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What possible interpretations are there of the following verses? I am interested in hearing from both the scientific community and Christian community. I am wondering if my interpretation (now posted as a possible answer) is on track?

[Rev 16:8-11 KJV] 8 And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. 9 And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. 10 And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, 11 And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.

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It would be better if you rewrote the question to simply ask about the interpretation of the events In Rev 16:8-11, and then put your parallel relations to the gamma ray burst into a possible answer for the question. –  ScottS May 30 at 14:32
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Apparently I cannot answer my own question until 8 hours because I am a new user here. I will try to restructure it after it lets me post an answer. –  Jonathan May 30 at 19:15
    
hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/5937/… You may find this helpful! –  Bagpipes May 31 at 12:34
    
@Bagpipes, that link was indeed helpful. 1/3 of the earth being impacted / grass being burnt, in my opinion, could also be the results of a gamma ray burst (speculating here), although if it were a gamma ray burst, it seems all these events would happen at the same time. –  Jonathan May 31 at 14:57

3 Answers 3

The issue of interpreting the Revelation is very difficult. A book like Proverbs is relatively straight forward; most readers agree on the genre, how it was intended to be read, and how it was intended to be applied. The same can't be said for the Revelation, because interpretations and applications have varied so radically over the centuries, let alone just within the last hundred years.

Because this is a necessarily subjective topic, the answer I provide below is intended only to represent my own thoughts, although plenty of other commentators may agree.


Quick recap on the Revelation's genre and intent

In previous answers, I have described the genre of the Revelation, so I'll refer to those1 while summarizing here:

  • The Revelation is a Jewish apocalypse.
  • Jewish apocalypses often used symbolism.
    • These symbols were frequently adapted from pictures and metaphors of established Hebrew scriptures.
  • Jewish apocalypses were written in response to a crisis in the time of the author.
    • John's crisis is the oppression of Christians by the Roman Empire, especially in Asia.
    • Consequently, that is the primary focus of his book: the downfall of pagan Rome, as represented by several symbols (i.e. the beast, Babylon, the dragon).

From these points, it is expecting too much out of the Revelation to come up with a specific scientific analysis of the things described therein. It's simply not what was intended by the genre.

Instead, because the Revelation, as a Jewish apocalypse, is brimming with symbolism that is drawn so heavily on the Hebrew scriptures, that is the author's intended backdrop to the 'scorching heat' and 'darkness' of Revelation 16. John had no concept of 'gamma radiation', and his intended audience (seven of his contemporary churches in Asia) certainly didn't.


Some probable sources to Revelation 16.8-11

The seven trumpets of chapters 8-11 and the seven bowls of chapter 16 have frequently been connected to the plagues of Egypt, found in the book of Exodus. The exodus plagues are, in order:

  1. Water into blood: Revelation 8.8, 11.6, 16.3-6
  2. Frogs: Revelation 16.12-14
  3. Lice
  4. Flies
  5. Diseased livestock
  6. Boils: Revelation 16.2
  7. Hail and fire: Revelation 8.7, 16.17-21
  8. Locusts: Revelation 9.1-11
  9. Darkness: Revelation 8.12, 16.10
  10. Death of the firstborn

The 'darkness' John describes is predicated on his reuse of exodus plagues, and several of those other plagues, as they appear in the Revelation, are certainly metaphoric (the locusts) or analogical (the frogs), not 'literal'.

The 'scorching heat' concept is found elsewhere in the Revelation, in verse 7.16, where the author was borrowing language from Isaiah 49.10. In both Revelation and Isaiah, the picture being described (no thirst, no hunger, no scorching heat, springs of water) is primarily a metaphor that summarizes God's blessings on the people who trust in him; it's figurative language that assumes those people are familiar with the difficulties of a dry, hot, desert climate. The bowl of 'scorching heat' in Revelation 16 has the opposite effect. Instead of taking away the heat as a blessing, it is sent as a curse.


