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Friday, January 21, 2011

Revelation 16-18

Revelation 16-18
As with all things in this study, I don't want to put forward a single theological perspective for everyone to just listen to and potentially accept. I want everyone to devotedly read the text and develop an appreciation for what they feel the author was trying to say to his specific audience. I just provide a very basic commentary on the passages that I think can help shed some light on understanding the potential riddles they pose, and then leave it up to the individual to divine a meaning from such.

Chapter 16
  • “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, 'Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.'” (16:1). The “bowl judgments” have started.
  • The first angel complies with this order and pours out his bowl on the earth causing “foul and painful sore[s]” to all those who had worshiped those with the mark of the beast (16:2).
    • So, while God's protection is upon the people with his mark, the beast's protection of those with his “mockery image” are not protected from God's wrath.
    • See Exodus 9:8-12 for similar afflictions. God will pour his judgment out upon his enemies, according to the author John, in a similar way that he did upon the Egyptians prior to the traditional exodus of his people.
  • The second angel pours out his bowl into the the sea, and it becomes like the blood of a corpse, and everything in the sea died (16:3).
    • Compare this with the judgment of the second trumpet (8:8-9).
  • The third angel follows suit and pours out his bowl into the rivers and springs (what would be, essentially, the only remaining sources of clean water), and they too became blood (16:4).
  • An “angel of the waters” then says, “You are just, O Holy One, who are and were, for you have judged these things; because they shed the blood of saints and prophets, you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” (16:5-6).
    • Clearly, those who are being judged with the “wrath” of these bowls is those who had persecuted the saints (6:10-11). This is a theme that keeps recurring in the book of Revelation from the very moment that these martyred saints are mentioned.
    • This idea of the angel of the “waters” implies a worldview in which certain angels preside over certain elements of the cosmos (fire in Revelation 14:18 and wind in Revelation 7:1-2; additionally this idea is enforced by/found in the pseudepigraphical book of Enoch).
  • In response to what the angel of the waters says, “the altar” responds by saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just!” (16:7)
    • You have what is said by the angels of the waters, then as a confirmation of what was said, the altar responds by affirming all that was just said as “true and just!”
  • The fourth angel pours his bowl upon the sun, and it then scorched people with fire (16:8). They were said to be scorched by the fierce heat, but they simply cursed the name of God who had brought about the plagues, rather than gave him glory (16:9).
    • Stubbornness and an unwillingness to listen to God or repent can be found throughout the Bible, but specifically in the story of Israel's enslavement at the hands of the Egyptians prior to the exodus.
  • As has been typical throughout the book of Revelation when judgments of any sort are being talked about, the first four judgments get less mention than the remaining three. The same holds true with these “bowl judgments” in that five through seven get a little more textual “time” or focus than one through four.
  • In succession, the fifth angel pours out his bowl on the “throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness; people gnawed their tongues in agony, and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, and they did not repent of their deeds.” (16:10-11).
    • Just as the kingdom of the pharaoh was plunged into darkness (Exodus 10:21-19), so is the kingdom of the beast.
  • The sixth angels pours out his bowl on the river Euphrates—a very important river of the day—and it dries up in order to prepare the way “for the the kings from the east” (16:12).
    • While the text could be making a literal reference to the Euphrates river, it's more likely that the fact the Euphrates was an important life source for many, many people was being used to imply that the source of their livelihood was being taken away.
  • Then, following the sixth bowl judgment, three foul spirits that are like frogs come from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet (16:13). They perform signs for the entire world, so that they might gather up an army to fight against God (16:14).
  • They are assembled at the place called Harmagedon in Hebrew.
    • Har Megiddo” means “The mountain of Megiddo.”
  • The seventh angel then pours his bowl into the air, and a loud voice comes from the temple and the throne, and says, “It is done!” (16:17).
  • Following this declaration from heaven, there is lighting, thunder, a violent earthquake, “the great city” was split into three parts, and the nations fell. God then pours his wrath out upon the city of Babylon (16:18-19).
Chapter 17
  • Then, one of the previously mentioned angels says to John, “'Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk.'” (17:1-2)
  • John is then transported spiritually into a wilderness area, and he sees a woman sitting on a red beast that had blasphemous names with seven heads and ten horns (17:3).
    • Compare this with the images of the dragon (12:3) and the beast from the sea (13:1). Clearly the imagery of seven heads and ten horns is something important with a specific meaning.
  • The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and was adorned with gold, jewels, and pearls. She was holding a golden cup that was full of abominations and impurities.
    • Purple was the color of royalty, and this is enforced by the great wealth that the woman is surrounded with.
    • “Abominations” are Jewish “bad things” or imperfections that cause ritual impurity.
  • On her head she has written, “Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth's abominations.” (17:5)
