EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and acclaimed biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
In heaven, John watches an incredibly significant event. Seven angels stand with the seven plagues of the fullness of God’s wrath in their hands. A sea like sparkling glass mixed with fire is under the feet of those who have overcome the Beast, the idol, and the mark of the Beast’s name. In their hands are the harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, God’s servant, and the song of the Lamb:
Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest. (15:1–4)
The seven “bowls” (also “vessels,” “vials,” or “plagues”) are the final set of the series of seven judgments. They bring the wrath of God to its completion. Unlike the series before the bowls, this one occurs in rapid succession, and though scholars are not in agreement whether the saints have been present for the other judgment series, it is clear in the immediate context that the bowls are meant for only the Beast’s people. (This fact, along with the statement that these bowls are “the last” judgments [15:1], supports the idea that the judgments are separate, not overlapped or told from another angle, as many scholars think.) Because we have already reviewed scholars’ notes about the former judgments, and those explanations can apply here, we will not offer any additional thoughts on what they might describe. As you read, keep the ten plagues of Egypt in mind, especially after the redeemed in heaven sing the song of Moses:
God’s Temple in heaven is thrown open, and the seven angels holding the seven plagues emerge wearing white robes with gold sashes. One of the four living creatures presents each angel with a bowl that is filled with the wrath of God. The Temple is filled with smoke from God’s glory, and no one is allowed to enter the Temple until the angels are finished pouring out the bowls. A mighty, commanding voice tells the angels to pour the wrath out upon the earth. The first angel pours upon the earth, and painful, blistering boils appear on the bodies of those who had the mark of the Beast and who worshipped his idol. The second angel pours wrath upon the sea, the waters turn to blood, and every living thing in the sea dies. The third angel pours wrath upon rivers and springs, and they turn to blood. The angel of the waters acknowledges the righteousness of God in this act, saying that those who have shed the blood of the saints and prophets are now given blood to drink as their reward. A voice from the altar also acknowledges that the Almighty is just in His judgment. The fourth angel pours wrath upon the sun, which then scorches everyone upon the earth with its fire. Still, no one repents, and those who are burned curse the Name of God. The fifth angel pours wrath upon the Beast’s throne, and the kingdom of the Beast is covered in darkness. Still, no one repents, and the Beast’s disciples gnash their teeth at God, again cursing Him for their pain and sores. The sixth angel pours wrath upon the Euphrates River, and it dries up, removing the obstacle between the kings of the east and their destination to the west (where the battle of Armageddon will take place; more on this shortly). Three evil spirits that look like frogs leap from the mouths of the dragon, the Beast, and the false prophet. These are the demonic spirits who will carry out miracles to gather the kings of the world together in a final battle against Christ on Judgment Day (16:1–14).
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John breaks from his vision long enough to warn the people of God and his readers to remain alert: “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame” (16:15).
The demons gather all the kings and their armies to a place that in Hebrew is called “Armageddon.” The seventh angel pours wrath into the air, and a powerful voice from the throne in the Temple shouts “It is finished!” Lightning flashes, thunder rolls, and an earthquake greater than all the others in world history strikes the earth. Babylon splits into three, and countless cities that were once great fall into ruin. God remembers the many sins of Babylon and makes her drink His cup of wrath. All islands disappear and all mountains fade away (we believe this means they are leveled to the ground). A horrible storm brings hailstones weighing a talent (seventy-five pounds) each, which fall on the people, who once again curse God as a result (16:16–21).
The Great Prostitute and the Fall of Babylon (Revelation 17:1–19:5)
After the pouring out of the bowls, one of the bowl angels comes to John and tells him that he wants to show him how the judgment against Babylon will come. The words from the angel are, “Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters. With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (17:1–2).
This is language of something that will happen in the future, but we’ve already seen in verses 16:17–21 that Babylon had fallen back. At first, this appears to throw off the timing, but remember that all of these events are in the future as it pertains to us, today, so these elaborations should not be interpreted to show that Babylon falls twice (a nonsensical and confusing conclusion). To reiterate: Babylon falls in chapter 16, and then chapter 17–18 stop to show a parenthetical enlargement—more detail on how it “happened”—even though, in the bigger picture, none of this has happened yet, and it won’t until the end.
