Rivers, great moving bodies of water, serve us in so many ways. They supply humanity and wildlife with water necessary for drinking, and habitat, without which neither could survive. They help us with transportation and a source of energy. Rivers provide us with fish of various varieties to eat, along with crayfish, mollusks, and certain waterfowl. Plants that grow on the river banks and floodplains are good for making teas, medicines, and wonderful-smelling perfumes. Rivers support agriculture and farming.
There is one thing, however, most people never think of a river providing — necessary political boundaries. For example, the Mekong River furnishes a divide between Laos and Thailand. Rivers create borders between nations. In Europe, the Bidasoa River establishes the borderline between France and Spain. In South America, the Amazon River forms the borders between Columbia, Peru, and Brazil. Many rivers around the world and throughout history have served as political boundaries between countries.
The Euphrates River is one of the most significant rivers in history. It holds enormous historical, cultural, and religious significance, playing a vital role in the formation of ancient civilizations. It’s mentioned in the Bible numerous times and is connected to prophetic events.
Dr. David Jeremiah, senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California, writes in his book, The Book of Signs:
“The Euphrates is one of the greatest rivers in the world. It flows from the mountains of western Turkey through Syria, and continues on right through the heart of Iraq, not far from Baghdad. It eventually unites with the Tigris to become the Shatt al-Arab, and finally empties into the Persian Gulf. The entirety of the Euphrates flows through Muslim territory. In Genesis 15 and Deuteronomy 11, the Lord specified that the Euphrates would be the easternmost border of the promised land. It serves both as a border and a barrier between Israel and her enemies.”
When a sixth angel pours out his bowl of God’s wrath on this rebellious world, it is emptied on the Great River Euphrates. Here is how the prophecy reads:
“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 toward the west without hindrance. And I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs leap from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. They are demonic spirits who work miracles and go out to all the rulers of the world to gather them for battle against the Lord on that great judgment day of God the Almighty.
“‘Look, I will come as unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their clothing ready so they will not have to walk around naked and ashamed.’
“And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon.”
In this passage, there is provided another important reason for interpreting the prophecies of Revelation by the literal method.
J. Dwight Pentecost, who authored, Things to Come, correctly defines the literal method of interpretation in this way:
“The literal method of interpretation is that method that gives to each word the same exact basic meaning it would have in normal, ordinary, customary usage, whether employed in writing, speaking or thinking.”
Pentecost then adds:
“Inasmuch as God gave the Word of God as a revelation to men, it would be expected that His revelation would be given in such exact and specific terms that His thoughts would be accurately conveyed and understood when interpreted according to the laws of grammar and speech. Such presumptive evidence favors the literal interpretation, for an allegorical method of interpretation would cloud the meaning of the message delivered by God to men. The fact that the Scriptures continually point to literal interpretations of what was formally written adds evidence as to the method to be employed in interpreting the Word. Perhaps one of the strongest evidences for the literal method is the use the New Testament makes of the Old Testament. When the Old Testament is used in the New it is used only in a literal sense. One need only study the prophecies which were fulfilled in the first coming of Christ, in his life, his ministry, and his death, to establish that fact. No prophecy which has been completely fulfilled has been fulfilled in any way but literally.”
Without question, Pentecost’s assertions are true. The theological system that would spiritualize this text, negates the covenants that God has made with Israel, one that sees this crossing of the Euphrates by the kings of the east as a representation of the forces of evil amassing for the final battle but denies the specifics of geographical locations only as metaphors for broader spiritual realities, are mistakenly muddying the clear and apparent teaching of the passage.
All of the other plagues were real, some of them paralleled the plagues that occurred in Egypt, which were real. There is no reason not to see this drying up of the Euphrates River as real, too.
Did not God literally open up the Red Sea so the children of Israel could escape from Pharoah and his chariots? Did not God literally part the waters of the Jordan so that the people could pass over into the land of Canaan? These are historical facts. Therefore, there is no reason not to believe that God will make the Euphrates dry so the kings of the East may cross over and assemble with all the armies of the world at a place called Armageddon.
