Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Great Prostitute

Reflections on Revelation 17:1-6

The long anticipated judgment is finally revealed in detail.  The judgment of the great prostitute, who is called Babylon the great, is an elaboration of the great battle and judgment of the Babylon the great (Revelation 16:19) in the sixth and seventh seals (cf. Beale, p. 847).  Furthermore, the prostitute's title, Babylon the great, connects her judgment with the announced fall of Babylon the great in Revelation 14:8 and shows that her judgment is part of the harvest (judgment) of the earth.  This great  prostitute is drunk on the blood of the saints and martyrs (witnesses) of Jesus suggesting that her judgment is the long awaited vindication of the souls of the faithful witnesses under the altar who cried out to God to avenge their blood (Revelation 6:9).

The great prostitute rides a scarlet beast full of blasphemous names and having seven heads and ten horns which connects her with the beast out of the sea (Revelation 13:1).  Her costly apparel shows that she can buy and sell like those who have been persuaded by the second beast, the false prophet, to receive the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:17).  Hence, her destiny is wrapped up in the destiny of the beast and false prophet.

Rome: Mausoleum of Hadrian
The great prostitute is the antithesis of the radiant woman in Revelation 12:1.  The radiant woman represents God's faithful people through whom the Messiah comes and who are faithful in their witness to the Messiah and obedience to him.  The great prostitute is the mother of prostitutes and represents all those who are unfaithful to God and sell themselves to those who are not gods but blasphemously claim divine honors (the beast).  Her idolatry is fueled by her pride and desire for power and luxury with which she gaudily adorns herself like the faithless daughters of Zion (Isaiah 3:16-23).  She shamelessly commits violence and sheds the blood of the saints who are faithful witnesses of Jesus.

Babylon is not just one city, but an archetype representing many cities.  Allusions to Tyre (a city which prostituted herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth; cf. Rev. 17:2 with Isaiah 23:17), Babylon (a city which was pictured as sitting on many waters and holding a golden cup in her hand; cf. Rev. 17: 1, 4 with Jeremiah 51:13, 7), and idolatrous Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:21) in describing the prostitute universalizes her or makes her an archetype (cf. Johnson, p. 555).  Such a city will exist at the end of the age and be destroyed at the coming of Christ just as all such cities which existed throughout the ages have been destroyed. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Gathered for Destruction

Reflections on Revelation 16:12-16

When the sixth bowl is poured out, the great river Euphrates is dried up.  The Euphrates was a boundary that separated Israel from the godless kings beyond it.   For it to be dried up suggests that God removes some boundary that has prevented the nations from annihilating the saints, but the reader should not think that God is abandoning his faithful people.  Instead, he uses the nations' initial victories and resulting overconfidence to lead them to their destruction.

Three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.  In other words, Satan, human government, and false religion work together to convince the godless nations to unite in destroying the saints.  However, what the nations think is a battle to destroy the saints is the battle on the great day of God the Almighty when he will defeat all godless nations.  The article before "battle" suggests that this is the one mentioned earlier in 11:7 and 13:7 when the beast made war with the witnesses/saints and killed them.  This same battle will be referred to again in 19:19 and 20:8-9.
Looking across the Valley of Jezreel toward Mt. Gilboa from Megiddo
The unclean spirits deceive the kings of the whole world and gather them at Armageddon.  This part of the vision is based on Zechariah 14:2 and 12:3-4 where God gathers the nations against Jerusalem in order to destroy those nations.  In Revelation, the gathering place is Armageddon which was in the heart of Israel's homeland, perhaps drawing on Ezekiel 39:2, 17 where God assembles the nations on the mountains of Israel where they will be judged.   Thus, the gathering of the nations' armies at Armageddon is the same as the gathering of the nations to surround the saints and the "beloved city" in Revelation 20:9 .  Abiding by the principle that John uses Israel as a metaphor for the saints who have been set free by the blood of the Lamb, the gathering of the armies at Armageddon suggests that the nations will attack the camp of the saints or the church.  However, the kings of the nations have been deceived.  They have eagerly swallowed the lie that they can destroy the saints, but God Almighty is gathering the nations around the city (the church) as a harvest so that he can tread the winepress of his wrath (Rev 14:14-20).

