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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- PSALMS 1-50--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
The Fifth Vision - The Final Day of Judgment (chapter 14).
We must see this vision as a whole. Verses 6-12 are parenthetical. John says in quick succession ‘I saw the Lamb on Mount Zion’ with the pure firstfruits, and ‘I saw one like to a son of man, having on his head a golden crown and in his hand a sharp sickle’ ready to harvest the earth who are ‘dried up’ (v.15)’, and then describes the gathering of the vintage for the winepress of the wrath of God (18-20). First the firstfruits, then the harvest and then the vintage.
The first picture draws attention to the One Who was slain and redeemed men for Himself, gathering His own as the firstfruits without blemish and without spot, having made them wholesome grain and fruit, the others draw attention to the Son of Man Who has received His kingdom and is now about to exert His authority with a sceptre and sickle of judgment on those who are a dried up harvest and to deal with them in the light of the wrath of God against sin. It is the final judgment of the righteous and the unrighteous.
The Resurrection and Rapture (14.1-5).
14.1 ‘And I saw and behold the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him one hundred and forty four thousand having His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.’
That this is the heavenly Mount Zion comes out in the following verses, for they sing before the throne. It can be said of them literally that they have ‘come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels’ ( Hebrews 12.22) . The promise that they would have His name and His Father’s name written on them was given to overcomers in 3.12. The one hundred and forty four thousand of chapter 7 were sealed on their foreheads (7.3). There is thus no reason to doubt that these one hundred and forty four thousand are overcomers from the churches and are the one hundred and forty four thousand of chapter 7, which confirms our interpretation there. As such they represent the whole church of God. This is the fulfilment of Matthew 24.31 prior to the judgment of the wicked (14.14-20).
14.2-3 ‘And I heard a voice (sound) from heaven like the voice (sound) of many waters and like the voice (sound) of a great thunder, and the voice (sound) which I heard was like the voice (sound) of harpists harping with their harps, and they sing as it were a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty four thousand, those who had been purchased out of the earth.’
The voice like the voice of many waters was the voice of the Son of Man in 1.15, the voice like a great thunder was the voice of the living creature in 6.1, the harpists harping with their harps are the twenty four elders in 5.8. Later also the voice as the sound of many waters and the voice of mighty thunders is the voice of a great heavenly multitude (19.6) who celebrate the marriage of the Lamb and His bride. Thus the mighty ones of Heaven unite in their welcome of these redeemed people. This forms the swelling background to the song of the one hundred and forty four thousand.
‘And they sing as it were a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.’ This is the song of the redeemed celebrating the name which no one could know except those who received it (2.17). They sing ‘as it were a new song’ because they have now been raptured or resurrected and stand in their new spiritual bodies before God. It is the new song of 5.9 and yet it is freshly new for it is now sung by those who have actually experienced redemption. They glory in what has been done for them by Him who purchased them out of the earth.
Alternately it may be a song sung by the heavenly multitudes to welcome them into Heaven, then ‘no man could learn the song’ refers to the fact that it is for the redeemed and the redeemed alone. They alone are recipients of the welcome.
‘No one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty four thousand’. ‘No one’ must refer to those who dwell on earth for it is sung before the living creatures and the elders so that they learn the song. Alternately it may signify that no one else can really know the song fully because they have not experienced it in full. Indeed both ideas may be in mind. What a wonderful song of triumph it must be. Their sufferings and trials are behind them and they are now to share Heaven with their Lord and Saviour Who has prepared a place for them (John 14.2) and to receive their rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 14.10; 1 Corinthians 3.12-15; 4.5; 2 Corinthians 5.10). But they are not thinking of this but of their Saviour and Redeemer Who bought them with His own blood.
14.4 ‘These are they who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are they who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were purchased from among men to be the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no lie. They are without blemish.’
In 21.27 we are told that no one can enter the Heavenly city except those who are clean, those who avoid idolatry (abomination) and those who make no lie. Thus those who can enter that City must be undefiled, must follow the Lamb and must have in their mouth no lie as here. This is their idealised state. They have been changed into His image from glory into glory by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3.18), they have been made like Him for they see Him as He is (1 John 3.2), they are holy and without blemish before Him in love (Ephesians 1.4), they are presented to Him ‘a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5.27).
‘Not defiled with women for they are virgins’. When the people of Israel were preparing to see the revelation of God and to receive God’s covenant of grace at Sinai, Moses sanctified the people and they washed their garments, and he exhorted them not to come near a woman for three days (Exodus 19.15). The followers of David could only eat of the holy bread if they had kept themselves from women for three days (1 Samuel 21.4). Sex is seen as having an earthiness about it which comes short of the heavenly. Those who are resurrected will be like the angels, neither marrying nor being given in marriage (Matthew 22.30; Mark 12.25). Thus they will be ‘virgins’. Whether men like it or not the ideal world is peopled by virgins, whose minds are set on things above (Colossians 3.2). (It should be noted that the idea in Revelation 14 is of virginal men, not women).
Paul likens the church to a pure virgin presented to Christ (2 Corinthians 11.2). Here we have John’s representation of the same idea. So the picture of the one hundred and forty four thousand as ‘virgins’ is to indicate their acceptable state before God and that they are now in their resurrection bodies. They are cleansed, sanctified and purified. They are pure of all taint of sin and of all earthiness. They are ‘in Christ’ and share His total abstinence from all that was earthy. This does not condemn sexual relations within marriage but it does indicate that they are secondary and earthly. These are now beyond such things. Whatever was their state they are now undefiled and pure. As we have seen earlier the misuse of sex, promiscuity and unnatural sex, was one of the prime things condemned by God in the churches (2.14; 2.20-22) and was part of the teaching of the false teachers, and that must clearly be in mind here.
However we must note that the forbidding of marriage on earth is also a heinous crime (1 Timothy 4.3) and in Hebrews 13.4 the undefiled bed is one where sex has been retained for fulfilment within marriage. Thus some have seen the thought of their ‘virginity’ here as suggesting that ideally they have only partaken of sex within the marriage bond, being husbands of one wife (1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.6), but the idea here does seem to go beyond this, and many Christians do not come within that description. It does suggest that it is not just earthly virginity that is in mind.
‘These are they who follow the Lamb wherever He goes’. This echoes 7.15-17 and demonstrates that the one hundred and forty four thousand are also the great multitude whom no man can number. They are the sheep of the Shepherd Lamb (7.17 - compare John 10.27; Luke 9.57). They look to Him with a fully developed desire to be ever with Him in loving obedience and service.
‘These were purchased from among men to be the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb’. The idea of the firstfruits here must be seen in the context of the chapter. God is about to reap His grim harvest (14.14-20). But before He reaps the harvest He collects the firstfruits. The firstfruits are those who have enjoyed His deliverance and belong to Him. The remainder are reaped to condemnation. Compare how Jeremiah declares the true Israel to be ‘holiness unto the Lord, the firstfruits of his increase’ (Jeremiah 2.3) where the emphasis is on the firstfruits as that which is set apart to God. Thus His people are seen to enjoy a unique place in His affections as those who have been made clean and pure and are freely offered. They are that part of the harvest which belongs to God.
This echoes to some extent James 1.18 where the redeemed are again seen as the firstfruits but there as the firstfruits of the restoration of creation. There he says we are ‘a kind of firstfruits of His creatures’. The firstfruits had to be selected as without blemish, as something special. So God’s people are seen as selected out to be offered to God prior to the redemption of the whole creation.
Contrast this with Romans 8.18-25 where the idea of firstfruits is amplified in terms of a creation groaning for deliverance. ‘We who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting for our adoption, that is the redemption of our bodies’ (Romans 8.23). There the idea is that we have experienced the entry of the life-giving Spirit, a quickening which creation will have to wait for. The idea of the firstfruits is therefore connected with the resurrection of His people as the initial preparation for the deliverance of creation in the new Heaven and the new earth (21.1). They are partakers with Him Who is ‘the beginning of the creation of God’ (3.14).
(The idea of a superior group of ‘firstfruits’ in comparison with other Christians is nowhere found in the New Testament. In that sense it is Christ alone Who is the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15.20, 23). However the picture of the firstfruits is applied to the idea of those first becoming Christians in a particular place prior to further conversions (Romans 16.5; 1 Corinthians 16.15) but that is not the idea here).
‘In their mouth was found no lie. They are without blemish’. They have been made like Him ‘Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth’ (1 Peter 2.22), Who had no ‘deceit in His mouth’ (Isaiah 53.9). This demonstrates that we have here the idealised state. There may be men who are ‘virgins’ in earthly terms, but there are none who are totally free from lies, guile, dishonesty or deceit, none who are without blemish, except for those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (7.14).
Similarly, in Zephaniah 3.13, Zephaniah declares ‘the remnant of Israel (the true Israel) will not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth, for they shall feed and lie down and none shall make them afraid’. There we have its fulfilment in the idea of ‘the remnant of Israel’, those chosen of God, as being freed from all deceit and as a result being shepherded by God. That can also be seen as connecting the one hundred and forty four thousand with being ‘shepherded’, as being those who follow the Shepherd (7.17).
We may also see as included in this passage in Revelation reference to the fact that having received the love of the truth they did not believe and proclaim ‘the Lie’ (2 Thessalonians 2.10-11). Those who are genuine and truthful will themselves know the truth and will boldly declare it (John 7.17).
The whole picture is of total purity in contrast with those who dwell on earth who glory in the worship of false gods and false ideas, believing the lie, and in over-indulged sex and fleshly enjoyment. The pure are the firstfruits. The full harvest, the harvest of the earth-dwellers to judgment, comes later (14.14-20).
The Three Angels Declare that the Time of Judgment Has Arrived (14.6-11).
This section is paranthetical to bring out that those who are to be reaped have brought their own judgment on themselves in spite of God’s pleadings.
14.6-7 ‘And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven having an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people, for he says with a great voice, “Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment is come, and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters”.’
The message is specific, ‘the hour of His judgment is come’. There will be delay no longer (10.6). The fact that he has eternal good news or an eternal Gospel, good news that spans from beginning to end and on into eternity, in contrast with the message of the beast, may suggest that there is yet hope for these people, the earth-dwellers, if only they will repent, a message to all nations from which none is excluded. It is the last call. As such it must be seen as prior to the resurrection described above, and it would appear covers the brief period between the destruction of Babylon and the final Battle. Once the resurrection has taken place only judgment awaits the unrepentant.
This parenthesis is remarkable. Even at the last God appeals to men. Even while glory and judgment is being described God fits in a plea and warning to respond before it is too late. He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3.9).
The call is for submission to God before it is too late, to respond to Him in awed fear, to give Him the glory due to His name, and to worship Him rather than the beast. This terminology is used as a deliberate comparison with their attitudes to the beast. They fear the beast and give him glory (13.3-4). But in contrast with the beast here is the One Who made Heaven and earth and sea. All is His and under His control. Therefore let them rather fear Him and give Him glory. Though beasts may have arisen from sea and earth, yet sea and earth are His not theirs. Let them therefore worship the source of all things
The creation of heaven, earth and sea parallels 10.6, but here is added ‘fountains of waters’ i.e. fresh water sources. Thus He Who created the heaven and earth and sea also created the fountains of waters, the life-source for men. The reference to fountains of waters may include a spiritual reference and compare with 7.17; 22.1 and be a hint that life is still available for those who will repent (but compare 8.10; 16.4). He is the source of both kinds of life. The only question now is whether their hearts are too hardened to respond, and, sadly, that is what the passage suggests.
‘Those who dwell on earth’. The verb used for ‘dwell’ here is different from elsewhere and literally means ‘sit’ (kathemai). We can compare the similar use in Luke 21.35 where it relates to surfeiting and drunkenness and cares of this life in the light of the coming judgment at the end of the age. Thus it may have special reference to their casual attitude and worldly behaviour.
‘Fear God’. It is ‘the whole duty of man’ to ‘fear God and keep His commandments’ for ‘God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing whether it be good or whether it be evil’ (Ecclesiastes 12.12). Compare also Exodus 18.21; Psalm 66.16; Ecclesiastes 8.12; Matthew 10.28; Luke 12.5; Acts 10.2, 22, 35; 13.16, 26; 2 Corinthians 7.1, 11; Ephesians 5.21; Philippians 2.12; Colossians 3.22 from which it is apparent that the fear of God is closely connected with obedience and a desire for purity. God is fearsome because He is holy (Revelation 15.4). Thus those who seek Him will seek purity.
‘And give Him glory’ (compare Revelation 4.9), for the giving of glory to Him is the sign of a pure heart (Psalm 29.2). It symbolises obedience and openness before God (Joshua 7.19; Malachi 2.2). It should be done before it is too late (Jeremiah 13.16; Malachi 2.2).
14.8 ‘And another, a second angel, followed, saying “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great which has made all the nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication”.’
