Previously: Assemble them for battle – Revelation 16:14-16
Rev. 16:17 –Then the seventh [angel] poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the sanctuary from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 There were flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder. And a severe earthquake occurred like no other since man has been on the earth – so great was the quake. 19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the Great was remembered in God’s presence; He gave her the cup filled with the wine of His fierce anger. (HCSB)
“It is done!”
When the seventh angel pours out his bowl into the air, a loud voice from the sanctuary declares, “It is done!” The 24 elders make a similar pronouncement in Rev. 11:15-19. They announce that “the time has come for the dead to be judged and to give the reward to Your servants the prophets, to the saints, and to those who fear Your name, both small and great, and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth” (v. 18).
More importantly, this cry echoes the declaration of a triumphant Jesus on the cross. Just before His death He shouts, “It is finished!” At Calvary, the Son of Man completes the work of redemption, bearing our sin and receiving the wrath of God on our behalf. Like a Roman commander overlooking the battlefield, He shouts, “It is finished!” because He has vanquished the evil one and released those bound to him in captivity. And like the high priest on the Day of Atonement, He shouts, “It is finished!” because no more sacrifices will be accepted. Both the Roman soldiers and the Jews around the cross have a clear context for understanding the significance of the Lord’s declaration. Jesus has fulfilled the law through His sinless life; fulfilled the types and shadows of the Old Covenant; fulfilled the prophecies of Messiah’s suffering; and completed the task for which the Father sent Him and the Spirit empowered Him. The work of redemption – it is finished!
Yet even after Christ’s finished work there is still sin and suffering. The evil one continues to roam the earth like a lion, seeking whom he may devour. Death marches on seemingly unencumbered. Yes, the work of redemption is completed on the cross, but all that God has promised us in redemption will not come to pass until we rise from the dead in glorification. Satan, sin, and death must be entirely done away with, and at this point in Revelation it seems that it is about to happen. Satan soon will be cast into the lake of fire created for him and his demons. Sin will be a distant memory as we rise in the likeness of Christ. And death will be cast into the lake of fire, along with Hades, the great temporary abode of the dead.
Bending the knee
All those who oppose Christ must now do business with Him. Having rejected the Son of God and having trampled on His blood, unbelievers must rise from the dead in bodies fit for everlasting separation from their Creator. They may shake their fists at Him but ultimately, in eternity, they will shake their heads in wonder. They may blaspheme Him now, but they will bend the knee to Him at the judgment. The One who bears the nail-scarred hands will point them to outer darkness, where the wicked go willfully and remain forever.
Whose voice do we hear from the sanctuary? Likely, it is God’s, or at least someone authorized to publicly announce His will and situated very close to the throne. Perhaps a more important question is, “Who hears the voice?” No doubt the redeemed in heaven hear it. Perhaps the redeemed on earth do as well. But what of those blasphemous unbelievers that curse the very God raining judgment upon them? Do they hear Him say, “It is done?” Do they think there is relief at last from His relentless woes? Do they mistake it for the voice of a god they worship and hope is about to deliver them? Do they hear anything at all?
If so, it is ironic that they now hear the very voice that once called them to salvation, wooed them by the Spirit, echoed from the booming voices of evangelists shamelessly declaring the whole counsel of God. They stopped up their ears to the voices of redemption, and now they hear all too clearly the voice of the One who is their Judge. “It is done!” Perhaps there is no longer any chance for repentance. The day of grace is over. The day of wrath has dawned with full light and heat.
And while the focus here is on blasphemous humans, Satan also is in view. Warren Wiersbe writes: “Why did the angel pour his vial out in the air? Because this is the realm assigned to Satan, ‘the prince of the power of the air’ (Eph. 2:2). The judgments thus far have touched the world of nature and of mankind, but not the ‘mastermind’ behind it all – Satan. However, from this point on, Christ will deal with Satan’s religious system (chap. 17), his political system (chap. 18), his armies (chap. 19), and the old serpent himself (20:1–3). When the seventh vial is emptied out, the throne and the temple of heaven unite in saying, ‘It is done!’ The mystery of God is finished! The souls under the altar must no longer ask, ‘How long?’ This announcement reminds us of Christ’s words on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ When the new heavens and earth are ushered in, God will again say, ‘It is done!’ (Rev. 21:6)” (Expository Outlines on the New Testament, pp. 843-44).
There were flashes of lightning
Next, John sees flashes of lightning and hears rumblings of thunder. And a severe earthquake occurs like no other since man has been on the earth. We have encountered lightning and thunder before in Revelation, associated with the throne of God and the execution of His judgments. In Rev. 4:5, for example, flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder come from the throne as John gazes into the throne room of heaven. In Rev. 8:5 an angel takes fire from the heavenly altar and hurls it to the earth, resulting in rumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. And in Rev. 11:19 God’s sanctuary in heaven is opened, the ark of the covenant appears, and there are flashes of lightning, rumblings of thunder, an earthquake, and severe hail. And now, with the advent of the seventh bowl judgment, there are similar phenomena.
But perhaps the most dramatic development is the severe earthquake, which appears to split the “great city” into three parts. Earthquakes are recorded at various times in scripture:
- Exod. 19:18 – Mt. Sinai shakes violently and is enveloped in smoke as the Lord comes down to meet Moses.
- Num. 16:28-34 – An earthquake swallows the families of Dathan and Abiram in punishment for their rebellion against Moses and Aaron.
- 1 Sam. 14:15 – The Philistines are gripped with fear as the earth shakes and terror spreads from God.
- Ps. 18:7 – David describes the Lord’s deliverance from all his enemies and from the hand of Saul: “Then the earth shook and quaked; the foundations of the mountains trembled; they shook because He burned with anger.”
