The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East.

Revelation 16:12

In considering the interpretation of this verse, obviously the popular futurist explanations of this verse would generally assume an absolutely literal approach.

Yet, in consideration of Pretierist viewpoints, what are the generally more accepted thoughts regarding this event, other than a literal river? And, from what general school of thought is it derived?

Considering the historical basis (at the time of John) would have been king Cyrus drying up the literal Euphrates by means of a canal, such that he rode into the city underneath the city of Babylon's gates, how much credence is given by scholars that this may or may not be the literal Euphrates, but a focus and event that served the same purpose in, say, historical Rome, as it did to ancient Babylon?

  • I'm not sure what question you are asking; what's obvious is you are steering away from a futurist interpretation of the passage. What is not clear is how you are reconciling it with a Preterist/Partial Preterist viewpoint. Since no invasion from the east was recorded in the 1st 3 centuries of Christianity, there is no scope of interpretation other than conjecture as to how the prophetic fulfillment of this passage can occur.
    – Tau
    Nov 21, 2014 at 5:35
  • There IS an interpretation(other than Literal/Historical-Grammatical that embraces a now and future fulfillment; it is a Historicist(not 'Classical Historicist') but Historicist which sees these events being fulfilled in our time, along with a recognizable hermeneutic to evaluate the interpretation. I would be happy to share with you, but your question as posed seems outside of that interpretation.
    – Tau
    Nov 21, 2014 at 5:41
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    I could consider a re-word. The problem is, with a futurist, it is simply "wait and see"--there's not much depth. I have a certain take on it, but there's certainly others pertaining to historical issues. Obviously, the Euphrates itself hasn't dried up, but, considering the historical nature of the event described (to the audience then), I was trying to ask about them.
    – user6152
    Nov 21, 2014 at 5:44
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    Does Jesus actually ride down from Heaven on a White Horse? His disciples didn't see a 'white horse' when He ascended into Heaven, and they were told "in like manner as you see Him"(Acts 1:11). So, what does the "White Horse" mean?
    – Tau
    Nov 21, 2014 at 12:25
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    Any time the Euphrates is crossed, it is indicative of disaster for Israel. God had marked the "Great River" as the boundary of the land He was giving Israel(Gen.15:18); you cross the border and you pick a fight. Since Israel was NOT a nation during or after 70AD, it could not be 'attacked' by a nation crossing the Euphrates. From 1948 onward, however, it IS a nation, and the prophetic rules apply.
    – Tau
    Nov 21, 2014 at 12:44

4 Answers 4


The drying up of water bodies is a biblical sign of imminent peril, in which in Rev 16, the reference is related to God's wrath upon Israel. When we consider the rest of the verse, which speaks of the river Euphrates as drying up to allow an invading army, the context becomes more transparent. The theme of dried riverbeds is one often visited throughout scriptures. I'd like to build the case that the language is figurative. At the same time, the symbolic language is deeply explicit. For brevity's sake, I left OT references to the Biblical theme of dried rivers at the end for you to compare to the NT scriptures I've sourced.

Building My Case

If you read this answer until its completion, you'll see that I don't take a dispensational approach to the Book of Revelation. I will build a case for interpreting the Revelation, specifically Rev 16:12, by the whole counsel of Holy Scripture (scripture interpreting scripture). But why this method?

The Revelation begins by unlocking the key to interpreting itself:

1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: (Rev 1:1 KJV)

It's here that the inspired writer of the book informed us that any attempt at literalizing the text would lead to folly. Its significance by the writer was purposeful. Like the books' title, the writer sought to reveal things by the writings, which, at the time, was the sole method of knowing the oracles of God, the Hebrew scriptures. And if it was meant to reveal information to its current readers, it could not have been explicitly written to distant generations.

A Quick Broad Look At Exodus Motif in Revelation.

The Revelation is explicit in its depiction of 1st century Israel as the object of God's wrath. The wrath of God rested upon Israel because its headship maliciously yet inadvertently slaughtered the Lamb of God. This was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures and by Christ Himself (see Olivet Discourse). If you read the Gospels and the Book of Acts, you'll notice Israel's hierarchy mirroring the Egyptian Pharoh in their opposition to allowing God's children to worship in peace. And just like in the Hebrew scriptures, a physical exodus took place.

And their dead bodies lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. Rev 11:8

This stunning verse informs us that 1st century Jerusalem was recognized by the Spirit of God as the wicked OT nations of Sodom and Egypt. And just like the corrupt nation of Eygpt, it would suffer God's wrath for not heeding the voice of God Himself, Jesus of Nazareth (see Math 21:38). In Rev 15, we find a song offered to the Lamb (Christ) that points directly to the children of Israel's Song of Moses offered in Duetormony 32. What follows is the glorious imagery of Heaven and God's wrath emitting from the heavenly Temple.

5 After this I looked, and the Temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the Temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen, and their breasts girded with golden girdles. 7 And one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives for ever and ever; 8 and the Temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the Temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were ended. (Rev 15 5-8).