The idea and wording connects with Isaiah 21.9, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen’ where it relates to idolatry, and with Jeremiah 51.7-8 from where he obtains the picture of her making the earth drunk with her ideas. The doom of this great city, with all it represents of pride and rebellion, which has drawn on itself God’s wrath because of its idolatry and sexual misbehaviour, and has led others to do the same, has at this stage already taken place (details are given later in chapters 17-18, which see). The time of final judgment now fast approaches. Let those called on consider that all ‘Babylon’ has done for them is to lead them into uncleanness and make them drink the wine of God’s wrath, and that now that Babylon has met its inevitable doom, they need to reconsider their ways.
John may well have thought of ‘Babylon’ here especially in terms of Rome, simply because in his day Rome epitomised all that Babylon stood for, but to the spiritual beings who spoke of it and proclaimed it, it represents that which first began when Cain first ‘built a city’, and then at the tower of Babel and continued in great Babylon and in all great cities that sought to conquer and to enforce idolatry, the occult and sexual perversion on others. It is only Rome to him because he sees in Rome a fulfilment of the idea that all who in their pride set themselves up against God and seek to live and build up riches without taking Him into account, as had Babylon before it, will fall (compare what is said to the Laodicean church (3.15-17)). They are doomed to destruction. Had he known what we know he would have known that it meant more than Rome.
It was not just Rome or Babylon, but the idea that Babylon and Rome epitomised that would be destroyed. Indeed all the prophets see the destruction of the great cities of the world which set themselves up against God as inevitable. They see them as all doomed to total destruction in the end. This is not second guessing what will be but the inevitable consequence of what they are. They know that Babylon, Rome and all other such cities, and what they represent, exist only to be destroyed. They are anti-Christ, seeking to replace Him in men’s minds, therefore they can have only one end. In every period there is another ‘Babylon’ also doomed to destruction. There will be one in the final days. For Babylon represents man over against God, laden with sin and indulgence.
14.9-11 ‘And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a great voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is prepared unmixed in the cup of His anger. And he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, yet they cease not day or night, those worshippers of the beast and his image and whoever receives the mark of His name.’
The messages of the three angels (three signifies completeness) sum up the history of the world for those who dwell on earth. We find here, first God’s call to the world, then the alternative of the anti-Christ who deceived the nations and is now fallen and finally the doom of those whose response is to anti-Christ. The prime reference is as a warning to Christians in the early days not to submit to the beast of Rome, but it contains within it the warning against submission to anti-Christ in any form, i.e. submission to false religion or secularism for whatever reason, and especially to the final anti-Christ depicted by the beast from the abyss (chapter 17). While they may not worship the Roman beast and his image they worship other images and false ideas and stand equally condemned.
This passage has often been grossly misrepresented. It is a picture of judgment not of eternal torture. First it is stressed that those who commit themselves to the beast, and continue as his, will drink fully of the awful and total wrath of God. At the last mercy must cease and then there is unabated wrath. The wrath of God, revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold down the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1.18), is not impetuous anger but an attitude towards sin necessarily resulting from the holiness of God. In His ‘otherness’ He cannot abide sin and if men will not repent then they must accept that they will receive its full deserts (Ephesians 5.6; Colossians 3.6). In the end it is the result of their rejection of God’s offer of mercy in Christ (John 3.36).
‘And he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.’ John’s readers would understand the vivid picture. In those days when men were brought to trial they were tortured in order to make them admit the truth. The same could even be done to witnesses of the common kind. It was simply a fact of life. (Compare how Jesus was scourged before He was sentenced). So now we learn in vivid language that the followers of the beast will face trial in the presence of the angels and of the Lamb in such a way that they will be made to tell the truth. It is of course symbolic and not literal, to bring out the awfulness of the situation. Compare how fire and brimstone came out of the mouths of the the evil spirits (9.17-18) and fire out of the mouths of the two Witnesses (11.5).
The One Who suffered for men will now be their judge because they rejected His mercy, the bleeding Lamb has become the Destroyer, and the impact of His fiery eyes and words will make them prostrate themselves before Him and admit the total truth about themselves. We can compare for this 9.17-18. There the fire and brimstone was intended to bring men to admission of sin and repentance (9.20-21). Here it issues in the hopeless confession of sin before the Judge.
As we have seen throughout the book, fire, and fire and brimstone, represent spiritual impact and application, the former with a message which still contained hope, the latter with a message of judgment and destruction. Fire came from the mouths of the two witnesses, representing their powerful burning words which left their enemies bereft but contained hope for those who would respond (11.5) , fire and brimstone came from the mouths of evil spirits as they attacked men’s inner thoughts, minds and spirits, bringing them to destruction (9.18). Fire and brimstone will now pierce the inner thoughts of the judged.
We must not remove the force of the words. Men will cry out in anguish longing to be hid from God’s wrath against sin (6.16). They will weep and gnash their teeth as they recognise that it is now too late (Luke 13.28 compare Matthew 8.2; 13.42, 50; 22.13; 24.51; 25.30). Their torment will thus be great as the words of judgment burn into their souls. It would be no kindness to water down the awfulness of that time. But it does not represent a picture of everlasting conscious torment. It is saying that they will be thoroughly and severely judged.
‘And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever.’ The portrayal of their examination as being conducted with fire and brimstone leads on to the picture of the ensuing smoke rising eternally. It is the constant stress in Scripture that the consequences of sin are eternal, and that the signs of its punishment will also be eternal, signifying that the judgment itself is final and there is no escape from it. (For everlasting smoke see Isaiah 34.10; Revelation 19.3; and compare Genesis 19.28 with Jude 1.7; for everlasting fire and maggots compare Isaiah 66.24; Mark 9.44, 46, 48).
‘Yet they cease not day or night those worshippers of the beast and his image and whoever receives the mark of his name.’ The thought of what they must face had made no impact on them. Even as they had received warnings of terrible judgment to come they had continued with their worship of the beast. Timewise this comment is looking back before the judgment scene.
Note the construction of the whole passage. It commences with a final offer of mercy, continues with God’s judgment on those who are worshippers of the beast and his image and those who receive a mark on their forehead and on their hand (verse 9), and it finishes in holy exasperation that in spite of the consequences of which they are warned those worshippers are carrying on with their worship.
‘They cease not day or night.’ This is in deliberate contrast with the worshippers of God who also cease not day or night (4.8) (the Greek is exactly the same). It does not therefore indicate spiritual unrest as such but perseverance in a course of action. Just as the living creatures persevere in worshipping God so they persevere in worshipping the beast. They refuse to fear God and give Him glory.
So while the first angel appeared to be offering hope, and was indeed doing so, the final picture is that men are now too bound up in sin to repent. God’s offer of mercy will extend to the final hour, but as a whole man is too hardened to benefit.
John, of course, has a foreshortened view. As far as he is aware the coming of Christ and the ensuing judgment could happen at any time. Thus he speaks in those terms. But while viewing things in that light, as he must, he is also aware that Christ’s coming might be considerably delayed, for he knew that no one knew the time of that coming. Either way he knew that anti-Christ would continue for it is part of the inevitability of history.
A Reminder of the Blessedness of the People of God.
14.12-13 ‘Here is the patient endurance of the saints, they who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice behind me saying, Write, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth. Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, for their works follow with them.’
What has just been described enables the people of God to endure patiently under great tribulation. Their awareness of what is to be, gives to them strength to continue. They keep His commandments because they love Him, as He Himself said, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’ (John 14.15 compare 14. 21; 15.10, 12), and they will thus hold firmly to the truth about Jesus.
‘The faith of Jesus’ refers to the testimony concerning Him. They believe in it wholeheartedly and hold it fast. Unlike the unbelievers previously described, those who are His and have died ‘in the Lord’ can know that from henceforth they are blessed. For as the Spirit has testified, they rest from their labours and their works follow them. Note the assumption that every Christian will have ‘works’ to present before the Judgment Seat of Christ. For them the judgment day holds no fears, it has introduced for all of them their rest. No longer will they need to battle and hold on, for all that is over and they will receive the due reward for their faithful service. Alternately we may read it as ‘faith in Jesus’ (an objective genitive) stressing their personal faith.
This short interlude between the message of the three angels and the coming scenes of the judgment of those who have not been raptured and resurrected is to remind the readers in the midst of judgment that for His people there is nothing to fear, for they are with Him on Mount Zion (14.1).
The Final Judgment of the Earth Dwellers Portrayed (14.14-20).
14.14 ‘And I saw and behold a white cloud, and on the cloud one sitting like a son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.’
This is ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory’ (Matthew 24.30; 16.27; 25.31; Mark 8.38; 13.26; Luke 9.26; 21.27). This is in contrast with Daniel 7.13 where He was coming before the throne of God to receive His crown and His authority and dominion (see Matthew 26.64; Mark 14.62 and compare Matthew 28.18). Here He has already received His authority and dominion, for He sits (on His throne) and wears a golden crown (Psalm 21.3), and is now poised to reveal Himself so as to exercise that dominion over the earth.
The title Son of Man represents true humanity as opposed to the wild beasts and its use by Jesus reveals both His true humanity and that He is the ideal man. He is what God intended man to be. Thus He is uniquely in a position to judge mankind. To the redeemed He was the slain Lamb, slain for them. To the judged He is the true man Who as such has the right to judge mankind.
‘In his hand a sharp sickle’. There is now a change in status. Previously the Son of Man had been the sower of the good seed (Matthew 13.37), now He has become the reaper (Matthew 13.39-41). The time for mercy is past. The time of judgment is here. He Who previously came to save is now here to judge (compare John 3.17; 12.47 and contrast 5.27). Note the stress on the sharpness of the sickle. His judgment is clean and sure.
Once more we are at the scene of final judgment, as in 6.17; 11.15-18. Compare also 16.20-21; 19.11-21; 20.11-15. Each section in Revelation brings us up to this point.
14.15 ‘And another angel came out of the Temple, crying with a great voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Send forth your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come and the harvest of the earth is dried up (overripe)”.’
The angel comes from the Temple of God with direct instructions from Him Who sits on the throne. Everything has its time, and even the Son of Man may not act before the time (compare 1 Corinthians 4.5). The great voice, as always, emphasises the importance of what is about to happen.
‘Send forth your sickle and reap.’ The words are reminiscent of Joel 3.13. ‘There will I sit to judge all the nations round about. Put in the sickle and reap, for the harvest is ripe, come, tread, for the winepress is full, the fats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision, for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision’. This then is the judgment of the nations in Matthew 25.31-46. The righteous have been gathered ‘on the right hand’, on the heavenly Mount Zion (14.1-5 see Joel 3.17) to enjoy eternal life, and those who are remain are gathered on the left hand and will be reaped and thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath.
‘The hour to reap has come’. Everything has its hour, a concept which is a favourite of John’s. Jesus had His hour when He went to the cross (John 7.30; 8.20; 12.23, 27; 13.1; 17.1 compare Matthew 26.45; Mark 14.35). The earth must face its hour of trial (3.10). The ten kings of the beast will have their hour (17.12). Great Babylon will have its hour (18.10, 17, 19). Now has come God’s final hour, it is the hour of judgment.
‘The harvest of the earth is dried up (overripe).’ The good fruit and the good harvest has already been gathered in (14.1-5). What was left is now gathered in, overripe and useless, fit only to be burned. Their fruit is not edible. It is ‘the harvest of the earth’ contrasted with the heavenly harvest of 14.1-5.
14.16 ‘And he who sat on the cloud cast his sickle on the earth and the earth was reaped.’
His action is the signal for the angels to gather out of His kingdom ‘all that offends and they who do iniquity’ (Matthew 13.41).
14.17 ‘And another angel came out from the Temple which is in Heaven, he also having a sharp sickle, and another angel came out from the altar, he who has power over fire, and he called with a great voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Send forth your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe”.’
John is at pains to demonstrate that He Who sits on the throne is at one with the Son of Man in the action about to take place, for the angel with the sickle comes forth from His Temple. He is to help with the reaping.
The angel from the altar who has power over fire was described in 8.5. He represents the prayers of God’s people and here we find that this final hour of judgment is in response to those prayers (Luke 18.7; Revelation 6.10). Creation itself has groaned and waited (Romans 8.19-22). Now its hour too has come. This is intrinsic in the Lord’s prayer. ‘May your name be hallowed, your rule come, your will be done’ (Matthew 6.9-10). They were prayers for the fulfilment of God’s purposes.
The angels are the assistants of the Son of Man in judgment. The Son of Man initiates the reaping, the angels carry it out and gather the remains of the harvest to be burned (Matthew 13.40-42). This is assumed here and illustrated by the treatment of the vintage. John sees the two harvests as taking place at the same time. The emphasis is on the fact that nothing is excluded.
14.19 ‘And the angel cast his sickle into the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth and cast it into the winepress, the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and there came out blood from the winepress, even to the bridles of the horses as far as a thousand and six hundred furlongs.’
John sees vividly the activity of the winepress in which the grapes are trodden and when the juice overflows the red wine flows, so that the red wine looks like blood flowing from the winepress. This takes him on in thought to the great last battle. The language is anticipatory of Revelation 19.11-21 where the heavenly horsemen go forth to judgment. It is stressing the greatness of the judgment with blood flowing for two hundred miles and deep enough to reach the horses’ bridles. Sixteen hundred is the square of forty emphasising again the greatness of the judgment. The flood was on the earth forty days and forty nights (Genesis 7.12). This is a judgment far vaster than the flood.
