Tag Archives: theology of Revelation

The Identity of the Seven Kings of Rev. 17:10 (Judgment 4)

The difference between visions and explanations helps us solve one of the most vexing problems in the whole book of Revelation. Who are the seven kings of Rev. 17:10? They are clearly sequential, but where do they begin and when is the “one is” of the angel’s description? It is a power in John’s day, one at the very end of time, or is it somewhere in the course of history? Various Seventh-day Adventist scholars have drawn each of these three conclusions.

One popular option among non-scholars is to see the seven kings as seven consecutive popes, usually beginning with the year 1929, when Mussolini restored Vatican City to the sovereignty of the Roman Catholic Church, and the very last pope of earth’s history. This view has frequently suggested that a current pope is either the last or the next to last. So this view has led people into date-setting and is now stretched to the limit as pope after pope continues.

A second view is quite popular among SDA scholars. It suggests that the time of the sixth king (the “one is” of 17:10) is the time from 1798 to 1929, when the papacy had no temporal power. The five fallen kings would then be Babylon Persia, Greece, Rome, and the medieval papacy. The one that is would be the time when the church has no temporal power. The seven kings would be the situation today, the restored Vatican power. This view fits well with the overall Adventist view of the end-time.

But seeing this text as part of an explanation rather than a vision would rule out both options if applied here. The passage about the seven kings is not in the vision (Rev. 17:3-6), it is in the explanation of the vision (17:7-18). In order to make sense to John the explanation needs to be from his standpoint in history. So the “one is” king would have to be present at the time when John himself received the vision in order to make sense. If the “one is” kingdom is the pagan Rome of John’s day, the five who are “fallen” would be the five super powers of the Old Testament world; Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Greece. The seventh “king” would be the medieval papacy and the “eighth” (Rev. 17:11) king, who is one of the seven, would be the revived Babylon of chapter 17, an entity that in its fullness is still in our future.

The Difference Between Visions and Their Explanations (Judgment 3)

In the Jewish apocalyptic tradition (represented in the Bible particularly by Daniel and Revelation), there is an important distinction between visions and explanations. In a vision, the prophet can travel anywhere in the universe and to any point of time, all the way to the end of the world. The events of the vision are not necessarily located in the prophet’s time and place. But when the vision is explained to the prophet afterward, the explanation always comes in the time, place and circumstances of the visionary.

For example, in Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar is taken down to the end of time in his vision of the great image and the stone that became a great mountain that filled the whole earth (Dan. 2:31-36). The explanation of the vision by Daniel, however, is firmly grounded in the time and place of Nebuchadnezzar. The interpretation begins with a straightforward, unambiguous assertion, “You are that head of gold (Dan 2:38).” Nebuchadnezzar is then told that the series of kingdoms that follow are “after you” (2:39) in point of time.

As was the case with Daniel 2, the apocalyptic prophecy of Dan 7 is divided into two parts; a description of the vision, in which the prophet is transported through time and space to view various entities and events, mostly in his future (Dan 7:2-14 and 21-22), and an explanation of the vision, given in the language, time and place of the prophet (Dan 7:15-20, 23-27). Even though Daniel experienced all elements of the vision, including the final events, the explanation clarifies that the vision is essentially about the future experience of Daniel’s people (Dan 7:17-18, 23-27). The explanation comes for the benefit of Daniel first. It, therefore, explains things in terms of his location in the world and in history, in terms he can understand. The same pattern can be seen in Daniel 8 and Zech 4:1-14.

This makes logical sense. For an explanation to make sense to me it needs to be framed in terms of my language and location in time and space. Prophets don’t usually seem to understand the revelation from visions alone. An explanation is necessary for the revelation to be understood. Since that explanation is given for the benefit of the prophet, it is based on the time, place and circumstances in which the seer lives. This principle has profound implications for the interpretation of difficult apocalyptic texts like Rev 17:7-11, as we will see in the next blog.

With regard to Revelation 17, verses 3-6 clearly portray a vision in which John sees and reacts to a number of things. Verses 7-18 then go on to explain a number of things. It makes sense, then, if in the explanation John is told that some things are in the past, others are present and others are future, that the point from which to understand all three concept is the time in which John received the vision and hears the explanation.

