Revelation 17 and 18. Money, power and ideals

In chapters 17 & 18 of Revelation there are allusions to many empires: Rome, Persia, Babylon, Greece and perhaps more. As we have seen before (e.g. 11:8), this is how this genre of visionary writing expresses general truths that are pertinent to all times and places. The challenge in understanding our own time is to work out not only what kind of church we are (chapters 2 & 3) but what kind of system we are living under [Notes]

Michael Flynn

For further thought

According to the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, there are three systems in our world that are influenced by the Dragon/The Devil/The Satan/That Ancient Serpent (Chapter 12). They are: 

  1. The beast of the sea (Chapters 13 & 17) which represents the tendency of governments to worship and service the political/military system instead of serving the creator’s values.
  2. The beast of the land, also known as the false prophet (Chapters 13 & 16) which represents false religion, false ideology and philosophy or propaganda that is used to justify the political/military system and keep the peoples under control. 
  3. The harlot Babylon which represents the tendency of the economic systems of our world to become self-serving, to support an indulgent and godless culture which is, in turn, supported by the political/military system and the ideals that justify it. Babylon not only rides on the back of military violence (17:7) but rides on nations and multitudes (17:15) to gain and justify her greed. Babylon’s role is to seduce the leaders of nations, through the pursuit of wealth, into giving up on whatever knowledge of God and his justice they may have (17:18). To worship the creature rather than the creator.

The background of Babylon takes us all the way back to Genesis 4 where the murderer, Cain, builds the first city (in defiance of the curse God laid upon him). In Cain’s line, technology and culture grows with depravity. In Genesis 11 another city is being built to challenge God, to establish a humanist society, to build God out of his world. Though there is humour, or better, sarcasm in the chapter (God has to ‘come down’ to see the tower that reaches into his heavens) nevertheless, Babel becomes a symbol of organised godlessness which God himself limits. The tower of Babel was built on the plains of a later empire – Babylon. Babylon, in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, is the conqueror of Jerusalem, the empire that stops the worship of the true God (they destroyed the temple in 587/6 BC) and the one who scatters God’s people into exile. Babylon is the place of exile in all the major prophets. In the New Testament the people of God are still said to be in exile. We still live in Babylon (e.g. James 1:1)

In chapters 17 & 18 of Revelation there are allusions to many empires: Rome, Persia, Babylon, Greece and perhaps more. As we have seen before (e.g. 11:8), this is how this genre of visionary writing expresses general truths that are pertinent to all times and places.

Q: Thinking of more recent political history, in what way are the tyrannies and indulgences of the last two centuries described in these chapters?

Q: There is an uneasy relationship between the beast of the sea and Babylon and a love-hate relationship between the seduced Kings and the Whore. When do we see the economic system and political/military systems at odds with each other?

Q: Why do some say that Christianity is only a resource for our private lives and has nothing to say about national priorities, military policy or social issues?

Q: Why is Babylon called a prostitute?

Q: Do we do economics for economics sake? Is the economy (our ability to buy and sell) the chief political concern of Australian politics? What is useful and what is damaging about our preoccupation?

Q: Why does heaven rejoice at the fall of Babylon? Given this chapter, what would you say to people who argue that because it would be unbearable for the saved to see people in hell – therefore hell does not exist?

The fall of Babylon – Revelation 17 & 18 (talk outline)

The prostitute Babylon

Babel – building God out of his world (Genesis 11)

Babylon – the destroyer of God’s people

Babylon – the destroyer of the worship of God

Babylon – the place of exile of God’s people

Babylon – will fall…the end of temptation

The economic system and the military/political system

The love/hate relationship between power and wealth

The final global financial crisis

Don’t be seduced…’Come out of her my people’

Aside: The Millennium (Chapter 20)

This is only one place in the Bible that mentions a thousand-year reign of God’s people over Satan’s influences. The passage has been interpreted in various ways throughout church history but has been controversial since Protestants saw in this passage the overthrow of Roman Catholicism. For some – the dragon, beast, false prophet, harlot and anti-Christ all in one! The end of Roman Catholicism, it was thought, would lead to an improvement of the world situation and the triumphal spread of (Protestant) Christianity. This theological idea was used to justify many things from the courageous missionary endeavours of the 19th century, to the emancipation of slaves, to pushing forward with the discoveries of science, to wars against American Indians, the French and the Spanish; to American optimism that in their republic was the dawning of the millennium (20:6). 

It is odd in a book where numbers are used symbolically that some would think that a literal meaning for 1000 years will make sense of this passage. After all, we have encountered the 1000 symbol in chapter 7, where 12X12X1000 = the full number of God’s people. Using that symbolism, the millennium in chapter 20 would represent the full time of the martyr’s reign in 20:4. This works well with chapter 6 where we were taught that the 1000-year reign is the reign of the martyrs under the altar of heaven during this current age. Chapter 20:9 tells us that the 1000-year reign is not the new creation of chapter 21 rather, 20:7-10 implies this chapter is another perspective on the rebellion depicted in 19:17-21. In short, the 1000-year reign is now. The age of the church is part of the frustration and defeat of Satan.

The three major views of the millennium are:

The pessimist’s view – Premillennialism

Christ’s return is followed by a 1000-year reign on earth, then rebellion, and then the final judgement.

This view was popular with some in the early church up through the middle ages – things will get more difficult on the earth until the return of Christ.

The optimist’s view – Postmillennialism

The world improves as the church gains power, the saints reign for a long time, and then Christ returns.

This view was popular with Protestants, especially Puritans, who saw in the upheavals starting in the 16th Century signs of the end of the age. When this was combined with the optimism springing from the advances of science and politics it led to the view that all things were changing for the better.

The realist’s view – Amillennialism

The book of Revelation does not recount consecutive events, but the same time variously described, until the final judgement in 20:11-15.

This view, most clearly expounded by Augustine of Hippo, sees Satan as bound by the cross of Christ and that the thousand-year reign of the martyrs is yet another angle on this current age.