Although God is working things out according to his will for the good of the saints, the sixth bowl poses some danger to the saints.  Their lives seem more endangered than ever before, so they must be especially vigilant lest they be caught off guard when the Lord returns unexpectedly like a thief.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Darkness Covers the Beast's Kingdom

Arch of Constantine in Rome
Reflections on Revelation 16:10-11

The fifth bowl is poured out on the throne of the beast which ascended from the bottomless pit (see Revelation 11:7; cf. the fifth trumpet in 9:1-2).  This beast, as stated earlier, represents human, godless government.  The beast's kingdom, or human government, is plunged into spiritual darkness.  People do what is right in their own eyes rather than obeying God's commands, so they suffer the due penalties of their errors and are covered with sores which cause them great pain.  Human government is powerless to protect its people from the retributive acts of God.  Consequently, the impenitent people curse God.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Bowls of Wrath

Reflections on Revelation 16:1-9

The plagues brought on the earth when the bowls are poured out are called the "last" plagues (15:1) because each one follows and completes one of the trumpet plagues. Thus, the 1st bowl completes the 1st trumpet, and the 2nd bowl completes the 2nd trumpet. Both the 7th trumpet and the 7th bowl point to the final judgment. Thus, the trumpets and bowls run parallel to each other. We should not think of the 1st bowl following the 7th trumpet. Both the trumpets and the bowls show God hearing and responding to the petitions of the saints. However, when the bowls are poured out, God is no longer "pulling punches." The wicked have proved obstinate, and God fully vents his wrath upon them.

# Trumpets Bowls
1 1/3 Earth Earth
2 1/3 Seas Seas
3 1/3 Fountains & Rivers Fountains & Rivers
4 1/3 Sun, Moon & Stars Sun
5 The Bottomless Pit The Beast's Throne
6 Euphrates Euphrates
7 Lightning, Earthquake & Hail Lightning, Earthquake & Hail

Both the first trumpet and the first bowl bring plagues on the earth. However, the plague brought by the bowl is more extensive and the objects of God's wrath are identified clearly as the people who bear the mark of the beast and worship his image, that is, people who have put their trust in human government.

The second and third bowls poured out on all salt and fresh water are also more extensive than the corresponding trumpets. In them God is completing his wrath against those who have shed the blood of saints and prophets.

Park near the Spring of Harod where Gideon camped
The fourth trumpet causes the sun, moon, and stars to be darkened, but the fourth bowl causes the sun to scorch people with fire. The result of the fourth bowl is that people curse God and continue in their obstinate refusal to repent.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Victors Refined by Fire

Reflections on Revelation 15:1-8

The prayers of the saints for relief from hardship have been answered, and John sees them singing praise to the Almighty God who has delivered them.  They sing the song of Moses, who delivered Israel from their cruel Egyptian task masters, and sing the song of the Lamb, who delivered the saints from the oppression of godless nations.

The victors are standing beside (Greek, on) the sea of glass.  The sea of glass stands before the heavenly temple (Revelation 4:6).  The glass is mingled with fire suggesting that those who stand on the sea have been refined by fire.  (Beale argues that fire in Revelation symbolizes judgment rather than refinement, but "refined in a furnace" in Revelation 1:15 and "refined by fire" in 3:18 suggest otherwise.)  The victors conquered the beast by coming through the fire that destroyed the dross (evil nations) just as the Israelites passed through the plagues and sea which devastated Egypt and destroyed its army.

