The Tale of Two Cities
The rise and fall of Babylon the Great
The descent and rise of The New Jerusalem
Remember? When we began our tour of this gallery of moving pictures, we stood with John at the first window and were amazed at the sight of Jesus, the son of man — now the glorified son of God.
We paused by the second window to hear Jesus, dictating messages to the churches — revealing to his people his thoughts about them: commending, condemning, correcting and challenging.
At the third window it was like entering heaven. We wept with John at the thought that no one was worthy to open the title deeds of this Earth. We felt the disappointment when, instead of Jesus’ coming, false christs, war, famine and persecution galloped across the landscape, but we thanked God for the assurance given to the souls under the altar.
The blasts of trumpets coming through the fourth window were signaling that God will have his way on this Earth. Disasters, natural, social and religious, are all omens of his coming. Besides, we noticed that a few people, symbolized by just two witnesses, are prepared to voice the truth about God despite all opposition. The resurrection is their reward.
Now we are at the fifth window for another view of events on Planet Earth, from God’s point of view. These are God’s insights and a revelation for which we should be grateful. We’ll be here for a while.
This is a tale of two cities, Babylon and the New Jerusalem. It is about their origins, their rulers, their ethics, their citizens and their destiny.
The drama begins.
Standing on the moon is a pregnant woman with a crown2 of twelve stars on her head and the sun as her clothing. She cries out in pain because she is about to give birth, actually to a son who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.3
John says that it is a “great sign.” That’s worth remembering because it means that the woman4 represents something. Surely, then, the whole drama we are watching signifies something. So, we had better watch and listen carefully and interrupt, if ever, only infrequently.
And now an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns appears in the sky.5 Its tail sweeps a third of the stars6 out of the sky and flings them to the earth. It stands in front of the woman, ready to devour her child the moment it is born. Her son is born, but is snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman flees7 to a place prepared for her by God in the desert, where she can be fed for 1,260 days.13
We don’t have to wait long to be told that the dragon in the vision symbolizes “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.”
What’s going on?
We are told that in heaven there had been war with Michael8 and his angels fighting9 the dragon and his angels, but the dragon was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven and were hurled down to the earth.
At this point a loud voice in heaven proclaims, in a hymn of three stanzas:
“Now have come the salvation
and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.10
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb11
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives
so much as to shrink from death.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!
But woe12 to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.”
In a few words there is a convergence of events and accomplishments:
- There was a war in heaven between Michael and the dragon.
- Michael was the victor and the dragon was vanquished.
- The dragon arrives on Earth.
- Now have come salvation and the power and kingdom of God.
- Now has come the authority of Christ.
- People overcome the dragon “by the blood of the Lamb.”
- There is grief12 for earthlings because of the devil’s fury.
The dragon (from heaven to earth) and the woman (from the moon to the wilderness)
When the dragon sees that he has been hurled to the earth, he pursues the woman. She, though, now with two wings of a great eagle, flies to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she can be nourished for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.13
The serpent now spews out a torrent of water to overtake the woman and sweep her away. The earth, though, helps her by opening its mouth and swallowing the flow.14
The stage is now set for the future
The dragon will not rest until he has destroyed all those who support God’s plan.
The woman’s son will return.
The devil remembers and fights.
We, too, should remember.
The dragon and the rest of the woman’s offspring
Unsuccessful in his attempt to destroy the mother of the child the enraged dragon goes off to make war against the rest15 of her offspring – those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony16 of Jesus.
In those words is a summary of his activities till the end of time. We are now about to see the detail.
He does not act alone.
He finds assistants in two wild animals17 which, no doubt, represent a fusion of religion and politics.
The dragon’s first assistant: a beast from the sea
The dragon now stands on the shore of the sea. Out of the sea comes a wild animal that resembles a leopard,18 but has feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. It has seven heads and ten crowned horns. Each of its heads is inscribed with a blasphemous name.
Its power, throne and great authority19 have been given to it by the dragon.
We look at one of the heads and notice that it seemed to have had a fatal wound20 but the fatal wound is healed.21 In astonishment the whole world is following the beast. Men worship the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worship the beast and ask, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?”
This is just what the dragon wants you to think: “Followers of the Lamb are following a loser!”
The beast has been given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months.22 He23 blasphemes God, and slanders his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He is given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he is given authority over every24 tribe, people, language and nation. We are told that all inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast. All? No. Not quite. Only those whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.
He who has an ear, let him hear.
If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go.
If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed.
Earlier we were urged to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Is this the voice of the Spirit or of the beast from the sea? Is this the kind of threat the devil makes? Is this how ungodly powers operate?
Indeed, this does call for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.
The dragon’s second assistant: a beast from the earth
And now, coming out of the earth, is another beast with two horns like a lamb25 but he speaks like a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.
It employs two methods: deception and coercion
He performs miraculous signs like causing fire to fall from heaven to earth in full view of men. Because of these signs he deceives the inhabitants of the earth and then orders them to establish an image in honor of the beast that was wounded by the sword26 and yet lived. He gives breath to the image of the first beast, so that it can speak.
He causes all who refuse to worship the image to be killed. He also forces everyone regardless of rôle or rank, to receive a mark27 on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has that mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.
This calls for wisdom! If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.28
But, first of all, what kind of person will decide for God?
We’ve met them before: The 144,000
As we look, in front of us is the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 people who have his name29 and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
They are “up-front” about their allegiance!
We now hear a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound is also like that of harps being played. They sing a new song in front of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders. No one can learn the song except the 144,000 who have been redeemed from the earth. These did not defile themselves with women,30 for they have kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie is found in their mouths; they are blameless.
As if the threats of the enemy have not been enough to make us think, God now responds with His ultimatum in the call of three angels (Revelation 14:6-12).
Catch-22 for everyone. It had to happen. It is all about allegiance. Ally with these earthly powers and God will destroy you. Ally with God, and they will reciprocate. Whose side will you choose? A preview of the destiny of each will only heighten the dilemma for some. To our minds comes a Scripture: “You adulterous people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God (James 4:4).”
We now see another angel flying high in the sky with the eternal gospel to proclaim to every31 nation, tribe, language and people. “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come.32 Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
A second angel
He is joined by another angel, saying, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon33 the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”
A third angel
A third angel follows, saying in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever.34 There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.”
(This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.)
A voice from heaven says, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” The Spirit adds, “Yes. They will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” A well-earned rest!
The harvester35 on the cloud and the first harvest
Now, before us, is a white cloud, and seated on the cloud is one “like a son of man.” He is wearing a gold crown and holding a sharp sickle.
