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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 16

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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The series (first three εἰς , last four ἐπὶ ) of these plagues as usual consists of four and three; the former, as in the seals, affecting earth ( i.e. , votaries of the Imperial cultus), sea, waters, and the sun. The special object of the writer in this passage ( i.e. , to introduce the doom of Rome and the worshippers of the Emperor) leads him to vary the materials drawn from the Egyptian plagues which had been already used in the corresponding series of the trumpet-visions (8 9.) by defining precisely the victims of the first plague as worshippers of the Beast, by substituting the throne and realm of the Beast in the fifth plague for mankind in general, in the sixth by connecting the Parthian invasion with the Beast itself, in the seventh by introducing Rome’s fall among the physical disasters, and in the prologue by making the plagues come from God’s initiative without intercession (as Revelation 8:3 f.). How far these new touches are original or due to the influence of current traditions no longer extant, it is impossible to determine. This series of plagues is simply a free adaptation, with modifications and applications, of that in 8 9.; the prophet wishes to emphasise, by the genuinely Semitic method of recapitulation ( cf. Genesis 41:32 ; Psalms 62:11 , etc.), the sure and speedy approach of judgment.

Verse 2

Revelation 16:2 . The sixth Egyptian plague, “a noisome and painful ulcer” (the punishment of the impious and rebellious, according to Philo, de Execr. Revelation 16:6 ) breaks out on the adherents of the Cæssar-cult.

Verse 3

Revelation 16:3 . “Coagulated blood,” fatal to animal life (as in first Egyptian plague). This plague is final, as compared, e.g. , with that of Revelation 8:8 .

Verses 4-7

Revelation 16:4-7 . No more drinking water. The justice of this particular plague is acknowledged by (Revelation 16:5-6 ) the angel of the element in question and by (7) the altar (personified here, in line of Revelation 6:9-10 , and Revelation 8:3 , or of Revelation 14:18 ), which echoes the angel’s cry.

Verse 5

Revelation 16:5 . ὅσιος and δίκαιος are used together of God in hieratic inscriptions of dedication throughout Asia Minor, possibly under Jewish influence. Δίκαιος , often a title of messiah (see on Revelation 3:1 and Beer’s note on En. xxxviii. 2), is reserved here for God. Retribution is the outcome of God’s intense holiness or majesty ( cf. Revelation 6:10 , Revelation 15:4 ) asserting itself on behalf of his people (Revelation 15:3 , Revelation 19:2 , cf. Revelation 3:7 ) and in self-vindication.

Verse 6

Revelation 16:6 . The retribution once threatened on Jerusalem and the Jews (Matthew 23:35 ) is now transferred apparently to Rome, the later antagonist of the faith ( cf. on Revelation 18:24 ). Once the Romans made Christian blood run like water. Now, by the irony of providence, they shall find nothing but blood to drink. This moral vengeance ( cf. Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables ), with its grim equivalence between sin and sin’s punishment (Revelation 11:18 , Revelation 13:10 , Revelation 18:7 ; cf. 2 Timothy 2:12 , etc.) is not pushed, however, into the grotesque and elaborately Dantesque details, e.g. , of the Apocalypse of Peter. ἐξέχεαν (the verb runs all through this chapter, and this chapter only), cf. Dittenberger’s Sylloge Inscript. Graec. 816 7 (cent. A.D.) ἐγχέαντας τὸ ἀναίτιον αἷμα ἀδίκως . ἁγ . κ . πρ ., all prophets are ἅγιοι , but all ἅγιοι are not prophets.

Verse 9

Revelation 16:9 . Failure to honour the true God, a note of the heathen spirit (as in Revelation 11:13 , Revelation 14:7 ; Romans 1:28 ). See Introd., § 6. For the general idea, cf. 2 Clem. ix.: “while we have opportunity of being healed, let us give ourselves over to God the healer, giving him a recompense. And what recompense? Repentance from a sincere heart.… Let us give him eternal praise.”

Verses 10-11

Revelation 16:10-11 . The ninth Egyptian plague of darkness (due to the eclipse, cf. Revelation 8:12 ?) falls on Rome, aggravating the previous pains of the Romans (Revelation 16:2 ) and driving them into exasperation and fresh blasphemy instead of repentance. The repetition of Revelation 16:11 b , after Revelation 16:9 , is characteristic of Oriental impressiveness ( cf. Jeremiah 30:2 ; Jeremiah 31:1 , etc.), but it sums up the effect of the first four plagues.

