All preliminaries being now arranged, the seven angels receive their commission by a "great voice out of the temple." It is the "voice of the Lord, full of majesty." (Ps. xxix. 4.)—As the seals and trumpets were not coincident, but successive, so it is doubtless with the vials. No two begin to be poured out at the same time. One follows another in orderly succession.
Several questions of difficult solution, arise in the minds of devout and humble students of the Apocalypse, respecting the series of the vials. Are the vials cotemporary with the trumpets? Seeing that the seventh seal included all the trumpets, does analogy require that all the vials be comprehended under the seventh or last trumpet? Or, do the seven vials come under the last three trumpets, distinguished as they are by the character of woe—trumpets? (ch. viii. 13.) Other questions may here be propounded; but these seem to be the most obvious and important, in fixing the time of the events predicted.
The breaking of the seventh seal unquestionably laid open the whole of the book, including all the trumpets and vials,—all future events till the end of the world; but it does not follow, for instance, that the awful scene of the final judgment is to be cotemporary with any of the trumpets, (ch. xx. 11, 12.) The seventh seal, therefore, discloses important events, which are to come to pass subsequently to both trumpets and vials. The fact that both trumpets and vials are disclosed by the opening of the last seal, admits of their being cotemporaneous. From the striking resemblance between the effects of the trumpets and those of the vials, (ch. viii. 7—12; xvi. 2—12,) they might seem to be cotemporary. This, however, is not the case, for the objects of the judgments are different, that of the trumpets being more formally the civil empire, while that of the vials is the ecclesiastical empire; each, however, greatly affecting the other, because of their unholy union against the cause of Christ. Perhaps it may be most consonant to the mind of the Spirit to View the vials as agreeing in time with the three woe, trumpets. Keeping in view the definite period of Antichrist's domination in church and state, 1260 years, and the probability of its drawing to a close, the remaining part would seem too short for the period of the vials. As the series of the vials, like those which in vision preceded them, is successive, the application of them all to the French Revolution is simply preposterous.[So Mr. Faber imagined.] That event answered not to the symbol either in extent or duration. Nor indeed is there satisfactory evidence in the actual condition of the Christian world, notwithstanding the fond imagination of learned and good men, that the voice of the seventh angel has yet been heard by Christendom.
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.
V. 1.—"Earth" has here the usual meaning,— the whole territory and population of the Roman empire, those only and always exempted, who are true to the cause of Immanuel. The angels of destruction cannot hurt those who are under the protection of his blood. (Exod. xii. 23.) They may not "come near any man upon whom is the mark." (Ezek. ix. 6; Rev. xiv. 1.)
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 worshipped his image.
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.
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 altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.
Vs. 2—7.—"And the first went." However disagreeable the service, as we are ready to suppose, this holy agent at once obeys the divine command. The best of men hesitate and remonstrate when called to difficult and disagreeable work. So it was with Moses, and with, Jeremiah. (Exod. iv. 10; Jer. i. 6.) But all these heavenly messengers in succession, execute their respective tasks without gainsaying. It is the will of our common Lord that his disciples should emulate their example, that they should "know, obey and submit to his will in all things as the angels do in heaven." (Ps. ciii. 20, 21.)—The judgments upon the antichristian enemies which have been briefly represented in the close of the 14th chapter by a harvest and vintage, are in this chapter more extensively exhibited by the seven vials. A resemblance to the first four trumpets may be observed in the effects of the first four vials, and besides, these plagues resemble those inflicted on Egypt. If by her crimes, especially by idolatry and cruelty to the people of God papal Rome has copied the manners of Egypt and Babylon, it is but just that she should be visited with like punishment.—The first vial selects as victims those who "had the mark of the beast and worshipped his image;" and this is true of the succeeding plagues, although the fact be not repeated. The object of this vial is the "earth" in a more restricted sense than in the first verse. The "earth" in the first verse comprises all the parts of a system, "earth, sea, fountains, sun and air," mentioned in the following verses.