CHAPTER 17, 18, AND 19 OF THE REVELATION
(Notes Compiled by F. M. Perry)
A Part of Division II, The Underlying Conflict, The Spiritual Background (continued).
Section 6, Chapters 17 -19, The Fall of the Great Harlot and the Beasts.
An Overall View.
Thus far in the Book of Revelation five enemies of Christ have been revealed.
(1) The dragon, who is clearly identified as Satan, the devil. He is behind all evil.
(2) The beast which rose up out of the sea, which symbolizes civil governments which oppose Christianity.
(3) The beast which rose up out of the earth, which symbolizes corrupt religions of the world. This beast is also called the false prophet.
(4) Babylon, which appears to be a product of the cooperation of the sea beast and the land beast. Babylon is shown in another symbol in chapter 17 as a woman, a great harlot, who rides on the back of the sea beast.
(5) And finally, all the people who have the mark of the beast. These are the people of the world throughout the Christian dispensation who follow the beasts and the harlot and who refuse to repent and turn to God.
In the 15th and 16th chapters the visions have shown how God's wrath falls on the people who have the mark of the beast (16:2). Now in chapters 17, 18, and 19 the visions show what finally happens to the harlot (or Babylon), to the sea beast, and to the land beast (or the false prophet). The fate of the dragon, Satan himself, is not shown until chapter 20. Thus Revelation reveals in a very organized way the "mystery of iniquity" (2nd Thess. 2:7), that is, how God deals with sin and lawlessness and how God even uses the forces of evil themselves to complete His purposes.
In chapters 17, 18, and 19 the history of the entire Christian dispensation is revealed again for the sixth time. Each time this history has been revealed, the visions have shown more and more of the spiritual basis and background of invisible things which go on about us in the world. And each section reveals more about the 2nd coming of our Lord and the final judgement.
In chapter 17 the nature and history of the great harlot, Babylon, is described. Chapter 18 describes the complete and final fall of the harlot, Babylon, Chapter 19 describes the rejoicing in heaven that takes place because of the fall of the harlot, and because of the marriage of the Lamb to His true and pure bride Finally, also in chapter 19, the vision shows the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, riding forth from heaven on a white horse with the armies of heaven following Him on white horses. Then is seen the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against the Rider on the white horse and His army. But no battle takes place! The beast and the false prophet are simply seized and thrown alive into the lake of fire, and the armies of the beast are killed by the sword which comes from the mouth of the Rider on the white horse.
In these chapters two figurative women are in view. Chapters 17 and 18 deal primarily with "a woman sitting on a scarlet beast". This woman is said to be "the great harlot", and she is also called "Mystery Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth." In chapter 18 she is overthrown and wiped out. It is said that "in her was found the blood of the prophets and of the saints and of all who have been slain on the earth."
Chapter 19 speaks of the second woman, the "bride of the Lamb", and the "marriage" of the Lamb to the bride. The bride is clothed in fine linen and the fine linen is said to be the righteous acts of the saints. The marriage of the Lamb takes place and the marriage supper of the Lamb is held in chapter 19.
These three chapters, then, present a contrast between the true bride of the Lamb and the harlot who tries to make herself appear as the bride. Both of the figurative women are clearly associated with the people of the earth and with God's elect people, the saints. The harlot is "drunk with the blood of the saints" whom she has killed. The true bride is clothed in the "righteous acts of the saints."
Another aspect of the contrast is seen in the harlot also being symbolized as a city, the evil city of Babylon. The true bride of the Lamb is symbolized in chapters 21:2 also as a city, the "holy city, new Jerusalem." The contrast is shown in terms of figurative cities. The women and the cities are symbols. What are their meanings in lives of people on earth today?
A clue to what these symbols mean is given in that the two figures have to do with the people of the earth. People of all nations "have drunk of the wine of the passion of the immorality" of the harlot. God's people are told to "come out of her (out of the harlot) ... that you may not participate in her sins" (18:34).then God's people are seen associated with the true bride in that her clothing is their righteous acts. Therefore the true bride is a symbol of God's people. The Lamb, of course, is a symbol for Christ. God's people on earth during these last days of history are people who have given themselves to Christ and are betrothed to Him. During these days on earth, the bride is making herself ready. The symbolic scene in chapter 19 is of the future time when the preparation of the bride is complete and the marriage tales place in heaven.
The harlot is surely symbolic of the apostate church, assemblies of people posing as those who are betrothed to Christ but actually are those who worship the beast, who, in turn, is manipulated by Satan himself.