Another angel leaves the temple and calls to him, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”
The one seated on the cloud swings his sickle over the earth, and the earth is harvested.
An angel and the second harvest
Another angel, who also is holding a sharp sickle, leaves the temple in heaven.
Then another angel, who has charge of the fire, comes from the altar and calls out to the angel with the sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” The angel swings his sickle on the earth, gathers its grapes and throws them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. In that winepress outside the city the grapes are trampled with blood now flowing from the press and rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.36
Now we are about to see a view of events just prior to the harvest, events that we had not been shown before.
The seven last plagues
God employs seven plagues in a final pre-advent display of His anger (Revelation 15-16).
In heaven appears another great and marvelous sign37: seven angels with the seven last plagues. Last? Yes. “Because,” we are told, “with them God’s wrath is completed.”
We look away, in another direction, and see what appears to be a sea38 of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who were victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They are holding stringed instruments given them by God and are singing the song of Moses39 the servant of God and the song of the Lamb:
“Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.
Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
Our attention is now briefly drawn to the temple in heaven which, strictly, is said to be the “tabernacle of the Testimony.”40 It is opened, and out of it come the seven angels with the seven plagues. They are dressed in clean, shining linen and wear golden sashes around their chests. One of the four living creatures gives to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the eternal God’s anger. The temple is filled with smoke from God’s glory and power. No one can enter it until the seven plagues of the seven angels are completed.
We hear a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go. Pour out the seven bowls on the earth.”
The first angel pours out his bowl on the land. Ugly and painful sores break out on the people who have the mark of the beast and worship his image.
The second angel pours out his bowl on the sea. It turns into blood like that of the dead. Every living thing in the sea dies.
The third angel pours the contents of his bowl on the rivers and springs of water. They become blood. Then the angel in charge of the waters says: “You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” The altar itself responds with, “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”
The fourth angel pours out his bowl on the sun. It scorches people. They are seared by the intense heat and curse the name of God, who has control over these plagues, but they refuse to repent and glorify him.
The fifth angel empties his bowl on the throne of the beast. His kingdom is plunged into darkness. Men gnaw their tongues in agony and curse the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refuse to repent of what they had done.41
Darkness has just fallen. It is no doubt that in darkness that the next events occur.
The sixth angel pours his bowl on the great river Euphrates42, and its waters are dried up to prepare the way for the kings who will approach from the East, the direction of the sunrise.43
Hurrah! Babylon is about to be attacked!
Three frog-like spirits44 come out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth, i.e., the false prophet. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs. They go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together to the place called Armageddon.45 for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.
“Behold. I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.”
When the seventh angel pours his bowl into the air, from the throne in the temple comes a loud voice saying, “It is done!” There are flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth. It is so tremendous.
The great city splits into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapse. God has remembered Babylon the Great and given her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath.
Every island flees and mountains disappear. From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fall upon men. They curse God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague is so terrible.
Often the perpetrators of war and misery escape punishment. On this occasion, at the End, their own supporters will destroy them (Revelation 17).
Question: What is Babylon? Why all this animosity toward it? If the question has not already been answered, it is about to be.
Babylon is a prostitute46
One of the seven angels with the seven bowls comes over and says, “Come. Let me show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. The kings of the earth have committed adultery with her and the inhabitants of the earth have been intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”
The angel carries us away in the Spirit to a deserted place, a wilderness. There is a woman dressed in purple and scarlet, gold, precious stones and pearls, She is holding a golden cup that is filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulterous behavior. On her forehead was written a name, a mystery47:
BABYLON THE GREAT
THE MOTHER OF WHORES
What a condition she is in! She is drunk, drunk with the blood48 of the saints, those who have borne testimony to Jesus.49
She is not alone. She is sitting on a scarlet colored beast50 that is covered with blasphemous names. It has seven heads and ten horns.
The angel notices our astonishment. “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides.”
“That beast that you are looking at once was, is not now.51 It will ascend from the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth, those whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world, will be astonished when they see it, because it used to be, is not now, and yet will come.
“This calls for a mind with wisdom. Its seven heads are seven mountains52 on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings.53 Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does, he must remain for a little while.
“The beast itself is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.
“The ten horns are ten kings53 who have not yet received a kingdom, but who will receive authority as kings along with the beast for an hour. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings54 – and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”
“The waters on which the prostitute is sitting, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns will hate her, bring her to ruin, leave her naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled.55
“The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
Babylon is a great city, home of the high life, and will go up in smoke (18:1-24).
Another angel descends from heaven with great authority, illuminating the earth by his splendor. He shouts: “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!56 She has become a home for demons and a haunt for evil spirits and for every unclean and detestable bird. For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”
The Call and its reason
Another voice from heaven now says: “Come out of her,57 my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup. Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. She boasts, ‘I sit as queen. I am not a widow I will never mourn.’”
The forecast Holocaust
Therefore, in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.
The inevitable Mourning
“When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “‘Alas! O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!’
“The merchants of the earth will do the same because no one buys their merchandise any more: gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth, every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon and spice, incense, myrrh and frankincense, wine and olive oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and carriages, and the bodies and souls of men.
“They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for,58 your riches and splendor have vanished for ever. In only one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’ They will be joined by sea captains, seafarers, sailors and sea merchants all standing at a distance weeping, mourning and exclaiming, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city? Alas! O great city, where we all became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin!’”
Babylon’s Fall now illustrated differently
“Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you.’”
And now a mighty angel picks up a boulder, the size of a large millstone, and throws it into the sea, and says: “The great city of Babylon will be thrown down just like that, never to be found again. No more sounds of music, no more sounds of workmen, no more sounds from mill stones, no more light, no more the voice of bride and groom. Nations were misled by spell you had over them. The blood of prophets, of saints, and of all who have been killed on Earth were in you.”
Listen! It sounds like the roar of a huge crowd in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants. Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”
The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fall down and worship God and cry: “Amen! Hallelujah!”
A voice from the throne says: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!”
A great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, is shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen (representing the righteous acts of the saints), bright and clean, was given her to wear.”
Then the angel tells John, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ These are the true words of God.”
At this, John falls at his feet to worship the angel who responds, “Do not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the testimony of Jesus that is the spirit of prophecy.”59
The arrival of Christ and His armies to evacuate His people.60
Heaven now stands open. Before us is a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True. He is a just judge and warrior. His eyes are like fire. On his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven follow him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”3 He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. Written on his robe and his thigh is this:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS
An angel, standing in the sun, cries in a loud voice to all the birds flying above us, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.”
