A continuation of the decoding of symbolic language to tell the story of the church’s persecution by Rome in the first century and her eventual victory.
In studying the book of Revelation we must not lose sight of the fundamental story: the rise of the church, the attempt by Satan in the person of the Roman Empire to destroy her, the survival of the church, and the eventual judgment and destruction of Rome and Satan as well as the exaltation of the church to heaven. The symbols get confusing, but this is the basic story that they tell.
So far in this story, this is what has taken place:
- Christ and His church have been introduced.
- Both God’s power and Satan’s power have been described. Seven trumpets reveal God’s warning and power. Satan and his allies have been described (dragon, beast, false prophet).
- Satan’s attack has been made.
- God’s response to this attack has been described (bowls of wrath).
In the previous chapter, I described the bowls of wrath that represent God’s judgment (the extent and power of it) on Satan and his followers.
The sixth bowl spoke of military invasion, and it is here that John says that Satan will marshal his forces to fight against defeat; this great battle is referred to as Har-Mageddon (a Jewish image that means “the mother of all battles”).
In chapter 16, the 7th and final bowl was described, and it referred to the judgment on Rome (the city itself, the center of earthly power, and the heart of Satan’s earthly servant).
As we go into the final chapters, we will see John finish the book with visions of Satan’s judgment and punishment and the exaltation of the church into heaven.
Judgment on Rome – Chapter 17
There is a pause as we receive more information about Rome and the reason for her judgment and punishment, which was announced as the 7th bowl in the previous chapter.
1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”
– Revelation 17:1-2
The great harlot is Rome.
The term, “Sits on many waters,” refers to the nations. An empire that sits over many nations. Adultery is idolatry, and adultery with kings is Rome’s sin of leading other nations into idolatry and worldliness. She is a leader in this.
3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, 5 and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” 6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly.
– Revelation 17:3-6
Description of the harlot, the woman (the city of Rome).
The description, “She sits on the beast,” means that she derives her power from the beast (Roman Empire) described in chapter 13. “Dressed as a queen,” not beautiful, but the picture is one of excess luxury, haughty splendor. The cup represents her sins of immorality, blasphemy, and the blood of the saints. Her name is Babylon the Great.
The Jews understood that Babylon stood for worldly greatness wrapped in immorality, idolatry, and pride. It was the standard for earthly wickedness. The only thing, power, or entity that could represent this in their time was the city of Rome.
In the prophecy mode, this woman represents Rome; in the ongoing prophecy cycle, this woman represents any power center with these attributes.
And the angel said to me, “Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.
– Revelation 17:7
This passage can be very confusing unless you understand that the angel is describing the relationship between the beast (Roman Empire) upon which the harlot (city of Rome) sits and its relationship with its allies. The angel also gives a more detailed description of the beast itself.
The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.
– Revelation 17:8
It is described as one who was, is not, and is about to come out of the abyss and destroy. He is describing the beast in relationship to its persecution of Christians. The persecution began under Nero in 68 AD, but it stopped after his death (Nero was). Then it was quiet under Vespasian and Titus (Nero and persecution are not). Then under Domitian (whom many thoughts were Nero reincarnated), the persecution began again (Nero about to come from the abyss to persecute, destroy).
This person’s name is not written in the Book of Life, he is Satan’s tool. John personifies the Empire as one person: Nero.
9 Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10 and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. 11 The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.
– Revelation 17:9-11
John describes this beast by describing the relationship of the beasts Satan has used in the past. In the past, Satan has used many beasts to persecute God’s people:
- He says that the mountains are mountains or kings.
- The Roman Empire is the latest manifestation of the beast that has existed throughout history.
- The kings represent kingdoms who have acted as the beast in the past, in opposing God and persecuting God’s people:
- 5 are fallen
- 5 are fallen
- All others are in the future
- The 8th one is the persecution used by all of these world powers. It was, then it was not, eventually will be destroyed because the one who is wielding it will be destroyed.
12 The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast.
14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” 15 And he said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. 18 The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.
– Revelation 17:12-18
The ten horns of the beast, which are ten kings, refer to the alliances that Rome had made with Barbarian kingdoms after conquering them. They help Rome in the persecution of the church. Ultimately these turn on the harlot, Rome, and were in part responsible for its destruction.
