Revelation chapters 14 through 19, Part 4
by Karl Kemp
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We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Rev. 14:6-19:21 here in Part 4, continuing with what I said under Rev. 16:19.
[[The judgment of Babylon has already been mentioned in Rev. 14:8 and (apparently) in 14:14-16. Revelation 17:1-19:3 tell us a lot about who and what Babylon the great is, and about her judgment. Babylon is a symbol for the world, whose god is the devil (2 Cor. 4:4). When Babylon is understood in the fullest sense, it includes all the cities of the nations, including that part of Jerusalem (and that part of the Christian church) which is unfaithful to God and aligned with the devil.
On "the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath," cf. Rev. 14:10; 19:15 (on Rev. 19:15 see pages 28, 29 of "The Mid-Week Rapture"). Revelation 18:4 and 8 mention "plagues" associated with God's wrath falling on Babylon the great, but they (apparently) are separate from and come (at least for the most part) before the seventh and last plague. Furthermore, the "plagues" of Rev. 18:4, 8 aren't included (at least not for the most part) in the first six plagues/bowls of wrath of Rev. 16:2-16.]] (20) And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. [Compare Rev. 6:14; 20:11; Ezek. 38:20; and Nah. 1:5. As Rev. 20:11 shows, the present earth must ultimately vanish to make way for the new earth, but that is after the millennial kingdom.] (21) And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe." [[The word "men," used twice here in Rev. 16:21, apparently refers to the same people called "men" in 16:2, 8, 9, men who have taken the mark of Antichrist and worshiped his image (cf. Rev. 16:2) and who continued to blaspheme God without repentance. In all five of these uses of the word men, the definite article is included with the word in the Greek. (For the record, the 1995 edition of the NASB translates "people" in 16:2.)
Compare Ex. 9:13-35. The seventh of the ten plagues against Egypt consisted, for the most part, of "a very heavy hail, such as has not been seen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now" (Ex. 9:18). I'm sure that this hail was nothing like the hail of Rev. 16:21. Exodus 9:19, however, says (speaking to Pharoah), "Now therefore send, bring your livestock and whatever you have in the field to safety. Every man and beast that is found in the field and is not brought home, when the hail comes down on them will die." I should also point out that the plague of hail in Egypt began when Moses, according to God's instructions, stretched out his hand/staff toward the sky.
As I mentioned, I believe this verse describes the results of the pouring out of the seventh bowl of wrath; the "huge hailstones" apparently result from the pouring out of the seventh bowl "upon the air" (Rev. 16:17). The word "plague," used twice in 16:21 serves to confirm this interpretation: Note the word plagues in 15:1, 6, 8 and 16:9, referring to the seven last plagues/bowls of wrath. This plague of the seventh bowl will apparently totally destroy Antichrist and his followers, who are gathered to Armageddon under the sixth bowl. (We'll further discuss this idea of total destruction as we continue.) Based on Rev. 16:2, 5-7, 10, and especially 12-16, which deal with the gathering under the sixth bowl, we expect the seventh bowl to come against Antichrist and his gathered followers.
This is the same judgment of Antichrist and his followers pictured in Rev. 14:17-20 and in Rev. 19:17-21, but it is described in different figurative/symbolic language, but (apparently) with the same end result - the total destruction and complete removal of these enemies of God and of His people. These hailstones are extremely large. I assume we are to think of a total destruction of the gathered enemies of God in this plague, as in Rev. 14:17-20 and 19:17-21. Assuming it's true that the hail of 16:21 describes the results of the pouring out of the seventh bowl of wrath, we would expect this plague of hail to complete the destruction of Antichrist and his followers. The plague of hail can be pictured totally destroying Antichrist and his followers just as easily as an earthquake/shaking can be pictured totally destroying Babylon the great.
It's clear in Rev. 14:20 and in 19:20, 21, even if it's not clear here in 16:21, that all those gathered will be killed and removed by judgment. Revelation 16:21 doesn't specifically mention that all will be killed, but it doesn't necessarily deny this either. If we think of this gathered multitude being in an open space, where there's little protection from the huge hailstones (that would require substantial protection), it's easy to think of them all being killed by the hail (cf. Ex. 9:19; quoted above). The blaspheming (cf. Rev. 16:9, 11), which is an important feature of this verse (Rev. 16:21) that demonstrates hatred for God and an unrepentant heart to the end, can be pictured as going on during the plague of the hail but ending with the death of all those being bombarded with the hail.
