Rich Realities from Revelation 17: The Lamb Wins!
Rich Realities from Revelation:
The Lamb and His Followers are Victorious!
The Christians who received the book of Revelation in the first century, those who were worshipping in the churches of Christ scattered throughout Asia Minor, were being persecuted by their own government, the Roman Empire. They were being persecuted economically because of their religious convictions (13:17); they were being thrown into jail (2:10); some of them were being killed because of their religious convictions (2:13).
We have spent eight studies, so far, looking at the “Rich realities of Revelation,” which Jesus shared with those Christians through the apostle John. Briefly, here are those eight realities:
#1 - Jesus is the King and High Priest who holds the churches of Christ in His hand.
#2 - Christians will be victorious if they do not compromise the gospel of Christ.
#3 - God and Christ deserve worship.
#4 - God knows (seals) those who are His.
#5 - God wants all men to repent in order to be saved.
#6 - The Church must continue to evangelize.
#7 - Christians will be victorious over the beast and the false prophet!
#8 - There will be a future harvest of the faithful and the unfaithful.
We left off last month with chapter 14. In chapter 15, John sees a vision of seven angels holding seven bowls full of the wrath of God. We saw these bowls or cups mentioned in 14:10 when an angel tells John that those who worship the beast and the image “will be made to drink of the wine of the wrath of God mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger.”
Before those seven cups of God’s wrath are poured out on the Roman Empire, Jesus reveals to John once again that those who belong to Jesus Christ will be protected, which is the message of chapter 15. Those saints are worshiping God and Christ (15:2-4), just as we studied from chapters 4 & 5. But as John sees that vision, then John also sees seven angels coming out from the presence of Jehovah God and they have seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, which they pour out on the earth and that vision is Revelation 16.
The people who worshiped the beast, the civil government’s embodiment of Satan, drank from the cup of God’s wrath (16:2).
The sea also “drank” from the cup of God’s wrath (16:3) - now, you will learn when you read chapter 18 (which we will not study together), that is act of God’s wrath is directed at Rome’s trade on the Mediterranean Sea. When God punishes a major world power, like Rome, He does so, among other ways, by destroying their commerce.
The rivers also “drank” from the cup of God’s wrath (16:4-7) - which uses the plague of the Exodus (turning the Nile River to blood) - as a metaphor for God punishing the Roman Empire because they “poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets.” No nation will escape God’s wrath who abuses God’s people.
Mankind in general “drank” from the cup of God’s wrath (16:8-9) as the sun scorches men with a fierce heat. But when times get hard, most people do not truly turn to God in repentance. Instead, they curse God.
When the fifth bowl of God’s wrath was poured out, the “throne” of the beast - the Roman Emperor and his empire (16:10-11) - was impacted by God’s wrath. Yet, the rulers also did not repent of their idolatry and disobedience to the God of heaven.
The sixth bowl of God’s wrath is poured out in 16:12 and the Euphrates River is dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the “kings from the east.” These would be those kings, such as the Parthians, the Goths, and Visigoths who invade Rome from the east and cause the destruction of the Roman Empire. The “Euphrates River” is certainly a metaphor; it is not to be taken literally no more than anything else in Revelation. It would be like God saying He would dry up the Mississippi River so that Michigan could be invaded by Californians. It is not literal; it simply shows that God is going to make possible the invasion that He intends to cause.
Chapter 16:16 mentions the infamous “Battle of Armageddon.” You should know by now that the so-called “Battle of Armageddon” is a metaphor for God’s destruction of the nation of Rome for her persecution of Christians. Among the many reasons why we know that the Battle of Armageddon is a metaphor is that “Armageddon” does not exist. The prefix “ar” is Aramaic for “Mountain,” so this term actually means “Mount Megiddo.” Megiddo was a battlefield in the OT where several battles were fought - including where Israel defeated the Canaanites in Judges 5 - and were a famous king, King Josiah, was killed (2 Kings 23:29). “Armageddon” is like “Waterloo” for Napoleon or the “Alamo” in American history. They were major battles which can even be used today as metaphors for a major loss.
The seventh bowl is poured out on the great city, Babylon itself, in 16:17-21. Included with this act of God’s wrath is another reference to one of the plagues God brought on Egypt - the plague of hail. Notice in verse 21 that these huge hailstones weighed 100 pounds each. Those are some pretty huge hailstones! But, remember this is just a metaphor to encourage Christians that God is going to vindicate their faithfulness, their perseverance, and their faith. The largest hailstone ever recorded fell in Bangladesh in April of 1986. It weighted 2 1/4 pounds.
