Revelation 17-18

This entry is part 14 of 16 in the series Revelation

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

With the conclusion of the bowl judgments we’re right at the end of the Great Tribulation. Now we’ll back up a little and get the detail on Babylon’s Destruction. Remember the verse from Rev. 16:19? God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Well, chapters 17-18 will give us the blow-by-blow. Almost since the beginning of time, the story of man on Earth has been the Tale of Two Cities, Babylon the city of man, and Jerusalem the City of God. It’s no coincidence that the final days of the Age of Man are taken up with a battle involving these two cities.

Revelation 17

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. This title was written on her forehead:
MYSTERY
BABYLON THE GREAT

THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES

AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.

I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. (Rev 17:1-6)

As I said in our last segment, there are three facets to the Babylonian world system that have enslaved men through the Ages.  They are religious, commercial, and governmental in nature.  We’ll deal with the religious first, characterized here by the woman.

A woman, identified as mystery Babylon, the mother of prostitutes, will be riding a beast.  The rider always controls the animal, and the third mention of seven heads and ten horns indicates that this is the same beast that came out of the water in Rev. 13, the one empowered by Satan, the dragon from Rev. 12.  This tells us that the anti-Christ will initially derive his power through his association with religion.

The woman and the beast are not the same, but for a time will appear to be in league with each other. The woman, being the rider, will actually be the dominant partner at first.  But as Rev. 17:16 tells us, the anti-Christ and his associates will actually hate the woman, and acting on God’s orders will destroy her. More about that later.

Having fought for most of the past century to divest himself of his relationship with the one true God, man will embrace this false religion.  Speaking of the anti-Christ and his false religion, Jesus said, “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him (John 5:43).

The Woman is called mystery Babylon because she’s not in Babylon, as we’ll soon see. But the Babylonian religion is literally the mother of all the cults and mythologies that have been set up in opposition to the Gospel.

Briefly, back in the time of Genesis 10, when Nimrod founded Babylon, his wife Semeramis sowed the first seeds of false religion by claiming that her son Tammuz was the supernatural offspring of the Sun God, counterfeiting the promise first disclosed in the Garden that the seed of the woman would redeem mankind.

According to tradition, when Tammuz was killed in a hunting accident, she went into 40 days of mourning. Near the end of this time she burned a yule log (yule means child in the Babylonian language) as the Sun slowly died. After the longest night of the year, the winter Solstice, Tammuz came back to life in the world’s first counterfeit resurrection.

In joy, she decorated an evergreen tree, a symbol of life, and passed out pastries with her son’s initial on top to commemorate the event. Today we call these pastries hot cross buns, since the Babylonian “T” looks like our “X”.  As if to validate this celebration, the sun began coming back to life as well.

She memorialized the 40 days of mourning (which we now call Lent) by forming a celibate priesthood to lead the people in the worship of her risen son. She declared the high priest to be infallible and herself to be the Queen of Heaven.

Every mythology from that time forward has carried elements of this story. In the Egyptian version she was known as Isis, in neo-Babylon as Ashteroth or Ishtar, in Canaan as Astarte, in Greece as Aphrodite and in Rome as Venus. She’s variously called the goddess of love and fertility. Her main objective has always been to usurp God’s role as the sole Giver and Sustainer of Life.  (Some traditions hold that far from being the Virgin of the Sea, as she once called herself, Semiramis was the madam of a brothel when she first met Nimrod. If so, she really was the “mother of prostitutes”.)

Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. 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. (Rev. 17:7-8)

The inhabitants of the Earth will be astonished to see the Beast because he was once, now is not, and yet will come. The Greek word translated astonished here means to marvel at, or hold in admiration.

Some believe that the phrase once was, now is not, and yet will come means that the anti-Christ will be a figure from the past, someone who had lived before John’s time, was dead when John wrote the book of Revelation, but will come back at the End of the Age as the anti-Christ. The most popular candidates are Antiochus Epiphanes who died in 163BC, the Roman Emperor Nero who died in 68 AD, and Judas Iscariot who died in 32AD. Antiochus Epiphanes and Nero are two of the most specific historical models of the anti-Christ, and Jesus called Judas the son of perdition (John 17:12) the same title by which Paul referred to the anti-Christ (2 Thes. 2:3)

“This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction. (Rev 17:9-11)

The traditional view of this passage is that it refers to Rome, known around the world as the City on Seven Hills. But some believe this is not true to the Greek rendering of Rev. 17:9 which actually speaks of seven mountains.  The Greek word for hills is different and only appears twice in the New Testament, both in Luke’s gospel.  You can see the difference in Luke 23:30 where both oros, the word for mountain, and bounos, the word for hill, are used in the same sentence.  If John was using the word mountain  symbolically, they say, he would be speaking of governments not topographical elevations. This would have the woman seated atop seven governments.