Three Great End-Time Alliances (Judgment 2)

A close examination of Revelation 17 indicates that the relevant images and powers of the end-time unify into three great alliances; (1) religion in opposition to God (Babylon), (2) secular/political power, and (3) a looser confederation of the saints, God’s faithful, end-time people. In the scenario of Revelation 17, Babylon gains the support of the secular/political alliance for its war against the saints (Rev. 17:6) for a short time. After the End-Time spiritual battle (Rev. 17:14), but eventually the secular powers of the world turn on Babylon and destroy her (Rev. 17:16). Rev. 18 expresses their three-fold regret afterward for having done so (Rev. 18:9-19). While the fall of Babylon is mourned by the world, it brings rejoicing to the saints (Rev. 18:20).

Let’s drill down a little deeper into this scenario. At first glance, Revelation 16-18 contains a bewildering variety of images describing end-time powers and groupings. But upon closer analysis it becomes evident that many of these images are different ways of describing the same thing. For example, the seven heads of the beast are also described as seven mountains and seven kings (Rev. 17:9-10). Likewise, the great prostitute (Rev. 17:1) is clearly the same as the woman who rides the beast (17:3) and Babylon the Great (17:5). Similarly, we have noticed earlier that God’s people are also named by many names in the book of Revelation.

The resulting conclusion is that the variety of images in these chapters can all be linked to three great, worldwide alliances that develop in the final period of earth’s history. 1) There is a great worldwide alliance of religious institutions that join together in opposition to God and His faithful people. This alliance is named by many names: Babylon, the great prostitute, the great city, the woman that rides the beast. End-time Babylon comes together with the rise of the unholy trinity of Revelation 13 and 16:13-14. These make up the three parts of Babylon (Rev. 16:19).

2) There is a great worldwide alliance of secular, political and military power. This alliance is also named by many names in Revelation: the Euphrates River (Rev. 16:12), the kings of the whole inhabited world (16:14), the cities of the nations (16:19), the many waters (17:1), the kings of the earth, the earth dwellers (17:2), the beast (17:3), the seven heads, the seven mountains, the seven kings (17:9-10) and the ten horns (17:12-13). These secular powers are also represented by the kings (18:9), merchants (18:11) and sea-farers (18:17) of chapter eighteen.

3) There is also a worldwide, end-time alliance of the saints, which is named by many names: the sealed (Rev. 7:1-3), the 144,000 (7:4-8), the great multitude (7:9-12), the remnant (12:17), the saints (14:12; 17:6), the kings of the east (16:12), those who keep their garments (16:15) and the called, chosen and faithful followers of the Lamb (17:14). In the very last period of earth’s history, this alliance is probably not so much institutional, as we know religious institutions today, but a coming together of kindred spirits out of every nation, tribe, language, people and religion. In a following blog we will briefly explore the narrative of these three alliances in the final days of earth’s history.

Revelation 17 and 18: Judgment on Babylon (Judgment 1)

Revelation seventeen and eighteen focus on the fall of end-time Babylon in the closing days of earth’s history. Revelation 17 describes the rise and fall of end-time Babylon as symbolized by a woman, the great prostitute (Rev. 17:18). Revelation 18 also describes the fall of Babylon, but this time in the image of the great city (Rev. 18:10, 16, 18, 19).

These chapters introduce the following themes, among others:

1. Three Worldwide End-Time Alliances. The multiple symbols of Revelation’s End-time coalesce into three great worldwide alliances: 1) religion, 2) secular/political power and 3) the saints.
2. The Difference Between Visions and Their Explanations. In a vision the prophet can be taken any time and any place, but explanations of the vision to the prophet, in order to make sense, must come to the prophet in the time and place of the prophet.
3. The Identity of the Seven Kings of Rev. 17:10. In order to understand the identity of the seven kings of Rev. 17:10 one must determine the time of the sixth king.
4. The Narrative of Rev. 17.

The passage implies that faithful people can be found within “Babylon” to the very end. This should impact the way we treat people of other faiths than our own. The similarities and differences between the women of Revelation 12 and 17 should tell us that even faithful Christian institutions are capable of falling away from that faithfulness. So constant vigilance is advised.