    • Babylon has been used throughout the Bible as a symbol for corruption, injustice, and evil. This woman is representative of all the evils and impure things before God (abominations) on the earth.
  • The woman is said to be drunk with the blood of the saints and of the witnesses (17:6).
    • See earlier for the saints (6:10-11) and for the possible witnesses it is referring to (11:7-11)
  • When John sees this woman, he is initially amazed but the angel who he is with rebukes him for his amazement (17:7). The beast she is with is described as “was, and is not, and is. . .” and is also said to be about to descend to the “bottomless pit” and to go to destruction (17:8).
    • Notice the interesting description of “was, and is not, and is” (17:8), which seems to be a parody or imperfect version of the description of God (1:4,8)
  • The identity is revealed for all who have “wisdom,” since the seven heads are said to be seven mountains on which the woman is seated. There are also seven kings, one of which has fallen, one is still living, and one is yet to come though he won't last long. (17:9-10)
    • Discerning the identity of the beast (most likely considered to be Nero because of the way gematria allows for it to be either 666 or 616) also calls for wisdom (14:18).
    • The possibility of the woman and the beast being the Roman Empire are made strongest by these verses. Rome was known as the “City of Seven Hills,” and here the seven heads are revealed to be geographical mountains, and they also stand for seven kings (emperors in the case of the Romans). I think that the message of domination and destruction on the part of the Roman Empire that John is making here is incredibly obvious.
  • The ten horns are said to be ten kings who don't yet have a kingdom, but will eventually receive authority for “one hour” along with the beast (17:12).
    • The reference to an hour is most certainly not literal hour, but is a metaphor that their reign will be short-lived.
  • They will form some sort of union, and they will make war against the Lamb. The lamb will conquer them because he is powerful and distinguished, and his followers are called faithful. (17:13-14)
  • Then, John is told by the angel that the waters he had seen earlier were representative of nations, peoples, and languages. (17:15)
    • While the prospect of this being the Roman Empire, though with a large amount of modern scholasticism behind it, is speculative, one must remember just how expansive the Roman Empire was and how the Jewish Christian author John clearly viewed it.
  • The ten horns seem to hate the whore, and will strip her of her jewels and adornment, and will eventually destroy her (17:16)
    • John sees the destruction of the Roman Empire, and the end to its lavishly wealthy ways of living, in addition to its “blasphemous” religion.
  • God had put it into the hearts of the “ten horns” to do his will and to give their kingdoms over to the beast until God's word was brought to fulfillment (17:17). There is a shift of power from the woman/whore to the beast.
  • The woman is, finally, said to be “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
    • It's finally revealed that the woman is symbolic for a city. So, we know that the woman is a city who is seated on seven hills. What could this possibly be? The city of Rome? One would logically deduce such given the context of the text and its audience.
Chapter 18
  • After all this had been shown to John, another angel comes down from heaven with authority. The earth is said to be illuminated because of the splendor of this angel. He cries out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” (18:1-2)
    • What follows is a narrative about how corrupt 'Babylon' had become (18:2), and how she had deceived various nations (18:3). She is said to be powerful and luxurious.
  • Then another voices comes from heaven saying, “'Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins. . . for her sins are heaped high as heaven. . . and repay her double for her deeds. . . she glorified herself and lived luxuriously. . . for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.'” (18:4-8)
    • A warning is given to all the people of God to flee from the evil and wicked ways of Babylon because God has remember all her sins and her time of judgment is approaching.
  • When the kings of the earth who had sided with her (Babylon as mentioned earlier), they will grow sad when they see her destroyed from God's judgments. They will stand far away in fear, and cry out about her destruction (18:9-10).
  • Not only are the kings weeping, but the merchants and traders are sad because there is no one who wants to purchase their expensive, lavish wares anymore (18:11-14). These merchants, like the kings before them, will stand in awe and fear of Babylon's fall (18:15-16).
    • Assuming that Babylon is representative of an empire, the destruction of such would bring about economic crisis and where people once had the money to purchase expensive items, they would no longer have a market any longer.
  • After the kings and merchants have expressed their sorrow, so will the men of the sea—sailors, shipmasters, seafarers, etc—also express their sorrow that such a great and powerful city has fallen, and their potential markets have also disappeared (18:17-19).
  • Following these three laments, an angel takes up a millstone and throws it into the sea saying that the violent, great city of Babylon will be thrown down just like the stone for her evil practices in the sight of God (18:21-23).
  • She is destroyed for her deceit of the nations, as well as for blood of the saints and prophets that was on her hands, as well as all those who were slaughtered on the earth (18:24).
    • See Revelation 6:10-12 for the saints.
That concludes chapters sixteen through eighteen, and what we've started to see here is the redemption of God's people from the oppressive forces they are experiencing upon the earth. Stark injustices have been committed on the behalf of the empire over these early Christians, and inequality is rampant. John gives a message of hope and perseverance through the vindication of God in all this.


