May 21, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy LVII: Cannibalizing The Wicked

Babylon's Doom & A Triumphant Lamb-Revelation 17

I was going to put a picture of cannibals up for this post but it was too graphic and the imagery of the words posted here should convey a mental image well enough. 

The world’s economic-religious system of Revelation 17:1–19:10 is a large interpretive review of the sixth and seventh bowls, which have foretold the judgment of Babylon. Chapter 17 shows what leads up to and causes the demise of Babylon, though the fall of the beast and his allies are also mentioned. In the Introduction to the Vision, the angel announces to john that he is to witness a vision about the judgment of  the world’s idolatrous economic-religious system. The angel proclaims to the seer that the main point of  the following vision is “the judgment on the great harlot Babylon who sits on many waters”. The description of end-time Babylon’s judgment is taken from Jeremiah 51:13 where also Jeremiah predicts absolute judgment on historical Babylon, “for God’s wrath is against Babylon, to destroy it utterly”. Part of the basis of Babylon’s judgment is that the kings of the earth “fornicated” with her and the nations likewise came under her immoral influence. The kings’ and the nations’ acquiescence to “fornication” refers not to literal immorality but figuratively to acceptance of the religious and idolatrous demands of the ungodly earthly order.

Their compliance is explained by the statement “all those dwelling on the earth became drunk from the wine causing or “leading to] intercourse with her”. Babylon’s promise of earthly prosperity for its willing subjects is an intoxication that the majority of the world’s inhabitants also want to absorb. Once imbibed, the intoxicating influence removes all desire to resist Babylon’s destructive influence. The nations’ loyalty to Babylon was brought on by her ability to provide economic prosperity for them.

Interestingly, among all the harlot metaphors of the OT, most of which refer to Israel. So the reference to Babylon is the prevailing economic-religious system in alliance with the state and its related authorities and existing throughout the ages.

The angel then “carried” John “into the desert in the Spirit” in order to transport him to another dimension where he could view the vision. The prophet is caught up by the Spirit to emphasize that his message is from God. In like manner, John’s transport into the realm of the Spirit underscores his prophetic commission and authority which alludes in the same manner to the Ezekiel commissions. In both Isaiah and Revelation the desert is central to the vision, though in Isaiah the vision comes from the desert, while in Revelation the prophet is taken to the desert to see the vision. The evil and wicked sinful of “desert” is also suggested by the contrast with the Lamb’s bride in Revelation 21:9–10, where the “great and high mountain” is associated with heaven,  especially because it is from there that John is able to see the divine city descending from heaven itself. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that Las Vegas is positioned where it is.

So what is John’s response? John is frightened and perplexed by the appearance of the hostile Economic-Religious System in its alliance with the State (17:3b–6). John sees “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.” The portrayal of the beast is almost word for word that of Revelation13:1, so the same beast is portrayed here again. The heads and the horns represent the fullness of power held by evil kingdoms who persecute God’s people just as in Daniel’s visions. The color “red” associates the dragon and beast with royal attire equating kingship. But the color especially indicates the warring nature also. Although closely associated with the beast, the woman is not to be equated with the beast. It should be noted that she rides the beast and this connotes an alliance with the state or a “State”. It is probable the woman represents that part of the ungodly world that works together with the state, such as social, cultural, economic, and religious aspects of the world. They work with and agree to persecute Christians. Regardless, they are also mutually involved in deception of ungodly multitudes throughout the earth. The description of the woman confirms that she represents worldly economic forces in collusion with the state in persecuting Christians. She is the symbol of a culture that maintains the prosperity of economic commerce. Perhaps even a place like the United States as it has little in common with the Christian nation it used to be.

In the first century that culture was Rome. Rome fulfilled the role of “Babylon”. It is unknown who the end day’s equivalent will be and speculation is foolishness. The expensive and attractive clothing reflects the outward attractiveness by which whores try to seduce others. The nature of the woman is revealed in greater detail by the name written on her forehead. In the Apocalypse names written on foreheads reveal the true character of people and their ultimate relationship, whether to God (7:3; 14:1; 22:4) or to Satan (13:16; 14:9; 20:4). Likewise, the “name written on the forehead” of the harlot reveals her seductive and idolatrous character, which further identifies her as on the side of the beast. The political side of the evil system will turn against the religious-economic side and destroy it. In the conclusion of 17:5 the woman, “Babylon the Great,” is given an additional description: “the mother of the harlots and of the earth’s abominations.”