Because of the contrast presented in these chapters, it appears that the harlot in present day history is associated particularly and specifically with the world of so-called Christianity. The woman symbolized apostate Christianity primarily, rather than other forms of false religion. In chapters 17 and 18 the harlot, the great Babylon, does not include all the evil people of the world. Actually her fall is to be brought about by other evil forces. The ten horns of the beast and the beast himself will come to hate the harlot " and will eat her flesh and burn her up with fire." Why will they turn against the harlot? "For God has put it in their hearts (that is, into the hearts of the people represented by the beast) to execute His purpose by having a common purpose." (17:17). It is the purpose of God, of course, that the harlot be defeated and wiped out. Here it is revealed that God uses the very forces of evil that are associated with the harlot, to destroy her. In chapter 18, when the harlot is destroyed, there still will be many evil forces abroad in the world watching and contributing to her demise.
A. Chapter 17, The Great Harlot Babylon Which Reigns Over the Kings of the Earth.
"(1) And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, 'Come here, I shall show you the judgement of the great harlot who sits on many waters, (2) with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.' (3) And he carried me away in the spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. (4) And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of unclean things of her immorality, (5) and upon her forehead a name was written, a mystery, 'BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.' (6) And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. And when I saw her I wondered greatly. ( 7) And the angel said to me, 'Why do you wonder? I shall tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast who carries her, which has seven heads and ten horns. (8) ' The beast you saw was and is not, and is about to come out of the abyss and to go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (9) 'Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, (10) 'and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. (11) 'And the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. (12) 'And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, who had not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. (13) 'These have one purpose and they give their power and authority to the beast. (14) 'These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them,. because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.' (15) And he said to me, 'The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. (16) 'And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. (17) 'For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast until the words of God should be fulfilled. (18) 'And the woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.'" NASV.
In verse 1 "one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came out and spoke with John." This identifies this vision with the previous vision of the seven bowls of God's wrath. This leads to the conclusion that what was revealed in this vision of chapters 17 and 18 is a playback of the historical judgements and wrath of God that was in chapter 16. But with an elaboration and specific attention to the judgement of a sector of the world symbolized by "the great harlot who sits on many waters."
The word "harlot" was used in the Old Testament a number of places to describe God's people gone astray (for instance in Isaiah 1:21 and Jeremiah 2:20,31), those once joined to God in covenant relationship with Him, but who had broken their marriage vow of faithfulness. Thus a similar meaning for the term "harlot" here in the New Testament is suggested. The term "harlot": symbolizes covenant people gone astray in this age of the church.
The picture of the harlot sitting on many waters indicates the harlot has much influence upon the peoples of the whole world.
Verse 2 speaks of the harlot's fornication with the kings of the earth and the people of the earth. This illustrates an illegitimate and sinful union of the church and state as one of the principle sins of the harlot.
In verse 3 John himself was carried away into a wilderness. John's state "in the spirit" referred to his being "in spirit" rather than "in body" or "in the flesh". In all these visions John was associated with the Holy Spirit of God and Christ, but the reference to being "carried away in the spirit" probably does not mean that he was carried away in the Holy Spirit. Rather it had to do with John's personal state. He was "in spirit" as were the spiritual beings who are invisible to the senses of the flesh. He was not "in the flesh" as people are as they ;live on earth, but "changed" into a spiritual being for his trip into the wilderness of the vision.
John was "in the spirit" and it was because he was "in the spirit" that he could be "carried away" to see spiritual visions. It seems to me that the visions o9f Revelations were given to John for much the same reason that parables were spoken and taught by Jesus. Jesus said, "I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matt. 13:13). Jesus praised God that God "didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes." (Matt. 11:25). So it is with the symbolic visions of the Revelation. It is not a book for the world, but for those who have been given spiritual discernment.
So John's vision showed John himself being carried away into a wilderness and reminding us that the Israelites were led through a wilderness, and informing us that God's church today is led through the wilderness of this world. In this wilderness there is the temptation for God's people to abandon the true bride of Christ and become one with the great harlot. The woman, the harlot, was "sitting"on a beast with seven heads and ten horns. That beast with seven heads and ten horns was the sea beast of chapter 13:1. So the woman must be identified with the forces of evil supported, at least for a while, by the sea beast.
In verse 4 the vision shows how lavishly the woman is arrayed. The purple and scarlet, and the gold and pearls and precious stones indicate vulgar wealth lavished upon her. Brother Coffman says that extreme riches is an outstanding mark of the apostate church this very day, which is richer by far than an human government, even including the USA.
