Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Revelation 17, The Harlot and the Beast

In this chapter, John gets a more detailed look at BABYLON THE GREAT and the beast that God uses to destroy her.

v.1-2 "Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, 'Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.'

With the judgments of God complete, one of the angels used in the deployment of the judgments comes to show John the judgment of the “great harlot.” Which we come to see is the city of Babylon (v.18), and thus the fulfillment of the flying angel’s prophecy that Babylon would fall (Rev.14:8).

She is "the great harlot” because she is a spiritual fornicator that serves and worships gods other than Jehovah God.

She "sits on many waters" because she holds power, authority, and influence over many people, nations, and tongues.

She is the one "with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication" because she has caused world leaders to join with her in her idolatry, spiritual wickedness, and contempt for God and His people.

She is the one who has made the earth “drunk with the wine of her fornication” because she has caused the inhabitants of the earth to become intoxicated (deranged) because of her many idols, and in so doing has led multitudes away from the truth of God and the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

v.3-5 "So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness, And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of the abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."

The angel carries John away to the “wilderness” (or as the word implies, a “lonely and desolate” place) that is not identified. Some have suggested that this wilderness place speaks of some remote area of the earth, and others suggest that it might even be the earth itself. We don't know. But it’s not where John was, and it’s clearly far removed from the other activities in heaven (which is not explained).

Okay, let’s examine John’s eyewitness account of the woman, but for our purposes, in the reverse order, beginning with her name.

She is MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. How she came to earn this name is explained in her history.

Babylon first appears in the Bible as a kingdom named “Babel” (Gen.10:10), a word that means “confusion” because of God’s confusion-of-tongues judgment upon the rebellious who lived there (Gen.11:9). Following the great flood, God instructed man to disperse and "fill the earth" in order to replenish it with humanity (Gen.9:1). In blatant disobedience to the will of God, however, a descendant of Cush called Nimrod rallied the people to built a city whose tower “may reach unto heaven” to gain “a name” for themselves, and lest they “be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Gen.11:3-4). As a result, God changed their languages to prevent them from communicating amongst themselves, and thus forced them to disperse (Gen.11:5-8).

But not before Satan impregnated them with a taste and irresistible desire for a commercial and pagan “world-system” in defiance of God; which they in turn carried away with them to every region of the planet. The self-same God-less system of materialism, vain philosophy, and malignant religious practices known as “the world” which has opposed God in every generation since (Jas.4:4), and given breath to the spirit of “Babylon” in all ages.

Now let’s consider the rest of her.

She is “sitting on a scarlet beast, which is full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” The beast’s identity is interpreted for us later so allow me to defer a comment about this to another passage (v.15).

And she “was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of the abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.” This speaks of her as both prominent and influentially wicked; with the prominence of a queen she has openly enticed man to drink from her cup of abominations and filthiness (check—Rev.18:3,7).

v.6-7 "And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement. But the angel said to me, 'Why did you marvel? 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.”

When the Godless world-system cannot subvert truth by infiltration and false teaching, it will seek to destroy it by persecution. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). As a result, through the ages, so many multitudes of true believers have shed their blood in the cause of Christ and during the Tribulation so many more, that John sees the woman “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.”

“And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.” It’s uncertain whether John was bewildered by the image of the woman as in dumbfounded, or, merely surprised to see Babylon anywhere in the future. Especially in a place of prominence, for the glory Babylon had during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar had long since vanished many hundreds of years before the time of John.

v.8 'The beast you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

This repeated thought that the beast “was…was not…was again” corresponds with what we read earlier about the Antichrist (see notes—Rev.13:3-4).

That at the height of his political notoriety he is struck down by an assassin, appears to die, then “miraculously” recovers to the awe of the world, or as this passage declares, “those who dwell on the earth will marvel…when they see the beast.” In other words, Antichrist "was" (a living person), "was not" (appeared dead), and "was again" (appeared resurrected back to life).

And the beast “will ascend out of the bottomless pit.” That is, when Antichrist resurrects from "death" he will be bodily possessed by Satan. The man who once ascended from the womb of a woman will now ascend from hell, and therein transform from the man that was into the most vile and evil human being that has ever lived.

And the beast will “go to perdition.” His reign of terror will be temporary, however. After three and a half years, God will judge him, remove him from this planet, and cast him, along with the false prophet, into eternal damnation (Rev.19:20).

v.9-11 'Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eight, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.

Some commentators interpret these seven heads that are "seven mountains” to mean the literal city of Rome because it sits upon seven hills; leading them to suggest that the woman in the image is the Catholic Church, because the Vatican is located in Rome. But I don’t agree with that interpretation.

A “mountain” is frequently used in Scripture figuratively to mean a “kingdom”. The kingdom of the Messiah, for example, is figured by a mountain (Dan.2:35), as is the ancient Babylonian kingdom (Jer.51:25). Moreover, this passage says there are “seven kings”, making it more logical to consider these as mountains of kingdoms, and not literal mountains.

At the time of John, five large and influential kingdoms had indeed fallen: Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Media-Persia, and Greece. Rome, a sixth kingdom, was presently in power. And a seventh king—the man Antichrist—had “not yet come.” The woman sits upon these seven kingdoms to show her presiding as queen over these kingdoms; each a kingdom full of her abominations and wickedness.

“And when he comes, he must continue a short time.” This speaks of the seventh king, the man Antichrist. His reign will be a “short time” when compared to all other kingdoms that existed before him, lasting a mere three and a half years.

"And the beast…is himself also the eight." The idea that Antichrist, who is the seventh king, would also become the eighth king seems redundant. After all, if he were already king of an empire, why would he supplant himself?