The harlot is contrasted with the city of God and represents the ungodly metropolis, whose hub radiates economic and religious institutions. The woman of ch12 gave birth to the church, and the woman of ch17 attempts to exterminate the church-this contrast of the harlot with the woman of ch12 and the bride in chs19 and 21 shows that the religious side of Babylon is as prominent as the economic side. Since the female figures of these chapters all represent purely religious realities, Babylon must also be essentially religious but we cannot underemphasize the economic aspect as our world today revolves around Wall Street and the 1%. Those who do not submit to the idolatrous requirements of economic well-being will be persecuted by the economic system itself, by “Babylon the Great.” John expresses this by portraying the woman “drunk from the blood of the saints and from the blood of the witnesses to Jesus”.

In the introduction to the interpretation in Revelation 17:7, John is somewhat rebuked for his fearful, perplexed, and admiring response to the magnificence of the hostile economic-religious system in alliance with the state. The angel’s question “Why have you marveled?” is not merely about why the seer was amazed at the unusual vision, as he was by earlier visions. In response to the horrific vision of Daniel 4, “Daniel was appalled … and his thoughts troubled him.” Here the idea of being “appalled” should be understood in the sense of shock and fear. John should not fear the nightmarish vision he has just seen concerning the horrible nature of the beast and the woman and their persecution of Christians. That lack of clarity about the vision is a significant basis for John’s amazement is evident from the angel’s assertion here that he will explain the hidden meaning (“the mystery”) of the vision of the beast and woman

“The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction. “The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast.  They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings —and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”  Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
Cross references:
The long story short is this…We need to understand that the defeat from which the beast appears to recover is Christ’s defeat of Satan and his earthly forces at the cross and resurrection. The Satanic state (“the beast”) and culture in the first century appeared to be unaffected by Christ’s victory, since their prosperity continued and their persecution of God’s people continued unabated. This situation will continue until Christ’s second-coming, at which time the beast’s success over God’s people will seem even greater than before; directly preceding Christ’s parousia it will seem as if the beast is finally and decisively triumphant over the church. This apparent success is short lived, as 17:10 reveals: the success will last only “a little while.” Christ will return at this point and show decisively that the devil and his forces were defeated at the cross. He will demonstrate the reality of his spiritual victory at the cross by achieving physical victory over Satan’s forces at the end of time. The “earth-dwellers”, multitudes or peoples will not be able to withstand deception by the beast because their “name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” This security or lack thereof was determined before historical time began, “from the foundation of the world.” Protection for those written in the book comes from the Lamb and where chosen in advance. They were predestined. Those who are written in the book are protected spiritually by the Lamb. Therefore, they are not deceived by the beast and do not worship him. Their protection is shown by their possession of “a mind with wisdom”; such wisdom discerns the falsehood of the beast and prevents them from being deceived into following him.

Furthermore, those with understanding and wisdom will also be able both cognitively and spiritually to perceive the angel’s following explanation of the vision concerning the beast and the woman. The angel now gives the interpretation of the beast’s “seven heads,” which he initially identifies as “seven mountains.” The mountains are sometimes identified as the seven hills of Rome, and, therefore, with the Roman Empire. These could also be “kingdoms” like Rome. As such the “seven mountains” may refer to seven individual kings or kingdoms, and this identification is confirmed by the additional clause “they are seven kings.” As in Daniel 7:17. The number “seven” is probably not a literal number designating the quantity of kings in one epoch but is figurative for the quality of fullness or completeness as is often the case in the OT, particularly Daniel 7, and throughout the Apocalypse, where “seven” or “seventh” occurs about forty-plus times. It seems as though John’s primary intent in 17:10 is to inform his readers  how far they stand from the conclusion of the full sequence of seven oppressive rulers. He is essentially telling them that only one more short reign will elapse until the end of the oppressive dominance of Rome, which represents all ungodly oppressive powers. This is to be understood, as elsewhere, as a near expectation. Thus an idea of imminence is expressed, but there is an indeterminate distance between the present and the future end. Within this we see the idea of the “now but not yet” of God’s Kingdom that will come when all of this is over.

The bottom-line is this...when the final earthly incarnation of evil comes, it will be unable to establish an enduring reign. It will remain only a short time. As such an attempt to identify the seven kings with particular respective world empires may be more successful, since it is more in keeping with the “seven heads” in Daniel 7:3–7, which represent four specific empires. The first five kings, who “have fallen,” are identified with Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece; Rome is the one who “is,” followed by a yet unknown kingdom to come.

