What makes this commentary different?

I was interested in the prophecies from a young age.  For decades now I have, from time to time, studied them and wrote about them.  This remains my major “hobby” and a joy.

My approach was to study the texts of the prophecies in depth, rather than to read what other people wrote about the prophecies.  Before the time of the computer tools of today, I made long lists of where the same word or concept would appear in the prophecies, and read the text over and over.  In this way I developed a perspective on the prophecies that is somewhat independent of the standard views, and in some respects unique.  This in depth study of the text, in various translations, forms one of the pillars of my interpretation.

My understanding of God has been influenced by the people I listened to.  Due to a profoundly autistic daughter and other personal issues, I do not attend church much, but I do listen to many tapes and MP3s.  From this I have developed a view of God that is perfect and good in everything He does.  Everything He does is to the benefit of His creation because of His amazing love for His creation.

His highest creation is His intelligent beings, with the ability and with the freedom to choose between right and wrong, and that freedom is very important to God.  He will not use His infinite power to force their will, because to do so would be to destroy His highest creation.  He will not use fear to force His intelligent beings to conform to He will.  He is love, and He wants us to love Him, and love cannot be generated by fear.  That is why He is “absent” from the earth; namely to allow sinners to continue to do what they want to do, without fear.  That is why sin could develop right in His presence, namely because the first sinner knew that he has nothing to fear from God.

God wants us to love Him, and to love Him we must appreciate and understand Him.  Therefore, in the beauty of His creation, and in the infinite miracles that are incorporated into life of earth, but particularly through the illustration of Himself which we find in Jesus Christ, He left sufficient proof on earth of who and what He is, for those that want to believe.

In this way those that want to believe in a beautiful and wonderful God have sufficient proof for their faith, and those that do not want to believe because they want to serve themselves, are able to do so without fear.

But eventually God must make an end of sin.  He does not want the horrible destructive rebellion to persist for ever in the universe.  How can He make an end to sin but still allow people and angels to choose for or against Him, without fear?  Such thoughts have also been fundamental in my interpretations of the prophecies, and I believe the prophecies provide answers to questions such as:

  • Why did God, who hates sin, allow sin to develop?
  • Why did He allow sin to continue for 2000 years after the cross?  What is He still waiting for?
  • Why will a God, that loves His creatures, including His intelligent creatures that chose against Him, pour out His wrath on the people with the mark of the beast when there is no hope of saving them?
  • Why will God resurrect the lost at the end of the Millennium, just to devour them by fire?

Since I started this website, my work methods changed.  When I start a new topic, I search the web for good articles and websites from all schools of thought.  These articles are summarized, deleting statements that I do not agree with.  Sentences, paragraphs and thoughts from these articles are categorized into subject areas.  The subject areas are, one after the other, integrated into cohesive units, to the best of my ability.  The actual words of the original author are retained, and only adjusted where the language can be simplified or the thoughts clarified.

As I work on a topic over months, I listen to MP3s on the same topic whenever possible.  Through reading and listening I gain further insights.  The end result of my articles is sometimes very different from any of the authors whose words I used, and in certain instances rather unique.

In the end, after several months, I cannot tell where a particular thought or phrase came from.  I am very grateful for all that I have learned from various people, and I use their words where it explains my understanding well, but I do not provide quotes, except if it is to confirm something which I do not have the expertise to verify.  One reason for not providing quotes is that I do not justify my views on the basis of the views of other people.  From time to time I do give credit to the authors that I found particularly useful.

My purpose is to make complex stuff simple, and to make jewels, hidden in complex academic articles, available to ordinary people.  Having the benefit of a number of good and sometimes scholarly articles, taking what I believe is the best out of them, based on a fair knowledge of the text of the prophecies, and summarizing the main points in simple words, I strive to develop something that is of a high quality but easy to read.

I have not attended any Bible school.  My views have not merely been developed by learning what other people wrote, but on the basis of a personal in depth study of the books of Daniel and Revelation themselves, over a long period of time.  I read commentaries of perhaps all persuasions.  I am not an official of any denomination.  I am a member of a church, but, as I indicated above, I do not attend church regularly.  One reason is that I try to devote as much as possible time to these studies.  My conclusions are sufficiently different from the views of my own church that I am viewed by the church as slightly dangerous.  I am not paid for this work, nor do I strive for academic acceptance.  For these reasons I can claim that I am more independent than most.

But is there a need for another interpretation of Daniel and Revelation?  Commentaries of Daniel & Revelation can easily be categorized into the various schools of thought.  This is an indication of the fact that most Bible teachers have never studied Daniel and Revelation for themselves without preconceived assumptions, but teach what they have been taught.  Since I have spent most of my time on the text of the prophecies themselves, I am able to provide a different perspective on the prophecies, which perhaps justifies the existence of the commentary.

Many people would find this commentary complex, but Daniel and Revelation are not supposed to be easy.  They are designed in such a way that only God’s people would understand.  I am reminded of the statement in Daniel 12:10, referring to the prophecies of Daniel, that “none of the wicked will understand”.   I am not claiming that I am not wicked, or that I understand.  My point is that Daniel 12:10 contrasts the wicked with “those who have insight”.  In “the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase” (Daniel 12:4).  I am trying to argue that the study of the prophecies is important for God’s people.  To provide you with the final conclusions only will serve no purpose.  In the difficult times that I believe lie ahead, and that is described by Daniel and particularly Revelation, God’s people will be persecuted for their faith.  Unless they understand the issues, they will, due to all the pressure and threats of persecution, find it difficult to stand for what they believe.  An in depth study of Daniel and Revelation helps people to prepare for the end times.

My understanding of the prophecies is probably very limited.  When we one day enter the eternal school, I think we would be amazed at how little we understand of the prophecies today.  Even though I feel strongly that my views are superior to many other interpretations, I cannot claim that my interpretations are correct, or even that they really are superior.  I remain a frail human being.

I try never to insult people with different views.  When we stand before God, He is not going to ask us whether we understood Revelation correctly.  He is going to ask us whether we loved our enemies.  It we cannot even love people that also believe in a loving Creator, how are we to respond to God’s question?

This commentary is still under development.  There is a huge amount of material that must still be sifted and prepared for publication.

Andries van Niekerk, Cape Town, South Africa

 

 

Babylon, the mother of harlots

INTRODUCTION

The mysterious Babylon—a harlot woman sitting on a scarlet beast (17:3)—is a key figure in the latter half of the book of Revelation.  Dispensationalists generally believe that Babylon is a physical city which will dominate the nations of the world in the end time.  Others believe Babylon is “the world” with its allure and resistance to God.  In academic circles, where Revelation is not understood as a prophecy of the future, Babylon is seen as a code name for Rome.  Others interpret Babylon as Religion, or the apostate Christian Church, or Roman Catholicism.  This article first discusses her characteristics, proposes an identification and evaluates various alternative theories of her identity.

BABEL

But first, where does the name come from?

Babylon is first found in Genesis 10 in the table of nations. When Moses traces the descendants of Ham, those responsible for a great deal of trouble for Israel throughout her history, he wrote:

Nimrod … became a mighty one on the earth … the beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar (Gen. 10:8-10).

The next chapter of Genesis (11:3 4) records the rebellion of the people of the same area (Shinar) against the plan of God, probably under the leadership of Nimrod (cf. 10:10). God’s command was to populate the whole world:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. (Gen 9:1 NASB)

The rebellion of the people at Shinar is seen in their defiance of this command:

They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11:4 NASB)

This was the first attempt at world unity against God. God judged this act with the confusion of tongues to scatter the people around the world. Because of this the city was called Babel, which means confusion.

Nimrod’s kingdom combined civil and religious authority. Ancient records indicate that Nimrod had a wife named Semiramis who was the founder and first high priestess of the Babylonian mystery religion. She gave birth to a son named Tammuz, whom she claimed was conceived miraculously. This son was considered savior of his people and in effect was the first false Messiah—a counterfeit of God’s promise of a Savior (Genesis 3:15). The son was supposed to have been killed by a wild beast, but brought back to life.

The religious system of Semiramis had many secret rites in the worship of its idols. Initiates were intoxicated to prepare them for what they would see, hear and do. These rites involved consecrated male and female prostitution and the most sordid sexual immorality carried out in connection with its idolatrous worship.

This religious system, which began in Babel, became the mother and source of the pagan religions of the world. As the cult spread from one location to another the idol images varied, but they all contained one central feature, the worship of the goddess mother (who was called “the queen of heaven”) and her child, in pictures and images of a mother with a child in her arms.

BABYLON

Babel was later called Babylon, located in the current Iraq, about 50 miles south of Baghdad on the Euphrates River.

Babylon is mentioned 260 times in Scripture, and second only to Jerusalem. These two cities are always seen in opposition to each other.

Babylon’s greatest glory was during the time of the Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar 600 years before Christ.  To the Jews, Babylon was where they were exiled under Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 29:1), who invaded the land, destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple, and deported Judah’s king. From this point in history, there has not been a king from the line of David sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem. So historically we see that Babylon begins as the place of man’s rebellion to gather the peoples of the world. But eventually Babylon takes away the land promised by God to His people, the Israelites.

BORROWED OLD TESTAMENT LANGUAGE

Revelation 17 and 18 repeatedly draw imagery from the descriptions in the Old Testament of Babylon and its destruction (Jeremiah 50-51 and Isaiah 47). In both the OT and Revelation Babylon dwells on many waters (Jer. 51:13; Rev. 17:1, see also Ps. 137:1), boasts: “I sit as queen and am no widow, and will not see sorrow” (Rev. 18:7; Isa. 47:7-9), commits much sorcery and spells (Rev 18:23; Isa 47:7-9), is suddenly destroyed, on one day (Jer. 51:8; Rev. 18:8; Jer. 51:30; Isa 47:7-9) by fire (Jer. 51:30; Rev. 17:16; 18:8), final (Jer. 50:39; Rev. 18:21), and deserved (Jer. 51:63-64; Rev. 18:21). Furthermore in both the OT and Revelation Babylon is associated with a golden cup, the contents of which makes the people of the world drunk (Jer. 51:7; Rev. 17:3-4; 18:6).
Another example of the use by Revelation of Old Testament symbolism is the angel that takes up a stone and throws it into the sea, saying, “Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore” (Rev. 18:21). This is an intentional allusion to a similar prophetic enactment:

“When you arrive in Babylon … read all these words, then you shall say, ‘O LORD, You have spoken against this place to cut it off, so that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but it shall be desolate forever.’ … when you have finished reading this book, that you shall tie a stone to it and throw it out into the Euphrates. Then you shall say, ‘Thus Babylon shall sink and not rise from the catastrophe that I will bring upon her. (Jer. 51:59-64)

Literal interpreters conclude from this use of the Old Testament in the description of future Babylon as proof that the predicted literal destruction is still future. However, Revelation also uses imagery from the description of another mighty OT city—Tire—to describe Babylon. Both Tire and Revelation’s Babylon are described as women with daughters (Ezekiel 26:6; Rev 17:5). The music of both Tire and Babylon will be silenced (Ezekiel 26:13; Rev 18:22). The princes of the sea will lament over both Tire and Babylon (Ezekiel 26:16; Rev 18:17-19), and cast dust on their heads (Ezek. 27:30; Rev 18:19) and say “Who is like” this city (Ezek. 27:32; Rev 18:18). Both Tire and Babylon of Revelation are wealthy (Ezek. 27:12, 18; Rev 18:12, 13), supporting trade via ships (Ezek. 27:9; Rev 18:19). The wealth of both Tire and Babylon enriched others (Ezek. 27:33; Rev 18:19). Both Tire and Babylon will cease to be forever (Ezek. 27:36; Rev 18:21).

Furthermore, Revelation itself indicates that the meaning of the imagery changes. For example the waters on which Babylon sits was the physical Euphrates in the OT. In Revelation it is explicitly defined as the peoples of the whole world (17:15). It therefore changed from something physical to a symbol. In the OT “sitting” simply means Babylon was built on the river. In Revelation the meaning of “sitting” becomes a symbol of a corrupting influence (17:2). Something physical becomes a symbol. In the OT it is said that Babylon “is fallen”, and by that is meant that it will surely physically fall. The same phrase is use in Revelation to indicate that it has already fallen spiritually, because it became a prison of evil spirits (18:2). In Jeremiah 51 Babylon is a gold cup in God’s hands. This symbol changes in Revelation to a gold cup in Babylon’s hands. The general principle is that language may be borrowed from the OT, but the meaning changes, and should therefore be understood symbolically.

BABYLON IS THE POWER BEHIND THE BEAST

The last eleven chapters of Revelation are very different from the first eleven. In Revelation 12 the Dragon is the aggressor. At first it tries to devour the Child Jesus (12:4). Then it wages war in heaven as Satan (12:7, 9). Then it returns his attention to the woman that gave birth to the Child and tries to sweep her away with a flood of water (12:15). Lastly it goes away to make war with her other children (12:17). In the first part of Revelation 13 the Beast from the sea appears on the scene (13:1), with the Dragon moving to the background (13:2). This Sea-beast overcomes God’s people for 42 months (13:5-7). It receives a fatal wound, but recovers (13:3). In the latter and main portion of Revelation 13 the Sea Beast moves into the background (13:12), when the image of the sea beast, established with the support of the false prophet, persecutes and kills the people who refuse the mark of the beast (13:15). Revelation 12 and 13 therefore present four persecuting forces; the Dragon, Beast, False Prophet and the Image of the Beast; all persecuting God’s people. Babylon is not mentioned at all in these two chapters, but she must be part of these four characters for two reasons. Firstly, while the evil foursome persecutes God’s people, Babylon is guilty of their blood:

“in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24).

Secondly, he third angel warns against the beast, its image, and its mark (14:9). This message will therefore be given while the image is putting the mark of the beast on people (13:16). It may therefore be fair to assume that all three angel messages are relevant to this massive and world-wide conflict. But we find a surprise mention of Babylon in 14:8, where the second angel announces her fall. It is surprising to find Babylon mentioned by the three angels because she has not been mentioned anywhere in Revelation 13. Again it is concluded that Babylon must be involved in the war in Revelation 13, being part of the other four evil characters.

The second time that Babylon is mentioned in Revelation is in 16:19, in the final and seventh plague, where she receives God’s “fierce wrath”. This is another surprise mention, because she was not mentioned in any of the prior plagues. The dragon, sea-beast, false prophet, the demon spirits coming out of their month (16:10, 13), and the kings of the whole world (16:14) were mentioned as aggressors, but then Babylon is punished. Again we must conclude that Babylon is part of these evil characters.

Another indication that Babylon is part of the trio of the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet is that they all deceive the peoples of the world. Babylon makes the nations “drunk” with “the wine of her immorality” (14:8; 17:2). The dragon “deceives the whole world” (12:9). The “whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast (from the sea)” (13:3). The false prophet “deceives those who dwell on the earth” (13:14).

