“And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels, having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God” (Revelation 15:1).
by Tom Ruggirello
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In the Chart of the Ages, the harvest of the Gospel Age is the transition between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God. We are living in that period, so naturally, we wish to know when the kingdom will take full effect. Even the world waits in hope, “on tiptoe … that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of … decay” (Romans 8:18-21, Phillips).
God has given us signposts to know approximately where we are in the harvest. Some of these are in the Book of Revelation, and a prime example is the seven plagues of chapters 15 and 16. There are multiple views on the plagues. When dealing with prophecy, that is to be expected. Following are some appealing suggestions regarding the meaning of these prophetic guideposts.
During the harvest, God deals with the sins of nominal Christianity. The papacy is a central figure here, and is the heart of “Babylon.” But God’s judgments also include man’s fallen society, systems that also incur the wrath of God (Psalms 7:11). These are included in the judgment of the plagues.
The plagues are an undermining and debilitating series of events, ending with a violent overthrow of Nominal Christianity and political governments. The timing that appears most scriptural begins the plagues early in the harvest, 1878 to be specific. The plagues are progressively poured out thereafter, the effect building as each new plague is subsequently released. The seventh plague will destroy the systems in the final crash of Armageddon.
Sequence of the Plagues
Because the seventh plague appears easiest to locate, it will be considered first. Then we will look at the first plague because there is clear scriptural evidence to mark its events. The middle plagues will then be reviewed.
“They gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Armageddon. Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, ‘It is done.’ And there were flashes of lightning, sounds and peals of thunder; and a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came upon the earth, so great an earthquake, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (Revelation 16:16-20, NAS)
The seventh plague begins with the battle of Armageddon, followed by an earthquake and hail. Armageddon just precedes the establishment of the Kingdom on earth. This battle is described in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 as the time Gog descends on Israel to take a spoil. At that time God “shall … fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle” (Zechariah 14:3). These texts will be fulfilled in the future, at the close of the harvest.
It seems reasonable to locate the first plague near the beginning of the harvest. To find the beginning we turn to Ezekiel chapters 9 and 10. This passage refers to the man with a writer’s inkhorn, and is well known to Bible Students.
At the beginning of chapter 9, Ezekiel saw a vision of Jerusalem and its temple. There he saw the abominations committed by the Israelites — idols and pagan worship within the temple courtyard. At the entrance of the temple, women wept for Tammuz, a pagan idol. In the inner court were 25 men facing and worshipping the sun, with their backs to the temple of God. These were Israelites who consequently bore a great responsibility for their idolatry.
The Lord then gives a prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction, by six men with destroying weapons. Among them was a man dressed in white linen with a writer’s inkhorn. He was to go about Jerusalem, marking the foreheads of those who mourned over the abominations. Thereafter the six with destroying weapons could proceed to destroy the city.
The immediate fulfillment of this prophecy was in the ministry of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah chapters 21 and 39, God spoke of destroying Jerusalem and through Jeremiah gave faithful Jews an opportunity to leave the city and be saved. The six men with shattering weapons correspond to Nebuchadnezzar’s army sieging and taking Jerusalem, after Jeremiah’s work.
Speaking of the Jews at Jerusalem, Jeremiah 25:10 says, “I will take from them the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp.” This text is virtually the exact wording used in Revelation 18:21, 23. “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer … the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer … because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery.”
The parallel is clear. The destruction of Jerusalem pictures the destruction of spiritual Babylon, with Papacy at its core. In Revelation 7 the faithful ones of the Gospel harvest are sealed in their foreheads, before the fall of spiritual Babylon in the four winds — just as the faithful in Ezekiel’s day were marked in their foreheads, before the fall of Jerusalem.
Revelation 16:2 says that the first plague caused a malignant sore on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image. The contrast is remarkable. The saints
receive the mark of God’s approval, while the nominal, who possess the mark of the beast, must deal with a malignant sore. As Jerusalem’s abominations roused God’s anger, so the plagues are the expression of God’s anger towards institutions which brought idolatry into the worship of God (Revelation 15:1).
This pinpoints the beginning of the plagues, since the seven men in Ezekiel 9, who judged Jerusalem, picture the seven plagues of Revelation, which execute God’s judgment on Christendom. This first plague is unique from the others. It is the harvest message, calling out the faithful before the six men with slaughter weapons are released for their destructive work.
The man with the writer’s inkhorn in Ezekiel 9 sealed the faithful. The same man, in Ezekiel 10, scattered coals of fire over Jerusalem, showing that the city had been judged by God and its destruction was at hand — as indicated in Volumes 2, 3, and 4.
