The latest in last days madness comes from, naturally, the Middle East. It concerns the drying up of the Euphrates River. Supposedly the dry Euphrates is an end-time sign that the end is near. When Russia invaded Ukraine, that was said to be an ancillary fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39. Linking Russia with the Hebrew word rosh in Ezekiel 38:2 and 39:1 goes back a long way. Rosh is not a prophetic marker for Russia no matter how many people tell you it is. Before that it was Blood Moons.

A video with more than 1.2 million views claims the word “Euphrates” is one of the most searched terms on the internet. It’s been argued that the dried-up Euphrates is the marching route of a 200-million-man army from China on horseback (Rev. 9:13-21). China is a long way from the Euphrates River. Whether it’s literal or non-literal horses (horsepower?), it makes no sense for China to assemble such an army. Why would China want to invade Israel? If China attacked Israel, it would most likely be by air and sea.

There aren’t 200 million horses in the entire world today. There are around 60 million horses worldwide. Even some futurists see this imagery as symbolic.

A Beginner's Guide to Interpreting Bible Prophecy

A Beginner's Guide to Interpreting Bible Prophecy

For many Christians, interpreting Bible prophecy is a complicated task. As a result, they often turn to so-called Bible experts and complicated charts that include gaps in time, outrageous literal interpretations, and numerous claims that current events are prime indicators that the end is near. Many Christians are unaware that the same Bible passages have been used in nearly every generation as ‘proof’ that the end or some aspect of the end (the ‘rapture’) would take place in their generation. They’ve all had one thing in common: They’ve all been wrong.

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Here’s a bigger problem exegetically. The drying up of the Euphrates takes place after “the stars fell from heaven to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs… [a]nd the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places” in Revelation 6:13-14). Every horse and everything else would have been killed! When we get to Revelation 12, we see a giant woman, a dragon, and a third of the stars thrown down to the earth (vv. 1, 4). Then there’s Revelation 13 where we’re told we are going to be microchipped. If these events are literally going to happen as they are written, by the time we get to chapter 16, the earth would have become a burned-out cinder.

Why would China mount such a vast army after a third of the earth’s population had just been wiped out by plagues and stellar phenomena? It doesn’t make any sense. The world would be in such chaos (if it still existed) that the last thing on anyone’s mind would be to round up 200 million horses (that don’t exist), soldiers, weapons, saddles, and enough food and water so they could make a nearly impossible trek from China (16:12) to Israel. The comments by Ralph E. Bass, Jr., are helpful:

[200 million] is a number designed to terrorize. And indeed, that is its achieved result. As Carrington says, “… it is the empire of hell.” There never has been such an army and apparently never will be one…. But the number appears to have another meaning than the number of Roman soldiers from that area; it appears to suggest the number of demons that were released on Israel and Jerusalem. Remember the story of the demon possessed man from Garasenes (Luke 8:30)? He was possessed by a legion of demons. A legion was from 5,000 to 6,000 men, and all this in but one man! At 6,000 demons per person, it would only require a little over 33,000 inhabitants of Judah to justify these numbers.[1]

This interpretation has Scripture to back it up. We can make these associations from the Bible. If this army is symbolic of something else, then the futurists have some explaining to do. If it’s literal, then they still have some explaining to do. David Chilton has a helpful discussion of Revelation 16:12 in his Revelation commentary The Days of Vengeance:[2]

Corresponding to the Sixth Trumpet (9:13-21), the Sixth Chalice is poured out upon the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings from the rising of the sun. As we saw on 9:14, the Euphrates was Israel’s northern frontier, from which invading armies would come to ravage and oppress the Covenant people. The image of the drying of the Euphrates for a conquering army is taken, in part, from a stratagem of Cyrus the Persian, who conquered Babylon by temporarily turning the Euphrates out of its course, enabling his army to march up the riverbed into the city, taking it by surprise.21 The more basic idea, of course, is the drying up of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:21-22) and the Jordan River (Josh. 3:9-17; 4:22-24) for the victorious people of God. Again there is the underlying note of tragic irony: Israel has become the new Babylon, an enemy of God that must now be conquered by a new Cyrus, as the true Covenant people are miraculously delivered and brought into their inheritance. As Carrington observes, the coming of the armies from the Euphrates “surely represents nothing but the return of Titus to besiege Jerusalem with further reinforcements”;[3] and it is certainly more than coincidental that thousands of these very troops actually did come from the Euphrates.[4]

