Ranko Stefanovic just checked in from Sao Paulo Brazil. He has been traveling and unable to send before, please accept his apologies. Better late than never. From here on is his brief analysis of the editorial changes followed by the original lesson as it came from his own hand:
Except here and there some minor editorial changes, the Sabbath School Quarterly week 12 has retained the intention of the pre-edited version.
In the Monday lesson, the last paragraph was removed: “Both groups are equally deceived and have put themselves into the service of Babylon: the world leaders serve Babylon for personal benefit while the general populace serves Babylon as a result of seduction. Revelation tells us that, at the time of the end, the world will once again be dominated by a religious system similar to the one of the Middle Ages. Yet, the time will come when the people will realize the impotence of Babylon and will turn against it, however, too late (see Rev. 17:12-16). This concept is depicted as the drying up of the Euphrates River, when the disillusioned supporters of Babylon withdraw their support from this apostate religious system.”
Lesson 12 * March 16-22
Judgment on Babylon
Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. chaps. 17-18; 2:20-23; 13:5-8.
Memory Text: “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities” (Revelation 18:4-5, NKJV).
We saw that the sixth plague causes the symbolic drying up of the Euphrates, as the disillusioned people of the world withdraw their popular support from end-time Babylon. However, its fall will be followed by extensive demonic activities counterfeiting the work of God, doing miraculous signs, the most evident of which is bringing fire down from heaven (Rev. 13:13). The demonic activity is successful in uniting the whole world in preparation for the Battle of Armageddon against God’s faithful remnant.
At the outset of the final battle, a great earthquake occurs as part of the seventh plague. The earthquake shatters the unity of Babylon and splits it into three parts (Rev. 16:18-19). End-time Babylon is portrayed as a city, signifying the short-term union of the satanic trinity—the dragon, the sea beast, and the earth beast—in its alliance with the religious powers of the world in opposition to God’s people. This unity is shattered, causing the breakup of end-time Babylon.
We must keep in mind that Revelation 16:19 only pronounces the collapse of end-time Babylon. Chapters 17-18 tell us how this collapse will actually happen. Before describing the demise of end-time Babylon and the reasons for its fall (Rev. 17:12-18:24), Revelation 17 describes this end-time apostate religious system, this time in terms of a prostitute riding the beast who, in association with her daughters, seduces the world against God (vs. 1-11).
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 22.
Sunday March 17
The Prostitute Babylon
Read Revelation 17:1. Jeremiah 51:13 shows that the “many waters” upon which Babylon sits is the river Euphrates. According to Revelation 17:15, what do many waters symbolize?
A woman in the Bible is a symbol for God’s people. In Revelation, God’s faithful people are portrayed as a chaste woman (Rev. 12:1; 22:17). A harlot thus represents apostate and unfaithful people. In Revelation 17:5, this prostitute is identified as Babylon the Great. Just as ancient Babylon depended on the Euphrates River for its existence, so will end-time Babylon rely on the support of the governing world powers to enforce its plans.
Read Revelation 17:2 along with 14:8 and 18:2-3. What two groups of people are specified as involved in an illicit relationship with and being seduced by end-time Babylon?
The first group is the kings of the earth—these are the governing political powers. They are portrayed as being engaged in an adulterous relationship with the prostitute Babylon. In the Old Testament, the language of fornication is used frequently to describe how apostate Israel turned away from God to idolatry (Isa. 1:21; Jer. 3:1-10). The adulterous relationship between the kings of the earth and the harlot symbolizes an illicit union between end-time Babylon and the governing political powers in the final crisis.
The second group in an illicit relationship with the prostitute Babylon is the inhabitants of the earth. These are made spiritually drunk with the wine of Babylon’s fornication. In contrast to the governing political powers, the general populace is intoxicated by Babylon’s deceptive teachings and activities. When people are drunk, they do not think soberly, and are easily controlled (see Isa. 28:7). Only when they are sober will they come to realize their bad decisions and actions.
Both groups are equally deceived and have put themselves into the service of Babylon: the world leaders serve Babylon for personal benefit while the general populace serves Babylon as a result of seduction. Revelation tells us that, at the time of the end, the world will once again be dominated by a religious system similar to the one of the Middle Ages. Yet, the time will come when the people will realize the impotence of Babylon and will turn against it, however, too late (see Rev. 17:12-16). This concept is depicted as the drying up of the Euphrates River, when the disillusioned supporters of Babylon withdraw their support from this apostate religious system.
How does someone drink of the wine of Babylon? Must a person be in Babylon to drink of Babylon’s wine?
Monday March 18
The Prostitute Riding on the Beast
Read Revelation 17:3. While John was told that the prostitute sited on many waters, he sees her actually riding the beast. In what ways do the symbols water and beast suitably describe the supporters of Babylon?
