The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part VI

The Sixth Vision: Chapters 17-19

The Sixth Vision John describes in the Book of Revelation begins in Chapter 17 and continues through Chapter 19. This vision shows only the end of the cyclical tableau of seven visions John is shown. Rather than beginning with the first coming of Christ and revealing the warnings and judgments of the Gospel’s being sent to the world, however, this vision focuses on the end result of the judgments of God against Babylon.

Please understand that our purpose is not to dissect the text and try to understand every symbolic meaning and metaphoric element. Instead, it is more productive to get a comprehensive overview of the entire book to see how it relates not only to the Church today, but also to the Church of the whole Body of Christ that has come before us.

Two overriding metaphors are used in this vision to reveal the ultimate purposes of God.  Two women and two cities appear: first, the Bride of Christ, the Church, and the Harlot, Mystery Babylon; second, two cities also are in evidence, the New Jerusalem and Babylon. Just as the figure of the harlot and the virgin are seen as contrasting opposites, the Book of Revelation also speaks of two contrasting cities: Babylon and New Jerusalem.

The Harlot in Proverbs

John first compares Babylon to a “harlot,” and typical of a woman who sleeps with many men in exchange for money, this “woman” personifies spiritual corruption and contrasts with the purity of the other woman in the Book of Revelation, the Bride of Christ, or the Church.

The book of Proverbs portrays a harlot as a seductress to the vulnerable young man, seeking to lead him astray from wisdom and understanding. She uses the cover of darkness and the temptations of love and sexual pleasure to lead a young person to depart from wise behaviors.

Above all, the harlot in Proverbs is an advocate for false wisdom, a wisdom that leads to destruction rather than blessing. Spiritually, the harlot offers false wisdom as a means of obtaining wealth and power.

Lucifer’s deception in the Garden of Eden was that Adam and Eve  would not die as a result of disobedience, but they would become “like God,” knowing good and evil, and hence become the masters of their own destiny.

This deception has become the basis for all false religions, including atheism and agnosticism, as well as the false religions of both the past and the present, particularly occultism and sorcery.

Harlots in Isaiah and Jeremiah

The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah both referred to Israel, Judah, or Jerusalem as a harlot or an unfaithful woman who commits adultery, for she was judged faithless and filled with selfish unrighteousness and even murder.

How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers. (Isaiah 1:21)

Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, “Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. I thought, ‘After she has done all these things she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:6-10)

Babylon, the Harlot

Since the Bride in Revelation is a clear portrayal of the Church of Christ Jesus, numerous attempts have been made to identify the harlot in Revelation as representing some religions such as Catholicism or Islam, for example.

Unfortunately, many expositors of John’s Book of Revelation typically interpret the mysteries too narrowly, according to their own perspectives, rather than understanding that Revelation was written for the whole Church of all ages.

In this case, therefore, the vision is interpreted by the angel speaking to John himself. Although the angel declares that the  harlot is  a mystery, the angel provides the meaning of the mystery:

And on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (Revelation 17:5)

The angel further explains the mystery of the woman, saying,

The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.  (Revelation 17:18)

This interpretive key, along with the name of the harlot, tells us that Babylon is related not only to the stories of ancient Babylon in the Book of Daniel, but also to the story of Babel’s tower in Genesis 11:1-9:

 Mystery Babylon

In the original Hebrew texts, the names for “Babel” and “Babylon” were the same, essentially “Bbl,” since no vowels were used.  We can conclude, therefore, that the two cities were the same.  Thus, the Hebrew word translated “Babylon” is bâbel, which is the same word used in the book of Genesis that refers to the tower of Babel.

Using this story as a backdrop, therefore, we see that Mystery Babylon in Revelation represents the great city of historical Babylon, a city that symbolically depicts the attempts of humans to be equal with God and to elevate themselves to the sphere of divine beings.  They had swallowed the lie that they would be like gods, and their hope was manifested by building a tower they believed would reach into heaven.

Thus, Mystery Babylon in Revelation represents both a city and a harlot of false religion, one that supposedly helps humans find the divine from within themselves, rather than finding justification and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

The Tower of Babel

After the flood of Noah, the city of Babel was ruled by Nimrod, under whose leadership the tower was built.  Despite God’s desire that the people separate and inhabit the whole earth, Nimrod collected the people to himself, even building a ziggurat, or tower, to negate the possibility of a future flood in defiance of any future judgment of a flood from God.