Our attention is now drawn to the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army.
The capture of the beast and the false prophet
The two beasts, the one from the sea and the other from the earth (a.k.a. the false prophet) are captured and thrown alive into the fiery lake.
The death of the rest
The rest (“remnant”, KJV) of them are now killed with the sword that comes out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorge themselves on their flesh.
The dragon is captured and imprisoned
An angel, coming down out of heaven, and holding a great chain and the key to the Abyss, seizes the dragon (a.k.a Satan) and binds him for a thousand years. He throws him into the Abyss,61 and locks and seals it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the end of the thousand years. (After that, he will be freed for a short time.)
The saints reign
We see thrones on which are seated those who had been given authority to judge. We see the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They come to life and reign with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.62) This is the first resurrection and those who are resurrected in it are blessed and holy. The second death has no power over them. They will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
A thousand years pass63
When the thousand years are over, Satan is released and goes out to deceive the nations – Gog and Magog64 – as numerous as sand on the shore, to gather them for battle.
They march across the earth, surround the camp of God’s people, the city he loves, but fire falls and devours them. And that deceptive devil is thrown into the sulfurous burning lake where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.34
Now we see a great white throne. Sitting on it is the one from whose presence the earth and sky had fled.65 The dead, great and small, stand before that throne, and books are opened, including the book of life. The dead are judged according to what they have done as recorded in the books.66 The sea, death and Hades67 all give up the dead that are in them. Each person is judged by what he has done. Then death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire which is the second death. If anyone’s name is not found written in the book of life, he is thrown into the lake of fire.
Finally, after millennia of devastation and a millennium of desolation, the Earth is restored to its original beauty.
Now the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, dominates the landscape. Brilliant with the light of God and inhabited by Jesus’ followers, back from heaven to which they had earlier been evacuated.
We see a new heaven and a new earth. Why? The first heaven and the first earth have passed away. There is no longer any sea. We see the Holy City, the new Jerusalem like a bride dressed for her husband, descending from God,.
A loud voice from the throne says, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” The One on the throne says, “I am making everything new!”
Then he says to John, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake. That is the second death.”
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues comes over and says, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
We are carried away in the Spirit68 to a large and high mountain and are shown the descent of the Holy City, the new Jerusalem. It shines with God’s glory, with a brilliance that is like a jasper, clear as crystal.
It is surrounded by a high wall with twelve gates with an angel at each. On the gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There are three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall has twelve foundations, and on them are the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The angel has a golden measuring rod with which to measure the city,69 its gates and walls. The city is laid out like a square. It is 12,000 stadia in length, width and hight. Its wall and is 144 cubits thick, by man’s measurement, which the angel is using. The wall is made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass.
The foundations of the city walls are decorated with every kind of precious stone: jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth and amethyst. The twelve gates are twelve individual pearls. The great street of the city is of pure gold, like transparent glass.
We don’t see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb is its temple. The city does not need light from either the sun or the moon, because the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.70
We are assured that one day the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.71
Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Then the angel shows us the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stands the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a different crop each month. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. They will reign for ever and ever.
We now understand from all of this that it is Satan’s aim to set up his city in opposition to God’s city.
He will do all he can to succeed.
He will use deception, the threat of death and coercion.
That is the way he runs his kingdom.
God’s people know freedom.
They are loyal to their Creator.
They have faith in their Savior, whom they recognize as the true king.
They live by faith, in hope, and with love.
They do not yet see their city, but one day they will.
They are patient, not paranoid.
There is a place for them, in that Holy City — for ever.
1 Scripture quoted is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 1985)
2 Crown (Gk. στεφανος, stephanos), not a royal crown but a victor’s crown, usually of laurel leaves, but this one is of stars.
3 Rule all the nations with an iron scepter. See Rev. 19:15 where it refers to Christ (See Rev. 17:14 and Psalm 2:9).
4 The woman? There has been a variety of interpretations which include Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, considering the fact that this is a “great sign” and that the O.T.’s symbol of God’s people is a woman (See, for example, Isaiah 54:1-6; Jeremiah 3:20; Ezekiel 16; Hosea 2:19-20) it is more likely that the believing community into which Christ was born is signified here. (For those who consider that Mary might be represented here, the question about the period of her care and the reference to “the rest of her offspring” in chapter 12, verse 17, must be answered.
5 Heaven (Gk. ουρανος, ouranos) is translated sky in Rev. 6:13,14; 8:10; 9:1; 11:6; 12:4; 16:21; 20:11. It might be acceptable to translate it so here in 12:1. This would make the sky the setting for the drama we are watching rather than Heaven the place where the reality might have occurred.
6 A third of the stars. It has often been assumed that the stars here represent the angelic host and that when Satan was expelled from heaven (Revelation 12:9) it was a third of the angels that were expelled with him. In this part of the vision the meaning of the stars is not explained as is that of the seven stars in chapter 1:16, 20. Is it wise, therefore, to teach a doctrine which is derived from an assumption? Regarding the word “heaven” see endnote 5 in this section. So, rather than being a representation of an event in cosmic history, it might well be a picturesque and frightening portrayal of (the power of) the dragon, an attention-getting device for the viewer, but, what is more important, a tail-lashing threat to the woman before whom he was standing.
7 Revelation 12:6, 14 refer to the woman’s flight, her destination, her reason for being there and the duration of her stay. See endnote 12 below.
8 Michael. Apart from historical references to different people of this name in the O.T. during the Exodus, the Kingdom and the Restoration, this name occurs in these texts:
● Daniel 10:13 — … Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me …
● Daniel 10:21 — … No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince.
● Daniel 12:1 — At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. …
● Jude 9 — But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
● Revelation 12:7 — And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.
In Daniel, he is a prince.
In Jude, he is the archangel.
In Revelation, he could either be angelic himself or the leader of a certain group of angels, viz., his angels.
Who then is he? What are the options?
● As the name Michael is given to different people in the O.T., so the name might refer to different heavenly individuals in Daniel, Jude and Revelation.
● As Christ is pictured as a lion, a lamb, a rider on a white horse, he could then be also symbolized by “Michael” in all the above references.
This name, as that of a supernatural being, appears in the O.T. in only three places: Daniel 10:13, 10:21 and 12:1. In the first two he appears as one who is involved on God’s behalf in international conflicts which implicate the covenant people. In the third he is “the great prince who protects your people,” intervening when all seems lost … at the end!
