Tag Archives: Revelation 17

One More Witness

A second example. Let’s look at a specific Old Testament geographical term which is used in in Revelation 16:12: “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East.” Should we interpret the river Euphrates literally or geographically? Or does it have a spiritual, worldwide meaning like Revelation 1:7? We are not left to guess. The meaning of the Euphrates River in Revelation 16 is provided in Revelation 17. This becomes evident when we look at 17:1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters. . . .’”

Notice two things about this text. First, one of the bowl-angels of chapter 16 has come to explain something, and, second, that something has to do with “many waters.” So which of the seven bowl angels is this? Which of the seven bowls have anything to do with water? There are three possible candidates; the second bowl (Rev 16:3– falls on the sea), the third (16:4-7– rivers and springs), and the sixth (16:12– Euphrates River). Which of these three bowl-angels is the angel of Revelation 17? The answer is clarified in verse 5: “This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev 17:5). Babylon was an ancient city located on the Euphrates River. So when you talk about a woman who sits on many waters (17:1) and whose name is Babylon (17:5), there is no question exactly what the waters of Revelation 17:1 are, they are the Euphrates River, which is also described as “many waters” in Jeremiah 51:13. The angel who comes to John in Revelation 17 is the sixth bowl angel. He has come to explain something about the Euphrates River.

What the angel has come to explain is found in Revelation 17:15: “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.” What are these “waters you saw?” They are the waters of Rev 17:1, the waters of the Euphrates River. What does the Euphrates River represent? It represents “peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.” The Euphrates River is a symbol of many nations– the political, secular, and economic powers of this world. In the Old Testament, the Euphrates River was a literal and local river. But in the book of Revelation it is a symbol of a world-wide spiritual, concept, those people in the world who oppose Jesus Christ, not primarily on religious grounds, but as a threat to their political, secular and economic goals. In re-defining the Israel of the Old Testament, Jesus also re-defined how God looks at the earthly “enemy.” Differences between nations that have no impact on the larger issues in the cosmic conflict are of little or no importance to Bible prophecy. What counts is how people relate to Jesus Christ.

The Image of the Beast (Rebekah Liu Dissertation): (8) The Image of the Beast in Rev 17 II

Babylon in Revelation 17 has numerous parallels with the fall of Babylon in Daniel 5. Both chapters share the theme of imminent judgment with a subsequent swift fall. In Daniel it is a disembodied hand writing on the wall that announces the fall of Babylon. In Revelation 17 and 18 it is an angel who announces that fall. Both chapters have kings drinking wine from golden vessels (Dan 5:2; Rev 17:2, 4). But in Daniel 5 that banquet was in praise of the gods or idols of Babylon. That motif is missing in Revelation 17. But if one understands the Babylon in Revelation 17 as the idol image of the beast, then the parallels between Daniel 5 and Revelation 17 are complete in regard to the fall of Babylon.

Identifying Babylon with the image of the beast also fits with the cultural perspective of John’s day. In Revelation 17 Babylon is presented as a great prostitute who sits on many waters (17:1) and then a scarlet beast (17:3). The kings of the earth commit adultery with her and are intoxicated with her wine (17:2). She is dressed in purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls (17:4). She has a golden cup in her hand and a title on her forehead (17:5) and is drunk with the blood of the saints (17:6). This description of Babylon seated on a beast fits very well with ANE (Ancient Near Eastern) iconography, Babylonian goddesses are often portrayed as seated on various animals. In particular, this portrayal of Babylon resembles the cult image of the goddess Ishtar, the most revered goddess of ancient Mesopotamia. While the veneration of Ishtar goes all the way back to Sumerian times, it was very much alive also in John’s day and was known in the Hellenistic world of that time.

Ishtar was portrayed riding on a lion, so the composite beast of Revelation 17 seems to be a deliberate disfiguring of the Ishtar tradition. Instead of the lion, a symbol of victory, Babylon rides an ugly disfigured beast. Extra-biblical sources mention jewelry and clothing being dedicated to the Babylonian gods and goddesses and placed on the idols to be worn by them. These garments were scarlet, purple, and bluish-purple. Jewelry of gold, silver and precious stones would be attached to the garments of Babylonian cult images. Ishtar was also depicted as holding a golden cup in her hands. So the portrayal of Babylon in Revelation 17 fits with the general picture of a Babylonian cult image of a goddess.

The activities of Ishtar also parallel Babylon in Revelation 17. In Babylonian mythology, Ishtar was the manifestation of sex and eroticism. She played the role of a seductive woman flaunting her sexual attraction. The goddess was known as a prostitute and a patron of prostitutes. Prostitutes were called daughters of Ishtar in Sumerian love songs. Ishtar as a mother of prostitutes fits Revelation 17 very well. The goddess Ishtar also had a close relationship with the Babylonian kings as a companion in war and also as a symbolic sexual partner. She was a divine bride, having sexual relationships with kings through sacred marriage.

Finally, Babylon is called the mother of the abominations of the earth (Rev 17:5), the source of all abominations. In the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) the term “abominations” (Greek: bdelugma) is often used to denote idolatry. So the reference to Babylon’s abominations connects the Babylon of Revelation 17 with idolatry. This association with idolatry is one further reason to interpret Babylon in Revelation 17 as synonymous with the image of the beast of Revelation 13:14-15. In a number of ways, the portrayal of Babylon parallels the major characteristics of ANE cult images. The only cult image found in Revelation is the image of the beast. Rebekah Liu suggests that the image of the beast finds its active counterpart in the Babylon of Revelation 17 and 18. The destruction of Babylon by fire in 17:16 and 18:8, 18, therefore, supplies the missing element in Revelation’s portrayal of the image of the beast. It is not destroyed by fire in Revelation 19 or 20 because it has already passed off the scene.

The Narrative of Revelation 17 (Judgment 5)

As I have shown in a previous blog, Revelation 17 understands there to be three worldwide alliances that develop in the end-time; an alliance of religious institutions in opposition to God, an alliance of secular political power, a true united nations, 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). The world is divided into those who accept the gospel (saints), those who reject it (Babylon) and those who are indifferent (secular).

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 God intervenes (17:17), drying up Babylon’s support system (secular/political powers—16:12), and they end up turning on her and destroying 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 are destroyed in the context of the Second Coming itself (19:17-21).

Crucial to the above scenario is the discovery that many of the symbols of Revelation are multiple way of saying the same thing. For example, the seven heads of the beast turn out to be seven mountains and seven kings, three images of secular, political power in the world. Earlier we noticed that the remnant of Revelation 12:17 is elaborated as the 144,000 in 14:1 and as the saints in 14:12. Similarly, the prostitute of 17:1 is the same as the woman who rides the beast (17:3) who is the same as Babylon the Great, mother of prostitutes (17:5). The three great alliances of the End-time are all named by many names.

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.