The answer is that during the first half of the Tribulation, Antichrist is king over a confederation of European states only, not king over the entire world. He is a man, and his kingdom is of man. During the second half of Tribulation, however, having been possessed by Satan with his full authority and power, he will become the beastly eight king as the incarnation of Satan. And will rule, not as a man, but as the devil over the entire world.

v.12-14 'And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of Lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.' "

The "ten horns" of the beast are ten kings that comprise the kingdom of Antichrist during the first half of Tribulation. None individually rules the world, but collectively “as kings with the beast”, become an empire that mutually shares in the “hour” of power allotted to Antichrist—perhaps like a United Nations.

The prophet Daniel tells us more about these nations along with the origin of the Antichrist inside two of his visions.

In one, Daniel saw a composite image of a man that had a head of gold, arms and chest of silver, belly of brass, legs of iron, and ten toes partly of iron and partly of clay which he later interprets to be a succession of Gentile empires: Babylon (the head of gold), Media-Persia (the arms of silver), Greece (the belly of brass), Rome (the legs of iron), and an unnamed empire of the last days being the ten toes of iron mingled with clay (Daniel 2).

In a subsequent vision, the prophet saw the same succession of Gentile empires in the form of animals. Babylon was a lion, Media-Persia was a bear, Greece was a leopard, Rome was a creature identified only as a "dreadful and terrible" beast, and the last day’s empire shown merely as ten horns growing from the head of this fourth dreadful and terrible beast. Then Daniel saw "another horn, a little one" coming up among the ten horns which plucked out three of the first horns, “And there, in this horn, were the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words,” Daniel writes (Dan.7).

This has lead some commentators to conclude that Antichrist’s kingdom and origin consists of a conglomerate of ten nations once a part of the old Roman Empire; comprising a revived form of that Empire (see also notes—Rev.13:2).

Some go further. They see the European Union as the fulfillment of this kingdom. Since it was founded in 1951, the EU not only has become one of this world's most formidable political, economic, and military blocks, but all of the European nations currently in the EU can be traced back to the old Roman Empire. If this is correct, that the EU becomes man's final kingdom on earth, than we are witnesses, dear ones, to what shall become the body of nations from which Antichrist will one day emerge.

“These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast...” Sovereign nations willing to give up their power and authority to one world leader is already becoming a reality in our present day. We need only to look at NATO, the United Nations, or the EU to see how the global quest for peace has brought nations together with treaties and contractual agreements into a single unified body. So the stage is set. The charismatic Antichrist needs only to surface to win them over and lead them, and for Satan to “resurrect” inside him to become their king.

“These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of Lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful." There will be no other power on earth but the kingdom of Satan during the second half of the Tribulation. And only the Lamb, the Lord of Lords, can overcome it.

v.15-18 "And he said to me, 'The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.' "

This chapter ends with additional information about Mystery Babylon: She is a city, and she is destroyed by the government of Antichrist.

We’ve discussed how the harlot Babylon characterizes the corrupt world-system of false religion and commercialism diabolically opposed to God. That she is "seated upon" the beast (v. 3-4) to show her authority and influence over the beast and the masses of people influenced by the corrupt world system she personifies.

We haven't yet considered, however, that she is also a literal city. Nor have we reconciled how a literal city might subject Antichrist, cause people in every nation, culture, and ethnic background to surrender sovereignty, or why Antichrist would destroy it.

Let’s start with a prophecy that concerns the ancient city of Babylon’s destruction.

During the reign of Nebuchadnezzar Babylon was at the height of its glory as the capital city of the vast and formidable Babylonian empire. After God brought judgment against her, however, she was over thrown and destroyed. But according to Jeremiah, God's judgment stated that nothing would remain of her, not even a stone to build a foundation (Jer.50:26; 51:26).

Yet, as one commentator points out, stones from Babylon were found in a rock quarry in the 1800’s, suggesting that the prophecy against the city has not yet been fulfilled. Moreover, beginning in 1970 Saddam Hussein spent millions rebuilding Babylon, thus seeming to contradict God’s proclamation to make Babylon “desolate forever” (Jer.51:26). The notion is that God intended to fulfill the prophecy at a future time, and would ultimately destroy the literal city of Babylon during the Tribulation.

Okay, now let's see how a city might influence the people and the beast.

Sometime during the first half of Tribulation, I believe that some event will bring about a consolidated Arab alliance that unites their people and causes them to make Babylon their capitol. The Arabs currently possess half of this planet's oil reserves and Islam is the largest, fastest growing, and most influential religion in the world. So it’s at least conceivable that a merger of these economic and spiritual blocks of powers could give Babylon influential control over the world, including the European government of Antichrist. Yes, such an amalgamation seems unlikely currently because the Arab oil cartels are fractured by greed and Islam is divided. But we can’t deny the ability of spiritual forces to arrange it.

Finally, let’s consider why a composite of nations as civilized as the Europeans would agree to wage war against the Arabs at a literal city of Babylon, and for that matter, why Satan would want to eliminate the world-system (characterized by Babylon) that has long been his virtual "stronghold" of evil throughout the ages.

The answer to the first part is given to us. "And the ten horns…will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked…and burn her with fire. For God has put it in their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast.” It's straightforward: God motivates the decision-makers to give their kingdom to Antichrist, and in turn to hate and subsequently destroy any power on earth that controls him, or would prevent him from achieving absolute worship from all men.

As for the second part, I believe the reason why Satan destroys the Babylon-ish world-system of commercialism and false religion is to subject all men to him by the elimination of entrepreneurial and moral freedom. Between the mark of the beast and his image, and no other available choice, all men will be required to seek, serve, and worship him alone.

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