It is easy to understand the previous afflictions mentioned in Revelation chapter 16 as plagues: bodily sores, the corruption of the sea and fresh waters, intense heat from the sun, and regional darkness. However, the sixth bowl, which describes a massive gathering of armies to do battle, almost seems out of place.
Nevertheless, has there ever been a plague through the ages which has brought more misery to mankind than war? Certainly not.
While the word “plague” may not be commonly found in ancient texts to describe war, many ancient writings, including those from various cultures and historical periods, describe war as a calamity and a scourge. These descriptions reflect the recognition of the devastating impact of war on societies, and in effect similar to that of a terrible plague.
In more modern times, the famous Russian author of War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy had strong anti-war sentiments. In his novel and essays, Tolstoy portrayed war as a senseless and destructive force that afflicted humanity like a plague. He explored the human suffering and moral dilemmas caused by armed conflict.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against the Vietnam War, and in his famous “Beyond Vietnam” speech delivered in 1967, he referred to the war as a “plague,” stating, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
Humanity has always had a penchant for war. It’s inconceivable the world as described in Revelation chapter 16 would even have the energy for combat, but it’s obvious that even in the most deplorable conditions the human race is ready to take up arms.
This is unquestionably a moment when God is sovereignly directing the course of human affairs, allowing evil, but overruling and redirecting it to accomplish His righteous ends. As Pentecost notes:
“[T]his period is peculiarly the time when God’s wrath and judgment fall on earth. This is not wrath from men, nor from Satan, except as God may use these channels for the execution of His will … This period differs from all preceding tribulation, not only in intensity but also in the kind of tribulation, since it comes from God himself.”
One may ask, what is driving this passionate pursuit of war foretold in Revelation? The apostle John answers, saying he witnessed three evil spirits leap from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. He said these revolting spirits looked like frogs, not that they were frogs, but that they looked like frogs.
Frogs are mentioned in the biblical account of the Ten Plagues of Egypt in the Book of Exodus. In Exodus 8:1-15, frogs make up one of the plagues that God sends upon Egypt as a punishment for Pharaoh’s refusal to release the Israelites. Frogs infested Egypt, covering the land and even entering people’s houses. Frogs are associated with judgment from God.
Frogs were also considered unclean animals, as outlined by the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament. Leviticus 11:9-12 lists various creatures that are unclean and should not be eaten, including frogs. So, this classification associates frogs with impurity or evil.
In the context of Revelation, the use of frog-like spirits emerging from the mouths of evil entities is meant to convey the idea of unclean, deceptive, or demonic influences. These frog-like spirits are agents of deception and manipulation, working in alignment with the dragon (Satan), the beast (the Antichrist), and the false prophet (a false religious authority).
What evil is being communicated in Word and miracles by these unclean and demonic spirits? Gary G. Cohen and Salem Kirban in Revelation Visualized suggest:
“In verse 13 we see that from the Infernal Trinity, there goes out a clamor for the armies of this world to gather together in northern Palestine, the approach valley-plain to Jerusalem, Armageddon (verse 16). Why? We do not yet know the Satanic reasons that these three will give to the world. Some have suggested that the Western world will desire to have a showdown against the eastern armies marching to Palestine. This may be it. Perhaps both East and West are coming as a United Nations force to once and for all settle the Middle East by totally annihilating Israel; and representative armies from all over the world are to participate in this necessary ‘for the good of mankind,’ genocide? This would certainly fit the circumstances of Joel 3 and Zechariah 12-14.”
But in reality, we can’t say with certainty what these wicked spirits are communicating to draw the nations into conflict. Neither is it clear what specific enemy the kings of the east are crossing the dried Euphrates River to fight.
Some scholars propose the reference to the kings of the east crossing the Euphrates signifies a military movement in a specific region, such as the Middle East or Asia. This interpretation suggests the kings of the East may be involved in regional conflicts or power struggles rather than a global war.