Nimrod was the son of Cush, the grandson of Ham, and great-grandson of Noah.  Genesis describes him  as “a mighty one in the earth” and “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (Genesis 10:8-9).

Here is the story of the Tower of Babel as it is found in Genesis:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

An interesting article by biblical archaeologist Dr. David P. Livingston attempts to show that Nimrod was a fierce opponent of Yahweh.  Livingston proposes that Nimrod is not the man’s true name, which was a derogatory pseudonym, but that he was the one named Gilgamesh in the ancient epic.

First, what does the name Nimrod mean? It comes from the Hebrew verb marad, meaning “rebel.” Adding an “n” before the “m” it becomes an infinitive construct, “Nimrod.” (see Kautzsch 1910: 137 2b, also BDB 1962: 597). The meaning then is “The Rebel.” Thus “Nimrod” may not be the character’s name at all. It is more likely a derisive term of a type, a representative, of a system that is epitomized in rebellion against the Creator, the one true God. (See http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/nimrod.html)

Another legend concrning Nimrod is detailed by Josephus, the Jewish/Roman historian, who claimed that Nimrod’s city of Babel was constructed in defiance of Yahweh:

Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. . . . He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to reach. And that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nimrod)

Thus, the stories of Nimrod and Babel lead us to the image of “Mystery Babylon” in Revelation, particularly the associations with autocratic governments, rebellion against God, blasphemy, and religious occultism. Consequently, we are able to understand more fully the symbolic images of Babylon, as the great city and the harlot, in the vision that John sees in Revelation.

The Harlot Rides on a Beast

The angel in John’s vision relates that the citizens of this Mystery Babylon will wage war against the Lamb and those who are with Him, those called “chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).

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)

This description is uniquely mysterious.  I suggest that it relates to a parallel story about Lucifer.

We understand that Satan became the prince of this Earth after Adam’s sin, for Adam gave him his authority over the earth.  The three temptations of Christ confirm this assumed authority, for Satan the tempter declares that he will give Jesus the kingdoms of this world in exchange for His worship (see Matthew 4:1-11).  Of course, Jesus does not succumb to the lies of the devil, choosing instead to use the sword of the spirit, the Word of God in opposition.

Satan was then ultimately defeated by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and the kingdoms of this world were indeed given over to the Messiah, who declared that “all power is given to me in Heaven and Earth (Matthew 28:18-20).  Though Satan fell “like lightning” from Heaven, he will arise from perdition for just a little while, only to be defeated again and finally imprisoned in Hell.  (We will study this in a future chapter of Revelation, specifically Chapter 20.)

Victory for the Lamb

Again in John’s vision, the sixth we have studied, there is a call for repentance and for all who are redeemed to come away from the spiritual domains of the Harlot:  

I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. (Revelation 18:4-5)

The kings and merchants of the earth will mourn over Babylon, the Harlot, for they will no longer be able to access her luxuries or sell their goods to her.

“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” 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. (18:20-21)

The destruction of Mystery Babylon, the Harlot, is decreed not only because of her corruption and rebellion, but also because of her persecution of the saints of the true Church of Christ:

And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” (Revelation 18:24)

The Bride of Christ

I’m constantly amazed at how perfectly God’s plans merge together into an astounding harmony throughout the Scriptures.  For example, just as Eve was formed out of the side of the first Adam in Genesis 2, the Bride of Christ, the Church, was formed out of the side of the second Adam, Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:45).

The Body of Christ, or the Church, was formed, therefore, as a result of Christ’s willingness to give His life through crucifixion and even to take the penalty in Hell for our sin.  At the time of His death, out of His side flowed water and blood to give us life in Him.

In Chapter 19 of Revelation, therefore, we see the Bride of Christ, the Church, ready to be married to the Lamb, or Christ Jesus.

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he *said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7-9)  

Our union with Christ as a marriage is a great mystery, wrote the Apostle Paul, for we are members of His body, having been formed from His resurrection. (Eph. 5:32).  We next see in Revelation, therefore, the second coming of Christ, not only to receive His Bride, but also to defeat finally the forces of Satan.

 Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, brightand clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:7-8)

Christ appears with His saints, also riding white horses, and the name written on His robe and on His thigh was “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

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. 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. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.  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. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

Forces of Satan Defeated

We then see the forces and powers of darkness defeated, represented by the beast and the false prophet, the symbols of religious and secular opposition to the Kingdom of God.

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. 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 19:20-21)

Thus, the sixth vision ends with the destruction of the forces of Satan and the blessed union of Christ with His Bride.

 

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