We need not necessarily think, and we probably should not think, of some of these people being left alive to blaspheme after the plague of hail is over. For one thing, the Greek verb translated "came down" could just as well be translated "were coming down," which would fit better with the picture of men blaspheming during the time the hail was coming down, before they had all been destroyed by it. (The Greek verb is in the present tense, which would normally be translated "comes down" or "is coming down." The Twentieth Century New Testament has, "Great hailstones are falling upon men from the heavens." The asterisk in the NASB beside this verb [came down] demonstrates that the Greek present tense has been translated with an English past tense to better conform to modern English usage.)
I'll quote part of what G. K. Beale ("Book of Revelation" [Eerdmans, 1999], page 845) said here under 16:21, "The people suffering the judgment 'blasphemed' God up to the bitter end because it came from his hand.... This does not necessarily mean that some were left after the judgment of hail but that they were blaspheming during the onslaught of the woe.... ... Verses 17-21 could be viewed as the beginning of the last judgment in history, with chapters 17-19 giving subsequent chronological developments of that judgment. But it is best to view the following chapters as synchronously supplemental perspectives on the last judgment, which is described already in 16:17-21."
There may well be literal hailstones used by God in the judgment of the seventh bowl of wrath (on God's judgments by hail, cf. Ex. 9:18-26; Josh. 10:11; Job 38:22, 23; Isa. 28:2, 17; Ezek. 13:11-13; 38:22; and Rev. 8:7 [at least most of these references refer to literal hail falling from the sky]), but I assume this judgment by hail also has a large symbolic component (even as the earthquake/shaking of 16:18, 19 has a large symbolic component): The huge hailstones probably symbolize God's very intense judgment going forth; Antichrist and his followers will be totally destroyed and removed by God's judgment. It's possible that Rev. 16:21 doesn't picture the entire results of the pouring out of the seventh bowl of wrath upon the air (Rev. 16:17), but I assume that's what was intended. Taken in the fullest sense the judgment of the seventh bowl of wrath could include God's destruction of all the people worldwide who worshiped Antichrist and his image and took his mark, and not be limited to those who were gathered to Armageddon (cf. Rev. 14:20). We know that all such people will be removed by judgment (Rev. 14:9-11); they will not have a place in the millennial kingdom.]]
REVELATION CHAPTER 17
"And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, 'Come here, I shall show you the judgment of the great harlot [[In Rev. 21:9-22:5 "one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues" showed John a very different woman/city - the glorified bride of Christ, new Jerusalem.
On the "judgment" and total removal of Babylon, the great harlot, see Rev. 14:8, 14-16; 16:18, 19; and 17:1-19:3. Babylon is also called a "harlot" in 17:15, 16; "the great harlot" in 19:2; and she is called "the mother of harlots" in 17:5. Also, in Rev. 14:8 we read that Babylon the great "has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality"; in Rev. 17:2 we read that "the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality [with her], and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality"; in 18:3 we read, "For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth [literally, power] of her sensuality [or, luxury (wicked, excessive) luxury]"; in 18:9 we read of "the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously [or, luxuriously] with her"; and in 19:2 we read of "the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality."
It's rather obvious that the Bible is speaking of Babylon as a harlot (immoral, etc.) in a figurative/symbolic sense. The Bible uses harlotry/adultery in a figurative sense in two different ways; both of them are applicable to Babylon, the great harlot, here in the book of Revelation. First, she is a harlot in her unfaithfulness to God, and second, she is a harlot in that she seduces all that she possibly can seduce to be unfaithful to God. We'll discuss these two ways in the following paragraphs.
The Old Testament frequently speaks of the harlotry of God's people, Israel, in their unfaithfulness to Him. (See, e.g., Ex. 34:12-17; Lev. 17:7; 20:5, 6; Num. 25:1-3; Deut. 31:16; Jud. 2:17; 1 Chron. 5:25; 2 Chron. 21:11; Psalm 106:34-39; Isa. 1:21; Ezek. 6:9; and 16:15-43.) And there are many similar verses in the Bible which speak of the spiritual adultery of God's people (cf. Jer. 3:8, 9; Ezek. 6:9; 16:32; 23:36-49; James 4:4; 2 Cor. 11:2-4; and Gal. 1:6-9).
