From 17:1-19:10 the great drama that unfolds focuses on the powers that are hostile to God and responsible for the persecution and suffering of God’s people. Rome’s power was captivating to many but John doesn’t focus on that. Instead he is intentional in defining Rome’s sins. He provides God’s assessment before outlining its fall and Heaven’s response. This is a continuation of what we read in 16:17-21. One of the seven angels who had poured out the seven bowls, an angel of judgement, summoned John to a new scene where he sees the coming judgement of the great prostitute, who rules over many waters. Rome was located on the Tiber River. They controlled the seats of power and water trade routes throughout the Mediterranean, from the British Isles to the Euphrates River. Both the kings and the inhabitants of the earth are seduced into committing spiritual adultery with Rome. Adultery with Rome is a biblical image for worshiping and serving other gods. Being drunk in scripture usually depicts nations and people that engage in wanton and immoral behavior. They were drunk with materialpossessions, false worship, and pride. The wine of Babylon’s fornication and immorality is judged forcefully and finally by God in the wine press of the fierceness of His wrath. John is carried away in the Spirit into the wilderness. This was his way of describing a visionary experience. John sees a depiction of Rome’s moral corruption and excessive luxury. This illustrates how such wealth can become an abomination to God. In the wilderness John saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns. There were blasphemies written all over the beast. The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and she was dripping in gold, precious stones, and pearls. She was holding a gold cup that was full to overflowing with the abominations, obscenities, and the impurities of her immorality. The woman represents Babylon and she is dressed like a Queen. Her appearance might be regal but she is anything but. We see two distinct views here. The first is from the standpoint of the people who look at the outer appearance. She looks splendid on the outside. The second view is from the perspective of God who looks at the heart. From that vantage point she looks horrible, disobedient, filthy, immoral, and evil.
The woman had a name written in her forehead: Babylon the Great, Mother of all prostitutes, and of the abominations of the earth. Babylon was the symbol of the idolatries and demonic obscenities of the world. As Mother she had produced offspring who copied her character, or lack there of. Rome, like Babylon, prostituted herself to false gods and led other nations into idolatry and adultery. Even worse, she was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people who were witnesses for Jesus; along with the wine of her fornication. The names on her forehead suggests that all spiritual harlotry and abominable acts are somehow the offspring of Babylon. That makes her actions doubly repugnant to God, as are the acts of anyone who persecutes God’s people. The woman’s hatred of Christianity is clearly portrayed in this verse. Being drunk from saint’s blood implies a time of extraordinary slaughter. John stared in utter a amazement but the angel asked why he was so amazed. In response to John’s amazement the angel prepares him to understand the mystery of the woman and the beast with the seven heads and ten horns. The destruction within this vision is contrasted with the destiny of the people of God in the new heaven and earth.
The description of the beast who was, and is not, and will ascend and go to perdition is a conscious contrast to the description of God. This beast will go to eternal ruin or punishment. Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life are deceived by the beast because they do not know it’s certain eternal destiny. All they see it’s one who once existed and has now made an incredible emergence. When Domitian became emperor (81-96 AD) he was as evil as Nero. Both men were fierce persecutors of the church. Many thought Domitian was the embodiment of Nero’s spirit, if not Nero himself. The angel, said “you saw” indicating that the angel’s interpretation occurred after John saw the vision. This beast was once alive but now isn’t. This is a direct contrast to God who is and who was and who will come again. In contrast to God’s people, the people of the world are not written in the Book of Life. They will be amazed by the apparent resurrection of the beast. The angel told John he needed wisdom to understand. The mind that has wisdom possesses divinely aided spiritual understanding. This is a mind that is receptive to God’s truth. The seven heads of true beast represents the seven hills on which Rome was built. However, this might also refer to successive world empires. According to this view five would be past kingdoms. That would include Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, MedoPersia, and Greece. The sixth would be the Roman Empire and the seventh was yet to come. This seventh could be a sort of revived Roman Empire. Kings here might refer to Roman emperors but this is unlikely since more than five had reigned before the writing of Revelation. Thebeast is related to the seventh kings but also has a separate identity. The eighth world empire seems to be some form of a reestablish the Roman Empire over which the antichrist establishes the imperial authority of a dictator. He will overcomethree horns or nations and will claim universal authority. A limited time to reign is allowed to ten kings or horns. The ten horns, symbolic of the world kingdoms that follow the beastrule simultaneously under his direction. While these verses have caused speculation concerning a ten nation confederacy ( from the client kingdoms of Rome, to the states opposed to the HolyRoman Empire, all the way to the European Union) all these conjectures are beside the point. The point is that all nations opposed to God will be defeated.
