The Kings of the East (Revelation 16:12)

Map of Mesopotamia
In popular interpretations of the book of Revelation, the “kings of the east” command a vast army from Asia intent on invading the Middle East to attack Israel. This understanding ignores the context and the verbal allusions judgment pronouncements on Babylon from the book of Jeremiah.
This view assumes that the “kings of the east” rule over identifiable modern nations bent on Israel’s destruction [e.g., Hal Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970) pp. 70-71, Grant Jeffrey, Apocalypse (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), p. 240].
There is no description of an actual battle in the passage; it never states this force intends to attack national Israel or invade Palestine. Instead, it describes how the “kings of the whole habitable earth” are assembled by demonic deception to the “battle of the great day of God the Almighty.” But the enemy to be destroyed is not identified until the seventh bowl, namely, end-time Babylon.
(Revelation 16:12) – “And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river: the Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might be prepared of the kings who were from the rising of the sun” [Citation from The Emphasized Bible].
The actual “battle” is not portrayed until Revelation 19:11-21 when the Beast and its allies gather to make war with the Lamb; again, not with national Israel. There is no description of a drawn-out conventional battle; the Beast and the false prophet are simply cast alive into the “lake of fire.” All remaining armies are “slain” and left on the field for birds to consume (19:17-21).
Chapter 16 serializes the meting out of God’s final wrath on the Beast and Babylon into seven “bowls” or “last plagues.” The seven angels with the “seven last plagues” are seen exiting the “sanctuary of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven” before they receive the bowls (15:5-6). The “seven last plagues” are implemented as each angel pours out his bowl. Throughout the series, God initiates the action, even when he uses agents of the Dragon to execute His purposes (i.e., demons, the kings of the earth).
The sixth bowl prepares the way for God’s use of the Beast, the false prophet and the “kings of the whole earth” to destroy “Babylon.” They are assembled to implement His judgment, for the “kings of the earth” are gathered to the “battle of God the Almighty.” This is His “battle,” not that of the Dragon or the Beast.
The description of the way “prepared for the kings of the east” employs language from Jeremiah’s prophecy of the destruction of ancient Babylon by the Medes (“the water thereof was dried up, that the way might by made ready for the kings that come from the east”). In the sixth century BC, Babylon was captured in one night when a force of Medes and Persians damned the Euphrates River (“dried up”) to allow it to enter the city unopposed.
Note well the verbal parallels between the sixth bowl and the related passages from Jeremiah:
(Revelation 16:12-13) – “And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river: the Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might be prepared of the kings who were from the rising of the sun. And I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false-prophet, three impure spirits as frogs, for they are spirits of demons doing signs, which are to go forth unto the kings of the whole habitable earth to gather them together unto the battle of the great day of God the Almighty.”
(Jeremiah 50:35-38) – “A sword is upon the Chaldeans, says Yahweh, and upon the inhabitants of Babylon…A drought is upon her waters, and they shall be dried up; for it is a land of graven images, and they are mad over idols. Therefore the wild beasts of the desert with the wolves shall dwell there, and the ostriches shall dwell therein: and it shall be no more inhabited for ever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation.”
(Jeremiah 51:25-38) – “Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, says Yahweh, which destroys all the earth; and I will stretch out my hand upon you, and roll you down from the rocks, and will make you a burnt mountain..Set up a standard in the land, blow the trumpet among the nations, prepare the nations against her, call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz: appoint a marshal against her; cause the horses to come up as the rough canker-worm.…Prepare against her the nations, even the king of the Medes and of the whole earth, his rulers and all his captains…Therefore thus says the Lord, Behold, I will plead thy cause, and take vengeance for you; and I will dry up her sea, and make her springs dry. And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwelling-place for dragonswithout inhabitant.”
The passage from Jeremiah was used previously to portray the second trumpet (Jeremiah 51:25Revelation 8:8 – “The second angel sounded and a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea”). The repeated use is deliberate; Revelation is portraying the paradoxical destruction of end-time Babylon, for God will use the very “kings of the earth” that profited from her commerce to implement her downfall.
