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The Seven Last Plagues
Summary —The Seven Angels Directed to Pour Out God's Wrath. The First Vial and the Grievous Ulcers. The Second Poured Out upon the Sea. The Third Vial on the Rivers. The Fourth upon the Sun; Its Scorching Heat. The Fifth Poured on the Seat of the Beast. The Sixth on the Great River, Euphrates. The Three Unclean Spirits. Armageddon. The Seventh Vial Poured on the Air. The Great City Falls.
Interpreters are not agreed whether the pouring out of the vials relates to past or to future events. Almost all, except Roman Catholics and Rationalists, are agreed in the view that they refer to a series of calamitous events which were to befall the Papal power. The reader will observe that the first vial is poured upon the earth, and it became a noisome and grievous sore upon “the men which had the mark of the beast, and which worshiped his image;” phraseology that we have found to refer to the supporters of the worldly power and spiritual claims of Rome. See notes on 13:14–18. The fifth vial is poured “upon the throne of the beast,” and his kingdom is darkened. After the sixth vial, evil spirits come out of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. After the seventh, the great city, Babylon, falls. These vials, therefore, indicate a series of judgments upon the anti-Christian powers, variously styled the dragon, the beast, the image of the beast, the false prophet, and Babylon. As these have been found to symbolize the world-power which found its embodiment in Rome, and the last two to point especially to the spiritual despotism of which the Papacy is the chief expression, we must expect the great fabric to be the chief sufferer from these judgments. As, under the seven seals, Old Pagan Rome was judged and brought to an end; as, under the seven trumpets, the Roman Empire under its new form is judged and its destruction symbolized; so, under the seven vials, we have symbolized a series of judgments which weaken and destroy Papal Rome; and, with the seventh vial, the Great City, the type of the Apostate Church, falls.
There are historical events occurring within the last century which correspond so surprisingly with the symbolism that the interpreters regard them as the fulfillment. While not insisting that these are the events foreshadowed by John, and while admitting that the pouring out of the vials may be future, I incline to the opinion that prophecy is being fulfilled in “these last days,” and I will point out certain events corresponding to each vial, which may be the things signified.
1, 2. I heard a great voice. As in several more instances John hears the voice, but does not see the speaker. This voice comes from “the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven,” from the abode of God. This signifies that God's hand will shape the events symbolized. They represent his judgments. Pour out the vials of the wrath of God. Punishment sent for sins. As the plagues were sent on Egypt in order to secure the redemption of Israel, so these plagues are sent in order to redeem God's Israel from the slavery of spiritual Babylon. See 18:4. Upon the earth. The term “earth” is still used by John in his usual meaning of the Roman world. 2. And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth. John sees the vial poured out, and marks its effect; very grievous ulcers fall upon men; that is, upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image. Those who suffer are those who listen to the lamb-like dragon, the anti-Christ, the false spiritual power, or, as has been found in chapter 14, the votaries of Rome. As the vials of the wrath of God are a series of events leading to the destruction of this false power, we must look for the first of the vials, not while it is at the zenith of its power. We have found that a number of distinct prophecies seem to point to the year 1793 as a period when its power will give signs of decay, and its hold upon the nations weaken; hence, we need not look for the first vial before this. Let the reader note the nature of the plagues to be sent. It is described as a grievous ulcer, that afflicts those who have the mark of the beast. An ulcer is not only a painful and dangerous sore, but is often malignant and foul with corruption. The term is often used to describe moral corruption, and the ulcers described may be moral or spiritual. Can we find aught in history about the end of the 1260 years of Papal dominion that corresponds with the symbolism? For many centuries France was the stoutest and staunchest of the supporters of the Romish Church. It was Charlemagne, the emperor of France, who bestowed the temporal power upon the Popes. It was to Avignon in France that, at one time, the Papacy was transferred for seventy years. The ruler of France was long styled “the eldest son of the Church.” It was France that had perpetrated the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the dragonnades of the Cevennes, and the banishment of the Huguenots. The French nation had the mark of the beast to at least as great an extent as any other nation. In 1793, exactly at the close of the period of 1260 years, there breaks out in France a fearful moral ulcer that had long been festering. The French Revolution, the uprising of enslaved masses who were maddened into fury, sent Catholic king, royal families, nobles, and priests to the guillotine by tens of thousands, impelled the nation in its madness to publicly declare itself atheistic, leavened it with skepticism, and broke the hold of Rome to such a degree that she can never more control France. The ulcer was awfully corrupt and deadly. At one time 200,000 citizens of all conditions and both sexes were in prison, and often in Paris alone, fourscore were sent to the scaffold in a day. As the result of breaking forth of this ulcer, the mightiest Catholic nation was convulsed with civil war, every Catholic country in Europe was deluged in blood, and the Papal power received a shock from which it can never recover. The first vial, the breaking forth of grievous, painful, malignant ulcers, most fitly represents the breaking out of the French Revolution, its awful excesses, and irreparable injury done to the great spiritual despotism by the events of which it was the beginning and the cause.