As John is carried in vision into the wilderness, he sees a woman on a scarlet beast, not on waters. While the prostitute represents a religious entity, the beast symbolizes a political power. The picture of religion riding the secular and political powers points to two separate entities, something that was not the case in the past, when religion and politics were integrated. The prophecy shows, however, that these two will join together at the end-time. The concept of riding a beast denotes dominance; this shows that this end-time religious system will dominate the secular and political powers.
Which characteristics of the prostitute point to the sea beast of Revelation 13? Make a list of their common features.
The prostitute is pictured as extravagantly arrayed in purple and scarlet and adorned with ornaments of gold and precious stones and pearls; this was a practice of prostitutes in antiquity to enhance their power of seduction (Jer. 4:30). As the color of blood, scarlet corresponds to the oppressive character of this religious system.
The harlot’s dress also reminds one of the attire of the High Priest in the Old Testament, which included the colors purple, scarlet, and gold (Exod. 28:5-6). The inscription on her forehead also resembles the priestly inscription, “Holiness to the Lord” on the miter of the high priest (Exod. 28:36-38). The cup in her hand replicates the drink offering in the sanctuary (Exod. 30:9). With its historic religious appearance, this end-time religious system becomes Satan’s powerful tool in seducing the world away from God. However, regardless of its appearance, this religious system is a harlot and the mother of harlots. Babylon’s daughters are the world religious powers that will unite with the satanic trinity, forming an end-time religious confederacy.
The harlot Babylon is further described as drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs of Jesus who died due to their witness to Christ. This links end-time Babylon to the medieval apostate Christianity of western Europe, which was led by the papacy and responsible for the deaths of millions of Christians who remained faithful to the gospel.
The description of the prostitute Babylon reflects the image of Jezebel in the church of Thyatira (see Rev. 2:20-23). How do the parallels between these two women elucidate the character of end-time Babylon?
Tuesday March 19
The Identification of the Beast
Read Revelation 17:6b-7. Why is John so astonished when he sees the prostitute? The angel promised to explain to him the mystery of the prostitute. Yet, he instead places all the focus on the scarlet beast. Why?
The likely reason for John’s astonishment at seeing the prostitute was that he recognized in her the woman that had fled into the wilderness in order to escape the persecution of the dragon during the prophetic 1260-day period of the Middle Ages (Rev. 12:13-14). This suggests that this end-time apostate religious system was once faithful to Christ. The church that in the past was faithful to God will, at the end time, turn into the opponent of God’s people and lead people away from God.
In response to John’s amazement, the angel explains to him the mystery of the woman and the beast that carries her.
Read Revelation 17:8. Compare the wording of this verse with 13:8. How does Revelation 13:3 clarify the three phases of the existence and activities of the beast?
The scarlet beast is identified as the one that was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. This tripartite phrase is, first of all, a parody of the divine name Yahweh —“who is and who was, and who is to come” (Rev. 1:4; 4:8). It also further points to the three phases of existence through which the beast has passed:
(1) The beast “was,” as it existed in the past. This refers to the activities of the beast during the period of the prophetic 1260-days (see Rev. 13:5).
(2) “Is not.” With its deadly wound (see Rev. 13:3), the beast came into its non-existence phase; it vanished for some time from the world scene, yet it survived.
(3) Finally, with the healing of the deadly wound, the beast will come back to life again in full satanic rage against God’s faithful people.
Revelation 17 describes the beast of Revelation 13:1-8 at the time of the healing of its deadly wound. It is upon this resurrected beast that prostitute Babylon sits. Revelation thus tells us that once again there will be a short-lived union of religion and politics, as it existed during the Middle Ages. The revival of the medieval religious system will arouse the admiration of the inhabitants of the earth, all those whose names are not written in the Book of Life. This reiterates verbatim Revelation 13:8, which clearly links the scarlet beast that carries the prostitute Babylon with the medieval apostate religious system.
Wednesday March 20
The Seven Heads of the Beast
Throughout history, the beast existed and functioned by its heads—one head at a time. The angel proceeds to explain the meaning of the beast’s heads.
Read Revelation 17:9-11 along with 13:18. The requirement for understanding the seven heads is a mind of wisdom. What kind of wisdom is in view here? How does one obtain this divinely imparted wisdom (see James 1:5)?
The angel explains that the seven heads are seven mountains. Some translators think that these are the seven hills upon which the city of Rome is situated, and this is why they translate the Greek word oroi [“mountains”) as “hills.” However, the angel makes clear that Rome was not meant because he immediately explains that these mountains symbolize seven kings. Also, these mountains are successive, not synchronic.
These mountains are not individual kings because Revelation does not deal with individual persons but systems. In the Bible, mountains often symbolize world powers or empires (Jer. 51:25; Ezek. 35:2-3). In biblical prophecy, “kings,” mean kingdoms (see Dan. 2:37-39; 7:17). Thus, the seven mountains represent seven great successive empires that dominated the world throughout history, through which Satan opposed God and harmed God’s people.
As the angel now identifies these seven kingdoms, he does it from John’s time perspective, rather than from the perspective of the future.