The harvest message has weakened Christendom. The saints, being drawn out, leaves the system spiritually weaker. The message of judgment has had a debilitating effect. The harvest message, the first plague, expressed God’s judgments which began the process of tearing down.
Plagues Two Through Six
Thus, the last plague is at Armageddon. The first plague is the harvest message. Plagues 2-6 fall sequentially in between.
“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” (Revelation 16:3).
The sea represents restless humanity. This apparently applies to World War I, as the Time of Trouble commenced following 40 years of Truth work.
WWI caused the death of some 16 million people. Germany lost 15% of its male population, Austria-Hungary lost 17%, and France lost 10.5% of its male population. About 750,000 German civilians died from starvation caused by the British naval blockade during the war. Diseases flourished. In 1914 alone, liceborne typhus killed 200,000 people in Serbia.
WWI had residual effects long after the war ended. The Russian famine of 1921 killed from 5-10 million people. By 1922, there were between 4.5-7 million homeless children in Russia resulting from nearly a decade of devastation from WWI, the Russian Civil War, and the subsequent famine.
On a spiritual level, WWI caused Europeans to lose faith in their institutions, especially in Christianity. This made the work of godless philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx more popular than ever. Nietzsche, a German philosopher, challenged the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality. During the 1930’s, some of Nietzsche’s philosophies were espoused by Hitler and Italian Fascists.
The works of Marx inspired the birth of many 20th century communist regimes. Darwin’s theory of evolution had undermined the authority of the Bible, making Christianity less believable and less desired. Evolution appealed to secular minds as an alternative to the Bible.
The increased influence of these misguided philosophies grew from a loss of faith in institutions after WWI. The war also removed longstanding support of the royal houses of Europe, and thus a supporting pillar of Christendom.
Revelation 16:3 describes the sea class turned into blood; that is, without a living hope to guide them forward.
“The third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood. 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. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.’ And I heard another out of the altar say, ‘Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous [are] thy judgments’” (Revelation 16:4-7).
A river of blood cannot sustain life, so this is something that at one time gave life, but during this plague was unable to do so. The next major world event following WWI came the Great Depression. It caused up to 25% unemployment in the United States. (By comparison, the US economy recently struggled with just under 10% unemployment.) The 1929 stock market crash saw stocks drop some 86% in three years.
Foreclosures and bankruptcies were at an all-time high. Many farmers lost their farms and countless others were homeless. The Depression was compounded by a devastating drought, the Dust Bowl, lasting from 1930 to 1936. Clouds of dust blown off the dry fields from Oklahoma and Texas reached as far east as New York and Washington. The Great Depression caused a “sudden and general loss of confidence in the economic future” (Wikipedia).
“The fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. 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” (Revelation 16:8,9).
The next major event that plagued Christendom was World War II. The previous World War saw the death of some 16 million people, while this war killed roughly 70 million.
This plague gave “power to scorch men with fire.” This may refer to the atomic bombs that finally ended the war with Japan, as this plague “scorched the earth with great heat.”
On a spiritual level, WWII caused the continued rise of existentialism and the growing philosophies of Nietzsche and Marx. Existentialism says that the individual is solely responsible for giving his or her own life any meaning. It is a secular, anti-God philosophy. It has had an un-Christianizing effect on society, as they abandoned Christian principles and concentrated on self. The withering of Christianity accelerated in Europe because of the war. Modernism swept through mainline denominations, which resulted in discomfort (“scorching”) in the light of the Gospel sun.
WWII saw the Soviet Union become a world power. England had gone to war because of Germany’s invasion of Poland. But after the long bitter war, Poland suffered under the control of Joseph Stalin. 20th-century communism diminished Christianity in Eastern Europe and contributed to almost 100,000,000 deaths.
“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, And blasphemed the God of heaven becauseof their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds” (Revelation 16:10,11).
The “beast” here is Papacy (as in Revelation 13). In the aftermath of World War II Papacy suffered tremendous losses as Communism swept over Catholic strongholds in central and eastern Europe. The weakness of Papacy in these years was evidenced by Vatican II, which some brethren link to this fifth plague.
The Vatican II council, convened in 1962 by Pope John 23rd, addressed the influence of theologians who wished to modernize the church and change the way the church did things. Even many Catholics describe Vatican II as a revolutionary event. For example, Vatican II changed the way the mass was said. In the U.S. the mass is now said in English, and the presiding priest now faces the audience, making them more a part of the
Under Vatican II Papacy changed their view of Protestants, Jews, and even unbelievers, now seeing them as “separated brethren.” This will be a contributing factor when the dragon, beast, and false prophet cooperate in Plague Six.
