Revelation 17 is a difficult chapter--for me and for the commentators that I reviewed in previous posts. I have listed below some summary statements of the posts of my own comments and of the commentators. I would first like to pull together my own thinking in what is, hopefully, a little more coherent scheme than my meanderings in previous posts. (Keep in mind that this is a “workshop.” That means you are looking over my shoulder as I struggle with the Scripture.)
Broken promise: I had stated in one of my posts that I would describe the views of Hanegraaf and Sproul on this chapter. Because I have published so many posts on chapter 17, I have decided to break that promise.
The major “characters” in chapter 17 are the Prostitute/Babylon, the Beast, and the ten kings.
The Prostitute, who rides the Beast, is named Babylon and seems to be the personification of a city. She appears to dominate, or at least be in partnership with, the Beast until she meets her destiny. She is characterized as wealthy, powerful, immoral, and blasphemous. Very likely, she is involved in the idolatrous worship of the Beast that is depicted in 13:13-15. She is also a persecutor of those who witness for the Lamb. She is a last-day entity, but is connected spiritually to ancient Rome.
The Beast is described with enough detail to identify him as the same Beast that is described in 13:1-8. He is characterized by a mysterious “timeline”: he was, he is not, he is going to ascend from the Abyss, and he is destined for perdition.
- He was: It is possible that this describes a person who personified the Antichrist spirit. Ladd believes that Antiochus Epiphanes (the ancient Syrian persecutor of the Jews) is probably that person.
- He is not: The Antichrist spirit now resides in the Abyss--the spiritual abode of certain demons and perhaps some humans.
- He is going to ascend from the Abyss: He will do so in the person of the eschatological Antichrist (of I John 2:18) or Man of Lawlessness (of II Thessalonians 2:3ff) or the Beast of Revelation 13:1ff.
- He is destined for perdition: His final destiny will be the Lake of Fire or “perdition.” Revelation 19:20).
The strange descriptions of the series of seven kings and an eighth probably describes the spiritual relationship between Roman emperors--the seven kings--and the eschatological Antichrist/Beast--the eighth king. He is “of” the seven in that he is of the same Antichrist spirit.
The 10 kings are a component of the Beast’s empire. They are eschatological (last-day) persons who will acquire ruling authority and power, which they make available to the Beast. They use their power to destroy Babylon in what appears to be a breakdown of temporary allegiances. This sort of disintegration is not surprising among evil people. They also use their power to attack the Lamb and His followers, but they are conquered by the Lamb.
SUMMARY OF POSTS ON CHAPTER 17
MY OWN COMMENTS
The vision of chapter 17 is centered on a prostitute riding a scarlet Beast. In order to see the full spiritual significance of the woman, John is transported in the Spirit to a wilderness. The prostitute seduces and ensnares the kings of the earth and the earth-dwellers. The kings are ensnared because they seek power and influence and degeneracy. The earth-dwellers are drinking deeply of abominations from the woman’s cup. This includes religious abominations.
The woman is clothed with the purple of royalty and the scarlet of immorality. Her name is Mystery, Babylon. She is drunk with the blood of the martyrs, because she is so addicted to persecution. She is a city that dominates the world and the rulers of the world.
The Beast of chapter 17 is the same as the Beast of chapter 13, and both reflect the characteristics of the Dragon of chapter 12.
The mysterious “timeline” of the Beast in chapter 17 tells us the following: The Beast was in existence at some time in the past. At the present--in John’s day and, perhaps, our own--he is, spiritually, in the Abyss--a mysterious holding cell for some of the dead and certain spirit-beings. The next step on the agenda is that the Beast will ascend from the Abyss and take his place as the Beast of Revelation, also known as the Antichrist. His final destination is perdition--the Lake of Fire.
The earth-dwellers, unsaved people, marvel at the Beast to the point of worship. They are impressed with his “time-line”--that he once was, disappeared, and now is present again.
Trying to make sense of the 17:10-11 is very difficult. Some have tried to use a list of Roman emperors, but they just don’t fit. Others have used a list of empires, but that can depend on which empires one chooses. One issue that some do not take into account is Daniel’s visions, in which he projects a last-days empire that is tied to ancient Rome.
Five ideas that are closely related:
- The eighth king of 17:11 is identified with the Beast of 17:8.
- The historical time period of the eighth king is removed from the time period of the first seven kings.
- The relationship between the eighth king and the first seven kings is spiritual and not physical.
- The eighth king is the re-emergence from the Abyss of the spirit of the seven kings.
- The exact identity of the seven kings of 17:9-10 is not of vital importance to the interpretation of 17:11.
The city of chapter 17 is not ancient Rome. I conclude this because the events that are depicted in that chapter do not correspond to the history of Rome. Moreover, the events of chapter 19:11-21 take place at the Second Coming of Christ. Therefore, the events of chapter 17 take place shortly before the Second Coming. However, the empire of the Beast, with “Babylon” as its capital, may be a revived Roman Empire in the last days.