‘Outside the city.’ It was right and appropriate that it should take place outside the city for that is where Jesus was crucified (John 19.20; Hebrews 13.12). It is where that which was plagued was taken (Leviticus 14.40-41). This is Har-Magedon (Revelation 16.16 compare 19.11-21), possibly the mountain overlooking Megiddo (it means ‘the Mount of Megiddo’), where great battles were fought of old, where God discomforted Sisera (Judges 5.19; compare 2 Kings 23.29; 2 Chronicles 35.22), where God will defeat all His enemies (Revelation 19.11-21). It is symbolic of a place of mourning (Zechariah 12.11). The judgment could not take place ‘within the city’ for Mount Zion is now in Heaven (14.1), the place of the redeemed.
The picture of the winepress has in mind Isaiah 63.1-6 where the One Who speaks in righteousness, mighty to save, has trodden the winepress of God’s enemies in His anger, ‘for the day of vengeance was in my heart and the year of my redeemed has come’ (Isaiah 63.4). As here He is avenging the ill-treatment of His people on the those who have maltreated them. The whole picture is emphasising the awfulness of God’s judgment. It is stressing that it is ‘a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Hebrews 10.31).
The Sixth Vision. The Seven Bowls of Wrath and the Destruction of Babylon the Great (chapters 15-18).
It is noteworthy that before each vision dealing with activities on earth there is an assurance that God’s people are well catered for. The seven seals (chapter 6) are preceded by the representation of the twenty four elders in Heaven and their assurance of 5.9-10. The seven trumpets (chapter 8-9) are preceded by the sealing of the people of God and the heavenly multitude (chapter 7). The attacks on the two witnesses are preceded by the measuring of the Temple (chapter 11). The attacks of the monster and the beast (chapters 12-13) are preceded by the victory cry with respect to the redeemed and by the deliverance of the woman (12.10-11, 14-16). The judgment of the world is preceded by the gathering of the redeemed on the heavenly Zion (chapter 14). Now again, before the outpouring of the bowls of wrath, we have a picture of the redeemed (15.2-4).
15.1 ‘And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having seven plagues which are the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God.’
The seven plagues are the last to be described not the last chronologically, for the seven seals and the seven trumpets which run parallel to them also involved the wrath of God. They are the last because they sum up God’s judgments. As Paul emphasised ‘the wrath of God IS (at this present time) revealed from Heaven’ (Romans 1.18 compare Ephesians 5.6; Colossians 3.6; Romans 5.9) for we are ‘by nature children of wrath’ (Ephesians 2.3).
The idea of the wrath of God is applied to the final judgment, ‘the day of wrath’ (Romans 2.5, 8; Matthew 3.7; Luke 3.7; John 3.36; Romans 9.22; 1 Thessalonians 1.10; 5.9; Revelation 6.16-17; 11.18; 14.10, 19; 19.15) and to the present wrath of God revealed in various ways (Luke 21.23; Romans 1.18 with vv.24-32; 1 Thessalonians 2.16; Revelation 15.1, 7; 16.1, 19). It is not anger as we know it but righteous anger like the anger of Jesus (Mark 3.5), a righteous response to the awfulness of sin, the sign of an antipathy to sin. In His holiness God must react against sin.
He did it first by offering a way of redemption and providing a means of ‘propitiation’ through Jesus Christ and His death on the cross (Romans 3.25; 1 John 2.2), which was a way of righteously dealing with sin while forgiving the sinner, but for those who refuse that way His wrath against sin means that He must ultimately deal with sinners, first by attempts to make them consider their ways, and then in final judgment.
‘Another sign in heaven, great and marvellous’, compare the signs in 12.1, 3. We have seen the sign speaking of the true people of God, we have seen the sign of the Evil One who seeks to destroy God’s handywork, now we see the sign of God’s response to that evil, seven angels having the seven plagues which finalise God’s programme of wrath against sin. But before these are emptied we must see the safety of the redeemed.
The fact that there is no article before ‘angels’ suggests these are not the seven angels, but merely seven selected from among many. It is not, however, a matter of great importance. What matters is that Heaven is at work.
15.2 ‘And I saw as it were a glassy sea mingled with fire, and those who came victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name, standing by the glassy sea, having harps of God.’
Here John is looking forward to the rapture and resurrection. He is declaring that what is to follow need not disturb God’s people for their future is secure. Whether it be persecution at the hands of Roman emperors, or persecution by others who are like-minded, they may know that when it has been accomplished they will be able to put their seal of approval on what God has done. The solid glassy sea reminds us that for them daily washing from earthliness is no longer required. Thus the water of the sea is solidified (see on 4.6). It is pure glass referring to the holiness which the people of God now enjoy (see Revelation 21.18, 21). It is seen as mingled with fire another symbol of holiness (1.14; 3.18 compare Mark 9.49). Now they are in Heaven His people no longer need the water of washing nor the fire for refining.
The sea of fire can also be seen as in direct contrast with the lake of fire, the destructive fire which destroys the wicked (19.20), the one refers to eternal joy and bliss, the other to eternal judgment and destruction. They represent two aspects of the holiness of God. The one represent the joy of holiness received and enjoyed in the presence of God. The second the response of holiness to the sinfulness of the unrepentant.
Those who are overcomers, overcoming the claims of the world beast and not entangled in his snares, are there with harps of God in their hands. Harps speak of worship (5.8; Psalm 33.2; 43.4 and often), and joy (Isaiah 24.8) and victory (14.2). That they are harps of God demonstrates a gift of special affection. They are His gifts. Their rewards have begun.
15.3-4 ‘And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvellous are your works (Psalm 104.24; 111.2; 139.14), Oh Lord God, the Almighty. Righteous and true are your ways (Deuteronomy 32.4; Psalm 145.17), you King of the Ages (Jeremiah 10.10). Who shall not fear, Oh Lord, and glorify your name (Psalm 86.9)? For you only are holy (Psalm 86.10; 99.3,5, 9). For all the nations shall come and worship before you (Psalm 86.9-12), for your righteous acts have been fully revealed”.’
There are two songs here combined in one, the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. The song declares that just as the sign depicting the seven plagues (v.1) was great and marvellous, so are God’s works great and marvellous (v.4). Thus the works include His works of judgment. Here, after they have taken place, they have the approval of God’s redeemed people.
The song of Moses (Deuteronomy 31.30) is described in Deuteronomy 32. It is a song celebrating the One Who is a God of faithfulness, just and right. His work is perfect and His ways are justice (v.4) in spite of His people’s unfaithfulness and failure (v.5). But then, after a catalogue of their failure, it declares that He kills, but He makes alive. He wounds, but He heals (v.39) and He avenges the blood of His servants and makes expiation for His people (v.43). This deliverance is what God indeed has wrought, as witness those gathered here, and this judgment is what He is about to carry out. Thus this song epitomises the song of Moses.
(The song in Exodus 15 is nowhere called the song of Moses. That was the song of redeemed Israel).
The fact that it is also called the song of the Lamb shows that these words refer to Him. He is the Lord God, the Almighty, Whose ways are marvellous, true and righteous. He is the One to be feared and glorified. He is the Holy One before Whom the nations will worship (5.9). He is the One Whose mighty acts have been revealed, in, for example, the opening of the seals and the cleansing of His people. He is the One Who is great and marvellous, the King of the Ages, the Eternal King.
15.5-6 ‘After these things I saw, and the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in Heaven was opened, and there came out from the Temple the seven angels that had the seven plagues, arrayed with precious linen (some few authorities read ‘stone’ - lithon for linon), pure and bright, and girded about their chests with golden girdles.’
‘After these things’ does not mean ‘chronologically following’ except from John’s point of view (compare 7.1). It means he saw one thing, and then moved on to the next, but it says nothing about how the two visions fitted in time sequence. Compare how the glorified people of God in Heaven are seen prior to the blowing of the seven trumpets (7.9-17).
‘The Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.’ Stress is laid here on the fact that this Heavenly Temple is the equivalent of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (Exodus 38.21), which contained the Ark of the Testimony (Exodus 26.33-34; 30.6, 26) which itself contained the two tables of the Testimony (Exodus 31.18; 32.15; 34.29), the covenant of grace which God had made with Israel through Moses, which included the ten commandments (Exodus 25.16, 21, 22). Thus God is about to deal with those who have broken His law and to fulfil His promises of protection and deliverance to His people. Compare 11.19 where the Ark of His Covenant was seen in Heaven. The Ark was in the Holy of Holies, but there is now no Temple on earth.
The seven angels are girded in such a way as to suggest a priestly function. The golden girdle is like that worn by the Son of Man in 1.13. (The variant reading would make no difference to the sense, but if ‘stone’ is read it could refer to something similar to the white stone given to overcomers (2.17)). Priests were responsible for guarding the book of the Law (Deuteronomy 17.18), teaching the Law (Malachi 2.7) and acting as judges in some cases (Deuteronomy 17.8-9). They are the messengers (the word also means ‘angels’) of the Lord of Hosts (Malachi 2.7). Thus we are to see these angels as acting as priests and messengers of God in condemning, and meting out punishment to those who have broken God’s law and refused to repent.
15.7-8 ‘And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. And the Temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one was able to enter into the Temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished.’
The four living creatures are regularly involved in activities which further God’s judgments. They are concerned for the purity of creation. They guarded the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3.24). They were guardians of the throne of God, in symbol stretching their wings over the ark. They command the four horsemen in Revelation 6 and one declares God’s three woes (8.13). Here another hands to the angels the seven bowls of wrath.
Golden bowls were used in the Temple worship and belonged to the altar (1 Kings 7.50; 1 Chronicles 28.17). Here they are in contrast to the golden bowls which held the prayers of God’s people (5.8). An angel took fire from the altar and cast it on the earth before the blowing of the seven trumpets as an act of activating the prayers of God’s people (8.3-5). It is an indication of the seriousness of the plagues that each is preceded by a pouring out from a bowl from the Temple.
‘And the Temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power and no one was able to enter into the Temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished.’ The Tabernacle and the Temple were covered with or filled with a cloud when the glory of God was revealed (Exodus 40.34; 1 Kings 8.10-11), but it was at the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai that the glory of the Lord was hidden by smoke (Exodus 19.18), and in the vision of Isaiah when he saw in the Temple the Lord in His glory (Isaiah 6.4), when a purging from sin was necessary and judgment was to be announced. As mentioned above these seven angels are closely connected with pouring out punishment for the breaking of the Law given at Mount Sinai. The world is still under His Law. Thus it is smoke that hides the glory of the Lord, not cloud, for He is dealing in judgment with regard to His Law.
‘No one was able to enter into the Temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished.’ Does this exclusion refer to God’s people or to all the inhabitants of Heaven? The latter seems unlikely in that the living creatures are His constant companions under all circumstances, even in the Holy of Holies. In Exodus 40.35 we are told that Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting when the cloud abode on it and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle, and in 1 Kings 8.10-11 the priests were excluded when the cloud filled the House of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled the House. This may suggest that what is being stated here is that, because of the glory of His holiness, access to the heavenly Temple by the people of God cannot be granted until God’s wrath has been poured out on the world. This is why there can be no resurrection and His people must ‘rest’ until that day. Then, as described in 15.2-4, they will have access. Hebrews makes clear that they do however have entry through their Great High Priest, for no access can be forbidden to Him (Hebrews 9.11, 24) and when the time is ripe He will appear from the Holy of Holies to receive His people (Hebrews 9.28).
It is interesting, however, that no example is given of anyone entering the Temple from before the blowing of the seven trumpets (8.3-5) until the final judgment (11.19; 14.15-17). And the seven angels are previously described as leaving the Temple as priests (15.6). Thus it may be that in the glory of His holiness and power even the beings of Heaven are excluded from His presence while His wrath is being poured out, apart from the living creatures. Under this interpretation the ministry of the heavenly beings in the Temple is thus now seen as completed and is no longer required. From the moment when the prayers of God’s people were seen as heard, to the final fulfilment of the resulting judgment, no further priestly function is required in Heaven. The destiny of the world is fixed and their ministry is now to pour out His judgments on the world. But as we have said, none of this can exclude the Great High Priest. His ministry for His people will continue and the implication may be that He alone has access. Then 11.19 may be the indication that this time is over.
Note on the Law and the Covenant of Sinai.
Many Christians have a mistaken idea about the ten commandments and the Law. They overlook the fact that what happened at Sinai, and before, was as much an act of God’s undeserved favour as the cross. It was God Who had chosen out His people and made them His firstborn (Exodus 4.22; Deuteronomy 7.6). It was God Who arranged for their deliverance and set them free from bondage, even though they did not deserve it (and incidentally chose out, and made His own, people of many nations who joined themselves with Israel). Now at Sinai He is seeking to put His actions on a regular footing.
