December 9, 2011

Saturday after the Second Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 80, Is. 28:1-13, Mk. 4:21-29
Evening - Ps. 65, Is. 28:14-22, Rev. 17 & 18
Commentary
Revelation 17 & 18

Chapter 17 is one of the most important chapters in Revelation because it identifies the beast, thus helping us understand the symbolism of chapters 12-20. The chapter is given to show the judgment of God on the "great whore that sitteth upon many waters" 17:1). Water again represents fallen humanity, and to sit on many waters is to rule many nations (17:15). To be drunk with the wine of fornication is to revel in spiritual adultery, which is a symbol of unfaithfulness to God by serving false gods (Is. 1:21). Thus, the great whore sells herself to false gods, and has led the kings of earth (nations under Rome's domination) to commit idolatry with her. This refers to the blatant idolatry of emperor worship forced on people throughout the Empire by the Roman authorities.

In verse 3 John sees the beast with seven heads and ten horns again. We met this beast in 13:1 and several times in the following chapters. But in 17 its identity is more fully revealed. In fact, verses 7-18 give positive identification of both the beast and the great whore. The beast has seven heads, symbols of seven mountains on which the woman sits (17:3 & 9). Rome was known far and wide as the city on seven hills, and there can be no doubt that it is the place symbolised in this vision. The seven heads also represent seven kings, which are emperors in the dynasty of Caesar (17:10). Of these, five are fallen (dead), one (Nero) "is, "and the other (Galba) is yet to come (17:10). But what does 13:3 mean when it says one of the heads was wounded to death, yet the wound was healed? 17:11 refers to the same incident. The head wounded is Julius Caesar, killed by a coup. But the beast did not die with him. It lives on in the other six emperors.

The ten horns are the kings (17:12) of countries or peoples under Roman rule. Thus, they have not received a kingdom as yet. They give their strength (tribute money, men for soldiers, children as slaves) to the beast. They also join the beast in its idolatry and in making war upon the Lamb (Christ). But "the Lamb shall overcome them; for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings" (17:14), a title often claimed by the Roman emperors. But the ten horns "shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire" (17:16). This is the rebellion against Rome that would occur among the nations held under Roman domination This will be the way God's judgment is poured out upon Rome (17:17).

Verse 18 is the verse that really solidifies the symbolism of the beast and the whore. It obviously refers to the woman of verses 1-6, and it is the angel's revelation of the woman's identity. She is a city and that city "reigneth over the kings of the earth." No one in the churches John wrote to would fail to recognise this woman as the city of Rome. So the beast is Nero, but includes the full line of recent and future emperors, the city of Rome, and the Roman Empire. The symbolism of the beast and the great whore include all of these entities.

Chapter 18 announces the fall of Babylon. Again the reference is to Rome, for the angel is still talking about "Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth (17:5). The habitation of devils and foul and unclean things shows the depths of depravity into which Rome has plunged (18:-3). Her sins, like the tower of Babel, have reached heaven (18:5). Her downfall will come upon her swiftly, as in a "day" (18:8). Her chastisement will be complete (18:8) and those who followed her in her sins will mourn her ruin (18:9-19). But others will rejoice for God has avenged her for them, and her reign of death has ended (18:20). Verses 21-24 show the utter ruin of Rome, for, "in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints" (18:24).

The Church is commanded to come out of her and be not partakers of her sins that it may be spared her punishment (18:4). This "Exodus" is spiritual rather than literal. It means to have different values and life-styles as well as different beliefs. It means to be not conformed to the values and ideals of Rome, but to be given the values and ideals of God (Rom. 12:2).