In the N.T. (Jude 9) the archangel is called Michael. In the Scriptures Gabriel is not identified as the archangel. That identification is only from within Christian (non-Biblical) tradition.
9 “Having to fight.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, in its note on the Greek expression often translated here as “fought,” makes an important but overlooked point. The infinitive construction (Gk. του πολεμησαι, tou polemēsai) “is a pure Semitism and should be translated Michael and his angels had to fight the dragon. Almost all translations fail to catch this nuance, so illuminating to the context.”
10 The accuser . . . has been hurled down. Jesus said, “. . . Now is the time for judgement of this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show what kind of death he was going to die (John 12:30-33).
He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb. A direct reference to the cross and the genius of Christianity. Christ’s blood, the blood of the Lamb, was shed on the cross and is also recognized by Christians as the assurance of the their salvation and also of their status before God. While it is tempting to assign this incident to some time primeval, the use of the word “now” and the reference to Christ, salvation and the blood all indicate that it refers to the cross event and its importance in salvation history. It is followed by the dragon’s pursuit of the woman and her other offspring.
12 Woe! Gk. ουαι, ouai (pron. “oo-ah-ee) = Alas! (an exclamation of grief)
13 1,260 days. To urge that the events pictured here actually occurred during, and were limited to, a time period of 1,260 years is to miss the mark. (Some have even suggested the dates when the period began and ended: 538 A.D. to 1798 A.D.)
- The woman has fled into the desert (NIV), wilderness (KJV, NASB, NRSV), from the face of the serpent and is out of the serpent’s reach.7
- The woman is said to be cared for throughout that period of time.
- There are two earlier historical realities that could explain why “1,260 days” and “time, times and half a time” have been chosen:
- When one considers Jesus’ own description of the Christian era (Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21), it is better to conclude that the 1,260 days or a year, two years and half a year (3½ years or 42 months) of Christ’s own ministry and trial are a foreshadowing of the period of the Church’s ministry and trial, i.e., the time between Christ’s two advents.
- In Luke 4:25 and James 5:17 the period of drought, during which Elijah was cared for, was 3½ years. (Half a year had already elapsed before Elijah confronted Ahab and the drought continued for another 3 years.) Some have seen this earlier reality a symbol of the later reality of the Christian era when God cares for His Church and ensures its survival.
- The woman is said to be cared for (NIV), nourished (NASB, NRSV), fed (KJV), away from the face of the serpent (KJV, NASB) or out of the serpent’s reach (NIV, cf. NRSV). There is also a clue to the meaning of this in a statement made by Jesus himself: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matthew 16:18).”
- The absence of Jesus does not mean the end of the Church.
14 The earth helped the woman. While the believing community is suffering in the absence of its King, it is not destroyed, but rather survives.
15 The rest of her offspring. “The remnant of her seed (KJV).” The words “rest” and “remnant” are translated from the Gk. λοιπος, loipos which means “the rest.” Simply, the woman, who has given birth to a son who has been snatched up to God and to his throne, has given birth to others. These are identified as those who “obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
16 The testimony of Jesus can be either the testimony given by Jesus or the testimony others have given about him. It is a term that has appeared before and will appear again.
- Revelation 1:1, 2 — “his servant John … testifies to everything he saw — that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
- Revelation 1:9 — “I, John … was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
- Revelation 19:10 — “At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’”
17 Beast. Gk. θηριον, thērion = a dangerous or wild animal as in Mark 1:13 et al.
18 The beast looks like. To those who are familiar with the Book of Daniel, chapter 7, this one wild animal is reminiscent of the four beasts that came out of the Great Sea to attack God’s covenant people of Old Testament times. There was a lion, a bear, a leopard and a hybrid oddity with ten horns. Oddly enough that hybrid oddity finished up with eight horns.
19 Great authority.
In contrast: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (It was Jesus who told Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above (John 19:11).”) However, Paul helps us know how to relate even to the worst of governments: “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.”
20 wound (Gk. πληγη, pron. plēgē.) Elsewhere in Revelation πληγη is translated “plague,” “in fact, a divinely inflicted judgment (9:18, 20; 11:6; 15:1 ff.; 16:9,21; 18:4,8;21:9; 22:18). Elsewhere in the N.T. πληγη is used of ‘beatings’ or official ‘floggings.’ (Luke 10:30;12:45 et al.). In 13:14 we find that the beast has the plague of the ‘sword.’ (See fn. 26, below) The sword symbolically refers to the divine judgment of the Messiah (1:16; 2:12 et al.).” It is for this reason that The Expositor’s Bible Commentary sees it as “a symbol of God’s wrath that has been deceptively covered up or restored.” Compare Isaiah 27:1.
21 healed. The NRSV reads: “One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast.”
This translation of the nature of the fatal wound is correct. It was not the beast per se but one of its heads, in the vision, which had already had a fatal but now healed wound. This was the appearance of the beast throughout the vision. The wounding of the head had already occurred. This is in contrast to the view that when the beast first appeared it was in a healthy condition only to be later dealt a fatal wound which was subsequently healed or that the beast symbolizes a 20th century power.
22 Forty-two months. An alternative rendering of 1,260 days. We would be hard-pressed to believe that this power, pride and blasphemy is limited to an historical time period. (See footnote 13.) Throughout all of her history the church of God has had to endure opposition and ridicule.
23 He (blasphemes). The Scriptures employ the masculine pronoun (“he”) rather than the neuter pronoun (“it”).
24 Authority over every. . . Already, the narrative is paving the way for the clue as to the identity of the power that is being described here. Revelation 17:18 reads, “The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” The accumulating evidence clearly points to a combination of forces, political and religious, assembled by the dragon to accomplish his purpose, viz., to bring down God and destroy His kingdom, usurping His position and establishing his own kingdom.
25 Two horns like a lamb.
A question for those who have been influenced by pictures of the North American bison in literature about The Revelation: “Do ‘two horns like a lamb’ mean that the beast looks like a North American bison?”
Such pictures prejudice the reader. It is this author’s conviction that a picture of a bison in literature that favors the view that the USA is symbolized here is based on the assumption already made that the beast that St John saw rising from the earth does represent the United States of America. Unwary readers, influenced by the picture, are likely to readily and unthinkingly agree.
At this point, then, the suggestion that this beast represents the United States of America needs to be addressed.
What does the Bible say?