John sees the sanctuary in heaven being opened.  Out of it come seven angels with the seven bowls filled with the wrath of God.  The sanctuary is filled with the glory of God, and no one can enter it until the seven angels have poured out the wrath of God which culminates in the victory of the Lamb.  Before the Lord rewards the saints, he wants the saints to be assured that even in the hardships they endure God makes a distinction between the wicked and the righteous just as he made a distinction between Egypt and Israel (Exodus 8:22-23; 9:4, 26; 10:23; 11:7) when he protected the land of Goshen, where his own people lived, from the more severe plagues.  The plagues which follow fall on those wearing the mark of the beast and worshiping his image, on those who shed the blood of saints and prophets, on those who refuse to repent and give glory to God, on the throne of the beast himself, and on the great city, Babylon the great. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Harvest

Reflections on Revelation 14:14-20

The opening of the seven seals and the sounding of the seven trumpets ended with God's judgment.  After revealing God's enemies, John again reassures the saints that those enemies will be judged, so this section, like the previous two, ends with God's judgment. 

This time, the judgment is pictured as a harvest.  The righteous are gathered safely on Mount Zion (14:1), but outside the gates, the harvest is ready.
The picture of the harvest is based on a couple of passages in the Old Testament.  Joel 3:12 speaks of the nations being gathered in the Valley of Jehoshaphat outside the holy city for judgment.  At that time, God commands, "Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great" (Joel 3:13 ESV). 

The grapes are gathered and trampled in the winepress of the wrath of God.  The Lord himself says, "I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come" (Isaiah 63:3-4).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Last Chance

Reflections on Revelation 14:6-13

The three great enemies of God and his saints have been identified, and those who stood against them and won the victory have been pictured.  How can those who are yet living join the victors?  Three angels make announcements which the living need to hear.

The first angel proclaims the eternal gospel, the good news of salvation, which is for every nation, tribe, language, and people.   All unbelievers who dwell on the earth are admonished to fear God and worship him because the hour when he judges the nations has come. This is their last chance.

The second angel announces the fall of Babylon, the great godless city which causes all nations to commit sexual immorality by forsaking God and worshiping those things which are not God. The last chance has passed. (John will tell more about Babylon and her punishment later.) 

Finally, the third angel announces God's judgment of fire and sulfur for all who worship the beast and its image or receive his mark. There are no more chances; punishment is final and eternal. 

The saints, who would keep God's commands and maintain their faith in Jesus must endure.  They cannot lapse into unbelief.  Only those who are faithful until death and die in the Lord will be blessed.  They are assured that they will rest from their labors because their faithful deeds will follow them.

Monday, August 6, 2012

144,000 Virgins

Reflections on Revelation 14:1-5

The enemies of God's people have now been fully revealed.  The first is Satan, the archenemy of God who wishes to usurp God's power and honor.  God put enmity between Satan and the woman, and between his seed and hers.  He is pictured as a great red dragon.  The second, Man aspiring to dominion over the earth apart from God, is the enemy of Christ, who rules the earth in harmony with the will of God.  He is pictured as a great and terrible beast which resembles the dragon and receives his power from him.  The third enemy is false religion which exalts the ways of man above the way of God.  He is a false prophet who undermines God's witnesses on the earth.  He is pictured as a lamb-like beast that speaks with the voice of the dragon.
John describes the enemies as a dragon and two beasts to expose their masquerades and emphasize their sinister characters.  Despite their deception and power, the saints need not despair.  Many have stood against them and won the victory.  The Lamb stands victorious on Mt. Zion, and with him are the hundred and forty-four thousand. 

These victorious saints standing with the Lamb have refused to wear the mark of the beast; instead, they have worn his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads.  They have not worshiped the image of the beast, so they have not defiled themselves with women.  Although they have lived among men on the earth, they are redeemed from the earth and from mankind and so are now firstfruits for God and the Lamb.  They are the "cream of the crop," the best of all God's creation.   They are blameless because no lie is found in their mouths.  They have been faithful witnesses to God and the Lamb because they rejected the lie about the beast's power.

