Revelation #29 Revelation 17: 6b-18 Babylon and the Beast


Revelation #29  Revelation 17: 6b-18 Babylon and the Beast



In our last teaching, John has seen a beautiful woman, dressed in finery, dripping with jewels, and arrayed in splendor, but on closer examination, John sees that the woman is sitting upon the beast and is drunk on the blood of believers.


The following verses are very difficult to understand.  There are a lot of opinions as to how to interpret them.  There is a great temptation to just skip the rest of the chapter, this is because what is written is confusing.  We are going to try to muddle through.  There is a particular approach we are going to take in trying to figure out what exactly John is revealing.  First, what is written is symbolic, figurative, and metaphorical language, it is not to be understood literally.  Second, some of the abstract language is fairly simple but some is not, therefore we will not try to identify historical figures or empires that might fit John’s description. Scholars have tried and there just is no consensus.  Third, we are going to stick with the idea that John is not foretelling the future, so what is written is not a prophecy but rather a part of the end.  This is confusing but prophecy leaves us with the impression that God is telling us what is going to happen next.  John is describing the results of what has been accomplished in Christ already, and the shape the end must take because of His ministry. Fourth, we will allow for time distortions, things are not sequential. Five, we will not follow the end-time dispensational scholars with their interpretation, especially when it comes to their teaching about a Revised Roman Empire, a 10-nation confederacy. Six, at the outset of this teaching we recognize that the answers to our questions are lost to antiquity, the original audience understood what John wrote, but we can’t figure out with any precision what was meant, our interpretations will be speculative. Seventh, we are going to recognize John’s symmetry, his balancing the forces of evil with the forces of good.


Revelation 17:6-8 (MSG)

Astonished, I rubbed my eyes. I shook my head in wonder. 7 The Angel said, "Does this surprise you? Let me tell you the riddle of the woman and the Beast she rides, the Beast with seven heads and ten horns. 8 The Beast you saw once was, is no longer, and is about to ascend from the Abyss and head straight for Hell. Earth dwellers whose names weren't written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world will be dazzled when they see the Beast that once was, is no longer, and is to come.


John needs help understanding what he is seeing so the Angel fills him in on the details. We know that the scarlet Beast is the anti-Christ, the Emperor of the Roman Empire. Then we get to verse 8 and things get a little more tricky.  “The Beast you saw once was, is no longer, and is about to ascend from the Abyss and head straight for Hell.”  The easiest solution to the riddle is that John is just using another parody.  One of the Divine titles is the one who was, and is, and is to come. Then we could say that the Beast was ruling, then was killed, and will come again from the Abyss and instead of triumph is going to Hell.  Jesus ministered, he was killed, and He ascended into Heaven and instead of defeat is victorious.


But let’s do a little more reconnoitering.  Back in chapter 13, the Dragon calls for the Beast from the Sea, the anti-Christ.  John depicts it as a seven-headed monster.  John writes: “One of the Beast's heads looked as if it had been struck a deathblow, and then healed” (Rev 13:3 (MSG).  This statement can be looked at metaphorically. As such it simply means anti-Christ evil ascends out of the chaos of human history, and then is defeated, and then ascends again. We can look upon history to verify this opinion as we look at the rise and fall of regimes that oppressed and persecuted and finally are overthrown, only to see this same type of evil arise someplace else. Thus, we see the resilience of evil that though it is defeated time and time again continues to wage war against the people of God (Lotz. P. 201). That’s a pretty good application.  But probably not what John was getting at.


If we look for some historical context that would be familiar to John’s original readers, then Emperor Nero could very well be the head that was struck a death blow. There was a short-lived intense persecution of Christians during the time of Nero’s reign.  He blamed Christians for the fires that devastated Rome and subjected believers to various forms of torture and execution.  On June 8, 68 the Senate declared Nero to be unfit and removed him from office.  Nero committed suicide the next day. Nero could be the anti-Christ that was and is no more.  Surrounding Nero was the superstition that he would return with armies from the east and retake the throne.  That could refer to Nero’s coming back onto the scene but instead of victory, he faces defeat. 


Along these lines of inquiry, we might also think of Nero as the anti-Christ that was and now is not, and that Domitian is the one yet to come and be defeated in the final confrontation. In this sense once again, we deal with John’s time distortions. 


But when we consider that Revelation is a timeless message of the ministry of Jesus with an emphasis on the completion of that ministry that establishes the Kingdom of God on Earth.  John may very well be telling his original readers that there are times of persecution, rough times, intense times, and catastrophic times that are going to end. The good guys win and victory is followed by a time of peace and prosperity.  The original readers were experiencing the rising power of evil but this time John reveals evil’s final defeat. The Beast will be cast into the lake of fire. So, we have the hope that it will be so, that this is the last time that the Beast will make war against the children of God.  


John gives us a warning, the allure, the enticement of the Beast is so overpowering that if you do not have the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence in your life you’re going to get sucked into the losing side. What the Beast and its Babylon represents is a powerful irresistible seduction into slavery. 


There’s more interpretation difficulty ahead.


Revelation  17:9-11 (MSG)

9 "But don't drop your guard. Use your head. The seven heads are seven hills; they are where the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings: five dead, one living, the other not yet here—and when he does come his time will be brief. 11 The Beast that once was and is no longer is both an eighth and one of the seven—and headed for Hell.


