RPM, Volume 18, Number 28, July 3 to July 9, 2016

To the Ends of the Earth

God Destroys Babylon—2
Revelation 17:9-18

By Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

If you have your Bibles, please turn to Revelation 17, and we are going to pick it up in the interpretive part of it in verse 1 through to the end:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality." And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, "BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly. And the angel said to me, "Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come." Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. "The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. "The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. "These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. "These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful." And he said to me, "The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. "And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. "For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. "The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth."

Father, we thank You that in page after page of Scripture, You reveal things that are perfectly clear and plain. The way of salvation, the gospel, faith in Jesus Christ and in Him alone as the way to justification is revealed so clearly that a little child can discern it. Yet, O Lord, there are passages in the Bible which You have inspired by Your Spirit that even the Apostle Peter could say of some of Paul's writings that they are hard to be understood. We confess that this passage which was written by John under the inspiration of the Spirit is difficult to understand and many of your greatest interpreters and Bible students down through the centuries have differed in their understanding of it. So we pray this morning as we think about it that You would give us a spirit of wisdom, but that You would also give us humility and grant, O Lord, that we might learn something of practical value as a result of it. We know that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine and for correction and for instruction in the way of righteousness that the man of God might be thoroughly furnished into every good work. Hear us then, O Lord, for Jesus' sake we ask it. Amen.

Here is this extraordinary vision. And by any standard isn't it? It's quiet extraordinary. I don't know what you made of it in your homework assignment. I know that you have all been diligently reading it and studying it, getting down those Bible commentaries. I jest of course. I hope some of you did. I wonder if it's left you perhaps more confused than enlightened. I don't really think that the Bible was ever meant to confuse us. I don't think the Holy Spirit inspired anything in order to confuse.

Suddenly this is a difficult passage. I want to put it to you that part of the difficulty, and I really mean this, that part of the difficulty is because we don't know our Bibles well enough. If we really knew our Bibles, if for example, we knew that latter part of the book of Daniel, especially Daniel 7, if we knew the prophecies of Jeremiah and Isaiah, and particularly in this passage, Ezekiel 23. Ezekiel 23 has that extraordinary depiction of two sisters born of the same mother who are prostitutes. Those two sisters, do you remember them in Ezekiel 23, are depicting in a very graphic way the way in which Israel, and therefore the church of the Old Testament, had departed into unfaithfulness, into prostitution, into a deviance of character that betrayed them as unfaithful to the Lord, to the covenant God of Israel. John is certainly picking up that language here, the language of unfaithfulness, using that metaphor or prostitution.

I put it to you that if we knew our Bibles, especially if we knew our Old Testament prophets as well as John did, we perhaps wouldn't be as confused as we sometimes are reading the book of Revelation.

So, what does that say? What is my first practical piece of exhortation to you from this passage? If we have learnt anything at all in studying Revelation, we have learned that we need to read our Old Testament more. I hope that lesson is getting through. I hope that when you read the Old Testament prophets, and let's face it, they are probably not our favorite books of the Bible are they? But when we read those Old Testament prophets and their denunciations of the unfaithfulness of Israel, and the last book of the Bible is going to pick all of that up and say that that has been a prevailing message for the Church throughout the whole period leading up to the second coming of Jesus Christ. There always is an aspect of the Church that is unfaithful. And here in Revelation 17, John, in this apocalypse is speaking to that to some degree.

Now what is John give us here? Well he gives us a picture of a woman, a great prostitute whom he says, in the very last verse of the chapter, is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth. Now we will come back to that and let's remember that he identifies the woman in the last verse, in verse 18, as the great city. And she is drunk, she holds this golden cup. She is gaudy in her appearance, she's dressed in the style in which she does. She holds in her hand a cup that is full of the blood of the saints that have been martyred. We here, are the kings of the earth. So this powerful figure who sits on many waters in verse 1, who sits on many waters. Then in verse 3 the woman sitting on a scarlet beast this time that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.

Now we have seen in verse 8 that there is a parody, a parody of the beast, and those words that are used to describe the deity of Christ who was, is, and who is to come. Now there is a sort of parody on that in terms of the beast who was, is not, but yet will be. The beast had power, and now his power seems to be curtailed, but his power will increase again in the future. Then in Revelation 17, he will be destroyed entirely. That little description, "who was, is not, and yet will be," is a kind of parody of evil, of Satan, and all of his cohorts. Satan is always trying to mimic Christ. He always wants to be Christ. He always wants to be the ruler of this world. Do you remember what he says to Christ in the wilderness? That he would give to Jesus all the kingdoms of this world if he would only bow down and worship him. It's a mockery, a parody, that here is this pathetic creature, the beast, Satan who is always trying to be something that he's not, always falling short, always bearing that number 666, never coming to that perfection of Christ.

In verse 9, the beast which has seven heads and ten horns is now described. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. Now, some have tried to identify that with the city of Rome. Personally I think that is a little fanciful and we will come to the explanation of that perhaps in a minute, but I don't think that's a reference to the city of Rome necessarily. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is presumably by that means that one is still alive and ruling, as John writes the book of Revelation. That's important because it depends on how you identify this sixth king who is still alive.

