Thursday, February 27, 2020
REVELATION 17, PART H
SURVEY OF COMMENTARIES: G. E. LADD (220-234)
Ladd understands Revelation to consist of four “visions”:
The resurrected Christ and His letters to the churches
The seven seals, trumpets, and bowls
He describes chapter 17 as the “mystery of Babylon,” and 18:1-19:5 as the “judgment” of Babylon.
He notes that Israel was accused in the Old Testament of adultery, since it was the “wife” of the Lord and had become faithless. This was not descriptive of the other nations. Israel at times was also accused of harlotry because she sold herself to foreign gods. Other nations or cities were accused of harlotry, especially Tyre and Nineveh, because they enticed people and nations into idolatry through their commerce or military power. Thus, the “Babylon” of chapter 17 is the harlot who entices people and nations to sin “with all its pomp and circumstance organized in its opposition to God.”
Identity of Babylon
Ladd wavers somewhat in his identification of Babylon. First of all, he believes that it is “eschatological” and not “historical.” So, he does not believe it is the Rome of John’s day. He sometimes refers to it as a symbolic representation of godless civilization in the last days. At other times he considers it to be a specific city that is the capital city of the Antichrist’s empire.
Babylon seduces the nations and people into fornication, the “particular form” of which, Ladd believes, is to “worship the beast.”
He notes that there seems to be a contradiction in verses 17:1 and 3, for the woman sits on waters in one verse and on a beast in the other. But these are simply metaphors that describe two different relationships. That she sits on many waters describes her relationship to many nations. That she rides the Beast describes her relationship “to the Antichrist.”
He explains the use of “mystery” in verse 17:5 to be an introduction to the title of the city: the city “has a hidden meaning, viz., the capital city of the Antichrist.”
Ladd comments on 17:6, in which Babylon is to be noted “for the persecution and martyrdom of the saints.” He considers, up to John’s day, nothing “as far-reaching as this in scope” of persecution had occurred. He summarizes the persecution under Nero as “one outburst of hatred.” Also, it had “nothing to do with the cult of the emperor.” Moreover, the later persecution under Domitian was “of a minor sort.” He believes that the picture in Revelation 17 is of horrific persecution in “eschatological Babylon.”
The Beast and the Woman
In verse 17:7, the angel focuses on the Beast even when he is explaining the mystery of the woman. Ladd says this is because of the “inseparable relationship” between the woman and the Beast: “The last center of civilization will derive its character altogether from the one fact that it is supported by the beast.” (226)
The Timeline of the Beast
As he unwraps the four-step timeline in verse 17:8, Ladd refers to 13:3 as saying the same thing. He notes that the Beast is “identified with its heads.” “The slaying of one of the heads means the slaying of the beast.” He goes on to state that the “three stages” (was, is not, is to come) relate to the heads: one head was killed meant the Beast “ceased to exist.” “The healing of the head will involve a satanic embodiment…” But it is destined for perdition.
His understanding of chapter 13 and 17 are somewhat different than the impression I had in reading chapter 13. In that chapter, when one of the heads was mortally wounded, I consider this to be an event that was in the future manifestation of the Beast--that is, during the last days. Ladd seems to understand that the mortal wound was at some time in history (possibly the first century). The mortal wound killed the Beast and sent it to the Abyss. Its healing (13:3) would result in its ascent from the Abyss and its Satanic endowment with power (13:2, 17:8).
Seven Hills and Seven Kings
Ladd rejects the idea that the reference to seven hills in 17:9 is inescapable evidence that the city is Rome. He rejects the idea because in 17:10 the seven heads are seven kings. If these are Roman emperors, he says, he cannot see “any connection between the seven hills of Rome and seven of its emperors.” That argument does not seem very definitive to me, since Ladd himself recognizes the “fluid” nature of the visions in Revelation. At any rate, Ladd considers that the hills/mountains refer to “power or rule.” Thus, the seven hills stand for seven “empires and the rulers who headed them.” So, the “great harlot sits upon a succession of empires.” These include ancient Babylon and first century Rome as well as “eschatological [last-day] Babylon.”
