Monday, September 22, 2014

REVELATION 17: 1-18 “THE FALL OF BABYLON “ #1

We have seen that   there are five enemies  of  Christ and His church in the world: The dragon (Satan), the  beast out of the sea (the anti-christ); the beast  from the earth (the false prophet), the great prostitute (symbolically called Babylon) and all those that bear the mark of the beast. These are the ones that make  the life of the church in the world so difficult. 
You  will  remember   that this is the starting point in John’s revelation  of the  7 letters  to the 7 churches (Rev 2 &3). Ephesus (2:1-7)  was tested by false apostles (2:2)  and the false doctrine of the Nicolaitans (2:6) ; Smyrna ( 2:8- 11) was severely affected by  the slander of the synagogue of Satan, and by Satan’s severe temptations;  Pergamum (2:12-17)  was  living in the shadow of  Satan’s earthly  throne (2:13) and affected  by  the false teaching of the Nicolaitans (2:15); The church at Thyatira ( 2:18-29)  was   seduced by a false prophetess called  Jezebel; Sardis  (3:1-6) had fallen into a spiritual state of apathy; Philadelphia (3:7-13) was also battered by a  so called synagogue of Satan  while Laodicea (3:14-22),  under the influence of material  prosperity had become lukewarm  in her affection for Jesus. 
Each one of these seven churches  battled for spiritual survival, facing the daily  onslaught of Satan, the anti-christ, the false prophet , the great prostitute and those  who  bear the mark of the beast.         
This is the battle which  every local church  faces  in this world. The apostle Paul describes it in Eph. 6.  Jesus has warned  us  concerning this. He who has  an ear to hear , let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.[1] The church living between His  ascension and His descension must  remain alert to these realities. Jesus  says at the end of this book: “ I Jesus have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches .” (22:16a

Last time  we considered  the  7 bowl judgments (Rev.16), and we noted that with these  the judgment of God  will be  complete. We also saw, that just  as in the case of the 10 plagues upon Egypt (Ex. 7-  12),  God’s people are spared in this final judgment  because they have been sealed with the name of God and of his Christ.   [Note:   God will  not remove  His people from the earth at this time  as some  say[2], but  He will miraculously preserve them, just as He preserved  His people in Egypt,whilst  He was judging Egypt.]

The sixth bowl judgment  makes mention  of  the  final battle resulting in the defeat of Satan and all of  those allied with him. This is the battle of Armageddon[3] (16:16)  which is  both Satan’s final assault upon the church and also the record of  his final defeat.  From now on  it is all  downhill for Satan  and his unholy alliance.  In Chapters 17  & 18 we shall witness the  total destruction  of  Babylon,  the symbolic city of  fallen man, which  has existed  in opposition to Jerusalem, the symbolic  city of God  and of the redeemed man. When the seventh bowl is poured out (16:17-21)  Babylon, the great city  is “split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell” (16:19) collapsed. Then,  in Revelation 19 we read of the fate of the beast and the false prophet. In Revelation 20, we read of the fate of  Satan  (the dragon)  after which Revelation 21-22 concludes  with  the description  of  the new heavens and the new earth - the glorious future   of the  people of God.

THE HISTORY OF THE GREAT PROSTITUTE – BABYLON

Chapter 17  begins with these  words: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and  said to me, `Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who is seated on many waters…”. Here is  an important contrast being made between the prostitute  and  the bride, the wife of the Lamb (Rev. 21:9). The  prostitute  is the picture of ultimate  perversion and wickedness (17:2). She  is identified as “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes  and of  earth’s abominations” (17:5), who “is seated  on many waters” (17:1). In v. 15  the  metaphor of the waters is explained: “The waters  that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.”  This is indicative of the fact that her dominion extends to all “peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.” Her sin is depicted in Rev.17:2, in terms of  sexual immorality,  which is a metaphor used throughout the Old Testament[4] for spiritual unfaithfulness. With her “the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and  with the  wine of those whose sexual immorality the  dwellers on earth have become drunk.”
O, what power this  prostitute has over the world! The sexual imagery used here is symbolic (spiritual unfaithfulness), but it is also deliberate. How  this  perverted sexuality (promoted by internet pornography)   is breaking  communities  apart!  The church at Thyatira was said to have been seduced by such a  woman, Jezebel.