Around the time of Moses when Great Kings conquered other peoples they would enter into a one-sided treaty with them in which they would first declare who they were and what they had ‘graciously’ done for these people they had conquered (they regularly suggested it was a deliverance). Then they would lay down their stipulations of what was required from the ‘grateful’ people in return. This would often then be followed by a series of blessings and cursings. Deuteronomy has been seen as being built up on this pattern. This is exactly the type of treaty that the covenant of Sinai was, and it is a typical treaty of that time.
God opens by declaring Who He is and what He has done for His people. ‘I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’. Then, on the basis of what He has done for them He issues a list of His requirements, what we call the ten commandments. The covenant that follows is an expansion of these requirement and necessary guidance as to how life should be conducted. These were a disparate people with many differing customs and such guidance was therefore necessary. And finally and graciously God provided them with a sacrificial system which kept them in touch with Him and provided a way back to Him when they offended.
It was only later that men distorted these ideas and began to look on the keeping of the Law as a way to fulfill the covenant and thus earn God’s favour and receive eternal life, and it was these latter doctrines which Paul rejects in favour of the Gospel of God’s free grace, freely offered and accepted by faith, turning back to the original idea behind Sinai. Thus Sinai is originally not Law but Gospel.
(End of Note).
The Pouring Out of the Seven Plagues (chapter 16).
‘In them is finished the wrath of God’. The seals, the trumpets and the plagues make up the full total of the wrath of God. Many see the plagues as occurring right at the end of time as a final act before the judgment. But this does not tie in with the description of them, for they clearly parallel the seven trumpets. In both cases the first produces pestilence (8.7 with 16.2), the second makes the sea as blood (8.8 with 16.3), the third affects the rivers and fountains of waters (8.10 with 16.4), the fourth affects the sun (8.12 with 16.8), the fifth causes great pain and anguish (9.5-6 with 16.10-11), the sixth connects with the Euphrates (9.14 with 16.12) and the seventh is the final judgment, ‘the great hail’ (11.19 with 16.21). So the seven plagues are the results of the seven trumpets to some extent repeated, but made more specific or intensified.
It may be argued that these intensify what comes after the blowing of the trumpets as some of those only applied to specific fractions (a third), and this is true to some extent, but whether these plagues affect all mankind is not stated and it must seem unlikely. That is not the impression given in other descriptive passages of those times (11.10; 13.16-17; 17.4-6, 12-13) brief though they may be. What they do is bring out a particular aspect of the previous judgments. Thus we must see these plagues as to some extent in parallel with, although in some ways different from and more intense than, the effects of the trumpets, repeated in order to stress the certainty of what is to happen (compare Genesis 41.32). As the angels blow their trumpets the other angels empty their bowls. Now we are made to see that all the happenings were the result of the wrath of God.
We cannot overemphasise that Revelation is split into sections each of which leads up to the second coming of Christ and the judgment. At the sixth seal Christ comes on the day of wrath (6.17). The third Woe is again the coming of the day of judgment (11.15-18). Chapter 14 ends with the coming of Christ and the judgment. Chapter 16 ends with the judgment. Chapter 19 ends with Christ’s coming and the judgment. Thus the sections in between are contemporary not consecutive. Chapter 20 ends with the Great White Throne.
16.1 ‘And I heard a great voice out of the Temple, saying to the seven angels “Go, and pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God into the earth”.’
The great voice may be that of a living creature (see 6.1; 6.3; 6.5; 6.7; 8.13 - compare 15.7), or it may be the voice of God Himself. What is important is that it stresses that this is the will of God. Tribulations and disasters are one way by which God speaks to the world. There is emphasis now on the wrath of God. The world lies continually under His wrath (Romans 1.18), and in the end it has to be satisfied.
16.2 ‘And the first went and poured out his bowl into the earth, and there came a distressing and grievous sore on the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshipped his image.’
Those who have received the mark of the beast now receive another mark, the mark of judgment in the form of a grievous sore. Compare Deuteronomy 28.35 where it is to be one of a number of judgments on faithless Israel. See also verses 10-11 of this chapter where it is more generalised. Such sores were the mark of someone in a desperate state, like Lazarus at the gate of the rich man (Luke 16.21). This particular sore is directly related to the mark of the beast. It thus typifies the resulting sickness in heart and spirit that destroys men, a sore from which Christ’s own are protected. Reference to the mark of the Beast (see chapter 13)demonstrates that this commenced early on.
16.3 ‘And the second poured out his bowl into the sea and it became blood as of a dead man, and every living soul died, even the things that were in the sea.’
Compare Exodus 7.20-21; Psalm 105.29; Isaiah 50.2 where again the effect on the fish is emphasised. This parallels 8.8 to some extent but while more intense it only refers to sea creatures. Through pollution from undescribed causes man’s sources of food are attacked, and his means of sustenance are smitten. Again we are not told which sea is in mind. It is not intended to be too specific. It can be applied to many catastrophes from the time of John onwards.
16.4 ‘And the third poured out his bowl into the rivers and the fountains of the waters, and it became blood.’
Now it is man’s water supply that is attacked in some way. The same applies as on v.3. Here however there is probably a reference to bloody warfare, as suggested by Ezekiel 32.6 where the blood of the armies of Egypt fill the waters. John’s world was familiar with such warfare and it is a characteristic of history. But here we learn it is among other things the sign of God’s wrath against sin. In this modern day we could see biological and chemical warfare affecting man’s drinking supply.
The phrase ‘rivers and fountains of the waters’ is repeated from 8.10. There is clearly a parallel activity in mind. These blessings, which were intended to provide man with lifegiving water and fruitfulness for his fields, will instead become a curse. In both cases there is possibly a deliberate contrast with the life-giving waters of 7.17 and 22.1. For the unbeliever there will be no soul refreshment.
16.5-7 ‘And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “You are righteous, you who are and were, you holy one, because you did thus judge. For they poured out the blood of God’s people (saints) and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. They are worthy”. And I heard the altar saying, “Yes Oh Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are your judgments”.’
All catastrophic events in nature, and all warfare, are to be seen as God’s judgments because the world is at enmity with God and attacks His people. These particular judgments are seen as like for like. They remind us that God is not only merciful but also holy and righteous. He is the Holy One. If men will not repent, then they will receive the consequence of their sin. ‘He is’ therefore He acts now. ‘He was’ and therefore He knows all that has been.
Note that God’s suffering people are now linked with the prophets. They share their sufferings, they share their blessing (compare 11.18; 17.6; 18.20). The blood of the prophets is a regular description of persecution (Matthew 23.30; Luke 11.50-51 compare Mark 12.5) and we should note that it would be ‘required’ of Jesus’ generation (Luke 11.51). Thus this bowl finds its fulfilment partly in 1st century AD. The sufferings of ‘the last days’ must not all be assigned to the final days of the age. And because of the shedding of the blood of the prophets, and of the martyred Christians, God will give those responsible ‘blood to drink’ in their turn. They too in their turn will die violently.
‘Blood to drink’. Compare Isaiah 49.26, where the phrase speaks of death in civil war, and also Zechariah 9.15 LXX. The filling of the rivers and fountains of waters with blood therefore probably refers to blood shed in wars and wholesale death. The constant references to wholesale bloodshed in Revelation are a vivid reminder that ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6.23). It is in total contrast with the water that the righteous are given to drink (7.17; 22.1-2)..
These things are declared by ‘the angel of the waters’, and his words are echoed by ‘the altar’. The latter idea looks back to the souls under the altar of 6.9-11. It is God’s people awaiting resurrection, and awaiting God’s the exercise of God’s justice, who speak from the altar. The ‘angel of the waters’ is on the side of good, and is probably in contrast to the falling star of 8.10 who defiles the waters. By the defiling of the waters a part of his sphere of responsibility has been under attack, but he recognises that the fact that God has allowed it is just and right because the final consequence is justice.
It is probable that behind all this blood John has in mind in the background the death of Christ. ‘Blood as of a dead man’ (verse 3), ‘you have given them blood to drink’ (verse 6). But whereas God’s people partake in Christ’s blood as a joyous thing through faith, here the unbelievers partake of blood because of the judgments coming on them. Contrast this with references to the slain Lamb and the blood of the Lamb that enhances the whiteness of the garments of God’s people (Revelation 1.5; 5.6; 7.14; 12.11; 19.13). Those who reject the offering of Christ on their behalf must themselves suffer as He suffered, for in their case there is none to bear it for them. Because they will not ‘drink His blood’ by responding to Him (John 6.53 on) they must drink blood in another way, through death.
16.8-9 ‘And the fourth poured out his bowl on the sun and it was given to it to scorch men with fire, and men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues and they did not repent to give him glory.’
This bowl is in deliberate contrast to what happens to the people of God of whom it was promised ‘the sun will not light on them or any heat’ (7.17). The people of God will enjoy God’s protection. But in contrast the enemies of God will not find any shelter from the sun. Rather they will endure the judgments of God. The scorching of the sun may thus be symbolic of judgment as a whole. But many men through the ages have literally died through scorching heat, so that there is a literal fulfilment. These words carry even greater significance now that man’s greed and selfishness is thinning the ozone layer, and the world is slowly getting warmer.
Man’s reaction to this judgment reveals the state of their hearts. Instead of giving them cause to stop and think they curse and blaspheme God and blame Him for their suffering, a suffering which in the light of the thinning ozone layer they have certainly brought on themselves. The Scripture constantly suggests that fire and heat will be a sore instrument of judgment and in the end will cause the final destruction of all things (see Isaiah 24.6; 42.25; Micah 1.4; Malachi 4.1; 2 Peter 3.10)
16.10 ‘And the fifth poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was darkened, and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and they blasphemed the God of Heaven because of their pains and their sores and they repented not of their works.’
‘On the throne of the Beast.’ The throne of Satan is mentioned in the letter to Pergamum (2.13). It was the source of danger for God’s people. Alternately Rome itself may be in John’s mind, for the emperors had many thrones, and when persecution was in progress, they would all be seen as the throne of Satan. But in the end what is being referred to is any place which is central to anti-Christ, any place where Satan reigns. They stand up against God and will receive their due reward. The darkening of the kingdom, and the resulting pains, have in mind the swarms of locusts of the fifth trumpet (9.2) (compare also Exodus 10.21). Here their work is centralised on the centre of godless rule. But the spiritual unrest and anguish they cause do not bring about repentance, rather they result in blasphemy. In the end whatever men sow they reap.
Note how this contrasts with the scenes and result in 11.9-13. There the earth-dwellers were partying and making merry because God’s people had been humiliated and destroyed. So not all are directly included within the effects of the bowl. Nevertheless all will face the final judgment. The description may or may not be seen as including physical plagues. Men in John’s day, and through the ages, have suffered from such great sore-producing plagues (compare Exodus 9.9-11). Each time they symbolise God’s judgment on those who follow the anti-Christ in whatever form.
16.12 ‘And the sixth poured out his bowl on the great river, the River Euphrates, and its water was dried up in order that the way may be made ready for the kings who come from the sunrising. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the monster and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits as it were frogs. For they are spirits of devils, working signs, which go forth to the kings of the whole world to gather them together to the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (Behold I come as a thief. Blessed is he who watches and has his garments ready lest he walk naked and they see his shame). And they gathered them together to the place which is called in Hebrew ‘Har-Magedon’.’
The sixth bowl, like the sixth seal and the sixth trumpet, has in mind the final days of the age (in contrast with the remainder). Here now things are coming to a head. It is noteworthy that the monster, the Beast and the False Prophet have continued on through the centuries, as Satan has used both secular powers and religious powers to attack the people of God.
The drying up of the River Euphrates parallels the drying up of the Jordan for Joshua to cross (Joshua 3.13-17) and of the Reed Sea for Israel to cross (Exodus 14.21-22). Then it carried forward God’s purposes of deliverance. Now it will carry forward God’s final judgment (compare Isaiah 11.15; Zechariah 10.10-11). That the mighty Euphrates should be dried up would have been viewed with the greatest horror by the people of the area. It was a symbol of their life blood being destroyed. There is an indication here of water shortage on a vast scale. But the drying up may also symbolise the final destruction of the great powers who depended on the Euphrates for provision, who are also seen as ‘dried up’ (Zechariah 10.10-11).
The kings who come from the sunrising (that is, from the distant East) represent kings from the furthest parts of the earth. The judgment that is coming is to have worldwide effects. All will gather (or be gathered) for the final judgment. They are in direct contrast with the angel who ascended from the sunrising who sealed the people of God on their foreheads, preserving them from the wrath of God. These kings from the sunrising will contribute to the world’s judgment.