The "golden cup" which the woman held, enticing her to drink, is symbolic of the unlawful practices and teachings of the apostate church.
One of the names worn on the forehead of the harlot was "Mystery Babylon the Great". My translation separates the word "mystery" from the word "Babylon". Brother Coffman says this is an inaccurate translation. The name actually was "Mystery Babylon the Great", with all the words a part of the name. "Mystery Babylon" was not just" Babylon", he said. This woman was Babylon in a different and extended sense from the Babylon of the Old Testament days. Plummer says the mystery part of this Babylon was "the worldly portion of the church, though nominally Christian, was in reality identical with the world and was openly antagonistic to God. Her other name,. ":the mother of harlots", indicates that she set a religious style that was copied throughout history. The harlot herself was one grand example of which there was to be other similar examples.
In verse 6 the mention of the blood of saints and blood of the martyrs of Jesus remind one of the "inquisition" which happened during the Middle Ages when an apostate church, riding in control of governments of the world, killed an estimated fifty million people. Far worse than the killing of the bodies of people was the leading of countless millions of people to spiritual death. It continues to this day.
John was astonished by this revelation about the woman. Revelation says, he "wondered with great wonder." Another translation says, "he wondered with great admiration". The most logical explanation of this is that John was surprised to learn that God's church was going to become so corrupt as to be like a harlot drunk on the blood of God's saints. Indeed, the apostate church is a source of admiration to the world. The precepts of the apostate church are the very foundation of the world's commerce, business, and trade. Art, music, architecture and culture of the whole western civilization are, in large measure, the achievement of the harlot church. The so-called Christianity which is universally recognized by the world is that of the apostate church, not the Lord's true church.
In verse 7 the angel asked John, "Why do you wonder?" It appears likely that John was astonished to learn that a portion of the church would become one with the hostile world. Yet the prophecy here in Revelation, that the L:ord's church would play the harlot, is but a repeat of what Jeremiah prophesied of God's people of Judah and Israel in Jeremiah chapters 2 and 3.
The angel then proceeded to reveal to John the mystery of this woman.
In verse 8 the angel said, "The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss." This reminds us of chapter 13:3 concerning the sea beast, when John said, "And I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain,. And his fatal wound was healed." Brother Coffman suggests that this woman, the harlot, is that "healed head" once smitten to death. As was said before during the discussion of chapter 13, pagan Rome of the first two or three centuries after Christ was likely the sixth head of the beast. The sixth head was apparently slain when Rome was conquered in 476 AD. That would have been the end to the persecuting Roman civil government. However, it was not the end, for the head was apparently healed as its place was taken by a religious government which influenced the whole world. That religious government was the woman who is described in the vision of chapter 17. The woman, the harlot, was the replacement for the sixth head of the beast. The great harlot succeeded the persecuting empire of pagan Rome ion the form of the persecuting power of so-called "Christian" Rome.
James Burton Coffman suggests that this explains what was meant back in chapter 13 where the land beast was said to make an image of the first beast. The land beast is now portrayed in chapter 17 as the woman, who made an image of the first breast by becoming herself that image, by becoming "Christian" Rome.
The phrase, "those who dwell in the earth", refers to the unregenerate evil world as opposed to the Christians of the world. These "who dwell on earth" were further described as those "whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world." They are the people who do not have salvation. And they wonder also, as John wondered, when they saw the woman, the harlot, rise to power. It all seemed marvelous and wonderful to the world to see this religious/governmental organization rise to power.
Verse 9 indicates that it takes wisdom to understand what this vision means. There is no easy interpretation. Most everyone understands that Rome has always been represented by seven hills. But wisdom dictates that the city of Rome is not the full meaning of the "seven mountains" of verse 9. The seven heads are called seven mountains. In verse 10 they are also called seven kings. So, heads, mountains, kings ... they all symbolize the same thing. The city of Rome did indeed sit on seven hills; the pagan Roman Empire had its seat of government in Rome and was undoubtedly the sixth head of the beast, the sixth mountain, the sixth king. The meaning of this vision is not limited to mere hills or mountains. Carpenter says, "Rome dwells on her seven hills, but the great harlot sits among the great empires that have arisen, like mountains, in the history of the world.