3. And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea. The first calamity has been upon the earth; the second is upon the ocean. The second angel pours his vial upon the sea. Then the waters become red as blood and in the great mortality that follows it seems to John as if every soul in the sea was dead. Again we ask if, in this series of calamities, there is one that smites the Catholic powers from the seas? Under the second trumpet a great and burning mountain fell into the sea. The Vandal power swept the Mediterranean, destroyed the Roman navy and then laid siege to the old imperial Rome. From the sea spiritual Rome, under the second vial, is weakened. The symbolism is fulfilled in the mightiest naval strife ever known. In 1780 France and England, upon the ocean, were nearly equally matched. Among the shores of the struggling colonies of the United States sometimes the English, sometimes the French fleets, rode in triumph. At Yorktown, the superiority of the French at sea cooped Cornwallis in until Washington compelled his surrender. With 1793 begins another contest for the mastery of the seas. It continues after Napoleon sits on the imperial throne, and did not end for twenty years. France, again a Catholic power by Napoleon's concordant with the Pope, rallies under the imperial flag with herself, Catholic Spain, Portugal and Italy, in the struggle. Protestant England and Catholic Europe strive together upon the ocean. The old Catholic powers, those which in the past have been the vile instruments of Papal wrong, the nations whose kings have committed fornication with the great spiritual harlot, suffer the loss in this long and deadly struggle of six hundred ships of the Line, the largest war vessels that then went to sea, besides the thousands of ships of war of smaller size. At the close of the contest, the naval power of Catholic Europe had been swept from the ocean. Once the Pope had claimed the dominion of the seas, and had given away newly discovered islands and continents, but now that proud claim has gone forever.
