Then the fifth poured out his ceremonial bowl upon the throne of the dangerous creature, and the kingdom of it became darkened, and they were chewing their tongues out of pain.
Then they blasphemed the God of heaven out of their pain and out of their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.Revelation 16:10-11
If we were to imagine this sequence of pouring out of bowls, perhaps the angels poured them without long intervals in between. As the first bowl is pouring, perhaps the second begins, and then the third, and so on, in a domino effect. As the first bowl flows forth, the engraved etching of the beast on foreheads and hands begins to fester and bubble, red lines of poison branch out from the sores. Then people notice in horror that the seas are coagulating into darkened blood, which of course will discharge into the rivers and streams, for all channels of water are connected. Then the sky suddenly brightens in a flash of blinding light as a solar storm surges across the sun and UV rays stream to earth.
Imagine the bowl tipped, the passion of God streaming onto each area, the invisible poison always there is now targeted and reveals itself in all these manifestations—red and purple lines revealing poisoned veins in foreheads, down faces and necks, in hands, flowing up through wrists and arms. Now a black mass spreads through each ocean and sea, and the same red and purple pattern appears as the poison flows upriver, and upstream. Now satellites observe the same phenomenon in the sun, brilliant white and violent red spread across the sun’s pale yellow, and streaks of rays now shoot forth, down, down to the earth.
There is hardly time to respond, except for the first ghastly shock. But in the next moments, people do respond—with hatred and rage. They shake their fists at the sky, scorched from the sun, parched with no drinkable water, their bodies wracked in pain from their poisoned beast-marks. They blaspheme God, clutching at the shreds of what they feel is their pride. Perhaps they look to the dragon and its beasts, as though to say we have our own champions, and they will beat you, God of the heavens.
Even when the fifth ceremonial bowl tips, and the passion of God is poured forth onto the very throne of the beast. Its splendor blackens, and now it becomes the darkness it always was, the darkness of the deep abyss.
Yet even now, when the spiritual forces of darkness are exposed for what they really are, those who are left refuse to repent. They have thrown their lot in with the enemies of God, and in a macabre display of staunch loyalty, they refuse to turn towards the light.
Almost all scholars agree the throne of the beast is a metaphor for the Roman Church, the darkness connoting calamity. The context begins in 1797, during the French Revolution, when the order was given to storm the courts of the palace within the Holy See, and Rome was once again invaded. All was laid to waste, and the pope himself sent into exile, reduced to humiliation.
For nearly seventy years, the Roman church experienced steady decline, many of its territories nationalized, and much of its wealth redistributed, its clergy placed in chains, until Italian troops took Rome back and incorporated the city into the new Kingdom of Italy.
Historicist scholars consider certain doctrines which have come out of the Roman church since the time of its calamity as blasphemous, so that even in this final detail, Revelation’s prophecy is proven fulfilled.
In a fascinating aside, the historicist commentator Rev. Robert Fleming predicted similar dates for this event nearly a century before, in his book, The Rise and Fall of Papacy:
“The fifth vial (Rev. xvi. 10, 11) which is to be poured out on the seat of the Beast, or the dominions that more immediately belonged to, and depend upon, the Roman See—that, I say, this judgment will probably begin about the year 1794, and expire about the year 1848; so that the duration of it, upon this supposition, will be the space of fifty-four years; for I do suppose, that seeing the Pope received the title of Supreme Bishop no sooner than the year 606, he cannot be supposed to have any via poured out upon his seat immediately (so as to ruin his authority so signally as this judgment must be supposed to do) until the year 1848, which is the date of the twelve hundred and sixty years in prophetical account, when they are reckoned from the year 606. But yet we are not to imagine that this via will totally destroy the Papacy (though it will exceedingly weaken it), for we find this still in being and alive when the next via is poured out.”The Rev. Robert Fleming, Jun., The Rise and Fall of Papacy, London, England: Johnstone, Ballantyne, and Co., 1701, p. 70.
Up to this point, the ceremonial bowls can be argued as riveting depictions of the sacking and slaughter of Jerusalem in AD 70. However, even when Jerusalem and Judea are primarily in view, this fifth bowl, being poured out on the beast’s seat of power, scholars agree, must be in reference to Rome.
“Darkness,” in Scripture, often represents political upheaval and the overthrow of governments, which fits neatly into the timeframe of the War of the Jews, AD 66–70. Revolts rose against Nero, who was declared a public enemy by the senate, who then took his own life in AD 68. In quick succession, four contenders for the crown attempted to take the emperor’s throne. Called the “Year of the Four Emperors,” AD 69, the Roman Empire experienced its first civil war, rife with rebellions and conflicting allegiances.
After long and bloody battles, and having committed a great many war crimes, the first contender, Galba, was murdered in the Forum.
The second, Otho, lasted only three months when he, too, took his own life.
A lover of excess, Vitellius, the third contender, drove Rome to the brink of bankruptcy in a matter of months, only to be killed by Vespasian’s men. In the struggle for power, the Temple of the Capitolene Jupiter, the most important temple in Rome, was burned to the ground in December 19, AD 69, only nine months before Rome would destroy Jerusalem’s temple.
Leaving his son Titus to finish crushing the Jewish rebellion, Vespasian left for Alexandria where he was crowned emperor, then headed to Rome to claim the empire and establish the Flavian dynasty.
The alternate view points to the invasion of Rome in the fifth century.
The first four bowls affect physical creation – bodies, water, the sun, living things – but the fifth specifically targets the seat of government. The dragon and its beasts will be thrown into turmoil, though not yet defeated.
Alternatively, physical darkness may literally blanket the dragon’s domain while it covertly transports two hundred million troops into the Middle East for a final battle with God.
It is noted the people cry out from their pain, and their sores, indicating the first four bowls are still in effect, and perhaps have been poured out in close sequence.
If the bowls are understood cyclically and symbolically, then the cup of darkness is poured out at varying intervals onto the centers of government that have positioned themselves as against God, and against Christ. When such a government falls – for example, in the recent past, certain Communist governments – then the whole structure collapses. It might have represented the ancient Roman Empire in John’s day, but also the Babylonian and Assyrian empires in Israel’s ancient past. Moving forward, such governments will continue, ultimately, to be defeated by God.
It is noted that darkness covered all Egypt for three days during the ninth plague before Israel’s Exodus. Many who ultimately left with the Hebrews were of other nationalities, including Egyptians. But those who stayed showed their obdurate determination to remain in the spiritual darkness the physical darkness represents.
That the people cried out in the torment of their pain and sores during the fifth bowl vividly portrays the torture darkness contains.
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg