I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (March 17-23) Sabbath School Adult Teacher’s Edition for people to compare with the edited version. The changes were not massive or disruptive in most cases. I share my analysis of the changes in the next blog. These comments are not a comprehensive overview of these chapters, they are elaborations of the standard quarterly edition written primarily by my friend Ranko Stefanovic.
JUDGMENT ON BABYLON
Part I: Overview
Key Text: Rev. 17:14.
Study Focus: Revelation seventeen and eighteen focus on the fall of end-time Babylon in the closing days of earth’s history.
Introduction: Rev. 17 describes the rise and fall of end-time Babylon as symbolized by a woman, the great prostitute (Rev. 17:18). Rev. 18 also describes the fall of Babylon, but this time in the image of the great city (Rev. 18:10, 16, 18, 19).
Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage introduce the following themes:
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 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. Summary of end-time events in light of Theme 1.
Life Application. The Life Application section explores how the presence of faithful people within “Babylon” to the very end should impact the way we treat Christians of other faiths. It also explores the similarities and differences between the women of Rev. 12 and 17, and readiness for the Second Coming.
Part II. Commentary
In Rev. 17 and 18 Babylon gains the support of the secular/political powers of the world for its war against the saints (Rev. 17:6), but eventually they turn on Babylon and destroy her (Rev. 17:16). Rev. 18 expresses their three-fold regret 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).
Main Themes of Lesson 12 Elaborated:
1. Three Worldwide End-Time Alliances. Rev. 16-18 contains a bewildering variety of images describing end-time powers and groupings. But upon careful 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). We have noticed earlier, in Lesson 11 (Theme 1), that God’s people are also named by many names in the book of Revelation.
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, and the woman that rides the beast.
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 Theme 4 we will briefly explore the narrative of these three alliances in the final days of earth’s history.
2. The Difference Between Visions and Their Explanations. In apocalyptic prophecy, 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. 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. It 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 also divided into two parts; the vision (Dan 7:2-14 and 21-22), and explanations of the vision (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 same pattern can be seen in Daniel 8 and Zech 4:1-14.
Prophets don’t usually seem to understand a 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 Theme 3.
3. The Identity of the Seven Kings of Rev. 17:10. Theme 2 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? Is it a power in John’s day, one at the very end of time, or is it located somewhere else in the course of history? Various Seventh-day Adventist scholars have drawn each of these three conclusions.
One popular option is to see the seven kings as seven consecutive popes. The sequence usually begins with the year 1929, when Mussolini restored Vatican City to the sovereignty of the church, and ends with 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.
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 seventh king would be today, the restored Vatican power.
But Theme 2 above 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). 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 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.
4. The Narrative of Rev. 17. As we saw in Theme 1, there are three worldwide alliances that develop in the end-time; an alliance of religious institutions in opposition to God, an alliance of secular political power, and an alliance of the saints. All three are precipitated by the final worldwide proclamation of the gospel (Rev. 14:6-7) and its evil counterpart (16:13-14). Through the counterfeit gospel of demonic angels (16:13-14), Babylon (demonic trinity—16:19) gathers the secular/political powers of the world to its cause (16:14, 16). She “rides” the beast (17:2-7). For a short time, united institutions of religion dominate the world’s governments, turning their fury against the saints (17:6; 13:15-17). But when God intervenes (17:17), drying up Babylon’s support system (secular/political powers—16:12), it turns on her and destroys her (17:16). By this means God saves His end-time remnant from destruction (17:14). After the fall of Babylon, the secular powers of the world meet their end at the Second coming (19:17-21).
Part III: Life Application
In a passage completely focused on the events of the end-time, life applications can be difficult to find. The following suggestions may be helpful.
1. What are the implications for today in the fact that God has His people in the midst of Babylon almost to the very end (Rev. 18:4)? The realization that end-time Babylon has a Christian face should not lead us to harsh and disparaging statements aimed at Catholics or others (see statement from Ellen White, Evangelism, 575, in Friday’s lesson). While the religious leaders and the Zealots both opposed the mission of Jesus, He nevertheless dealt graciously with individual representatives of those groups (Luke 6:15; Mark 12:28-24).
2. What can we learn from the connections between the women of Rev. 12 and 17? There are startling similarities between the women of Rev. 12 and 17. Both women are located in the wilderness (Rev. 12:6,14; 17:3). Both are religious in nature (prostitute Babylon is dressed like the High Priest in 17:4). But the woman of 12 is the church as seen in the middle period of Christian history, the 1260 day/years (see Teacher’s Edition for Lesson 8). What causes John amazement (Rev. 17:6) is that the end-time opponent of God and His people wears a Christian face! This should sober all who follow Jesus. Our pride and stubbornness can lead us to destruction even when we think we are following God (John 16:2).