Conclusion

Because the Revelation recapitulates the same events over and over, but with different symbolism each time, I find it doubtful that John expected the fulfillment of his visions to be 'literal' in the way modern readers typically assume. He expected something significant to happen, and this is represented in visions of cosmic signs and exodus plagues. On the basis of genre, it appears to me that the 'scorching heat' and 'darkness' in Revelation 16 are no more literal than the drunken prostitute in Revelation 17. They are purely symbolic for the imminent, catastrophic collapse of the idolatrous empire of Rome.


Footnotes

1 One, two, three, four, five.

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Thank you for taking the time to provide a detailed answer. My understanding is that Revelation contains some symbolic elements, but that it does indeed predict future events. Technology has indeed made many of the events described more possible now, for example, the mark of the beast. Another example is (my understanding) that the whole world rejoices in the death of the two witnesses (see Revelation 11:7-10). News coverage and television / internet now makes the required "instant" (or at least less than 3 days) communication of the news of their death to the world possible. –  Jonathan May 31 at 14:44
    
There are many interpretations, of course, but the basic idea of recapitulating leaves out the detail that the quantity keeps changing. First it is 1/4, then 1/3, then all. This generally indicates, to me, that the recapitulation idea seems to be an over simplification. There is simply more detail going on than general signs of general intent. –  user6152 Nov 11 at 7:42

There is more than one methodology in interpreting Revelations: the previous responder used "Jewish Apocalypse" as a methodology, but it 'presumes' all Jewish apocalypse ended in the 1st century; a view that is 'backward looking' and doesn't take into account the next 19+ centuries.

There is a "pattern of judgments":

1) The Seals are Broken (Chapters 6-8) These are the 1st indicators of God's Judgment on the earth. The Lamb w/7 Horns and 7 Eyes (The Risen Christ-Rev. 5:6) has the authority to release them. These are the "1/4" judgments (Rev. 6:8),"

And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

There are numerous interpretations as regarding these judgments; from a Historicist View, they are progressive throughout history. If you understand the color "white" to represent "righteousness" and "purity", the 1st judgment is the rider of the white horse. He isn't Christ-that doesn't come until Chapter 20, but his "horse" or "vehicle" is one of purity. This judgment can be most accurately represented by Constantine's vision, who was told "In hoc signo vinces"(under this sign, conquer) and the 'sign' was the sign of the cross. This is NOT to say that Constantine, or any subsequent nations that were "conquered, then Christianized" were 'righteous' , but we have seen this pattern throughout history. Even William McKinley, who after promising independence to the Philippines, said, "Do I free them, or Christianized them?" The result was a war for independence that got crushed, with many more casualties than the Spanish-American War. And it brought in an enormous influx of Protestant missionaries, who's legacy can be seen in the remote areas of the Philippines today. This same action, called "Colonialism" was in every country of the world. The rider of the White Horse wears a 'crown', which is a sign of authority, and government.

1/4 of Europe was decimated by the Black Plague, an indication of the rider of the 4th Horse(Pale).

The next set of Judgments are the angelic trumpeters-who sound a "warning" as judgment is being poured out. These are the "1/3rd" judgments as "

the third part of trees was burnt up'

the third part of the sea became blood

And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed

a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;

the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.

These judgments have also for the most part happened: Famine has gripped a third part of the world; the 1/3 part of trees is well documented, not by harvesting them but by parasites. I watched as all our "stately" elm trees vanished, to be replaced with "ash trees" which are succumbing to the emerald borer. This is happening all over the world-not all at once, but dramatically.

So judgment increases progressively, until we get to Chapter 16. What we see up to this point, is judgments upon the earth for not embracing the Gospel, as the vials(bowls) are poured out, we see the final wrath of God for not only "rejecting" the true Gospel, but embracing a "False Gospel", of the Antichrist and False Prophet.

These have not been fulfilled yet; many say it is during Daniel's Final Week(explanation by Dwight Pentecost), and I tend to agree with them. Your question about the 2 "vial" judgments must be dealt with separately, as Vial "4" and Vial "5" are 2 separate vials. You seem to be 'lumping them together' when in fact they are 2 separate events, and distinguishing signs for each.