A brief look at Rev 16, and you'll see explicit OT references to God's wrath upon spiritual Eygpt (in this case, Israel).

3 The second angel poured his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a dead man, and every living thing died that was in the sea. 4 The third angel poured his bowl into the rivers and the fountains of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of water say, "Just art thou in these thy judgments, thou who art and wast, O Holy One. 6 For men have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink. It is their due!"

The key to understanding Rev 16:12

What we've seen so far is figurative yet explicit passages about what befell 1st century Israel. They were figurative in that they drew from OT passages about Israel's corruption and subsequent destruction. The verses were explicit in that promises of God does not fail, and many historians have chronicled the utter savagery in which Israel succumbed to its Roman enemy. Although there are many passages to reference dried rivers, let's quickly examine Isaiah 19.

5 And the waters of the Nile will be dried up, and the river will be parched and dry; 6 and its canals will become foul, and the branches of Egypt's Nile will diminish and dry up, reeds and rushes will rot away.

I challenge anyone to find any historical record of the Nile River in Eygpt ever drying up. Does this mean the Word of God failed? Certainly not! This chapter in Isaiah starts with figurative imagery about the impending peril that faced Eygpt in their conflict with Assyria. Likewise, Rev 16:12 painted a picture of imminent destruction. In the Book of Exodus, God dried the Red Sea to allow escape for the Israelites while at the same time, destroying the Egyptian army. In Rev 16, we find figurative language that alludes to a dried riverbed that allows a powerful army to invade Israel from the east (east being a direction that historically accounted for peril in Israel's history). OT Related Passage Is 15:6 Is 50:2 Jer 15:36 Ez 30:12 Zech 10:11


The Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) is like its name implies, an unveiling of truths about Jesus, our Lord. If we seek a literal approach to signified passages, we'd have a mess on our hands. Don't believe me, watch the movie "Left Behind" or read anything written by Hal Lindsey. This passage, like dozens of other passages in the Revelation, is written using OT language because its readers (unlike many today) studied it and sought to rightly divide the Word of God.

  • In harsh and arid seasons and droughts the Blue Nile dries out completely. The flow of the Blue Nile varies considerably over its yearly cycle .
    – user44067
    Jul 9, 2021 at 11:17

OK - we have two choices - either the description of the 6th plague is literal or it is symbolic. If symbolic then we must interpret the symbols as per Rev 1:1, 2.

However, if the description is literal, then we must explain what is a literal dragon, what is a literal beast (from the sea, Rev 13:1) what is a beast/false prophet (from the land, Rev 13:11) vomiting evil spirits like frogs to speak to world leaders.

Under the literal interpretation, the description collapses under the weight of its own absurdities.

There is a half-way house that suggests some things are literal and some are symbolic but this is just as troublesome as we must then arbitrarily decide which is which - a series of decisions that will invariably be based one one's presuppositions.

I vote for symbolic for several reasons:

  • The remainder of the 6th plague is clearly and obviously symbolic as stated above.
  • Rev 17:15 says: Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute was seated [= Euphrates], are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues."
  • Rev 1:1 says: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants what things it behooves to take place in quickness. And He signified it through having sent His angel to His servant, John, [BLB, see also NKJV and Aramaic, AKJV, ASV, etc]

Thus, Revelation is written in signs and symbols


Drying up means the water is drying up in Euprates already. Oil? Oil has nothing to do with the 200million troops? One thing for certain, you can not add or subtract from the Word of GOD. People are good at using metaphoric interpretation especially when it has no connection to the Book of Revelation? The Kings of the East is an army which is going to be around 200million troops which is going to cross the Euphrate river with ease. This army could be alliance but it going to invade Israel but will not prevail.


Why not Preterism?

To respond to this question-Context is the key.

Since the "Drying up of the River Euphrates"(Rev. 16:2) occurs as the 6th vial(bowl judgment) is poured out, which was only after the Lamb was given the ability to open the book and loose the seals(Rev. 5), which only happens after John is sent to Patmos(92-95AD) which is significantly later than the Destruction of the Temple-which Preterism says ushers in the eternal age of the Kingdom

Adam Clarke [1762-1832] comments on verse 30: “The plain meaning of this is, that the destruction of Jerusalem will be such a remarkable instance of Divine vengeance, such a signal manifestation of Christ’s power and glory, that all the Jewish tribes shall mourn, and many will, in consequence of this manifestation of God, be led to acknowledge Christ and his religion.”(Taken from here)

Although Revelations does look backwards(Chapter 12), there can be no case made for the bowl judgments preceding the seal and trumpet judgments, which of their nature are incremental and proceed from Chapt. 5, therefore to follow the "70AD" argument is ignoring any context of the judgments to make them 'fit' a Preterist scenario.