Verses 12-16

Revelation 16:12-16 . To facilitate the invasion of the empire (Revelation 17:12 ; Revelation 17:16 ) by the Parthians (Revelation 9:14 f.) under Nero redivivus ( cf. Revelation 19:19 ), as in 4 Esd. 13:43 47 to let the ten tribes return in safety from captivity, the Euphrates is to be dried up in the latter days, like the Jordan before Joshua or the Euphrates itself when Cyrus captured Babylon (Herod, i. 191).

Verse 13

Revelation 16:13 . βάτραχοι perhaps a reminiscence of the second Egyptian plague, but probably an Iranian touch; the frog was a special agent of Ahriman in the final contest ( cf. reff., H. J. 1904, 352, and Hübschmann, 230, 231). According to Artemidorus (ii. 15) frogs represent γοήτας καὶ βωμολόχους , and they were naturally associated with serpents ( cf. Plut. Pyth. 12) as amphibious.

Verse 14

Revelation 16:14 . “They are (not, these are) spirits of daemons”. These devilish imps muster God’s opponents to the final conflict. The fierce invasion of the kings of the east seems to give an impetus to the kings of the world . Antichrist’s power extends to these ( cf. Revelation 11:10 ). “As the Lord sent his apostles to all the nations, so shall he ( i.e. , Antichrist) send false apostles” (Hippol. vi. cf. A. C. 188 f.). The sources of the tradition lie in Addit. Esther , 11:6 f., where the two dragons cry, and at their summons all nations gather to do battle against the righteous nation; also in the belief that Israel’s foes muster against her in the latter days (Revelation 17:14 , Revelation 19:17-20 . Revelation 20:7-10 ; after Ezekiel 38-39.; Zechariah 14:2 f.; En. lvi. 90.; Sib. Or. iii. 310 322, 663 674). In Asc. Isa. iv. Beliar, in the guise of Nero, comes “and with him all the powers of this world, and they will hearken to him in all that he desires” ( cf. below on Revelation 17:13 ; Revelation 17:17 ). These demonic spirits are not crushed till the day of judgment (En. Revelation 16:1 ἕως τῆς κρίσεως τῆς μεγάλης , Jub. x., Matthew 8:29 ). The three locusts which issne from the month of the Beast in Hermas, Vis. iv. 1. 6, belong to the conception of Revelation 9:1 .

Verse 16

Revelation 16:16 . A double thread of tradition is woven into this strand of prophecy, ( a ) that of a last conflict of the world-powers with God and the messianic people ( cf. Revelation 17:14 , Revelation 19:19 ) and ( b ) that of Rome’s ruin by the Parthians under Nero redivivus. The two were originally distinct, but the apocalyptist naturally twists them together, although he never clears up their relationship. Here 13 16 is an enigmatic summary of what is variously depicted further on. But, though an erratic block in its present setting, it may have been placed here by the final editor, in his characteristically proleptic manner. Strictly speaking, the sixth plague is confined to Revelation 16:12 . Ἁρμαγεδών , where the messianic Josiah will triumph, is ( a ) either to be located in mythology rather than in geography, as a mount where the final conflict of the gods is to be fought out (so fallen angels in En. vi. 5, 6 at mount Hermon) in which case the phrase is a survival of some apocalyptic myth no longer intelligible to John (Gunkel, Bousset) or ( b ) to be taken as an allusion to the hills near the plain (in the light of Judges 5:18-19 ; Judges 4:6 ; Judges 4:12 ; Judges 4:14 ; Ezekiel 38:8 ; Ezekiel 38:21 ; Ezekiel 39:2 ; Ezekiel 39:17 ). By gematria the name is equivalent to רומה הגדולה (Ewald, Hausrath), but neither this nor the proposal to take הר as a corruption of עיר (city, so Hitzig, Hilgenfeld, Forbes), much less of עֲרַא (Aram. = ארץ , Völter), is natural. Cf. for further etymological and mythological suggestions, Nestle (Hastings, D. B. ii. 304, 305), Cheyne ( E. Bi. i. 310, 311), and Legge and Cheyne in Proc. Society of Bibl. Arch. 1900, ii. 2. Bruston’s interpretation ( Ερμα = ἀνάθεμα , Γεδᾶν , cf. Numbers 14:45 ; Numbers 21:3 ; Judges 20:45 ) is far-fetched, but there may be some link between this obscure fragment of tradition and the cycle of Gog and Magog ( cf. Cheyne in E. Bi. ii. 1747, 1748).