All judgments are the work of God, not the work of man. "Pharaoh's magicians who imitated the 1st 2 miracles of Moses cannot be counted amongst the 10 plagues(Ex.8:18; though what they did merely increased the suffering of their people. It is the "finger of God" which causes these 'vials'. The 5th "vial" is poured out on the "seat of the Beast". Since the "Beast" is figurative, his "seat" is figurative, and "darkness" is not physical darkness but intense evil. Therefore, to discuss a literal "gamma ray" burst as a "figurative" interpretation fails the test of keeping "literal" and "figurative" separate. God doesn't 'mix His metaphors'. and neither should we.

As to a "gamma ray" burst causing earth to heat up and "scorch" it's inhabitants; it's possible. The 4th vial "scorches mankind" and while one could attempt to conjure a 'figurative' meaning for scorch, the literal one in this verse is the one we must go to, since there are no other 'qualifiers' that make it figurative. The important consideration is that it is the finger of God, not man.

In summary, exegetically the 5th Vial judgment cannot be seen as a "gamma ray" burst, the 4th one could. One must be very careful in applying empirical data to the works of God, as the Bible is not a book of science, it is a book of Truth, and "facts" and Truths are 2 different things.

,

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Thank you for taking the time to provide a detailed answer. In my opinion, the verses you mention in the 1/3 judgements further leads me to believe that a gamma ray burst is part of God's judgement. I could see that if the gamma ray burst were a short event, it would only affect the portion of the earth that was facing the star at the time (possibly severely impacting 1/3 or even up to 1/2 of the earth). With the ozone layer destroyed, the sun would be "given power" to burn men, and according to the article, darkness could ensue (although you may be right on that being figurative). –  Jonathan May 31 at 14:32
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Just a note: I didn't say or suggest that 'all Jewish apocalypse ended in the 1st century'. –  Mark Edward May 31 at 15:02
    
@MarkEdward I apologize for not accurately stating your position, but, for the record, which "Jewish apocalypse" wasn't fulfilled in the 1st century? –  Tau Jun 1 at 0:17

I just read an article about gamma ray bursts, and it seems to fit very well with part of what is prophesied in Revelation:

Sun being given the power to scorch:

[Rev 16:8-9 KJV] 8 And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. 9 And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.

With this in mind, compare with the following from a National Geographic article http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/04/090403-gamma-ray-extinction_2.html:

According to their newest models, gamma radiation from a nearby burst would quickly deplete much of Earth's protective ozone layer, allowing increased ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun to reach the surface.

If the ozone layer is depleted, the sun would be given power to burn men.

Ensuing darkness:

Now, what is really scary, compare the next part of the Bible with the next paragraph of the article:

[Rev 16:10-11 KJV] 10 And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, 11 And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.

National Geographic article:

In the longer term, chemical reactions in the atmosphere would produce dark, nitrogen-based gases that would block the sun's heat and trigger global cooling, even as the gamma rays continued to deplete ozone and let in UV rays, the authors suggest.

I find the resemblance very striking.

Sheltering underground:

Interestingly enough, it appears that being underground would be a good way to shelter from a gamma ray burst.

[Rev 6:15 KJV] 15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;

and sheltering as described from other sources: http://2013.org/showthread.php/188-How-does-one-prepare-sufficiently-for-gamma-radiation-in-a-shelter-etc

Scientific consideration:

I asked this question from a scientific stand point here, if you would like to follow up on the details: http://astronomy.stackexchange.com/questions/2585/how-severe-is-the-threat-of-a-gamma-ray-burst-to-earth?noredirect=1#comment4390_2585

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As one who reads the language of Revelation more literally, your parallels are at least intriguing, and to me are a possibility of how God may work out the events described. However, with God, He is not limited to using "natural" forces to do His work, so it need not be a "gamma ray burst" to have these effects. And the problem here is there is no textual way to resolve that such is a certain and right conclusion. The text only tells the effects, not the means by which the effects come about. –  ScottS May 31 at 14:02
    
Point well taken, God has the power to use natural forces, but He is also all powerful, and can cause these effects through other means as well. After I read the article of what would happen during a gamma ray burst, I saw that it could be part of what happens during Revelation. –  Jonathan May 31 at 15:09

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