—The "noisome and grievous sore," refers to one of the plagues of Egypt. (Exod. ix. 9—11.) The earth was the object affected also by the first trumpet; (ch. viii. 7;) but as Antichrist had not then arisen, this plague cannot agree in time with the first trumpet, though it might with the—fifth or sixth trumpet; for while these trumpets were demolishing the eastern member of the Roman empire, making way for the development of Mahomet's imposture, the "little horn" of Daniel, and Paul's "man of sin," was revealed in the west. But the "two witnesses" were coincident in origin with Antichrist, and were empowered by the Lord Christ "to smite the earth with all plagues as often as they would," (ch. xi. 6.) The "grievous sore" is to be understood metaphorically, not literally; for so the construction of the Apocalypse requires. It may import the festering of unmortified corruption among the votaries of Antichrist, intensified by the faithful application of the divine law by the witnesses.—The object of the second vial is the "sea," the same as that of the second trumpet, (ch. viii. 8, 9.) The allusion is to Exod. vii. 20, 21. Intestine commotions, with war, blood and death, seem to be symbolized. The horns of the beast were often turned against one another; for the bestial kingdom was "partly broken." The toes in Nebuchadnezzar's image did not "cleave one to another." (Dan. ii. 42, 43.) The object of the third vial is the "rivers and fountains of waters," (ch. viii. 10; Exodus vii. 19.) These symbols may signify the several kingdoms of the empire, tributary by their wealth and traffic to the great city. And as the witnesses continued to prophesy, giving increased point and publicity to their testimony, and as the Turks were making encroachments upon the territories of nominal Christian princes in the west, extensive wars and great slaughter were the results. These awful judgments are followed by the plaudits of two angels. The eternal Jehovah is recognized as the Author of these judgments. The Mediator may here be understood, (ch. i. 8;) John v. 22, 27.) The "angel of the waters" may be the same who poured out the vial. He gives to the Lord the glory of his justice:—"Thou art righteous." He also approves the "law of retaliation:"—"For they are worthy." The other angel "out of the altar" speaks on behalf of the martyrs, (ch. vi. 9, 10;) recognizing the faithfulness of God: "True and righteous are thy judgments."
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.
Vs. 8, 9.—The Object of the fourth vial is the "sun," (ch. viii. 12.) "power was given him,"—the angel.
The two witnesses are represented as armed with "fire, which proceedeth out of their mouth, devouring their enemies." (ch. xi. 5.) As the formal object of all the vials is the ecclesiastical, rather than the civil empire, and the sun is the symbol of the chief dignitary, perhaps this vial strikes more directly upon the "man of sin" The expression in the introduction to the vials, (ch. xv. 4,)—"thou only art holy," seems to be a testimony against the antichristian "name of blasphemy,"—"His Holiness." By the Reformation, symbolized by successive angels of the fourteenth chapter, those valiant men tormented the Pope and his vassals, so that they raged and blasphemed more and more, but "repented not to give God the glory." So it was at the sounding of the sixth trumpet, (ch. ix. 90, 21.)
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.
Vs. 10, 11.—"The seat of the beast" is the object of the fifth vial. The "beast" is all along from chapter xi. 7, the Roman empire. The "image of the beast," we have found to be the papacy, (ch. xiii. 14, 15.) Now the "seat (throne) of the beast," would seem to point to the metropolis, where the Pope, as a kind of imperial, politico—ecclesiastical head, keeps his court, and whence decrees are issued. This plague is like the ninth inflicted upon Egypt, (Exod. x. 21.) It was the last but one, and left Pharaoh still impenitent. Just so here; although this vial is the last but one to be poured out on the western limb of the great antichristian conspiracy: the population of the spiritual empire repress their complaints before men,—"they gnawed their tongues for pain;" while they in their hearts "curse their king and their God, and look upward." (Is. viii. 21.) This may be understood to be the actual condition of the Pope and his retainers at the present time, and especially since the, year 1848, when he was forced to flee from Rome. Darkness is the emblem of distress, of mental despair, (Ps. xxxv. 8: Is. viii. 22;)and the actual relation of European powers to the see of Rome,—Austria, France, Spain, and the Italian states, is not calculated to mitigate, but rather to augment and irritate the "pains and the sores inflicted by this and former vials.