‘The monster, the beast and the false prophet’. These represent firstly the monster of 12.3, Satan himself, secondly the Beast from the abyss, the scarlet beast (17.3), which incorporates within itself the beast of chapter 13, and thirdly the false prophet who incorporates within himself the second beast of chapter 13. Nothing is said after this about the false prophet apart from that he accompanied the beast (19.20), but it is clear that there is an assumption that he is the continuation of the second beast. The latter was not actually called the false prophet. He was the beginnings of which the False Prophet was the end. But 19.20 makes a clear identification. It is obvious therefore that the assumption is made that the beast throughout history continues to have at his side a false prophet (19.20) like the second beast (13.11-17). The secular and the religious ever go hand in hand. The false prophet therefore refers to those who continue religiously to promote the cause of the beast. (That the first beast had seven heads and ten horns and the second beast had two horns (chapter 13) demonstrates clearly that we are considering more than one person. The beasts represent empire and false religion following in continual succession side by side until the end of time).
The bringing up of ‘frogs’ by the unholy trinity, the three arch deceivers, compares with the production of frogs by the magicians of Egypt (Exodus 8.7). They were false signs but in the end they were futile and ineffective. And they were the production of lies and deceit. Similarly will these evil spirits use false and deceitful signs to achieve their purposes (compare 13.13-14), whether by astrology, necromancy, sorcery or any other method. We see in our own day the growth of interest in the occult, even in children’s books, preparing for these events. But we need to remember that contact with the occult can only result in deceitful and lying messages, and what is worse, it can result in possession by evil spirits. Just as the days before the Flood were highlighted by the presence of fallen angels (Genesis 6.1-4), so the days before the final judgment will see a predominance of evil spirits.
Thus the deceived world will gather to battle with God, the Almighty. This battle must not be taken too literally. All pictures of it are highly symbolic. When Christ comes in His splendour the nations will cower before Him and seek to hide from his presence (6.15). None can stand before the power of the final Word of God (19.13). What the picture is saying is that the deceit of Satan and his minions has built up final resistance against God and His claims, but that the coming of Christ will shatter all resistance. Armageddon will not be so much a war as an abject surrender to His authority and power. The Judge will not really need to fight. Any warfare will be between the nations. The point is that the enemies of God are as it were ready to fight because they have not understood the power of the opposition, but find that they are totally deceived.
Har Magedon - the Mount of Megiddo. There was no specific Mount Megiddo that we know of but the city of Megiddo looked out over the valley of Esdraelon where many decisive battles were fought, for it was the way for the kings of the East, thus John may be referring to the mountain overlooking the plain. It may be paralleled with ‘the valley of Jeho-shaphat’, the ‘Valley of Yahweh Judges’. There Joel saw the final scene of judgment as the nations were gathered, the sickle was put in, the winepress was trodden and the multitudes were gathered in the valley of decision (Joel 3.11-14). Either way we have a vivid picture not to be taken too literally geographically. It is the idea that matters.
But in the midst of this powerful scenario a word from the Lord is slipped in, a word of warning. He is coming like a thief, suddenly and unexpectedly. Let each beware and ensure that they have their garments ready so that they will not be found naked. This has in mind the words spoken to the church of Sardis (3.3-4) and the words to Laodicea (3.17-18) and the parables describing servants waiting for the coming of their Lord, especially Luke 12.35 onwards. His people are to live in readiness for His coming.
2 Corinthians 4.1-6 is very apposite here. Paul did not want to be deceived by the god of this world and be found naked, rather He wanted to be clothed with his resurrection body, as a result of seeing the light of the good news of the glory of Christ Who is the image of God, and responding to Him. So those to whom John is writing must recognise in Him the glorious Saviour and live in readiness so that they are not caught out by that day coming as a thief with the result that they are found naked (1 Thessalonians 5.2-4 compare Matthew 24.43; 2 Peter 3.10).
So as with the sixth seal and the sixth trumpet, the sixth bowl brings things to a close and is followed by the final judgment. This may raise the interesting question as to whether the number of the beast, 666, has partly in mind these three sixes, the six seals, the six trumpets and the six bowls, each of which leads up to the seventh. Over each series of six the Beast carries on his activities, only to be brought to a sudden halt in each case by the judgment of God. The seventh in each case signals the triumph of God. In each series Satan fails in the end.
16.17 ‘And the seventh poured out his bowl on the air, and a great voice came out of the Temple from the throne saying, “It is done”.’
The seventh bowl brings all to conclusion. The voice from the throne declares that ‘It is done’. This bowl is poured out on the air. It produces the great hail which speaks of the final judgment of God (compare on 11.19), and the final great earthquake beyond all earthquakes (verse 18). For in that bowl all is completed. “It is done”. The voice from the throne declares the end of all things. This compares with the strong angel who declared that time was no longer to be (10.6). The voice from the throne may be that of a living creature or it may be the voice of the One Who sits on the throne. Either way it is final.
16.18 ‘And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and there was a vast earthquake such as there was not since there were men on the earth, so great the earthquake, and so mighty. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and Babylon the Great was remembered in the sight of God to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found, and great hail, about the weight of a talent comes down from heaven on men, and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, for the plague of it is immensely great.’
Herein we have another solemn picture of the final judgment of God. The whole world is caught up in it. ‘The great city’ collapses, every city is destroyed, Babylon the Great receives its final judgment. She who has the golden cup (17.4) will find it replaced at the last with the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.
‘There were lightnings, and voices, and thunders and a vast earthquake.’ Similar descriptions are found elsewhere, gradually increasing in intensity. In 4.5 ‘lightnings, voices and thunders’ proceed from the throne after the description of the One on the throne accompanied by the twenty four elders on their thrones. In 8.5 ‘lightnings, and voices, and thunders and an earthquake’ follow the appearance of the angel at the altar of incense as he offers up prayers which went up before God, and then casts them down on the earth. ‘An earthquake’ is added to demonstrate that it is now connected with earth. In 11.19 ‘lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake and great hail’ follow the opening of the Temple of God to reveal the Ark of His covenant. God’s final judgment has come on the world. And now lightnings, and voices, and thunders and the greatest of all earthquakes, accompanied later by the great hail (v.21) accompany the voice from the Temple and from the throne. All is now over.
It will be noted that each time the description appears there is reference, direct or indirect, to the Temple and to the One on the throne. First the One on the throne and the twenty four priestly elders before the throne, then the angel at the altar of incense offering prayers before the throne, then the ark of His covenant which is beneath the throne, and finally the great voice out of the Temple and from the throne. The lightnings and voices and thunders proclaim the mighty activity of God.
We note also the advancement in God’s purposes. The twenty four priestly elders before the throne plead on behalf of God’s people at the time of the visions, the angel at the altar of incense pleads on behalf of God’s people in the holy place at the beginning of the judgments, the Ark of the covenant in the holy of holies is revealed at the time of the final judgment. And now the voice of God declares the end of all things. Thus the lightnings and voices and thunders herald the presence of God in His heavenly Temple at the opening of the seals, at the sounding of the trumpets, at the revelation of the basis of judgment (the Ark and the covenant it contains) and at the final word of judgment. In the end all is of God.
‘The great earthquake.’ This destroys ‘the great city’ and it destroys the cities of the nations. It is seemingly worldwide. These are clearly aspects of the great final day of judgment.
‘The great city was divided into three parts’. But which is ‘the great city’? In 11.13 ‘the great city’ is Jerusalem and one tenth of ‘the great city’ of Jerusalem (11.8) falls in an earthquake, a symbol of God taking His firstfruits prior to the whole, thus this earthquake following immediately after could then be seen as Jerusalem partaking of the final harvest. That ‘great city’ is described as Sodom and Egypt (11.8) rather than as Babylon, so we should not link the great city directly with Babylon the Great. It is the earthly Jerusalem which in spite of its great claim to be the centre of religiousness has turned out to be, like Sodom, the centre of wickedness and worldliness.
However, in 14.8 ‘Babylon’ is called ‘the great’, and in 17.18 we have reference to ‘that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth’, which is called ‘Babylon the Great’ in 17.5, while in 18.16, 18, 19, 21 the great city’s destruction is described in terms of Babylon the Great (18.2). Thus some would refer ‘the great city’ to Great Babylon.
But if ‘the great city’ does refer to Babylon we have in these verses a double reference to Babylon as ‘great’ with the cities of the nations in between. It seems far more likely that the intention is to compare the judgments on the great city which is like Sodom and Egypt, that is, on Jerusalem, with the judgments on the cities of the nations, and finally with the judgment on Babylon the Great itself. ‘The great city’ here is then Jerusalem in contrast with Babylon, in which case we have the portrayal of the destruction of religious but inherently wicked Jerusalem, the destruction of the cities of the nations, and the destruction of the worldly Babylon the Great with all they signified.
As we are to have a new Jerusalem we should perhaps expect a description of the destruction of the old Jerusalem. This would tie in with this suggestion, as would the contrast between ‘the great city’ and ‘the cities of the nations’. The fact that the only description of a ‘great city’ up to this point had reference to Jerusalem, and that great Babylon and her fate is mentioned separately, would also seem to confirm this.
Alternately we could take the great city as Babylon. However, as her judgment is in fact mentioned separately in this very place, and in view of the different way in which she is seen as destroyed in chapter 18, this appears less likely. (Although it must be admitted that there is nothing to stop it being seen as destroyed by an earthquake while it is still languishing in the previous misery brought upon it).
But what is finally important is that the destruction of Babylon the Great is linked with the destruction of all cities, for Babylon the Great is more than Babylon, it is more than Rome, it is the final fruition of Babel, the very idea of ‘cityness’. It represents worldly ‘civilisation’ over against God.
‘Into three parts.’ Compare Deuteronomy 19.3 where the land was to be divided into three parts, each to have a city as a refuge for the manslayer. Is this seen as an ironic division of the city in a similar way? Israel having failed in its ministry to provide places of refuge for the world, is now divided into three as a commentary on its failure? Or is it ironically seen as divided between the monster, the beast and the false prophet, mentioned as a trio in 16.13, to whom it has given its obedience (11.2)? Alternately there may be behind it the idea that just as ‘three’ is a symbol of completeness, this division into three parts is a rending of that previous completeness. It is no longer whole.
‘And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found, and great hail, about the weight of a talent (a hundredweight) comes down from heaven on men.’ This description is similar to that in Revelation 6.14. Here the islands disappear and the mountains become level. This is not just a great earthquake, it is a huge cataclysm. The great hail is reminiscent of huge hailstorms which have been known in the Mediterranean region where hailstones weighing more than twelve pounds have been known to fall, but these are huge even by that comparison, weighing a hundredweight (twelve times as much), hailstones such as have never been known before. This vast shaking of the earth and the huge hailstones can only signify the end of time, which is what we saw in 11.19.
‘And men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail.’ It is surely significant that the only place where the final hour causes men to give glory to the God of Heaven is in Jerusalem (11.13). That supremely religious city is depicted as seeing things differently from the remainder. But its end is the same, for the great day of judgment has arrived, and its religiosity is not sufficient. It too has rejected Christ. That this is one more vivid way of describing the final judgment is clear once we consider what is stated.
‘And Babylon the Great was remembered in the sight of God to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.’ Babylon the Great is singled out because of the idea she represents. It is not said that she is destroyed as such in the earthquake. Indeed God has already dealt with her (chapters 17-18). And yet she is involved in the earthquake for she in reality sums up all those cities.
But what is meant by Babylon the Great? It is an idea that has come from the mists of time, the symbol of all that is worst in the cities of the world. When Cain left the presence of the Lord and went to live in the desert regions he ‘built a city’. It was only a tent encampment, but it contained the seed of an idea. It was the beginnings of men gathering to live together to produce ‘civilisation’, and a multiple society for belligerence and protection, away from the presence of God (Genesis 4.16-17 with 4.20-24).
The next growth we learn of is when Nimrod, the mighty warrior, so great that even God saw him as great (‘before the Lord’) founded his empire in the land of Shinar. It is significant that an element of that empire was Babel (Genesis 10.9-10). This then resulted at some stage in the building of the tower in the city of Babel, probably a religious ziggurat, in order that men may ‘make a name for themselves’ (Genesis 11.4 with 9). In other words they established idolatry as against the worship of the One true God, they began to expand by conquest in order to build up an empire, and they wanted to prevent others doing the same. They wanted ‘world-wide’ control. So from the beginning Babel (possibly ‘babilu’, the gate of god) signifies empire building, idolatry, and rebellion against, and replacement of, the living God.
When later Babylon, its namesake, came into the picture it took over this image in the minds of the prophets. It was prominent through the centuries, but it came into its greatest prominence when it defeated the Assyrian empire and subjugated Jerusalem. Of all nations it alone conquered Jerusalem and took its inhabitants into captivity, destroying the Temple in the process (2 Kings 25.9). For this alone it would be remembered for ever and was seen as finally doomed to be destroyed by God (Psalm 137.8; Isaiah 13.19; 14.22; 21.9; Jeremiah 51.24, 29; 51.64). We can also consider Nebuchadnezzar’s cry, ‘Is not this great Babylon that I have built?’ It was the perfect example of the pride and arrogance that made Babylon a symbol of such pride (Daniel 4.30), compare ‘Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride’ which will be made like Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 13.19).