  1. Greeting Prophecy fan;

    “Q: (L) What is the meaning of the number 666 in the book of Revelation?
    A: Visa.

    Q: (L) You mean as in credit card?
    A: Yes.

    Q: (L) Are credit cards the work of what 666 represents?
    A: Yes. VI is 6 in Roman Numerals. S was 6 in ancient Egypt. A was 6 in Sanskrit. VISA, see, is 666. Interesting that to travel for extended periods one needs a “visa” also, yes?

    Q: (L) The other parts of chapter 13... Verse one says, “I stood on the sandy beach I saw a beast coming up out of the sea with ten horns and seven heads. On his horns he had ten royal crowns and blasphemous titles on his heads...” What does this verse mean?
    A: Many meanings. Monetary control. 10 represents universal control of whole units of value.

    Q: (L) So, the ten horns represent units of value, so we are talking about money here. What are the blasphemous titles on his heads?
    A: In God we trust.

    Q: (L) “And the beast that I saw resembled a leopard...”
    A: New World Order."

    The very best to you on your journey of discovery,

    Travis @

  2. Travis,

    Thanks for the comment, and I would like to start off by saying that I absolutely welcome and cherish diversity of thought, I feel that I have to respectfully disagree with your take on the matter.

    What is the meaning of the number 666 (or as other manuscripts suggest 616)? Revelation 13:18 specifically says that it is a "man" or a "person" so I would have to assume that the number is some sort of symbol or code word for an individual, and not for a sort of means of monetary exchange like Visa. Additionally, in order to get Visa to equal 666, you have to do some serious sketchy searching and combine things from Roman, Egyptian, and Sanskrit languages, cultures, and traditions. That seems a bit farfetched to me. Revelation says that it will take "wisdom" or "discernment" to calculate and understand the number of the beast, but I think that's a bit too much discernment.

    Additionally, the book of Revelation never makes clear what the beast(s) mentioned in Revelation 13 are talking about. However, the beast in Revelation 17 is revealed to be a geographical location composed of seven hills, and the ten horns are ten kings. While it's not necessarily possible to do straightforward deduction of what the beast in Revelation 13 is, I think you can use the beast in Revelation 17 to come to the conclusion that John was making a political comment (as he does throughout the vast majority of his apocalypse) about the Roman Empire he clearly had a strong distaste for.

    Again, thanks for the comment, but I tend to view things less speculatively than that and prefer to examine the text as a work of literature conveying a specific point the author was making. John was a Jewish Christian who had an especial distaste for what he saw as an oppressive Roman Empire and "comfortable Christianity."


    Best of luck,