We can, however, offer only conjectures here, and dare not be too confident; for learned and pious expositors are of the opinion that all the vials are comprehended under the seventh trumpet; that the seventh trumpet has not yet begun to sound; and consequently, that the vials are all future. On the other hand, equally learned and godly interpreters of these Apocalyptic hieroglyphics, are very confident that the sixth vial is in process of pouring out in our present time; and that in fact its effects are obviously traceable in providence. Already we have indicated our humble opinion, that all the vials are not necessarily comprehended under the seventh trumpet; inasmuch as the opening of the last seal disclosed equally trumpets and vials yet doubtless it is requisite that the series of the trumpets should precede that of the vials, while nothing hinders that some of both series should cotemporate. We may conceive that as the first four trumpets demolished the western member of the Roman empire, and the next two the eastern limb, so the vials may be distributed in a manner somewhat similar. The second woe, or sixth trumpet, has not yet finished its appropriate work in the final subversion of the Turkish empire, which still exists; and during the time of its last echoes, the vials may be supposed to be accomplishing their appropriate work upon the western empire, as being "wholly given to idolatry." While the first five vials are consuming the Antichrist in the west, the sixth is operating in the east.
12. And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.
13. And I saw three unclean spirits like flogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.
14. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto 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 come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
16. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
Vs. 12—16.—"The great river Euphrates" is the object of the sixth vial. By the very general consent of expositors the Turkish empire is intended by this symbol; and they seem to be equally agreed that the sixth vial in now in process of pouring out. The object of the sixth trumpet is the same, (ch. ix. 14.) There is, besides, an obvious allusion to the ancient literal Babylon; and to the manner of its overthrow by Cyrus the king of Persia. (Jer. l.38; li. 36; Dan. v. 26—28; Is. xliv. 27, 28,)—This monarch, as historians relate, changed the current of the Euphrates, and by this means took possession of the city, while Belshazzar and his nobles were engaged in a drunken festival. (Dan. v. 1—30.)—The waters of this river are to be taken as representing the population of the Ottoman empire, (ch. xvii. 15.) By the "kings of the east" may be understood the Jews, agreeably to the symbolical nature of this book; (Is. xli. 2, 3;) yet as the Turkish empire and Mahomet an imposture constitute barriers to the extension of Christ's kingdom among the populous nations of the east, as Popish despotism and idolatry, obstruct the gospel in the west, We may give this symbol of the "kings of the east" a more extensive interpretation. Probably a larger proportion of the natural seed of Abraham are to be found on the west than even on the east of the Turkish empire. The dynasty of the Turk is in process of visible exhaustion, and nothing but what is termed among antichristian nations "the balance of power," prolongs its existence or hinders its extinction. "Drying up," evaporation, is a gradual process, and with singular precision describes the waning light of the once proud Crescent,—the expiring breath of what has been termed by a bold figure, "the sick man."[So designated by Nicholas, late emperor of Russia.]—Under this vial, however, and likewise as the termination of the second woe, a general; final and desperate alliance is to be found to resist the aggressive forces of the "Lord of Hosts;"—This confederacy is headed by the dragon, and is identical with the war, (ch. xii. 17,) against the 'remnant of the woman's seed."— These "unclean spirits like frogs" are called "spirits of devils." They "come out of the mouth" of all the agents, the dragon, (ch. xii. 3, 9,) the beast, (ch. xiii. 1,) and the false prophet,—the same as the two—horned beast, (v. 11,) and (ch. xix. 20) These "unclean spirits" succeed in gathering the kings of the earth, by "working miracles," "lying wonders." (2 Thess. ii. 9; I Tim. iv. 1, 2.) They are the agents of antichristian Rome, spiritual wickedness in high places," (Eph. vi. 12;) "like frogs," living in moral filth; garrulous and impudent, stealthily gaining access into the bedchambers of the kings, "after the manner of Egypt." (Exod. viii. 3.)—Surely the policy of Rome is here portrayed, her cardinals, archbishops, Jesuits, etc, gaming entrance into the councils and cabinets of princes, inciting them to debauchery, tyranny and blood. Hellish hosts are thus "gathered to the battle of that great day of God Almighty,"—the day of the seventh vial, of the "vintage," (ch. xiv. 18—20,) and of the seventh trumpet, (ch. xi. 15;) for all these agree in point of time. This will be an "hour of temptation," as intimated in the 15th verse, which is a parenthesis, interrupting a little the narrative of the effects of the vial. There is danger of apostacy, of "falling away to these Chaldeans," of temporizing with the enemy in order to escape suffering. Thus Christian soldiers of the cross, losing "the armour of righteousness," would be exposed to "shame." But "blessed is he that watcheth," that looks to the Captain of Salvation, to his cause, as elucidated by his providence,— the signs of the times; for so shall he "keep his garments," when others are "found naked."—"And he gathered them" or rather "they gathered," (for the singular verb agrees with its nominative plural neuter as usual,)—the "unclean spirits gathered the kings of the earth" to the destined place. This hinders not but that these antichristian enemies of the church are brought together by the Almighty. Just so he sent the king of Assyria against "a hypocritical nation." (Is. x. 5—7.) And doubtless the prophet Joel prophesied of this great and decisive. battle, (ch. iii. 11—14.) "Thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord." Compare vs. 1, 2. The place is called "Armageddon," the mountain of destruction, suggesting the issue of the battle in the final overthrow of Antichrist; for it is not necessary to suppose that any place is literally pointed out; but as this is a compound word in the "Hebrew tongue," allusion may be made to the slaughter of Sisera's army, (Judges v. 19;) or to the mournful death of Josiah, (2 Chron. xxxv. 22.)