Babylon was also the first of the four wild beast empires in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the ‘head of gold’, the supreme empire (Daniel 2.38-39) which along with the other empires would be destroyed by the stone without hands (2.45) which represented the setting up of God’s kingdom. And its king was famed as the one who had himself set up a golden image, representing either himself or Babylon (compare the golden head of the great image - Daniel 2.32), and demanded that all nations should worship it (Daniel 3.1, 4-5). Indeed the king of Babylon was the one who declared that he would ascend to the throne of God and be like the most High (Isaiah 14.13).
Thus Babylon had become synonymous with overweening pride, with arrogance, with rebellion and blasphemy, with idolatry, with ambitions of empire, above all with setting itself against God. It had became a symbol of all such empires. Any similar empire which arose, filled with pride at itself, could thus be looked on as the continuation of ‘Babylon’, without being the whole of it. So John in Revelation sees the last great world empire in terms of Babylon. It must be so, for all that Babel and Babylon stood for has to be destroyed.
No doubt, looking from his standpoint, if asked, John would have thought in terms of Rome as probably representing that empire (how could he not?), but he says enough to demonstrate that he did not limit it to Rome, as we shall see. The very idea and nature of Babylon has to be destroyed, and it is nowhere stated to be only Rome.
In the next chapter the destruction of Babylon comes slightly before the end. But that is due to the symbolism. ‘Babylon’ has first to be dealt with, destroyed by those it sought to nurture, and then comes the final day of Judgment. The central feature in that final day is to be the defeat of Satan himself, and thus the destruction of Babylon the Great is first to be seen as accomplished at his hands. First Babylon, then Satan. Ironically He who raised her, destroys her, and then moves on to his own defeat. Satan is self-destructing. We must not literalise the detail too much for its purpose is theological to bring out the many aspects of the judgment and those involved around it.
The Scarlet Woman and the Beast (17.1-18).
This is a remarkable chapter for in it John rises above himself and foresees the inevitable consequences of history. As with all the great prophets he ‘sees’ beyond his own day to the final days when God will bring all things to conclusion. Each can be speaking of his own times and the near future, and then suddenly be found speaking about the end times. For he sees the near future as an indicator of those end times, and his prophetic instinct tells him what will be in the end.
We have an example of this in this chapter. It seems to speak of Rome, and it does speak of Rome, but it goes beyond Rome and speaks of all great cities to the end times. (Of course the people of his day thought that Rome would go on for ever and would be there in the end times. John himself may have thought the same. Great empires are always so viewed. But inevitably the cracks appear and they are replaced. In the providence of God. John sticks to great principles rather than dealing with specifics).
17.1-2 ‘And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me saying, “Come with me. I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication”.’
The idea of nations and cities as prostitutes is common in Scripture. Nahum, speaking of Nineveh speaks of ‘the multitude of the whoredoms of the well-favoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts who sells nations through her whoredoms and families through her witchcrafts’ (Nahum 3.4;Isaiah 1.21). Isaiah says of Tyre, ‘she shall return to her hire and play the harlot with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth’ (Isaiah 23.17). Samaria and Jerusalem are depicted as harlots because they doted on idolatry and made treaties with idolatrous nations (Ezekiel 23.5, 7, 11, 16). And all these idolatries were accompanied by sexual deviations and the occult. Thus the great prostitute (harlot) who sits on many waters is an idolater and partaker in uncontrolled sexual activity, just like the Jezebel of Revelation 2.20. And they will share the same fate.
‘Sits on many waters’. This was a prophetic description of Babylon, with its river and network of canals, it was the city which ‘dwells on many waters’ (Jeremiah .51.13). Thus the prostitute represents idolatrous religion and its accompaniments as personified in the city of Babylon. Great Babylon is seen as the source of idolatry and unrestrained sexual proclivities, from Babel onwards, something which she is now exercising through Rome. Compare how the woman who represented wickedness was seen as carried into the land of Shinar, the land where Babylon was, for that was the ‘home’ of wickedness (Zechariah 5.5-11 and see Genesis 10.10). But John stresses that the many waters also have a special significance in that they represent ‘peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues’ (17.15). Thus the woman has an insidious influence over many nations.
‘With whom the kings of the earth committed fornication.’ They submitted to the requirements of the woman, and of the beast who demanded they follow the ways of the great prostitute. The dwellers on earth did so also for they ‘were made drunk with the wine of her fornication’. The controlling influence of Babylon and Rome and similar great cities reached out to the world seeking to turn men to themselves and to their own divinity rather than to God.
17.3 ‘And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.’
John is carried ‘in the Spirit’. Comparison with 1.10 shows that this means that time is irrelevant. He is carried back and forward in time to see what he sees. He observes a prominent prostitute sitting on a scarlet coloured Beast, which is the ultimate Blasphemy. The colour of the beast suggests that this beast is closely related to the red monster of 12.3, for he alone of beasts and monsters is described as red (possibly as the colour of blood because of his murderous intentions) Thus the woman is borne and supported by Satan’s beast himself who is at the back of what she propagates. This beast is full of the names of blasphemy and therefore transcends the one who had names of blasphemy only on his heads (13.1). There it referred to the claims of Roman emperors to divinity, but here it refers to all the blasphemies of the ages. This beast is far more sinister than the beast of Rome, which was merely a temporary copy of the scarlet beast.
‘Into a wilderness’. The prostitute is aping the people of God, and especially the woman of 12.14, by false professions of piety. Seemingly like the woman in chapter 12 she is found in the wilderness. But that it is all a pretence comes out in the next verse. The very reason that the wilderness was seen as a place where men could meet God was because it was away from the great cities with their pernicious influence. But her very dress proclaims that influence.
17.4 ‘And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stone and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations, even the unclean things of her fornication.’
What an absurd picture. While pretending piety in the wilderness her outward appearance tells a different story. She is decked out like a prostitute, enjoying all that comes from wealth and influence because of what she offers in her golden cup. She is the epitome of a pretence piety, of false religion.
‘Abominations’. This word is constantly used in the Old Testament to represent idolatry and idolatrous worship with all that accompanied it, including spiritualism, magic, witchcraft and divination (Deuteronomy 18.9-12; 2 Kings 23.24; Deuteronomy 29.17; 32.16; 1 Kings 14.23-24; 2 Kings 16.3-4; 21.2-3; Ezekiel 8.6 and often; 11.18; Ezekiel 16.15-26 - linked with harlotry). It is often described in terms of whoredom and uncleanness because of its accompaniments. For her golden cup see Jeremiah 51.7, ‘Babylon has been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunk. The nations have drunk of her cup, therefore the nations are mad’. This is what Babylon symbolises.
17.5 ‘And on her forehead a name written, a mystery, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.’
Again we have confirmation that this is Babylon, but it is more than Babylon, it is Babylon as a symbol, as the mother of all idolatry and sexual perversion and of all spiritualism and witchcraft. It is a ‘mystery’, something once hidden now revealed. That Babylon was now (in John’s time) represented by Rome was part of that ‘mystery’, but only as symbolic of what Rome and Babylon stood for, greatness, supremacy, commercialism, pernicious influence and opposition to the living God. Wherever great cities control men’s minds, there is Babylon the Great. It is a symbol of man’s enmity against God.
17.6 ‘And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of God’s people (the saints) and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. And when I saw her I wondered with a great wonder.’
The ancient empires from Babel onwards made war on the people of God, just as Rome was now doing and would do, and other great cities of the future would do as well. The people of God are always subject to special attack because of what the woman represents. Whether it was Babylon with its fiery furnaces (Daniel 3.11), Darius the Mede with his den of lions (Daniel 6.7) or Rome with its crucifixions and its amphitheatres, ‘Great Babylon’ was responsible for it all. Today large parts of the world are ruled by Babylon, with its commercialism, covetousness which is idolatry, and its anti-God behaviour.
The term saints probably has in mind the Old Testament saints (e.g. Psalm 79.2; 116.15; Daniel 7.18, 21, 22, 25, 27), with the ‘witnesses of Jesus’ representing the New Testament saints. This again testifies to the breadth of the ideas. As John contemplates all the blood she has caused to be shed, blood that has made her drunk as with wine, he can only marvel.
17.7-8 ‘And the angel said to me, “Why did you wonder? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast who carries her, who has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast which you saw was and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and to go into perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, the one whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast how he was, and is not and shall come.’
The angel promises to reveal the mystery of both the woman and the Beast who carries her. He will first reveal the mystery of the Beast. The mystery of the woman will be revealed in the next chapter. ‘The beast --- was, and is not and will come.’ He apes God, the One spoken of in 1.4, 8, and he fills the world with wonder. ‘He was’ because he has been present throughout history, in the Garden of Eden, in the activities of Cain, in the founding of Babel, in the great empires that fought against God and His people. ‘He is not’ because he is in the abyss. This again reminds us of Satan and his followers who are seen as chained in the abyss (9.1-2, 11; 20.2-3). This could not be said of Rome, nor does the scarlet beast represent emperors for the emperors are represented by his heads. It represents empire (and possibly the last ‘emperor’). Indeed it is important to remember that this is a manifestation of the monster of chapter 12, the essential beast, not the clone of chapter 13. It is a more real manifestation of Satan, and has existed almost from the beginning of time. The beast is first the embodiment of Satanically ruled empire, going back to the beginning, and secondly the great Satanically inspired ruler who will spring from this and vie for world leadership and control. But the woman is Rome, and yet she is more than Rome, for she has sat on the beast from the beginning, she is what Rome epitomised. She is ever the great idolatress, whether of religion or secularism, at the head of empires.
And Satan also will yet enjoy a final period of freedom from restraint before finally being sent to destruction, for the beast is a personification of Satan. Satan also ‘was, and is not (he is bound) and will come’. He is revealed through the beast.
The New Testament portrays Satan in two ways, it portrays him as active (e.g. Ephesians 6.16; 1 Peter 5.8; 2 Corinthians 11.14) yet bound (Matthew 12.28-29), powerful (1 Peter 5.8; Jude 1.9) yet restrained (2 Thessalonians 2.6-7; James 4.7), in the air (Ephesians 2.2) but fallen from heaven (Luke 10.18). He is limited in what he can do but is nevertheless like a roaring lion looking for those victims he is permitted to devour (1 Peter 5.8 compare 2 Timothy 4.17). All these pictures are in human terms. However Satan is not human, nor confined to a human form, but is spirit, so we must not press the figures too literally. What is important is to realise that he is continually seen as acting, and yet acting under restraint. There is a limit beyond which he is not permitted to go.
Those ‘whose names are written in the book of life from the foundation of the world’ see him for what he is, but to those who dwell on earth (non-Christians) he is mysterious and powerful, attractive because of the mysteries of his ways, and very intriguing.
‘The one whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.’ This is the one who believes in and follows the Beast. But the corollary is that the names of true Christians have been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. As Ephesians 1.4 says, ‘according as He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world’. Here is where the confidence of God’s people lies, that each one of them has been chosen by God before the foundation of the world with their names recorded in the Lamb’s book of life (compare 13.8). Each one of them has been ‘foreknown’ by Him, that is, He has entered into relationship with them from the beginning (Romans 8.29).
17.9-10 ‘Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. And they are seven kings, five are fallen, the one is and the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must continue a little while, and the beast that was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is of the seven and goes into destruction.’
The seven heads of the Beast bear a dual significance. Firstly they are ‘seven mountains on which the woman sits’, they are the foundation of ‘Babylon’, and secondly they represent seven kings. (The Beast himself is the eighth king shortly to be mentioned). Rome was built on seven mountains, but so was Babylon. Indeed many cities boasted of being built on seven mountains for mountains had a divine significance and seven was the number of divine perfection, and where the ground is hilly it is not difficult to discern seven. Thus the seven mountains represent an idea, being seated on the mountains of the gods, while at the same time in context representing both Rome and Babylon. But the fact is that the woman was founded on the Beast, which itself represents the activity of Satan. She is the product of the evil and greed of past empires whose propensities are found in the Beast, who may well be the fourth Beast of Daniel 7.7.
Like the heads of the clone beast the heads of the scarlet beast represent the same seven emperors and in doing so represent the whole empirate, for the scarlet beast incorporates the clone beast, and both are dependent on the red monster (12.3). Five are in the past and are dead (they are ‘fallen’), one is, and one must continue for a little while. If the ‘seven’ is intended to cover the whole empirate, then the fact that the present emperor was the sixth (six being the number of man) may be a deliberate method of indicating that the sixth emperor was but a man. The ‘seventh’ would then indicate the future empirate. But in the end this is only important because it relates the Beast to the Roman Empire, for the benefit of Christians living at that time. In the end it is the eighth Beast who is important..
Note On The Identification Of The Seven.
Attempts have been made to determine who the sixth emperor might be, for it would give us a date for the book. But different scholars come to different conclusions. If we work from Augustus, the first specifically named as emperor, then including Augustus the first emperors would be, Augustus, Tiberias, Gaius (Caligula), Claudius and Nero. This would then make the sixth emperor the little known Galba, or (if we ignore Galba, Othos and Vitellius on the grounds that they only reigned briefly in Rome and were never acknowledged by the eastern provinces), Vespasian. The seventh could then be either Titus, or Domitian, depending on whether we exclude Titus due to the shortness of his reign. We can, however, already see what shaky ground we are on, especially as nowhere is it said that the five include all emperors to that date. Furthermore, Augustus may have been represented by the Beast, with the horns being ensuing emperors. This would then make the sixth either Titus or Domitian.