Another contextual point to be made is "Why is the Euphrates River is drying up?" We are told in Rev. 16:12-14,

And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. 13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty

There was no advance on Rome during the time of Jerusalem's Destruction from the east, indeed, it came from the west. Rome had advanced to the Euphrates River at the height of their empire(117AD-taken from here)

So, if it didn't occur during the 1st century, then what is the significance of the "Drying of the River Euphrates" and what time frame must we approach as to it's fulfillment. For the sake of brevity I will take a Historicist position, although it may not be one easily recognized.

Context is Key

In order to examine in detail the scope of Rev. 16:12-14, one 1st has to ask, is the context Literal or Figurative? This is NOT the same question as "Real or Imaginary", or "Literal or Metaphorical". We are asking if the language in it's historical/ grammatical sense actually communicates the meaning, or is it representative of another reality.

The Euphrates River is the boundary of the land God promised to the descendants of Abraham (Gen. 15:18),

In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

therefore, the River Euphrates must be considered as a border to this Covenant land. Therefore, whoever trespasses this boundary is seen as one doing harm to the nation of Israel. But before one proceeds to a "Literal" interpretation of this event, lets look at the rest of the passage in context:

1) Water drying up

If the context is telling us of a future event, the "drying up of water" poses no significant challenge for a modern army, nor can be seen as one engaging the entire earth. The Euphrates was 'forded' by previous empires making their conquest, but was not seen as any major obstacle; therefore, the understanding of what "drying of the Euphrates" must be representative.

2) Three spirits like frogs out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. Since 'frogs' are representative of unclean animals, the dragon is representative of Satan(Rev. 20:2), the beast and the false prophet are also representative(Rev. 13:1/11) therefore the context also must be understood figuratively.

The Interpretation

The Futurist sees these events has happening in the future; we are well into the future from when Revelations was given. Dispensationalists separate Israel and the Church from this present age, therefore in Dispensational eschatology this event can only happen after the Church is "Raptured" and Israel is by herself to face all the hostile nations against her. The fact is Israel is NOW facing that reality as a nation, and never in history AS A NATION could she have faced the reality of every nation of the earth against her. So we are currently living in the climate where Israel could be attacked by every nation on the earth opposing her; we see the UN Resolution 242 committing Israel to return all lands gained in the '67 war, including Jerusalem-every nation was signatory to this document. Therefore all nations have committed themselves to the referendum following it, the details yet to be worked out.

But why the "water drying out"?

The water here is of special significance; it doesn't say that "God dried the water", or that "a dam was built"(there are numerous dams, they benefit everyone in the region) Though there is no scriptural precedent for this, the water is in fact oil. What brings all the nations of the earth to the battle of Armageddon is not the Arab water, but the Arab oil; in 1973 the Arabs decided to "dry up" the wells of Saudi Arabia and other Arab entities, and the shortages in this country and many others led us to 'compromise', forcing Israel to 'accept' trading land for peace. This situation has not abated, the Western(and eastern) nations are in just as much need of Arab oil now as before. The fact that the "Euphrates is crossed" indicates the hostile intent of the Arab nations, who collectively hate Israel and see the flag of their allegiance fly over Jerusalem; the 'water drying up' is the means by which all the nations of the earth get involved-it is vital to their national interests that a solution is rendered.

  • If nothing else, the language for differentiating between "real and imaginary" vs figurative language in a historical/gramatical context was worth it. Sometimes, just better language to go after what I'm looking for helps. I appreciate the answer, and +1, but as for water being oil, I'd say it's a stretch. Thanks, tho.
    – user6152
    Nov 24, 2014 at 18:23
  • @BenjaminHoogterp I will admit that there is no recognizable hermeneutic that substitutes the word 'hydro'(water) for oil. The context of the River Euphrates established as a border for Israel is well recognized and the 'drying up' of that river isn't about the physical river, but what keeps the economies of the world alive, the 'oil' that is firmly in control of the nations that seek to do her harm. Therefore, the 'drying up of the River Euphrates' can be a euphemism for 'drying up of the Arab oil', done deliberately to provoke the final battle.
    – Tau
    Nov 24, 2014 at 19:02
  • This does not answer the actual question. It's just a teaching on your perspective on the verse... The OP specifically asked about how Preterists would explain it.
    – Jas 3.1
    Dec 27, 2014 at 4:39
  • @Jas3.1 The Preterists can't explain it, other than to say there must have been some historical record of the Euphrates drying up, and a subsequent attack by the Parthians during the 1st century. But since there is no historical record to show this, they are hard pressed to find this verse(and numerous other verses like it) being fulfilled in the 1st century. Of course, mention the words "this generation" and they get rapturous, expounding on the various types and shadows fulfilled by 70AD. They just don't have a 'good' answer for this verse, so they tend to ignore it.
    – Tau
    Dec 27, 2014 at 8:50
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    You don't have to entertain the Mormon doctrine of people living on the sun in order to explain their teaching on it. Same with Preterism. I agree it's a flawed system, but I still think this question is interesting -- and useful. Maherlalhashbaz came before Christ, Antiochus Epiphanes before Antichrist, etc. Preterists tend to be good at the "local fulfillment".
    – Jas 3.1
    Dec 28, 2014 at 4:15