He states that Preterist interpretation considers verse 17:10 to apply to seven Roman emperors. He believes that “this apparently simple solution” has a problem: “the dates simply do not work out.” I have gone through this problem in my own analysis. One method of interpretation is to ignore the three emperors with short reigns and to consider Vespasian the sixth king. But “nothing happened in the reign of Vespacian” to bring about a fear of persecution and the eschatological views of Revelation. He goes on to mention other solutions (some were mentioned by Rist, as I discussed in the previous post). However, no “method of calculation satisfactorily leads to Domitian as the reigning emperor…” Therefore, “some...find in the number seven the ideal number that represents the completeness of the imperial power.”
Ladd believes the problem is avoided by considering the seven “kings” are “a succession of kingdoms.” “The great harlot who seduces the nations...finds her support from the beast who appears...in a succession of secular, godless kingdoms…” The sixth is Rome. The seventh will be the Antichrist kingdom. Verse 17:11 explains that the beast who is manifested in the ancient empires, including Rome, will come up out of the Abyss.
Ladd gets into the detail of the “eighth head” of verse 17:11 in such a way as to bring more confusion than explanation. He concludes that the Beast is the “Antichrist, and yet he is not the Antichrist; he is the Antichrist in two of his heads only.” “In one of the heads, the beast had himself appeared in history…” He will be revived “in a final appearance.” This seems a little unnecessary detail.
He makes more sense in a broad sweep: “The heads are successive manifestations of the worldly kingdoms at enmity with God through all the changes of history.” However, he maintains the detail (which may be necessary): The Beast is “broadly...the anti-God worldly power; narrowly, it is one particular kingdom which has a two-fold manifestation.”
He brings in Daniel for more explanation. He considers that Daniel depicts Antiochus Epiphanes as a manifestation of Antichrist. It is this Antichrist figure that “was” in Revelation 17:8. He disappeared but will ascend out of the Abyss as the Antichrist in the last days. This interpretation creates problems because Antiochus Epiphanes did not head up a world empire. He certainly was a manifestation of the Antichrist spirit, but so was Egypt, Babylon, and Rome, among others.
Ladd considers that the eighth king of 17:11 is the “seventh [king] in his full antichristian manifestation...the full satanic embodiment of the beast.”
The 10 Kings
Ladd rejects the idea of commentators who believe the 10 kings of 17:12ff represent Persian satraps who will be allied with Nero as well as the idea that they are “ten European kingdoms of a revived Roman empire.” He believes both interpretations ignore the point that these kings have not yet received their power. He refers to Daniel 7:7 and 7:24. In that Scripture, the Antichrist actually begins as one of the 10 kings. Ladd believes that the number 10 is symbolic of the “fullness of Antichrist’s power.” He also interprets the 10 kings to represent “the totality of the powers of all nations...made subservient to Antichrist.” Note that this contradicts his emphasis that the 10 kings will receive their power when Antichrist/Beast comes.
He comments on verse 17:15 that this depicts the “woman” as “the capital city of a complex civilization consisting of many nations…”
Ladd considers that verse 17:16 seems to go against the earlier parts of the chapter that depict the woman and the Beast as allies. But, “for reasons which are not explained, a sort of civil war arises within the camp of the beast.” He notes that the “prophets sometimes foresaw an eschatological state of chaos…(Ezek. 38:21; Hag. 2:22; Zech. 14:13).”
Ezekiel 38:21b: “Every man’s sword will be against his brother.”
Haggai 2:22c: And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother.”
Zechariah 14:13: “And on that day a great panic from the Lord shall fall on them, so that each will seize the hand of another, and the hand of the one will be raised against the hand of the other.”
These verses do not seem to depict the rebellion against the Harlot Babylon, but rather a general chaos among allied troops. They may be more applicable to the Battle of Armageddon.
Ladd rebuts the commentators who believe that the destruction of the city is consistent with the myth of Nero redivivus. He quotes a passage from the Sibylline Oracles that seems to depict Nero destroying Rome. Ladd, however, seems to believe that the myth--contrary to the Oracles--depicts Nero as making Rome his capital. He is not very clear on this point. He also asserts that Nero is not an Antichrist figure because he “did not promote the emperor cult, and his role in the Sibylline Oracles lost the religious note that is the most important characteristic of the beast in Revelation.”
Ladd considers 17:17 as an explanation for the “surprising turn of events” in which the city is destroyed by the 10 kings: “divine sovereignty...has motivated the ten kings…”
On 17:18, he comments that in “the first century this [the city’s dominion over the kings of the earth] stood for Rome; but in the end time, it will stand for eschatological Babylon.” Thus, Ladd consistently maintains a futurist interpretation of Revelation.
Crossway. The Holy Bible English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.