4–7. And the third poured out his vial upon the rivers and the fountains of the waters. John sees the third “vial poured upon the rivers and fountain of waters; and they become blood.” This vial will symbolize another event calamitous to Rome. The seat of the disasters is described as the rivers, and we may expect some historical events, connected in some way with rivers, that result in the injury of the Papacy. There are two marks given which help us to locate the seat where the plague of the third vial is poured. 1. It must be a region of rivers and fountains of waters. 2. It has evidently been the scene of terrible persecutions of the people of God. When the judgment is inflicted the angel of the waters exclaimed, “Thou art righteous, O Lord, who art and wast and shall be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets and thou hast given them blood to drink, for they are worthy.” A land of persecution is to become the scene of calamities which are justly visited upon it for its sins. (1) The river system of northern Italy, we have seen, was indicated under the third trumpet. If the reader will look upon the map he will find it crowded with rivers. The streams rush down from the Alps and haste away to the sea. The river region of Italy has always been a battle ground where the fate of Italy has been decided. Here Attila the Hun, the “blazing Star,” the wormwood of the rivers, laid Rome prostrate at his feet. See 8:10, 11. This vial seems to point to the same locality by the use of the same language. (2) But the locality marked must have been the scene of persecutions (verse 6); none more terrible, more bloody or more continued, have been known in the dark history of Rome. This very region was the home of the Albigenses. Against them the Papacy had hurled its fanatical legions from generation to generation. The blood of the Protestants of the Alps had for centuries dyed the rocks and streams with crimson. (3) In the year 1796, a general, aged 27, led a French army across the Alps. On the river system of Italy, on the Rhone, the Po and its tributaries, he battled with the Austrians and their allies. It is remarkable that every one of his great conflicts were fought upon the rivers. The battle of Lodi was fought on the Adda, Arcola on the Adige, Marengo on the Bromida. I will briefly give the results of the struggle. In 1796 Bonaparte entered Italy. The next year his armies took the city of Rome and proclaimed an Italian Republic. Previously an armistice had been granted, for which the Pope paid 21,000,000 francs and gave up a hundred masterpieces of art to be carried to Paris. In 1798 Pope Pius VI. was carried as a prisoner into France to die. His successor was not elected in Rome, which was still in the hands of the spoiler, but in Venice. Other results that follow from this invasion will be given under the fourth vial. Ah! how triumphantly the long persecuted Waldenses, as they saw the Pope carried a prisoner into exile, must have joined in the voice from behind the altar: “Yes, O Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments!”
8, 9. The fourth poured out his vial on the sun. Since these vials of the wrath of God are “poured into the earth” (verse 1), the sun must be used as a symbol. It is a symbol of a supreme ruler—a ruler or king. Any one who becomes a great light and occupies a pre-eminent position, may be indicated by this symbol. The Saviour is described as the Sun of Righteousness. In the dream of Joseph, his father Jacob, the patriarchal ruler, is represented by the sun. Among the orientals it is the well-known symbol of a king or ruler. The fourth vial is poured upon this sun, and power is given it to scorch men with fire. Fire, the instrument of bitter pain, is a symbol of suffering.It is therefore evident that the ruler, symbolized by the sun, shall be the means of inflicting great suffering upon men. As we have found that these calamities are directed against the Papacy, it would follow that the sufferers are those who have received the mark of the beast. Though these adherents of Rome are in great anguish from the calamities that befall them, still they do not repent of their crimes. Like ancient Egypt under the plagues, Rome will still persist in her wicked deeds, still refuse to liberate the people from her spiritual slavery.
In 1801 Napoleon Bonaparte became the ruler of France, and soon became the virtual ruler of all Papal Europe. Spain, Belgium, Holland, Italy, and Austria were at his feet and either ruler by his satraps or at his dictation. No such scorching sun had arisen in the political horizon for more than a thousand years, and I do not know that the world has ever seen so great a scourge of man. From 1796 to 1815 he was engaged in war without a moment's cessation. He converted Europe into a great camp and every nation was blackened and torn with wars. In his wars it is estimated that 2,000,000 men perished by the sword, and none can tell of the want and misery and despair that brooded over the bleeding and desolated lands that were tracked by his armies. This scorching sun, which parched, burnt and blackened the earth, exerted a most baleful influence on the power of the Papacy. In 1796 Bonaparte entered Italy; in 1797 his armies entered the Papal dominions, and a peace was made by which the Pope was not only shorn of half his provinces, but was compelled to buy off the invader by the payment of large sums of money. The next year the French armies entered Rome, tore the Pope from the Vatican, sent him a prisoner to France to die, and robbed Rome of its hoarded wealth. The imprisoned Pope died in captivity. The next Pope was elected in 1799, not in Rome, which was held by French soldiers, but in Venice. In 1800 he was permitted to return to his desolated capital as the dependent of France. In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte determined to have placed upon his head the old imperial crown as emperor of the Romans, and the Pope was compelled to journey by land to Paris in order to gratify his master by serving in the ceremonial. Four years later Pius VII. was dragged from his palace, as his predecessor had been, and sent a prisoner into France. His states of the Church were confiscated. The grant made by Charlemagne nearly 1200 years before was resumed, and, until the fall of Napoleon, the Pope was without temporal possessions.
