Here is a link to a source outlining J.A. Wylie’s interpretation of the Seven Vials in Revelation 16. While our view of the 7 vials differs somewhat from Wylie’s, this source will be of use to anyone puzzling through this passage. We don’t claim infallibility with respect to our interpretations so it may turn out that someone else’s view is correct while ours is not!
All historicists agree that the Book of Revelation is an outline of world history from the First to the Second comings. Historicists differ in their understandings of the details, however. This is due to the fact that any historicist at any time in history cannot know with exact certitude where in the flow of history he stands. Looking back, however, things begin to become clearer, and there begins to be a greater consensus amongst theologians over the details as time goes on.
If you read the article Biblical Predictions not Preterist but Historicist by Rev. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee, available on the Resources page, you can see how this worked historically in the identification of Antichrist. Believers before the Catholic church had gained full power knew the Man of Sin was coming but did not know his exact identity. They were looking for his coming and wondering how history was going to unfold. As the papacy gained supremacy, however, there was a growing consensus that the papacy was the Man of Sin. Such consensus remains today amongst historicists.
The same is true with the 7 vials. Expositors have differed over their exact understanding as they have attempted to see how the passages apply to known history at their time of writing. Over time, however, there has been general agreement on the meaning of the 7 vials, although there might be more than one “school of thought” to which expositors adhere. Here is Wylie’s understanding of the 7 vials, written in the late 1800’s:
The Book of Revelation is a book of symbols. It is about the Rise, Reign, Decline and Fall of the Man of Sin or the Papal System, called in Revelation Mystery Babylon, the mother of harlots and abomination of the earth. Most of the symbols are taken from the Old Testament, and clearly explained there, or in the book itself. Babylon’s decline and fall began with the 7 vials and closely parallel the 10 plaques on Egypt that finally persuaded Pharaoh to let the people go to the promised land. A vial is a cup and everywhere in Scripture it is used to represent judgment or vengeance:
Symbol Meaning The Earth Society in a settled or tranquil state The Sea Society in a state of chaos or convulsion
“But the wicked are like the troubled sea” (Isaiah 57:20).
Rivers and fountains Nation and kingdoms
“The waters . . . are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (Rev. 17:15).
The sun Kings, rulers, governmental powers. Darkening of the sun Fall of kings, rulers etc. A horn A kingdom or nation A seat A throne The beast The Roman Empire revived under the Papacy
“The beast that was, and is not, and yet is” (Rev. 17:8).
Mark of the beast A follower of the Pope. Mystery Babylon, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the earth The Roman “church”
Read more: http://www.reformation.org/vials.html