Read the Passage: Revelation 17-19
Reminder: The book of Revelation is structured around seven parallel sections, each describing the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. These sections can be delineated into chapters 1–3, 4–7, 8–11, 12–14, 15–16, 17–19, and 20–22.
Seduction of the Harlot (17:1–18)
This sixth cycle of the telling of the story of history begins as one of the seven angels who had poured out a bowl judgment in Rev. 16 approached John and offered to show him the judgment of Babylon, the great harlot. In Scripture, Babylon is the epitome of a worldly city and represents that which tempts, seduces, and draws peopled away from God. Next, John sees a woman, who is Babylon personified, riding a scarlet beast, who is the beast from the sea of Rev. 13:1–4. This beast depicts the persecuting power of Satan as seen in the nations of the world. John encounters this beast in the wilderness because the radiant woman, who is the church (who is not to be confused with the harlot or the scarlet woman of this chapter), had fled there in Rev. 12:14. The picture, then, is one of the seduction and persecution of the church by the world. Hence, John sees and is confused by the scarlet woman who is drunk by the blood of believers, of martyrs, and of Jesus (cf. Rev. 17:6).
In Rev. 17:7–18 John is taught the meaning of the scarlet woman and the beast he viewed in Rev. 17:1–6. As was the case with understanding the beast’s number in Rev. 13:18, so here John is reminded of the necessity of wisdom. The seven heads of the beast stand for seven mountains, or secular kings, with seven representing the comprehensive reach of the beast. While some have been tempted to try and identify these rulers, it seems the larger point here is to show that Satanic rule and persecution is worldwide in scope yet fixed in duration (cf. Rev. 17:10). The ten horns are also identified as kings, but since they have no kingdom, they may be viewed as aspects of culture over and through which evil rules. Surprisingly, Rev. 17:16–17 reports division between the woman and the beast, with the woman being destroyed, which is what the angel promised to show John.
Fall of Babylon (18:1–24)
While Rev. 17:16–17 reports enmity between Babylon and the beast, Rev. 18:1–8 records the utter devastation of Babylon in what is certainly divine judgment. Recall that Babylon represents that which tempts, seduces, and draws people away from God—namely, the world. From this chapter is seems that Babylon is not just an end-times city, but the center of worldliness, seduction, and sin in any age. The divine exhortation to leave Babylon in Rev. 18:4–5 is a call to holiness and to purity, as well as a reminder that the world has been, is being, and will be judged for sin. Rev. 18:9–19 reports the sorrowful reaction of those who had put their trust in worldly goods, for Babylon will ultimately fail to deliver on her empty promises of satisfaction. In contrast, Rev. 18:20 notes the saints’ rejoicing in heaven on account of the justice of God. Rev. 18:21–24 emphasizes the finality of God’s judgment.
Victory of Christ (19:1–21)
Rev. 19:1–10 details rejoicing in heaven over God’s final judgment of the world, specifically the enactment of God’s justice. In this passage a great multitude in heaven cry, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God (Rev. 19:1). Note that this passage is the only place in Scripture the term “alleluia” is used. The twenty-four elders, being symbolic of the twelve patriarchs and apostles, represent the redeemed from all the ages and the four living creatures likely represent all the angels (cf. Rev. 4:2–6; 5:14). At this celebration John also hears his angelic host proclaim the beginning of the marriage supper of the lamb, which is the formal unification of Jesus and the church, for all eternity. The church is seen arrayed in fine linen, which represents her righteous acts, being justified by faith alone in her husband, Jesus Christ.
At Rev. 19:11–21 John sees Jesus Christ on a white horse, as he had earlier at Rev. 6:1–2. Christ is accompanied by the armies of heaven—believers and angels (cf. Matt. 25:31), has eyes of fire, a robe dipped in the blood of His enemies, and possesses a sharp sword. Here Jesus comes not to preach the gospel, but to judge the world. Observe, Christ taught that He “did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). This is the final battle of Armageddon, the battle between God and Magog. Note, however, that there is no actual battle that occurs, just victory for Christ. As Paul taught, “The Lord will consume the lawless one with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of his coming” (2 Thess. 2:8). Here in Rev. 19:19–21 John witnesses the defeat of the kings of the earth and the capture of the beast and the false prophet. These two enemies of God, then, are cast into the lake of fire.
- How do you deal with suffering and the effects of sin in the world? Are you comforted or concerned at the thought of Jesus’ return?
- How can we explain the enmity between the woman and the beast described in Rev. 17:16–17? How can we distinguish between apostates and backsliders?
- If the world has always failed to provide meaning and lasting purpose to those who worship material goods, why does mankind continue to chase the world?
- Why do you think John was tempted to fall down before and to worship his angelic host at Rev. 19:10? Is John’s reaction seen elsewhere in Scripture?
- How important is the doctrine of God’s final judgment and victory over evil? How does the idea of God’s justice minister to you in the fallen world?