With that in mind, we now approach the moment that the “great city” is compared to the “great prostitute” (or “harlot”; “whore”), who sits upon the back of the Beast. Across almost all interpretational methodologies, almost every scholar identifies this prostitute as either the false religion of the end times or the evil world system of the end times. In many of our previous books, we’ve written at length about why we support the former of these two realities. Whereas it is true that both false religion and politics of the worldly system will be paramount in Revelation (and in some ways, they are inseparable), biblical language involving spiritual prostitution and infidelity throughout the Old and New Testaments always, in similar contexts as this scene, point to false religion permeating the world. Let’s take a look at how this plays out for John, and you will see what we mean when we say that, although false religion and the wicked world system are distinct, they intersect (explaining why both the prostitute and the wicked city are both called “Babylon”):
The angel carries John away in the Spirit, to the wilderness, and he sees a woman sitting on top of a scarlet Beast with seven heads and ten horns and covered in blasphemous writings. The woman is dressed in purple and scarlet clothes, along with gold jewelry covered in jewels and pearls. In her hand is a golden cup filled with her immorality and abominations. On her forehead is the name “Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth.” The prostitute is drunk on the blood of Christ’s saints. John stares at her in shock. The angel asks why John is amazed (a rhetorical question), then tells him the mystery of this prostitute and the Beast upon which she sits: The beast John sees was once alive but is now dead. Those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be amazed at the reappearance of the Beast. Wisdom is needed for the mind here: The seven heads are seven mountains (or hills) upon which the woman sits, and there are seven kings—five are fallen, the sixth is in power now, and the seventh has not yet come, but when he does, his reign will be for only a short time. The scarlet Beast that was alive and is now dead is the eighth king who, like the other seven, is headed for disaster. The ten horns are kings who have not yet come to power. They will reign alongside the Beast for a brief time, but they will give him all of their authority. Together, they will all wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will be victorious because He is the King of kings, and His faithful saints will be with Him. The waters over and upon where the prostitute sits are people of all tribes, nations, and languages. The Beast and his horns all loathe the prostitute, so they will strip her naked, eat her, and burn her remains in fire. God has put a plan in their thoughts that actually carries out His mission and purpose. And this prostitute is the great city that rules over the whole world (chapter 17).
This prostitute character is initially in charge of the Beast. Rome has always been the “city of seven hills,” which appears to be what the angel is referring to. If this wildly popular interpretation is correct, it indicates that the false religion (prostitute) of the end times will originate from, and rule over, Rome, where the Vatican is located. Since the “waters” she sits on represent all people, we see that false religions—clearly associated with the Babylonian system (and maybe even literally, considering that Babylonian mystery cults are still alive and well today)—will influence all whose names are not written in the Book of Life.
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Though we’re not sure of the exact timing (some scholars say the middle of the Tribulation, and others claim it’s near the end of that seven-year stretch), at a certain point in their relationship, the Beast devours the prostitute: Antichrist will no longer have need for religion after he’s gotten the power he’s after and controls the earth’s politics, because he will call to ruination all world religions and set himself up as the only “deity” worthy of worship. “Religion” will no longer exist outside the worship of the Beast, his false prophet, and the mark that reflects the number of his name, and the ten-nation coalition will support this, resulting in Antichrist’s supreme, universal domination. With the prostitute Babylon gone (the religious side), we see a focus shift from her to commercial Babylon (the political side), also personified as a “she” by the same name:
After these visions is another in which an authoritative angel comes down from heaven, and the earth lights up because of his glory. He shouts mightily, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen!” The angel continues his announcement: Babylon has become the habitation of devils, and of every foul spirit—a cage that imprisons every unclean and hateful vulture. For all the nations have drunken from the wine of her immorality and fornication, the kings of earth have committed adultery with her, and the businessmen of the world have become rich through the abundance of her luxury (18:1–3).
Another voice comes down from heaven warning God’s people to steer clear of having anything to do with Babylon and to refuse to participate in her iniquity, lest they be punished with the plagues alongside her. Her sins have reached the heavens and God remembers what she has done. She should be rewarded in the way she has rewarded others: a double penalty for her wicked works, placed in the very cup she drinks from. She has glorified herself, living in delicious luxury, and she is now to be given torment and sorrow, because in her heart, she told herself she was a queen, not like a widow, and she would never experience sorrow. Her plagues will therefore come to her rapidly: death, mourning, and famine—then she will be burned with fire, because the Lord who judges her is strong (18:4–8).