However, Revelation 17 seems to indicate that Babylon is not part of the evil trio, and this needs to be explained. The Beast receives his “power and his throne and great authority” from the dragon (13:2) and makes the world to worship the dragon (13:4). The Beast and the dragon are therefore distinct from each other. The beast from the earth (the False Prophet–19:20) “makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast” (13:12). The Beast and the False Prophet are therefore also distinct from each other. The harlot (Babylon) sits on a scarlet beast (17:3). Babylon is therefore distinct from the scarlet beast. If one assumes that the Sea Beast and the Scarlet Beast are the same, then Babylon is also distinct from Revelation 13’s Sea Beast. However, the Scarlet Beast is not the same as the Sea Beast. This is clear from the fact that the Sea Beast is in control and is worshiped by the whole earth (13:8) while the scarlet beast has an inferior role—the harlot rides the scarlet beast.  She reigns over it (17:18)

So what is the relationship between the two beasts? They clearly overlap in meaning, because they both have seven heads and ten horns. What then is their relationship? The Sea Beast is identified as the 11th horn of Daniel 7 (see the article on the seven headed beast of Revelation), and therefore as a specific entity, existing in a specific period. In contrast Babylon is represented as sitting on the seven heads, which are seven consecutive “kings” (17:10) or empires, which means that Babylon exists during each of the seven consecutive heads. In Revelation the number seven means “completeness” in terms of time. It may be understood as meaning “for the full period”. The seven heads may therefore be understood as all the kingdoms of human history, which would mean that Babylon also exists for all of human history.

However, most commentaries link the seven heads to seven specific empires, including Babylon, Mede-Persia and Greece. (Please refer to the article of the Seven Headed Beasts of Revelation.) This means that Babylon ruled over these empires as well. Babylon therefore cannot be limited to our time or to sometime in the future. Babylon, and the scarlet beast, on which she sits, therefore do not represent a specific entity that is limited to a specific time period, but symbolizes a general principle, namely the control of Babylon over the civil and political powers of the world in all generations. The Sea Beast is one application and example of this principle, and consists of both the scarlet beast and Babylon, during the period of the Sea Beast.

Furthermore, Revelation 17 reveals that Babylon sits on and reigns over the seven-headed beast (17:3, 18). Babylon is therefore the anti-God driving force behind the Beast power. In Revelation 13 the Beast is in charge, since all who dwell on the earth will worship him (13:8), but Revelation 17 reveals that it is really Babylon that is in charge.

The Beast and his Image are worshiped (14:9), but Revelation never says that Babylon or the False Prophet is worshiped.  Another link between Babylon and the False Prophet is what they do.  Babylon makes “all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality” (14:8).  Similarly the False Prophet performs signs (13:13) to deceive those who dwell on the earth (13:14).  Babylon is therefore comparable to the False Prophet, but they are not the same.  In the first place, the False Prophet comes into existence after the Sea Beast (13:11, 12), and is therefore also a specific entity exiting at a specific point in time, compared to Babylon which exists during all empires mentioned above.  Secondly, the False Prophet is destroyed at the return of Christ (19:20), while Babylon is destroyed earlier at the hands of the final and evil confederacy of kings (17:16; 16:19).

To explain this last point:  In the seventh plague Babylon receives the cup of the wine of God’s fierce wrath (16:19).  Then Revelation 17 and 18 provide background information to this event, explaining why she has to receive this penalty, and well as more detail about this event, such as that she is actually destroyed by the consortium of 10 kings (17:16) which is the final phase of the Beast power (17:11, 12).  Then in Revelation 19 the great multitude in heaven praises God for Babylon’s destruction.  Revelation 19 therefore continues from the seventh plague, with Revelation 17 and 18 being an interruption of the chronological flow.

The next scene—after the joy is heaven—is the return of Jesus to destroy His earthly enemies (19:11-20:3).  The seventh plague ends with the peoples of the world blaspheming God (16:21).  In contrast the return of Christ ends with the death of the lost multitude (19:21).  It therefore seems clear that the return of Jesus is not part of the seventh plague, but follows after the seventh plague.  Babylon is destroyed during the seventh plague, while the Beast and False Prophet are thrown into the lake of fire as part of the return of Jesus (19:20).  Therefore it is concluded that Babylon is first destroyed, and then later the Beast and the False Prophet.

16:19 refers to a great city that splits into three parts. The term “great city” (16:19) is only used of Babylon (Rev. 14:8; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 21), but once also for the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10). But as the heavenly Jerusalem will never be destroyed (22:5), the “great city” in 16:19 is Babylon. Because Babylon splits into three parts some propose that Babylon consists of the Dragon, the Beast and the False Prophet. However, since the Beast and the False Prophet still exists after Babylon is destroyed, this cannot be true.

BABYLON AND THE PEOPLE

Babylon sits on “many waters” (17:1), which is explained as “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev. 17:15). This four-fold phrase, consisting of four words that essentially have the same meaning, signifies that this includes all peoples of the world. In Revelation the number 4 has the meaning of “the entire world” (7:1). It is therefore possible to conclude that Babylon is not the peoples of the world, and secondly that her influence is world-wide.  Her world-wide influence is also indicated by the fact that “the kings of the earth have committed fornication’ with her (17:2). None seems excluded. Another indication of this is that she is guilty for all the deaths of God’s people who died for their faith (Rev. 18:24 cf. Rev. 17:6).

This concept of Babylon sitting on many waters is borrowed from the Old Testament. The physical city Babylon was situated on the Euphrates River, supporting life in the city. This becomes a symbol in Revelation, and the meaning changes. The Euphrates becomes a symbol for the peoples of the world. “Sitting on” changes in meaning from “support” to “influence”, as is clear from the many comments in Revelation about the relationship between Babylon and the peoples of the world:

  • She deceived the nations (Rev. 18:23).
  • She makes them “drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality” (14:8; 18:3).
  • This wine which she makes the people drink makes them “drunk” (17:2).

Babylon therefore has some sort of corrupting and intoxicating influence on the people of the world so that the people cannot distinguish right from wrong. She leads the people away from the truth of God. She teaches corrupting delusions.

BABYLON’S NAME

The harlot’s name is Babylon is, but this is not her real name because this name is described as a “mystery” (17:5). Her name is symbolically Babylon. Revelation also calls her “Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (11:8). (The term “great city” in 11:8 is always used for Babylon (17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21; 16:19).) According to 11:8 these are “mystically” her names, which also emphasize that these are also symbolic names.

Because Babylon was one of Israel’s major enemies in the Old Testament, the name “Babylon” implies this entity is the enemy of God’s people. “Sodom” was a city of ill repute . It emphasizes the morally “fallen” condition of this enemy of God. Egypt was not a city, but a nation, being Israel’s first major enemy. The words “where also their Lord was crucified” can either refer to the city Jerusalem or the nation of Israel, but here mentioned as the killer of God’s people. (In Revelation the names “Jerusalem” and “Israel” are only used in a positive sense.) The “great city” (11:8) is therefore called by various names, each conveying a different characteristic. This argues against the popular interpretation of the city as an end time reconstructed physical city on the site of the ancient Babylon.

THE HARLOT

In addition to being to being a woman, Babylon is also a harlot (17:1), and the kings of the earth commit immorality with her (17:2; 18:3). Many commentaries conclude from this that the “harlot” symbol means that Babylon is a religious entity, but It is proposed here that this symbol (harlot), by itself, based on the background texts in the Old Testament, does not mean Babylon is a religious entity, but simply means that Babylon is sinful; to depart from the LORD, to murder, rebel, steal, accept bribes, chases after rewards. It means not to defend the orphan, or to listen to the widow’s plea or to do what the Lord commanded. See Appendix B for a discussion of the OT background texts.

Revelation never says that Babylon commits adultery, which might have implied that God is her husband. It only says that she is a harlot, and commits immorality. The symbol of a harlot by itself does not imply that she is a wife.

Babylon is the “mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev. 17:5). Babylon therefore is the source and origin of harlotry (spiritual idolatry) and abominations, which was passed on to her daughters. Long before the time of Nebuchadnezzar, Moses identified certain practices as abominations (Lev. 7:18; 11 cf. Deut. 18:9-12). Since the Harlot is the mother of the abominations of the earth, she must predate Moses. This supports the conclusion above that she exists for all human history.

DESTROYED

Babylon is not some amorphous entity such as culture or “power of money” or “the world”, because she will be destroyed by the final confederacy of kings; the ten horns of the beast (17:16), which “are ten kings” (17:12).  For the kings to be able to destroy her, she must be something specific.

RELIGION

In Revelation there are two contrasting women.  Babylon is called a harlot (17:1, 3).  The pure woman is the bride and wife of Christ (19:7; 21:9), representing God’s people (2Co 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27), also called the “New Jerusalem” (21:10).

Babylon and the Bride are similar in many respects.  Both are woman, but simultaneously also cities (17:18; 21:9, 10).  Both are introduced by one of the angels that pour out the bowl plagues.  In both instances the angel approaches John with the invitation: “Come, I will show you” (17:1; 21:9).  In both instances John is carried “in the Spirit” to see her (17:3; 21:10).  Both are married:

  • Babylon says “I AM NOT A WIDOW” (18:7), which implies she is married.
  • The Bride is referred to as “the wife of the Lamb” (21:9).

Both are wealthy:

  • The harlot Babylon is arrayed in purple and scarlet, glittering with gold, jewels, and pearls (17:4; 18:16-17).
  • The Bride Jerusalem has “the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal” (21:11).   “The city was pure gold, like clear glass” (21:18), and decorated with every kind of precious stone and pearls (21:18-21).)

But Babylon is also very different from the New Jerusalem.  Babylon is “the great harlot” (17:1); the immoral mother of “abominations” (17:2, 5; 18:2), a “dwelling place of demons” (18:2).  The New Jerusalem, on the other hand, is the faithful “Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:2, 9).  Nothing “unclean”, no “abomination” shall enter New Jerusalem (21:27; 22:3a).  It is “holy” (21:2, 10), “the dwelling of God” (21:3, 22).

The wars described in Revelation are essentially between these two women, because the one tries to kill the other (18:24).  One is persecuted, the other is the persecutor.  The harlot of Chapter 17 is the aggressor, drinking the blood of the saints (17:6).  Consequently, while Babylon will be judged, hated, consumed and  destroyed (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:16; 18:17, 19; 19:1, 2) while the New Jerusalem will enter into the marriage supper of the Lamb (18:7), and exist for all eternity (Heb. 13:14; Rev. 22:5).

These demonstrate that Babylon is the very antithesis of the New Jerusalem.  The harlot Babylon is therefore the personification of that earthly city which is to be seen in contrast to the heavenly city—the New Jerusalem.  She is an earthly counterfeit bride of Christ—that heavenly city, which is His church.  This provides support for Babylon identification as false religion.

Further support for this identification is found in the following:

Babylon is not some general malignant force which accidentally also persecutes God’s people.  She is exclusively in opposition to God’s people, as indicated by her being drunk with blood of God’s people (17:6).  In Babylon “was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24).  This declares her to be the enemy of God’s people, not just an enemy.  She persecutes and kills them.

Babylon is fallen (14:8; 18:2).  This is often understood as that she will one day fall, similar to how this term is used in the Old Testament (Isa. 21:9-10), but 18:2 adds “She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird”.  This implies she was previously something better, and that her fallen state has to do with her immorality.  This is another instance of something that is meant physically in the OT, which becomes a symbol in Revelation.

John was greatly astonished when he saw the harlot (Rev 17:6).  He was in fact, “dumbfounded” or “greatly perplexed.”  What he saw was therefore much unexpected.  This is hard to follow if John had seen only the persecuting Roman Emperors or hostile leaders in Jerusalem or a literal end time city.  That was all familiar to his experience.  However, if he had seen the change that would take place in the institutional church of Christ, the apostolic church, that the pure woman would become intolerant and bloodthirsty, that would have been truly dumbfounding.

In Revelation 16 the plagues first fall on the followers of the Beast only (16:2).  They therefore become aware that they were deceived by the Beast powers.  Therefore the popular support for Babylon dries up, symbolized by the waters of Babylon (the Euphrates) drying up.  Then the eighth head of the beast—the final consortium of kings—forms in preparation for Armageddon (16:14, 16).  They then kill Babylon as the first phase of Armageddon (17:16).  The fact that Babylon is destroyed by the lost peoples of the world, when they realize that she deceived them, and they are consequently eternally lost, implies that her deception led them away from God, which implies her nature is religious.

Lastly, the letters to the churches contain many references to things that are mentioned later in Revelation, such as the tree of life (2:7), the second death (2:11), Satan’s throne (2:13), great tribulation (2:22) and the morning star (2:28).  It seems reasonable to assume that the anti-God forces in the letters are early forms of Babylon.  We can therefore conclude on the nature of Babylon from the nature of these anti-God forces.  When we study the letters we find that the anti-God forces are within the church, not outside of it:

In Ephesus the problem is “those who call themselves apostles, and they are not” (2:2).  This is consistent with ominous prediction by the apostle Paul when he addressed the church elders of Ephesus:

I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard!  Acts 20:29-31

In Smyrna and Philadelphia the problem is “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (2:9; 3:9).  Now why would non-Jews who pretend to be Jews particularly be the problem?  This should therefore not be read literally.  This should be understood consistent with the principle of the New Testament:

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.  But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.  (Rom 2:28-29 NASB)

Understood this way, the non-Jews who call themselves Jews are people within the Church.

In Pergamum the problem is: “you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam” (2:14).  Again the problem is within the Church, not a challenge from outside.

In Thyatira the challenge comes from “the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray” (2:20).  In the history of Israel, Jezebel influenced her husband King Ahab to use civil force to promote the worship of Baal and to persecute Elijah and other followers of Yahweh; the political, legalized murder of the saints of God.  Jezebel therefore foreshadowed the reign of the harlot Babylon—the apocalyptic Jezebel—who will use the political rulers to persecute the followers of Christ.  As type of end time Babylon, Jezebel is not a foreign government, but the corrupting forces which developed among God’s covenant people.

The identification of Babylon as false religion is consistent with Babylon’s characteristics, as identified above:

  • not the peoples
  • world-wide
  • corrupting influence on the people of the world
  • Babylon not her real name
  • origin of harlotry and abominations
  • something specific which the kings can kill

False religion is what drives the dragon, beast and false prophet, and has as its main objective the destruction of God’s people.  It originated with Nimrod & Semiramis shortly after the flood, existed for all of human history, and became the source of all false religion—world-wide.  False religion is not the peoples of the world, but leads people away from the one true God.  The name Babylon serves as symbol of her false religion’s opposition to God’s people; it is not her real name.  It is something specific, which the kings can destroy, once they become aware that it deceived them.

UNION BETWEEN RELIGION AND STATE

Babylon is represented as sitting on a seven headed beast, explained as the rulers (kings) of the world (17:10, 12 and 18).  If Babylon is understood as Religion, sitting on the beast, then we have a picture of Religion controlling the political powers of the world.

Various astute rulers in the long history of human government, rightly estimating the tremendous power of religion over the minds of men, have been greatly intrigued with the idea of some kind of union between religion and state, in which the government would establish and support some widely accepted religion and this religion in turn would lend its influence to the state.  All such alliances thus humanly originated have been based on selfish motives and opportunist policies on both sides, and hence must always break down in the end.  A union between religion and state is safe only when inaugurated and controlled by the one true God in a kingdom of His own (Zech. 14:9, 14:16-21).

The national policy of complete separation of church and state, which most sensible people fully approve under present conditions, is not however the ideal policy. It is rather a policy of precaution in a sinful world, where political and ecclesiastical power too often gets into the wrong hands, and the result is intolerable oppression. But under the personal rule of the Messianic King the union of church and state will not only be safe; it will also be the highest possible good.

