Having looked at the history of the world repeated through different lenses in chapters 4-17, Revelation 17-18 now looks again at the history of the world through the lens of God’s judgement of evil.
Again we are dealing with a large section of text. I would focus on 17 and 19.
Read 17:1-6a and determine quickly from verses 5 and 6 that this woman is representative of ‘Babylon’ – or any nation which fails to declare Jesus as King.
Read 17:6b – 14 a bit more slowly. We are re-introduced to the ‘beast’ aka Satan. But the ‘Babylon’ woman is merged with this image as it’s rider. Almost every other additional image gives us the clue that ‘Babylon’ for the time of John, was the ‘Roman Empire’. More details in exegesis.
Read 17:15-18 a helpful reflective moment. The devil eats his own. Nations rise and fall (like Rome does here) – and Satan craves power so much that he eats even those who are aligned with him. This is part of the judgement of God.
Summarize chapter 18: The people and nations will mourn the downfall of every ‘Babylon’ – because for many of them, it had fulfilled their desires for growing in wealth and stature. But verse 4 and 5 remind the Christian to get out of there. Don’t invest yourself in a kingdom bound for destruction – but rather live for the kingdom that will last.
Read 19:1-4 this should be quick – but see the rejoicing that the evil nation is defeated by God and the vindication of the martyred saints.
Read 19:5-10 This should be quick – but see the joyfulness as the wedding supper of Jesu and his church comes to it’s fulfilment.
Read 19:11-21 We see the end of the Beast and the ‘kings of the earth’ that were introduced in chapter 17. It is a fight between Jesus (11-16) and the beast and his armies (19-20) and Jesus wins (20-21).
Babylon was the nation that wiped out Israel in the OT, but the beginnings of Babylon was babel (Gen 11). Babylon here represents ANY nation who stands in opposition to God – but particularly it represents the superpower of the time. Nationally, She is rich (vs 4) and she is filth (vs 4-5) and she is guilty of slaying Christians (vs 6) but also of drawing in other nations to her culture (vs 1 many waters = people; vs 2 all the inhabitants of earth intoxicated with her)
The beast here is Satan (vs 8 from the Abyss – will go to its destruction) and is the power and authority behind ‘Babylon / Rome’ (vs 13)
‘The woman’ which was described as the nation ‘Babylon’ in vs 5 sits on 7 hills (vs 9). This is a very clear picture of Rome (the city who sits on 7 hills). Some of the other descriptions then help us flesh that out more: The 7 bigger kings (vs 10) refer to the line of the Caesars:
(Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero – 5 fallen;
Vespasian (69-79AD) – 1 who is;
Titus (79-81AD) – One for a little while;
Domitian (81-96AD) – 8th who will be ‘the beast’
The 10 smaller kings with no kingdom (12) refer to the proconsul governors who each rule for a fixed period of time.
And because all of these rulers and kings belong ultimately to the beast – vs 14 – they wage war against Jesus and his kingdom but will ultimately fail because Jesus is the King of Kings.
And in spite of all this power – the Devil stands powerless against the kingdom of Jesus. And in his thirst for power – he hates those with whom he has to share it. And so God’s judgement (vs 17) befalls the prostitute/Babylon, in the form of God allowing the Devil to eat his own. Babylon / Rome / Any superpower who does not acknowledge Jesus, will be ripped down to ruin.
While the Devil’s lust for power, eating his own, is the vehicle, it is God who declares that this super power’s time is over.
There is a warning of God to his people to come out of ‘Babylon’. Now, this isn’t a proximity thing – it isn’t a call to physically leave; but it is a call to leave behind the ‘project’ as such. Don’t get caught up in her sins – and so, don’t get caught up in the judgement (plagues) that will follow.
There is an excellent reflection moment here on not getting caught up in the projects of our society and what it might look like to keep having our eyes on the kingdom, while living in this kingdom which is bound towards destruction.
Here we see the response of everyone who has bought into the earthly ‘project’ of ‘Babylon’ mourning at her loss. Sea captains and traders mourn at the loss of their wealth. They mourn at the beauty that is no more. They will mourn “was there ever a city like this!?” (sidebar: compared to the heavenly Jerusalem coming – this is nothing). People involved in the project, tend to look back and to remember only the good from the projects that they were involved in.
And yet – verse 20 presents another voice – one of rejoicing. Because for those who stood with God and who were killed, they are vindicated. God has judged this human project ‘Babylon’ for the sinful affront to his rule that it is and the destruction it wreaked on his people.
And 21-24 then present the finality of God’s judgment. The ‘goods’ that the merchants longed for, will destroyed. But it is the syntactic change of 23b that shifts to the reasons: Why? Because of their ‘marriage’ with the nations in which they led them astray (hear echoes of Jezabel in 2 Kings here) and in which they killed the holy people of God.
And so in direct opposition to the wrongful marriage – we see the wedding of Jesus to his church. There is rejoicing in 1-2 because he has condemned ‘Babylon’ ‘the adulterous prostitute wife’ permanently.
And in 6-9 we instead see the good marriage – of those to the lamb. Where instead of adulterous acts, there is righteous acts of the saints. And there is true blessing to all of those who are invited to participate in this feast and this celebration.
But that still leaves the question of the beast and his minion kings. Sure Babylon is defeated – but what about the one who stands behind it in this run through of history? Well, the great battle is set – Christ is described in 11-16: Faithful and true; powerful and full of authority (many crowns); he is clean (dipped in blood), he is the word of God. His army (14) – is not dressed for battle, but for holy service… because they aren’t needed to fight. Jesus’ word is the sharp sword; Jesus is the executor of God’s righteous judgement; he has sweet thigh tats declaring him to be King of Kings; Lord of Lords.
Vs 17 – the Angel declares the victory before the battle even starts.
19-21 Is the foolish, frivolous, wasted attempt to overthrow Jesus. Zero description of battle is given… because none is needed. Instead there is judgement – judgement which will be focused on in the next chapter.