Whatever power they might amass, the beast and the kings have no hope of winning because Jesus is Lord of all lords and King of all kings. Those God has called and chosen and who remain faithful to Him will stand with Him as victors. Many of those whom the beast defeated and even killed are now numbered in the conquering army of the Lamb. The Lord’s army is composed of the called, chosen, and faithful. While the prostitute rules over the masses, it does not bring her victory. Instead, the beast hates and kills the great prostitute. The evil one strikes even those he uses for his evil purposes. The woman in the vision John saw is the great city of Babylon and the ancient “mother of harlots”. So the evil influence of this city over the world’s leaders has continued from Babel through ancient Babylon to Rome. But we see that God is always in control. He put a plan into the minds of the enemy that will fulfill the Lord’s divine purposes.
Chapter 18 contains seven poetic responses or taunt songs to the fall of Babylon. Ancient taunt songs derided a defeated enemy. In these taunt songs the fall of Babylon, or Rome, is portrayed as a traumatic event for subservient kingdoms, especially those who had profited from her luxury. The sacking of Rome by the Goths and Visigoths (400’s AD) brought the prosperous empire to an end. John saw another angel come down from heaven. This angel had great authority and the earth grew bright from his splendor. Splendor is not normally used for anything except the divine presence. This angel may well have come from the presence of God, seated on the throne. He had a proclamation: Babylon is fallen. Once a beautifully dressed woman, Babylon became a desolate den for demons and unclean birds such as vultures. The normal dwelling place for demons is the bottomless pit. As the degradation of Babylon progresses many filthy and evil things made their dwelling there; foul spirits, foul and dreadful animals to name a couple. This unparalleled judgement from God has come because of Babylon’s spiritual fornication with the nations and their kings. This occurred primarily because of their commerce which provided many merchants an abundance of wealth. There was extravagant luxury because Rome plundered conquered nations of their wealth before God’s justice fell on her.
The second taunt song comes from another voice calling from heaven. This is a warning from heaven to flee the doomed city.If people stay they will be punished with her. She had a tremendous number of sins. In fact they are stacked up all the way to heaven. And worse yet, God remembers her evil deeds. Sometimes God might seem slow but He is not weak and He does not forget…good or evil. And because she has done so much evil she will pay double for her sins. God will avenge Babylon’s long history of iniquities and sinful works to the fullest extent and beyond. Babylon didn’t glorify God. She glorified herself with a royal lifestyle. She thrived in pleasure and excess. Now judgement will leave her with torment and sorrow. The climactic judgement of ancient Babylon arrived in one day as Darius the Mede invaded the city and killed Belshazzar. Two plagues would overtake Babylon; mourning and famine. These plague are a reminder that destruction was not merely a human action. It is the Lord God who judges her.
Songs three through five are three laments. It is quite similar to Ezekiel’s laments over the destruction of Tyre. (Ezekiel 27). First the kings of the world lament as they mourn the loss of the luxury they have obtained from alliance with the wicked city. The world’s kings were illicit partners of Babylon’s and when they see her burning they weep aloud, probably as much for their own loss as for hers. However, they keep their distance to escape her torment. This is a futile attempt to avoid punishment. Next are the merchants of the world, singing their laments. They profited greatly from the Roman economy but all their trade ceased as the great city was swiftly destroyed. Their merchandise included gold, silver, jewels and pearls. There was fine line and purple, silk and scarlet. Fragrant and precious wood was traded along with ivory, bronze, iron, and marble. There was a host of different spices and animals available as well. Suffice it to say you could get anything you wanted in Rome.Rome was decked out much like the the harlot or prostitute of Babylon. There was also a huge slave market in Rome. The merchants would lament the fall of Rome because it would forever end their accustomed luxuries. Material goods can be swept away in an instant. The next lament was sung by the captains of the merchant ships along with their passengers and crews. These were the ones who made their living from trade on the sea. During the reign of Julius Caesar the Mediterranean was cleared of pirates and trade blossomed. The swift loss of Roman authority would upset the system of trade. Many ship captains and owners became wealthy with all of the cargo and trade that went to and from Rome. They throw dust on their heads in an expression of great sorrow and lament. This was also seen in the laments over Tyre. All of this resulted in a call for heaven to rejoice. The people of God are not to grieve because the judgement was for their sakes. They had suffered persecutionfrom the evil forces represented by the great city. Verse 20 is an introduction to a longer hymn of praise found in 19:1-5.
The seventh taunt song comes from an angel powerful enough to hurl a huge millstone weighing thousands of pounds into the sea as an illustration of the swiftness and violence of Babylon’s judgement. These heavy millstones were used throughout the ancient world to grind Olives or grain. In Matthew 18:6 Jesus spoke about using such stones in judgement. This dramatic throw down shows that the power of Rome was forever thrown down. Rome will never be the same again. There will be no more music, no trades or crafts. There will be no light and none of the joy of a Bride and groom either. There would be no merchandise. And there would be no more of Rome’s deceptionsor sorceries. This is the magic arts. In 9:21 this is used to refer to the sins of humankind at large. And the blood here running in the streets refers to all the martyrs for the cause of Christ throughout history. It could also refer to those who were slain during the great tribulation, especially during the beasts resign.