But since the word for mountain is used in the illustration of the city on a hill (Matt. 5:14) and in describing the Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30), others say the translation of Rev. 17:9 as seven hills is appropriate.  This is one of several points of contention between those who believe the End times world government will be a revival of the Biblical Roman Empire, and those who say it will be an Islamic Caliphate.  Caliphate proponents rightly claim that Rome never held all the territory of the Babylonian, Persian and Greek empires, but a previous Caliphate (the Ottoman Empire) did.  They also point out how hard it is to justify the two legs of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:31-43) as pointing to the eastern and western legs of the Roman Empire because the legs had their beginning in the Greek Empire (belly and thighs of bronze) that preceded it, and the two divisions of Rome only existed together for a short time.  Therefore, they say the notion that the feet and toes must be an extension of Rome is similarly suspect.

At the time of John’s writing, history had noted the passing of five kings, representing Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The king ruling in John’s day was the Roman Emperor.  Everyone agrees on that.  But depending on your point of view, the one that had not yet come in John’s time could either be head of a revived Rome or the Islamic Caliphate.

Rev. 17:11 makes it clear that the beast (anti-Christ) is a king and not a kingdom.  We know this because the Greek word for king is in the masculine gender, while kingdom is a feminine word.  John has just said the seven heads are seven kings.  This eighth king is not specifically identified with any of the seven, but in his goals and ambitions he will be like all of them. This could be a hint that the anti-Christ will not have previously held a leadership position in world government, and may even come from outside the world’s political structure.

“The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” (Rev. 17:12-14)

The 10 horns represent those who will assume leadership of the world’s government under the headship of the anti-Christ, eventually massing all the armies of man to oppose the return of the Lord with His Church. The three words used to describe the Lord’s followers (called, chosen, and faithful) are always and only used of the Church.  That means He’s coming with us, not for us.

Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” (Rev 17:15-18)

This is the destruction of religious Babylon foretold in Rev. 14:8. Although the anti-Christ will come to power through the influence of  the Babylonian religion, this very religious system will become a barrier to his ultimate goal of being worshiped exclusively.  In 2 Thes. 2:4 Paul said he will exalt himself above everything that is called god or is worshiped.  And so he and his cohorts will turn on religious Babylon to destroy it. Notice that it’s God Who puts them up to this. For “one hour” (the time of the Great Tribulation) the Beast and his 10 kings get power over Earth just so they can destroy the “woman” who made their rule possible, thereby fulfilling God’s purpose to destroy the false religion that has done so much harm to His creation.

Revelation 18

At some point along the way, the headquarters of these three world systems will be consolidated in Babylon. Zechariah 5:5-11 speaks of a woman in a basket, representing the iniquity of the world, being carried from her current position to a place prepared for her on the plains of Shinar, a reference to Babylon’s location in modern day Iraq. Women with the wings of storks, unclean birds, lift the basket into the air and carry it there.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon had been conquered by the Persians nearly 100 years before Zechariah’s prophecy. Within 200 more years the Persians would lose it to Alexander who intended to dredge the Euphrates and make Babylon into a giant river port for ships from the Persian Gulf and points East. Alas, he died before he could start it. When one of Alexander’s successors built his dreamed of port in a natural harbor on the neighboring Tigris River and named it Bagdhad, Babylon dwindled to a town of 10,000, it’s massive walls cannibalized for building blocks.

Current conditions in Iraq may just be leading us toward the fulfillment of the Bible’s prophecy to restore Babylon to a mighty city in preparation for its ultimate and complete destruction. No other city except Jerusalem is given as much mention in the Bible as Babylon, and in the 6 chapters devoted to its destruction (Isaiah 13-14, Jeremiah 50-51, and Rev. 17-18) it has never been so completely overcome as these passages require. In fact, one of the great surprises from the Gulf War was the vision of Babylon, having undergone a billion dollar reconstruction, sitting there tall and proud on the banks of the Euphrates.

As tempting as it is to read these passages figuratively and see them as representing New York or some other city, and as much as we can all agree that such punishment is certainly warranted for them, there’s simply no Biblical reason to do so. The plains of Shinar is a specific geographical location in Iraq, and after the center of pagan religion moved from Babylon to Pergamum during the time of the Greek Empire it never came back there as Zechariah’s prophecy requires.  And remember, we not just talking about religion here.  The Babylonian system includes government and commercial components as well.  This will be confirmed through out Rev. 18.  There’s no single city in the world today that houses the headquarters of all three.

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. With a mighty voice he shouted:

“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt 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.”

Then I heard another voice from heaven say:

“Come out of her, 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.

In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.’ 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.

“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 over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:

” ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!’ (Rev. 18:1-10)

The Babylonian religion was destroyed in Rev. 17. Now Babylon itself will be reduced to ruins, burned in the fire of righteous judgment, a haunt for demons. World leaders who have enriched themselves through this corrupt system will weep and mourn in terror.  The governmental systems from which they’ve gained their unjust wealth at the expense of their subjects is no more. Next comes the commercial component.

“The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more— cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and 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; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men.

