Thursday, 6 May 2021
Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain. Revelation 16:10
With the fourth bowl complete, the scene immediately moves to the pouring out of the next one, and so John says, “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast.”
The pouring out has gone from the earth to the sea to the rivers and springs of water. It now goes to “the throne of the beast.” Where is the throne of the beast? Revelation can get confusing and biblical references, depending on one’s world view, will be chosen to fit the scenario. Chapter 17 identifies a great harlot who sits on “seven mountains.” The Greek word can mean both “mountains” and “hills.”
Rome for thousands of years has been known as the city on seven hills and so this is a likely choice. Jerusalem doesn’t sit on seven hills, even though people have tried to fudge that into belief over the years. If the hills are literal, then the beast’s throne is Rome. However, elsewhere in the Bible, mountains are symbolic of governmental authority. Therefore, the “mountains” could be seven governments on which the harlot sits.
Based on an analysis of Daniel chapter 9, it does seem more likely that this is speaking of Rome and therefore the mountains are literal. Either way, the fifth angel’s bowl is poured out on the throne of the beast. When he does, the beast’s “kingdom became full of darkness.”
In the Bible, darkness is as much of a judgment as any of the other torments experienced. One might think that relief from the sun would be found, but the heat of the sun hasn’t gone away. Rather it is still there, but the darkness won’t even allow men to locate refuge. The darkness during the plague of Egypt was so intense that it could actually be felt –
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.’ 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” Exodus 10:21-23
Darkness is recorded for judgment elsewhere in the OT prophets such as Isaiah, Joel, and Nahum. It can represent calamity, chaos, confusion, and distress. Concerning judgment of sin, darkness came upon all the land at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion –
“Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matthew 27:45-46).
The difference between the darkness at that time and the time of the tribulation is marked though. When Jesus died, sin was judged in Christ as a substitution for others’ sins. But during the tribulation, the judgment of darkness is poured out directly on the people for their own sins. It will be horrific and exacting. It will be so agonizing that “they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.”
The word translated as “gnawed” is found nowhere else. The expression itself is also unique. However, it is completely understandable. The grief of the affliction is so great that the people will chew on their tongues, looking for relief from the anguish they experience. This anguish, as noted above, certainly includes the heat of the sun. The darkness has not brought relief from that. Rather, the people are as if in an oven. They are being baked alive in the darkness along with other afflictions as well. The surprising lack of change in their attitudes will be revealed in the next verse.
Life application: The water has been affected, the sun’s heat is radiating down on the people, and the people are now doused in darkness as well. The gnawing of their tongues gives the sense of great distress from thirst. The terror of such a plight is actually highlighted at the cross of Christ.
Despite all of the afflictions He suffered, the one that is brought into the narrative by His own words is that of thirst –
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ 29 Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. 30 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” John 19:28-30
In the end, all men are destined to die. During our lives, there is a spiritual thirst that exists. Most are not even aware of it. And yet, it is the greatest thirst of all. Without having it quenched, man will die apart from God and his thirst will continue on for all eternity. But if it is quenched, it will produce a fountain that will spring up for all eternity.
The choice is ours, and we must make it while we have the chance. Jesus spoke of it –
“Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.’” John 4:13, 14
He refers to this elsewhere as well. What we as humans need is to be revivified by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our souls. When this happens, we receive the water that will last forever. The way to receive this is to receive what God has offered in the giving of His Christ. Let us be wise and let us receive it today. The offer is made; the offer is JESUS!
Oh God, the terrifying nature of the plagues of Revelation reveals our need to get the word out to others. The time is coming, and the world needs to be ready. Help us to be effective communicators of the gospel of salvation which will keep others from going through the terrible miseries that lie ahead for the unrepentant world. May we be faithful to this calling. Amen.