And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth. And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image. Rev 16:1-2
The People’s New Testament Commentary:
John sees the vial poured out, and marks its effect; very grievous ulcers fall upon men; that is, upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image. Those who suffer are those who listen to the lamb-like dragon, the anti-Christ, the false spiritual power, or, as has been found in chapter 14, the votaries of Rome. As the vials of the wrath of God are a series of events leading to the destruction of this false power, we must look for the first of the vials, not while it is at the zenith of its power. We have found that a number of distinct prophecies seem to point to the year 1793 as a period when its power will give signs of decay, and its hold upon the nations weaken; hence, we need not look for the first vial before this.
Let the reader note the nature of the plagues to be sent. It is described as a grievous ulcer, that afflicts those who have the mark of the beast. An ulcer is not only a painful and dangerous sore, but is often malignant and foul with corruption. The term is often used to describe moral corruption, and the ulcers described may be moral or spiritual. Can we find aught in history about the end of the 1260 years of Papal dominion that corresponds with the symbolism? For many centuries France was the stoutest and staunchest of the supporters of the Romish Church. It was Charlemagne, the emperor of France, who bestowed the temporal power upon the Popes. It was to Avignon in France that, at one time, the Papacy was transferred for seventy years. The ruler of France was long styled “the eldest son of the Church.” It was France that had perpetrated the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the dragonnades of the Cevennes, and the banishment of the Huguenots. The French nation had the mark of the beast to at least as great an extent as any other nation.
In 1793, exactly at the close of the period of 1260 years, there breaks out in France a fearful moral ulcer that had long been festering. The French Revolution, the uprising of enslaved masses who were maddened into fury, sent Catholic king, royal families, nobles, and priests to the guillotine by tens of thousands, impelled the nation in its madness to publicly declare itself atheistic, leavened it with skepticism, and broke the hold of Rome to such a degree that she can never more control France. The ulcer was awfully corrupt and deadly.
At one time 200,000 citizens of all conditions and both sexes were in prison, and often in Paris alone, fourscore were sent to the scaffold in a day. As the result of breaking forth of this ulcer, the mightiest Catholic nation was convulsed with civil war, every Catholic country in Europe was deluged in blood, and the Papal power received a shock from which it can never recover. The first vial, the breaking forth of grievous, painful, malignant ulcers, most fitly represents the breaking out of the French Revolution, its awful excesses, and irreparable injury done to the great spiritual despotism by the events of which it was the beginning and the cause.