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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 16 - Verse 2

Verse 2. And the first went. Went forth from heaven, where the seat of the vision was laid.

And poured out his vial upon the earth. That is, upon the land, in contradistinction from the sea, the rivers, the air, the seat of the beast, the sun, as represented in the other vials. In Re 16:1, the word earth is used in the general sense to denote this world as distinguished from heaven; in this verse it is used in the specific sense, to denote land as distinguished from other things. Compare Mr 4:1; 6:47; Joh 6:21; Ac 27:29,43-44.

In many respects there is a strong resemblance between the pouring out of these seven vials, and the sounding of the seven trumpets, in chapters 8 and 9, though they refer to different events. In the sounding of the first trumpet, (Re 8:7,) it was the earth that was particularly affected, in contradistinction from the sea, the fountains, and the sun: "The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were east upon the earth." Compare Re 8:8,10,12.

In regard to the symbolical meaning of the term earth, considered with reference to Divine judgments, see Barnes "Re 8:7".

 

And there fell a noisome and grievous sore. The judgment here is specifically different from that inflicted under the first trumpet, Re 8:7. There it is said to have been that "the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up." Here it is that there fell upon men a noisome and grievous sore." The two, therefore, are designed to refer to different events, and to different forms of punishment. The word rendered sore properly denotes a wound, (Hom. Il. xi. 812,) and then, in later writers, an ulcer or sore. It is used in the New Testament only in the following places: Lu 16:21, "the dogs came and licked his sores;" and in Re 16:2, 11, where it is rendered sore, and sores. It is used in the Septuagint, in reference to the boils that were brought upon the Egyptians, in Ex 9:9-12, and probably De 28:27; in reference to the leprosy, Le 13:18-20,23; in reference to the boil, ulcer, or elephantiasis brought upon Job, Job 2:7; and in reference to any sore or ulcer, in De 28:35. In all these places it is the translation of the word ? Shehhin—rendered in our English version boil, Ex 9:9-11; Le 13:18-20,23; 2 Ki 20:7; Job 2:7

Isa 38:21; and botch, De 28:27,35. The proper meaning, therefore, is that of a sore, ulcer, or boil of a severe and painful character; and the most obvious reference in the passage, to one who was accustomed to the language of Scripture, would be to some fearful plague like that which was sent upon the Egyptians. In the case of Hezekiah, (2 Ki 20:7; Isa 38:21,) it was probably used to denote a plague-boil, or the black leprosy. See Barnes on "Isa 38:21".

The word "noisome" —kakon, evil, bad—is used here to characterize the plague referred to as being peculiarly painful and dangerous. The word grievousponhron, bad, malignant, hurtful—is further used to increase the intensity of the expression, and to characterize the plague as particularly severe. There is no reason to suppose that it is meant that this would be literally inflicted, any more than it is in the next plague, where it is said that the "rivers and fountains became blood." What is obviously meant is, that there would be some calamity which would be well represented or symbolized by such a fearful plague. Upon the men. Though the plague was poured upon "the earth," yet its effects were seen upon "men." Some grievous calamity would befall them, as if they were suddenly visited with the plague.

Which had the mark of the beast. Barnes on "Re 13:16-17".

This determines the portion of the earth that was to be afflicted. It was not the whole world; it was only that part of it where the "beast" was honoured. According to the interpretation proposed in chapter 13, this refers to those who are under the dominion of the Papacy.

And upon them which worshipped his image. See Barnes on "Re 13:14,15".

According to the interpretation in chapter 13, those are meant who sustained the civil or secular power to which the Papacy gave life and strength, and from which it, in turn, received countenance and protection.

In regard to the application or fulfilment of this symbol, it is unnecessary to say that there have been very different opinions in the world, and that very different opinions still prevail. The great mass of Protestant commentators suppose that it refers to the Papacy; and of those who entertain this opinion, the greater portion suppose that the calamity referred to by the pouring out of this vial is already past, though it is supposed by many that the things foreshadowed by a part of these" vials" are yet to be accomplished. As to the true meaning of the symbol before us, I would make the following remarks:—

(1.) It refers to the Papal power. This application is demanded by the results which were reached in the examination of chapter 13. See the remarks on the "beast" in Barnes on "Re 13:1-2,11, and on the "image of the beast" in Barnes on "Re 13:14-15".

This one mighty power existed in two forms closely united, and mutually sustaining each other—the civil or secular, and the ecclesiastical or spiritual. It is this combined and consolidated power— the Papacy as such—that is referred to here, for this has been the grand Antichristian power in the world.

(2.) It refers to some grievous and fearful calamity which would come upon that power, and which would be like a plague-spot on the human body—something which would be of the nature of a Divine judgment resembling that which came upon the Egyptians for their treatment of the people of God.

(3.) The course of this exposition leads us to suppose that this would be the beginning in the series of judgments which would terminate in the complete overthrow of that formidable power. It is the first of the vials of wrath, and the whole description evidently contemplates a series of disasters which would be properly represented by these successive vials. In the application of this, therefore, we should naturally look for the first of a series of such judgments, and should expect to find some facts in history which would be properly represented by the vial "poured upon the earth."

(4.) In accordance with this representation, we should expect to find such a series of calamities gradually weakening, and finally terminating the Papal power in the world, as would be properly represented by the number seven.