The kings of the earth who have committed adultery with her and participated in her luxury will mourn for her when they see the smoke rising from her corpse. They will stand a way off, afraid of her torment, crying about the loss of the great and mighty city, Babylon, remembering that God’s judgment upon her had come swiftly. The businessmen of the earth weep over her, because nobody will buy their wares anymore. She, (commercial) Babylon, had stood for the purchase of things such as gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls; fine linen of and purple, silk, and scarlet; all sorts of goods and vessels made from expensive thyine wood, ivory, precious wood, brass, iron, and marble; costly cinnamon, fragrances, ointments, and frankincense; the fanciest of foods like wine, oil, fine flour, and wheat; and the most impressive livestock, sheep, horses, and chariots. She had surrounded herself with slaves, and bought the souls of men. Those who had loved her now see that the fruits her soul lusted for are now gone—all the delicacies and lovely things she had are gone from her forever. The businessmen who sold these things, the ones who became rich because of her, will stand a distance from her now, afraid of her torment, weeping, and wailing. They will remember the great city that was once clothed in fine linens of purple and scarlet, covered in gold, gemstones, and pearls, for in only a short time, all those amazing riches amounted to nothing. Every boatman, all the ships on the water, the sailors, and every tradesman of the see will keep a distance, crying when they see the smoke of the burning city, finding no comparison to her. They will throw dust on their heads in mourning, weeping and wailing for the city they’ve lost, where they were once made rich through the trade by sea, because so quickly it has all been made desolate. But heaven, along with its holy apostles and prophets, rejoice over her demise, because God has avenged them (18:9–20).
A mighty angel takes a giant stone, like a big millstone, and throws it into the sea, saying that the great city, Babylon, will be thrown down forever, never to be seen again. The angel’s pronouncement of God’s justice continues: No more will the voices or instruments of bards, musicians, pipers, or trumpeters be heard in her city; no craftsmen, regardless of his trade, will work any longer in her; the sounds of industry will be heard no more in her; no candle will shine in her again; the levity of brides and bridegrooms will be heard no more at all in her. Babylon’s businessmen had been great and influential men of the earth, and all nations had been deceived by their sorcery. Her streets had flowed with the blood of prophets, saints, and of people all over the world (18:21–24).
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As we have seen, both sides (religion and politics) are called “Babylon,” and, as we stated earlier, they are somewhat inseparable. John’s vision shows that as they grew together, they fall together. We won’t know exactly how closely these two distinct yet overlapping “Babylons” will die out, but if the seven-year Tribulation timeline is literal (and it may or may not be, since “seven” means “complete”), they will rise and fall in less time than it takes for an American president to serve a double tenure. Most premillennialist scholars believe the “prostitute” will “ride the Beast” for the first three and a half years, meaning the Antichrist will use her false sense of religious harmony between all divergent people groups on the earth to support his political purposes. Sometime early on, he becomes the answer man for every beautiful thing humanity has wanted from the beginning of time: unity. Then, midway through the Tribulation, these scholars assert, he ditches religion because he has already instituted his power to the point that only death awaits those who oppose him. For a while, he reigns over all the world, but one day, as Scripture teaches, his political system, like the prostitute he used and destroyed, will be abolished. The reaction from heaven when both “Babylons” are through, is a glorious one.
John hears a multitude in heaven shouting praises to the Lord of glory, salvation, and power, whose judgments are just and true. He has punished the great harlot who polluted the world with her immorality and deviance, avenging the blood of saints (19:1–2).
Again, the multitude shouts praises to the Lord for also striking down that city Babylon, the smoke of its ruin rising forever. The twenty-four elders and four living creatures fall down in worship of the Lord on the throne (19:3–4).
A voice from the throne then says, “Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great!” (19:5).
As many scholars point out, this voice from the throne in verse 5 may actually be the voice of Christ. Psalm 22:22–23 prophesied of a day when Jesus would lead a chorus of praise: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.” Hebrews 2:12 also prophesied that Jesus would say: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee!” Because of the context of Antichrist’s world government now being only a memory in smoke and ashes, and Jesus’ presence on the throne, He could be the One who says, “Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great!”
UP NEXT: Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6–10)