Revelation 16:17 - 21
Vs: 17: There are several parallels between the last trumpet and the final bowl: they both bring history to a conclusion. As we look back at chapter 11 the seventh trumpet has loud voices in heaven proclaiming the awareness of the kingdom of God, we see the temple of God in heaven is opened. There are flickers of lightning, rolling thunder, a great earthquake, and a hailstorm. Equally the final and seventh bowl of chapter 16 is also followed by a mighty voice from the heavenly temple declaring God’s work is accomplished, judgment falls upon earth, and there are flashes of lightning, rolling thunder, along with the earthquakes of all earthquakes, concluding with a massive hailstorm.
The loud voice from the heavenly sanctuary proclaims, “It is done!”. The loud voice is the voice of God. Upon the pouring out of the seventh bowl the seven plagues are complete, and humanity stands on the brink of eternity.
Vs 18: An earthquake shakes the earth, and it is far greater than any earthquake since the creation of humanity. The brutality of the earthquake is emphasized by the statement, “(it is) the worst since people were placed on the earth.” This would have an intense impact upon the people living in a time where they had experienced several severe quakes.
Vs 19: We read the great city is split into three parts and this city is unquestionably identified as Rome. However, the subsequent reference in the same verse to Babylon does not suggest a different city. For John the insinuation would be to Rome as the center of evil and oppression against the young church. The division of the great city into three parts denotes the entirety of its destruction.
Vs 20: The great earthquake from the seventh bowl causes every island to disappear and the mountains leveled. This most likely represents the devastating effects of the tremendously violent earthquake.
Vs 21: The storm of God’s wrath reaches its apex with hundred-pound hailstones falling from the sky upon people. In the Old Testament we read that God often punishes the enemies of his people with hailstorms. Yet, this plague of hail produces no change in heart for those who dwell on the earth. We read that after each of the three final plagues people do not repent or turn to God but instead, they blaspheme God. Interestingly, the extraordinarily great hail fails to crush their confidence in the authority of Apollyon, the angel of the Abyss, and bring them to acknowledge the sovereignty of the God of heaven.
What follows in chapter 17 is an extended description of Rome as a luxurious prostitute who meets a gruesome death at the hands of the scarlet beast she commands.
With the judgments concluding we now turn our attention to Chapters 17 and 18 as they portray the judgment of God on the great prostitute, that sits in opposition to the cause of Christ. In chapter 17 the harlot appears in a boorish display of the snares of wealth, power and being drunk with the blood of martyrs. This vision can sometimes be seen as confusing but fortunately after the opening vision John learns from the angel the meaning of its symbolism.
We go from the description of the great harlot to the seven headed beast that she sits upon and protrudes from the waters. We will learn that the seven heads are both seven hills and seven kings, its ten horns are ten kings who ultimately join the beast in the war against the Lamb. We will learn what the waters and this prostitute represent in the scheme of the end time scenario.
Revelation 17:1 - 6
Vs 1: John is called by one of the seven angels to view the judgment of this notorious prostitute. Again, in Old Testament prophetic teaching the imagery of the prostitute is commonly shown to represent religious apostasy.
The prostitute of the Apocalypse is a pagan city, that is unquestionably Rome. She is decorated in luxury and is intoxicated with the blood of the saints. She stands for a dominant world system based on seduction for personal gain over against the righteous demands of a persecuted minority. The apocalyptic proclamation that the prostitute shall soon be stripped naked and destroyed comes as a necessary and welcome reminder that God is forever sovereign and continues to occupy the throne of the universe.
The prostitute is pictured as sitting upon a beast in many waters. The waters peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages. Since the prostitute is later named Babylon the Great, it would appear that this part of the description, where Babylon is said to dwell “by many waters.”
Vs 2: The kings of the earth who have committed adultery with the great prostitute are the nations who are in illegitimate relations with Rome. They represent the apostate nations that Rome has enticed into idolatrous worship of herself and the beast.
Vs 3: John is now carried away into a desert to watch the coming judgment of the prostitute. Four times in the Apocalypse John is said to be in the Spirit or carried away in the Spirit. In the course of Jewish history, the desert had often been the setting for unusual and visionary experiences.
The scarlet-colored beast is the beast that rose out of the sea in chapter 13 (the Antichrist). This is the great persecuting power that rules by brute force and is the supreme enemy of Christ and the church.
The great red dragon of chapter 17, is horrifying to behold. Blasphemous names cover its entire body. The reference is to the blasphemous claims to deity made by Roman emperors, who employed such titles as divine, savior, and lord. The blasphemies are not so much directly spoken against God by the beast as they are implied by his self-deification.
Vs 4: Purple and scarlet signify the luxury and splendor of ancient Rome. Purple was often used for royal garments, and scarlet was a color of magnificence. The costly and spectacular garb of the prostitute should be contrasted with the “fine linen, bright and clean,” worn by the Bride of the Lamb in Chapter 21. Her cup is full of the “obscenities and the impurities of her immorality.” We come to understand that the moral corruption and all manner of ceremonial uncleanness are what she offers.
Vs 5: Placing the name upon the forehead (probably upon a headband) appears to have been a custom of Roman concubines. The prostitute is Babylon the Great, that great system of godlessness that leads people away from the worship of God and to their own destruction. Specifically, she is Rome, who, like Babylon of old, has gained a worldwide reputation for luxury, corruption, and power.
Vs 6: The woman John sees is drunk with the blood of righteous martyrs. Although the Neronian massacre after the great fire of a.d. 64 may have been in the back of John’s mind, the drunken prostitute pictures the final days of persecution at the end of the age. They are saints, that is, believers who have sacrificed their lives in faithful testimony to Jesus. When he was taken to the desert John had expected to see the judgment of the prostitute, but up to this point she appears triumphant.
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