Napoleon had broken the spell of Rome. He taught the world that the power of the Popes might be successfully dared; a noteworthy service to the human race. The Pope, from that time, ceased to be a powerful factor in the control of nations. But, notwithstanding these scourgings, the Papacy has not abated its exorbitant and blasphemous pretensions. “They repented not to give God glory.”
10, 11. The fifth angel poured out his vial upon the throne of the beast. By the throne of the beast must be meant the seat of his power. There are few students of the Bible, whether Catholic or Protestant, who deny that Italy and Rome are the throne of the great world power of which the seven-headed beast is the symbol. Then, the scene of the calamities of the fifth vial will be Italy and Rome. That has been the seat of the beast for 1300 years. In the very seat of his power the beast shall receive a blow that will fill his kingdom with darkness, and those who worship him with anguish. Something shall occur that will cause great dismay and anguish to the Roman priesthood and devotees. Have any changes occurred in Italy and Rome which have caused them to gnaw their tongues in pain?
In the year 1848 the people of Rome arose in rebellion to the Papal authority and drove Pius IX. into exile. A few months later he was restored by a French army. Nor did he dare remain when restored, save under the protection of French bayonets. With a French garrison he continued to rule his circumscribed territory until 1870. In that year France was compelled to withdraw her soldiers to defend her soil from German invasion. That was the opportunity of Italy. The Papal army was scattered by the soldiers of Victor Emmanuel; the Pope shut himself in the Vatican, and Rome became the capital of new Italy. The temporal power of the Pope is gone forever. The Italian government has seized upon the overgrown possessions of the church. The lands it claimed have been confiscated, monasteries and convents have been closed, and universal religious toleration declared. Protestant churches and schools are founded in Rome itself, and statues have been erected under the shadow of the Vatican to martyrs whom the Papacy had slain. It is said they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not. What better illustration of this than that the Pope has been declared infallible!
That the reader may see that there is beyond doubt something in the symbolism which points to such a fulfillment as has been suggested above I will quote an old work cited by Albert Barnes, written by Robert Flemming and published in 1701, nearly two hundred years ago. It is called the Apocalyptic Key, and contains the following on the fifth vial: “The fifth vial which is to be poured out on the seat of the beast, or the dominions which belong more immediately to, and depend upon, the Roman See; that I say this judgment will begin about a.d. 1794, and expire about a.d. 1848.” As a matter of fact Bonaparte invaded Italy in 1796, and in 1848 the Pope was driven from Rome. Since that date, though returned and protected by the French until 1870, his temporal power has been at an end.
12. And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up. The angel of the sixth trumpet is connected with the river Euphrates (9:14). There a movement is symbolized which ends in the overthrow of the Eastern Roman Empire, the old Roman world power. Here a movement is probably signified which will work to the same end in the case of the Roman dominion revived in the Papal world power. The river Euphrates was the seat of the great city which once oppressed Israel and carried God's people into captivity. It was taken by Cyrus, God's chosen agent, and the means employed was the drying up of the Euphrates. Cyrus turned the river, which ran through the city, unto new channels, dried up the old bed, then marched in this bed under the walls where they crossed the river on arches, and took the city. In some way the drying up of the Euphrates shall overthrow, or tend to overthrow, spiritual Babylon. Possibly this may be accomplished by the exhaustion of the resources of that power. The nations which once supplied them have been falling away. That the way might be made ready for the kings that come from the sunrising. In the infancy of the Christ, the wise men of the East, also called kings in the Psalms, came to offer homage to the kingly child. The prophecy implies that when this obstacle is removed, the way of the inhabitants shall be opened. The drying up of the Euphrates will, in some manner, open the way for those that are signified to come to Christ, as those of the old did to the manger.