THE MERCHANTS OF BABYLON

Revelation 17 describes Babylon’s relationship with kings and the inhabitants of the world (17:2).  Revelation adds a third group with whom Babylon has relations, namely merchants.  Babylon is the source of their wealth:

  • the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality (18:3)
  • The merchants of these things, who became rich from her (18:15)
  • all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth (18:19)

When Babylon is destroyed, commerce will be simultaneously destroyed:

  • the merchants … mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more (18:11)
  • all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you (18:14)
  • for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste! (18:17)

While Babylon the kings and the peoples are outside of Babylon, indicating by her sitting on them (17:3, 15), the merchants are part of her, indicated by the statement “your merchants” (18:23).

Some have therefore concluded that Babylon is mammon—wealth (Mat 6:24).  Wealth does fit some of Babylon’s characteristics, such as existence for all of human history, and being world-wide, but nowhere in the Bible is a woman used as a symbol for wealth.  Furthermore, how can it be said that the power of money is fundamentally opposed to God’s people, and the ultimate cause of all the prophets and saints that were ever “slain on the earth” (18:24)?  It is rather Jerusalem that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her (Mat 23:37).  How can it be said that the power of money received a fatal wound, but recovered (13:3)?  (Since Babylon rides the Beast, Babylon goes through the same period of relative incompetence.)  Why would the evil kings of the earth agree to join forces to destroy the power of money (17:16), and how could they?  What would constitute “immoral acts” between the power of money and the kings of the world (18:3)?

So, who are the merchants of Babylon?

One possible explanation is that it is simply highly figurative language which should not be interpreted.  Such an argument may be based on the fact that much of the merchant language in Revelation 18 comes from Ezekiel 27 and 28, where the destruction of Tyre is prophesied.  Tyre is also described as very wealthy, and the source of the wealth of her people (Ezek. 27:9, 33).  However, experience teaches that everything in Revelation is important, and that language from the Old Testament is ingeniously used to describe end time realities.

A second possibility is that they are literal merchants, but as explained elsewhere, Babylon is not a literal city.  Then it should follow that the merchants cannot be literal merchants.

To understand what “merchants” refer to, “wealth” needs to be understood better.  Is it literal wealth?  18:3 defines Babylon’s wealth as her “sensuality”.  It reads “the wealth of her sensuality”, not “the sensuality of her wealth”.  Her wealth is therefore not literal.  Furthermore, in the letters to the churches the concepts of poverty and wealth are used as symbols of spiritual condition:

‘I know your … your poverty (but you are rich) …  (Rev 2:9 NASB)

… you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, (Rev 3:17 NASB)

I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.  (Rev 3:18 NASB)

When Laodicea says they are rich, this arguably means that they see themselves as right with God; as spiritually wealthy.  When Jesus says they are poor, it means they are not right with God.  Wealth is therefore a symbol of spiritual condition.

A related concept that must be understood is “buying”.  In 3:18 Jesus is the Merchant.  He sells gold, white garments and eye salve.  Further­more, buying is used in Revelation as a symbol for salvation:

… no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.  … These (the 144,000) have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.  (Rev 14:3, 4 NASB)

And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  (Rev 5:9 NASB)

This brings us back to the merchants.  If “wealth” relates to spiritual condition, and “buying” symbolizes salvation, then the merchants must be preachers and pastors.

This is supported by 18:23, read with 6:16.  In 18:23 the merchants are explained as the “great men of the earth”.  The only other place in Revelation where the term “great men” (18:23) is used in the NASB, is in 6:15, where “great men” is distinguished from both the kings and “the rich”:

Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; (Rev 6:15 NASB)

The “great men” are therefore not the literally wealthy peoples of the world.  The interpretation of the merchants as preachers is further supported by the word “because” in 18:23, which implies that it is the merchants that deceive the nations:

… for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery.  (Rev 18:23 NASB)

Deceiving is what the devil does (12:9; 20:3, 8, 10), and also the false prophet (13:14; 19:20).  Deceiving, and therefore “merchants” could therefore appropriately be understood as Satan’s representatives, and therefore as the leaders of false religion.  They are the great men because they trade in the religious authority of the harlot, concluding agreements with the political authorities.  They are the religious office bearers that trade in false religion’s principles and doctrines: her leaders, preachers, ministers, priests, bishops, and so forth.

It is her wealth (sensuality) that attracts the political authorities to her because the political authorities desire to merge with religious authority to strengthen their control over the people.

The relationship between the kings and the harlot is immoral (18:3) because religion is supposed to have relationships with God only.

This immoral relationship intoxicates the people (18:3) because they submit more readily to the combined political and religious authority.

The statement “for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!” (18:17) refers to the destruction of religious authority, when the political powers of the world turn on Babylon to destroy her (17:16, cf. 16:19), after the peoples of the world withdrew their support from Babylon, symbolized by her water (the Euphrates) drying up, after the plagues fell on her followers only, and they realize they were deceived (16:2).

WHICH RELIGION?

The question here is whether Babylon represents Christian religion or all religion.  The language in Revelation indicates it is all—Babylon sits on all peoples of the world (17:15).  However, there are indications that the end time conflict described by Revelation may be limited to the Christian world:

ONE: The fourth beast of Daniel 7 is the Roman Empire, and the horns on the fourth beast are the nations that were formed in Europe when that empire dissolved in the first centuries after Christ.  These nations then proceeded to occupy territory in many parts of the world, including the current USA.  The focus of the prophecies in the book of Daniel is therefore the nations that eventually became the Western World.  Since Revelation is built on Daniel, it is possible that the “whole world” in Revelation may be limited to the Western World, which may mean that Babylon refers to the religious systems particularly dominating the West.

TWO: More specifically, the prominent horn of Daniel 7 is identified as a Christian authority.  (See the discussion on Daniel 7.)  Further, this entity is the same as Revelation 13’s Sea Beast.  (See the discussion on the seven headed beasts of Revelation.)  The Land Beast then executes the authority of this Christian authority (13:12), which means that the land beast is also Christian.  And it is this land beast that convinces the people to erect an image to the sea beast (13:14).  Since the image is of the Sea Beast (13:14), and the Sea Beast is a Christian authority, the image is also Christian.  The Christian institution then gives the mark of the beast to the followers of the beast (13:15-16).

THREE: Persecution in Revelation 13 is individualized and selective of God’s real people.  It is not a nation or a race or a language that is persecuted, nor nominal Christian, but the individuals that refuse the mark of the beast (13:17).  Systems like Islam and atheism may target Christian nations or nominal Christians, but they are not able to specifically target God’s real people.  It is only Christian religions that are able to persecute God’s real people selectively.

FOUR: It is difficult to foresee a single world-wide religious movement which will be able to prescribe is laws in Eastern, Muslim, Jewish and Christian nations.

FIVE: The beast that creates the image to the beast (13:14) comes out of the earth (13:11).  In Revelation the earth and the sea represent the peoples of the earth (12:12), but the earth seems to be a positive or at least a neutral force, because it helps the woman (12:16), in contrast to the persecuting waters (12:16), which are the peoples and nations of the world (17:15).  The “earth” therefore represents either Christian nations or religious freedom.

SIX: The threat in the seven letters is from within the church.  The threats are “those who call themselves apostles, and they are not” (2:2), “those who say they are Jews and are not” (2:9), some people in the church “who … hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (2:15), “the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess” (2:20), those “who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie” (3:9).

There therefore seem to be clear indications that the end time conflict is Christian in nature.

The modern ecumenical movement, active first among Protestant churches in the first half of the twentieth century, then essentially combining (or at least fellowshipping) with the Catholic and Orthodox churches in the second half of the twentieth century, is currently forming alliances with all other world religions.  This may result in one great world religion, but then it will still be dominated by the Christian entities—the Sea Beast and its image.

Does that mean that Babylon is also Christian, or can Babylon still refer to all the false religions of the world, including Islam, Hinduism and Atheism?  Since Babylon sits on all seven heads, and these heads include Babylon, Mede-Persia and Greece (see the article on the seven heads of the beast), Babylon cannot be limited to Christian Churches.  Furthermore, Babylon cannot be limited to the Church because she exists for all human history and is world-wide.  However, the end time conflict is a Christian one, being the dominant false religion.

Perhaps the reader wonders why Christianity is included with Babylon—false religion—in this commentary.  During the Middle Age and even today the Church in many countries has significant dealing with the state, and used the strong arm of government to achieve her goals, persecuting those that differ from her, and has therefore become part of Babylon.  Just as Israel killed the prophets and Christ, so the Church, according to historians, has killed millions of God’s people.  Therefore the Church can aptly be described as a daughter of the harlot Babylon.

APPENDIX A: CHARACTERISTICS

The purpose of this appendix is simply to summarise all the characteristics of Babylon, as identified above.

Babylon is not the peoples of the world, but has a world-wide corrupting influence on the people of the world. Babylon is not her real name.  She is the origin of harlotry and abominations.  She controls the kingdoms of the world, and is something specific which the kings can kill.

Babylon is the earthly counterfeit bride, exclusively in opposition to God’s people, guilty of the blood of all saints ever killed.  She previously was something better, and her altered nature greatly astonished John.  She is destroyed by the lost peoples of the world, when they realise that she deceived them, which happens after the temple in heaven is closed, and also after the little horn arises.

APPENDIX B: HARLOTRY

What does the symbol “harlot” means?  The expression “play the harlot with the strange gods of the land” is used in the OT to refer to the worship of false gods (Ex. 34:15; Deut. 31:16; Jer. 3:6, 9) probably because prostitution was a standard part of heathen religious activities.  Most of the references in the OT to prostitution refer to the spiritual apostasy in idol worship of Israel or Jerusalem.  From this developed the use of harlotry to describe disloyalty to God in general.  Israel was a harlot to Egypt, Assyria and Chaldea:

Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ” … make known to Jerusalem … you grew up …  your breasts were formed … I also clothed you with embroidered cloth …  I adorned you with ornaments… so you were exceedingly beautiful … But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame … You also played the harlot with the Egyptians … you played the harlot with the Assyrians … You also multiplied your harlotry with the land of merchants, Chaldea … You adulteress wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband! Ezek. 16

Harlotry is something which Israel learned and did in Egypt:

‘Thus I will make your lewdness (filthiness) and your harlotry brought from the land of Egypt to cease from you, so that you will not lift up your eyes to them or remember Egypt anymore.’  (Ezek. 23:27NASB)

“Yet she multiplied her harlotries, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the harlot in the land of Egypt.  (Ezek. 23:19 NASB)

“She did not forsake her harlotries from the time in Egypt; for in her youth men had lain with her, and they handled her virgin bosom and poured out their lust on her.  (Ezek. 23:8 NASB)

The next group of texts is important because it defines harlotry is to sin against God:

… the LORD said to Hosea: ’Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD.’ Hosea 1:2

My people consult their wooden idol, and their diviner’s wand informs them; For a spirit of harlotry has led them astray, And they have played the harlot, departing from their God.  (Hos 4:12 NASB)

… For you have played the harlot, forsaking your God. … (Hos 9:1 NASB)

How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers.  … Your rulers are rebels And companions of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe And chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, Nor does the widow’s plea come before them.  (Isa 1:21-23 NASB)

… remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, (Num. 15:39 NASB)

To be a harlot with the kings of the earth means to learn and do the evil they do:

2:2 “… proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem.  … 18 “… what are you doing on the road to Egypt, To drink the waters of the Nile? [Interpreted here as to learn from the Egyptians] Or what are you doing on the road to Assyria, To drink the waters of the Euphrates?  … 20  … But you said, ‘I will not serve!‘ For on every high hill … You have lain down as a harlot. 21 Yet I planted you a choice vine, A completely faithful seed. … 25 But you said … I have loved strangers, And after them I will walk.’ 3:1  … you are a harlot with many lovers … 6 … “Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree [this is where the places of idol worship were], and she was a harlot there [Israel participated in the rites of idol worship, which included prostitution].  7  … she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it.  8 … the adulteries of faithless Israel …  yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.  20 Surely, as a woman treacherously departs from her lover, So you have dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel,” declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 2-3)

In the Old Testament it is mostly Israel that is described as a harlot, but heathen city are also described as harlots:

all because of the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft. Nah 3:4 (Nineveh)

O prostitute forgotten (Tyre); play the harp well, sing many a song … Tyre.  She will return to her hire as a prostitute and will ply her trade with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth.  (Isa 23:15-17)

Based on these texts it is probably safe to limit the interpretation of the “harlot”-symbol as meaning to “depart from the LORD”, to murder, rebel, seal, accept bribes and chase after rewards.  It means not to defend the orphan, or listen to the widow’s plea or to do what the Lord commanded in general.

APPENDIX C: TWO BABYLONS

In Revelation 17 Babylon is a woman, drunk with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.  This emphasizes religious aspects.  In the last verse of chapter 17 (17:18) Babylon is defined as a city, and Revelation 18 continues to describe her as a city, emphasizing commercial aspects.  Due to this contrast some dispensationalists propose that the woman and the city are two distinct entities, with the Babylon of chapter 17 as dealing with an ecclesiastical or spiritual or religious entity, whereas Babylon of chapter 18 is a political entity or a commercial system.  Consequently they hold that the harlot and the city are judged separately.

One justification provided for this view is that, in the KJV of 17:5, the harlot’s name is “Mystery Babylon”, while the city’s name is simply “Babylon”.  The question as to whether the word “mystery” is part of her name cannot be settled by the underlying Greek.  But for the following reasons it seems best to understand the word mystery as describing the woman and not as part of her name:

ONE: In both 14:8 and in 17:2 she is described as the one who “made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality”, but in 14:8 her name is simply “Babylon the Great”, not “Mystery, Babylon the Great”.

TWO: In the immediate context of the word “mystery” in 17:5, the angel offers to tell John “the mystery of the woman and of the beast which carries her” (17:7).   The mystery therefore extends beyond the woman herself to include the seven-headed beast with ten horns.

The woman and the city therefore have the same name, namely “Babylon”.  The first justification is therefore not valid.

Another justification for differentiation between the woman and the city is that the woman of chapter 17 is made desolate, naked, and burned with fire by the beast (17:16), whereas the fall of Babylon in chapter 18 is accomplished directly by God (cf. 16:19-21).  However, both are destroyed by God (Rev. 17:17; 18:5, 8) through fire (Rev. 17:16; 18:8-9, 18) and both will become an utter desolation (Rev. 17:16; 18:17, 19).  This second proposed distinction is therefore also not valid.

A third justification is that, according to 18:9, the kings of the earth as well as the merchants will all mourn the passing of the Babylon of chapter 18.  There is apparently no mourning after the destruction of the woman in chapter 17.  However, the following indicate that the harlot and the city are one and the same:

  • The Harlot is explicitly explained to be the city: “And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 17:18).
  • Both are clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls (Rev. 17:4; 18:16), implying great wealth (Rev. 17:4; 18:19).
  • Both persecute believers (Rev. 17:6; 18:20, 24).
  • They have the same effect on the people.  18:24 reads “for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived” (Rev. 18:24), while 17:2 reads “the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication”.  Is this not saying the same thing in different words?

An unfortunate contributor to the distinction between the harlot and the city is the chapter division between Revelation 17 and 18, which masks the unity of the entire passage.  Chapter divisions are not part of the inspired text and should not influence our interpretations.  Anyone who reads chapters 17 and 18 without preconceived ideas would conclude that the woman and city are the same.