Some Practical Thoughts on Armageddon (Plagues 8)

1. In the midst of the Battle of Armageddon account (Rev. 16:13-16) is a blessing on the one who keeps watch and hangs onto his clothes (16:15). This verse is a clear allusion to Revelation 3:18, the warning of Christ to Laodicea (see comments on Revelation 3:17-18). There are four major words in Revelation 16:15 that are found together in only one other place in the Bible, Revelation 3:17-18. These are the Greek words for seeing, clothes, shame and nakedness. You will find all four concepts in the story of the Fall (Gen. 3:6-15) but not all of the specific words. So there is a specific and clear connection between the message to the church of Laodicea God’s final call to the world in the context of Armageddon. This indicates that the church that will pass through the final crisis of earth’s history will be seriously flawed, but very much the object of Jesus’ solicitude. This should be a source of both warning and encouragement to God’s people today.

2. In one single verse (Rev. 16:15) John brings together a variety of New Testament appeals in light of the End. Both “I come like a thief” and “Blessed is he who stays awake” echo statements of Jesus and are further echoed by Paul (Matt. 24:42-44; Luke 12:37-39; 1 Thess. 5:1-6). All three of these passages are about readiness for the coming of Jesus. By echoing these concepts in the middle of the Battle of Armageddon, the Book of Revelation makes it clear that the military language of Revelation is not to be taken in a military way. The Battle of Armageddon is a battle for the mind.
In the final battle of earth’s history, it is our spiritual task to keep watch over our attitudes, thoughts, and behavior, and to remain faithful no matter the deception or the coercion we may face. There is a need for both faithful endurance and discernment, fortified with the words of Jesus in the gospels, Paul in the epistles, and Jesus’ message to Laodicea. When we choose to be faithful today in the midst of various temptations, we are being prepared for even greater battles at the end of time.

The Meaning of Armageddon (Plagues 7)

The word “Armageddon” is really “Har-Magedon” in the Greek. Revelation 16:16 explains that the word is based on the Hebrew. In Hebrew “Har” means mountain. So the most natural meaning of Armageddon is “Mountain of Megiddo.” The problem with that reading is that there is no mountain in the whole world named Megiddo. The Bible refers to the waters of Megiddo (Jdg. 5:19), a Valley of Megiddo (2 Chr. 35:22) and a city of Megiddo (1 Kgs. 9:15). But nowhere is there a reference to a mountain of Megiddo.

There are a couple of other possibilities. In Zechariah 12:11 the LXX translator translates the Hebrew for “Megiddo” with “slaughter.” The mourning of Jerusalem in the future is compared to the mourning “of” or “for” Haddad-rimmon. We don’t know who or what Haddad-rimmon was, it is a Syrian name and the event referred to occurred outside Scripture. Relevant to our purpose, the mourning, whatever it refers to, is not in the city of Megiddo, but in a place where slaughter occurred. If this is what the author of Revelation had in mind, “Armageddon” would be a reference to Zechariah 12:11, and would mean “mountain of slaughter.”

Another option suggests that “Armageddon” is a reference to the fall of Lucifer in Isaiah 14. Lucifer fell from the “Mount of Assembly” (echoing Isa 14:12). But the expression in the Hebrew of Isaiah 14:12 is quite different from that of Revelation.

The Anchor Bible Dictionary concludes that the best explanation of “Har-Magedon” is to associate it with the mountain that looms over the waters, valley and city of Megiddo; Mount Carmel. Mount Carmel is the place where Elijah called fire down from heaven to earth to demonstrate who the true God is (Rev. 13:13-14). If this was John’s intent, in the last days of earth’s history there will be a showdown between the true God (Rev. 4-5) and the counterfeit trio (Rev. 16:13-14), between the three angels (Rev. 14:6-12) and the three frogs. In that final contest, the fire will fall on the wrong altar (Rev. 13:13-14), but the true God will be vindicated in the end (Rev. 15:3-4).

Cyrus the Persian and the Second Half of Revelation (Plagues 6)

In Revelation 16:12 it is “kings from the east” who dry up the Euphrates River. Since the Euphrates River passed right through the city of Babylon, it in part was and in part supplied the moat that protected the city. To in the Old Testament, the Euphrates River became a symbol of Babylon’s political and military support system (Jer. 50:37-38; 51:35-36). As a defense system for the city the Euphrates came to represent the officials, wise men, warriors, treasury and mercenaries that made the city strong (Jer. 50:33-36. So in the original story, when the Euphrates River dried up it left the city defenseless. This symbolic meaning of the river is taken up in this part of the book of Revelation.

