We begin looking at chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation. After the pouring out of the bowls, covered in our previous episodes, these chapters are a complicated word picture that serve as an interlude to the story. We walk through the cast of characters, the setting, and historical background. Although there is a lot of imagery in these chapters, the theme is the same as the rest of Revelation: God is in control. And we are called to be his faithful witnesses.
The plan is to do Revelation 17 and 18. We are in the part of Revelation that in the outline is what is to come. We saw what was and is in chapters 1-3 with the letters to the seven churches. And now we’re looking at what is to come.
We have emphasized that the key thing about Revelation is not so much what’s going to happen but what we should do. And the overriding message is we should be faithful witnesses wherever God puts us.
The what is to come is sufficient enough to let us know things are going to get really bad. And as things get bad and when things get bad, our objective doesn’t change. We’re to be faithful witnesses and not fear death.
But the other overriding message is God’s in control. And we see most of Revelation either in the throne room or with the throne room interacting with what’s going on on earth.
In this episode we’re still in this overview. We’ve already seen the judgments poured out on the earth, and when the bowl judgments—the seven bowl judgments, took place, which were in the seventh trumpet, which was in the seventh seal—when the seven bowl judgments took place, there was this pronouncement: That’s it! All the judgment that is going to happen has now occurred.
Part of that judgment is a great war, and we’re going to see soon the outcome of that war and that Jesus wins.
An overview of chapters 17 and 18: A word picture
Now we’re in this interlude kind of explaining things from an overview perspective. So what I’m going to do here is tell you what 17 and 18 say, and then we’ll unroll it as we go through; because if you don’t kind of already know what the story is, it’s really hard to follow.
So, here’s the basic story. And we’re going to get a word picture. We’re going to get an illustration. There’s a harlot. And the harlot’s sitting on a beast. They’re on many waters. There are seven heads and ten crowns. And there’s a ton of sexual immorality, fornication that’s involved. The understanding takes place in the wilderness, okay?
Well, this harlot represents Babylon. Now you’ll remember Babylon was the head of the beast. We had a beast that had all the four kingdoms represented all in one beast. So now we have Babylon as a harlot. So we’ll see that.
The cast of characters
And I’m going to maintain that this harlot, this Babylon, is the world economic system which has become integrated with the world political system; in fact, to the point where the world economic system basically controls the world political system. And what we’re going to see is the kings come to a point where they actually destroy the economic system. I guess it’s the one thing that was over them, and they destroy it.
And this world economic system is given credit for—or the blame for—the martyrdom of the believers. So they’re an integral part: the economic system, the political system are partners in persecuting and killing Christians.
The waters are the nations of the earth. So all this happens worldwide out of the nations of the earth.
The beast, of course, is the dragon-man. We had an unholy trinity that we’ve had introduced to us. We’ve got the dragon which is Satan, like the father. We have the dragon-man which is the incarnation of Satan on earth, which is the beast, the antichrist. And we’re going to learn some about the antichrist in this. And then we have the false prophet, which is like the Holy Spirit that does miracles in the presence of the beast.
And this is the dragon-man. And the dragon-man is a Roman emperor.
We’ve got Babylon in the form of this dominant world economic system, and when Nebuchadnezzar for example, was king, he was over all. He owned everything. All the economic system was under his control. Actually, everything was under his control.
Well the new Babylon is this economic system, but it’s still part of Rome, and Rome as an entity in terms of its political structure, resurrects, and we’re going to have another Roman emperor, an effective Roman emperor, with all the things that come with that.
So that’s the picture of what we’re going to see.
So let’s go to it, and have that in mind as we go through it: harlot is the Babylon commercial operation, water’s the nation, beast is the dragon-man. And we’re talking about Rome and this interaction between the commercial system, and the political system abuses people. And it’s going to get judged for that.
An angel talks to John
17:1. Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
This is interesting because John recognizes one of the angels as being different from other angels. So angels have personalities. That’s kind of interesting to me. “Oh! This is one of the guys who poured out a bowl, and he’s now coming to talk to me.”
And the angel comes and says, “I’m going to show you, I’m going to explain to you about this great image.”
The angel takes John into the wilderness to show him the harlot
So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And generally speaking, when God prepares someone for service, he does it in the wilderness. You saw it with Moses; you saw it with Jesus.
In your experience, I’m sure, you’ve had some instances where you just felt like you had nothing to rely on but God. Well, God does that for a specific reason: to prepare us to learn to trust in nothing but him because that’s the only way you can be a faithful witness and not fear death is to say, “No matter what happens, I trust God.”