Vatican II concluded that eating meat on Friday was now acceptable. This may seem a minor point, but this change resulted from pressure by American bishops. Not eating meat on Friday is what distinguished Catholics from other Americans. Now, the “immutable laws” of the church had mutated and people wondered what would change next. Were the old rules wrong? If so, how can one know if the new rules coming from Rome were correct? Changes implied that centuries-old practices were wrong. If Rome could be challenged by American Bishops, then maybe Rome was not so infallible.
Birth control was an issue that many priests wanted to discuss at Vatican II, but the Pope removed it from the agenda, not wanting to address the issue. Thus, modern Catholics have largely ignored the church’s position on birth control and simply do what they want. “When the Pope turned down the recommendations of the lower orders [regarding birth control] the people had already made up their minds. …It was this development, more than any other, that shattered the authority structure” (Andrew Greeley, an American Catholic priest).
“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. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs [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. 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. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed [is] he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walks naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon” (Revelation 16:12-16).
This plague recalls how the ancient city of Babylon was captured. The Euphrates flowed under the great walls and through the city. By diverting the Euphrates, the army of Persian king Cyrus climbed under the river gates to capture the city. The river was dried “so that the way of the kings of the east [Persia] might be prepared.” This illustrates that the way of Christ and the church is thus prepared to take rulership of the earth.
Cyrus is mentioned in Isaiah 45:1-4 as God’s “anointed … Cyrus, whose right hand I have held” to subdue nations and release Israel from bondage. While Belshazzar was feasting in revelry, drinking wine and praising “the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone,” a man’s hand mysteriously wrote on the palace walls, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.” Only Daniel could give the sense of the mysterious message.
“Numbered, numbered, weight, divided”— “God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it … you have been weighed in the scales and found deficient … your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:26,27). Belshazzar perished that night.
The drying of the Euphrates then will prepare mankind for the coming Mediatorial reign of Jesus and the Church. The handwriting on the wall of Belshazzar’s palace expresses God’s
judgment against nominal spiritual Babylon. As Belshazzar drank from the vessels of God’s temple, so Papacy has profaned the worship of God by worshipping saints, relics and statues. It has been weighed in God’s balances and will be destroyed so that the reign of a truly righteous king can take its place. The sixth plague prepares the elements for plague seven, the overthrow of Satan’s empire.
As Cyrus blessed natural Israel in their release from bondage, the work of King Jesus also benefits natural Israel. Israel is restored in order to administer kingdom blessings when
the antitypical Cyrus takes full power over the nations.
Drying of the Euphrates
The Euphrates was the life source of Babylon. The life source of Christianity and society is twofold: Its public support and its money. In plague six, people withdraw their moral support
of churches and governments and economic activity withers.
We have seen two steep economic declines since the turn of the century — one in 2001, another in 2008. We have recovered from both, but with serious underlying concerns. It is likely that these will resurface, causing continued stress on the fabric of society. This, in turn, will precipitate an effort toward stability, as the dragon, beast, and false prophet lean upon each other for mutual support. It will be an abortive effort, however, taking us to Armageddon.
The cooperation of these entities is encouraged by a croaking of “frogs” (Revelation 16:13). Frogs croak to attract a mate or to protect their territory. Perhaps both are factors in the symbols here. Papacy, governments, and a Protestant alliance will seek mutual support as mates and as they endeavor to protect their territory. When these three powers croak, it will be with an air of power and authority greater than warranted — as a frog swells pompously when croaking.
The dragon, beast, and false prophet then gather the nations to Armageddon, suggesting that, in addition to the final battle in Israel, Armageddon will have a world-wide effect.
The seventh plague is poured out into the air (verse 17). As Prince of the power of the air this may indicate the final restraint of Satan and his fallen angels, removing their control
and influence. When plague seven is released, verse 17 says, “It is done!” This is reminiscent of Jesus’ words on the cross when he said, “It is finished.” Perhaps this marks the end of the true church on earth.
Thereafter follow lightning, thunder, and a great earthquake in which “The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell” (verse 19). The three-part union of dragon, beast, and false prophet assembled in plague six will be broken, and Babylon finally destroyed.
(1) The plaguing effect of the Harvest Message sent by our Lord through Bro. Russell.
(2) The effects of WWI, socially and philosophically.
(3) The Great Depression, as it drained confidence in economic matters.
(4) The devastation of WWII and the continued buildup of secular philosophies.
(5) Vatican II’s erosion of confidence in the seat of the beast.
(6) The current withdrawal of moral and financial support from the systems.
(7) Armageddon, the greatest time of trouble this world will ever see, but in its wake, the Kingdom.
Meanwhile, during plague six, Jesus admonishes us. “Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame” (verse15). Let us stay awake to what God is doing, and keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Let us live devotedly, serving God, and growing in Christlikeness.