Its characteristics and actions are these:
1. It ascended, or arose, (KJV: was “coming up”) (Gk. αναβαινω, anabaino) out of the earth.
Note: Before jumping to any conclusion that the rise of the United States of America is symbolized here by some sort of plantlike growth from the earth, the earth representing the New World away from the turmoil of Europe, at this point the reader should note:
a. Its predecessor also rose (Gk. αναβαινω, anabaino), but from the sea. The same verb is used for the rise of both beasts.
b. The rise and expansion of the United States of America was not without conflict, conflict with Great Britain, with Canada, with Mexico, with Spain, with the Barbary States and with the North American Indians, not forgetting the American Civil War.
c. This animal is the third of the three to appear. The first, the dragon, appears in the sky. The second appears from the sea. This third one appears from the earth.
2. It looks lamb-like.
3. Its voice is dragon-like.
4. It has the power of the beast that ascended from the sea.
5. Its aim is to have the world worship the beast that ascended from the sea.
6. It performs miracles.
7. It deceives people by its miracles.
8. It insists that an image of its predecessor be made.
9. It gives life to that image.
10. Those who do not worship that image will be killed.
11. All, regardless, are marked in right hand and forehead.
12. Without the mark one can neither buy nor sell.
13. The mark is the number of the beast: Six hundred and sixty six.
Are these characteristics and actions those of
a political power?
a religious power?
a political power that uses religion for its purposes?
a political power that parades as a religious power?
a religious power that . . . ?
Keep in mind that this animal’s religious aspects are not the first to manifest themselves in its history. It begins its existence without religious characteristics.
26 wounded by the sword. (Gk. μαχαιρα, machaira = a dagger) This is new information about the beast that arose from the sea, and is especially important for those who might think that the wound had been caused by another means. (See fn. 20, above) It might well be an indication that the wound is not the result of an accident but that of an attempt on the beast from the sea, even an allusion to the Word of God as symbolized by St Paul in Ephesians 6:17 — “the sword of the Spirit . . . is the Word of God.”
27 a mark on his right hand or on his forehead. Not to be taken literally, this is symbolic of behavior and thought. (Compare endnote #29.)
The number here is not three sixes as in “six, six, six”, but six hundred and sixty-six , i.e. (60 x 10) + 60 + (1/10 x 60). The Babylonians used a system of measurement based on the number 60.
The base number 10 in our decimal system can be divided by only four numbers, 1, 2, 5 and 10.
The base number 60, in Babylon’s sexagesimal system, can be divided by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30 and 60. The divisions on the face of an analog clock and the number of degrees in a circle have their origins in this system used by the Babylonians.
The beast from the earth orders the world’s inhabitants to erect an image in honor of the beast which has survived being wounded. He is able to make the image talk and executes all who refuse to worship it. Everyone is forced to receive a mark on right hand or forehead. (Compare endnote 27.) No mark? No buying or selling. It turns out that the mark is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom because the number of the beast, which is 666, is man’s number. What a reminder of Babylon’s sexagesimal system and Nebuchadnezzar’s threat to those who would not worship the image he had erected on the Plain of Dura! (See Chapter 8: “No Rock in Sight”). This power adopts the Babylonian approach.
The KJV reads, “it is the number of a man.” Various modern English translations waver, in their editions, between “man” and “a man.”
- There was no indefinite article (“a”) in the Gk. Consequently the indefinite article does not occur in the Greek mss. The translators of the KJV, and some others, have supplied the indefinite article.
- Officially, the Pope is considered to be “Vicarius Christi”, the vicar (representative) of Christ. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 882 and the article VICAR OF CHRIST in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.
- Students, interested in the VICARIUS FILII DEI (“Vicar of the Son of God”) explanation (now discredited) would be well advised to read the following materials:
1. SDASB, art. 1750, particularly the editor’s endnote, and art 1751. It should be noted that in the latter, which is a quotation from the forged “Donation of Constantine” the Latin reads, “Beatus Petrus in terris vicarius Filii Dei (Blessed Peter is the vicar of the Son of God on earth).”
2. McDowell, Bart, Inside the Vatican (Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 1991). Papal miters are pictured on pages 60, 71, 200-201, 203, 206, 209. Giorgio Vasari’s 16th century painting of Pope Gregory XI, wearing the tiara and blessing the crowds upon his return from Avignon in 1376 is on pages 48-49. On none of these, whether miter or tiara, are the words “Vicarius Filii Dei.”
3. Valentine, Gilbert M., The Shaping of Adventism: The Case of W.W. Prescott (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1992), pages 273-275 “666 and a Wrongly Titled Pope.”
29 his name. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us (1 John 3:23).
written on their foreheads. In contrast to the mark of the beast. (See endnote 27.) During the exodus, Israel was commanded as follows: “Hear, [Heb. shema] O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-8).”
Taking this literally, there are Jews who bind tefellin (phylacteries containing four Biblical passages including the Shema) to one arm and to their foreheads. (For more information, visit the Wikipedia article “Tefillin“ or the online edition of Encyclopedia Judaica) More than literal, this instruction emphasized the importance of the influence of the Word of God on both thought and behavior.
30 Defile . . . women. Given the Scripture’s high view of marriage, symbolism is obvious here, with an emphasis on “defilement.” This is a hint at what is to come in Revelation 17 and the involvement of rulers with “Babylon the Great.”
31 Every nation, tribe, language and people means everyone within the range of the beast’s authority. It’s like an air drop of messages in enemy territory.
32 The hour of his judgment. The eternal Gospel, proclaimed by angels evangelizing shepherds near Bethlehem, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” spells a time of judgment for humankind. Jesus said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John 12:31-32). It was Pilate who asked “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ? (Matthew 27:22)” We too are confronted with Pilate’s question. It cannot go unanswered.
33 Babylon. Here, in this verse, is the first occurrence of the word “Babylon” in Revelation. (Notice the feminine possessive pronoun, “her.” See Revelation 17 where Babylon is depicted as an influential prostitute.) In the O.T., Babylon was the archenemy of God’s people in that it successfully destroyed the city and the sanctuary and deported the Jews. Babylon’s successors, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, were all involved, one way or another, in continuing that policy. The coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, rather than restoring national Israel, replaced her with the Church as His witness to the world, and it is this entity which, in the Book of Revelation, becomes the object of the devil’s wrath. The Babylon of the Apocalypse is a combination of all the forces, cosmic and global, that the devil exploits for his purpose. Its identity is revealed, not in one entity, but in its character and characteristics. Here is wisdom! The reader should beware of anything that hints of these.
