Plagues first, Armageddon next
Bowls full of anger1 I heard a loud voice. Someone at heaven’s temple told the seven angels, “It’s time to go. Dump all seven bowls of God’s anger onto the world.”
2 The first angel dumped his bowl onto the ground. Painful and repulsive-looking sores broke out all over the bodies of people who wore the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue.
3 The second angel dumped his bowl into the sea. The water turned into blood, like the blood on a corpse. It killed everything in the sea.
4 The third angel dumped his bowl into the freshwater rivers and underground springs. The water turned into blood. 5 Then I heard the angel responsible for earth’s water cry out,
“You are being fair.
You are and have always been the Holy One
That’s why you’ve made these judgment calls.
and other devoted people.
So blood is what they’ll drink.
They get what they deserve.” 7 Then a voice cried out from the altar,
Lord God, ruler of all,
Your judgment calls are fair and grounded in the truth.”
10 The fifth angel dumped his bowl on the beast’s throne. Lights went out all over his kingdom. Darkness ran the place. People bit their tongues to distract themselves from the intense pain they were experiencing. 11 After all this, they still cussed God out for the sores and the pain they were suffering. They refused to stop their hurtful way of living.
12 The sixth angel dumped his bowl into the Great River, the Euphrates. The river dried up. That opened the door to a coalition of kings invading from the East.
Prep for Battle of Armageddon13 I saw three demons. They looked like frogs. One came out of the dragon Satan’s mouth. Another crawled out of the mouth of the sea beast. And the third crawled out of the mouth of the land beast who became a fraud prophet. 14 These demons left on a mission to incite rulers all over the world to muster their armies to fight against the invincible God. 15 “Listen to me. I’m coming. But it’ll be like a thief, at a time that will surprise you. You won’t regret it if you stay alert and keep your clothes handy so you don’t get caught naked and embarrassed when it happens.” 16 Demons mustered all the kings and their armies into one place. It’s known in the Hebrew language as Armageddon.
Seventh angel: wrath’s finale17 The seventh angel dumped his bowl into the air. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne inside heaven’s temple: “Done!” 18 I saw lightning start to flash. I began to hear thunder booming. I felt a rumbling escalate into an earthquake more violent than any in human history. 19 Babylon split three ways as cities all over the world convulsed and collapsed. God remembered Babylon. He served it a cup brimming with the wine of his anger. 20 Every island and every mountain disappeared. 21 Massive hailstones—each one up to 75 pounds (33 kg)—hammered the people. Survivors bad-mouthed God for causing such a devastating disaster.
Some ancient copies of Revelation put the number at 616. Letters had number values. The name of Nero works with both numbers, 616 and 666. He ruled AD 37-68 and was the first emperor on record to persecute Christians. His name engraved onto coins in Latin, the official language of the Romans, is “Nero Caesar.” Numbers hand numerical value in ancient times. The six letters Jews used to translate that into their language of Hebrew add up to 616. But that same name and title in Greek, the international language of the day, is “Neron Caesar.” Jews used seven letters to translate that version of the name. Those seven letters add up to 666. Another contender is Emperor Domitian (ruled AD 81-96), another aggressive persecutor of Christians. His name and title occasionally show up abbreviated on Roman coins with Greek letters that add up to 666.
Reminiscent of Egypt’s king refusing to let the Jewish slave nation leave, which would have halted the 10 Plagues of Egypt (Exodus 9:35).
“East” for Jews in Bible times meant east of what is now the Jewish homeland of Israel. In John’s day, when he wrote in perhaps the AD 90s, east may have referred to kings in the Parthian Empire in what is now eastern Iraq and most of Iran. One legend about dead Emperor Nero was that he would return to power, leading a Parthian army—an empire Rome hadn’t been able to conquer. See note for 13:3 for more about the Elvis-isn’t-dead kind of myth about Nero.
Ancient lit tells of demons traveling in and out of people through the tunnel of a person’s mouth or nose. First-century Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37-100) wrote about an exorcist named Eleazar using a root as demon bait. “He drew out the demon through his [a possessed man’s] nostrils…the man fell down immediately” (Antiquities of the Jews, 8.47).
Some scholars link these “rulers of the world” to the 10 rulers who fight for the sea beast, against the forces of God. Others say “rulers of the world” means all the nations that are hostile to people devoted to God. Some say John was talking about a day when the Romans would no longer persecute Christians. Others say they anticipate an end-time battle, possibly in what is now Israel and Palestinian Territory.
Sounds like Jesus: “If a homeowner knows that a thief is coming, and when, the homeowner is going to be prepared. No one’s going to break into that house. You, too, need to stay alert. The Son of Humans is coming, but you don’t know when” (Matthew 24:43-44).
Possibly a metaphor about what it would feel like to stand unprepared before God and all of humanity on Judgment Day.
Armageddon. No such word in Hebrew. No such place. Most popular interpretation: It’s Harmagedon. Not as in “harm” from battle. But har, the Hebrew word for “hill” or “mountain.” Many scholars say Armageddon is a combo word—har magedon—which means Megiddo Mountain. Megiddo was a fortress city on a 100-foot-high hill (30 meters) by a main mountain pass in northern Israel. It overlooked fertile fields some 30 miles wide by 200 miles long (48 by 320 km). French General Napoleon called it the perfect battlefield. He was talking about what is now Israel’s sprawling primo farmland: Jezreel Valley, nicknamed the Valley of Armageddon. Romans called it the Great Plain, and set up a base there: Legion of the Great Plain. Armies have clashed there more than 30 times throughout the centuries.
“Babylon” became a code name for Rome after Rome leveled Jerusalem in AD 70. The Babylonian Empire had done the same thing in 586 BC.
Bible experts are divided about who the angels target with these plagues and whether the plagues are literal or symbolic. Do you think these plagues sound like a description of what happened when Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, or perhaps the fall of Rome centuries later?
Take a quick read through each of the seven disasters and see if you can think of anything going on today or in recent history that might track with these descriptions. Caution: don’t presume that John or God intended us to apply these disasters to our day, as though history revolves around us because we’re the most important generation of all.
As you look at the list of disasters, identify any threats or fears of future disasters we feel that might track with some of these horrific tragedies?
Read about the Battle of Armageddon in 16:13-16. What surprises you about it?