13–16. I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon. Let the reader observe there is an alliance of three powers described as the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. From their mouths came three unclean spirits, like frogs, who go forth to the kings of the earth, rally their forces under the banners of the three allied powers, and march them to the battle of the great day of the Almighty. We have met these three powers before, and know that these are really one, animated by one spirit, but appearing in different forms. The dragon, the Satan (chapter 12), wars against the woman, in the form of old Pagan Rome; he then (chapter 13) transfers this warfare to the seven-headed beast, the political world power shown both in the form of Imperial and Papal Rome; this power was supported, reanimated when about to perish, by the lamb-like dragon who is the false prophet (13:11). As it were frogs (Revision). Unclean, loathsome, suggesting the plagues of Egypt. 14. For they are the spirits of devils. The Greek is “demons.” They are demoniacal influences, and will show forth false miracles by which to deceive men. Unto the kings of the whole world. They will marshal their forces for the last conflict. The conflict that shall then take place will decide the fate of Babylon. The drying up of the Euphrates will prepare the way for its destruction. For an account of the battle of that great day, see 19:11, 19. 15. Behold, I come as a thief. This is interposed in order to give a place for exhortation to be always ready. The Lamb comes when men do not see him. 16. They gathered them (Revision). The three unclean spirits. To a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. If this is a literal conflict of arms the place where it will take place is probably indicated. Probably the conflict will be moral and spiritual. The place named is not only Hebrew, but is a famous spot in Hebrew history. Armageddon means simply the hill Megiddo. Upon the Hill Megiddo was fought the battle in which King Josiah was slain. It was in the midst of the battle-ground of Israel. The plain of Esdraelon, the depression between Judea and Galilee, was tracked with armies. If Ezekiel 37:8–17 is understood literally, it signifies that Palestine will be the theatre of this struggle, but of all these passages I am inclined to believe that they have a spiritual signification. The Israel of Ezekiel represents the church, the true Israel. Armageddon, the battle-ground of Israel, is used metaphorically to describe the great conflict of the Israel of God.
17–21. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air. From Eph. 2:2 we learn that the air is the region of the power of evil The fifth vial was poured upon the seat of the beast; the seventh on the seat of the dragon. Came a great voice. The voice so often heard but not seen. Whether the divine voice or not, it speaks the divine will. It is done. It is finished. The work is complete. The seventh vial brings the work to an end. 18. There were voices, and thunders, etc. See 8:5; 11:19. These features accompany the tremendous movements of the divine will. A great earthquake. A mighty agitation, and rupturing such as was never seen before. Society will be upheaved to its very foundations. 19. And the great city. The great spiritual Babylon, the woman that sitteth on the beast (17:5). Was divided into three parts. It was broken asunder, and shaken into pieces by the great upheaval. It is difficult to settle what is meant by three parts. Perhaps the three “evil spirits” (verse 13), which represent the dragon, the beast and the false prophet, are henceforth parted from each other. If this should be signified, it would mean that worldly government would henceforth be rescued from Satan's influence, and that spiritual powers would never henceforth give homage to the world. Great Babylon came in remembrance. The wrath of God is poured out because of her sins. 20. And every island fled away. Islands and mountains denote earthly powers. Perhaps the meaning is that the old lines between states and nations shall pass away, and that henceforth there shall be one nation, one kingdom, one people, that of Jesus Christ. 21. There fell upon men a great hail out of heaven. Upon the men who were judged and punished. Hail is a symbol of God's judgment. Hailstones of such weight signify awful judgments. The men blasphemed God. Not all men, but the men punished. In verse 9 and 11 it is declared that they repented not, and here it is again implied that they were incorrigible. The thought is that they perish in impenitence.
It might be added that Robert Flemming, who in 1701 so accurately forecasted the fate of the Papacy (see statement in notes on the fifth vial) places the seventh in a.d. 1900.
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