34 for ever and ever is translated from Greek term, εις αιωνας αιωνων as in Revelation 14:11. It does not of itself denote endless existence but, rather, the period of time of that with which it is associated. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus clearly teaches that the damned will be have their lives terminated. See also Revelation 20:14. Notice also that the “eternal” fire of Sodom and Gomorrah, spoken of in Jude 7, has gone out.
35 Two harvests and the two harvesters. This is a dramatic picture, and one of many, with some still to come, of the end of the age and the destinies of the righteous and the wicked. It is reminiscent of, but not identical to, the parable of Matthew 3:12 and the parable of the weeds in the grain field in Matthew 13:24-30 explained in vss. 36-43.
36 Blood. This extraordinarily graphic picture depicts the horror of the reality of this harvest. This is the only reference to this figure of 1,600 in Scripture. If the number is symbolic its meaning is not readily apparent.
37 Compare end note #4 and the comments on the pregnant woman’s being a sign. These seven angels with the vials, too are symbolic of something significant.
38 Sea of glass mixed with fire. In the courtyard, in front of the entrance to Solomon’s Temple there was a huge bowl ten cubits from rim to rim, five cubits high and thirty cubits in diameter. This was called the Sea (1 Kings 7:23-26; 2 Chronicles 4:2-5). When the earlier temporary tabernacle was constructed during the Israelite migration, Moses had been instructed to make a “laver,” a bronze basin, and locate it in the equivalent position (Exodus 30:18-21). The later “Sea” was its replacement. Now we are looking at something that looks like a sea of glass, like crystal!
39 The Song of Moses. Exodus 15:1-18; Psalm 139:14; Amos 4:13; Deuteronomy 32:4; Jeremiah 10:7; Psalm 86:9.
40 Notice the reference to the “testimony,” i.e., the Ten Commandments, which, on earth, were held in the ark of the covenant enshrined in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle during Israel’s migration and later in the temple in Jerusalem (until its destruction by the Babylonians). This was where God’s splendor, the Chabod (pron. khabōd) (called “the Shekinah” in rabbinical Jewish writings), appeared. It thus becomes apparent that the “temple in heaven” is the reality of which Most Holy Place is the symbol. Hebrews 9:24 agrees when it says, “Christ … entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.”
41 refuse to repent. It must be remembered that God has not left himself without witness. Through the 4th window we saw the “2 witnesses” in action against all opposition. Besides, it was Jesus himself who foretold “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).”
42 When the Euphrates is first mentioned in Revelation, i.e., 9:14,15, (You might like to return to the 4th window) four angels with destructive powers and demonic associations are released from its waters. These seem to be the demonic counterpart of the four angels of Rev. 7 whose work is to prevent destruction and whose station is “at the four corners of the earth.” The Euphrates, here, thus assumes an equation with the boundary between the seen and the unseen worlds.
In the O.T., the evaporation of a named body of water is always for the salvation of the covenant people. Even extra-canonical literature speaks of the Euphrates’ drying up in the same terms. See Exodus 14:21 (the Reed Sea), Joshua 3 (the Jordan), Isaiah 11:15-16 (the Euphrates), Zechariah 10:11 (the Nile).
43 Sunrise. The Persian king, Cyrus came from the east, the anatole, conquered Babylon and restored, in part, the lost fortunes of the covenant people, Israel. Isaiah in foretelling the role of “Cyrus . . . [Yahweh’s] shepherd,” wrote, [God] has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service. Again, “From the east I summon a bird of prey . . . a man to fulfill my purpose (Isaiah 41:2; 44:28; 46:11).” One greater than Cyrus, and yet typified by him, is thus spoken of here.
44 The frogs can but be representing the “spirit” of the ones from whom they have come; their three “parents” share one characteristic. The dragon “makes war” (12:17); the beast is “to make war” (13:17), and the false prophet causes people “to be killed” (13:15). They brook no opposition. In Revelation 17:13-14 we read that the kings have one purpose, to support the beast and to make war with the Lamb. Thus, the rulers now share the same characteristic.
The purpose of the spirits is to gather the kings together in one place: Armageddon.
45 Armageddon is the Hebrew name for a place. This name occurs only in the Apocalypse and, despite statements to the contrary in much popular Christian literature, Armageddon is not represented by any geographical location in the Bible lands. Revelation 16:16 reads, “Then they [the spirits of demons: Gk. δαιμον] gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” Thus it presents Armageddon as the location of “a final conflict between the forces of Satan and the people of God” and is “the finale of all previous encounters of God and evil powers in salvation history.” “John’s Apocalypse, [is] continually stressing the religious-moral nature and the cosmic dimension of this universal war.” “Armageddon” means “the mountain of destruction/slaughter.” It denotes the destruction of Babylon which is effected by God’s holy wrath in retaliation for Babylon’s unholy war against the saints of God and Jesus Christ. See Hans K. LaRondelle, “The Biblical Concept of Armageddon,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (March 1986), 21-31.
46 Prostitute. Much has been written by way of commentary on this part of the vision. It is neither the author’s ability to incorporate into this chapter all of this material, nor is it his intention for it would defeat his objective in distracting from the visual effect of the continuous narrative. However, it is his responsibility to draw the attention of you, the reader, to this fact and to inform you that sometimes the popular interpretation is without support when subjected to rigorous Biblical scrutiny. Please refer to other endnotes for some evidence of that.
Comparisons with the myth of Europa, from whom Europe gets its name, and the bull are fascinating but unwarranted. In the case of Europa it was Zeus (Jupiter) who became infatuated with her and who consequently transformed himself into a bull, transported her across the sea, and who fathered her son, Minos, the first king of Crete. (This is the Cretan version of the myth.)
47 a name, a mystery Here I quote the NRSV rather than the NIV. SDABC points out that the word “mystery” “is descriptive of the title, not part of it.” See also NASB. JB reads, “a cryptic name.”
48 Blood. To be drunk with blood was a familiar figure in the ancient world for the lust for violence. (See The Expositor’s Bible Commentary)
49 Testimony of Jesus. See Revelation 12:17. “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring – those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
50 Scarlet colored beast. Compare Revelation 12:3 regarding the great red dragon. In Acts 28:4 the snake that fastened itself on Paul’s hand is called a beast (Gk. θηριον, thērion). “Beasts,” therefore, need not be quadrupeds.
51 “Now”. The latter part of the 1st century A.D., the time the Apocalypse was written.