Verse 10 says that five of these heads, or mountains, or kings, have fallen. Almost all historians and Bible scholars agree that the five anti-God empires which had fallen at the time of the first century were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The "one who is" in the first century was, of course, the Roman Empire.
The seventh had not come in the first century, "and when he comes, he must remain for a little while," verse 10 says. He will not come until the pagan Roman Empire has fallen, is intimated here in verse 10. The "little while" that he must remain undoubtedly refers to the most of the Christian dispensation including the present age in which we live. The entire gospel age is but a "little while."
The recounting of the first five heads sets everything in context. God is all powerful and in control of this world at all times. By the first century God had already dealt with five evil world empires which, in turn, in their times, seemed invincible. The first and second century readers of the Revelation could take comfort in knowing that the evil Roman Empire under which they lived would fall under the wrath of God. Christians today can take comfort in knowing that the land beast who grew out of the sixth head to become a seventh head, or seventh mountain, or seventh king, will be allowed to exist only a limited time and then will fall under the judgement of God. Christians today are in the "last days" as the Bible indicates in many places. The seventh head reigns. Six have already been dealt with by God.
Verse 11 says, "the beast which was and is not, is also an eighth, and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction." Apparently this means that a major example of the seventh symbolic head is such that it may be called an eighth head. That one is most likely "the great Harlot, Babylon the great". It is an example of the seventh head that exists on this earth alongside many other examples of the seventh head. The great Harlot, the eighth head, is corrupted Christianity, allowed to exist here on earth a "little while" alongside the other examples of the seventh head, the land beast which is symbolic of such religions as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and eve Atheism.
The ten horns, or ten kings of verse 12 are governments of the world, which exist during the Christian dispensation. They exist alongside the seventh head of the beast and alongside the great Harlot. The number tern is a symbolic number standing for an indefinite multiplicity of world governments for which it would be fruitless to try to specifically identify. A guess might be hazarded that in the present period of history, the Soviet Union (now defunct) and the Peoples Republic of China are typical of godless states which fall under the symbolism of the ten horns of the beast.
Verse 13 says "these have one purpose (or one mind) and they give their power and authority to the beast." The governments of the world (representative of the ten horns, or the ten kings) support the land beast and the great harlot. They support the religious world powers. There are all kinds of coalitions between civil governments and false religious institutions. Many of the civil governments of the world have common purpose and support with the Roman church, which some believe is a major example of the great harlot. But this common purposes waxes strong and weak, and many governments grow disenchanted with the Roman church. Verse 16 says that eventually "the ten horns will hate the harlot". This will be fulfilled.
Verse 14 says "these will wage war against the Lamb," that is, false Christianity in coalition with civil governments wages war against the pure teaching of Christ and His church. The harlot seeks to restrict all religion to her own brand of harlotry.
The United States of America was founded on the principle of separation of church and state because many of the founding fathers had recognized the evil condition of affairs which can exist when so-called "Christian" denominations get entrenched in civil government. So true Christians in the United States have not had much opposition from a harlot-government coalition except at times on a local level. However, God's people must not become complacent. Not only is there danger from harlot government coalitions, but there is danger that the government may become one of those who hate the harlot to such an extent that it may try to ban all Christianity. Recent examples of government ban on Christianity have occurred in the Soviet Union (now defunct), and the Peoples Republic of China, and a number of smaller countries of the world. This is the kind of world in which Christians must live, where, in the ebb and flow of human ideas, God's wisdom does not hold sway. In it all, true Christianity based on God's wisdom is not of this world, not even in "free" America. Christians are being warned in the Revelation not to look at the world "through rose colored glasses." The world is engulfed in evil forces which God uses one against the other to destroy themselves. The marvelous thing is, that in the midst of all this evil, God causes all things to come out to the spiritual good of those who truly love Him and are called according to His purpose.
Verse 14 goes on to say, "the Lamb will overcome them." The "little book" of chapter 10, the New Testament of God, has not vanished from the earth on spite of efforts to destroy it. There is and always will be (right up to the end) an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on earth (Rev. 14:6), and that gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). No one needs to yield himself to the world of the beasts and the harlots. The Lamb wants everyone to be with Him. And the Lamb will overcome.
Verse 15 indicates that the domain of the harlot-beast is the whole earth. But verse 16 says it will not always be so. "The ten horns of the beast will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her with fire." Brother Coffman says, "Even apostate Christianity has far too much truth in it for the devil to love it. The beast actually hated the harlot even while the two of them used each other. The godless state will never willingly accept a rival."