Ken Gentry adds additional historical details of what was taking place militarily:

What is more, the four angels from the Euphrates probably reflect something of the actual military circumstances involved, which included four Roman legions and also the prominent mention of the Euphrates. When Nero originally declared the war, he sent Vespasian “to take upon him the command of the armies that were in Syria,” where he “gathered together, the Roman forces” (J.W. 3:1:3 §7). The Euphrates River (Rev 9:14) touches Syria, where the Romans normally kept four brigades: “The huge stretch of territory between this end of Syria and the Euphrates was controlled by four brigades” (Tacitus, Ann. 4:5).

Regarding later actions in the Jewish War, Josephus mentions a great body of troops from the Euphrates who become a part of Titus’s forces when he takes over for his father Vespasian: “There followed him also three thousand drawn from those that guarded the river Euphrates” (J.W. 5:1:6 §44; cp. 7:1:3 §17). Thus, “at the siege of Jerusalem four legions were involved (the Fifth, Tenth, Fifteenth and Twelfth)” (Safrai and Stern 1:315; cp. Faulkner 296; Hadas-Lebel 150; cf. J.W. 5:2:3 §67-70). Josephus expressly mentions these four legions: “The [siege] works that belonged to the four legions were erected on the west side of the city” (J.W. 6:8:1 §376; cp. Tacitus, Hist. 5:1:6 §41-42). According to Josephus (J.W. 5:1:6 §40–44).


Not only is the Euphrates Israel’s ideal northern border, but it is also the extent of the power of Israel’s two most powerful kings, David (2Sa 8:3; 1Ch 18:3) and Solomon (2Ch 9:26). As the northern most boundary of Israel, as Beale notes (506), the Euphrates can serve as an apocalyptic image of God’s threatened judgment upon his covenant people by means of invading forces (Isa 7:20; 8:7-8; 27:12; Jer 1:14-15; 6:1, 22; 10:22; 13:20; Eze 38:6, 15; 39:2; Joel 2:20-25).This is because historically “from the River Euphrates had come Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar, destroyers of Samaria and Jerusalem; by now the Euphrates has become a mere symbol for the quarter from which judgment is to come on Jerusalem” (Carrington 165).[5]

Some additional interpretive factors to consider. First, Revelation was written about events that were “shortly” to “take place” because “the time is near” (1:3; 22:10). Near for that audience; not near for us. Second, if you believe in a pre-tribulational rapture, then nothing this side of the “rapture” has any prophetic significance. Everything after Revelation 4:1 is post-rapture of the church. According to the pre-trib view, the so-called “rapture” could have happened at any time in the past 2000 years whether the Euphrates was wet or dry. See my book The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation.

The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation

The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation

For decades Christians have been enticed with the belief that they would be taken to heaven before a coming tribulation period in an event called the ‘rapture.’ Since the national reestablishment of Israel in 1948, countless books and pamphlets have been written defending the doctrine assuring readers that it could happen at any moment. Some prophecy writers claimed the rapture would take place before 1988. We are far removed from that date. Where are we in God’s prophetic timetable?

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Third, numerous dams have been constructed along the Euphrates affecting its flow. Increase of water used for irrigation are also contributing factors. Fourth, in terms of what the Bible says, the drying up the Euphrates is the result of an angel pouring out “his bowl upon the great river, the Euphrates…” (16:12). What we are seeing with the Mississippi and the Euphrates are the result of natural phenomena.

[1]Ralph E. Bass, Back to the Future: A Study in the Book of Revelation (Greenville, SC: Living Hope Press, 2004), 241.

[2]David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (1987), 407-408.

[3]Philip Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation (London: SPCK, 1931), 265.

[4]See Josephus, The Jewish War, 3.1.3; 3.4.2; 5.1.6; 7.1.3.

[5]Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Divorce of Israel: A Redemptive-Historical Interpretation of Revelation, 2 vols. (Dallas, GA: Tolle Press, n.d.), 1:811-813.