Revelation 16

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "The Seven Last Plagues (Revelation 15:1-16:21)" from the book Making Sense of the Book of Revelation.)

A voice is heard from the heavens (see v. 1), and the seven angels, with their seven vials of wrath, enter upon their final mission of destruction. The seven last plagues are then spoken of as follows:

First plague: A “noisome [bad, evil] and grievous sore,” perhaps like ulcers, upon all who have the mark of the beast or have worshipped the image of the beast (v. 2; see Revelation 13). Zechariah declared, “Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth” (Zechariah 14:12; see also D&C 29:19; Exodus 9:8–12).

Second plague: The second vial (see v. 3) is poured out upon the sea, turning the sea to blood and bringing death to everything living in the sea (see also Exodus 7:14–25). Note the following from modern revelation: “Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters. Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters” (D&C 61:14–15). Compare this with the second trumpet judgment sent in Revelation 8:8.

Third plague: The third angel (see vv. 4–6) empties his vial upon the rivers and springs, causing them to be changed to blood (see also Exodus 7:19). This third angel then expresses his pleasure and delight in the justice of the Almighty, who causes those who shed the innocent blood of the Saints to now drink blood. Compare this vial with the fourth trumpet judgment sent in Revelation 8.

Fourth plague: The sun is changed so that it burns the wicked “with great heat” (v. 9). Perhaps, like Elijah, the fourth angel is able to hold the sun in its path until it selectively tortures the wicked. Compare this vial with the fourth trumpet judgment sent in Revelation 8.

Fifth plague: The fifth plague (see vv. 10–11) is a direct assault on the throne of the devil. Darkness covers the kingdom of the evil one, symbolizing (1) the spread of spiritual darkness among the ungodly or (2) the gradual waning of the power of Satan and his forces (see also Exodus 10:4–15, 21–29).

Sixth plague: The waters of the River Euphrates dry up, “that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared” (v. 12). This is not further explained, but “in the Old Testament a mighty action of God is frequently associated with the drying up of waters, as the Red Sea (Ex. 14:21), the Jordan (Jos. 3:16–17), and several times in prophecy (Is. 11:15; Je. 51:36; Zc. 10:11). Beyond the Roman Empire, east of Euphrates, was for John’s readers ‘a great unknown land.’ Who could tell what mighty kings lurked there? The Parthians lived in that area and during the first century there was a persistent fear that they would invade the Empire. This was reinforced by the Nero redivivus myth, which affirmed that Nero would put himself at the head of the Parthian hordes and march into the Empire.

“John is suggesting that at the End all these fears and more will be realized. We should bear in mind that Nero and his armies in the myth were not going to ally themselves with Rome, but to attack her. So John is thinking of division among the forces of evil (see 17:16), not of a united front. But we would be wrong in holding that he is doing no more than voice a contemporary expectation. By appealing to contemporary fears he is making the point that at the end of time the divided forces of evil (cf. 17:16) will engage in a terrible conflict. Curiously, having told us that the way will be cleared for the mighty potentates to march westward, John does not follow this up. He does not say that the kings used the way prepared for them. In fact he does not mention them again.”^1

John then sees all of the nations gathered together to fight against the Jews in the valley of Armageddon (see also Ezekiel 38:16–39; Zechariah 14:2). Of Armageddon, Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written: “The kings of the earth and of the whole world will gather to fight the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Their command center will be at Armageddon, overlooking the valley of Megiddo. All nations will be gathered against Jerusalem. Two hundred thousand thousand warriors and more—two hundred million men of arms and more—shall come forth to conquer or die on the plains of Esdraelon and in all the nations of the earth. At the height of this war, the Lord Jesus will put his foot on the Mount of Olives and save his ancient covenant people.” In short, “This, in truth, will be a worldwide conflict; the sword that is wielded in the mountains of Israel will be the same sword that slays men in all nations.”^2

Seventh plague: The seventh angel pours “his vial into the air” (vv. 17–21), and there follows cataclysmic occurrences. Thunders, lightnings, and the massive earthquake caused by the Savior’s descent to the Mount of Olives (Revelation 11) then follow. Not only is the great city of Jerusalem divided into three parts but also “the islands shall become one land; and the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion [Independence, Missouri] shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like as it was in the days before it was divided” (D&C 133:23–24). John also notices that there falls upon the wicked huge hailstones, each stone weighing a talent—anywhere from forty-five to one hundred pounds, depending on the system of weights and measures used! But as is the case so many times before in John’s revelation, the wicked refuse to repent but rather continue to blaspheme the name of God.

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