The differentiation made by some dispensationalists is the result of their overly literal interpretation of the text.  The fact that Revelation 17 and 18 represent the same entity in very different words should teach us that this happens also elsewhere in Revelation, and that a literal reading of the text will distort the meaning.  Babylon is therefore both a woman and a city (17:18), just as the New Jerusalem is both a woman and a city (21:9, 10).  Similarly, Jesus is both a lamb and a lion (5:5, 6) and the beast from the earth is also called “the false prophet” (13:12, 13, 19:20).

APPENDIX D: OTHER INTERPRETATIONS

JERUSALEM

Some argue that the Babylon of Revelation is the physical city Jerusalem because:

  • The “great city”, which is Babylon (18:10), is described in 11:8 with the words where also their Lord was crucified.  Literally, this is Jerusalem.
  • In Babylon “was found the blood of prophets and of the saints” (18:24).  This is also what Jesus said of Jerusalem (Mat 23:35, Luke 11:50-51).
  • The colour and adornment of the harlot (17:4) reflect the Jewish priestly colours of scarlet, purple, and gold (Ex. 28:33).
  • Babylon has “mother of harlots” on her forehead while Judah had a harlot’s forehead, and was a harlot (Jeremiah 3:3-6).

But Babylon cannot be Jerusalem because it cannot be said that Jerusalem rules over the kings of the earth (17:18), or that Jerusalem has a dominating influence over the world’s population (17:15), or that the merchants grow rich from Jerusalem’s excessive luxuries (18:3).  Since Israel did not even exist as a nation until the time of Jacob, it is obvious that she cannot be the mother or originator of harlots and of the abominations of the earth (17:5), corrupting the earth with her fornication (Rev. 19:2).

THE WORLD

Some understand Babylon as all entrenched worldly resistance to God; the total culture of the world apart from God, eagerly embraced by the nations once called Christian; the world with its the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does (1 John 2:16); the world’s power, the world’s riches, the world’s trade, the world’s religions and the world’s commerce and culture; the world of lust, all that appeals to the flesh or the mind and entices and seduces us away from God, just as she successfully enticed the kings and inhabitants of the earth away from God.  This view properly accounts for the age old existence and global influence attributed to Babylon, but does not account for the following:

  • Babylon is something specific which the kings are able to kill
  • She is the earthly counterfeit bride, exclusively fundamentally opposed to God’s people
  • The fact that, in Revelation, wealth is a symbol for spiritual condition

A LITERAL CITY

A common interpretation of Babylon among literal interpreters is that Babylon is a literal city that will be built on the literal Euphrates River, to become the political and commercial capital of the world.

This interpretation is based on the observation that there are extensive unfulfilled prophecies concerning the destruction of Babylon in the OT as physical, sudden, violent, literal, complete, permanent and catastrophic like that of Sodom and Gomorrah with absolutely nothing left (Isa. 13:1, 19‑22; 14, 47; Jer. 50:35, 39‑40 51:8, 24‑26).  It would become an uninhabitable wasteland.  Her walls will be completely destroyed and her gates burned with fire.  There will be nothing left of her, no person shall ever reside there, “nor will the Arabian pitch tents there, nor will the shepherds make their sheepfolds there” (Isa. 13:19-20).   It “shall be wholly desolate” (Jer. 50:13).  “The wild desert beasts shall dwell there with the jackals” (Jer. 50:39-40).  This destruction will come in the “Day of the Lord” (Isa. 13:6‑11; 13:1; 14:1‑3; Jer. 50:1‑6).  At the time of her destruction there will be a disturbance in the sun and moon (Isa. 13:10).  Then “the whole earth is at rest and is quiet; They break forth into shouts of joy” (Isa 14:7 NASB).

These prophecies have never been fulfilled as they were stated.  On the night that Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain and the city came under the control of Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, there was no large-scale attack upon the city.  In fact, many within the city were not even aware for quite some time afterwards that the city had been taken.  Cyrus diverted the waters of the Euphrates and by night entered the city through the dried up channel. This allowed armed forces to wade under her defenses without much of a fight.

Babylon fell on October 12, 539 B.C., to Cyrus of Persia, and from that time the city slowly decayed due to competition and neglect.  Xerxes plundered it.  Even when Greece, the great leopard beast of Daniel’s night vision, came in the empire of Alexander the Great, the city was not destroyed.  Alexander marched to Babylon on Oct. 1, 331 B.C., and the Persian garrison offering no opposition.  After Alexander, the city was ruled by the Seleucid kingdom during which Babylon’s economy declined sharply due to competition with the establishment of a new capital at Seleucia on the Tigris (274 B.C.).  Although the city still stood when Roman emperor Trajan entered it in A.D. 115, by about A.D. 200 the site of the city was deserted.  Babylon soon became a desert.

Babylon “fell” numerous times at the hands of different invaders, but it never suffered anything like the predicted complete destruction.  The land around her did not become des­olate, but continued to be populated and fertile.  There was no disturbance in the sun or moon, nor did universal peace follow.

Literal interpreters also point out that the Old Testament predictions of Babylon’s destruction are similar to Revelation’s description of Babylon’s destruction; sudden (“in one day” [18:8, 17]), complete (18:21) and with fire (Rev. 18:18; 16:17‑21).  Literal interpreters therefore argue that the same destruction is in view in both the OT and in Revelation.  Other justifications provided for the view of Babylon as a physical city include:

  • The mention of the Euphrates River in conjunction with Babylon is taken to mean that a physical city is in view.
  • The harlot is represented as “sitting on” a beast.  The beast is a symbol, “sitting” is a symbol and the harlot is a symbol.  These symbols are explained in 17:18.  The harlot is explained as the great city.  “Sits on” is explained as “reigns over”.  The beast is explained as the kings of the world.  Because “city” is the interpretation of the harlot, the city must therefore be understood literally; otherwise we should have the anomaly of a figure representing a figure.
  • Place names have their literal significance in Revelation 1:9; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14 and the writer is very clear to point it out when he intends a figurative meaning as in Revelation 11:8.

A number of objections against Babylon as a literal city may be raised:

ONE: Babylon is not her real name (see above).

TWO: Babylon is an earthly counterfeit bride (see above).

THREE:  The Euphrates is redefined in Revelation as the peoples of the world (17:15).  The Euphrates is Babylon’s river.  Babylon cannot be separated from the Euphrates because Babylon of the OT was built on the Euphrates.  If the Euphrates becomes a symbol, then it follows that Babylon also becomes a symbol.

FOUR: In the angel’s explanation in Revelation 17 he also explains other symbols with symbols.  The seven heads are explained as seven mountains (17:9) and the beast is explained as an eight head or mountain (17:11).  Also elsewhere in Revelation symbols are explained with symbols:

    • The seven lamps are explained as “the seven Spirits of God” (4:5).  “Seven” is not literal, because God does not literally have seven Spirits.  The “seven” means that God’s Spirit is present for the complete period of man’s existence.
    • The “lake of fire” is explained as “the second death” (20:14; 21:8).  If the second death is a symbol of eternal life in hell, then this is also one symbol explaining another.
    • At the end of the vision in Revelation 1 Jesus explained the stars as “the angels of the seven churches” (1:20), but these cannot be real angels.
    • He also explains the seven lampstands as seven churches (1:20).  However, these seven churches also represent all churches of history, as discussed elsewhere.

The following explanations use symbols:

    • The innumerable multitude is explained as the people that washed their clothes in the blood of Jesus (7:14).
    • The two witnesses are explained as “two olive trees and the two lampstands” (11:4) that kill their enemies with fire from their mouth (sic) (11:5).
    • The 144,000 are those that did not defile themselves with women (14:4)

Elsewhere in Revelation more than one symbols are used for the same entity.  Jesus is represented by both a lion and a lamb (5:5, 6), and the beast from the earth is explained as “the false prophet”.

FIVE: Literal Babylon of old is too young to be the Babylon of Revelation.  Babylon exists throughout history, and therefore cannot be a reconstructed city at the end of time.  Literal interpreters defend this point by saying Babylon is actually the false systems of worship which originated in Nimrod’s days.  If this is the logic, then the name Babylon no longer means what it means in the OT.  It then means the persisting influence of that false religion on the kingdoms of the world.  Then this interpretation becomes the same as the interpretation of Babylon as the false religion.  The only difference is the requirement that the city would be rebuilt.  And if Babylon (Babel) existed for all human history in the form of its influence, why does it have to be rebuilt?

SIX: If Babylon is taken as a literal city on the Euphrates River because it has that meaning in the OT, the New Jerusalem must also be the literal Jerusalem in Judea, because these two cities stand in opposition to each other.  But the New Jerusalem includes all God’s people; from both Israel and the Church (21:9, 10, 12, 14).

SEVEN: Babylon has already been destroyed and Old Testament prophecy teaches us it will never be rebuilt.

EIGHT: If end time Babylon is to be a literal city, then the events of the book of Revelation are still a long way off.  Many decades are required for a city to be rebuilt from nothing and to become the global hub for world trade.  This is directly opposed to the principle of “imminence”, i.e. that the rapture may occur at any time, which is often proposed by the same people that propose that Babylon will be a literal city.

Some people think of a city as the physical infrastructure, but a city is more properly a very large and complex congregation of people.  A physical city without people is not really a city, but a large collection of people is a city, even without proper buildings.

ROME

In the Academic world Revelation is generally seen not as predictions of the future, but as descriptions of events in John’s time, presented as a prophecy.  The academic view is in general therefore that Babylon is Rome of old and the Beast is Nero.  This view is based on detailed and complex justifications, mostly based on writings outside of the Bible.

This view would make John a liar, because he writes that the things he saw “must soon take place” (1:1).  One of the major justifications is the assumption that the seven hills of Revelation 17:9 identify the topography of the ancient city of Rome.  But these seven hills are defined as seven consecutive kings (17:10).  (The KJV translation is misleading here in its inference that the seven mountains are different from the seven kings.  The Greek says that the “seven heads are seven mountains . . . and they are seven kings.”)  The seven heads are therefore not the Seven Hills of Rome.  Many other identifications of Babylon as discussed above disqualifies Rome.  Another is the fact that Babylon is destroyed after the temple in heaven is closed (16:19, compare 15:8), which happens after every person has made his or her final decision for or against God.  (In the final crisis on earth everybody will have to make a choice.  On the one hand the Image of the Beast will persecute all who do not accept the mark of the beast.  On the other hand God’s message will be proclaimed with such power that the whole earth will be lightened.)

Books can be written to oppose this view, but it would not avail much, as academics generally have an a priori assumption against predictions, due to the scientific method which excludes the possibility of the supernatural.  Should the reader is interested, the article of “When Daniel was written” provides solid proof that Daniel was written long before Antiochus Epiphanies IV, and even before the Greek Empire, which is specifically mentioned in Daniel 8:21.  This is excellent proof of the supernatural ability of God to present predictions in the Bible.

ROMAN CATHOLICISM

Another view held by some is that the harlot Babylon represents the global system of Roman Catholicism, possibly wed with other religious systems, for the following reasons:

ONE: The blasphemy of the church, claiming for mortal man what belongs only to God:

  1. Jesus says “I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev 1:18), but the pope claims to be “the keeper of the keys” [Catholic Ency. II, p 666].
  2. Christ “is the head of the body” (Col 1:18), but the pope claims to be head of all churches [Catholic Ency. II, p 666].  [Dogmatic Decrees of the Council of Trent, p.159,160; Also in Teachings of the Catholic Church, p. 143,144]
  3. “Christ Jesus … will judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim. 4:1), but the Pope claims to be the Judge of the Living and the Dead (Catholic Ency. II, p 666; XV. p 126).
  4. Christ is the “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev 19:16), but the pope claims authority above all and to be subject to none. (Pius VI Ency. 65; II, p 666).  “primacy over the whole world”  “the fullest authority … not only the spiritual but also the material sword, and so to transfer sovereignties, break scepters and remove crowns. [Catholic Dictionary, p 258]
  5. Jesus promised “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth. (John 14:16-17), but the Pope claim to “hold upon this earth the place of God almighty”. [Pope Leo XIII, Great Encyclical Letters, 304].  “the Roman Pontiff … is true Vicar of Christ”.  The word “vicar” comes from the Latin word “vicarious” which means substitute (Oxford Dictionary).
  6. The Bible teaches that the saved “have washed their robes … in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14), but the Catholic Church claims that for every human creature it is necessary for salvation to be subject to the authority of the Roman Pontiff.” [Cath. Ency. XV, p 126; Dogmatic Decrees of the Council of Trent, p.159,160; Also in Teachings of the Catholic Church, p. 143,144]
  7. Jesus said ” do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers” (Mat 23:8), but the church claims that the supreme teacher in the church is the Roman Pontiff [Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, p. 193].

TWO: The Catholic Church changed times and laws (Dan 7:25).  She changed our calendar. In 1518 Pope Gregory changed our calendar ten days.  She changed the laws respecting the Lord’s supper, set up images, enacted celibacy of the clergy.  In 1075 Gregory VII declared all clerical marriages invalid. This was the greatest mass divorce in history.  She changed the 10 commandments.  In general she claims absolute control of all religion.

THREE: The Catholic Church has untold wealth. It is “one of the greatest fiscal powers in the world.” [Nino Lo Bello, The Vatican Empire, p.8]  The Catholic Church makes most of its money through the doctrine of Purgatory.  Many wealthy people over the centuries have bequeathed their estates to the Pope in order to be released from Purgatory sooner, and many over the centuries made large contribution to release their loved ones from Purgatory.

FOUR: A characteristic of Babylon is that she is “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus” (17:6).

Rome’s long history was marked with the shedding of the blood of saints.  In 1208 Pope Innocent III warred against the Waldines and Albigines (Bohemian Brethren), in which one million perished. From the beginning of the Jesuits 1540-1580 it is estimated that 900,000 were destroyed through papal cruelty.  One hundred fifty thousand perished by the inquisition in thirty years.  In the low lands 50,000 persons were hanged, beheaded, burned alive or buried alive for the crime of heresy.  Within 38 years from the edict of Charles V, 18,000 were executed.  The Popes tried to put down the reformation in Germany and Switzerland.  One might consider the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, Martyrdom of John Calas, John Wycliff, John Huss, Jerome of Prague, Tyndale, Luther, Persecutions in Germany, France, Scotland, England, Ireland, persecution of Quakers.

The historian W.E. H. Lecky says, “The Church of Rome has shed more innocent blood than any other institution that ever existed among mankind, will be questioned by no Protestant who has a complete knowledge of history.” Some historians have estimated that the persecuting hands of Rome have been reddened by the blood of fifty million saints. I doubt that anyone can come close to the exact number.

The Catholic Church is drunk on the blood of Saints.  Is there any other institution on the face of the earth that more likely fits the above description?

FIVE: Babylon “reigns over the kings of the earth” (17:18).  During the long dark period of history known as the Middle Ages the Catholic Church dealt with a high hand.  She made and unmade kings:

Emperors and kings had to … be in communion with the Pope, as essential conditions of their reigning lawfully; if these conditions were broken, of which the Pope was the judge, then … he could … declare their ruler unfit to reign. [Cath Dic, 257]

Sixtus V (Cath. Ency. I729) excommunicated Protestant Henry of Navarre, and sent an army to unseat him.  Sixtus promised the Spanish King a subsidy for the Armada, with which England was to be subjugated.  Let’s take a look at how Pope Gregory compels King Henry to freeze three days before he would receive him:

Striped of his royal robes, and clad as a penitent, Henry had to come barefooted mid ice and snow, and crave for admission to the presence of the pope. All day he remained at the door of the citadel, fasting and exposed to the inclemency of the wintry weather, but was refused admission. A second and third day he thus humiliated and disciplined himself, and finally on 28 January, l077, he was received by the pontiff and absolved from censure, but on condition that he would appear at the proposed council and submit himself to its decision. Cath. Ency. VI, 794

All of this shows how arrogant the Catholic Church was during the dark ages and how she ruled over the kingdoms of Europe.

