt or northwest toward Europe. While the river itself is certainly formidable – it’s 1,800 miles long, as much as 3,600 feet wide in places, and on average 30 feet deep – it’s not so formidable that it can’t be crossed. For some reason, though, the countries of the far east have never done it. I don’t want to speculate too much here, but I secretly wonder if those four fallen angels that are even now bound at the Euphrates have something to do with it all. That’s just a theory of mine, mind you. What isn’t in question is that the Euphrates will be dried up during the last half of the tribulation period, and this will allow the kings of the east unencumbered access into the holy land.
But why will those kings suddenly decide to break from the pattern of thousands of years of history and march toward Israel? They’ll do it because they will be convinced to do it by three persuasive demons who will work for the unholy trinity of the Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet (Revelation 16:13). In similar fashion to John describing the demons that came out of the bottomless pit as “locusts” (Revelation 9:1-12), he describes these demons as “like frogs.”
These three demons will go out to the kings of the whole world (including the kings of the east) and perform “signs” (miracles) that will convince the kings to send their armies to the holy land. What will these signs be? We aren’t told. Will the kings of the earth be able to see the demons or will the demons remain invisible and just whisper into the kings’ ears? We aren’t told. At the bottom line, though, the primary outcome of the sixth bowl judgment is that the kings of the earth, regardless of whether or not they will fully realize the ramifications of their actions, will send their armies to the battle of Armageddon that will end the tribulation period (Revelation 16:14,16).
The name “Armageddon” literally means “Mount Megiddo.” Mount Megiddo is located approximately 60 miles north of Jerusalem and its valley is one of the most natural battlefields in all the world. That valley is some 14 miles wide and twenty miles long. This is the site where human history as we know it will come to an end as Jesus will return to the earth, interject Himself into the battle of Armageddon, and put to death all those soldiers of all those armies from around the world (Revelation 16:15, Revelation 19:11-16).
Actually, despite whatever political or military goals the countries of the world will have in mind for their stake at Armageddon, Satan’s primary objective for having those millions of soldiers assembled there will be to attempt to prevent Jesus from setting up His 1,000 year kingdom on earth. That attempt, however, will be futile.
Bowl Judgment #7 (Revelation 16:17-21): The Worst Earthquake Ever
The seventh angel poured his bowl “into the air” (Revelation 16:17). This was followed by a loud voice in heaven saying, “It is done!” Following that there were “noises and thunderings and lightnings” (Revelation 16:18). Then “there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth” (Revelation 16:18). As a result of the earthquake, “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (Revelation 16:20. Furthermore, “the cities of the nations fell” (Revelation 16:19). One city – “the great city” – was divided into three parts.
In the first half of the tribulation period, a great earthquake will be part of the sixth seal judgment (Revelation 6:12). In the second half of the period, an even worse quake will be part of the seventh bowl judgment. The first quake will produce the effect of every island and every mountain being moved out of its place (Revelation 6:14). That’s mind boggling enough. But the second quake will produce the effect of every island fleeing away and the mountains disappearing (Revelation 16:20). I won’t even begin to guess what percentage of these descriptions is factual as opposed to exaggerated, but it’s undeniable that the events of the tribulation period will dramatically change the way planet earth looks. The mountains won’t look the same. The islands won’t look the same. The oceans won’t look the same. The rivers won’t look the same. The cities won’t look the same.
And exactly which city does John have in mind when he says in Revelation 16:19, “Now the great city was divided into three parts”? That little question is one of the more contested ones in the whole realm of prophecy. As was the case with the specific location of the Antichrist’s throne and kingdom, we have the same three options.
Option 1 is Jerusalem. Earlier, in Revelation 11:8, John calls Jerusalem “Sodom” and “Egypt,” which proves that he doesn’t mind calling a city by its symbolic name rather than its actual name. Furthermore, in that same verse he actually refers to Jerusalem as “the great city.” Option 2 is Rome. Since the Antichrist will rule over a revived Roman empire, it’s impossible not to think of the city of Rome as being a major world hub in the tribulation period. Also, in the same sentence in which John speaks of “the great city,” he goes on to talk about “great Babylon.” This is potentially significant because many students of prophecy interpret the “Babylon” of Revelation chapters 17 and 18 as Rome. Option 3 is Babylon. Just as John calls Jerusalem “the great city” in Revelation 11:8, he calls Babylon “that great city” in Revelation 14:8. If he’s not speaking of Babylon in symbolic terms when he really means Rome, then he must literally mean Babylon when he uses the name “Babylon.”
The problem with acquiring the correct answer from this sizable debate is that the debate itself is built off the foundation of another debate. That other debate stems from the question, “Will the literal city of Babylon ever be rebuilt?” Excellent commentators such as John Phillips, Henry Morris, J. Vernon McGee, and Clarence Larkin have contended that it will be, but other equally reputable commentators such as Harry Ironside have contended that it won’t be. All those who believe that Babylon will never again be rebuilt reference the prophecies of Jeremiah chapters 50 and 51 as their proof texts. Those who believe that it will be rebuilt and be prominent again in the tribulation period see those prophecies as having been only partially fulfilled with the ultimate fulfillment involving a future, rebuilt Babylon.
I myself lean toward the interpretation that Babylon will not be rebuilt and that Jerusalem is “the great city” that will get divided into three parts by the earthquake of the seventh bowl judgment. As I understand it, the earthquake will level all the cities of the world except Jerusalem, which will remain standing even though it will now be divided into three parts. It has to remain standing because Jesus will rule from His throne there during the 1,000 years of His earthly kingdom.
I will say, though, that if I live to see a time when Babylon is rebuilt before the Rapture, it won’t render everything I’ve ever believed and taught about prophecy null and void. If you know your history, you know that Iraq’s former president Saddam Hussein had actually made great strides toward building a new Babylon on the site of the ancient ruins before the 2003 invasion of Iraq and his eventual execution. Of course the fact that he was stopped before he could complete his plans might be taken as evidence that God is never going to allow Babylon to be rebuilt.
Lastly on the subject of the seventh bowl judgment, John tells us that as a part of it hailstones that weight a “talent” will fall (Revelation 16:21). A talent was a unit of measurement. A Greek talent equaled 56 pounds, and a Jewish talent equaled 114 pounds. How would you like to be struck by a ball of hail that weighed around 100 pounds? That could be deadly. One reaction to surviving such a hailstorm would be to cry out to God for mercy and believe in Jesus as your personal Savior. Sadly, though, that is not what the people decimated by the judgment will do. Much to the contrary, John says, “Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great.”
In closing, let me mention that it’s along about here that some people will start talking about how twenty-pound balls of hail have been known to fall after certain nuclear tests. From there you just a hop, a skip, and a jump from interpreting the shaking of the earth in the seventh bowl judgment as being the detonation of some kind of nuclear weapon. Do I understand why some people try to find nuclear warfare in The Revelation? Yes, I do. And if God wants to bring the events of the book to pass by allowing mankind to use such weapons, He’s not going to get scolded by me.
It should be understood, though, that God doesn’t need any help to produce the named catastrophes of the tribulation period. Have you ever read Joshua 10:11? That verse talks about how God reigned hailstones down upon a particular army that was fighting against Israel, and the verse says that more of those people died from the hailstones than died at the hands of Israel’s soldiers. That, you see, is the God of the Bible, and He doesn’t need help from anything that mankind has built to get His plans accomplished.