The expression “Babylon the Great” is used 6 times in the Bible, only once in the OT: Daniel 4:30. The other five times are in the book of Revelation, beginning at 14:8. When the nation of Rome attacked the city of Jerusalem in AD 66-70, the capital of the Jewish nation and the place of origin of the Christian faith, both Jewish and Christian writers started referring to Rome as “Babylon” or “Babylon the Great.”
There is no doubt that any reader of Revelation in the first century, whether Roman pagan or Christian or Jew, if he or she read Revelation 17, they would know that John was talking about the Roman Empire…
BABYLON (ROME) IS GOING TO FALL!
THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES - 17:1-5:
This angel is one of the 7 so that he is giving a more detailed description of what has been pictured in 16:17-21. Babylon is a “great harlot.” Why? Because she was guilty of idolatry which is pictured often in the OT as spiritual adultery or spiritual prostitution. She “sits on many waters,” which is defined in verse 15 as peoples, multitudes, and nations and tongues - the smaller countries, like Judah, over which Rome ruled. These kings, in order to benefit from Rome’s wealth, committed immorality with her and drank from the wine of her immorality. Countries that want to benefit from the US’s wealth have to play by the US’s rules, right? Money always comes with strings attached.
Since John was “in the Spirit” (ver. 3), this shows us that all he is seeing is a vision. These are all metaphors. The woman was sitting on a scarlet beast full of blasphemous names and having seven heads and ten horns. The “blasphemous names” show that the woman and beast were everything antagonistic they could be toward God.
On the harlot’s forehead was the name written: “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.”
Just as Babylon did in the times of the OT, so Rome had a negative influence on the peoples around them and the peoples over whom they ruled. They did not encourage people to worship the true God, to follow God’s Son, Jesus Christ. They encouraged people to worship their gods, the gods of the Greeks and Romans. They were exporting idolatry as much as anything.
Seven Heads as Mountains and Kings - 17:6-13:
This woman, notice in verse 6, is drunk with the blood of saints and the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. Make no mistake about it - the destruction of Rome came about because of her treatment of Christians. If she had respected Christians and left them alone to live and evangelize, the Roman Empire might even still be in existence today. But you don’t mess with God’s people!
The allusion to the beast that “was, and is not, and is about to come…” perhaps most reasonably refers to the Emperor Domitian. Emperor Nero turned into a great enemy of Christianity once Rome was set on fire and Nero needed someone to blame. That’s when Peter and Paul were both martyred. Eventually the Roman Senate would condemn Nero to die by crucifixion but he committed suicide first - at the age of 30 years old! There was a rumor that spread through Rome, just like after Adolph Hitler committed suicide, that he really did not die. Many Romans thought that Nero had fled east and was going to lead an army of Parthians against Rome. Other Romans eventually believed that Nero was resurrected in the person of Emperor Domitian, and persecution of Christians increased under this emperor.
In verse 9, the angel tells John that the seven heads are metaphor for seven mountains on which the woman sits. Rome had long been known as urbs Septicollis - the “City of Seven Hills.” Romans actually celebrated a festival every December to commemorate their founding on seven hills.
It doesn’t really matter who all these kings are, the angel tells John, because each one of them is going to end in destruction (ver. 11). They give their power to the Roman Empire, the beast, but they are still going to lose their war with Jesus Christ…
The Lamb is Victorious - 17:14-18:
All these kings wage a war against the Lamb - remember this is a metaphor - but the Lamb wins! The verb translated “will overcome” is used 17 times in the book of Revelation, beginning with 2:7. This is one of the most used verbs in the whole book! Jesus wins! The Lamb wins! All those who are faithful to the Lamb win!
Why? Because notice… Jesus is “Lord of lords and King of kings.” He is supreme. He is the “Author” in the word “authority.” No one will take down Jesus Christ. They killed Him physically, but He rose from the dead, proving that He has power over life and death. His followers are called to follow Him, they are chosen to follow Him, and they are faithful in following Him.
Once Jesus shows that He is in control, notice the end result in verse 16 - those who had been dependent on Rome… now hate her and they turn against her and they eat her flesh and burn her up with fire. God has the ability to make “what goes around to come around.” He has the ability to make a nation suffer from the very thing she has done to other people. That’s what God does with Rome.
God uses the nations around Rome that had been dependent on her, to fight for their own independence, and then they turn around and take down Rome - verse 17. The Parthians specifically become the group of people whom God chose to execute His purpose on the nation that was persecuting God’s people. Then, the words of God will be fulfilled.
And if there is any doubt who the woman is, the angel tells John in verse 18 that she is that “great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.” That would be none other than Rome.
Take home message: The Lamb has won the war against evil. We need to make sure we are on His side and we stay on His side!