Tuesday, November 16, 2021

61. The Revelation: The Explanation of the Harlot (Revelation 17:7-14,18)



And the angel said to me, “Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.

“The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” …

“The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 17:7–14, 18)

In response to John’s confusion and amazement, the angel asked, “Why do you wonder?” There was no need for John to remain puzzled by the relation of the beast to this beautiful yet bloody woman in the vision. The angel was about to explain the mystery of the woman (verse 18) and of the beast that carries her (verses 8–17).

Verse 18 identifies the woman John saw as “the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.” Some commentators deny that the great city is a literal city, preferring to see it as a symbol of the religious aspect of Antichrist’s empire. Some identify it as Rome, others as Jerusalem. But the angel quite clearly and repeatedly refers to Babylon on the Euphrates throughout chapters 17–18. The description of Babylon’s destruction (18:10, 18, 21) also suggests that an actual city is in view. A rebuilt city of Babylon will be closely identified with Antichrist’s world empire, perhaps as its capital city. That city will be the center of his kingdom, the extent of which will be the whole earth.

The Old Testament predictions of Babylon’s total destruction (e.g., Isaiah 13:1–14:27; Jeremiah 50–51) also favor identifying the great city with Babylon on the Euphrates. The detailed description those passages give of Babylon’s destruction was only partially fulfilled when the Medes and Persians sacked the ancient city of Babylon. As with many Old Testament prophecies, those predictions had both a near and a far fulfillment.

The site of modern Babylon is strategically located at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa and is not far from the Persian Gulf. It is also near the world’s richest oil fields and has a virtually unlimited water supply from the Euphrates.

In verses 8–14 the angel gives John a lengthy description of the beast. He is explaining to John the relationship between the harlot and the beast, which had mystified the apostle (verses 6–7). However, the angel needed first to give him further details about the beast. The beast that John saw is Antichrist, the satanic ruler of the last and most powerful empire in human history, who will serve as Satan’s instrument to attack Israel, persecute believers, conquer the world for Satan, and oppose Christ. He is described as one “who was, and is not, and is about to come” again. That phrase refers to Antichrist’s faked death and resurrection (13:3, 12, 14). Up till that point, Antichrist’s economic empire will coexist with the false religious system headed by the false prophet. But after his staged “resurrection,” Antichrist will turn on the false religious system and destroy it. He will tolerate only one religion—the worship of himself.

Antichrist’s phony resurrection and swift destruction of the false religious system will shock the world. As it does throughout Revelation, the phrase “those who dwell on the earth” describes unbelievers. They are the ones whose name has not been written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world (13:8). Amazed and deceived by Antichrist, his followers will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. The specific cause for their amazement will be Antichrist’s seemingly miraculous return to life after receiving an apparently fatal wound (13:3–4). Only the elect will not fall for Antichrist’s deception (Matthew 24:24).

The angel’s statement “here is the mind which has wisdom” invites John and his readers to pay close attention to what follows. This unusual expression introduces a difficult and complex aspect of this vision. It will take much spiritual insight to understand it, and perhaps only those alive at the time will fully comprehend it.

The first aspect of the vision that needs to be understood is that the seven heads of the beast (verse 3) are “seven mountains [or hills] on which the woman sits.” Some commentators associate the seven mountains with Rome, famous for being built on seven hills, and identify the woman as the Roman Catholic Church. Such an interpretation is too narrow. More than just Rome must be in view, because Antichrist’s empire is worldwide. Nor can the woman be the Roman Catholic Church, since verse 18 identifies her as the city of Babylon. Also “when the woman sits on the ‘many waters’ (verse 1) this must be taken as metaphorical since it is interpreted in v. 15. When the woman sits upon ‘a scarlet … beast’ this again is symbolic. The seven mountains must also be figurative.”1 Finally, the angel’s call for spiritual discernment would have been pointless if the seven mountains were an obvious geographical reference to Rome.

Speculation is unnecessary, because the text plainly identifies the mountains as seven kings. Mountains are sometimes used in the Old Testament to represent rule or power (Psalm 30:7; Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 51:25; Daniel 2:35). Here they represent seven world empires led by their rulers. The angel tells John that “five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come.” The five Gentile world empires that had fallen were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. The one that existed at that time was obviously Rome. The other one that has not yet come is Antichrist’s final world empire.

The angel further explains that when Antichrist comes, he must “remain a little while.” His empire will be short-lived; he will be given “authority to act for forty-two months” (13:5; the second half of the tribulation). Then the angel offered the comment that “the beast which was and is not, is himself an eighth [king] and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.” How can the beast (Antichrist) be an eighth king and also one of the seven? The answer lies in the phrase “the beast … was and is not.” Antichrist will be one of the seven kings before his supposed demise and resurrection and an eighth king afterwards during the second phase of his rule. Antichrist will go to destruction—eternal damnation in the lake of fire (19:20; 20:10). Unlike the first six empires, his empire will be destroyed by a direct act of God.

The angel further explained that the ten horns that John saw are “ten kings.” They cannot be known to any earlier generation because they have not yet received a kingdom, since they are part of Antichrist’s future empire. They will receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. Perhaps Antichrist’s empire will be divided into ten administrative regions, which these ten kings will rule under him. The reference to “one hour” is a figure of speech that emphasizes the shortness of their rule. During their brief reign, they will be unanimously devoted to Antichrist.

The agenda of the ten kings, like that of Satan and Antichrist, will be to wage war against the Lamb at the battle of Armageddon. John notes that the Lamb will overcome them. The battle will in reality be a slaughter. Christ will completely destroy the opposing forces gathered against Him at His second coming. The reason all the forces of hell cannot defeat the Lamb is because He is “Lord of lords and King of kings.”

With Christ when He returns will be “the called and chosen and faithful,” a reference that can only apply to believers (19:14; Matthew 22:14). The terms are rich in their definition of believers as the eternally elect, chosen in the Son before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4); the called, summoned in time by the Father to repentance and faith that saves (John 6:44); and faithful, demonstrating the true saving faith—the genuine eternal life that endures by the power of the Spirit (Romans 8:9). Christ will effortlessly crush the greatest armed force ever assembled when He returns with His elect and the holy angels (Matthew 24:30–31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7)