The first part of what John is told isn’t that difficult. Rome is built on seven hills. It's safe to speculate that John is again identifying the Empire and its Emperor as the anti-Christ.  Now comes the more difficult part.  The Beast’s 7 heads are 7 hills, but they are also 7 kings, five are dead, one is living, and one is yet to come. We are immediately drawn to counting Roman emperors. Unfortunately, during the time of John’s writing, there were 11 Emperors, 12 if you count Julius.  A similar problem arises when considering that John may be speaking of nations that have conquered Israel through the centuries.  So, let’s not take the number 7 literally, 7 is the number of completeness.  John may very well be addressing Roman domination of the known world. The 7 heads that are hills and kings could represent the might of the Empire, its power to crush opposition.


The five heads, hills, and kings have died, one head, hill, king is now alive, and one head, hill, king is coming most likely tells us that the whole system is going to come crashing down shortly. This can also be thought of as another parody of Christ.  We know that there is a Second Coming and that the Second Coming is part of Jesus' ministry. John may once again just be balancing the scales so that it appears that good and evil are evenly matched.


Revelation  17:12-14 (MSG)


12 "The ten horns you saw are ten kings, but they're not yet in power. They will come to power with the Scarlet Beast, but won't last long—a very brief reign. 13 These kings will agree to turn over their power and authority to the Beast. 14 They will go to war against the Lamb but the Lamb will defeat them, proof that he is Lord over all lords, King over all kings, and those with him will be the called, chosen, and faithful."


The Beast has 10 horns.  One commentator called these horny kings, but I don’t think you can say that in church. If we try to identify the 10 kings we are going to run into dead end after dead end. Again it’s a scholar stumper. The Horn Kings, can we say that in church?  Anyway, they are not mentioned again.  Whoever or whatever they represent comes into power with the Beast, aligns with the Beast, and won’t last long. The 10 are part of the Beast’s entourage. John might be giving us a glimpse of what is to come.  The Beast is going to wage war with 10 backers, and Jesus will enter the battlefield with 144,000.  Just a guess.


Revelation 17:15-18 (MSG)

15 The Angel continued, "The waters you saw on which the Whore was enthroned are peoples and crowds, nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns you saw, together with the Beast, will turn on the Whore—they'll hate her, violate her, strip her naked, rip her apart with their teeth, then set fire to her. 17 It was God who put the idea in their heads to turn over their rule to the Beast until the words of God were completed. 18 The woman you saw is the great city, tyrannizing the kings of the earth."


Babylon takes on a universal character. Babylon represents every temptation that is designed to steal your heart from God.  She is a corrupt power system that is opposed to God. She is as seductive as she is fraudulent, with promises of everything you want, but delivering lies.  Now that the Beast and the Ten Horns are going to destroy her leads to a very interesting observation. If Babylon is the culture, and the Beast is anti-Christ civil government, with the second Beast and the Ten Kings as cohorts, this “do what you want, when you want, to whom you want, regardless of the consequence,” leads to the destruction of the culture through infighting, power struggles, fear, unjust laws, counterproductive and unstainable policy.  Evil is always self-destructive, its nature leads to its undoing. The Dragons system is temporal, it can’t stand the test of time, while the Kingdom of God is eternal.


Rome is destined to fail.  Meanwhile, its exported culture is tyrannizing all the other nations that it comes in contact with.  In the Empire, there are internal and external conflicts, threats from within, and threats from without.  The promise of riches and power is so seductive.  So much so that there is no peace on earth or goodwill among men, or women for that matter. 


In our next chapter, chapter 18 John tells us of the fall of Babylon.  He has already revealed that she is ruined, now we will see the extent of that ruin.


Wow, we made it through chapter 17. We gleaned a reasonable understanding of what John might have been trying to communicate to his original audience. Now there are many differing opinions and that’s OK.  As mentioned, scholars have not even come close to a consensus on an interpretation of what is written in this chapter.  We’ve given it a valiant effort, though we could be 100% wrong.


I am hesitant to pull applications from the teaching because we can’t be sure that it is correct.  If we assume that it is, or at least close, there are some things for us to consider.


Evil masquerades as good. Outer appearances require scrutiny. One must look beyond the glitz and glamour and see what is going on behind the fa├žade.


Look at what the world promises: a high net worth, significant investments, a steady stream of income, an expensive car maybe even a chauffer-driven luxury auto to go with your multiple homes.  Of course, designer clothes with a designer body and all the necessary accessories tell others that you are so much better than they are.  It’s VIP treatment, eating at the 5-star Michelin restaurants while traveling to the most exotic destinations, and all the friends that money can buy.


Only 1% of the world’s 8 billion people come close.  There is always someone who has more, bigger, and better. Most of us are bricks in the wall, little cogs in the machine, peasants and servants to the elite, scraping by pay-check to pay-check, in an endless cycle of waking, eating, working, squeezing in a little play, sleeping, and better not forget consuming. 


That’s the life Babylon offers. Things can go from bad to worse also and she just laughs at you. That’s why God says she has got to go.


1 Timothy 6:9 & 1 Tim 6:11-12 (MSG)

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

Babylon can’t sustain itself.  An anti-Christ culture will devour itself, it’s the nature of the Beast. John has told us that things as they are will not last. Don’t invest in things that will not last.


 “… Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, and courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to…


In Babylon, you may just be insignificant but in the new Jerusalem you are a priest and a King, Ambassador to the Most High God, Co-heir with Christ to the Kingdom.  Where do you want to live?


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