The final stage of the beast’s manifestation will not  last long because he will be destroyed before he can carry out his purposes in deceiving and destroying the church. The kings’ future reign with the beast will last “for one hour”. This time period echoes Daniel 4:17, where it refers to the period during which God caused King Nebuchadnezzar to become like a beast. Here as in Daniel 4 “one hour” may merely refer to a brief period, since it was the shortest period of time known to the ancients.” (v.13) The ten kings collectively “have one purpose.” This common purpose is expressed in the clause “they give their power and authority to the beast” They do not reign with the beast but also submit to his authority. The purpose of the strong coalition of v 13 is to “make war on the Lamb.” But “the Lamb will conquer them.” Therefore Revelation 17:14 answers the concluding question of Revelation 13:4, “who is able to make war with the beast?” The “called and elect and faithful” who accompany the Lamb fight alongside him and represent the vindication of the persecuted saints of Daniel 7:21 and Revelation 6:9–11; 12:11 and 13:10, 15–17.

The Wicked Cannibalize Themselves

The angel then interprets “the waters … where the harlot sits” as “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.” The coalition of the “ten horns” and the beast form first to destroy the harlot before attempting to destroy the Lamb. The political side of the ungodly world system will turn against the heart of the social-economic-religious side and destroy it. How does this begin to happen? The multitudes over which Babylon rules (v 15) are turned against Babylon by the political forces. “The kings of the earth” (v.16–18) dissuade Babylon’s innumerable economic-religious followers from remaining loyal to her. The disenchantment with Babylon is a prelude to her judgment by the kings (v.16) and the final judgment itself. Likewise, in 16:12 the invasion of kings follows the drying up of the waters. So why do the kings and multitudes who turn against Babylon in ch17 then mourn over her destruction in Revelation18:9? Perhaps it is because the “kings” of Revelation18:9–10 are other rulers not included in the ten kings of ch17, and perhaps the “merchants” of Revelation 18:11 are not included in the multitudes of 17:15. Both groups may have remained loyal to Babylon and then mourned over her demise. On the other hand, those mourning in chapter18 may be the same ones who turned against the harlot in chapter 17. They mourn because they now realize that through their destruction of Babylon they have destroyed their own economic base? The object of this destruction will also include the apostate church, which has “fornicated” by cooperating with the idolatrous economic system(s).

It seems John’s overriding concern is to warn the churches about compromise with this system so that they will not be judged with it. The pagan system in John’s time was not merely Roman society and the emperor cult but also the very culture of Asia Minor and similar places, which was dominated by pagan trade guilds with their patron deities. Therefore, though most past commentators have tended to identify Babylon solely with ungodly Roman culture, or the apostate church, or apostate Israel, it is better to see these identifications as not mutually exclusive. This is not unlike today’s situation where these types of entities are also intertwined with the surrounding world culture.

The beast and his allies will overthrow Babylon “because” (...) God will inspire them to do so. God will “put into their hearts to perform his purpose.” Here we see that God executes his will through the hearts of both the righteous and the unrighteous. This is not divine “permission” but divine causation otherwise these wicked people may not have done they will here. Here the unexpected aspect of the fulfillment is that the  kingdom of evil unknowingly will begin to cannibalize itself by battling against itself and destroying its own economic-religious foundation. Only inspiration from God could cause them to commit such a shortsighted and foolish act. At the end of history  God will cause…

“Satan to rise up against himself and be divided so that he cannot stand but will have an end” Mark 3:26

So too Matthew 12:16: “If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?”

Civil war occurs throughout the ages and it seems as if they are all preludes to and in anticipation of the final civil war. The OT also predicts civil war among the forces of evil at the close of the age (Ezekiel 38:21; Haggai 2:22; Zechariah 14:1. The final civil war, according to Revelation 17:16–17, is on an escalated scale, since Babylon represents the universal economic-religious system throughout the earth. (v.18) “The woman” is interpreted to be “the great city, which has sovereignty over the kings of the earth.” She includes the entire evil economic-religious system of the world throughout history. She receives power from the devil himself. Her economic-religious influence formerly even extended over the political realm (“the kings of the earth”). But their loyalty will shift toward the beast and they will become antagonistic toward her in the end time.  That the “woman” has sovereignty over the world demonstrates that she must be identified more broadly than with the apostate church. Likewise, Revelation 18:23 reveals her universal nature by describing her as one who has “deceived all the nations” 

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