Summary: Sixth Bowl Judgment
Revelation 16:12-16, “Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great Euphrates River, and it dried up so that the kings from the east could march their armies westward without hindrance. 13And I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs leap from the mouth of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. 14These miracle-working demons caused all the rulers of the world to gather for battle against the Lord on that great judgment day of God Almighty. 15"Take note: I will come as unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their robes ready so they will not need to walk naked and ashamed." 16And they gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place called Armageddon in Hebrew.”
Unlike the precious five bowls, the sixth, like the fifth seal (6:9-11), has no specific assault on humanity but prepares for what is to come. There is also parrell between the sixth trumpet and the sixth bowl. When the sixth trumpet sounded, four angels bound at the Euphrates were released to lead a vast army of grotesque horses to the slaughter of one-third of the world’s population (9:13-19). The Euphrates marks the eastern boundary of the land given by covenant to Abraham and his seed (Genesis 15:18; Deut 1:7-8; Josh 1:3-4). Yet is also separated the Roman Empire on the east from the much feared Parthians who were expert calvary bowmen and had conquered the entire territory from the Euphrates to the Indus. It is frequently pointed out that in the OT God’s redemptive acts were often associated with the drying up of water. The Exodus (Exod 14:21) and the entrance into Canaan (Josh 3:14-17) are the two major examples. In this case it is the enemy through the drying up of the Euphrates is then allowed to advance for war.
Mounce points out, “It is unlikely that John is alluding to the famous capture of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian, but the incident is relevant. Herodotus tells us that Cyrus, finding the city seemingly impregnable, temporarily diverted the Euphrates, which ran through the center of Babylon, leaving open the riverbed, through which his armies entered and captured the city.”
Walvoord points out that there are as many as fifty different interpretations have been advanced in relation to the intreptation of who the kings from the east are (The Revelation of Jesus Christ p.236). The historical context of John’s imagery favors the interpretation of the kings as Parthian rulers. The tradition states that Nero, although dying by his own hand would return from the East leading a great army of Parthian warriors is preserved in Siblline Oracles (4:115-39). The confusion lays as to where this tradition is partially intertwined in Revelation with an older tradition that portrayed a final assault on the people of God by the united kings of the earth (Joel 3:2; Zeph 3:8) The kings of the East (vs.12) will lay siege to Babylon (17:15-18_ and chapters 18) are distinct from the kings of the whole world (v.14) who will wage the final war against Christ and the armies of heaven (19:11-21). Yet we will not here be getting into the relation to Gog and Armageddon till we arrive at 20:7-10.
As we have seen the Euphrates in Revelation with the sixth trumpet judgment yet also the Euphrates is the most significant river in the Middle East. The Euphrates deserves to be called the great river (9:14; Gen 15:18; Deut 1:7; Josh 1:4). Its source is in the snowfields and ice caps on the slops of Mount Ararat (located in modern Turkey), from which it flows some eighteen hundred miles before emptying into the Persian Gulf. In ancient times the Garden of Eden was located in the vicinity of the Euphrates (Gen 2:10-14). The Euphrates along with the Tigris are still the lifeblood of the Fertile Crescent.
The blazing heat from the fourth bowl will met the snow and icecaps on Mount Ararat that will vastly increase the volume of water in the Euphrates, causing more than likely massive flooding and damage along the course of its banks. Then here the cause of the sixth bowl is revealed in Euphrates River, and it dried up so that the kings from the east could march their armies westward without hindrance. The armies of the East will need to cross this river in order to reach the ultimate destination-Armageddon in the land of Palestine.
This should not be seen as an act of kindness but one of judgment. It may seem nice and orderly for the reader reading this, but in fact it is not, for God’s judgment will fall upon the battle and the Lord Jesus by the mere act of His words will provide the means by which the battle will then be won, so then we should then see that this bowl is not an act of mercy, but a deadly trap. The evaporation of the Euphrates will also lead them to their doom, just as the parting of the Red Sea lead to the destruction of the Egyptian army.