Now,  while Babylon has always  been the epitome of  evil in the OT,   in John’s time   the city of Rome and the  Roman empire  had taken that place. Babylon and   Rome  symbolize  the city of man in every age.  Cities  are  the places   where  such evil is bred. Cities are places of  sensuality.  Such cities  seduce   people  away from the gospel  into the arms of the great prostitute.  
We shall now see that  such a city cannot stand. The truth is that prostitutes aren’t loved. They are used, and as soon as they have been exploited , they shall be forsaken. We shall see that this is exactly what  happens in 17:16, in conclusion of this chapter .

In  17:3  John is  carried  away in the Spirit  into a wilderness , where he now witnesses the destruction of Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations. Her appearance  is described in detail  in vv. 3-6. She was  clearly dressed to kill. John says that she was “dressed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and  jewels and  pearls[5].  She  was  “holding in her hand  a golden cup  full of  abominations  and the impurities  of her sexual  immorality” (17:5).  A mysterious title  is inscribed on her forehead,  “Babylon  the great, mother of prostitutes and of  earth’s abominations .”  She is  identified as the one  responsible for  “ the blood of the martyrs of Jesus(17:6) 
She rides  on  a scarlet  beast that was “full of  blasphemous names, and it had  7 heads and ten horns.” (cf 13:1). The   prostitute and the beast  are clearly in a symbiotic relationship. The anti-christ who  holds the  real power  makes sure that this  woman is well supplied,  and she in turn does  her destructive work on his behalf. In John’s day   the anti-christ made sure that  Rome would  prosper, and that she in turn would make sure   that the Lord’s people – the true Christians would be killed and persecuted  or subverted.  Truly, the city  of Rome “was drunk with the blood of the saints”. Note,  that the Romans were involved in handing Jesus over to the cross.  

When John first sees her in this vision  he says : “… I marveled greatly” (17:6).  It is as if  John sees here for the first time  just how powerful  the wicked culture of the city of man can be.  The angel however  interrupts him:  ‘why do you marvel ? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast  with  the seven heads and ten horns that carries  her .’”(v.8)  

The explanation now  follows:  The beast  that  you saw, was, and is not, and is about to rise  from the bottomless pit  and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation  of the world will marvel  to  see the beast, because it was, and is not, and is to come”.  This beast , as we have repeatedly said, is the  anti- christ,  the  imitation  of Christ, for he was, is not, and is yet to come. [Christ,  “who is , and who was and who is to come.” Rev. 1:4 ] We  first  met him in Ch. 13 where  he  had  received  a mortal wound to his head, a which was miraculously  healed (13:3) and in that sense  he was , was not , and yet has come.[6]  The spirit of the  anti-christ  does not   seem to die in this world. He is always resurrected  after  he  has been dealt a mortal  blow. In John’s time    he persecuted  the church by the means of the Roman empire, and in  the course of time the  Roman empire was judged and came to nothing. But he always comes back in the form of a Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung. Pol Pot, Idi Amin.

Moreover, it seems as if John speaks here of a future manifestation  of this  anti-christ, more terrifying,  associated  with  the second coming of Christ. It is the event  associated  with  the  battle at Armageddon[7] (16:16) on the day of God  the Almighty (16:14)  when  an overwhelming enemy  will attempt  to swallow up the work of God. This event is  referred to in Rev 20:7-10  when the devil  comes up out of the  bottomless pit,  after he had been bound for  a  thousand years.  The beast  will come up from the  bottomless pit  at the same  time, and  this  will be the time of his destruction, along with those whose names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world.  

So, then, in a nutshell:  The battle of Armageddon (the sixth bowl judgment 16:12-16), the seventh trumpet (11:15-19),  the judgment of the beast and  of  the  false prophet and of Satan (20:10), all occur at the same time!  It will happen  at the end of the  thousand years spoken of in Rev. 20.  What we are saying therefore is that we are now living in these   1000 years – that time between the first and second coming of Christ.