He goes to the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
We saw in verse 1 that the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication. So drunkenness—when you’re drunk, you don’t have your senses about you. You may think you’re wonderful, you may think you’re doing a great job. You’re not, because the substance is controlling you.
So what’s happening here is this world economic system has actually gotten people to the point where they’re not thinking right as though they’re inebriated. This seven heads and ten horns, as we’ll see more clearly as we go on, is indicative of this is a Roman reconstruction.
The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls—So there’s a lot of richness here, a lot of luxury. Very high level of material prosperity with this woman. Which makes sense. The commercial system produces prosperity. —having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. So along with the luxury comes perversion. And we’ll talk some about what the Roman emperors were like, and they had this in abundance.
And on her forehead a name was written:
MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
In this commercial system is embedded everything bad about life. Basically everything that is not what God called us to—that’s what this system feeds off of. Whereas God teaches us to serve others, this system is going to teach us to serve ourselves, etc.
The angel tells John the mystery of the woman
But the angel—then in verse 7—said to me, “Why did you marvel? 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 will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
About the antichrist
So we have the beast. This is clearly the antichrist. But we learned something about the beast. And that is that the beast, unlike Jesus who was and is and is to come—Jesus is eternal. He always was, he is now, he’s acting in the present, and he will be in the future—Well, this guy was, is not, is, but will go to perdition.
Angels who broke the rules
What does that mean? I don’t know what that means. But let me show you a couple of verses that could give us some indication. Look at Jude 1:6. And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day—and then he goes on and talks about—he’s using this as an example.
I’m not going to develop why he says this. But it’s interesting that he’s saying, some angels broke the rules and then got locked in chains awaiting the judgment. If the angels have consequences for misbehavior, why do you think you won’t? Why do you think false teachers won’t? Every action has a consequence. All things will be judged.
Well, who are these people? Angels broke the rules, didn’t keep their proper domain, left their own abode, and he chained them up and put them some place. Maybe in the bottomless pit. So who could that be? Well, maybe it’s the guys in Genesis 6.
Let’s look over at Genesis 6:1, a very interesting passage. Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
Nobody’s really sure what this is talking about. Clearly it was something different than is going on today. I don’t think we have sons of God going into daughters of men. And certainly if “sons of God” is angels, these angelic forces, these demonic forces, then something was happening back then that’s not allowed.
So, perhaps these guys broke the rules and got thrown in jail in the bottomless pit. Possibly what we have is one of these mighty men of renown, which perhaps in mythology is remembered as the Titans. You know usually there’s some reason for myths, some truth that’s behind it.
About the antichrist
And perhaps one of those guys or the spirit of one of those guys is going to come out of the bottomless pit. Now whether that’s a possession of somebody that’s born on the earth or a resurrection, we don’t know. But we’ve already seen that there’s some kind of a resurrection that’s associated with this antichrist.
We do know that whoever this antichrist is, this false messiah is going to deceive massive amounts of people. But he was, is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel. But the ones who marvel are the ones who don’t have the Spirit directing them.
And at this point in time, you’ve got people in the book of life, and they’re not going to be deceived. They don’t take the mark of the beast.
The city of the seven hills
Now verse 9. Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.
Now this is pretty clear. There’s one city, that’s the city of the seven hills. Actually, there’s 50 cities that are the cities of the seven hills. But all of them are copying the one, and that’s Rome. Rome was built on seven hills. If you go there today, the seven hills are still there. You can look up and read the names of the seven hills. It’s the city of the seven hills.
And it was the center of the world for a really long time, at least 1500 years. So it makes sense that other cities would try to copy the big city.
The city of the seven hills is Rome, and that’s a symbol because Babylon is the head but we’re sitting on the hills.
The political system is Rome; the economic system is Babylon
So the political system is the Roman system. The economic system is like Babylon, and it’s controlling everything on earth. That’s my interpretation.
The seven kings
Verse 10. There are also seven kings. The seven hills represent Rome but also represented seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.
What does that mean? Five kings, five have fallen; meaning we’re talking about real people that have died. And who are those people?
It depends on when this was written as to who those people are. But the consensus really is—except for the people that really desperately want Revelation to be all written before 70 AD, and they work real hard to fit it in. They say it was written during Nero. But all the evidence indicates that this was written during the time of Domitian.
So this happens to be the Roman Emperors leading up to the time of Domitian. There was Vitelius, who was basically an emperor for a few months, and he was lynched by his soldiers.
We’re going to get a sense of what life is like in the court here just from these biographies.