SIX: A further reason for identifying the Catholic Church as Babylon is the similarity between this Church and the ancient religion that originated in the time of Nimrod.  This ancient religion takes on different forms in different cultures, but they all contained one central feature, the worship of the goddess mother and her child.  Often the names changed, but no matter where you went, pictures and images of a mother (Semiramis) with a child (Tammuz) in her arms were found.

SEVEN: The Catholic Church acknowledges that its doctrines are not based on the Bible, but on “traditions”.  First Timothy 4:1‑5 gives us one of the primary doctrines of latter day Babylonianism, namely celibacy among the priests.  This has led to horrible atro­cities in the Roman Catholic Church.  In Chiniquy’s book, Fifty Years in the Roman Catholic Church, he says that a young student priest was question­ing a superior about this doctrine of Rome and received the following reply: “You have spoken as a true heretic…you speak of the Holy Scriptures just as a Protestant would, do you appeal to them as the only source of Christian truth and knowledge. Have you forgotten that we have the holy traditions to guide us, the authority of which is equal to the Scriptures?” This nullified Scripture on the basis of human tradition (Mark 7:13).  Such a position refuses to allow people to carry out their responsibility to func­tion as Berean believers, “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

EIGHT: The purple and scarlet—in which the “woman was clothed” (17:4)—is the ecclesiastical dress of the Roman Church, which on occasions also involves glittering jewels and of course the gold cup.

Many Protestants think of the Catholic religion as unattractive and that its worship is a dull, meaningless round of ceremony.  Here they mistake.  Romanism is not coarse and clumsy.  The religious service of the Roman Church is a most impressive ceremonial.  Its gorgeous display and solemn rites fascinate the senses of the people and silence the voice of reason and of conscience. The eye is charmed.  Magnificent churches, imposing processions, golden altars, jeweled shrines, choice paintings, and exquisite sculpture appeal to the love of beauty.  The ear also is captivated.  The music is unsurpassed.  The rich notes of the deep-toned organ, blending with the melody of many voices as it swells through the lofty domes and pillared aisles of her grand cathedrals, cannot fail to impress the mind with awe and reverence.

This outward splendor, pomp, and ceremony, that only mock the longings of the sin-sick soul, are evidence of inward corruption. The religion of Christ needs not such attractions to recommend it. In the light shining from the cross, true Christianity appears so pure and lovely that no external decorations can enhance its true worth. It is the beauty of holiness, a meek and quiet spirit, which is of value with God.

NINE: It is clear from Daniel 7 that some power emanating from the Roman Empire will become the end time anti-God power and will continue until the return of Christ.  Historicists informs us that the Roman Catholic Church descended from Rome and inherited

The problem with taking Babylon to be either Rome or Roman Catholicism is her relatively late appearance as a major empire.  She did not exist throughout human history.  Neither is she global.  Have the kings of Asia and Africa committed fornication with the Papacy?  It is true that the Italian pontiffs have ruled over a wide territory, yet it is also true that there are many lands which have remained untouched by their religious influence.  It is evident from these two points alone that we have to go back to something which long antedates the rise of the Papacy, and to something which has exerted a far wider influence than has any of the popes.  The Catholic Church may be the prime example of the organization representing Babylon in our time, but Babylon itself is much bigger and older, and also includes other religions.

Babylon is the mother of all harlots and abominations of the earth. From her have come ancient paganism, Chinese Confucianism, Asian Buddhism, Indian Hinduism, Shamanism, Taoism, Shintoism, animism, astrology, witchcraft, spiritism, Sikhism, New Age Movement and all the world’s vast complex of “gods many, and lords many” (1 Corinthians 8:5).  Texe Marrs in his book Dark Secrets of the New Age lists nearly 30 rituals and beliefs found in ancient Babylon that are practiced today in the New Age Movement!  Everything from reincarnation to occult meditation was commonplace 3,000 years ago.  The New Age thus is a revival of the Old Age.  Roman Catholicism is not “the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth,” i.e., the mother, or fountain head of all the systems of idolatry which have since flooded “the earth” from that one great source.  Romanism is only a daughter.

Of concern in this age is the direct descent of modern scientism and evolutionary humanism from this ancient mother of harlots.  Modern evolutionism is in no way scientific, being contradicted by all true facts of science, but is merely a revival of ancient Greek (and ultimately Babylonian) evolutionary pantheism.

TO: General Table of Contents

The Sixth Plague

This plague is comprised of five verses. Perhaps the most important question is why the Euphrates has to dry up to prepare the way for the kings from the east. This question is addressed in the very last section of this article.

16:12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. (NASB)

The Euphrates is world-wide.

All followers of the Beast receive sores in plague one (16:2). All sea and fresh water turn to blood in plagues two and three (16:3, 4). The sun scorches the whole earth in plague four (16:8). Even the darkness of the fifth plague is global because the beast rules the entire world: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him” (13:8). The first five plagues are therefore world-wide. Furthermore, there are no indication of fractions in the plagues, such as the quarter mentioned in the seals (6:8) and thirds mentioned in the trumpets (8:7, 8, 10, 12, etc.). It therefore seems logical that the drying up of the waters of the Euphrates in plague six should also be understood as a global event.

Literal interpretations sometimes think of the Euphrates as literally drying up to allow literal kings from the east of literal Babylon to attack the city. Given the ability today to send aircraft and missiles to almost any place on earth, this would indeed be a strange interpretation. A river might have deterred an army in the time Revelation was written, but certainly not today.

“Euphrates” symbolises all the peoples of the world.

The Euphrates is one of the oldest rivers of history, being one of the four rivers which was fed from Eden in the pre-flood world (Gen. 2:10).  It is not likely that its modern source and location match that of the pre-flood Euphrates due to the great changes in geography which almost certainly attended the breakup of the fountains of the deep at the Flood. But the pre-flood Euphrates is probably not what Revelation directs our minds to.

After the flood the flood plain of the Euphrates was the site of the first human city (Babel). Much later, in the days of Daniel the prophet, it was the site of Nebuchadnezzar’s magnificent capital city Babylon. At that time the Euphrates flowed through the ancient city of Babylon—Israel’s great Old Testament enemy Babylon—providing its water source (Jeremiah 51:12-13, 63-64). As such, it was an integral part of the city, nurturing its crops and providing water for the city’s inhabitants. Without that river, Babylon could not survive.

In the Old Testament, therefore, the ancient enemy of Israel–Babylon, which destroyed their city and temple and exiled their people, was associated with the river Euphrates. Revelation twice use the name “Euphrates” and six times the name “Babylon”, but nowhere directly specifies a relationship between the two. But Revelation does say that Babylon “sits on many waters” (17:1) and “many waters” is used in Jeremiah 51:13 as a reference to the Euphrates. The historical relationship between Babylon and the Euphrates also implies a relationship between the Babylon and the Euphrates of Revelation. It is therefore logical that in Revelation the “Euphrates” is the same as the “many waters” on which Babylon sits (17:1).

But the “many waters” is defined by Revelation as the “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (17:15). In Revelation the Euphrates is therefore not a physical river, but the population of the entire world.

“Dried up” symbolises the end of Babylon’s corrupting influence, in preparation for the deliverance of God’s people.

The historical Euphrates was dried up in preparation for the escape of Israel from Babylon.  According to the famous Greek historian Herodotus, and confirmed in modern times by the Cyrus Cylinder, Babylon was overthrown when Cyrus, the Persian king, diverted the Euphrates River that runs through the centre of Babylon, allowing the Persians to wade into the city unexpected.  This was prophesied by Bible prophets:

“A sword against the Chaldeans,” declares the LORD, “And against the inhabitants of Babylon … “A drought on her waters, and they will be dried up! For it is a land of idols …  (Jer. 50:35-38 NASB)

Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am going to plead your case And exact full vengeance for you; And I will dry up her sea And make her fountain dry.  (Jer. 51:36 NASB)

“It is I who says to the depth of the sea, ‘Be dried up!’ And I will make your rivers dry.  It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.'”  (Isa 44:27-28 NASB)

Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, To subdue nations before him … To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:  (Isa 45:1 NASB)

Revelation uses events and objects from the Old Testament to describe the future, but the meaning changes.  As argued above the literal Euphrates became a symbol for the peoples of the whole world.  Now we will also argue that “sits on many waters” (17:1) and “water was dried up” (16:12) have symbolic meanings in Revelation.

In the Old Testament Babylon is described as “you who dwell by many waters” (Jer. 51:13).  This had a literal meaning.  In Revelation Babylon is described as “the great harlot who sits on many waters” (17:1).  But if we understand that the many waters symbolise the peoples of the world, then Babylon’s “sitting” on the “many waters” becomes a symbol for her corrupting influence over the peoples of the world:

… those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”  (Rev 17:2 NASB)

Therefore the drying up of the Euphrates becomes a symbol for the end of her corrupting influence.

But even though physical objects and events became symbols in Revelation, the underlying meaning remains.  As the Red Sea parted to allowed God’s people to flee from destruction (Ex. 14:21-22), and the Jordan physically dried up for Israel to cross into the Promised Land (Jos. 3:14-17; 4:22), and the physical Euphrates dried up before the release of Israel from Babylon, and to restore His people to their land, so the symbolic Euphrates in Revelation dries up to prepare for the deliverance of God’s end time people from symbolic Babylon.

The end of Babylon’s corrupting influence is only the beginning of her complete end; she is only finally destroyed in the seventh plague (16:19).

Babylon is mentioned in this discussion without an explanation of who she is.  In the final section of the discussion of the sixth plague—see below—more is said about her.

“Kings from the east” are Jesus and those that are with Him when He returns.

The fact that both the “Euphrates” and “dried up” are symbols implies that the other major feature of Rev. 16:12—the kings from the east—may be a symbol as well.

Note the name “Cyrus” in two verses quoted above.  He was the commander in chief of the allied forces of the kings of Media and Persia; the king of many kings:

Consecrate the nations against her, The kings of the Medes, Their governors and all their prefects, And every land of their dominion.  (Jer. 51:28 NASB cf. 51:11).

Cyrus was also “from the east”:

“Who has aroused one from the east Whom He calls in righteousness to His feet? He delivers up nations before him And subdues kings.  …  (Isa 41:2 NASB)

a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country (Isa. 46:11).

Therefore, in the Old Testament, Cyrus and the kings under his command were literal “kings from the east” associated with the literal drying up the literal Euphrates.  Revelation packs all three (Euphrates—dry up—kings) into a single verse.  The very fact that something literal, of such importance in the Old Testament, finds its way to the pages of Revelation implies that it is used as symbol in Revelation.  The question is what this symbol means.

To identify these kings, note that there are two groups of kings in the sixth plague:

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east.  And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs;  for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.  (Rev 16:12-14 NASB)

These two groups of kings therefore stand in opposition to each other.  Because the “kings of the whole world” oppose God, the “kings from the east” are probably God’s kings.  Daniel and Revelation do not simply describe wars between political kings.  These books focus on the cosmic war between God and Satan.

But we are able to identify these two groups of kings with certainty.  Note that the verses quoted (16:12-14) above do not describe either of the two groups of kings.  The drying up of the Euphrates is not the coming of the “kings from the east”, but only prepares their “way” (16:12).  This implies they will be moving from one point to another.  Arguably they will be moving towards the “kings of the whole world”.  Similarly, we do not already see the “kings of the whole world” gathered.  The text only describes the demons that go out to gather them.  So where in Revelation is described the movement of the “kings from the east” and the “gathered” “kings of the whole world”?

We find them in Revelation 19; in the description on Jesus’s return.  This section describes the kings of the earth “gathered” (19:19).  The NASB uses the word “assembled”, but the KJV and many other translations use “gathered”.  In the underlying Greek it is exactly the same word as in 16:14 and 16:16.

We also find a second group of kings in Revelation 19, because it says the kings of the earth are gathered “to make war against” the “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (19:16, 19).  This Person “is called The Word of God” (19:13).  Because He is the “King of kings”, He must be leading many kings.

A third link between Revelation 16 and 19 is the movement.  While the “kings of the earth” are stationary in one place, the kings led by the “King of kings” move from heaven to earth.  This is the “way” that has been prepared by the drying up of the Euphrates (16:12):

“The armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses” (19:13).

The links between Revelation 16 and 19, mentioned thus far, are:

  • The gathered kings
  • Two groups of kings
  • The movement of the two groups

A fourth link may be added, namely that both sections actually mention five parties.  On Satan’s side both sections refer to the Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet and the gathered kings of the earth.  It follows therefore that the fifth party mentioned, referred to as the “kings from the east” in 16:12, and the “kings” that are with Christ in 19:16, must refer to the same group.  The “kings from the east” is therefore Jesus, and those that are with Him when He returns.

Supporting evidence for this conclusion includes:

TYPE: Cyrus is a type of Christ when He delivers God’s people.  God used Cyrus and his kings to deliver His people from their oppressors and bring them back from captivity to their homeland (Jer. 50:33-34).  God said: “He will build My city and let My people go free” (Isa. 45:13; cf. 44:28).  God therefore calls him the “anointed one” (Isa. 45:1) and “My shepherd” (44:28).  These most honourable titles (Isa. 45:4) were later reserved for Jesus.

EAST: East” in Revelation is associated with God.  The angel brings the seal of God from the east (7:2) and Jesus is called “the bright morning star” (22:16).  “Morning” reminds us of the east, because the sun rises in the east, and the term in Greek for the east is literally “the rising of the sun”.  “East” is also associated with God in the Old Testament:

and behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory (Eze. 43:2).

The darkness causes the drying up of the Euphrates.

The first four plagues only fall on people with the mark of the beast, while the persecuted minority are free from these plagues.  The persecuting majority must therefore start to realise that they are wrong.  Then, in the fifth plague, the messages of Revelation 18 are proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, destroying the Beast’s religious authority and convincing the people that the Beast’s kingdom is actually darkness.  (See the discussion of the fifth plague.)  This results in the people withdrawing their support from Babylon, symbolised by the drying up of the Euphrates.  In this way the plagues follow each other logically.

An important question is why the water of the Euphrates has to dry up before the return of Jesus Christ.  This question is deferred because the answer is given by what follows.

16:13 And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs;  (NASB)

This is a turning point in the plagues.  Up to this point in the plagues the Beast only suffered defeat.  But now it seems as if the attack of the Beast power is renewed.  It also seems as if the tactics of the Beast changes.  Their claims to speak for the true God has been destroyed, resulting in the Beast losing popular support, symbolised by the Euphrates drying up, but the unclean spirits like frogs seem to give them renewed power to deceive.

The False Prophet is the beast out the earth.

Both the False Prophet and the Earth-Beast are described as performing miraculous signs on behalf of the Beast and deceiving the inhabitants of the earth (13:13-14; 19:20).  They are therefore the same.  The “Earth” is where it comes from.  A “False Prophet” is what it is.