Historically, Rome relied on these nations but forbade their rulers to enjoy the Roman orgies or celebrations because they were not citizens. This caused resentment.
John describes the harlot (Rome) and the beast that gives her power (the Empire). He also explains that this beast has existed in many forms before and used the same tactic (persecution), and will do so again.
His encouragement, however, is that this present beast and its harlot will be destroyed and along with that destruction, the persecution will stop.
The fall of the harlot – Chapter 18
We have had the announcement that the city and the Harlot will fall. Now we see how great this fall really is.
Vs. 1-8 – Announcement of destruction
A dirge or lament of doom. Two voices announce this:
- The first voice declares the reason for her fall: spiritual fornication. She has seduced others into idolatry and wickedness.
- The second voice calls God’s people to not be entangled in her sins and names another sin, that of pride. The age-old sin of pride, beginning with Satan himself and every ruler that God has destroyed because of this.
Vs. 9-19 – Effect on the wicked: mourning
The mourning by other nations for two reasons:
- If the great city can fall, it means that the allies do not stand a chance either.
- Rome, as the center of world trade, will cause an economic disaster when she falls. The business people, traders, bankers, etc. mourn because of the economic depression that will take place because of the fall. (The same idea if the US defaults on a debt or has a great economic depression, it affects the entire world).
Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.
– Revelation 18:20
John describes the opposite reaction of those who have been persecuted by Rome: rejoicing.
21 Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. 22 And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer; 23and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer;
– Revelation 18:21-23a
The nature of the fall will be great and quick. No music (no rejoicing); no crafts (no industry or commerce); mill stopped (no food); no light (no knowledge); no marriage (no love).
In relation to its rise and stay of power (400-500 years), the destruction and loss of power were great and happened in a relatively short amount of time.
23b …and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.
– Revelation 18:23b-24
Many reasons for Rome’s fall have already been mentioned, but two main ones are summarized here: promoting idolatry (sorcery) among the nations and persecution of the church.
Paul the Apostle was guilty of rejecting Christ and persecuting the church, but he repented and was forgiven. Rome became more stubborn in this and was eventually destroyed.
The wedding feast and fall of the two beasts – Chapter 19
The power of God and His judgment on the beast and the harlot have been pronounced. Time-wise it is understood that when God pronounces something (blessing or judgment), the thing itself, even if it has not happened, is considered as done. If God says it, even if it is only in 200 years, it is as if it has already happened. His word is sure. For this reason, once the judgment on the enemy has been spoken, the next scene is one of rejoicing.
In verses 1 to 10, they rejoice over the judgment of the harlot. They do so because God has heard and responded to their prayers concerning the martyred saints, and it will be an eternal judgment. All in heaven are rejoicing, the angels, the four living creatures, and the saints. The rejoicing is compared to a Jewish wedding feast. It had 3 parts: the betrothal, the husband pays for dowry; the interval, the partners prepare but are separated (all Christians are in this state, waiting for the groom to come); the feast, the celebration that represents the consummation (the groom comes for the bride). They are rejoicing because the time of celebration is at hand. The bride and groom will be united.
John falls before the angel, but the angel directs his worship to the true object of all worship, Jesus Christ.
11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God,18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.
– Revelation 19:11-18
Once again, Jesus is revealed in His glorious state as the one who will win the victory over the enemy and as the one who will execute victory. Here is the One, along with His army, who will face Satan and his allies at Har-Mageddon. There is no description of a battle, the simple appearance of Christ announces victory, Satan never had a chance. (In the gospels, Jesus would only have to speak, and the demons were defeated.)
John mixes all the climactic events together: the image of the celebration or victory gathering with Christ and His followers is flashed against the scene of the battle where Satan and his forces are defeated by Christ and the saints. Like a movie where a scene shows a victory celebration, but flashback scenes show the battle that brought them there.
The fall of the two beasts.
19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.
20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. – Revelation 19:19-21
John describes the defeat of the church’s enemies one at a time: the harlot (Rome), the beast (Empire), and the false prophet. He describes their defeat in very short terms. The lake of fire and brimstone is hell, the place of eternal punishment. The followers were killed with the sword, the Empire itself. Now that the allies are gone, only one is left to deal with, Satan himself.