17 21: the seventh bowl and plague as the climax of all.

Verse 17

Revelation 16:17 . The temple (Revelation 11:19 ) and the throne (Revelation 8:3 ) are again blended in one scene. In Isaiah 66:6 the divine vengeance is heralded by φωνὴ ἐκ ναοῦ , φωνη Κυρίου ἀνταποδιδόντος ἀνταπόδοσιν τοῖς ἀντικειμένοις .

Verse 18

Revelation 16:18 . The conventional stormtheophany brings on an exceptionally severe earthquake, which (Revelation 16:19 ) shatters Jerusalem into three parts and entirely overthrows the pagan cities. Rome’s more awful ruin is attributed in Revelation 17:16 to the invasion of Oriental hordes ( cf. Revelation 16:12 ); here the allusion to her downfall is proleptic (= Revelation 17:2 , Revelation 18:6 f.), as a climax to the foregoing catastrophe. Probably the great city is Jerusalem (sc e.g. , Andr., Bengel, Simcox, B. Weiss, J. Weiss), as in Revelation 11:8 . She is distinguished from the Gentile cities as Rome also is singled out from her allies and adherents. Being primarily guilty, Rome-Babylon is reserved for a special fate. The whole passage is enigmatic and obscure. Did the earthquake destroy the inhabitants of Jerusalem? and why? The allusion must be to some form of the tradition underlying Revelation 11:1-13 and Revelation 14:18-20 , or to that of Zechariah 14:4-5 . Both earthquakes and invasions had been combined already in the O.T. eschatology ( cf. Isaiah 13:13 f.; Haggai 2:21 f.); both perils were real, at this period; and, in delineating both dangers with a free, poetic imagination, the prophet aims as usual at impressiveness rather than at any systematic regularity. For earthquakes in Jerusalem, cf. G. A. Smith’s Jerusalem , i. pp. 61 f. ἐμνήσθη : neither magnificence nor age wins oblivion for an empire’s crimes against the moral order.

Verse 20

Revelation 16:20 . Here, as at Revelation 6:14 , the removal of hills tallies with the Iranian belief (shared by later Jewish Christian apocalyptic, cf. Böklen, 131 f.) that mountains as the work of Ahriman would disappear with him ( S. B. E. ver. 129), leaving the earth in its ideal state of a smooth plane on which mankind could dwell in unity of speech and intercourse, free from barriers. The collocation of mountain and island (so Revelation 6:14 ) is possibly a relic of the ancient point of view, for which ( i.e. , for dwellers in the West) these formed the apparent source of the sun’s rising, where his light first became visible.

Verse 21

Revelation 16:21 . Even an abnormal hail-ahower ( cf. the fourth Egyptian plague) fails to bring pagans to their senses. ὡς ταλ , i.e. , literally about sixty times the weight of even the enormous hailstones ( μνααῖαι ) which Diodorus Siculus (19:45) records. In En. lx. 17 the “spirit of the hail is a good angel,” i.e. , amenable to God’s orders.

