Exodus 10b-11: The Plagues of Exodus and Revelation
The plagues of Exodus were outpourings of God’s wrath upon the Egyptians. God was clearly demonstrating to the Egyptians (and His people) that He is supreme over their gods. There is a great deal of language that points to the truth that Egypt is suffering exactly as she deserves; she reaps what she has sown. The plagues are God’s just and righteous wrath upon the earth.
Fast forward several thousand years. The Apostle John is on the prison island Patmos and gets a vision from Jesus Christ of the end times, what life will be like during the great Tribulation. John wrote about these visions in the last book of our Bible: Revelation. The book of Revelation easily has the most allusions and echoes of the Old Testament than any other book of the Bible. It is saturated with Old Testament imagery.
Much of which comes from the book of Exodus.
In particular, the plagues narrative in Exodus is reflected in the judgments in Revelation, especially the Seal, Trumpet and Bowl judgments. If we read through the plague narratives in Exodus, then these judgments in Revelation, we will quickly notice that there are many similarities. Let me point out a few of the more obvious ones:
4th Seal (Rev 6:7-8): When the fourth seal is opened, the last horseman of the apocalypse rides out, delivering death to a fourth of the earth by means of famine, pestilence, sword and wild beasts. It is important to note that these four elements make up a very familiar phrase linked with many judgment texts in the Old Testament (see Lev 26:21-26, Deut 32:23-24, 2 Sam 24:13//1 Chr 21:12, Ezk 14:12-21, etc.). These four elements are used as examples of God’s wrath against God’s people in the OT; John hijacks the image and converts it to God’s wrath against unbelievers. But the point that is relevant to our study in Exodus is that there are several possible points of contact with the plagues. Pestilence (disease) relates clearly to the 5th plague: the disease that killed the Egyptian livestock. Wild beasts may generally relate to the many animals of the Exodus plagues (frogs, gnats, flies, locusts), though admittedly these are not generally referred to in such terms. Wild beasts typically refers to predatory mammals.
1st Trumpet (Rev 8:7): In this judgment, hail and fire, mixed with blood, are thrown upon the earth and burn up a third of the vegetation. Though the seventh plague in Exodus does not mention a third of the vegetation being burned, it clearly has fiery hail falling to the earth.
5th Trumpet (Rev 9:1-11): By far this is one of the stranger judgments in Revelation. The abyss is opened and from it arises demonic locusts, with human faces, women’s hair, lions’ teeth and scorpion tails. These demonic creatures have the power to sting and torment people for five months. The eighth plague of Exodus is a locust plague. Those locusts are not demonic, nor do they have any specific unique physical characteristics. Locusts are used many times in the Bible for a metaphor for coming judgment (see Joel). However, what we see in Exodus is not a metaphor, and depending on how you interpret the phenomenon in Revelation 9, the demon locusts there may not be either. Either way, there is a connection between the two.
1st Bowl (Rev 16:2): The first of the bowl judgments sees harmful and painful sores that come upon people who worship “the beast” (the antichrist). This judgment has particularly strong connections with Exodus for two reasons. First, it most clearly connects with the plague of boils (6th plague). But in addition to this more obvious connection, we also note that there is a clear distinction between the people who suffer it (the unbelievers) and God’s people. It is only those who worship the beast’s image that suffer the boils. Several times in Exodus, God is clear that one of the purposes of the plagues is for God to make a distinction between His people and His enemies in the eyes of the world. Only the Egyptians suffer the boils, as well as the hailstorm, darkness, etc. As in Exodus, so in Revelation.
2nd and 3rd Bowls (Rev 16:3-7): The next two bowl judgments are similar to the very first plague of Exodus (the Nile turning to blood). In Revelation, the second bowl judgment changes the water of the sea to blood, with the result that every living thing in the sea dies. The third bowl judgment does the same for the freshwater on the earth. I should also point out that there is a very clear theology of just retribution in Revelation: the people are getting what they deserve. You hear this in the song of the angel in verses 5-6: “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” (ESV) This parallels the situation in Exodus, where we see time and again from the words of the narrator and in the context of the plagues with the previous narrative that the Egyptians are getting exactly what they deserve. God’s wrath is just and those that suffer it deserve it. The theology of the Exodus and the theology of Revelation are one and the same in this regard.
5th Bowl (Rev 16:10-11): The fifth bowl judgment plunges the beast’s kingdom into darkness. Specifically, the text says that it is the beast’s kingdom that experiences this, implying that darkness is not worldwide, but limited to the area in which the enemy rules. There are more limited plagues of darkness in the 6th Seal and the 4th Trumpet, but this plague in particular most closely matches up with the penultimate plague in Exodus, where Egypt experiences a very “thick darkness” which can practically be felt. Again, we see in this plague a distinction between God’s people and His enemies.
6th Bowl (Rev 16:12-16): This connection is a bit more limited, but nonetheless present. The sixth bowl judgment unleashes three demonic spirits from the mouths of Satan, the antichrist and the false prophet. The demonic spirits assemble the kings of the earth to battle against God, and strangely enough, the spirits look like frogs. Of course, the second plague of Exodus was a plague of frogs. Again, like the locusts of Revelation and Exodus, the connection is tentative and limited, for other than the description of frog-like creatures, we do not have any other concrete link between these judgments. The frogs of Revelation are not a plague of frogs, but spirits who look like frogs.
If we step back and survey these connections, we see that there is a very clear relationship between the plagues of Exodus and the judgments of Revelation. Nearly every plague in Exodus is reflected in some way in Revelation (gnats and flies are not directly connected, nor is the tenth plague – the death of the firstborn, though there certainly is enough death in Revelation to go around).
These connections should not surprise us. The plagues of Exodus were God’s wrath upon the Egyptians, a way of demonstrating His supremacy and making a distinction between His people and His enemies. The plagues of Revelation are no different. The Tribulation is a time of God’s wrath on earth, poured out primarily on God’s enemies. Many of these judgments are “shaped” like the plagues in Exodus to further the connection that those who continue to stubbornly resist God (harden their hearts) will surely suffer what they deserve.
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