So what can we expect in future ? Satan  and his  anti-christ and the false prophet  will  make a  spectacular  comeback immediately before our Lord’s return. The whole world will marvel at him (v.8).  From  our perspective we need  not be afraid . This is the indication that judgment day is at hand!
In  Rev. 17:9, the angel reminds John, “This calls for a mind with wisdom” [8].  Verses 9 & 10   are difficult to interpret.
The angel now  explains the matter  concerning  “the seven heads  which are seven hills on which the woman sits”. This  is mostly likely an allusion to the city of Rome,  known for its seven hills. But  clearly  the angel has more in mind  than this.  He says that  the seven mountains, “are also seven kings.” Seven mountains and seven kings not only refer to the city of Rome and  the Roman  empire, persecuting the church even while John was writing, but it relates to the whole world , since the beast was given authority over every people, nation and tongue and nation ( cf. 17: 1 à 17:15 ; see also 13:7)
The angel says that  five  of the seven kings have fallen , one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to  the seven and is going to his destruction.” There are many theories as to  who these kings might be [9]. It is perhaps  better not to view this succession of kings historically, but theologically. The number 7, is the number of completion.  From this perspective the seven kings represent the entire history of fallen mankind . By the time of the coming of Christ, five of these empires have come and gone, with John and his readers facing the sixth empire (Rome), with a seventh yet to come, who will remain for a brief period short time. The angel  says furthermore that  after these seven kings have come and gone, one of the earlier kings, (connected to the beast)  re-appears, as an eighth king , who will be destroyed very quickly -  relating again to the battle of Armageddon when Satan seeks to destroy the kingdom of God only to be destroyed himself.

If true, as  stated before  this means we can expect an unprecedented world wide  manifestation of Satanic power.  In this  the anti-christ will  dazzle the world, and many will actually  worship him (the    beast) ,  as  he  seeks to  deal  the church a final death blow.   Expect to  see  a  time of  great peace and prosperity in the world,  but expect  also  that  the world’s worship of the beast, will  lead to an  unsurpassed persecution of God’s people.

This same pattern follows with the ten kings depicted in verses 12-14.  Like the seven kings, the ten kingdoms, depicted by the ten horns, will be  the  servants  of the anti-christ , but  they can ultimately  not prevail  against  the King of Kings.

As  this chapter closes, an amazing thing happens. The great prostitute, the  city of fallen man is now discarded  by the anti-christ  in the same way as a prostitute is discarded by her lovers . In v.15, we learn of  the prostitute’s  fate. “Then the angel said to me, `The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute etc.
When the  end finally comes, Satan’s kingdom will be divided against itself and  the first casualty will be  the prostitute.    I remind you  that  Babylon and Rome   fell under the weight of their immorality,  when  they were  attacked  by the  very nations who profited from  the  systems  that they had created  (trade, infra structure, order etc.)  So  too, the prostitute  who served the anti-christ so well,   will come to an end  at the hand of the  anti-christ, who now hates her.
In Revelation 18, we will read of two angels and a voice from heaven, which will explain the meaning of the  great downfall  of the  prostitute.

For us who read  this  prophecy,  this is all very encouraging.  Our Christ is in control.  The city of man  is  not our everlasting city.  The beauty, celebrity and wealth of the great prostitute,  the city of man is a mere   illusion  
Be warned then , not to allow yourself to be  caught up in the externals  of what the city of man offers. Unfortunately  many  have been led away  in this way  from  the  bridegroom,  
Brothers and sisters  let us take note and ask ourselves how we might  protect ourselves from  all these things which we see  even now, so that we might not loose the sight of our heavenly  city  and our heavenly  bridegroom.  Amen .  




[1] 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22
[2]  E.g. the rapture theory of the pre-millenialists, by which they claim that God will take  His church out of the world before  what they call  “the great tribulation”
[3] Refer to last exposition for the details to   the battle of Armageddon
[4] Ezekiel 16:15-34
[5] an image of a temple prostitute, known to John’s  readers.
[6] There was incidentally  a story (The  Nero Redivivus  legend)[6] that went  around in  AD 67 after Nero had died , that  he was miraculously resurrected , only to come back  stronger than ever.
[7] Har Magedon-   on  the mount of assembly  (or Mt Zion) – see previous exposition
[8] just as it did to understand the mysterious 666 the number of the beast.
[9] Most  commentators try  to  fit  these seven kings into the four great empires of Daniel 7:17; other  to the succession of Roman emperors beginning with Caesar Augustus down through eight successive emperors. The problem is that  these theories really do not add up .

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