He was followed by Otho, who was emperor, in part, while Vespasian was taking over. He was emperor, again, for a few months. Went and hid in a cave for nine years. His wife went and gave him sustenance and stayed with him some. And then they were both discovered and executed.
Vespasian was the emperor from 69 to 79. He is the emperor responsible for the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Vespasian sent Titus the general to go and sack the temple, and he used the proceeds from that massive catastrophe of the Jews to finance the Coliseum. The Coliseum was the thing with which he, basically, titillated audiences—you know, bread and circuses—and won the ingratiation of the people, the mob. And he died a natural death, which is unusual in the emperor line.
Julius Severus is the guy who was in a cave and only lasted for a short time. Otho was in for a short time and then lost a battle to somebody and committed suicide. I got those guys backwards.
And then Titus came in. He was the general who sacked Jerusalem. And he died a natural death too. But he was only emperor for a couple of years.
And then Domitian. Domitian came in, and he was emperor from 81-96. He was murdered by the people in the court.
And then after him came Nerva, who was emperor for two years. So he was emperor for a short time.
Domitian is an interesting fellow. According to his biographers, when he became emperor, he spent hours each day catching flies and tormenting them with a pin just to satisfy his cruelty.
Domitian was the author of the second big wave of persecution to Christians, the first one being under Nero. But he didn’t just persecute Christians. He persecuted whoever he felt like persecuting. If he wanted somebody’s property, he would just have them executed on some trumped up charge and take it.
He had one senator he brought in and made him feel real comfortable and gave him kind of a celebratory dinner and stuff; and he had already ordered his execution the next day by crucifixion. So he was one cruel fellow.
And just, in general, if you go read about these Roman emperors, you get the following things: Murder your mother. Murder your family. Murder whoever you feel like murdering. Massive sexual perversion.
You get guys who are pedophiles. I think it was Tiberius Caesar; he had some boys he called his minnows that he would go and do things to in the swimming pool that don’t bear repeating. And according to one source, he was considered to have gone over the edge when he started throwing them over the cliff for extra jollies.
You have guys who would kill men for their wives. The emperors. You had emperors who would rape women and then go tell their husbands what he thought of their wives.
You had an emperor who had a male that he particularly liked castrated and had a big public marriage of the male, in addition to females.
These guys were completely untethered. You know the old saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s fairly evident with these Roman emperors. And, of course, most of them died violent deaths as well.
If we look at Revelation 22:14, we’ve gone to this a number of times, but it bears repeating when we’re summing up the whole thing. Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. We’re talking about the new Jerusalem here. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. That’s a pretty good description of the Roman emperors right there.
Domitian had another little practice he had: He called himself “the Lord God.” And so when he would write edicts for people, he would say “The Lord God says.” He didn’t have any self-esteem problem, did he?
So, idolatry, lying, murder, sexual immorality. By the way, this word fornication we’re going to see all through 17 and 18, porneia, or some version of porneia, is also this word translated sexual immorality. It’s the same root word.
So you have these seven kings, and this king who’s going to come is the eighth and is of the seven. So the beast, the antichrist, is going to be like a Roman emperor. He’s going to be of this ilk that murders, that has gross immorality, where everything is about their own power and their own lust, their own appetites. That’s what this guy is going to be like.
Politically, we have the political empire. But commercially, we have something that’s even more dominant than the kings themselves, and that’s Mystery Babylon.
The ten horns; the ten kings
Verse 12. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet—So this is something new that’s going to come in the future. Ten kings not of the Roman emperors. —but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.
These guys are going to be important political rulers who come in an alliance with the beast and give the beast all of their power, and they’re going to do something else very important we’re going to see in a second: they’re going to kill Babylon, which is very interesting.
These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them. Overcome. What word? What Greek word? Nikao. Defeat. Conquer. Win over them. The Lamb is going to win. And we’re going to see that soon.
Why? Because he’s the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He’s more powerful than the world economic system. He’s more powerful than all the kings of the earth have ever been including the Roman emperors. And he’s more powerful than Babylon as the economic system and Rome as the political system come together as a king and a queen over the earth. God’s still more powerful.
And again, one of the overarching themes: Who’s in control? God. He’s still on his throne. And even though it looks like everything’s spinning out of control, it’s not. God’s in control. He’s on his throne. Because he’s the King of Kings
And those who are with him are called, chosen, and faithful. Be faithful witnesses, no matter what, no matter how bad it gets. Be faithful witnesses. That’s what we’re supposed to hear. That’s what we’re supposed to understand. That’s what we’re supposed to do in understanding Revelation.