Jesus shows this picture of the victorious saints to John so that he can encourage the saints still engaged in battle on the earth.  Having taken a stand, they should continue to stand until that day they stand victorious with the Lamb on Mt. Zion.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Prophet of an Imperfect God

Reflections on Revelation 13:11-18

The third enemy is a beast rising out of the earth.  This beast looks like a lamb (Jesus), but his voice betrays him for he speaks like a dragon (Satan).  He is like all false prophets who appear to be sheep, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves (Matt 7:15).  Indeed, John later calls him the False Prophet (Rev 19:20).  He is the direct opposite of the two witnesses who prophesy for 1260 days.  Because his testimony is a lie, he has no one to confirm his testimony.  Still, he attempts to do for the beast what the two witnesses do for Christ; that is, he tries to make the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed (v. 12).  Therefore, the lamb-like beast performs great signs and makes fire come down from heaven, and he deceives those who dwell on the earth by telling them to make an image for the first beast.  That is, he causes people to give divine honor to human government and look to it as their provider.  Finally, he causes all who worship the beast to receive on their foreheads a mark, which is the name of the beast, and the number of a man.  This mark identifies them as members of a godless culture and enables them to buy and sell on the earth where the beast controls commerce.

This beast is any of the false teachers who hold the teachings of Balaam or of the Nicolaitans or of Jezebel, all of whom encouraged compromise with idolatry (Revelation 2:14-15, 20).  Idolatry is pictured as the worship of the beast from the sea and of his image. Accordingly, this second beast represents all forms of false religion, including apostate Christianity, which exalt human ways above the ways of God.  This broader application is suggested by two clues in the text.

First, the earth and its inhabitants who worship the first beast (v. 12) because this beast has deceived them (v. 14) come from every class of society (v. 16) and from every tribe, people, language, and nation (v. 7) and include all whose names have not been written in the book of life (v. 8).  Hence, it includes all false religions that exalt man's ways above God's ways. 

Second, the mark which the beast causes men to receive suggests the broader application.  The mark is the number six repeated three times.  Six always falls short of the perfect or complete number which is seven.  This incomplete or imperfect number represents man.  The Greek word man in v. 18 has no article, and can be translated "man" as well as "a man."  The lamb-like beast exalts man in the form of human government and deceives people into believing that that human government, the beast that arose from the sea, is a more dependable provider than God.  The mark identifies those who worship and rely upon the first beast for prosperity and security instead of worshiping and relying upon God.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When Government Usurps the Authority of Christ

Reflections on Revelation 13:1-10

The second enemy is a beast which rises out of the sea.  He looks much like the dragon, but his description is based on of Daniel 7 where Daniel saw four beasts which represent four great kingdoms.  Those four beasts were a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a fourth terrifying beast.  Those four beasts combined had seven heads and ten horns.  John's beast is a terrifying seven-headed beast that has ten horns and the features of a lion, bear, and a leopard.  John's beast is a composite of the beasts in Daniel, and represents both Rome and all kingdoms of all time which oppose God and persecute his people. 

Just as the Son is the exact representation of the Father, the beast is the earthly representation of the dragon, Satan, and it is through this beast that the dragon makes war against the woman and her seed.  Just as God gave his Son a throne (Rev 3:21), so the dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority over every tribe and people and language and nation.  The Son rules the nations in truth and righteousness, but the beast rules by means of deception and death because his master, the dragon, has been a liar and murderer from the beginning.  Just as the dragon opposes God, so the beast intends to usurp the Son's position as ruler over the nations.  Just as the Lamb was slain but is now alive (Rev 5:12; 1:18), so the beast has a fatal wound to one of his heads, but his fatal wound is healed (13:3).   When the beast meets his death in one kingdom, he reappears in another.  Through the beast, which is godless government, the dragon challenges Christ's dominion over the earth.  Consequently, the second enemy is godless government in any place and any age which opposes God's people on the earth. For the churches in Asia Minor, the beast out of the sea is Rome.

The beast slanders God and the saints, and is worshiped by everyone whose name is not written in the book of life.  His deception and power over the lives of mankind lasts for a period of forty-two months.  This is the same time during which the two witnesses prophesy in sackcloth (11:3).  John has already told us that at the end of this time the beast will make war on the two witnesses and conquer them (11:7).  Now the beast is said to make war on the saints and conquer them.  The beast's victory over the two witnesses and the saints is one victory, and it is a temporary one.  Nevertheless, the sufferings and trials call the saints to endurance and faith so that they might enjoy an eternal victory through the resurrection from the dead.