The False Prophet, although at first appearing like a lamb, speaks like a dragon (13:11)—He tells those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast (Rev. 13:14).

The False Prophet always appears in tandem with the Dragon and the Beast (Rev 13:1, 11, 12; 16:13; 19:20-20:2; 20:10).  The Dragon appears first on the scene, as the “serpent of old” (12:9), but also represents the fourth Beast of Daniel 7 (the Roman Empire) when it tries to devour Jesus (12:4).  (See the article on the seven headed beasts of Revelation.)  Later it calls “The Beast” out of the sea (13:1).  This Beast receives a deadly wound, but recovers (13:3).  Then the false prophet arrives on the scene (13:11).  These three then work together until the return of Christ, at which stage their paths separate.  The Dragon spends the Millennium (thousand years) in the abyss (20:1-2), while the Beast and False Prophet are in the lake of fire (19:20).  After the thousand years the Dragon joins the other two in the lake of fire, where they will remain “forever and ever” (20:10).

The Beast is the same as the fifth beast of Daniel 7 (the 11th horn), (see the article of the seven headed beasts of Revelation), and is identified in the discussion of Daniel 7.  The False Prophet is identified in the discussion of Revelation 13.

What comes from mouths symbolises will and deeds.

In Revelation things often symbolically come out of mouths.  “Fire, smoke and brimstone” come out of the mouths of the two hundred million horses in the sixth trumpet (9:16, 17).  If anyone wants to harm God’s two witnesses, “fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies” (11:5).  The Dragon, also represented as the serpent of old (Satan in the Garden of Eden) “poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman” in an effort to destroy her (12:15).  (There are two women in Revelation.  The Serpent tries to destroy the pure woman.  The harlot woman is described in Revelation 17.)    From Jesus’s “mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations” (19:15).  At His return He will kill everyone that has the mark of the Beast with this sword (19:21).

It should be clear that these are not literal things coming out of literal mouths.  The mouth is the organ which reflects the will as evidenced by one’s words.  For example, the Earth-Beast (the False Prophet) “spoke as a dragon” (13:12), which means “he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence” (Rev 13:12-13).  Another example is the image, which will “speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (13:15).  What comes from mouths therefore represents the character’s will and actions.

The unclean spirits symbolise the doctrines of demons

The question is then; what are the “unclean spirits” coming out of the mouths of the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet?  The next verse (16:14) explains the unclean spirits as demons.  In the Gospels the term “unclean spirit” is used interchangeably with “demon.” (Mark 1:27, 34; 3:11, 15; 6:7; etc.)  We find several stories where Jesus cast out such spirits (Mar 1:23; 5).  Jesus healed a man in a synagogue who had an unclean spirit (Mark 1:23-27).  In the country of the Gadarenes Jesus cast out a legion of unclean spirits into a herd of pigs (Mark 5:2-13).  When Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two, He gave them power over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7, 12).  The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was attributing an unclean spirit to Jesus (Mark 3:30).

It is not proposed that literal demons come out of the mouths of the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet, but rather that they represent the persuasive and deceptive propaganda which in the last days will lead men to an unconditional commitment to the cause of evil.  Paul calls false teaching the doctrine of demons:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron. (1Ti. 4:1-2)

“Like frogs” indicate the repulsiveness of the unclean spirits.

Some believe the demons are compared to frogs because frogs catch their prey with their tongues.  Others see some symbolic meaning in the fact that the frogs were the last plague on Egypt which the Egyptian wizards were able to replicate.  The view here is that the frogs must be understood like the unclean and hateful birds, which are also mentioned with unclean spirits (18:2), namely simply something that highlights the repulsiveness of the unclean spirits in the sight of God.

16:14 for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.  (NASB)

Demons are angels that were deceived by Satan to rebel against God (Rev. 12:4).

The demonic realm is real.  The manipulation of the kings will be so complete that they themselves will think they are following their own will, but it is the demons who drag them forward.

Signs are supernatural manifestations of various kinds.

Signs constitute a means by which Satan works through human agencies.  The dazzling miracles will enchant and deceive the whole world.  They will “authenticate” the claims of power and authority of the person performing them, and succeeds in uniting the world behind his purpose:

Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, (2Th 2:8-11 NASB)

false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See I have told you beforehand” (Mtt. 24:24 cf. Mark 13:22).

He (beast from the earth) performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men.  And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.  (Rev 13:13-14 NASB)

Please note that in all three instances quoted the purpose of the miracles are to deceive.  Signs may be legitimate miracles, but that does not mean it is the power of God.  All it means is that it is supernatural:

“If a prophet … arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods … and let us serve them,’  you shall not listen to the words of that prophet … for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  (Deut. 13:1-3 NASB)

The gathered kings are not the Image of the Beast.

In Revelation 13 the evil trio of the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet are mentioned (13:1, 2, 11, 12).  The False Prophet deceives the peoples of the world through miracles to create an image to the Beast (13:14).  It is then the Image that kills and otherwise persecutes God’s people (13:15-17).  Because it is through signs and wonders that both the Image is created (13:14) and the kings gathered (16:14), and because it is the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet that create the Image and gather the kings, one might be inclined to think that the Image is the same as the gathered kings.

However, they are not the same.  It is the Image that gives the people the mark of the beast (13:16).  The Image is therefore created before people are given the mark.  The kings, on the other hand, are gathered after the plagues start to fall on the people with the mark.  The kings are therefore gathered after the mark is given to the people.

16:15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”)  (NASB)

To come like a thief means it is not possible to know when Christ will return.

Sometimes the “coming like a thief” is used to justify an invisible and inaudible rapture seven years before the visible return of Christ.  However, “coming like a thief” does not indicate that the event is inaudible or invisible.  It indicates that the event is not predictable.  It means that nobody would know when Jesus will return:

… if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Mtt. 24:42-44)

… be like men who wait for their master, when he will return … they may open to him immediately.  … if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched …  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Luke 12:35-40)

… For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.  For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them … But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.  … Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.  (1Th. 5:1-6)

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  (2Pe 3:10 NASB)  (See also Rev 3:3)

Coming like a thief therefore consistently indicates unpredictability.  Notice also in the verses quoted that the Lord’s coming like a thief is associated with “sudden destruction”, “heavens will pass away with a roar” and “the earth and its works will be burned up”.  “Coming like a thief” clearly does not refer to something inaudible or invisible.  In two of the verses quoted it is indicated twice that it is the “day of the Lord” that come like a thief.

The church will be on earth during the plagues.

While Dispensationalists postulates a secret rapture which would come at an hour the world does not expect, they also hold that the timing of the events after the rapture—often referred to by Dispensationalists as the Tribulation–is not subject to uncertainty.  They hold that numerous time-indicators in the Bible give a precise number of days between the secret rapture and the visible return of Christ.  Further, in their view the rapture occurs in Revelation 4:1, while the plagues are poured out later.

But then we have a contradiction when 16:15 uses the familiar NT expression “coming like a thief” to indicate unexpectedness.  Dispensationalists therefore propose that 16:15 refers to events before 4:1.  It is agreed that the warning in 16:15 is very similar to the advice to the churches.  To the Church in Sardis He says:

… I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.  (Rev 3:3 NASB)

To the Church in Laodicea He says:

I advise you to buy from Me … white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed …  (Rev 3:18 NASB)

Added together, these two verses sound very similar to 16:15.  It is therefore same warning, given to the same people, at the same time.  However, it is not agreed with Dispensationalists that the warning in 16:15 belongs before a secret rapture.  Rather, the interpretation here is that the Church would still be on earth during the plagues.

Keeping one’s clothes symbolises righteous behaviour or good works.

Consistent with the image of the surprise coming of a thief, the image portrayed by 16:15 is of a person having disrobed and fallen asleep, and then awakened by surprise and forced to parade about naked.

In Revelation garments is often use to symbolise one’s spiritual condition.  Revelation sometimes uses “defiled garments” (3:4) or nakedness (3:17-18) as a symbol for sin, while “white” or “clean” garments (3:4-5; 6:11; 19:8) symbolise the spiritual condition of the people who “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14).  The righteous deeds we therefore receive from God.  He is the Source of all that is good.

Note that God’s people are urged to “keep their clothes” (16:15).  Unlike the Laodiceans (3:18), they are not to advised to buy white garments.  Consistent with the idea that entrance into the temple is barred and the time for repentance has therefore passed when the plagues fall, Rev 16:15 is only a call to God’s people, not a call to sinners for repentance.  This is consistent with the message in Revelation 18, which also is only a call to God’s people (18:4).

Saints are called to courage in 16:15 because the world is uniting against them.

The message of 16:15 is brought to the believers at the time the demons gather the kings of the earth.  Revelation 16:15 explains the issue in the final plagues.  No war between nations is in view here.  The climax of Revelation is a far more serious evil in God’s sight:  apostate religious forces will lead ALL political and religious powers on earth to unite in one common cause, waging war against God’s people!

The interlude is not missing.

Many commentators mention that the customary interlude between the sixth and seventh elements of the sequence seems to be missing in the plagues.  However, the interludes are not between the sixth and seventh, but part of the sixth:

In the sixth seal the peoples of the world try to hide from “Him who sits on the throne” and ask “who is able to stand” (6:16, 17).  They are therefore asking who are able to stand before the throne of God.  Then follows a description of the 144,000 (7:1-8), but they are not presented as standing before the throne.  Then the innumerable multitude is presented (7:9-17), and they áre standing before the throne.Because the innumerable multitude is standing before the throne, it is concluded that they are the answer to the question above.  The description of the innumerable multitude is there the continuation after the question, while the 144,000 is an interruption.  Further, because the seventh seal only follows in chapter 8, the description of the innumerable multitude is part of the sixth seal.  The interruption is therefore not between the sixth and seven seals, but part of the sixth seal.

In the trumpets the sixth trumpet ends (11:14) with a “great earthquake” and the unbelievers being terrified giving glory to the God of heaven (11:13).  The interruption, starting with 10:1, is therefore not between the sixth and seventh, but also part of the sixth.

The same applies to the sixth plague, where the plague is interrupted by the warning to believers to keep their clothes (16:15).  The interlude is therefore still there—part of the sixth plague—but much shorter.

16:16 And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.  (NASB)

The gathering is described here, but not the war for which they are gathered (16:14).

There is no place called Har-Magedon.

Har means mountain.  Magedon is normally connected with Megiddo, an ancient fortress-city located on a plain in the southwest portion of the Valley of Jezreel (Jewish name) or Esdraelon (Greek name), some sixty miles north of Jerusalem.  Har-Magedon would mean “the Mountain of Megiddo,” but here a difficulty arises: there is no Mount Megiddo.  None of the solutions offered is especially persuasive:

Har-Magedon could be a reference to the hill country surrounding the Plain of Megiddo.  More than two hundred battles have been fought in that region.

It could be a reference to Megiddo and Mount Carmel in the same breath.  Mount Carmel hosted one of the most significant battles in Israel’s history—the battle in which the prophet Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal (1 King 18).  This spiritual battle may stand behind the battle of Armageddon.

One frequent suggestion is that it refers to Ezekiel’s prophecy of a great eschatological slaughter of the nations on “the mountains of Israel” (Ezek. 38:8-21; 39:2, 4, 17) and then made the reference more specific by adding the name Megiddo as the place where so often in Israel’s history the enemies of God were destroyed.

Others interpret Har-Magedon without reference to Megiddo.

The symbolic context and the fact that there is no literal Har-Magedon indicate that it should be understood figuratively.

Armageddon is not a physical war, but God’s judgement between the sheep and the goats.

Literal interpreters understand Armageddon to be a literal war.  They propose that all the armies of the world will fit into the Megiddo valley.  This is not possible.  A major part of warfare today is on sea and by air.  Through missiles, aircraft and aircraft carriers a modern army can strike very precisely anywhere in the world.   The interpretation of a literal war in this valley also does not fit with the global nature of the plagues.

To understand Armageddon it is important to understand that it is described in many places in the book of Revelation, even though the name Armageddon only appears in 16:16:

REVELATION 19:  In the discussion of the “kings from the east” the many similarities between the sixth plague and Revelation 19 were noted.  In both Revelation 16 and 19 there are two groups of kings (16:12, 14; 19:16, 19).  In both the “kings of the earth” are gathered to one place (16:16; 19:19) while the other kings move from one place to another (16:12; 19:14).  In both we find five parties; the Dragon, Beast, False Prophet, the “kings of the earth” and the other group of kings (16:12-14; 19:20; 20: 2).  In both the kings are assembled together for war (16:14; 19:19).  Both are also called “the day of God”.  The sixth plague explicitly says that the kings are gathered for “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14), while Revelation 19 ends with all the people of the world dead (19:21).  This—according to Isaiah 13:9 and Zephaniah 1:18—will happen on the “day of the Lord”.  Then God “will exterminate all sinners” (Isa 13:9).  “He will make a complete end, Indeed a terrifying one, Of all the inhabitants of the earth (Zeph. 1:18).  The war at the end of Revelation 19 therefore also the “day of the Lord”.  It is therefore concluded that the war at the end of Revelation 19 is also “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14).  The “place” where this war takes places is called Armageddon in Hebrew (16:16).

HARVEST:  The harvest at the end of Revelation 14 is also a description of Armageddon because, like the war at the end of Revelation 19 (19:15), it refers to the treading of the wine press (14:20).

SIXTH SEAL:  The sixth seal is also the “day of the Lord” because it is described as the “great day of their wrath” (6:17), which links it to “the great day of God” in the sixth plague, for which the kings are gathered (16:14).

Once we understand that Armageddon is described repeatedly in Revelation, and that it is the war of the “day of the Lord” it is no longer possible to understand it as a literal war between the nations of the earth.  It must be interpreted according to the frequent references in the Bible to the “day of the Lord”.   The sixth plague is the only place in the Bible where the exact phrase “the great day of God, the Almighty” occurs.  But the variations of this phrase “great day of the LORD” and “the day of the LORD” appear in nearly 30 verses.

An analysis of these verses reveals that the most frequently mentioned characteristic of this day is that it is presented as near and coming very quickly (Zeph. 1:7, 14; Isa 13:6; Ezek. 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1; 3:14; Oba 1:15).

We find the same principle in Revelation, where the predicted events are described as “the things which must soon take place” (1:1) and “the time is near” (22:10).  Interpreters often want to interpret “near” as literal, but Revelation also contains a prophecy of a period of 1000 years.  Could it literally be said that the events after the 1000 years are near?  No, it is preferable to understand “near” figurative.  It should rather be understood as a call to immediate repentance by us, to be contrasted to what the rich fool who thought himself save for many years to come:

“I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’  (Luk 12:18-20 NASB)

A second characteristic of that day is that “The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood” (Joel 2:31; Act 2:20).  In Revelation, before it describes the peoples of the world hiding from the Lord in caves and under rocks, the sixth seal elaborates on these signs:

The sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind (6:12, 13)

A third characteristic of the “day of the Lord” is that it is “the day of the LORD’S anger” (Zep 2:2, 3) and “wrath” (Zep 1:18 NASB).  It is “Cruel, with fury and burning anger” (Isa 13:9).

This is consistent with Revelation’s representation of that day.  All the peoples of the world will scream “to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”  (Rev 6:16-17 NASB).  And “He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.  (Rev 19:15 NASB)

Fourthly, the “day of the Lord” is a day of “destruction from the Almighty” (Isa 13:6; Joel 1:15).  It “will make the land a desolation” (Isa 13:9).  “All the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy” (Zeph. 1:18).  The heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2Pe 3:10).