The language from Jeremiah used in the sixth bowl does not mean the “kings of the east” are identical with the ancient Medes and Persians. The passage from Jeremiah provides fitting imagery for God’s judgment of end-time “Babylon.” After the kings of the earth are assembled, Babylon partakes of the “wine of God’s wrath” (16:19-20); her overthrow is announced in the seventh bowl but not described until chapters 17 and 18.
The image of the kings crossing the Euphrates in verse 12 is interpreted in verses 13-16. This is indicated by what John saw (“and I saw”). At the start of the seven bowls John “heard a great voice out of the temple, saying to the seven angels, Go and pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God into the earth” (16:1). Now he describes what he sees, demons from the Dragon, Beast and false prophet gather the “kings of the whole habitable earth unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty”; what he sees interprets what he hears.  The “kings from the east” comprise the same group as the “kings of the whole habitable earth”; the two are identical.
Elsewhere the “kings of the earth” are allied with the Beast and corrupted by Babylon (6:1517:217:1818:318:919:16-19).
The destruction of end-time Babylon pronounced by the seventh bowl is elaborated in the next two chapters.  The ten horns of the Beast represent ten kings that make war against the Lamb, but he “overcomes them, for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings…The waters which you saw where the harlot sits are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these shall hate the harlot and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her utterly with fire. For God put in their hearts to do his mind, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God are accomplished” (Revelation 17:14-18:3).
Note well; God “put it in their hearts” to do His will by destroying Babylon. Though allied with the Beast, that situation only lasts “until the words of God are accomplished.” The destruction of the Beast, false prophet AND the kings of the earth follow in the next chapter.
Thus, the Beast and its allies become God’s instruments to destroy Babylon. When Babylon is overthrown an angel makes a proclamation that uses additional verbiage from Jeremiah’s dirge against the ancient city, as follows: 
(Jeremiah 50:35-38) – “it shall be no more inhabited for ever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation.”
(Jeremiah 51:37) – “And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwelling-place for dragons, an astonishment, and a hissing, without inhabitant.”
(Revelation 18:3, 21-23). “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, and is become a habitation of demons, and a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hateful bird. For by the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen; and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her…Thus with a mighty fall shall Babylon, the great city, be cast down, and shall be found no more at all. And the voice of harpers and minstrels and flute-players and trumpeters shall be heard no more at all in you; and no craftsman of whatsoever craft shall be found any more at all in you; and the voice of a mill shall be heard no more at all in you; and the light of a lamp shall shine no more at all in you; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in you.” (cp. Revelation :3, 21-23).
Jeremiah pronounced that Babylon would be “without inhabitant.” The list of social groups in Revelation 18:21-23 no longer found in the city is an expansion of this pronouncement. It is the “kings of the earth” that are allied with the Beast that turn to wage war on Babylon; they become God’s agents to destroy her.
In the seven bowls of wrath, God’s enemies are pronounced destroyed in sequence. In the sixth bowl, the “kings of the earth” are assembled for the “great day of the battle of God the Almighty” to carry out the Almighty’s bidding by destroying Babylon. This is pronounced in the seventh bowl.
The actual “battle” is described in chapter 19 when the Lamb rides from heaven on a white horse to destroy his enemies with the “sword proceeding out of his mouth.” Note the verbal links between the two passages:
(Revelation 16:14) – “They are spirits of demons, working signs; which go forth to the kings of the whole habitable earth unto gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.”
(Revelation 19:15-21) – “And out of his mouth proceeds a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty. And he has on his garment and on his thigh a name written, king of kings and lord of lords. And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in mid heaven, Come and be gathered together unto the great supper of God…And I saw the Beast, and the kings of the earth and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat upon the horse, and against his army.”
In short, the events unleashed by the sixth bowl of wrath have nothing to do with national Israel or any armed conflict in the Middle East. Revelation continues to use Old Testament language to build its picture of how God will destroy the Dragon’s earthly agents: the Beast, the false prophet and “Babylon.”
The “kings of the earth” may be allied with the Beast but become God’s instruments by which He destroys end-time Babylon. The same “war” or polemos is in view in the sixth bowl, the vision of the final downfall of Babylon (17:14-18:23), and the “war” between the Lamb and the Beast (19:17-21).


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