But while no doubt the five were intended to be in some kind of sequence it does not necessarily mean that they were to be seen as directly consecutive. In many genealogies there is sequence, but with gaps between the persons named (e.g. in Matthew 1), and in the lists of the ten patriarchs (Genesis 5 and 11) there were undoubtedly names missed out. In these last two ten important names were selected in order to represent the whole. So it may have been with the seven. So while the verse does definitely indicate that the Empirate had a future represented by the seventh king, who ‘has not yet come’, and who thus represents the future line of kingship, identification is difficult. The seventh is to continue for a little while. ‘A little while’ in Revelation is a period of uncertain duration.
But if John was seeing the ‘seven’ as including all emperors, then the five may simply be the figure needed to make the present emperor the sixth, six being the number of man, underlining the fact that the current emperor was not divine. The seventh would then be an ‘ideal’ emperor, indicating the future empirate.
End of note.
17.11 ‘And the beast that was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is of the seven and goes into perdition.’
But the Beast who arises is the eighth (not the same Beast as chapter 13, for he came out of the sea while this one is to come out of the abyss, which in Revelation is the prison of spirit beings - 9.1-2, 9). We have seen that this beast is ‘of the red monster’, the embodiment of Satan’s forces. Thus he will come as an eighth when the time comes, in a time beyond the sequence of emperors, yet he will be of the seven for he will reign over the kings of the earth and will seek worship and adoration for Satan as they do, (indeed it is possible he may even claim to stand in the place of Roman emperors, but this is not essential. We are here dealing with symbolism). So John clearly sees ahead one who will not be a Roman emperor like the others (he is not one of the seven) and yet will have the same power and proclivities. He is ‘of the seven’. That this is towards the end of time is suggested by the fact that he then goes into ‘destruction’ (perdition). Compare here 19.19-20. So this is John’s way of moving from a recognised empire to the end time empire.
It is a favourite position with commentators to argue that ‘of the seven’ means that he is a reincarnation of a previous emperor. But this is to be over-literalistic. As with the Elijah who was coming, whom Jesus confirmed as John the Baptiser (Matthew 11.14; 17.12), what is required is someone who will behave in a similar way and have similar attributes, someone who will be the ‘reincarnation’ of the whole empirate. But just as some will demand a literal Elijah in spite of our Lord’s words, for they will not receive Christ’s own words, so others will demand a literal Roman emperor.
17.12 ‘And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour.’
The idea of the ten horns is taken from Daniel 7.7 where they represent ten rulers that arise from the great and terrible fourth beast before the judgment sits (Daniel 7.26). Thus they are ten rulers who arise in the end days. They receive authority for ‘one hour’ their period of reign is minimal and they are contemporary with each other as in Daniel. Ten is a number regularly signifying completeness so that in the end all the rulers under the beast are finally in mind. We can compare the lines of ten patriarchs in Genesis 5 and 11 which represented all the patriarchs, and how ten ‘rulers’ are described in Psalm 83.6-8 incorporating the nations surrounding Israel and including Assyria in their vendetta against Israel.
So we have in these verses the arising of a ‘Beast’ (a bestial leader over a bestial empire) who will arise towards the end of time and will establish an alliance of powerful rulers. All is building up to man’s final confrontation with God.
17.13-14 ‘These have one mind and they give their power and authority to the beast. These shall war against the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them, for he is Lord of Lords, and King of Kings, and those who are with Him, called, chosen and faithful, will also overcome.’
Note the emphasis on the fact that the ten kings are of one mind. They fall into line with the Beast’s aims and purposes. And this results in war with the Lamb of God. But the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. And those who belong to the Lamb will also overcome, for they are called, chosen and faithful. We are not, of course, to see here a literal war between the Beast acting on earth and the Lamb. The Beast’s battle is rather with Lamb’s followers (compare 20.9). Had he literally fought the Lamb it would have been no contest, as the Lamb’s titles indicate. So the idea is that these rulers will set themselves against God’s people, thus taking on the Lamb Himself, although not directly.
This ‘war’ is described more fully in 19.11-21, evidence again that we have moved to the end time. ‘Lord of Lords and King of Kings’ sets Christ well above the ‘ruler of the kings of the earth’. The rulers are at one with the beast and totally committed because theirs is a religious devotion. They are (perhaps unconsciously) committed to Satan. But they are doomed to defeat because of the power of the Lamb.
For the encouragement of the churches John then connects the churches themselves with the triumphant Lamb. They are called, chosen and faithful and are overcomers. ‘Called’ and ‘chosen’ are two words continually applied to Christians, see Ephesians 1.4; Romans 8.28-30; Matthew 20.16; 22.14; Mark 13.20; John 13.18; 2 Thessalonians 2.13; 1 Peter 2.4, 9; Romans 1.6; 9.24; 1 Corinthians 1.9; Ephesians 4.1, 4; I Thessalonians 2.12; 2 Thessalonians 2.14; 2 Timothy 1.9; 1 Peter 1.1-2, 15; 2.21; 5.10; 2 Peter 1.3). ‘Overcomers’ is the favourite term in Revelation for God’s faithful people.
17.15-16 ‘And he says to me, “The waters which you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the prostitute and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her utterly with fire”.’
Idolatry and its accompaniments will flourish among the nations, and indeed does so to the present time. Large portions of the earth are idolatrous, and idolatrous Temples are even now rising in so-called ‘Christian’ countries. Furthermore large portions of Christendom are idolatrous, for while they theoretically speak of venerating rather than worshipping, in actual fact many of the adherents do worship images and icons. And idolatry can lie as much in veneration of a flag or of famous persons or in riches as in worship of a graven image, when these things take an unhealthy control of a person’s life. Science has not disposed of idolatry, it has refined it. Thus the prostitute sits among the nations.
But in the end idolatry will be cast off and replaced directly with a monotheistic religion which consciously or unconsciously is a tool of Satan. He, acting through his Beastly leader and the unholy alliance, will brook no rivals even of his own devising. With the present situation in the Middle East this could well be militant Islam, which is closely associated with the area where Babylon was situated. Thus she who has so maltreated and persecuted others will herself be persecuted. His ‘ten kings’ will destroy the prostitute before they too meet their end. Thus they will fulfil the words of Jesus, ‘if Satan rises up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand but has an end’ (Mark 3.26).
The language here is reminiscent of Ezekiel 16.39; 23.25-29 where it was spoken of the harlot who represented faithless Jerusalem. Scripture there confirms that ‘eat her flesh and burn her utterly with fire’ refers to death and destruction resulting from war (23.25 see also Isaiah 49.26). Here in Revelation the destruction takes place even as preparations are being made for the final battle with the Lamb. It is deliberate irony that Great Babylon, established by man, is now to be destroyed by man, leaving the final confrontation to take place between God and Satan as in Genesis 3.
17.17 ‘For God did put it in their hearts to do his mind, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be accomplished.’
‘God did put it in their hearts.’ So even in this there is the hand of God. Idolatry and commercialism will be forcibly stamped out by some monotheistic religion inspired by Satan. Satan will no longer have to disguise his worship under the guise of idolatry. He will demand it fully for himself. In the midst of chaos we are reminded all this is within the sovereignty of God.
17.18 ‘And the woman whom you saw is the great city which controls (literally ‘has a kingdom over’) over the kings of the earth.’
Here is the explanation of the mystery of the woman. As we have seen the woman is an idea, a symbol, she is Babylon the Great, and as such she is also Rome, for Rome was the manifestation of Babylon the Great at that time. But providentially the ‘great city’ is not named except in symbol. It represents gatherings of peoples in great cities away from God with a view to control and enforcement of their will, as has happened right from the beginning starting with Cain, Nimrod and Babel. It is a city setting itself up above God and indulging itself without regard to Him, in a pool of luxury and degradation. And it controls the kings of the earth.
( It is, of course, possible that the activities described in detail in chapter 13 of the beast from the sea will also be fulfilled more fully in the scarlet beast, for they are things which typify the activity of the Devil in many periods, but where they do so it is not as direct fulfilment of chapter 13. That was mainly spoken of the Rome of that time. We must rightly divide the word of truth).
It is important that we correctly understand these final events. The destruction of Babylon the Great is given central place as the final doom. It is she who has shed the blood of God’s people through the ages (18.24). Her destruction is their vindication. But God is not to be seen as defeating Babylon the Great. Babylon the Great is a tool and does not warrant His direct attention. His object is Satan, the one who is finally responsible for all man’s rebellion against God, and so Babylon the Great must be removed out of the way in preparation for this final face to face encounter. It is possible that we are to see in the destruction Satan’s final attempt to direct worship fully at himself. But as ever he is deceived. He merely fulfils the final purpose of God. The whole is symbolic. It is the essence that matters.
The Destruction of Babylon the Great (chapter 18).
The Fall of Babylon the Great (18.1-8).
We now have in more detail an explanation of the mystery of the prostitute. The connections between Revelation 18 and Jeremiah 50 and 51 stress that the essential nature of the prostitute parallels Babylon. Compare Jeremiah 51.25 with Revelation 18.8, Jeremiah 50.8; 51.6, 45 with Revelation 18.4; Jeremiah 51.9 with Revelation 18.5; Jeremiah 17.18; 50.15, 29 and 51.24-49 with Revelation 18.6; Jeremiah 51.8 with Revelation 18.2; Jeremiah 51.63-64 with Revelation 18.21. She shares the essential nature and destiny of Babylon. Of all the nations that will drink of the cup of God’s wrath, Babylon will be the last (Jeremiah 25.26). (Sheshach is a cypher for Babel).
18.1 ‘After these things I saw another angel coming down out of Heaven, having great authority, and the earth was lightened with his glory.’
Another great angel is seen as involved with the fulfilling of God’s final purposes. Note that none of these angels are ever named apart from Michael, who is named because he is the angel prince of Israel (12.7). While prominent, they maintain an anonymous position for they seek no glory for themselves. They are all equally God’s servants and none will seek to obtain prominence over another. (How different we are today). So effective is the presence of this angel that earth itself indirectly perceives his presence by a ‘lighting up’ with his glory.
18.2 ‘And he cried with a mighty voice saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great, and is become a habitation of devils, and a haunt of every unclean spirit and a haunt of every unclean and hateful bird”.’
The angel declares that Babylon the Great is fallen. Becoming a haunt of birds is a favourite indication of dreadful judgment (Isaiah 34.11, 14; Zephaniah 2.14). ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen’ comes from Isaiah 21.9 where emphasis is laid on the destruction of its idols and images (compare Jeremiah 51.8). The future desolation of Babylon is described in Isaiah 13.19-22. So Babylon was not only a symbol of overweening pride and idolatry, but also of destruction and emptiness. In this chapter it is as a symbol of world cities and what they signify (commercialism and worldly control), that she is described. In John’s day Rome was the commercial centre of the world. All things poured into Rome. But she received rather than gave. Today commercialism is more widespread, but it is still basically the enemy of God and His ways.
18.3 ‘For by the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen, and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth waxed rich by the power of her wanton luxurious living.’
Her love of idolatry, sexual deviancy and the occult have brought on her the wrath of God and their participation in this, with its consequences, is depicted as wine drunk by the nations. The rulers of the earth sought to please her and gain her favours and the merchants of the earth prospered by reason of her propensities. All sought to benefit from her evil ways. This applied to Rome in John’s day and it applies to many centres of ‘civilisation’ in our own. The people to whom John wrote would see the woman as Rome. We may see it as many cities, centres of great empires, for men always tend to establish their own empires. Then it was done by blatant conquest, now it is done by assimilation. They may pay lip service to God but at heart they oppose all He stands for.
18.4-5 ‘And I heard another voice from Heaven saying, “Come forth, my people, out of her so that you have no fellowship with her sins and so that you do not receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached even unto Heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities”.’
The voice from Heaven can only be that of the Lamb for He speaks of them as ‘My people’, and then calls on God to render judgment (compare ‘my people’ in Jeremiah 51.45, see also Romans 9.25-26; 2 Corinthians 6.16).
‘Come forth --- out of her’. Compare how Jeremiah three times warned the people to ‘flee out of the midst of Babylon’ because of the judgments coming on her (Jeremiah 50.8-9; 51.6, 45 compare also Isaiah 48.20). It is not wise to stay in a place where sin is rife. The Christian is to be ‘in the world but not of the world’, but there are times when they must learn the art of fleeing when the desires of the flesh are in mind (1 Corinthians 6.18; 10.14; 1 Timothy 6.11; 2 Timothy 2.22), otherwise they may well find themselves drawn in. It should be noted that the great sin of Babylon was not that she was commercial (she only buys, not sells) but that she engaged in idolatry, luxurious living and the occult.