Ancient Babylon was a nearly impregnable fortress. Revelation 16:12 recalls how the armies of Cyrus came from the east and camped north of Babylon. Cyrus’ engineers excavated a large depression in the nearby landscape and diverted the flow of the Euphrates River into that depression, thus causing the river to “dry up.” Cyrus’ soldiers used the dry river be to march under the river gates into the city. Timing the diversion to take advantage of a feast day inside the city, Cyrus’ soldiers discovered that drunken guards had left open the gates along the river bank. The army of Cyrus poured into the city, conquering it and killing its ruler, Belshazzar (as described in Daniel 5). In the months and years that followed, Cyrus initiated a process in which the scattered remnant of Israel were encouraged to go back home and rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem.

The story of Babylon’s fall was taken up as the back story for the last third of the book of Revelation. Notice the total sequence once more: In Old Testament times, Cyrus, king of Persia, dried up the literal Euphrates River in order to conquer literal Babylon, to let literal Israel (Judah) go free and to rebuild the literal city of Jerusalem. This narrative clearly sets the foundation for the last portion of the Book of Revelation. In the Book of Revelation an end-time Cyrus (the “kings from the rising of the sun”) dries up the end-time River Euphrates, conquers end-time Babylon to deliver end-time Israel and build a New Jerusalem!

The fundamental narrative substructure of the battle of Armageddon is grounded in the Old Testament story of Cyrus and Babylon’s fall. The conquest of Babylon by Cyrus is, so to speak, a subtext for everything that happens in Revelation 16-22. To notice this connection is to understand what is going on in the Battle of Armageddon. To miss this connection is to miss the point of this vision.

Two Gospels in Revelation (Bowl Plagues 5)

The three angels of Revelation 14:6-12 together proclaim the final gospel message to the entire world. It is the “everlasting gospel” to every nation, tribe, language and people (Rev. 14:6). “Everlasting gospel” means that while it arrives in the special context of the End-time, it is not a different gospel than the one that was taught by Jesus and the apostles. It is a call to worship the creator (Rev. 14:7) rather than the beast or his image (13:4, 8, 12, 15). This gospel produces the faith of Jesus (14:12), a trust in God grounded in abundant evidence of His character. At its simplest, the gospel can be summarized as “What we could not do, God did.” And at the heart of the gospel is the truth about what God is truly like, God’s character. He is infinitely powerful, yet infinitely gracious. While He is all-powerful, He chooses to resolve the issues in the universe without violence, without force or intimidation of any kind.

What many readers of Revelation have missed is the counterfeit gospel also proclaimed to the world in Revelation 16:13-14. The dragon, the beast and the false prophet (the counterfeit trinity of Revelation 13) each produce an unclean spirit like a frog out of their mouths (Rev 16:13). According to verse 14 these frogs are the “spirits of demons” who go out to the kings of the whole inhabited world to gather them for the final battle of earth’s history, Armageddon (see also 16:16). Demons are evil angels, thus you have three angels presenting the gospel of God in chapter fourteen and three evil angels presenting a counterfeit gospel in chapter sixteen. Both “gospels” go out to the entire world (Rev. 14:6; 16:14).

The proclamation of the gospel, therefore, is mirrored by the worldwide proclamation of a counterfeit gospel at the end of time. Just as the genuine gospel centers on the character of God and what God has done, the counterfeit gospel offers in its place a human construct of reality grounded in a different picture of God. At the core of Satan’s lie is a picture of human ability to save one’s self and a picture of God as very much like Satan, arbitrary, judgmental, deceptive, and cruel. Satan provokes his followers to portray God as deceptive and demanding. This counterfeit picture is described also in 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12. It is a battle between truth and lies. Those who do not rely on the words of Scripture will be deceived in the final crisis. These will accept a false picture of humanity (“you are worthless and hopeless”, yet somehow “you’re not so bad, you can make it on your own if you try” [false hope]) and a false picture of God (with a character like that of Satan).

The Meaning of the Euphrates River in Rev. 16:12 (Bowl Plagues 4)

Does the Euphrates River in Revelation 16:12 represent the literal river, the territory through which the river flows, the ruler of that territory, or something else? Through the years I have heard many interesting but implausible interpretations. The drying up of the Euphrates means the drying up of Middle Eastern oil. It pointed to death or removal of Saddam Hussein from power. It represented the nation of Iraq. In these interpretations, the Kings of the East would often be Iran or Russia. When I was much younger, it was taken literally and the Kings of the East represented the armies of Japan or China who would one day invade the Middle East. All of these interpretations are interesting, but they are contemporary speculations. If John himself defined what the Euphrates River means, we should not look elsewhere for the meaning. We need not remain in doubt on any interpretation when the text itself defines a symbol.