The dominant idea in most of these verses, which speak of the harlotry/adultery of God's people, is that they were unfaithful to Him by worshiping other gods/demons; another problem mentioned was looking to the nations/the world instead of looking to God; and several of these verses make it clear that all flagrant, intentional sin against God by His people is spiritual harlotry/adultery. Turning to sin (including accepting heretical doctrines of demons) is turning to the god of this world, and it's joining the devil in his rebellion against God. All such harlotry/adultery against God aligns a person with the devil and his woman/city, Babylon the great harlot. Taking Babylon in the fullest sense, she is the mother (origin/source) of all harlotry (Rev. 17:5). We must be faithful to God and His city, Jerusalem (heavenly Jerusalem, ultimately new Jerusalem).
Also, since God is the Creator and Judge of all men, and all men are obligated to be faithful to Him, it can be considered harlotry for those who aren't His people (by the old or new covenants) to be unfaithful to Him. For one thing, the Bible speaks of a covenant God has with all mankind. See under Zech 11:10 on pages 211-213 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture." Also see the discussion titled "The World as God's Flock" on pages 208, 209 of my book, including the note. In Jer. 49:4 the sons of Ammon are called a "backsliding daughter." Ezekiel 16:44-46 inform us that ancient Sodom, who is called a sister of Judah, loathed her husband (referring to God). (Ezekiel chapter 16 is discussed in some detail on pages 14-16 of the paper on my internet site titled, "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations.") In Psalm 82:1 all mankind are called the "congregation" of God, and this psalm shows us that all rulers/judges worldwide must answer to God (cf. Rom. 13:1-7). And Jeremiah 25:15-38 show that God is the judge of all the nations; the earth is His "fold/pasture"; and mankind worldwide is His "flock." Also see Rom. 1:18-25; Acts 14:15-17; and 17:22-31.
Isaiah 23:15-18 (which deal with ancient Tyre, a major center of commerce and trade in the ancient world) and Nah. 3:4 (which deals with ancient Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian "world kingdom") are two passages of special interest for this study in that they speak of the harlotry of these pagan cities/kingdoms. Both passages apparently include the idea that these cities/kingdoms were unfaithful to God (which they certainly were), but the idea that these cities/kingdoms seduced/influenced others to be unfaithful to God is probably more pronounced in these verses. Isbon T. Beckwith ("Apocalypse of John" [Baker, 1979, copyright 1919], page 691) comments that "Tyre and Nineveh, Isa. 23:17, Nah. 3:4, receive the name [harlot], because they have corrupted the kingdoms of the world."
These cities/kingdoms seduced/influenced/controlled people with such things as false religion, occult powers, and the seductiveness of things like riches, fame, the things money can buy, and other things the devil uses to seduce people from God (these things take the place of God). (Of course it's true that the military might of kingdoms like the Assyrian kingdom, with its capital city Nineveh, and the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman kingdoms was a major factor in their control of people.) Many of the things people live for in fellowship with the city/kingdom of this world (whose god is the devil) aren't evil in themselves, but they become evil when God is left out, when they become a substitute for God, and when they result in glory for man, instead of glory for God.
These verses in Isaiah, actually this entire chapter of Isaiah, and to a lesser extent Nah. 3:4, are important to this study of Babylon in Rev. 17:1-19:3. As we'll see, this passage in Rev. 17:1-19:3 builds on Isaiah chapter 23 (Isaiah chapter 23 deals with God's judgment of Tyre), on Nah. 3:4 (the book of Nahum deals with God's judgment of Nineveh), and on other passages. Babylon the great of Rev. 17:1-19:3 incorporates all the evil of ancient Tyre, even as it incorporates all the evil of ancient Nineveh, ancient Babylon, and ancient Rome (the last three cities listed were all capital cities of "world kingdoms" of the Bible). The seductiveness, influence, and control of such cities was enormous. On the "sorceries" of ancient Babylon, cf., e.g., Isa. 47:9, 12, and 13.]] who sits on many waters [[See Rev. 17:15; the "waters" represent the peoples that are part of, or at least are strongly influenced by, Babylon the great harlot. Compare Jer. 51:13. The ancient city of Babylon literally sat on many waters, with the Euphrates River running through the city, and its system of canals, but, more importantly, its influence over peoples was extensive, being a "world kingdom" (e.g., Dan. 2:37, 38; 4:10-12, 20-22). God's judgment of ancient Babylon, prophesied about, for example, in Jeremiah chapters 50, 51 and Isaiah chapters 13, 14, foreshadows and includes God's end-time judgment of Babylon the great. (I'll refer to several other prophetic passages from the Old Testament that Revelation chapters 17, 18 build on as we continue. Isaiah 13:6-13 and chapter 14 and Jeremiah chapters 50 and 51 are discussed verse-by-verse in papers on my internet site dealing with selected eschatological prophecies from the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah.) These prophecies clearly extend beyond the literal judgment of literal Babylon and include some reference to God's end-time judgment of the world (cf., e.g., Isa. 13:6-13; Jer. 50:20).]], (2) with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of [The NIV has, "With her the kings of the earth committed adultery."] immorality [cf. Rev. 18:3, 9], and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.' [[Compare Rev. 14:8. In other words, the peoples of the earth were seduced by Babylon the harlot. They were seduced from God to the city of the "god of this world/age" (2 Cor. 4:4). We're not just talking of the last days here; this seduction has been taking place for thousands of years.