That God’s people are there emphasises again that Great Babylon’s demise comes a short time before the resurrection and therefore before the final judgment. John may well have had in mind here how the Christians fled from Jerusalem when the wrath of God was to be visited on it. In the same way this is suggesting they flee from any ‘great city’ that behaves in this way, when they see the ominous signs of the end approaching. Christians are to be awake to the signs of the times. It is an indication of how near her judgment is that Christians are no longer called on to evangelise her. Her opportunity has passed.
‘For her sins have reached even unto Heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities’. This has in mind the tower of Babel which was intended to ‘reach to Heaven’ (Genesis 11.4). By many later readers, as in John’s day, this was taken literally. But, the speaker is saying, while the tower never did reach to Heaven, the iniquities of Babel represented by it have. Compare how Jeremiah describes the situation as ‘her judgment reaches to heaven, and is lifted up even to the skies’ (Jeremiah 51.9). Compare also Genesis 18.20-21 of the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, and what is said about that other great city Nineveh (Jonah 1.2).
‘God has remembered her iniquities’ (see 16.19). He has a long memory when men refuse to repent, a memory that goes back even to the tower of Babel.
18.6-7 ‘Render unto her even as she rendered, and double unto her the double according to her works. In the cup which she mingled, mingle to her double. To the same extent as she glorified herself, and bathed in luxury (waxed luxuriously or behaved wantonly), so much give her of torment and mourning, for she says in her heart, “I sit as a queen and am no widow, and shall under no circumstances see mourning”.’
These are not the words of John but are the words of the One Who has been speaking of ‘My people’, the words of the Lamb. No one but He Who is the Judge of all would have the right to speak them. From the lips of Christians they would be unacceptable, but from the lips of Him Who has been ordained to judge the world there can be no complaint. The time of final judgment is fast approaching and this is the preliminary skirmish. He is passing His verdict on Godless civilisation.
‘Render unto her even as she has rendered.’ This is justice. As Jeremiah puts it, ‘It is the vengeance of the Lord. Take vengeance upon her. As she had done, do unto her’ (Jeremiah 50.15, compare v.29. See also Jeremiah 51.24, 49 and compare Psalm 137.8, ‘Oh daughter of Babylon, you who are to be destroyed, happy shall he be who rewards you as you have served us’.
(But even the judge could not say the next verse in Psalm 137, that was only excusable for those to whom it had recently been done, in the white heat of their grief. However, before you pass judgment on them wait until you too hold the limp distorted body of your own child, covered in blood and with his head broken open, as you gaze at similar desolation around and are overwhelmed with a grief so great that it is beyond bearing, and watch those who in a mad fit of bloodlust continue their murderous activities).
‘And double unto her the double according to her works. In the cup which she mingled, mingle to her double.’ It is the Lord, and the Lord alone Who can reward double for sin (Isaiah 40.2; Jeremiah 16.18; 17.18). The cup she mingled was the cup of idolatry and what goes with it, which deserves double punishment (Jeremiah 16.18). For ‘mingle unto her’ see Revelation 14.10; 16.19; 17.4. As a result she will become a widow in mourning, bemoaning her own fate.
‘For she says in her heart, I sit as a queen and am no widow.’ Had she been a widow she would have had to go in mourning and deny herself the pleasures she longed for, but she rejects such a position and justifies her search for luxurious living by claiming royal rights. Compare what Isaiah said of Babylon, ‘you said, I shall be a lady for ever, so that you did not lay these things to heart, nor did you remember their latter end’ (Isaiah 47.7). In both cases they failed to recognise what their true position was.
18.8 ‘Therefore in one day will her plagues come, death and mourning and famine, and she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judged her.’
This came upon Rome even though by that time it called itself a ‘Christian’ city. But it was still a cesspool of sin and its nature essentially Godless. It was only changed outwardly, not inwardly. Sin, whether in individuals or in great cities, will receive its inevitable consequence, and that consequence often comes suddenly. For however great the propagators of sin, the Lord God is greater.
Isaiah also declared that Babylon’s destruction would come ‘in one day’ (Isaiah 47.9). The description is typical of a besieged city, and the fate typical of ‘great cities’ through the ages - death, mourning, famine, then utterly burned with fire (compare ‘the smoke of her burning’ (v.9; v.18)). While we may tend to feel ourselves beyond it, it has even happened to great cities in our own day. Man can ever surprise us with his propensity for evil.
It is important to recognise, as you read this chapter through, that what is rejoiced over is the end of Great Babylon and what it represented. The people are in the background.
Lamentation over Babylon the Great by the Self-Seekers (18.9-19).
We have witnessed the fall of Babylon the Great, now we witness the ‘grief’ of her ‘friends’. The kings, the merchants and the ship-owners all weep over her, but their main concern is how it will affect them. The reader is aware of the irony. Did they but know it they are nearer the final day of judgment than they realise.
18.9-10 ‘And the kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived wantonly with her, will weep and wail over her when they look on the smoke of her burning, standing far off for fear of her torment, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city Babylon, the strong city. For in one hour is your judgment come”.’
The picture is of men who have made use of a prostitute. But when she is in trouble they do not want to know. In mind, however, as subsequent verses also reveal, is what they have gained from her. They have benefited greatly at her hands, but they will not intervene to help her. Their regret is not in what has happened to Babylon but in what they have lost through her demise. They had received much at her hands, but now they stand afar off and watch her burn. They do not want to be involved.
‘Woe, woe’. Here there are the first two woes (11.14 on), the third woe is the final day of judgment, but this is prior to that. The second woe was directly connected with the Euphrates as Babylon also was.
‘In one hour’. The ten kings were given ‘one hour’ in which to reign (17.12). This is part of the consequence of their hour. It is again stressed that retribution comes suddenly. It is clear that there is a difference of opinion between the kings of the earth and the ten kings about the destruction of Babylon but they all stand by and let it happen.
18.11-13. ‘And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, for no man buys their merchandise any more.’
They weep not for her but for themselves. Their means of profit has gone. Then are outlined in great detail the merchandise in question to bring out both her luxurious living and the loss to the merchants. At first they seem fairly innocent, but they are luxuries traded in a world of poverty, and significantly the list ends with trade in armaments, and trade in slaves and the lives of men. These merchants are not too particular in what they trade. Many great companies today are equally not particular. Yet they should remember that these merchants will shortly themselves face the judgment day of God, and that these merchants could be themselves.
18.14 ‘And the fruits which your soul lusted after are gone from you, and all things that are dainty and sumptuous are perished from you, and men shall find them no more at all.’
The woman is in direct contrast with the bride of Christ in chapter 19. The bride is clothed in the righteous living of the people of God. This woman is clothed in luxury and evil. But now she will be stripped naked. As Jesus said, ‘do not labour for the food that perishes but for that which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you’ (John 6.27).
18.15-17a ‘The merchants of these things who were made rich by her will stand far off for fear of her torments, weeping and mourning, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city. She who was arrayed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stone and pearl. For in one hour so great riches are made desolate.’
As they consider the woman they see her as she was in her splendour, and they mourn because they can no longer provide her with such things at great profit to themselves. But this also reminds the reader how temporary such things are. The two woes again remind us of the fifth and sixth trumpets.
18.17b-19 ‘And every ship’s captain, and everyone who sails anywhere, and seamen, and as many as gain their living by the sea, stood afar off, and cried out as they looked on the smoke of her burning, saying, “What city is like the great city?” And they threw dust on their heads and cried, weeping and mourning, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city by means of whom were made rich all who had their ships in the sea as a result of her extravagance, for in one hour is she made desolate”.’
Here it those who benefited by her extravagance as seagoers who are now brought to the fore. In all these descriptions John is brilliantly bringing out two things. The fact that the woman lived so wantonly and in such luxury and godlessness, and has now been made desolate, and the total self-seeking of those who mourn her passing. We do not know which is worse. Here are men’s souls laid bare. This is the third repetition of the two woes which emphasises that they are to be seen as significant. We are intended to recognise that the third woe is just ahead, and it will encompass all who mourn here. (For such a scene compare Ezekiel 27.29-30 spoken of the destruction of Tyre).
We note that there was no hint by the seafarers of criticism for the extravagance and behaviour of the city. Their concern is that it will affect the wealth of shipowners. The world is ever concerned about its wealth, not for what good they can do with it, but so that they may satisfy their own greed.
‘They stood afar off.’ They have left their ships to come and survey the city but they do not want to become involved. They watch the smoke of its burning from afar. Then they will leave shortly to turn their attention to trade elsewhere. Again it is emphasised how quickly her end had come. She had seemed so permanent that nothing could touch her, but as Nineveh, Babylon, Rome, Constantinople and many others discovered, in the end nothing is impregnable.
An interesting feature of these verses is in the tenses. The kings ‘will weep and wail over her’ (future tense - v.9), the merchants ‘are weeping and wailing over her’ (present tense - v.11) and the seafarers ‘cried, weeping and wailing’ (past tense) . It is as though we see the scene being enacted and moving on before our eyes.
The Verdict of Heaven (18.20-24).
18.20 ‘Rejoice over her, you Heaven, and you people of God (saints) and you Apostles and you prophets, for God has judged your judgment on her.’
The judgment is not that of the people of God but by the Judge Himself (v.11). Here the heavenly beings and the Old Testament prophets and the apostles and all the people of God join together in rejoicing. They accept His judgment as righteous for she has been guilty of wholesale murder, especially of God’s people (v.24). There comes a time when mercy rejected is superseded by judgment, something that He alone can decide, and recognising that this is the case here they are told to rejoice that the murderers of the people of God are no more, and that justice has been done. It would have been wrong for Christians to seek to exact vengeance themselves, but Satan did the work for them, and it is always right that Christians rejoice in what God allows (17.17), whatever it may be, for they know that what He does is right.
18.21 ‘And a strong angel took up a stone, as it were a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, “Thus with a mighty fall shall Babylon the great city be cast down and shall be found no more at all”.’
This is a further interesting example of how quickly the scene can move forwards and then backwards. We have seen the great city destroyed, now we see an angel forecasting its future destruction. We might have expected this to come earlier but John is not so much concerned with chronology as in painting each picture fully. The picture of the great stone crashing into the water symbolises the speed of Babylon’s destruction.
Compare with this scene how in Jeremiah 51.60-63 Jeremiah wrote about all the evil that would come on Babylon, and then gave it to Seraiah who was taken captive to Babylon with Zedekiah the king, and told him that when he had read it he should ‘bind a stone to it and cast it into the middle of the Euphrates, and you shall say, “Thus shall Babylon sink and shall not rise again because of the evil that I will bring on her”.’
So Babylon the Great is destroyed, none shall ever rise like her again. The earth is freed from her idolatry, uncleanness and occult practises. No great city will ever again dominate an empire. But only because the scarlet beast from the abyss has destroyed her in order to replace her with his own monotheistic religion inspired by Satan. The end will not be long.
Thus the building of a city (Genesis 4.17) and of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11) has been reversed, and as in the Garden of Eden we come back to a face to face confrontation between God and Satan with man caught in the middle.
18.22-23 ‘And the sound (voice) of harpists and minstrels and flute-players and trumpeters will no more at all be heard in you, and no craftsman of whatever craft will be found any more at all in you, and the sound of the millstone will be heard no more at all in you, and the light of a lamp shall shine no more at all in you, and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in you, for your merchants were the princes of the earth, for with your sorcery were all the nations deceived.’
Some of these ideas come from Ezekiel 26.13 combined with Jeremiah 25.10. The idea is that normal life will have ceased. Instead of the joy of music there will be silence. Instead of the intricacies of the designer and craftsman there will be emptiness. Instead of honest toil there will be a void. Instead of light there will be darkness. Instead of the happy voices of bridegroom and bride there will be misery. It is possible that we are to see in the mention of bridegroom and bride a gentle pointer to the heavenly Bridegroom and His bride of the next chapter. In contrast with that joy, here there is only judgment. And why should all this be? Because she led astray the princes of the earth with her false religion and she deceived the nations with her occult practises.
18.24 ‘And in her was found the blood of prophets and of the people of God (saints) and of all who have been slain on the earth.’
But she was also responsible for the martyrdom and murder of the countless millions who have died by violence through the ages. This could not be said individually of Babylon or of Rome, for neither could take the blame for all, and the great city Jerusalem had to bear the blame for some (Matthew 23.35; Luke 11.50). Thus this condemnation can only be seen as applying to the great cities of the earth as a whole, whose influence was responsible for such atrocities. This confirms what we have seen, that the idea of Babylon the Great includes all cities who through her influence and example control empires and nations in a Godless fashion, wherever they may be. It is this control that will be taken over by the scarlet beast and Satan himself. This whole description of the destruction of Babylon the Great, as with so much in Revelation, is to be an encouragement to the church as it faces persecution.
So we see here a reversal of Genesis 1-11. In Genesis 1-11 we have creation, Paradise, the intervention and success of Satan, the building of a city and the establishment of Babel, in Revelation we have the destruction of Babel, the intervention and defeat of Satan, the heavenly Paradise and the new creation.
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