The ten horns of the Beast represent 10 future rulers who will, in the future, receive the authority and power necessary to rule. They will be close allies with the Beast and will be an important component in his power and authority. They will be unified in their alliance with the Beast, and they will give him all of their authority. The ultimate destiny of these kings is to make war on the Lamb and to be conquered by Him and His followers.
Verse 17:15 describes the Prostitute as sitting among the people of the earth. In 17:16, the Beast and the 10 kings attack the woman--or city, which is Babylon. They destroy the city and leave it desolate. This ends the domination by Babylon. In 17:17, we learn that this action of the kings is in accordance with the will of God, who opposes the evil city. Verse 17:18 reveals that the woman/prostitute of chapter 17 is the city that rules the earth. This city will be a particular city that manifests the evil tendencies in godless civilization.
SUMMARY OF COMMENTATORS
Rist believes that the worship of the goddess Roma and the emperors and belief in the eternity of Rome is significant in interpretation of chapter 17. “Evidently,” he writes, “the harlot is not only Rome and the empire, but Dea Roma herself, who with the emperors, the seven-headed beast, is accorded divine worship. Moreover, although she is considered eternal by her deluded subjects and their leaders, actually like the beast she is temporal and is soon to be destroyed.” He believes that the “Nero redivivus expectation” is an important reference point for understanding the Beast. He theorizes that the “five kings” of 17:10-11 are only the emperors who died and were “apotheosized [elevate to the rank of god] by the [Roman] senate.” Thus the five are Julius, Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian, and Titus. He completes his theory as follows: “If this is true, Domitian, who demanded worship while living, would be the sixth and ruling emperor, while the seventh and last, the Neronic Antichrist, who at the same time might be considered reincarnated in the person of Domitian, was still to come.” He believes the 10 kings are satraps from the east. He believes that the use of evil men (the 10 kings) by God indicates that “the dualism of Revelation is toned down in this passage.” Rist considers that John is writing in the 90’s during Domitian’s reign and that John was predicting an antichrist emperor would appear in a few years and destroy Rome.
Morris interprets the woman, or Babylon, as: “civilized man apart from God, man in organized but godless community.” Although he stands by this definition, he also considers that the description in 17:18 applies to ancient Rome, but in the end-time it will be man in organized community without God. For Morris, in the description of the Beast, the main point of the “was, is not…” is that the “evil in mankind may seem to disappear, but... [it] always returns again.” He says the Nero redivivus myth is an illustration of this but “does not exhaust [John’s] meaning.” He considers trying to identify the seven emperors to be without merit, and he favors Hendriksen’s view of seven empires. Morris view is that “John is not concerned with the beast’s career...in what the beast does…[it] is in his destruction: he goeth into perdition. So ultimately perishes all evil.” He concludes that the 10 kings are “antichrist’s helpers, to be raised up in the last days.” Verses 17:15-17 show “the disunity of the forces of evil, and the certainty that God’s words will be fulfilled.”
G. E. Ladd:
In the Old Testament heathen nations or cities were accused of harlotry, especially Tyre and Nineveh, because they enticed people and nations into idolatry. Thus, the “Babylon” of chapter 17 is the harlot who entices people and nations to sin--especially to worship the Beast--“with all its pomp and circumstance organized in its opposition to God.” Ladd sometimes refers to Babylon 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. He believes that the picture in Revelation 17 is of horrific persecution in “eschatological Babylon” that will be much worse than any Roman persecution in the first century. Ladd’s interpretation of “was, is not, is to come”: The mortal wound killed the Beast and sent it to the Abyss (at some time in history). Its healing (13:3) would result in its ascent from the Abyss and its Satanic endowment with power (13:2, 17:8). He interprets the seven hills/heads to be 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.” “The heads are successive manifestations of the worldly kingdoms at enmity with God through all the changes of history.” 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. 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.” 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.”
J. S. Russell:
Russell interprets all prophetic passages in the New Testament according to his hypothesis that the Day of the Lord was to come in judgment of the Hebrews. This judgment would end the Hebrew practices of worship and the (largely) Gentile Christian church would be the focus of God’s attention. The judgment on the Hebrews took place in AD 70 when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. In accordance with this view, Babylon of chapter 17 he interprets to be Jerusalem. The Beast of that chapter and chapter 13, he understands to be Nero. The second beast of chapter 13:11ff, he believes to Gessius Florus, the Roman procurator of Jerusalem in the mid-60’s.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1972.
Morris, Leon. The Revelation of St. John, vol. 20 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Gen. Ed. R. V. G. Tasker. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co. 1980.
Rist, Martin. “Revelation” in The Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 12. Gen. Ed. George A. Buttrick. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957.
Russell, J. S. The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming. Internet PDF version.
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