This is also consistent with Revelation’s representation of that day: “The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (Rev 6:14 NASB).  “Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (Rev 16:20 NASB).

But the most important characteristic of the “day of the Lord” is that it is a day of judgement.  “As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head” (Oba 1:15).  Joel calls it “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14).  On that day clear and utter distinction will be made.  God “will exterminate all sinners” (Isa 13:9).  “He will make a complete end, Indeed a terrifying one, Of all the inhabitants of the earth (Zeph. 1:18).  But God’s people will “be hidden in the day of the LORD’S anger” (Zeph. 2:3).  They will “be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1Co 5:5 NASB).

It is worth studying Joel’s powerful description of that day in more detail.  Please note the many similarities to the three main Armageddon-passages in Revelation, highlighted in blue:

Proclaim this among the nations: ‘Prepare for war! Wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near, let them come up.’ Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’  Assemble and come, all you nations, and gather together all around. Cause your mighty ones to go down there, O LORD. Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.  Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; for the winepress is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness. The LORD also will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the LORD will be a shelter for his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, dwelling in Zion my holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be holy, and no aliens shall ever pass through her again. (Joel 3:9-17)

Therefore, both Joel and Revelation, when describing the “day of the Lord”, refers to a harvest, a winepress, preparation for war, assemble and gather together, sickle, signs to the sun moon and stars and terrible earthquakes.

But more importantly, distinction will on that day be made between the lost and the redeemed.  In the sixth seal the lost try to hide in the rocks and caves (6:15), while the saved stand before the throne (7:9).  In the harvest the lost are symbolised by “the clusters from the vine of the earth” (14:18), which “was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles” (14:20).  In contrast the saved is called the “harvest of the earth” (14:15) because they “have been purchased from among men” (14:4).  In Revelation 19 the lost are killed (19:21), while the saved are described as “kings” (19:16).  In Joel the wicked are trampled in the winepress while LORD will be a shelter for his people.  This distinction is also described by the parable:

“All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.  (Mat 25:32-33 NASB)

Joel’s valley of decision and Mount Magedon is therefore the same place.  There God “will sit to judge” (Joel 3:12).  After thousands of years of religious persecution, God will make distinction between His people and unbelievers at Armageddon.

The kings of the earth (Rev. 16:14) are therefore not gathered by the spirits of demons (Rev. 16:13) to a physical place, but to unity in mind and spirit.  The kings of the earth are “gathered” in the sense that they are all convinced to join forces against the enemy of the world, namely the Lamb, represented by His people living on earth.

Why must the water dry up to prepare the way of the kings from the east?

Before the plagues are poured out, the Image of the Beast persecutes God’s people, and kills some of them (13:15; 14:13).  We know they are not all killed because later—in the sixth plague—they are warned to keep their clothes (16:15).  The Image is able to identify God’s people by their non-acceptance of the mark of the Beast (13:16-17).  The peoples of the world are therefore divided into two clearly demarcated groups.

The point it time when everybody has been sealed for eternity, either by acceptance of the mark of the Beast or the seal of God, is symbolised by the temple filling up “with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple” (15:8).  In the Old Testament Israelites went to the temple to obtain forgiveness for sins.  The same applies in the New Testament, but the temple is now in heaven:

“He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebr. 2:17).  “Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.  (Heb 8:2 NASB)  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Heb 4:16 NASB)

Therefore, when the temple is closed for entrance (15:8), the time for “mercy” and “grace” has passed.  From this point forward, nobody will repent.

Then the plagues start to fall, but only on the majority with the mark of the Beast (16:2).  The people start to realise they are wrong.  In the fifth plague the Beast’s kingdom is darkened when the plague falls on its throne.  The Beast’s throne is interpreted as its religious authority.  (See the discussion of the fifth plague.)  Therefore, when the plague falls on its throne, it means that its religious authority suffers humiliation in the eyes of the peoples of the world.  They then realise that the Beast’s claims to be speaking for the true God are false, symbolised by the darkness in his kingdom.

Then the Euphrates dries up.  This is interpreted above as Babylon losing control over the peoples of the world.  Babylon is identified in a separate article.  In short, Babylon is the religious element of the trio of evil powers that we so frequently read about in Revelation; the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet.  Therefore, when the Euphrates dries up, the Beast power loses its religious authority over the peoples of the world.  They previously thought that the Beast represents the true God, but now they realise that it does not represent the true God.

But then there is a new development.  Up to this point, in the plagues at least, the Beast power has suffered blow after blow.  It is on its knees, but now receives renewed power in the form of “spirits of demons, performing signs” (16:14).  The entrance on the scene of demons that perform signs is a new and intensified attack by the evil powers.  Satanic powers are now allowed an even more direct involvement in the control of the peoples of the world.  These spirits are so powerful that they are able “to go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14).

Now follows an important but horrible conclusion; earlier the people thought they were serving the true God, but realise they do not.  They realise they are actually controlled and led by Satan.  When Satan sends his demons to gather the kings, they now realise know that they are serving Satan.  It was argued before that the messages of Revelation 18 are proclaimed with the fifth plague.  The people therefore understand that Babylon “has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit” (18:2), but at this stage they are so hardened that they find it impossible to change, and the miracle working spirits are able to convince them to follow Satan.  The fact that the world is the kingdom of Satan is no longer covered by a cloak of deception.  The people know they oppose the true God; the God of the Bible.

This brings us back to a question previously deferred, namely why does the Euphrates have to dry up before the return of Jesus?  How is the new weapon of the Beast—the miracle working demons—different from what it used before?  Stated differently; why do the people have to realise that the Beast is not speaking for God, but is actually speaking for Satan, before Jesus can return?

The answer to these questions is related to the purpose of the plagues, which is discussed in a separate article.  The question is why Jesus does not return immediately when everybody is marked for eternity.  In that article it is argued that the purpose of the plagues is to prove to all of God’s intelligent creatures, throughout the universe, that God’s judgement of people is right and perfect.  God knows exactly what is in each person, but His intelligent creatures do not.  Remember that this crisis on earth occurs against the backdrop of a rebellion against God’s government which originated in heaven, when a vast number of holy angels joined the ranks of Satan (Gen 3:1, read with Rev 20:2; Rev 12:4; Dan 10:13; Job 1:6).  God wants His intelligent creature to understand His judgement because He wants them to trust Him completely.  Therefore He does not simply judge between people.  He proves to the universe that He judges right.  Please read the article on the purpose of the plagues should a better explanation of this principle be required.

The reason why the drying up of the Euphrates paves the way for the kings from the east is related to this principle.  Up to this point the peoples of the world thought they are Christian; or at least they thought they are following the true God.  What would happen if the understood they are Satan’s followers?  Would they then repent?  This then is the final test that is required before Jesus may return to the world He created.  The people must clearly understand they are following Satan.  They must clearly understand the issues.  And this they do, due to the mighty angel of Revelation 18 illuminating the whole world with his power.  Now, in full realisation of what they do, people choose against God and for Satan.  This is the final evidence required by God’s intelligent creatures.  Now God has answered every question that any of His followers—peoples, angels and other beings—may ever ask with respect to His judgement.  When all questions are answered, Jesus may return.

Next: Seventh Plague

TO: General Table of Contents

The Fifth Plague of darkness is poured out on the throne of the beast, and on his kingdom.

16:10-11 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds. (NASB)

They –  The pronoun “they” is used for “his kingdom,” not “it..”   The kingdom therefore refers to the subjects of the beast’s kingdom; not to its territory.   his plague confirms what we saw in the first plague (16:2), namely that the plagues selectively target the subjects of the kingdom of the Beast.

Became darkened – The contrast between the fourth to the fifth plagues is most striking. The fourth had been the fiery, scorching, blinding brightness of the sun, while the fifth is an impenetrable darkness, bringing cold and misery.

Throne of the beast – In 13:2 we read that the Beast receives its throne and power and great authority from the Dragon.  Who is the Dragon?  Both the Beast and the Dragon have seven heads and ten horns.  The Dragon is identified in the article on the Seven Headed Beasts of Revelation:

When the Dragon stands before the woman, ready to devour her Child (Jesus – 12:3-4), it represents the fourth kingdom of Daniel 7, which is identified in the study of Daniel 7 as the Roman Empire.  This empire ruled the known world when Jesus was born.

In other words, 13:2 indicates that the Beast receives its throne from the Roman Empire.  This may be confirmed as follows:

The Beast appears for the first time in Revelation 13.  It arises from the sea (the peoples of the world) and inherits characteristics from each of the four beasts of Daniel (Rev 13:2; compare Daniel 7).  It is therefore inferred  that the Beast is the same as the fifth power in Daniel 7, which is the 11th horn that comes out of the fourth beast of Daniel 7.  Since , which is the Roman Empire.  This confirms that the Beast is, in some way, a continuation of the Roman Empire.

Symbolic versus Literal Interpretations

A literal interpretation of the fifth plague might be that a literal chemical is poured on a literal throne resulting in a literal darkness in a literal kingdom. Bt the throne must be figurative because it is received from the Roman Empire.  The kingdom must similarly be figurative because all the peoples of the world worship it (13:3, 4), which means that the Beast’s kingdom is world-wide.

Criticism which is often levied against symbolic interpretations is that there are so many different symbolic interpretations that most (all?) of them must be wrong. It is true that most symbolic interpretations are wrong, but then a literal interpretation is always wrong. Literal interpretations are based on the assumption that something is literal unless clearly or specifically said to be symbolic. In Revelation this cannot be a valid assumption, for there are too many things in Revelation that must be symbolic.  To mention a few examples of things coming out of mouths:

● Fire and smoke and brimstone coming out of the mouths of 200 million horses (9:18);
● Fire flowing from the mouths of God’s witnesses (11:5);
● A flood of water pouring out of the mouth of the Dragon; also called Serpent (12:15);
● Frogs coming out of the mouths of the Dragon, Beast and False prophets (16:13); and
● A sword coming out of the mouth of Him who sits on a white horse (19:15).

In a book where symbols are found everywhere it is not valid to assume something is literal unless it cannot be literal. The context must be allowed to determine whether something is literal or symbolic, without the interpreter trying to apply some preconceived rule.

Another criticism against symbolic interpretations is that such interpretations are only limited by the interpreter’s imagination. It is agreed that creative interpretations cannot be correct. Symbolic interpretations should be based on a detailed comparison of Scripture with Scripture, and allowing Scripture to interpret itself. This does not guarantee a correct interpretation, often because interpreters come to the text with different a priori assumptions.

A criticism against literal interpretations is that it never asks what something means, and therefore fails to benefit from the message in the text. The next topic is a good example.

The beast’s throne is religious authority

The word “throne” appears in 35 verses in Revelation, of which 32 refers to the throne of God (4:2-3, 9-10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:9-10, 15; 19:4; 21:5). His throne is in the temple (16:17) which is in heaven (11:19). In the center and around the throne are four living creatures full of eyes (4:6). Before His throne is a sea of glass, seven lamps of fire, which are the seven Spirits of God (4:5-6; 1:4) and the golden altar (8:3). Around His throne are 24 thrones on which 24 elders elders sit (Rev 4:4) and angels; myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands (5:11; 7:11). Out of His throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder (4:5), a loud voice (16:17; 19:5; 21:3), and the water of life, clear as crystal (22:1). Jesus sat down on His Father’s throne (3:21; 15:5). He is in the center of the throne (7:17; 5:6). The throne is called the throne of both God and of the Lamb (22:1) The 144,000 who had been purchased from the earth sing a new song before the throne (14:3). The final judgement is before a great white throne (20:11). All the dead stand before this throne; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books (20:12). Finally, in the eternal state, the throne of God will no longer be in heaven. It will be in the New Jerusalem (22:3).

Often in Revelation we find references to God’s throne without a direct reference to God. In these cases God’s throne is used as a symbol of His authority. For example, when Revelation refers to “the seven Spirits who are before His throne” (1:4), or the great multitude standing before the throne (7:9) it is actually saying the seven Spirits and the great multitude are before the Authority of the whole creation; the One that has the right to rule (see also 4:3-6, 10; 5:6, 11; 7:11; etc.). Also often in Revelation, God is referred to as “Him who sit on the throne” (4:2, 9, 10; 5:1, 7, 13; etc.). This is equivalent to saying “Him Who has authority to rule”. Therefore, just as a throne is a symbol of a king’s authority, God’s throne represents His authority. Similarly the Beast’s throne is a symbol of its authority.

When the bowl is poured out on the throne of the beast, its whole kingdom becomes darkened. There exists therefore a cause-effect relationship between the Beast’s throne and its kingdom. Damage to its authority results in damage to its whole kingdom. It is therefore important to understand what the beast’s authority is. What gives it the power to rule? Is it military might, or economic power, or perhaps religious authority? A further possibility is that miracles, frequently mentioned in Revelation (13:13; 16:14), may give the beast the power to rule.

The question is related to the question about the nature of the final conflict. More precisely: who will persecute God’s people (13:7, 15)? Is it the government, or perhaps the economic powers of the world, or is it another religion like Islam or is it perhaps the Church itself that is persecuting God’s people? The Sea Beast (11th horn) is identified in the study of Daniel 7. Its nature is therefore known, but the Sea Beast receives a fatal wound. The wound heals, but then another power—the Earth-Beast—takes over as the active force, creating an image to the Sea Beast. The question is therefore what the nature of the Earth Beast and of the Image is.

It is proposed here that the nature of the end time conflict is persecution by and within the Church, of God’s real people. This is based on the following:

1. Interpreted in the context of the surrounding plagues, the fifth plague means that the followers of the Beast thought they are worshiping the true God, but now realise that they are opposing God. They are therefore a religious group.

The fifth plague is very cryptic. It simply says that the plague is poured out on the throne of the Beast, and the Beast’s kingdom became darkened. The fifth plague therefore must be interpreted in terms of the preceding and subsequent plagues.

The first four plagues attack man’s whole environment—earth, sea, waters, heaven; compare 14:7—somehow without affecting the people that do not have the mark of the beast (16:2). This happens in the context of a world in which the people are polarised into two visibly delineated groups. The one group worships the Image because of the sign and wonders performed by the beast. The signs and wonders apparently clearly prove that the False Prophet is God’s true prophet. The minority group, on the other hand, is not willing to worship the Image, and are persecuted and killed because of their belief in the Creator (14:7). Once these two groups are clearly demarcated, the plagues start to fall, but do not affect the minority group. The peoples of the world therefore must begin to suspect they are wrong, and that the False Prophet is not God’s true representative.

In the sixth plague the waters of the Euphrates dries up. The Euphrates is the river on which ancient Babylon was situated, sustaining life in the city. In Revelation the end time Babylon is also represented as sitting on many waters (17:1), but in Revelation the “many waters” become a symbol for the peoples of the world (17:15) and “sitting” becomes a symbol for her corrupting influence over them (17:2). Drying up therefore implies that her influence over them wanes.

If the fifth plague is then interpreted in the context of the surrounding plagues, it must be something that adds to the evidence of the first four plagues to finally convince the people that the Beast power is not speaking for God, resulting in them cutting their umbilical cord with Babylon in the sixth plague. This implies that the people previously thought that the Beast represents God. This means that the Beast throne is religious authority.