Five of these empires have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. The five that have fallen are the great kingdoms that in the Old Testament times dominated and harmed God’s people: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The “one is” kingdom was the Roman Empire of John’s time. The seventh kingdom that “has not yet come” is the beast of Revelation 13—the medieval church led by the papacy that dominated and harmed God’s people—that was to come after the time of John and after the fall of the Roman Empire.
John is further told that the scarlet beast is in the phase of the eighth head, although it is one of the seven. Which of the seven? Most likely the seventh head that received the deadly wound. It is at the time of this eighth head that the scarlet beast carries the prostitute Babylon. Today, we live at the time of the healing of the deadly wound. The eighth head will appear on the scene right before the end, and will go to perdition.
John was told that the seventh power “must continue a short time.” How does Revelation 12:12 explain that this “short time” does not refer to a length of time?
Thursday March 21
The Fall of Babylon
Read Revelation 17:12-15 along with 16:12-16. What do you learn from the text about the “ten kings”?
Different interpretations have been offered regarding the identity of the ten kings. However, Revelation does not tell us who they are; like any unfulfilled prophecy, only the future will reveal their full identity. All we can derive from the text is that they are a short-lived political confederacy appearing right before the end. Their number denotes the totality of the world powers that will render their allegiance to the beast. The beast will use them to enforce its plans and purposes, which will last only for a short time.
Now, Revelation 17:13-14 reiterates in a nutshell the Battle of Armageddon—introduced in Revelation 12:12-17. Induced by the satanic trinity, the worldwide political confederacy will make war with the Lamb. This shows that the final battle is not a military battle in the Middle East, but a battle between Satan and his confederacy and Christ and His faithful people. Babylon’s aim is to destroy God’s people. The battle will conclude with the triumph of Christ and the destruction of the worldwide confederacy that loyally supported Babylon (see Rev. 19:11-21).
Read Revelation 17:16-18. From what we saw in Revelation 16:2-12, what lies behind the ten kings’ change of attitude towards Babylon? Who is behind what happens to Babylon?
This whole scenario is another description of the drying up of the Euphrates River (Rev. 16:12). The ten horns, filled with hatred, suddenly turn against the harlot Babylon, making her desolate and naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. In describing this scene, John employs Old Testament language that depicts His judgments against adulterous Jerusalem (Jer. 4:30). Burning by fire was the punishment for a daughter of the high priest who was involved in prostitution (Lev. 21:9), which is a further indication that the prostitute Babylon denotes a religious system that was once true to God. As Revelation 16:10-12 indicates, the deceived political powers have become disillusioned because of the impotence of Babylon to protect them from the plagues. They feel deceived and in hostility attack her, bringing her to ruin. This end-time apostate religious system experiences the fullness of divine judgment together with all those who chose to identify themselves with it.
Read Revelation 18:1-3 and 7-19. Revelation states that Babylon is judged and charged on three grounds: religious, political, and economic. How do those who cooperated with Babylon and caused its destruction lament, realizing that Babylon’s destruction means their own loss of power and wealth?
Friday March 22
Further Thought: Right before the demise of Babylon, a voice from heaven urges God’s people still in Babylon to, “Come out of her, My people” (Rev. 18:4). There are many worshippers of God who are in Babylon for various reasons. To them, God sends His final appeal to disentangle themselves from this apostate religious system and not participate in its sins. They must come out of it in order to escape its fate. God does not want anyone in Babylon to perish. Revelation 19:1-10 shows that many God-fearing people in Babylon will respond to the call.
As Revelation 18:4 shows, there are many God-fearing people in Babylon who God calls, “My people.” Reflect on the following statement: “This message must be given, but while it must be given, we should be careful not to thrust and crowd and condemn those who have not the light that we have. We should not go out of our way to make hard thrusts at the Catholics. Among the Catholics there are many who are most conscientious Christians, and who walk in all the light that shines upon them, and God will work in their behalf. Those who have had great privileges and opportunities, and who have failed to improve their physical, mental, and moral powers, . . . are in greater danger and in greater condemnation before God than those who are in error upon doctrinal points, yet who seek to live to do good to others”—Ellen G. White, Evangelism, p. 575.
At the time of Daniel, Babylon was an evil power opposing God (see Isa. 14:12-14) and the enemy of God’s people. However, there were many sincere people in Babylon, who God wanted through Daniel to win for Himself. Do you see God-fearing people in Babylon today? While Babylon is an evil apostate religious system, God still loves the Babylonians and wants to save them. The question that deserves serious consideration is: where are God’s Daniels of today?
Some spend much time in making detailed timetables and prophetic charts regarding the final events. Should our time be better used in analyzing geographical maps for the purpose of reaching others for Christ?
Revelation 17 describes a prostitute sitting on a scarlet beast. While the woman in chapter 12 symbolizes God’s faithful church, the one in 17 refers to an apostate church seducing the world away from God. In your view, are these two women related?