52 Seven mountains. Strictly “mountains” (Gk. ορος, oros) as in the KJV and in Daniel 2:34, 35, 45 (LXX), and not “hills” (Gk. βουνος, bounos) as in Luke 3:5; 23:30. A place of prominence and dominance and apparent security. This whole scenario appears to be one of a failed experiment in unity. To those who might be inclined to identify these mountains with the seven hills of Rome, John’s call “for a mind with wisdom” requires theological and symbolical discernment, not mere geographical or numerical insight. Mountains allegorically refer to world powers in the Prophets (Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 51:25; Daniel 2:35; Zechariah 4:7). It seems better, then, to interpret the seven mountains as a reference to the seven heads or kings, which describe not the city but the beast. In addition, the expression “they are also seven kings” requires strict identification of the seven mountains with seven kings. See The Expositor’s Bible Commentary
53 Seven kings. Although the heads and horns are not crowned, they, nonetheless, represent kings.
54 King of kings. The Lamb is identical with the rider on the white horse whom we shall see soon.
55 Further commentary
The angel helps us understand the meaning of certain different features of this “beast.” The angel’s interpretation is paramount.
The 7 heads, or mountains, are 7 kings. We are told that “five have fallen.”
Considering the history of the covenant people of O.T. times, these could be Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece.
We are told that “1 [of the kings] is”, i.e., current, at the time when the Apocalypse was written, in the first century. This could then be Rome.
The “7th is still to come”, i.e., at some time subsequent to the demise of Rome.
Admittedly the text reads “kings.” Are these individual kings or are they kingdoms as I have just suggested? Rather than numbers, the figures, and what they relate to, might suggest or be symbolic of the beast’s weakness and strength, as did the healed wound of the beast from the sea.
The beast is an 8th king yet is one of the 7. This could thus refer to the devil himself. Notice that “it [the beast] was, and is not, and will ascend out of the Abyss.” In Revelation 20 the devil is confined to the Abyss, subsequently is released from it and then is destroyed. The period when he “is not” could be the reality prophesied in 2 Thessalonians 2.
The 10 horns are 10 kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who, for one hour, will receive authority as kings along with the beast. Their one purpose? To give their power and authority to the beast and make war against the Lamb
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 he once was, now is not, and yet will come.
Does this mean that they thought it had “died” never to return? Now it’s back?
The beast and the ten horns [textual evidence favors this reading, according to SDABC] will hate the prostitute and will bring her to ruin. Does this mean that the Devil himself, along with the kings who have been his accomplices, hate the very thing that he has established and supported and destroy it? It is the woman that the beast and kings destroy. The animal is destroyed by God (Revelation 20).
The woman? The great city that rules over the kings of the earth. The “woman” and “the great city” are one. Yet this city is not just a historical one; it is the great city, the mother city, the archetype of every evil system opposed to God in history. Her kingdom holds sway over the powers of the earth. The cities in Revelation are communities, of which there are only two: the city of God, the New Jerusalem (3:12; 21:2, 10; 22:2ff.), and the city of Satan, Babylon the Great (11:8; 14:8; 16:19; 18:4, 20; et al.). The meaning cannot be confined to entities like Sodom, Egypt or even Jerusalem or Rome. Instead, John describes the real trans-historical system of satanic evil that infuses them all. (See The Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Revelation 17:18)
The waters? Peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.
This vision is “the passionate play in the desert.” It is the antithesis of our Lord’s encounter with the Devil in the wilderness of Judea. It is about the kings of the earth, the rulers, the world leaders, their greed, rottenness and self interest at the expense of the people. Yet, strangely, the people are enamored with the system and are controlled by it. Admittedly, not all today are enamored. However, instead of embracing God’s Kingdom, people tolerate the world and its ways, look for pleasure in it at the expense of the condition of their own souls. As in the days of the Jewish people of O.T. times, the people were at the mercy of, and mostly blindly loyal to, the authorities. The authorities were responsible for the care of the people. See Daniel 4:19-27. Yet they took advantage of their ignorance and often led them astray with both people and their leaders suffering the consequences. In chapter 17 Babylon is seen as a prostitute but we are told it is a city. In chapter 18 the character and focus of the city is brought to view in a different way. Its interests and goals, its failings and the reason for its demise. The character of Babylon the Great should be compared with that of ancient Babylon as described in Daniel 5. See my chapter 9: “The Fall of Babylon”.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men,” wrote Baron Acton (1834–1902) in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887.
The following Scriptures are some that are relevant and a clear comment on the state of the world and the need to be not of it while we are still in it.
• [T]he ruler of the kingdom of the air, [is] the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (Ephesians 2:1-3).
• [O]ur struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
• The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
• Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).
• [Abraham] was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).
• But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
• On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:18-22).
56 Fallen, is Babylon the Great. Yes. The second angel of the three we earlier heard had announced that to the world. Was no one listening then? Too late now!
57 Come out of her.
Babel is the Hebrew word that is consistently applied to this city in the O.T. but is translated as “Babel” only in Genesis 10:10 and 11:8, 9. In all other instances it is translated as “Babylon” based on the Greek word that is used throughout the N.T.
“Babel” first appears in Genesis 10:10 as the name of a division of Nimrod’s kingdom.
It next appears in Genesis 11:8, 9 as the name of the city with the doomed tower on the Plain of Shinar. “So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel – because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world.”
From this last reference it has been assumed that “Babylon” means “confusion.” However, the Hebrew word for “confuse” is not “babel” but “balal.” The LXX reads, “[The city’s] name was called Su[n]gchusis [Gk. Συγχυσις, Confusion] . . .” Notice, though, that it was not the people who were confused (KJV: “confounded”) but their language, and that, subsequent to their building the tower.
The next three notes are from SDABC on Genesis 10:10 and 11:9.
“Having the idea that their city was the earthly reflection of the heavenly dwelling place of their god, the Babylonians give it the name Bab-ilu, “the gate of god.”
“Ancient Babylonian texts interpret Bab-ilu or Bab-ilanu as meaning ‘gateway of the gods’.”
“It would have been a strange procedure . . . for the Babylonians to derive a name for their city from a Hebrew word.”
It is therefore quite possible that, given the explanations about why the Bible says one thing although the Babylonian texts say another, the Hebrews were expressing derision at the attempt by some to find security apart from God. It is from that we should learn, and respond to the call, “Come out of her.” Of Abraham it was said that” he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).
58 The fruit you longed for. At Babylon’s core is its economy, trade and wealth at the expense of even “the souls of men” and even the “blood of the saints” and indeed “all who have been killed on the earth.”
59 The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10).
Consider the context carefully.
At this I fell at his feet to worship [the angel]. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! [Why?] For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
John, overwhelmed by the message, is about to worship the messenger, who quickly discourages such a reaction with a swift “Worship God.”
