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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder


Rev 16:17-21 And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

The pouring out of God's wrath from the vial by the seventh angel introduces the final catastrophic judgment against the beast and his allies, whom we have noted as the Roman Catholic papacy, the Roman imperialistic governors, and the dragon, which is Satan. Why the vial's contents were poured into the air is not specifically given here, however Ephesians 2:2 gives us a clue. In that reference, the air is described as the worldly region of the powers of evil. This seems to be a fitting analogy for the lesson text. Also, God's wrath being poured out into the air, could also symbolically reference tempests at sea, and storms on land, that originate in the unsettled state of the atmosphere.

This was accompanied by a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne. References have often been made to voices from heaven, and many times they come from God's messengers, His angels. However, when it comes from both the temple of heaven and from the throne, one can only consider it to be the very voice of God, or at least a holy being speaking His will. The voice's divine proclamation was, It is done! It is finished! With the pouring out of the seventh vial, the emancipation of the church of Christ from the evil enemies of true Christianity will be completed. The suppression of God's word by the "beast of Rome," that is, the Roman Catholic papacy, is to come to an end forever. However, in this text it is so sure that freedom will finally come to Christ's body, that it is spoken as if it had already taken place.

This wondrous decree of God was accompanied by a symbolic upheaval on earth - a dramatic change that will once again give voice to the preaching of God's truths from the New Testament doctrine of Christ. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings. This dynamic symbolism is used on other occasions in the Revelation letter to give divine credibility to commandments and/or miraculous acts of God (See Rev. 4:5, 8:5, and 11:19). Likewise the same is true for earthquakes (See Rev. 6:12 and 11:19). However, the earthquake, referred to here, is the greatest in symbolic destructive magnitude that ever occurred since men were upon the earth. Never before in the history of mankind was there an earthquake that would be so mighty ...and so great, as that predicted by this symbolic prophecy. The judgment of God reflected by this prophecy would be so severe that only the greatest and mightiest of earthquakes could be used to symbolize its disruptive and destructive intensity.

The result of this great and mighty earthquake was that the great city was divided into three parts. As stated further in this verse, the great city referred to here was spiritual Babylon, or Rome. It was not the ancient city founded on the shores of the Euphrates River, because it was destroyed centuries prior to this vision of John, and was nonexistent. It is the same symbolic city of Rome that was referred to in Revelation 14:8. The significance of Rome being divided into three parts has resulted in much debate. This much we know for sure; the city was severely shaken by the symbolic earthquake. The division seems to merely predict its spiritual and civil powers failing, resulting in complete destruction. And with the fall of Rome, the cities of the nations fell, meaning the other national entities of the world, that were under the civil and religious control of the Roman papacy, also lost their powers. The most probable truth to the failing of the three parts of this symbolic city is that the three allied spirits, revealed as the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, ceased to trust, support, and defend one another, and parted ways due to the foreign military invasions that descended on Rome, which resulted in its final, complete destruction.

Rome, and the sinful persecution it exercised on the world, had been allowed to continue unchecked, and without divine correction and punishment for centuries. But now the time had come for Rome to receive its just reward. Its Satan inspired society, its evil temporal government, and its sacrilegious, apostate Roman Catholic papacy, had now brought down God's wrath upon their sinful civil and religious state - great Babylon (Rome) came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.

The destructive tumult that resulted from God's wrath, symbolically represented here as a great earthquake, not only destroyed the evil influences of the Roman Empire, and its apostate religious order, but every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. Islands and mountains practically always symbolize earthly powers. Just as Rome lost its religious dominance and control over temporal governments, so other nations became independent, and also separated themselves from the papal powers of Roman Catholicism.

Not only was God's wrath against the evil and unrepentant people of the world symbolically represented by a very destructive earthquake, but also by a great hail that fell out of heaven and destroyed them. The severity of the God's vengeance is demonstrate by the weight of each hail stone, said to be about the weight of a talent, and, according to historians, anywhere from 50 to 100 pounds. Did this literally take place? Probably not, but it is symbolically meant to express the severity of God's wrath upon all earthly evils that prohibit, control, and/or change His New Testament gospel from being scripturally preached throughout the world, to all that desire eternal salvation through His Son, Christ Jesus. Even under these devastating conditions, when mankind was punished for their anti-Christian persecution of God's children, they refused to repent of their ways. Instead, as they had previously done, according to verses 9 and 11, they blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

Although they are more fully disclosed, and discussed at length, in chapters that follow, chapter 16 closes with a summary statement of the final destruction of the dominating power, and restricting authority, of the Roman Catholic papacy over the New Testament church of Christ. Barnes, in his biblical Notes, aptly closes his commentary on this chapter of the Revelation with this summary statement: We are not, indeed, to suppose that this will literally occur; but the fair interpretation of prophecy leads us to suppose that that formidable power will, at no very distant period, be overthrown in a manner that would be well represented by such a fearful storm.