Continuing on from chapter 15, where we saw seven angels given seven vials full of plagues of God’s wrath, in this chapter God commands the seven angels to go and pour out their vials of His wrath on the earth (v.1). These vials, a final group of seven, result in a series of judgments upon the anti-Christ powers, the dragon, the beast, the image of the beast, the false prophet, and Babylon. These were seen to symbolise the world-power which found its embodiment in Rome, and then in its papal form. These suffer under the judgments of God.
Under the seven seals, old pagan Rome was judged and brought to an end. Under the seven trumpets, the Roman Empire in its new form was judged and its destruction symbolized. Hence, under the seven vials, we see symbolized a series of judgments, which weaken and destroy papal Rome; and, with the seventh vial, Babylon, the Great City, symbolising the Apostate Church, falls.
First Vial (v.2) – Poured out on the earth. Grievous sores (ulcers) afflict those who follow and worship the Papacy and have ‘the mark of the beast’.
The term ‘earth’ here as before symbolises people, and in particular the Roman world. The expression “the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshiped his image” refers to the supporters of the worldly power and spiritual claims of Rome. See v.13:14-18. Those who suffer are those who listen to the lamb-like dragon (v.13:11), the AntiChrist, the false spiritual power (v.13:14,15). 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.