That's important because it has to be at the same period of time as John was writing the book of Revelation. So, if you have the book of Revelation written before the fall of Jerusalem, say A.D. 67, 68, 69, or perhaps as the further most limit, prior to A.D. 70 when Jerusalem fell. Turn back with me to Revelation 1. "I was given a reed like a measuring yard and was told go and measure the temple of God and the altar," and some would suggest that means the temple is still standing when John writes the book of Revelation. I don't think that that necessarily follows. This is a vision after all. Some say, "Well, Revelation 11:1 says the temple is still standing, therefore the book of Revelation has to be written before A.D. 70." Now that limits the identification of the sixth king. Can you all see it? That limits the sixth king probably to Nero, if you begin counting with Caesar. There is a problem beginning to count with Caesar, for as you know from your Roman history, Caesar was not technically an emperor. He was a dictator to be sure, but he wasn't technically called an emperor. The first emperor of Rome was Augustus. There begins the problem, where do you begin to count the five kings that have already died Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and the sixth king, Nero. Now the one is yet to come. Who that one to come is according to that numeration, is it Galba? Galba was a non-entity. He didn't reign very long. His rule wasn't particularly significant, and so who is this seventh king who is yet to come? We are just beginning to unravel the problem .

You see, if the kings are emperors of Rome, and that is a big if. If John means that these kings, five of whom have died, one now is as he writes, and one is yet to come, and if they are Roman emperors, who is this sixth king who is alive at the time of John's writing of the book of Revelation? Now, there are some pretty fanciful ways of counting from one to six. There are four principle ways of counting up to six. Some of them are pretty fanciful. For example the most common, is the idealist or futurist interpretation of Revelation, and that is the interpretation I have been giving you for the last number of weeks in case you didn't realize. The identification of the sixth king is quite often put as Domitian. Now Domitian ruled in the mid 80's A.D through to the mid 90's A.D. That, of course, is in line with probably the majority of the interpreters of Revelation who say that the book of Revelation was written in the 90's, very late.

Now some of our good friends, like R.C. Sproul, for example, who is a preterist in his interpretation of Revelation, identify the writing of the book of Revelation as prior to the fall of Jerusalem. He sees most of those prophecies in Revelation as referring to the fall of Jerusalem. Therefore the sixth king has to be alive before A.D. 70 so it has to be somewhere around here like Nero for example. In order for the Domitian to be number six, you have to do some fanciful counting. In other words you have to leave some people out of your reckoning. People like Galba and Otho and Vitellius, some of whose reigns only lasted months. Vitellius for example only lasted weeks. So some say they are insignificant and we don't count those, then you begin maybe with Augustus because Caesar wasn't technically an emperor. One Augustus, two Tiberius, three perhaps Caligula, four Claudius, five Nero, delete the rest of them, then sixth Domitian. Pretty fanciful. There are several interpretations along that line. There are all kinds of computations that you can do counting up to six. The questions that it beg.

You see how important it is because if you say that the sixth king is Domitian, then you've got a late dating for the book of Revelation. Then you have to ask yourself questions about the fulfillment of prophecies and their relationship to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. If you take a view that the book of Revelation is prior to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and of the temple in Jerusalem, that enormously colors how you understand the rest of the book of Revelation and how you view those prophecies.

Well, any contributions in your homework? It's easier to read it and study it than in this kind of environment. Part of the reason why I am not particularly concerned, I sent you on a wild goose chase in this homework, by the way, because I personally don't identify these kings as Roman emperors. I think that is a miscalculation to begin with. The reason why I do that is because Revelation seems, haven't we noticed, seems to be borrowing the language of the prophecy of Daniel. Do you remember the beastly characters in the book of Daniel. The kings that Daniel identifies are not kings, but kingdoms. They are kingdoms like Egypt, Syria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece and Rome. The great empires of the world. The five kings, this is how I understand what John is saying here. The five kings that are past are the five great empires of the world all the way down to Old Testament history. Egypt, Syria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, those are the five great empires of Old Testament history. The one that now is is the Roman empire. The one that is yet to come is, I think John is saying, the entire world system. From the resurrection, and ascension of Christ right through to His second coming, that is the seventh king who is yet to come. This is my best shot at it. This is John's way of using symbols and saying, "Here are these forces, economic, judicial, military, governmental forces opposed to the kingdom of God." And that is certainly true of the kingdoms of Egypt, Syria, Babylon, Persia, and to some extent Greece, Greece the lesser of the five. It was certainly true of the empire of Rome, with its hostility to the kingdom of God. I think a case could be made for a collective sense that there are forces of evil, beast-like forces of evil which have been arranged against the kingdom of God, against the Church of God, right through the centuries. Now, that appears to be truer at some points in church history than at others, if you were living, say in the middle of the Sixteenth Century. How many heard First Things this morning? We were talking about John Knox this morning on First Things, back in the Sixteenth Century, john Knox living through the period of the reign of "Bloody Mary" and the Marian persecutions, when thousands and thousands of Christians, Bible-believing Christians, were put to death in the most brutal fashion. You could appreciate how the identification of the sixth king not only would be world forces opposed to the kingdom of God, but actually in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and into the seventeenth centuries it might seem even more specific. Not just world kingdoms, but the Roman Catholic church. Which is why in The Westminster Confession of Faith, when it was originally written, identified the Roman Catholic church with the antichrist, living as they were in the 1640's, in a period of intense persecution against the Christian church by the forces of the Roman Catholic Church. You can appreciate how that identification was made in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