The obscurity of chapter 17 springs mainly from the differences of tradition and outlook which are reflected in the canonical text. The threefold interpretation of the Beast as the Imperial power (so 13), as Nero redivivus (Revelation 16:8 ) and as (11) the eighth king (the two latter being applications of the same idea) is accompanied by a twofold explanation of the seven heads (geographical = 9, historical =10), and of the woman’s support (Revelation 16:1 ; Revelation 16:3 ; Revelation 16:15 ). The eschatological tradition of Babylon as the supreme anti-divine world-power is applied to Rome, and this involves the reinterpretation of some details ( e.g. 15, 18), while the tradition of the Beast as antichrist is further overlaid by the special tradition of Nero redivivus in that capacity. This dual Beast (as Völtei first recognised; cf. Charles’s Ascensio Isaiæ , pp. lx. lxi.) is not merely the Imperial power (as in Revelation 13:3 ) but incarnate in an Imperial personality of infernal and supernatural character, which attacks not only the Christian messiah (14) but Rome itself (Revelation 16:16-17 ). The latter trait is unmistakably due to the legend of Nero redivivus, apart from which the oracle is unintelligible. Such variations have left traces in the structure of the passage, which point to some process of editorial revision, but it is difficult to disentangle the original source or sources, or even to determine their precise character and period. Revelation 16:14 is certainly out of place, for the allies of the Beast could not destroy Rome after they themselves had been destroyed by the messiah and his allies. It is thus either proleptic or inserted by the Christian writer in his (Jewish) source (so e.g. , Vischer, Charles, Briggs, von Soden). Other traces of this editor might be found in 6 b, 8 (9 a?), and 15, and the Jewish character of the source (so Vischer, Weyland, Schmidt, Sabatier, Ménégoz, etc.), would be confirmed by the absence of any polemic against the Imperial cultus. It would be a Vespasianic oracle, inspired by a passion for revenge on Rome for her cruel, recent treatment of the Jewish people. When the source is regarded as Christian (as e.g. , by Erbes, Völter, and Schön), Revelation 16:11 would be an addition inserted under Domitian to bring it up to date (so Harnack, Texte u. Unters. II. iii. 134 f.; Chronologie , 245, 246, followed by Briggs, Gunkel, J. Weiss, etc.; cf. Introd. § 7). But even so, the structure of the passage is involved. Revelation 16:9-11 are not vision but calculation or exposition ( cf. Revelation 13:18 ). The waters of Revelation 16:15 are never seen (cf. Revelation 16:1 ; Revelation 16:3 ), and the professed explanation (Revelation 16:7 ) follows a loose order (beast = 8, heads = 9 11, horns=12 14, waters = 15, horns again = 16 17, and finally the woman = 18). The reference to the woman, however, is thrown late in order to introduce the following doom-song ( cf. kings in 18, Revelation 18:3 ; Revelation 18:9 , and great in 18, Revelation 18:2 ), and a similar motive accounts for the irregular position of 16 17 after 14, Rome’s fall, though viewed from different angles, being the main object before the writer’s mind at the moment. The defeat of 14 is taken up, in its true position, afterwards (Revelation 19:11-21 ). Revelation 16:15 (an echo of Revelation 16:19 b) is probably thrown in at this point, to contrast dramatically the revolt [16] of Rome’s supporters against her. Thus, except for 9 11, there are sufficient psychological reasons to account partially for the order and contents of the oracle; but source-criticism is required to clear up the passage, in the more or less extensive theories of one source (edited in 6, 9 a , 14 15, so J. Weiss; or variously in 8, 12 14, with some words in 6, 9, 11, so e.g. Pfleiderer, Baljon, Bousset and Forbes) or even two sources (Jewish, A = 3 4, 6 7 b , 10, [919] =11 13, 16 b 17, Wellhausen’s Analyse , 26 f.), for which the linguistic idiosyncrasies (double use of γέμειν , 3 4, precedence of object over verb 13, 16, 18, οἱ κ . τ . γ . 2, and the construction βλ . τ . θ . ὅτι ἦν , 8) afford some basis. The main problem is to explain how the various strata of tradition overlap; e.g. , in 8, 12 f., the beast is Nero redivivus, an infernal power of evil, whereas in 11 Domitian seems identified with Nero the beast. It is hard to believe that one and the same writer could simultaneously regard Domitian as a second Nero and expect Nero redivivus as a semi-supernatural power. In any case the stress falls on the Beast rather than on the woman, and on the eschatological prediction, not on the historical application. It is a fairly open question whether 8 or 11 is the editorial mortar super-imposed upon the earlier tradition. Upon the whole, one of the least unsatisfactory solutions is to take 11 as a Domitianic gloss by the Christian editor, who has also added 6 b (if not all of 6) and 14 to a Vespasianic oracle (possibly of Jewish origin) in Revelation 17:4 f. which anticipated the downfall of persecuting Rome at the hands of Nero redivivus and his Eastern allies. No hypothesis is free from difficulties. But the general Domitianic reference of the Apocalypse and the presence of the Nero redivivus saga must be worked in somehow, and some hypothesis on the above lines seems to do most justice to the literary structure of this chapter as well as to the data of the book in general. It is impossible to determine how far the Christian editor worked over his source. That the difficulties of the oracle arise mainly from the presence of an earlier source ( cf. Introd. § 7), which John has revised slightly and brought up to date, is axiomatic, however.

[919] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

The double object of the oracle is ( a ), by a re-editing of the tradition of 13 to represent Rome in her Imperial pride, before describing her downfall, and ( b ) to define more precisely the final appearance of the last foe. The chapter could readily be spared as isolated (Simcox), but this only proves that the author is again working upon disparate materials which he inherited. The oracle contains (Revelation 16:1-6 ) a vision of the Harlot (by way of foil to Revelation 12:1-6 and especially Revelation 21:9 f.) and the Beast, with (Revelation 16:7-18 ) an explanation of the vision.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 16". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/revelation-16.html. 1897-1910.
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