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.
Vs. 17—21.—"The seventh angel poured out his vial into the air."—The devil is emphatically styled "the prince of the power of the air." (Eph. ii. 2.) All the preceding vials fell upon their respective and successive objects, the several parts of the symbolic system; but this "vial of consummation" affects the whole of that system at once. The dragon, the beast, and his image, together with the false prophet,—all the "kingdoms of this world and the glory of them," which the god of this world claimed as his own, and offered to our Lord Jesus Christ, in the days of his humiliation, (Luke iv. 6, 7;)—all will be destroyed for ever. He who gave commission by a "great voice," (v. 1,) to these angels, now that they have fulfilled his pleasure, solemnly declares his approbation,—"It is done." The Lord Christ had Solemnly sworn that "in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he should begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished," (ch. x. 6, 7.) He is faithful to his oath,—It is done. Hence, it is undeniably evident that the seventh trumpet agrees in time with the seventh vial; and it is equally evident that the events which they represent are yet future. What was obscurely intimated as following the sounding of the seventh trumpet,—"the nations were angry,— and thy wrath is come," (ch. xi. 18,) is here amplified; for the "voices, thunders and lightnings," are the visible and sensible tokens of the wrath of God. (Exod. xix. 16; Heb. xii. 21.) Next follows an "earthquake," the usual symbol of revolution; but this one is without parallel. An earthquake followed the opening of the sixth seal, (ch. vi. 12;) when paganism was overthrown in the Roman empire by Constantine, and another earthquake marked the close of the second woe, (ch. xi. 13,) when "the tenth part of the city fell:" but this concussion is "so mighty and so great" as to "divide the great city into three parts," or rival factions: next," the cities of the nations fell," revolted from their wonted allegiance, and "great Babylon came in remembrance before God," who seemed to have forgotten both her and his saints whom she had so long and so cruelly persecuted. At the fall of Rome pagan, mountains and islands were only "moved out of their places," (ch. vi. 14;) but at the fall of Rome papal, "every island fled away, and the mountains were not found;"—the former indicating transition, the latter utter destruction.—The "fall of hail" is to be viewed as accompanying, not following, the fall of cities, flight of islands and mountains. As hail—stones are symbolical of divine judgments, and as there may be allusion here to another of the plagues of Egypt, (Exod. ix. 18;) so more especially may the facts of history supply the figurative language with which the judgments of the vials terminate. If any escaped the destroying sword in the battle of Armageddon, they are overtaken by these ponderous hail—stones out of heaven; even as "the Lord cast down great stones from heaven" upon the five kings of the Amorites; so that "more died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword." (Jos. X. 11.)—The result is as before; the survivors remain impenitent; As history supplies no instance of literal hail—stones of a talent weight, (sixty pounds, or as others, a hundred,) so the symbol represents this as the most tremendous of all the judgments of God, (ch. xiv. 20.)
Thus, we have seen that the last trumpet and the last vial combine, in the final perdition of Babylon the great.