The core of the Revelation to John includes three series of seven plagues, namely the opening of the seven seals, the blowing of the seven trumpets and the emptying of the seven bowls. Some of the plagues resemble the plagues of Egypt. That's what this article is about.
It is important to realize that the Revelation to John was written for Jews. This is already evident from the fact that the well-known end-time vision is referred to without much explanation. But the large number of references to the Old Testament – approximately 850 times in the 405 verses – and to extra-biblical Jewish literature – approximately 125 – also indicate Jews as a target group. In addition, the genre of apocalyptic literature was well known among the Jews. This has major consequences for the explanation.
A stylistic feature that is used in both the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament is parallelism. In another publication (B. Krins; Biblical studies based on a literary orthodox Jewish approach to the Bible) I have shown that in the New Testament we find this way of narrating mainly in parts of the New Testament that focus on Jews. It also appears to be important to pay attention to the structure of the text when explaining Revelation to John.
First four trumpetsDe eerste vier bazuinen verwijzen duidelijk naar de plagen van Egypte.
A common feature of these four trumpets is that these plagues always involve a third part that is affected (see Ezekiel 5:2,12 ; Zech. 13:8-9). The references to the plagues in Egypt are clear: hail, water turning into blood, and darkness. At the third trumpet the water is not turned into blood, but becomes bitter and therefore undrinkable. The psalms also refer to the first plague of Egypt with the comment that the water becomes undrinkable (Ps. 78:44). The comment that the water has become bitter makes it clear that this is a judgment from God (Jer. 9:15; 23:15). The reason why the seventh, first and ninth plagues are used here appears to be simple. It is a reference to the three elements of antiquity: heaven, sea and earth. All three are affected by these disasters. At the first trumpet, hail, fire and blood are thrown on the earth, burning the trees and the green grass. At the second trumpet the sea is struck, and at the third trumpet the rivers and springs of water. And at the fourth trumpet we see that the sun, moon and stars are darkened.
The fact that the first plague of Egypt is referred to twice is based on a Jewish discussion. God instructs Moses to announce to Pharaoh that the Nile will be turned into blood so that it becomes undrinkable (Ex. 7:15-17). However, we then read that God instructs Moses to have Aaron lift up his rod so that all rivers and springs of water are turned to blood. And Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded (Ex. 7:20). In the sequel we read how the water of the Nile remains undrinkable for seven days, but it turns out to be possible to dig for drinking water in the area around the Nile. We find various Rabbinic traditions discussing the fact that through Moses the Nile is turned into blood, and through Aaron all springs of water. Here in the Revelation to John we see that at the second trumpet the sea is struck, and at the third trumpet the waters. So this is a clear parallel with Jewish traditions.
First five scales
The purpose of the seven bowls is to complete God's wrath. The word wrath or wrath is used in the Revelation to John to indicate the wrath of the devil against the followers of the Lamb (Rev. 12:12; 14:8; 18:3) or conversely the wrath of God against the followers of the beast (Rev. 14:10,19; 15:1,7; 16:1,19; 19:15).
Again, there is a clear similarity between the plagues of Egypt and the disasters. As in the previous series, we encounter the change of water into blood and darkness twice. The first bowl describes how the people who have the mark of the beast develop ulcers. This is undoubtedly a reference to the punishment with the 'sores of Egypt' that God announces as a curse (Deut. 28:27). Then first the water of the sea becomes blood, and then the rivers and springs of water. In the fourth scale, people are plagued by great heat. This does not refer to a plague on Egypt, but contrasts with the comment in the description of the crowd coming out of the great tribulation that they will no longer be troubled by sun or heat (Rev. 7:16). The fifth scale again refers to the ulcers of the first scale, and also mentions the darkness. If we look at these five bowls, it is clear that the heaven, sea and earth are now being struck, just like with the first four trumpets. However, when it comes to the earth, it is not the trees and grass that are affected, but the people. Both from ulcers and from heat.
The disasters are reminiscent of the disasters at the seven trumpets, but are clearly much worse. At the trumpets a third of the earth is always affected. However, if the sea becomes blood, then all creatures in the sea die. When the water becomes blood, the people drink blood in retaliation for killing the saints and prophets. And the darkness is accompanied by severe pain because of the sores.
The Revelation to John must be read against the background of the persecutions by the Roman Empire. Christians wondered how many more martyrs would have to die before God intervenes and Jesus Christ establishes His kingdom. The answer is that Christians must be patient and persevere. There will be times of wars and earthquakes. There will be disasters reminiscent of some of the plagues of Egypt, and there will even be a Great Tribulation. But then God will intervene and the enemies will not escape punishment. And the image of the plagues of Egypt is again used.
Attempts to juxtapose the current geopolitical situation with the Revelation to John demonstrate more of a creative spirit than of careful exegesis. Predictions made in this way have never come true. In fact, it is a serious misunderstanding of the Jewish character of the Revelation to John. This Jewish character is expressed, among other things, in the way in which images from the Old Testament are reused in the Revelation to John.