2. In the Bible God’s people were always persecuted by people that pretend to speak for God, never by foreign nations.

The Beast will make war with the saints and to overcome them (13:7). In the Bible foreign nations never selectively persecuted God’s true people. It always was the people that pretended to be God’s people that persecute God’s real people. For instance, Jesus was killed by the Jews, manipulating the power of government to do it. It was the Jews that killed Stephan and also all the prophets of old, not foreign nations. Applying this principle to the end time, God’s people will be persecuted by their own community—the Church—because of what they believe and do.

3. The conflict in the letters is within the Church.

The nature of the conflict in the letters should be the same as the nature of the final conflict because the letters serve as introduction to the book of Revelation. A study of the letters, and specifically of the powers that oppose God’s people, will informs us that God’s people are not persecuted or threatened by forces outside the Church, but by forces within the Church. Twice we read in the letters of people who “say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (2:9; 3:9). The opposition of God’s people are referred as evil men “who call themselves apostles, and they are not” (2:2), and “the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess”, but she teaches God’s bond-servants to commit acts of immorality (2:20). Four times, therefore, we have indications that the powers that oppose God are from within the Church. This provides strong support for the proposal that the conflict at the end time will be within the Christian Church.

Some people might find the references to Jews confusing. An in depth separate article is available that discusses “Israel in Prophecy”. This is a critical study, and the point where the paths of interpreters separate.

The reference to people that call themselves Jews, but are not, would not make sense if taken literally. Why would only people that claim to be of Jewish descent be a danger to the Church? Why would they, and only they, be called a “synagogue of Satan” (2:9; 3:9)? This reference must therefore be understood symbolically. In those early days most Christians were Jews, because for the first few years after the cross the gospel has been preached to Jews only (Acts 10:45; 11:18). Further, the believers thought of themselves as part of Israel. In fact, they thought of themselves as the only true Jews. The Jews that rejected Christ were considered as unfaithful. In Romans Paul explains that a true remnant remains, into which branches from the wild olive (non-Jews) have been grafted in, and natural branches (unbelieving Jews) have been cut off. In this context a person claiming to be a Jew, but that is not a Jew, would be somebody that claims to be a believer, but is not true a true believer.

4. The powers that persecute are described as a woman.

Revelation 17 uses a different set of symbols. Instead of the Dragon, Sea Beast and False Prophet of the previous chapters we find the symbols of a harlot woman—Babylon—sitting on a scarlet Beast (17:3). In this representation it is the harlot that persecutes God’s people (18:24).

In Revelation there are two women. The first is the pure woman (12:1); the bride of the Lamb (19:7). The second is this harlot Babylon, claiming she is “NOT A WIDOW” (18:7). She therefore claims to be the wife of the Lamb (compare 21:9).

By describing Babylon as a woman, the Author of Revelation is telling us that she is in some respects similar to, but in other respects very different from the woman representing God’s people. Since they are both woman, and since both Israel (in the Old Testament) and the Church (in the New Testament) are described as women, and as adulteress women when unfaithful, both women represent the Church. But the Bride is the true people of God. They are part of the Church, but called out of Babylon (18:4). The harlot woman Babylon is the false Church; the Church that “has become a dwelling place of demons” (18:2).

This explains the statement that the 144000 never defiled them with women (14:4). These women are the daughters of Babylon, because she is the mother of harlots (17:5). The fact that the 144,000 never defiled them with women means they never agreed with what Babylon does.

As mentioned, it is Babylon that persecutes God’s true people.  The conclusion is therefore again that the final conflict is a war within the Church; the faithful minority against the authority of the Church.

5. Signs and wonders

Moses performed “wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years” (Act 7:36 NASB). Jesus was “attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” (Act 2:22; Heb. 2:4). The Lord confirmed the word of the apostles “by the signs that followed” (Mar 16:20 NASB). “… many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles” (Act 2:43; Act 5:12).

However, in the end time conflict, the anti-God powers will be confirmed by signs and wonders. The Sea Beast “performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (Rev 13:13 NASB). “He deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast … (Rev 13:14; Rev 19:20). In the sixth plague the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet will be assisted by “spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14 NASB).

This has also been predicted elsewhere in the New Testament, but notice it is not a military or economic power that perform these sign and wonders. It will be done by people pretending to speak for the Christian God:

“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Mat 24:24; Mar 13:22)

“the man of lawlessness … who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. … that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” (2Th 2:3, 4, 9 NASB).

6. The 11th horn of Daniel 7—the Beast of Revelation—blasphemes God, persecutes His saints and tries to change God’s law. This is the behaviour of false religion.

 The fourth beast of Daniel 7 is the Roman Empire, and the 11th horn—the Sea Beast of Revelation—grew out of it.  (Refer to the article on the seven headed beasts of Revelation.)  The Roman Empire’s right to rule was its military might.  But the 11th horn is said to be “different” (Dan 7:24).  It therefore does not necessarily follow that the throne of the beast (its authority) is military might.

The 11th horn wages war with the saints and overpower them (Dan 7:21).  He “will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time” (7:25).  This is the behaviour of false religion.  That it will try to “make alterations in times and in law” means it is Christian false religion.

7. The Beast power is described by religious and even Christian words such as “lamb”, “prophet” and “worship.

The word “worship” is used five times in Revelation 13 and 14.  Four times it is used for the people worshiping the beast (13:8, 12) and his image (13:15; 14:11), while the three angels warn the people to worship the Creator alone (14:7).  This last conflict may therefore be described as a battle of worship.

The Beast from the Earth at first looks like a lamb (13:11).  The word “lamb” occurs 32 times in Revelation, and only in this one instance it does not refer to Jesus Christ.  The Earth Beast therefore appears to be Christian, but eventually it is called the False Prophet (16:13; 19:20).  Both the words “lamb” and “prophet” implies its Christian religious nature.

The article on the identity of the 11th horn will provide further support for the conclusion that the Beast’s authority is religious in nature, and specifically for the statement that the issue in the end time is a war within the Church.

In summary, the Beast is the 11th horn of Daniel 7 (Rev 13:2), which is a continuation of the fourth Beast of Daniel, which is the Roman Empire.  By being a continuation of the Roman Empire, the Beast receives its power to rule (its authority) from the Roman Empire.  It therefore is not a literal throne.  In the same way as God’s throne represents His authority in Revelation, the Beast’s throne symbolises his authority, or “right to rule”.  In the fifth plague this authority suffers defeat.  The question is what the Beast’s authority is.  Some would believe it rules by military might.  Others believe it rules with the power of money.  It is proposed here that the Beast rules through religious authority, and specifically Christian religious authority.

The fifth plague, interpreted in the context of the surrounding plagues, must be something that convinces the people of the world that they are serving the wrong god.  They are therefore a religious group.  This does not prove that they are Christian, but other evidence point to the Christian nature of the persecuting powers at the end time:

  • It is always the people within the community of faith persecute God’s true people.  Outside groups never selectively persecute only God’s true people.
  • The opponents to God’s people in the letters to the Churches are inside the Church.
  • False religion is represented in Revelation as a woman, in contrast to the Bride of Christ.
  • The Beast will deceive through signs and wonders, and according to Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonica 2 this is what false teachers in the Church will do at the end time.
  • The 11th horn—the Beast of Revelation—will try to change times and laws.  This means it will try to change God’s laws, which implies it is within the Church.
  • The Beast is described as Christian by words such as “lamb” and “prophet”.

The beast’s throne is not the power of money 

A group of commentaries view Revelation as a general description of the war between good and evil.  They do not agree that the characters and events in Revelation were ever or will ever become real characters or events.  Some such commentaries interpret the evil powers of Revelation as the power of money.  It is true that, particularly in Revelation 18, economic power is prominent.  Babylon is clothed in wealth (17:4), and in Revelation clothes depict the nature of the entity.  Her merchants became rich from her (18:15).  They “were the great men of the earth” (18:23).

However, the Beast is not economic power in general, but a specific entity with a specific date of origin, arising out of specific other entities.  It comes out of the sea (13:1) looking like “a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the Dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority” (13:2).  These are the four animals of Daniel 7, representing Babylon (lion), Mede-Persia (bear), Greece (leopard) and Rome (non-descript beast in Daniel 7—Dragon in Revelation).  It is not possible to say that economic wealth came into existence after these kingdoms or that economic power received something from each of them.

Furthermore, the Beast persecutes the saints and overpowers them (13:7).  Economic power never persecutes the true people of God selectively.  It is not able to distinguish between God’s true people and others.

The Beast’s authority is primarily religious in nature because its primary purpose is to oppose God, not to accumulate wealth.  Wealth is used as a tool by the Beast, but is not its ultimate purpose.

To return to the issue of literal interpretations; A literal interpretation never asks what something means, and therefore often fails to grasp the real meaning.  It does not ask what the throne of the Beast is, and therefore often explains the end time conflict as military in nature, which is inconsistent with the general message of the Bible.  The war on earth is a continuation of the war in heaven (12:7).  It revolves around much bigger issues than simply who is physically the strongest.  Jesus overcame by being a lamb (5:6).  He asked: “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mat 26:53)  Similarly the war we are in is not physical.  God has all power in the universe, but that is not the point.

The darkness is the “loud cry”

The first four plagues target the beast’s followers and their environment (16:2), but the fifth plague targets the beast’s kingdom right at its foundation, and its authority wanes.  Previously “the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast … they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” (13:3, 4).  But now it suffers great humiliation before the eyes of the earth dwellers.

The “loud cry” is the message of Revelation 18, so called because it starts with an angel that “cried out with a mighty voice” (18:2), while “the earth was illumined with his glory” (18:1).  This angel is followed by “another voice from heaven” (18:4).  This is apparently God Himself, because the voice says “Come out of her, my people” (18:4).  Curiously, the NASB does not capitalise the “my”.  Lastly a “strong angel” (18:21) illustrates how sudden Babylon’s fall will be.  Similar to the leaders of the seven churches that are called angels (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), and similar to the three angel-messages of Revelation 14, these are not literal angels, nor a literal voice from heaven, but messages proclaimed on earth by people, driven by the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of this discussion is to investigate when, in the sequence of the events in Revelation, the messages of Revelation 18 will be proclaimed.  After the Sea Beast’s fatal wound is healed, the Earth-Beast will perform miracles to create the image to the Sea Beast (13:12-14).  Then the image will persecute and kill God’s people, and give the mark of the Beast to its followers (13:15-17).  Because the third of the three angels in Revelation 14 warns against the image and the mark of the Beast (14:9-11), and also because God’s people are urged to persevere, even onto death (14:12-13), the message of these three angels will sound simultaneous with the work of the image.  When every person has been marked for eternity, either with the mark of the Beast or the seal of God (14:1), the temple closes (15:8).  From this point onwards nobody will change side:

“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.”  (Rev 22:11 NASB)

Then the plagues start to fall (16:1).  Babylon is finally destroyed in the seventh plague (16:19).  The question therefore is where in this sequence of events the messages of Revelation 18 fit.

The messages of Revelation 18 precede the destruction of Babylon.  This is clear from the future tenses used when referring to her destruction; her plagues will come” (18:8), “she will be burned up” (18:9), the kings “will weep” (18:10), the merchants “will stand at a distance” (18:15), “so will” Babylon be thrown down (18:21).  The messages of Revelation 18 are therefore proclaimed before the seventh plague, when Babylon is destroyed (16:19).

Both the mighty angel of Revelation 18 and the second of the three angel messages is Revelation 14 are world-wide (14:6; 18:1) and announce “Babylon is fallen” (14:8; 18:2), but the message of Revelation 18 is much more powerful and detailed.  Revelation 14:8 simply reads “And another angel, a second one, followed, saying” while Revelation 18 reads “another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory, And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying” (18:1, 2).  The angel in Revelation 18 also expands on the causes and implications of Babylon’s fall.

Because the three messages in Revelation 18 are described later in the book, and are much more detailed, and given in much more power than the three messages of Revelation 14, it would be fair to assume that they are different, with the messages in Revelation 18 later in time, when Babylon’s sins have matured fully.  Because the three messages of Revelation 14 are proclaimed while the image of the Beast is busy with its deadly work, the messages of Revelation 18 are therefore either proclaimed just before the plagues start to fall, or during the plagues.

This conclusion is supported by the fact that there is no call to repentance in Revelation 18.  While the messages of the three angels in Revelation 14 is to “every nation and tribe and tongue and people” (14:6), urging them to worship the Creator (14:7), instead of the Beast and its image (14:9), Revelation 18 does not contain a call to repentance, but is a message to God’s people only; “Come out of her, my people” (18:4).  It is therefore possible to conclude that the time for repentance is has passed and we are now in the time of the plagues.  Alternatively the plagues are about to be poured out.

There are three lines of thought that links Revelation 18 specifically to the fifth plague.  The first is the contrast between the darkness on the Beast’s kingdom in the fifth plague and the illumination of the whole world by the glory of the mighty angel of Revelation 18 (18:1).  This contrast links these two sections.  It implies that the fifth plague is the loud cry; a message from God, proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit and confirming the standing before God of the persecuted minority “sect”, resulting in humiliation for the religious authority of the Beast.  In Revelation 11 we note a similar recovery by God’s people, when the two witnesses come to life, after being dead for 3½ days, “and great fear fell upon those who were watching them” (11:11).

The second is the call to God’s people to come out of Babylon so that they would not receive of her plagues (18:4), coupled to the fact that the sixth and seventh plagues are particularly Babylon’s plagues:

  • The first five plagues are modelled on the plagues on Egypt, but that the sixth plague is modelled on the events around the fall of ancient Babylon (the waters drying up and the kings from the east).
  • Babylon is destroyed in the seventh plague (16:19).  This is confirmed by Revelation 18:5 which read “God has remembered her iniquities”.  Compare this to the seventh plague which reads “Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (16:19).  In both instances the word “remember” is used.  When God remembers something, it does not mean that He forgot.  It means that He acts.  In this case 16:19 tells us what He does, namely “to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (16:19).

If “her plagues” are understood as specifically the sixth and seventh plagues, then the call in Revelation 18 goes out just before these two plagues, and not before all seven plagues.

The third and last line of logic that links Revelation 18 to the fifth plague is the call to God’s people to “pay her back” and “to give her torment” (18:7).  This cannot be her final destruction in the seventh plague (16:19), because Babylon is not destroyed by God’s people, but by the “kings” (17:16), “for God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose” (17:17).  This means that God’s people must “pay her back” before she is destroyed in the seventh plague.  Babylon’s waters dry up in the sixth plague.  The Euphrates is the “many waters” on which Babylon sits (17:1), namely the peoples of the world (17:15).  When the Euphrates dries up it means that Babylon loses her influence over the peoples of the world, which is therefore also not something done by God’s people.  It therefore is possible that God’s people “pay her back” during the fifth plague, when the Beast’s kingdom is covered by darkness by God’s people when a powerful message is proclaimed through them, followed in the sixth plague by the peoples of the world turning their backs on Babylon, and followed by the complete destruction of Babylon by the kings of the earth in the seventh plague.

It is therefore concluded that the fifth plague is the proclamation of the messages of Revelation 18.  The darkness in the Beast’s kingdom is the result of the extremely powerful working of the Holy Spirit to confirm the persecuted minority, convincing the peoples of the world that light from their system of worship is actually spiritual darkness, while the persecuted minority, like the people of the land of Goshen (the Israelites in historical Egypt), had light in their homes.

Next: Sixth Plague

TO: General Table of Contents