The focus is not on the messenger but on him from whom the message originated and him whom the message is about. Who is this? The answer is in the first two verses of the Apocalypse itself which read, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw – that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
It is this testimony of Jesus Christ, the protagonist of the Apocalypse, which is the spirit (Gk: πνευμα, pneuma) of prophecy. The word translated “spirit” should here be understood in the same way it is translated in Revelation 13:15 which reads, “He was given power to give breath (Gk: πνευμα, pneuma, KJV: “life”) to the image of the first beast . . .”
In the light of this corrective and comment one could well ask, “What gives life to prophecy?” The answer would then be, “The testimony of Jesus.”
60 Evacuate. The author believes that Revelation does not teach new doctrine but rather fills out and portrays much of what has been stated earlier in the New Testament. On the basis of scriptures like those that follow the author believes that events will occur as outlined in endnote 59.
• “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other (Matthew 24:31).”
• “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3).”
• “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:11).”
• “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (John 5:28-29).”
• Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
• “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:10-13).”
61 the Abyss. (Gk. αβυσσος, abussos). Apart from Romans 10:7 where Paul, when quoting Deuteronomy 30:13, substitutes “abyss” for “sea” to make a point, all other references to the abyss in the N.T. refer to the abode/destiny of demons. See Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:1-2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3. The locusts that appear when the fifth trumpet sounds have a king who is said to be “the angel of the Abyss.” Their king’s name in Gk. is Apollyon [the destroying one] (Revelation 9:11). Because of the forecast desolation of the Earth by fire and earthquake at the return of Jesus Christ, the abyss of Revelation 20, in which Satan is imprisoned during the 1,000 years, doubles as a fitting description of the Earth, and thus, his residence during the absence of the righteous and the death of the wicked. Compare the description of the planet Earth in Genesis 1:2 where, in the LXX., the “deep” or primeval ocean is translated “abussos.”
62 The rest of the dead . . . This is an example of an elaboration, but not a new teaching. Jesus had spoken of the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked (John 5:28-29). Here, those two resurrections are said to be separated by 1,000 years.
63 The time line (For amillennialism’s view of Revelation 20 see my Appendix 9)
• The return of Jesus (Revelation 19), the son of the woman, the one who will rule with an iron scepter who was earlier “snatched up to God and to his throne” (Revelation 12:5; 19:15).
• The first resurrection. This is the resurrection of the saved (Revelation 20:4-6)
• The living wicked are slain (Revelation 19:19-21)
• The righteous are evacuated (John 14:2-3)
• Satan is bound (Revelation 20:2)
• A thousand years [a “millennium”] pass (Revelation 20:2, 4, 5, 6, 7)
• Jesus Christ and the righteous return with the descent of the Holy City
• The wicked are resurrected (Revelation 20:5)
• Satan is loosed (Revelation 20:7)
• The wicked are deceived and attempt an attack on the camp of the saints, the Holy City (Revelation 20:8, 9)
• They are judged out of the things written in the books other than the Book of Life (Revelation 20:11-13)
• They are destroyed (Revelation 20:15)
• The earth is made new
64 Gog and Magog. An allusion to the O.T. prophecy in Ezekiel 38 and 39 about a forthcoming attack on post-exilic Jerusalem. Not yet fulfilled, it could well then be the “type” (foreshadowing) of this end time attempt on the New Jerusalem.
65 Earth and sky fled. cf. Revelation 6:14-16.
66 As recorded in the books. Those who were raised in the first resurrection were not judged in this manner, but rather were adjudged worthy of participation in the first resurrection because their names had been recorded in the Book of Life.
The books used in this post-millennial judgment.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book [in addition to the aforesaid books] was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books [emphasis mine] (Revelation 20:12).
If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
The saved are those who are raised at the beginning of the 1,000 years. They are those whose names have been written in the Book of Life.
The damned are those who are raised at the end of the 1,000 years. Their names have not been recorded in the Book of Life but their deeds are recorded in the other books and by these deeds they are judged and found not worthy of eternal life. They are the ones who face, if you please, their life’s record.
Cf. John 5:28-29. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
All Scriptural references to the Book of Life show that this book is a list of names only.
• Psalm 69:28 — May they be blotted out of the book of life [NKJV: “the book of the living”] and not be listed with the righteous.
• Luke 10:20 — However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
• Philippians 4:3 — Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
• Hebrews 12:23 — to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect,
• Revelation 3:5 — He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.
• Revelation 13:8 — All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast–all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.
• Revelation 17:8 — The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his 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 he once was, now is not, and yet will come.
• Revelation 21:27 — Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
67 Hades. Not the fiery “hell” as popularly thought of, but the place of the dead. The word “hades” (Gk. ᾅδης, pron. hah-dees) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “sheol,” also the place of the dead. In the LXX it is chiefly translated in this way, i.e., “hades” for “sheol”.
68 A mountain. What a view, in contrast to what we saw when we were carried by the Spirit into the wilderness.
69 measure the city. It is said to be 12,000 stadia on each side. Whether this is to be taken literally or not, in a symbolic vision, is a moot point. Literally this would be 1363 miles along each side. However, we are also told that it is as high as it is wide, a cube, like the dimensions of the Most Holy Place, symbolic of the throne room of God. Some of the dimensions are divisible by the number 12, the “kingdom” number.
70 No need of the light of the sun or the moon. This is said of the City, not of the New Earth.
71 Is this description one of a fact or of a fantasy, even a picture intended to be “spiritually” interpreted?
While St. Paul wrote this in another context, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)” he was stating a generic principle. There is a certain reality in the future of the redeemed, and it was Jack W. Provonsha who wrote, in his book God is With Us (page 152), “All descriptions of an inexperienced reality can only project what has been experienced. … The variety of picturizations [in Scripture] only serves to underscore the symbolic quality of all such descriptions.” So it is to be expected that city walls and city gates, common until the Middle Ages, are mentioned here but with the indication that the gates will never be shut.
Importantly, the description of this Holy City and its inhabitants contrasts with that of Babylon the Great and its inhabitants. The inhabitants of the latter have laid up treasure on earth. The former, treasure in heaven. Mammon has been the god of the latter, but definitely not the god of the former (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). The former City is eternal. The latter implodes, “naturally”, i.e., because of its very nature.
Photo: Two lambs, one with horns, Copeville, SA. © 1978, Angus McPhee
Photo: North American bison, Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada (Wikimedia Commons)
© 2010, Angus McPhee