It appears that verse 16 points to a time when apostate Christianity will be completely destroyed. When this happens, however, the civil governments will not be trying to preserve true Christianity either. They will likely turn against all religion, whether true or false.
Verse 17 indicates that God will direct evil men to do His will in certain regards even though they may not realize they are doing it. This does not mean that the ten horns and the beast will turn to God purposely to do His will. They are manipulated by God to do things which further God's purpose. One great tremendous aspect of this is that they will bring about their own downfall in judgement. They will bring God's wrath upon themselves. It is God's purpose to destroy the beast. All of the activities against the harlot bring about the judgement of the harlot. But, at the same time, it brings about the final judgement of the beast himself.
In chapter 17 the harlot has been described and her history given. Verses 16 and 17 foretells the destruction of the harlot. In chapter 18, the destruction of the harlot is told in greater detail. Remember that the two symbols are intermixed, the symbol of the harlot woman and the symbol of the city called Babylon. Both symbols stand for the same thing and they are used interchangeably.
James Burton Coffman says, "There is nothing narrow, sectional, denominational, or vindictive in this understanding of the harlot as the apostate church. It is a tragedy that reaches all the way to heaven, and the shadow of the apostasy, in one form or another, falls upon every Christian on earth. For some it is the innovations with which they worship God; for others it is the totalitarian organization of their church; for some it is the perverted form of baptism they receive; for many it is the secularization of their faith; for yet others it is the false idea that the church rather than the Lord is the dispenser of salvation, for still others it is their acceptance of tradition instead of the words of God; and many have elevated a "priesthood" between themselves and the Lord."
B. Chapter 18, Verses 1-8, Judgement of the Woman, Babylon the Great.
"(1) After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory. (2) And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! And she has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison for every unclean and hateful bird. (3) 'For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of sensuality.' (4) And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, 'Come 0out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues; (5) for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. (6) 'Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her. (7) 'To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning, for she says in her heart, 'I sit as a Queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning.' (8) 'For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong.'" NASV.
Verse 1 says that "another angel" with "great authority" will reveal how Babylon the great is to fall under the judgement of God.
Verse 2 says that Babylon the great, symbolic of the apostate church, "is become the habitation of demons," "unclean spirits," and "unclean and hateful birds." These demons, evil spirits, and birds are, in turn, symbolic of the evil forces driving the apostate church to take the evil actions which characterize it.
Verse 3 says that "all the nations are fallen" because they have drunk of the "wine of the wrath of her fornication." This places the blame squarely upon the harlot for the universal disaster about to fall. The essence of this wine which intoxicates so much of mankind is the belief that man himself is the supreme authority. If the church says a man is really supreme, men can logically dispense with the whole system of Christianity.
The kings of the earth finally catch on to this and decide to act in accordance with the principle the harlot herself suggested. Just as the church casts aside the authority of God, mankind at large can cast aside the authority of the church. And the apostate church truly becomes "the opiate of the people," as Karl Marx once said of religion.
Verse 3 goes on to say,. "the merchants of the earth waxed rich." This has a bearing on the great disaster because the growth of a rich materialistic class indicates a loss of spiritual values. The implication is that the rich, borrowing the principles of the harlot, grew selfish and unmindful of spiritual realities.
Although verse 2 speaks of Babylon as already fallen, this is a device of the language of prophecy. The fall of Babylon is inevitable, is the real meaning. In a sense it is as good as done. But in verse 4 "another voice from heaven" has a message that indicates that Babylon is still standing. The message of "another voice from heaven" is "Come out of her, My people." This means that God has people in the harlot church! This should not be surprising. In chapter 3 the Lord spoke of the church at Sardis as being dead. Yet He said, "You have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments."
In the Old Testament there were many people who belonged to God even in pagan Ninevah. God claimed this directly to the prophet Jonah when He sent him to preach there. (Jonah 4:11). In the New Testament God said to Paul concerning the wicked city of Corinth, "I have much people in this city." (Acts 18:10). The fact of God's people having people in the apostate church or harlot church does not mean that the harlot and her daughters as a whole are not evil as a whole. It simply means that the salvation of Christ is applied individually and it is not the part of a Christian to judge for the Lord. The Lord Himself said, "I know My own, and My own know Me." (John 10:14). Christians have the commission to teach what the New Testament says, and this verse 4 indicates that it should be taught to the apostate church and her offspring denominations. Christians today are called upon to echo the voice from heaven which says, "Come out of her, My people."
