Revelation 17:7 -18
The “interpretation” of the remainder of chapter 17 leaves a lot of room for further discussion. In a simplistic sense we understand that this is a vision of the fitting end of “Babylon,” who is the cruel tyrant of God’s people.
Vs 7: The angel who took John to the wilderness to see the vision the woman and the beast responds to John’s amazement by explaining the mystery of the woman and the beast on which she rides. This is a single mystery that involves both characters. They cannot be understood apart from the other. But what we see in chapter 17 is widely concerned with the clarification of the beast, but chapter 18 details the judgment of the woman/prostitute.
Vs 8: The portrayal of the beast is a deliberate contrast to the picture of Jesus found in chapter 1 and Ch. 4. He is the One “who is, and who was, and who is to come”. In the widest sense the beast is understood to be the satanically inspired being or force that, even though he died, returns to launch himself with renewed rage against the powers of God.
He is the beast of chapter 13 who was fatally wounded in one of his heads and yet survived. Down through history he repeatedly “comes up out of the Abyss” to harass and, if it were possible, to destroy the people of God. The beast was; at the moment he is not. John wrote under the shadow of an impending persecution. The beast is about to come again.
The Beast had exercised a controlling influence in the consecutive supremacies of the emperors of Rome, but in this final attack he is to be revealed for what he really is—the incarnation of evil in its deep-seated hatred and violent opposition to God and all that is just and good. It is the reappearance of the beast that causes the astonishment on the part of the unbelieving world.
Vs. 9: The interpretation of the beast’s seven heads and identity of the ten horns as the forces that will join with the Antichrist in his last fierce assault upon the Lamb. The interpretation of the seven heads is not obvious as there is much debate on the precise meaning but, it may be understood by those who ponder the riddle with care and wisdom
The seven heads of the beast are first identified as seven hills upon which the woman is sitting. There is little doubt that a first-century reader would see this reference as a reference to Rome, the city built upon seven hills. In John’s day Rome embodied all the bitterness and opposition to the Christian faith. The beast is about to come from the Abyss and become embodied in this hostile world order of which the city on seven hills is the governing center.
Vs 10: The seven heads of the beast are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, and one has not yet come. The most satisfactory explanation of the seven kings is that the number seven is symbolic and stands for the power of the Roman Empire as a historic whole. In Revelation the seven kings represent the entire period of Roman domination regardless of the exact number of emperors. The important point is that the end is drawing near
Vs 11: The beast himself is an eighth king who is at the same time one of the seven. He is an eighth in the sense that he is distinct from the other seven. He is Antichrist, not simply another Roman emperor. He is not a human ruler through whom the power of evil finds expression—he is that evil power itself. He belongs to the cosmic struggle between God and Satan that lies behind the scenes of human history. A somewhat different approach holds that the beast is Antichrist in but two of his heads (successive worldly kingdoms at enmity with God).52 He was embodied in Antiochus Epiphanes, he does not now exist in the same malevolent form, but will in the future arise from the Abyss in the person of the eschatological Antichrist.
Vs 12 – 13: The ten horns are interpreted as the ten kings who are ten kings who have not yet risen to power. When they do receive power, they will willingly turn it over to the beast and join him in war against the Lamb. Ultimately the ten kings are “purely eschatological figures representing the totality of the powers of all nations on the earth which are to be made subservient to Antichrist.”54 As we have already learned the number ten is symbolic and indicates completeness. It does not, however, point to ten specific kings or ten European kingdoms of a revitalized Roman empire.
Vs 14: This war that the 10 kings and the beast will wage on the Lamb will end with the Lamb being victorious. They will be defeated because the Lord is sovereign, and none is greater than Him. The beast will be defeated because he has faced the One to whom everyone and everything will ultimately be outranked. The armies or people of heaven will share in his victory as well. Those who overcome will exercise the authority of the Lamb over the nations of the earth and will rule them with an iron scepter. The idea of the upright taking part in the annihilation of the wicked is a customary apocalyptic theme.
Vs 15: The angel continues his interpretation of the vison by labeling the waters that the woman sits upon as peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages. This fourfold grouping stresses universality. For John and the readers of this letter this symbol emphasizes the enormity of the power of Rome, which was the capital city of the entire Mediterranean civilization.
Vs 16: The beast and the ten kings hate the woman/prostitute, and they turn on her in hatred. This ]account describes the self-destroying power of evil. The evil nations and beast are not a loyal and happy band of brothers, but they are wicked, jealous, and hate-filled, so ultimately their mutual hatred will result in mutual destruction. This one well-dressed woman is now devoured by her enemies as the eating of her flesh suggests wild beasts tearing at the body of their prey and portrays the fierceness with which the prostitute is attacked by her assailants
Vs 17: John is told that it was God who brought about the slaughter of the prostitute by putting it into the hearts of the ten kings to do his will. They were of one mind in relinquishing their sovereignty to the beast and joining in his assault upon the prostitute and in his final campaign against the Lamb.
Vs 18: the woman is “the great city that rules over the kings of the world.” For John and his readers, the city is Rome. She is the wicked seducer whose malevolent influence has infiltrated the whole of the Mediterranean world. Yet Babylon the Great, who is the basis of universal harlotry and repugnance (v. 5), is more than first-century Rome. Every great center of power that has prostituted its wealth and influence restores to life the spirit of ancient Babylon. It can be described as the final spiritual Babylon, which will provide the social, religious, and political base for the last attempt of Antichrist to establish his kingdom.
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