“They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn and cry out:

” ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls! In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’

“Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out:

” ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin! Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you.’ “

People who subscribe to the theory that the Babylon spoken of here is meant to symbolize some other city often point to specific details in this passage to support their view. In  doing so they rely on their human perception of what is or is not possible rather than trusting the Word of God.

For example some say the phrase “Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off” suggests a port by the sea.  They remind us that the plains of Shinar are nowhere close to the sea, or visible from the sea and claim it would be impossible for someone on a ship at sea to see Babylon burning.

While serving in the US Navy, I was stationed aboard the USS Independence.  At the time it was the world’s largest aircraft carrier and our lookouts stood watch  on a platform 9 stories above sea level.  We considered their line of sight range to be about 20 miles.  This was not considered to be “afar off” so their abilities were augmented by aircraft who were stationed several hundred miles ahead of us flying high enough to “see” several hundred more miles with their search radar and relay information back to the captain.  In this way he could “see” things that were “afar off” and take appropriate action.  These days we also have cell phones and satellite TV that make it possible for anyone to see almost anything from anywhere.

In addition, Rev. 18:18-19 says when these ship masters and sailors see the smoke of Babylon burning they’ll throw dust on their heads and cry out with weeping and mourning.  If they can throw dust on their heads they must be on land, and if they’re on land they could be close enough to see from afar.

We could devote much time to a discussion on the details of Babylon’s destruction, but if you consider all the six chapters that the Bible devotes to the ultimate destruction of Babylon (Isaiah 13-14, Jeremiah 50-51 and Rev. 17-18) you’ll find there’s no Biblical reason to assume they refer to any place other than the actual city on the plains of Shinar. It will also become obvious that never in history has this evil city and all it represents been so totally brought down.  And even if the city itself had been dashed to the ground and its refuse dumped into the sea, the systems created there have certainly survived to this day.

What I’d like us to focus on here is the insidious nature of the world’s commercial system and how it’s enslaved mankind to an extent that actually surpasses the religious oppression we’ve discussed because by its nature, it closes the door to God’s truth. Consider these words from the Lord in His Kingdom Parables.

The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. (Matt. 13:22)

From my studies, I’ve concluded that with the rise of the anti-Christ the world’s religious, political and economic systems will all be consolidated under one authority, and this authority will be headquartered in Babylon. It will be the Vatican, Mecca, the UN, the stock and commodities markets and the monetary exchanges of the world all rolled up into one.

Today many of us don’t realize the extent to which we’ve become enslaved. It isn’t until you opt out of the system that you begin to realize the hold it’s had on you. His American audiences used to roar in laughter when Charles “Tremendous” Jones, one of my favorite humorists accused them of “spending money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.” The accusation was all too true, but it seems like all we can do about it is laugh at ourselves.

The secret to success was once identified as the ability to find a need and fill it. Now the advertising industry promises, “Bring us a product, and we’ll create the need for it.” Promotional costs can add 30-50% to the price of the things we buy, and yet we willingly pay the premium, because we’ve been convinced that we need what the advertisers are selling.  And then we have to add in the cost of financing our purchases because we don’t really have the income to support the lifestyle we’ve been manipulated into. So we borrow from the future to pay for the present.

Also, each year a cost of government day is calculated to show how much of the average person’s income goes to support our various levels of Government.  In 2012 that day came on July 15 for US citizens. It means every dollar that we earned from January 1 to July 15 was required to pay the various taxes levied against us by our government. For most, the hidden costs of promotion and credit will more than consume the rest.

So it should come as no surprise that for years Americans have spent up to 125% of their annual incomes, accumulating trillions of dollars in consumer debt just to appear more successful than reality would permit because the advertising industry makes it sound like the right thing to do, and because our government requires so much of us. And we think we’re free.

Similar statistics can be cited for much of the so-called developed world, though they’re often obscured by the ridiculous promise of their governments to take care of them. (Don’t they realize that governments don’t produce wealth, but consume it?) For the rest, wages counted in pennies keeps people in a state of poverty you can actually feel, while those who pay them often enjoy lives of obscene luxury.

So whether he thinks he’s rich or knows he’s poor, the average human being is economically enslaved for life. As much as God hates false religion, He hates the economic enslavement of His people no less. And so when it comes time to visit His vengeance on those responsible, there’s no holding back. Cries of excessive force and improper lack of restraint will fall on deaf ears this time. Commercial Babylon and its worldwide system of enslavement will oppress mankind no more, and those who’ve been enriched by it will lament its loss.

Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said:

“With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again. The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world’s great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray. In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.” (Rev. 18:11-24)

Everyone of Earth’s current evils had its origin in Babylon, and finally the utter and permanent destruction man’s religious, governmental and commercial systems has come.  Next time we’ll see what God has ordained to replace them as the fifth kingdom of Daniel 2 arrives.  And this one will never be destroyed or left to another, but will endue forever (Daniel 2:44).  See you then.

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