I know, it is the eve of Mayan Apocalypse. No, this post is not about that. We have come to the end, at least for Rome.
The seven angels come forward and cast out the contents of their golden bowls onto various aspects of the natural world (the earth, sea, rivers, the Euphrates, sun, sky) and on the throne of the beast (Rome, itself). The bowls are filled with “plagues” (16:9), and we can’t help but think of the Exodus, especially when people are afflicted with painful sores, water is turned to blood, the world is plunged into darkness, and a river is dried up. Let there be no mistake. This is a second Exodus (or a third, if you count the Babylonian invasion, captivity, and return towards the end of the Old Testament). Rome is another Egypt. Caesar is another Pharaoh. Just like Pharaoh, there are hard hearts in the crowd:
They cursed the name of the God who had authority over these plagues. They did not repent or give him glory. (16:9b)
But unlike the Egyptians, many who softened and begged Pharaoh to relent, the average Roman remains hardened, cursing God and refusing to repent. In the first two sets of seven, we had an interlude between the sixth and seventh bowl or trumpet which was spoken to the saints directly intending to bring hope. We have an interlude here, but only for the triumvirate of evil (dragon, beast, and false prophet, 16:13) to gather forces to enter battle from forces marching from the east across the “dried up” Euphrates. The march to the bloody end continues, and will do so for three more chapters in a grand mix of images.
The term “Armageddon” is a Hebrew derivative and comes from 16:16 where Wright follows several translations and calls the site of the last battle “Mount Megiddo.” That translation is not unanimous, in fact, this passage is a hotly contested one. Is this referring to the city of Megiddo in northern Israel? Is this referring to a mountain (that Megiddo did not have)? Is this being used symbolically (which I suspect), as Megiddo had been the site of many pivotal battles between nations from that area of the world? We run the risk of getting too caught up in specific details. The fact that East meets West in Israel (some say) in this vision is why people inclined towards latter-day prophecy see some final battle involving the modern state of Israel and tension in the Middle East, especially Iran now (though, wasn’t it Iraq ten years ago?). Mix religion with American foreign political policy and you can see how this gets messy in a hurry.
Back to the Bible: today, it all ends with the seventh bowl, where a divine voice says “It is done!” (16:17) — an echo of the cross? — and the great city (Rome, presumably) both falls in an unparalleled earthquake and is crushed by gigantic hailstones.
I am struck by how the people of the great city have become so depraved that God’s punishment has only caused them to become more set against God and resistant to repentance. But after the evil we have seem in Newtown, Connecticut and various other places recently, I shouldn’t be surprised.