SOME QUOTATIONS FROM COMMENTATORS REGARDING THE MEANING OF BABYLON THE GREAT HARLOT:
I'll quote part of what Alan F. Johnson said regarding the meaning of Babylon the harlot here ("Revelation" [Zondervan, 1983], pages 152, 153). "To a majority of modern exegetes, Babylon represents the city of Rome. ... It is simply not sufficient to identify Babylon with Rome. For that matter, Babylon cannot be confined to any one historical manifestation, past or future: it has multiple equivalents (cf. 11:8). [Revelation 11:8 refers to Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified.] The details of John's description do not neatly fit any past city, whether literal Babylon, Sodom, Egypt, Rome, or even Jerusalem. Babylon is found wherever there is satanic deception. It is defined more by dominant idolatries than geographic or temporal boundaries. Babylon is better understood here as the archetypal head of all entrenched worldly resistance to God. Babylon is a transhistorical reality that includes idolatrous kingdoms as diverse as Sodom, Egypt, Babylon, Tyre, Nineveh, and Rome. ... It may be said that Babylon represents the total culture of the world apart from God, while the divine system is depicted by the New Jerusalem."
I'll also quote part of what Philip E. Hughes said under Rev. 17:1-5 on the meaning of Babylon the harlot ("Book of Revelation" [Eerdmans, 1990], pages 181-183). "It is plain from verse 5 [Rev. 17:5] that the great harlot is 'Babylon the great', who...denotes the ungodly civilization of the world in its fallenness...and we are informed in verse 15 that the many waters on which the great harlot is seated are 'peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues - terminology which both in its plain sense and also in its fourfold structure confirms the international extension of the influence of the great harlot who is great Babylon.
... The fornication or harlotry intended here is simply unfaithfulness to God, which comes to expression in the unholy pride and ambition of human self-centredness, in hatred and violence, in vice and immorality, and in every form of idolatry, which, whether it be the worship of images or of money or of worldly power, is the worship of the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25. ...).
... [The name that is seen on her forehead (Rev. 17:5)] is, moreover a mystery, that is, a name of cryptic significance, like the name 'Sodom and Egypt' previously mentioned (11:8 [Revelation 11:8, referring to Jerusalem, says "which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt" because of its backslidden state; cf., e.g., Isa. 1:10, 21-23; 3:9]). In other words, the appellation Babylon is not to be taken literally, but symbolically.... Here Babylon the great is called the mother of harlots and of earth's abominations because she is the symbol of all that corrupts and degrades human society, all its lust and lechery, its graft and deceit, its violence and tyranny, its hatred and squalor and injustice. ...."
Commenting on "the portrait...of great opulence" of the harlot in Rev. 17:4, Hughes mentions "the display of wealth that worldlings admire and worship."
I'll quote part of what G. K. Beale ("Book of Revelation" [Eerdmans, 1999], page 850) said on the meaning of Babylon the great under Rev. 17:2. "Therefore, Babylon is the prevailing economic-religious system in alliance with the state and its related authorities and existing throughout the ages. ...."
Then under Rev. 17:3 on page 853, Beale says (in part), "The woman must represent that part of the ungodly world that works together with the state, such as the social, cultural, economic, and religious aspects of the world."