Others suggest the kings of the East will go to war against the Antichrist and his global forces of evil in the end times. It is believed that they will take part in the final battle of Armageddon, joining forces with other nations against the Antichrist’s regime.
Still, others say the kings of the east will wage war against Israel in the end times. This theory suggests they may be motivated by geopolitical or religious reasons to engage in a conflict with Israel.
What is clear, however, is whatever the reason, God sees it as an assault on his Sovereignty. Whatever the reason, God, the maestro of history, is orchestrating the sound of every flat note to blend with the sharp notes of his melodic masterpiece. God is bringing about judgment by allowing evil and turning it in its course. He is corralling these nations into one place, Armageddon, also known as the Mount of Megiddo, to destroy them, and paving the way for Christ and his people to rule and reign.
It is beyond futile to oppose the Lord.
Finally, there is a caveat, a warning. The Lord says:
“Look, I will come as unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their clothing ready so they will not have to walk around naked and ashamed” (vs. 15).
J. Vernon McGee in his Read Thru the Bible series says:
“The Lord Jesus Christ does come as a thief to the world at the end of the Great Tribulation … As we saw at the beginning of the Revelation, the whole earth will mourn because of him. They don’t want him to come. They would like to shut him out from ever returning to the earth.”
The late W.A. Criswell, who was the famous senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, Dallas, said:
“If a man will not hear the voice of God, he lays his heart open to listen to the voice of destruction, evil, and damnation. When the kings and the people and the armies of the earth will not listen to God, then they lay themselves open to listening to the persuasive voice of the spirits of darkness and evil … Oh, listen to the voice of God! There is salvation in none other.”
In her book, Everyday Faith for Everyday Life, author Jan White tells a remarkable story.
While President Dwight Eisenhower was vacationing in Denver, he came across a letter-like article in a newspaper that was written to him by a local reporter. The article was about a young boy named Paul Henry Haley, who was battling cancer.
The Rocky Mountain News featured a picture of six-year-old Paul dressed as a cowboy, his arm around his mother. The article began with, “I’m writing this story to you, Mr. President, for a young fellow who hasn’t learned to write. He wants to see you, Ike, and although he doesn’t know it, that’s his dying wish.” To young Paul, President Eisenhower was a greater hero than even Hopalong Cassidy, a popular cowboy figure at the time.
After reading the article, the President turned to one of his aides and said, “Let’s go see Paul Haley.” The presidential limousine, adorned with American flags on the fenders, pulled up one August Sunday morning in front of Paul Haley’s residence. President Eisenhower approached the front door and knocked. Paul’s stepfather, Donald Haley, answered the door in worn blue jeans, a dirty shirt, and a day’s worth of beard. He asked, “Can I help you?” President Eisenhower responded, “Is Paul here? Tell him the president would like to see him.”
Little Paul, filled with wonder, appeared and met the President, who knelt and shook his hand. Paul, described as “wide-eyed and unbelieving,” accompanied the President into the living room. Eisenhower smiled and said, “Paul, I understand you wanted to see me.” They spent about five minutes visiting. Afterward, Paul had the chance to inspect the presidential limousine. President Eisenhower shared that he had a grandson around Paul’s age, named Dwight David Eisenhower, II. They exchanged a hug and a handshake before saying their goodbyes and the President departed.
The Haley family experienced an unforgettable surprise that Sunday morning. Donald Haley later reflected, saying, “How can I ever forget standing there dressed as I was in those jeans and old, dirty shirt and an unshaven face to meet the President of the United States?”
Consider carefully. Everything taking place nowadays is in motion for the return of Christ. He truly is coming again, suddenly and unexpectedly. Don’t be caught unaware, “naked and ashamed” (v.15). Be sure that you’ve trusted him for the forgiveness of your sins and that you’re prepared and properly clothed in his righteousness.
Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.