Chapter 19 begins with a song of victory. It expands the message of the sixth taunt song which calls for rejoicing. Various groups direct praises to the Lord. The praises can be divided into two sections: thankfulness for the destruction of the evildoers and thankfulness for the reward of God’s people. Verses 1-2 focus onwhat John heard rather than what he saw. The first three part praise comes from a vast crowd. This is the great multitude that no one could number in 7:9, and the first of four hallelujahs. In His righteous justice God kept His promise of judging the great prostitute, who represents moral and spiritual corruption and persecution of God’s people. God is praised because evidence of Babylon’s judgement will continue eternally. In response to the first two praises the elders and the living creatures again prostrate themselves before the enthroned God. Is essence the representatives of the angelic realm praise the Lord for the destruction of the system that originated in a fallen angel, the evil one. Everyone is called to praise the Lord, from the greatest to the least.
John heard another loud shout from a vast crowd. This is the final thunderous praise the Lord! God reigns! He is the Almighty reigning in complete and total supremacy. The time has come for the marriage feast of the Lamb. It will be the wedding of the millennia. This is the wedding of the Messiah to His bride, the church. This comes after complete victory and it brings eternal fellowship. The bride wears a garment of precious fine linen that symbolized the good works of believer. In other words, the white garment signifies faithful obedience to God. Now we see the fourth beatitude in the Book of Revelation. Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the lamb. This affirms the hope of the faithful. God is in control and He determines who will participate. Jesus often used meals toexplain the kingdom and He ordained a meal for the church.John added that these words are true because they come from God. John fell at the angels feet but the angel chastised him. He is a created being like John and the only one who deserves worship Is God.
What follows next are John’s words about triumph and judgement. We are moving into climactic scenes. God’s enemies are defeated and punished in two episodes. The faithful experience a 1,000 year resurrection followed by the final judgement. John now describes a new vision of Jesus Christ as the holy warrior and conquering King. This is what the Jews expected the first time Jesus came. This rider is both a judge and a righteous warrior. He is named faithful and true. He embodies God’s authenticity and reliability. This verse answers the question in 13:4, “who is able to make war with him?” The answer Is...Christ can defeat him. His eyes were like flames of fire which parallels the description of the glorified Christ in 1:14. Fire is piercing judgement. He had many crowns on His head which show Christ to be much more powerful than the evil one or the beast. This contrasts with the beast with seven heads, each with a crown. In ancient society a name was more than a title. It conveyed a person’s character. He had a name written on Him that no one knew except Himself. This means that there are parts of the character of the eternal and limitless God that only God knows, though Christ may reveal such things at His second coming.
His robe was dipped in blood. This may speak to His redemptive death in the cross or, the blood of Christ’s enemies signifying His total victory. This would come from His trampling of the wine press of the wrath of God. His title was the Word of God. We read at the beginning of John’s gospel where he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word of God is John’s distinctive designation for Jesus. However, this is not the name that no one knew. Christ’s armies of heaven, dressed in victorious white and riding on white horses contrast with the locust forces of the abyss, the three frog like spirits, and the defeated armies at Armageddon. White horses, a common symbol of victory, would be appropriate for those who are already victorious over the beast. The sharp two edged sword that comes out of His mouthis the one spoken of in 1:16. It is for striking the nations. This could be a general statement of judgement or a specific reference to the armies of the earth being killed with the sword in verse 21. Christ ruling with a rod of iron fulfills the prophecies found in Psalm 2:8-9 and Isaiah 11:4. This iron rod represents Christ’s power as a ruler and as supreme shepherd. His fierce wrath will crush all the clusters of grape as harvested in 14:18-20 in the winepress of the wrath of God. His title as King is kings and Lord of lords means He is the One who is supreme over all earthly rulers.
An angel was standing in the sun calling to the vultures flying high in the sky to come. The birds are told to gather to feast onthe carcasses of the fallen armies gathered in opposition against Christ. This feast upon the flesh of the defeated armies opposed to God is contrasted with the feast of the Lamb. The enemies that form for battle are quickly destroyed. These two feasts are called the marriage supper of the Lamb and the great supper of God’s judgement. These are two perspectives on the end of timeand they illustrate the two sides of the Good News: grace and judgement, reward and punishment. In the battle the beast and the false prophet are captured and cast alive into the lake of fire. Some translate this the lake of burning sulfur. This is a graphic picture of eternal punishment and the destiny of all unbelievers. They are the first to suffer the torment of the lake of brimstone. The rest of the beast’s allies are killed by the sword from the mouth of the victorious Christ. The two beasts are followed by the dragon(20:10) and then by death (20:14) and unsaved humans (20:15). While one side of God’s Word (grace) leads to repentance, the other side (judgement) carries out the death sentence.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W