I'll also quote part of what William Hendriksen said on the meaning of Babylon the great under Rev. 17:1-6 ("More than Conquerors" [Baker, 1982 edition], pages 167-169): "... ...Babylon is called the great harlot. In other words, the symbol indicates that which allures, tempts, seduces and draws people away from God.
Secondly, we must remember that this harlot is a worldly city, namely, Babylon. It reminds us of pleasure-mad, arrogant, presumptuous Babylon of old. (In a footnote here, he says, "The Scripture passages which should be studied, as forming the foundation for this New Testament symbolism, are: Gen. 10:10; 11:11; Isa. 13; 14; 21; 46; 47; 48; Jer. 25; 50; 51; Dan. 2; 4:30; 7; Hab. 3; also Ezek. 27, the fall of Tyre.) The description of this symbolical Babylon of Revelation 17-19 also recalls to our mind that heathen centre of wickedness and seduction, Tyre. Observe the striking similarity between Revelation 17-19 and Ezekiel 27, 28. ... Babylon, therefore, must indicate the world as a centre of industry, commerce, art, culture, etc., which by means of all these things seeks to entice and seduce the believer [The devil, through Babylon, wants to seduce all mankind.], that is, to turn him away from God. It symbolizes the concentration of the luxury, vice, and glamour of this world. It is the world viewed as the embodiment of the 'lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life' (1 John 2:16). ...
According to the figure employed, the harlot holds in her hand a golden cup. A golden cup entices one to drink; for one expects the most precious drink from such a precious vessel. Yet the cup contains nothing but abominations, the unclean things pertaining to the woman's whoredom. Whatever is used by the world in order to turn believers away from their God is in this cup: pornographic literature, sports in which one becomes completely absorbed, luxuries, worldly fame and power, the lusts of the flesh, and so on. ... It includes things that are bad in themselves as well as things which become bad because one does not view them as a means but as an end in themselves: art for arts sake, etc. ...."
Lastly, I'll quote part of what J. A. Seiss said on the meaning of Babylon ("Apocalypse" [Zondervan, 1980 printing, originally published in 1900 by Cook], pages 386, 387). "The first thing which strikes me in the study of this subject, is one which I have nowhere seen duly noticed, namely: the evident correlation and contrast between the Woman here pictured and another Woman described in the twelfth chapter. There, 'a great sign was seen in the heaven, a Woman;' here, it is remarked, 'he bore me away in spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a Woman.' Both these Women are mothers; the first 'brought forth a son...who is to rule all the nations;' the second 'is the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.' ...
[Speaking further about the pure woman, Seiss says] She is not the church of any one period or dispensation, but the entire Universal Church of all time, as Victorinus, the earliest commentator on this Book, held and affirmed, saying: 'The Woman clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet, is the Church of the Patriarchs, and of the Prophets, and of the holy Apostles, - that is, the Church from the days of Adam and Eve on to the last victory over the worship, name, and mark, of the final Antichrist. [I agree, and I believe this is very important. The woman clothed with the sun etc. is found in Revelation chapter 12, which is a super-important prophetic chapter. Revelation chapter 12 is discussed verse-by-verse in some detail in chapter 21 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture."] ...
[Speaking of Babylon, Seiss further says] One of the most characteristic features of this Woman is her harlotry. ... Harlotry is the standing symbol in the word of God for a debauched worship, idolatry, and false devotion. When people worship for God what is not God, or give their hearts to idols, or institute systems, doctrines, rites, or administrations, to take the place of what God has revealed and appointed, the Scriptures call it whoredom, adultery, fornication. ... ...the very essence of the divine law is that we love God our Lord with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength. This is Jehovah's [Yahweh's] due and requirement of all that live. Hence the bestowal of worshipful affection on any other object, or the putting of anything whatever in the place of the true God, is, in the very nature of the case, a great spiritual harlotry; for it is the turning of the soul from the only legitimate object of its adoration, to take into its embrace what has no right to such room and place. And as this woman is a harlot, 'the great Harlot,' and 'the mother of the harlots and the abominations of the earth,' she must needs be the great embodiment, source, and representative of all idolatry, false worship, and perversion of the word and institutes of God. ... And as the pure Woman is made up of the whole congregation of the faithful from the beginning, so must this great Harlot be made up of all the faithless from the beginning."]]
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Rev. 14:6-19:21 in Part 5, starting with Rev. 17:3.
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