(5.) In regard now to the application of this series of symbolical representations, it may be remarked that most recent expositors—as Elliott, Cunninghame, Keith, Faber, Lord, and others, refer them to the events of the French revolution, as important events in the over- throw of the Papal power; and this, I confess, although the application is attended with some considerable difficulties, has more plausibility than any other explanation proposed. In support of this application, the following considerations may be suggested:—

(a) France, in the time of Charlemagne, was the kingdom to which the Papacy owed its civil organization and its strength—a kingdom to which could be traced all the civil or secular power of the Papacy, and which was, in fact, a restoration or re-construction of the old Roman power—the fourth kingdom of Daniel. See Barnes on "Da 7:24-28"

and compare Barnes on "Re 13:3,12-14".

The restoration of the old Roman dominion under Charlemagne, and the aid which he rendered to the Papacy in its establishment as to a temporal power, would make it probable that this kingdom would be referred to in the series of judgments that were to accomplish the overthrow of the Papal dominion.

(b) In an important sense, France has always been the head of the Papal power. The king of France has been usually styled, by the popes themselves, "the eldest son of the church." In reference to the whole Papal dominion in former times, one of the principal reliances has been on France, and, to a very large extent, the state of Europe has been determined by the condition of France. "A revolution in France," said Napoleon, "is sooner or later followed by a revolution in Europe."—Alison. Its central position; its power; its direct relation to all the purposes and aims of the Papacy, would seem to make it probable that, in the account of the final destruction of that power, this kingdom would not be overlooked.

(c) The scenes which occurred in the times of the French revolution were such as would be properly symbolized by the pouring out of the first, the second, the third, and the fourth vials. In the passage before us—the pouring out of the first vial—the symbol employed is that of "a noisome and grievous sore"—boil, ulcer, plague-spot- "on the men which had the mark of the beast, and on them which worshipped his image." This representation was undoubtedly derived from the account of the sixth plague on Egypt, (Ex 9:9-11;) and the sense here is, not that this would be literally inflicted on the power here referred to, but that a calamity would come upon it which would be well represented by that, or of which that would be an appropriate emblem. This interpretation is further confirmed by Re 11:8, where Rome is referred to under the name of Egypt, and where it is clear that we are to look for a course of Divine dealing in regard to the one resembling that which occurred to the other. See Barnes on "Re 11:8".

Now this "noisome and grievous sore" would well represent the moral corruption, the pollution, the infidelity, the atheism, the general dissolution of society that preceded and accompanied the French revolution; for that was a universal breaking out of loathsome internal disease—of corruption at the centre—and in its general features might be represented as a universal plague-spot on society, extending over the countries where the beast and his image were principally worshipped. The symbol would properly denote that "tremendous outbreak of social and moral evil, of democratic fury, atheism, and vice, which was specially seen to characterize the French revolution: that of which the ultimate source was in the long and deep-seated corruption and irreligion of the nation; the outward vent, expression, and organ of its Jacobin clubs, and seditious and atheistic publications; the result, the dissolution of all society, all morals, and all religion; with acts of atrocity and horror accompanying, scarce paralleled in the history of men; and suffering and anguish of correspondent intensity throbbing throughout the social mass and corroding it; that which, from France as a centre, spread like a plague throughout its affiliated societies to the other countries of Papal Christendom, and was, wherever its poison was imbibed, as much the punishment as the symptoms of the corruption within." Of this sad chapter in the history of man, it is unnecessary to give any description here. For scenes of horror, pollution, and blood, its parallel has never been found in the history of our race, and as an event in history it was worthy of a notice in the symbols which portrayed the future. The full details of these amazing scenes must be sought in the histories which describe them, and to such works as Alison's History of Europe, and Burke's Letters on a Regicide Peace, the reader must be referred. A few expressions copied from those letters of Mr. Burke, penned with no design of illustrating this passage in the Apocalypse, and no expectation that they would be ever so applied, will show with what propriety the spirit of inspiration suggested the phrase, "a noisome and grievous sore" or plague-spot, on the supposition that the design was to refer to these scenes. In speaking of the revolutionary spirit in France, Mr. Burke calls it "the fever of aggravated Jacobinism," "the epidemic of atheistical fanaticism," "an evil lying deep in the corruptions of human nature," "the malignant French distemper," "a plague, with its fanatical spirit of proselytism, that needed the strictest quarantine to guard against it," whereof though the mischief might be "skimmed over" for a time, yet the result, into whatever country it entered, was "the corruption of all morals," "the decomposition of all society," etc. But it is unnecessary to describe those scenes farther. The "world has them by heart," and they can never be obliterated from the memory of man. In the whole history of the race, there has never been an outbreak of evil that showed so deep pollution and corruption within.

(d) The result of this was to affect the Papacy—a blow, in fact, aimed at that power. Of course, all the infidelity and atheism of the French nation, before so strongly Papal, went just so far in weakening the power of the Papacy; and in the ultimate result it will perhaps yet be found that the horrid outbreaks in the French revolution were the first in the series of providential events that will result in the entire overthrow of that Antichristian power. At all events, it will be admitted, I think, that on the supposition that it was intended that this should be descriptive of the scenes that occurred in Europe at the close of the last century, no more expressive symbol could have been chosen than has been employed in the pouring out of this first vial of wrath.

{b} "Earth" Re 8:7 {c} "sore" Ex 9:8-11 {d} "mark" Re 13:15-17

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