In Revelation 17:1 an angel introduces an explanation of one of the bowl plagues, and that bowl plagues has something to do with water. Of the seven options, three of the plagues have something to do with water; the second is poured out on the sea, the third is poured out on the rivers and springs of the earth and the sixth is poured out on the Euphrates River. Which of these three plagues is the one in view in Revelation 17:1?

I would conclude that the plague being interpreted in Revelation 17 is the sixth plague, the one which mentions the Euphrates River. First of all, the woman who sits on the water in the first verse is later called Babylon (Rev. 17:5) and the Euphrates River flowed right down the middle of the ancient city of Babylon. The reference to “many waters” in verse one is an echo of Jeremiah 51:13, where the Euphrates River is described as “many waters.” So you have a strong allusions to ancient Babylon and its position on the Euphrates River in the first five verses of Revelation 17.

The explanation of the vision of verses 1-5 (Rev 17:7-18) goes in other directions for a while, but returns to the image of verse one in verse fifteen. The meaning of the river is defined in Revelation 17:15. According to that verse, the waters of verse 1 represent “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (ESV), in other words, the civil and secular powers of the entire world. These powers give their allegiance to Babylon for a short time (Rev. 17:3, 12-13), creating a worldwide, end-time confederacy in opposition to God and His end-time people.

This makes sense of the sixth plague. All the other plagues are massive in their effect, most of them affect the whole earth (Rev 16:1-2). But then along comes the sixth plague, but it only effects a medium-sized river in a dry part of the earth. The plague does not seem in proportion to the other six. But if the Euphrates River represent the civil, secular, economic and military powers of the world, then it plays a huge role in the final events. The drying up of the Euphrates would mean the withdrawal of support by the secular powers of the world for the great religious confederacy called Babylon in the last days of earth’s history. At some future time the religious and secular powers of the world unite to counter the work of the gospel in the world. In the middle of this brief grand union, the civil powers of the world come to realize they have been deceived and turn on the religious authorities and institutions that have deceived them (Rev 17:16). Thus is End-time Babylon destroyed and the people of God delivered.

Why Plagues When No Repentance Will Result? (Bowl Plagues 3)

A very challenging question that people ask about Revelation 16: What is the purpose of the seven bowl/plagues if they are after the close of probation and therefore no repentance can be expected? I think there are a number of considerations to keep in mind.

First of all, Revelation makes clear that God is not the author of death, pain and destruction (Rev. 7:1-3). Satan is the destroyer (9:11). Because freedom is essential in order for genuine love and trust to exist, it is crucial to the peace and security of the universe. But if people are free to love, they are also free to hate, rebel and harm. Respecting freedom means not only allowing creatures the freedom to choose, but allowing them to experience the consequences of their choices. A God who constantly intervenes to prevent negative consequences is not a God of freedom. So God allows Satan a certain freedom of action in the course of history and at the End, after securing the righteous, God allows Satan to more fully demonstrate what his kind of government would look like. One purpose of the seven last plagues is to convince the universe that Satan’s alternative to love and trust in God leads to total disaster. This will help convince free beings in the universe to never choose that option again.

Second, even Satan’s worst actions can be used by God to fulfill His purposes (17:17). The deceptions and plagues of the final crisis expose the truth about Satan and those who follow him (2 Thess 10-12). It is not God’s fault that the wicked are unredeemed, neither the grace of God (Rom 2:4) nor the plagues of the End (Rev 16:9, 11, 21) bring about any repentence. They are hardened in the course they have chosen. Thus, even the destruction of the wicked glorifies the character of God in the end (Rev. 15:3-4). They have made themselves unsafe to save and God sadly lets them go (Hos 11:7-8). Even after the millennium and a clear perspective on God’s character, nothing in their character has changed (Rev. 20:7-10). The plagues expose their settled unfitness for eternity and vindicate God’s judgment in each case.

So even though probation has closed, the seven last plagues serve a purpose in preparing the universe for a free, loving, safe and secure eternity.