I would want to draw back from that particularization of identification and suggest that the seventh kingdom that is yet to come are the kingdoms of this world collectively, considered in their opposition and in their tyranny against the Kingdom of God.

Now, we are living in Jackson, Mississippi, and you are saying, "What opposition You shouldn't really be asking that question even in Jackson, Mississippi. You may be asking that question in Jackson, Mississippi, but if you were living in China, and you were a member of the Christian church in China, or in the Sudan, you could appreciate just how beastly this world can become to the Kingdom to God and how easily this interpretation of the seventh king as the forces of this world arraigned against the Kingdom of God can be made.

Notice that it says, that "He must remain for a little while." In the course of things, this period of time between the ascension of Christ and the second coming of Christ is a "little while." Now you say, "It's been two thousand years." Yes, but that against eternity and that's just a little while. It's a reminder, I think, that we are always to be living in the expectation of the return of Christ. Not in the next minute. I don't hold to that view of the second coming of Christ, coming in the next minute, because I think certain thing will be fulfilled before Christ comes. Within a short period of time, Christ could return. Don't leave tonight and say "Dr. Thomas is teaching Christ is coming shortly." I'm saying that He could appear in a very short space of time.

In verse 11, the beast that once was and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seventh and is going to his destruction. I have to confess that I have no idea what that means. I can give you a shot at it. It's a really difficult verse. I think it has to do with the picture in the New Testament with Christ dying on the sixth day, resting in the tomb, rising on the eighth day. Rising to power on the eighth day. I think that an explanation is that this eighth beast, is not a separate king from the seventh. They are the same. I take it that he is identifying them. He has this aspect of being an eighth and having a kind of resurrected power. It may mean that John is alluding here that the opposition of the seventh king will reach something of a climax prior to the return of Jesus Christ. I'm not totally convinced by that explanation. I don't think you are by the look of you either, but it is one of the most puzzling verses in the book of Revelation for me.

Let me quickly mention that the ten horns are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. These ten horns, I take it, are not evenly distributed amongst the seven heads of the beast. I take it that these 10 horns, because they haven't yet appeared, are ten horns that appeared on the seventh head of the beast. Horns are symbols of power and destruction. You know it's one thing, isn't it to go up to a female deer and stroke it's head and so on, and it's another thing to go up to a male deer with all those horns. That takes a bit of doing. Maybe not the best illustration, but it in terms of a cow or a bull or something. Something with horns anyway. It's a picture of power and destruction. These ten horns, notice that these appear only for one hour. It's picking up an illusion in Daniel 4 when Nebuchadnezzar was insane and there is a reference there, and John is picking up that illusion. It's a short period of time and the power that is given to the seventh beast will appear at the end of the age in a peculiar specialized, vivid form. They have one purpose, they will give their power and authority to the beast and make war against the Lamb.

Notice the lamb will overcome them because the Lamb is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Now the beautiful picture in the middle of all this difficulty and mystery here is a beautiful picture that the Lamb. However hostile the forces of the kingdoms of this world are, and the horns can be identified as all of the systems of this world, art and commerce and government, and politics, all of them in their ungodly collectivity arraigned against the Lamb, and yet the Lamb is going to be victorious. Jesus shall reign. Jesus shall reign. Do you recall the words to that beautiful hymn, "Jesus shall reign." There is no doubt about that.

That's the mood that John wants to convey as he writes this to a people who were living under persecution of the Roman empire. He is wanting them to see again the victory of Jesus Christ, the assured victory of Jesus Christ. Well, there is more but our time is gone. We will have to pick it up again because we will go into it in more detail in chapter 18 as now a song is sung to the Lamb in His victory over Babylon. Let's pray together.

Our Father, we are conscience that there are forces in this world that are in opposition to the Kingdom of God. Forces even in our spheres of work and employment. Forces that are ultimately under the control of Satan himself and yet O Lord, we understand from this passage that these forces of darkness become adherently self destructive. That ultimately the Lord Jesus Christ shall be victorious and that His kingdom and rule and sovereignty, never under any doubt whatsoever, shall encourage us and that we are in union and communion with Him and that in His victory we shall share also. Grant us then that strength to live this week in that certain victory as we witness to others and as we remember the brevity of time. As we try O Lord, by Your strength to snatch sinners like brands from the burning and bring them to Jesus Christ. Hear us O Lord and forgive us our sins. For Jesus sake. Amen.

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