- Nah. 1:5 – In contrast to what is believed about the storm god Baal, Yahweh alone controls the elements: “The mountains quake before Him, and the hills melt; the earth trembles at His presence – the world and all who live in it.”
- Hab. 3:6 – In a vision, Habakkuk portrays God marching north in power and wrath: “He stands and shakes the earth; He looks and startles the nations. The age-old mountains break apart; the ancient hills sink down. His pathways are ancient.”
The first earthquake in the Holy Land recorded in scripture occurs during the reign of the wicked King Ahab (1 Kings 19:11-12). Another takes place in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah (Amos 1:1; Zech. 14:5). The most memorable earthquake in New Testament times happens at the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27:50-54), a quake so powerful it splits the rocks, opens the tombs, and enables deceased saints God has raised from the dead to emerge from their graves after Christ’s resurrection. That the quake is of supernatural origins is evidenced in the testimony of the Roman soldiers at the cross; terrified, they say, “This man really was God’s Son!” An earthquake also shakes the prison in which Paul and Silas are held captive (Act 16:26).
Used figuratively, an earthquake is a token of the presence of the Lord, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary. For example, Deborah’s song notes, “Lord, when You came from Seir, when You marched from the fields of Edom, the earth trembled …” (Judges 5:4). David’s song of thanksgiving declares, “Then the earth shook and quaked; the foundations of the heavens trembled; they shook because He burned with anger” (2 Sam. 22:8; compare Ps. 18:7). Asaph’s song of confidence in a time of crisis includes the phrase, “The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; lightning lit up the world. The earth shook and quaked” (Ps. 77:18). And the psalm extolling God the Creator records these words, “He looks at the earth and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they pour out smoke” (Ps. 104:32).
So, perhaps just as the declaration, “It is done!” harks back to the cross, so does this devastating earthquake in Revelation 16, which reminds us of the darkness and earth-shaking that took place when our Savior died. The graphic and memorable displays in nature that accompany the work of redemption are echoed in God’s judgment.
Babylon the Great was remembered
The earthquake is of such power that John says it splits the great city into three parts, and the cities of the nations fall. Babylon the Great is remembered in God’s presence and He gives her the cup filled with the wine of His fierce anger (v. 19). It appears the “great city” and “Babylon the Great” are synonymous, but to which city does John refer?
It seems best to see Babylon as Jerusalem, a city divided into three parts more than once in its history. Take, for example, Ezek. 5:1-12, where the prophet is instructed to share the hair from his head and divide it into three parts. “This is Jerusalem,” the Lord declares (v.5). A third of the hair is burned, another third is chopped up with the sword, and the remaining third is scattered to the wind. This symbolizes the fate of the citizens of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. as some are burned inside the city, others are killed by the sword, and the rest are scattered among the nations. A similar fate befalls the inhabitants of Jerusalem as they wither beneath the Roman siege in 70 A.D.
There is another sense in which this could speak of Jerusalem, according to Philip Carrington: “This refers to the division into three factions, which became acute after the return of Titus [the Roman commander who ended the Jewish rebellion in 70 A.D. and later became emperor]. While Titus was besieging it from without, the three leaders of rival factions were fighting fiercely within: but for this the city might have staved off defeat for a long time, even perhaps indefinitely, for no great army could support itself for long in those days in the neighborhood of Jerusalem; there was no water and no supplies. The fighting within the city delivered it quickly into the hands of Titus” (quoted in Revelation: Four Views, pp. 393-94).
It should be noted that other commentators view the “great city” as Rome. For example, Jurgen Roloff writes, “The pseudonym Babylon, which is rich in its associations, makes clear that by the great city Rome is meant; it has become in prototypical fashion the center of the hostility, directed by Satan, toward God and his salvation community” (Revelation: A Continental Commentary, p. 192). Others argue that Babylon the Great is in fact the ancient city of Babylon, revived in the last days and continuing its legacy of idolatry as it seeks to steer the world’s inhabitants away from their Creator. Still others view Babylon allegorically as standing for the wicked world system opposed to Christ. And then there are those who see the “great city” in general figurative terms for the world’s ungodly people.
For those who see a literal city rising again in the end times, it is clear that ancient Babylon was not completed destroyed as prophesied by Old Testament prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. Therefore, they argue, the city must be resurrected, exalted to global domination, and utterly destroyed. Specifically, they offer three reasons for taking Babylon literally: 1) The city that the harlot represents is called “Babylon” (Rev. 17:1-5); 2) Babylon is said to sit “on many waters” (17:1), which recalls the moat that surrounded the ancient city; in addition, the Euphrates River flowed through the middle of the ancient city, and the encompassing region was crisscrossed with canals and irrigation ditches; and 3) The case for a literal reading is strengthened by an actual reference to the Euphrates River (Rev. 16:2; 17:1) (Dictionary of Bible Prophecy and End Times, p. 56).
Those who argue that Babylon is Rome offer the following reasons: 1) The Book of Revelation is filled with symbolic language, and since Rome is the dominant city of the first century, it must be the focus of these passages; 2) there are numerous connections in Revelation 17-18 with Rome, such as Rev. 17:9, which portrays the great harlot and the beast situated on “seven hills,” of which Rome, not Babylon, is comprised; 3) ancient Rome can be observed from a coin minted in 71 A.D. in Asia Minor, known as the Dea Roma coin depicting Roma, a pagan goddess of Rome sitting on seven hills; 4) Peter uses “Babylon” as a code for Rome at the end of his first letter (1 Peter 5:13); neither Peter nor Mark is associated in any way with Babylon, but the scriptures describe Peter’s ministry as moving north and west toward Rome.
Whichever view is correct, it should not be overlooked that the Lord is dealing in wrath with this city and brings it to utter destruction.
Next: Every island fled – Revelation 16:20-21