Verse 5 says the sins of the harlot church have reached even unto heaven, or have piled up as high as heaven. This reminds us of the people of the Old Testament city who tried to build a tower to heaven. (Genesis 11:4). God confused their language to that of a ":babel" of different tongues so that they were clearly defeated in their attempt to reach heaven on their own. Ever since then, Babylon has served asa symbol of people who try to reach heaven on their own. Now Revelation warns Christians concerning the edifices that men build to try to reach heaven on their own, "Come out of her" for it is only her sins which "have piled up as high as heaven." Instead of being forgiven, the sins of those who refuse to come out of the harlot church will be remembered - "God has remembered her iniquities." The message is: Come out of the harlot church and God will forgive your sins. Refuse to come out and God must remember your sins.
Indeed, in verse 6 it says the harlot church will receive in punishment double according to her works. There is a popular idea that punishment for sins is contrary to Christian ideals. But it is an idea that comes from Satan. Actually it is both an Old Testament and a New Testament principle, that is, a universal principle, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord." (Romans 12:19). What Babylon receives in punishment is not more than she deserves. It is exactly what she deserves "according to her works."
Since the harlot church is so arrogant and confident, verse 8 says, her fall shall come about in one day. Compared to the symbolic time of the Christian dispensation, that is, 1,260 days, the fall of the harlot church will be a sudden collapse, symbolically just one day. Verse 8 says, "The Lord God who judges her is strong." Apparently the harlot church thinks she is strong and prepared against any eventuality. But she is actually unprepared for God's judgement. Her judgement will be executed by other worldly organizations for God has arranged it.
C. Chapter 18, Verses 9-20, The Kings of the Earth Weep Over the Fall of Babylon the Great.
"(9) And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, (10) standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, 'Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgement has come.' (11) 'And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more; (12) cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every kind of citron wood and bronze and iron and marble, (13) and cinnamon and spice and incense and perfume and frankincense and wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, and cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives. (14) 'And the fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them. (15) 'The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, (16) Saying, 'Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls; (1) for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!' And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, (18) and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, 'What city is like the great city?' (19) 'And they threw dust in their heads and were crying 0out, weeping and mourning, saying, 'Woe. Woe. The great city, in which all the ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!' (20) 'Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because has pronounced judgement for you against her.'" NASV.
Verse 9 presents a great paradox. Although the kings of the earth knowingly turned against the harlot and destroyed her, when she had been destroyed they "weep and mourn over her." How could this happen? James Burton Coffman says that the humanistic kings simply failed to realize that it was true Christianity, imperfectly taught by the harlot, that actually formed the foundation of their world. The evil, atheistic, humanistic kings proudly imagined that they could get along without any religion whatever, but their stupid action in burning up the harlot destroyed everything, for not even the harlot ever went as far away from God and the truth as did these kings, or governments of the final age.
These wailing and weeping kings were not at all concerned about the harlot. They made no move to assist her. They were screaming only about their business and their profits, the precious fruits that perished, the desolation of great riches and the loss of jobs.
Verse 10 said they stood afar off and watched her burn. This indicates that they made no move to help her. They did not wish to be involved. They sensed a catastrophe and they knew they had suffered loss. But they did not acknowledge the truth. They still depended only upon themselves and, apparently, they thought they could rebuild the things they had lost in the burning of the harlot. Verse 11 indicates the real reason that the kings of the earth wept and mourned was that no one bought their merchandise anymore.
The i9nventory of merchandise which starts in verse 12 is certainly symbolic of the wide variety of products of the world with which the countries of the world support themselves and make themselves strong in the eyes of each other. The list, in verse 13, ends with "slaves and human lives (souls of men)." There were sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire when this was written, whose living bodies were bought and sold. And the practice of slavery has been a part of commerce ever since, even being prevalent today to some extent.
The "human lives" or "souls of men" were traded away to the beast and the fallen prophet and the kings of the earth by the men themselves who do not discern their spiritual parts, but who sell their birthrights to an eternal spiritual home for a mess of pottage in the materialistic world. In their dependence solely upon the material goods of the world, the merchants themselves sold their own souls.
Verse 14 says that the things for which the merchants have always worked so hard are gone forever with the destruction of the harlot. The fruits of their worldly labor will be found "no more at all." (This is where laying up treasure in heaven would certainly have come in handy, had they realized it earlier.) Like the kings of verse 9, it says in verses 15 and 16 that the merchants also stood afar off and wept and mourned. James Burton Coffman offers the comment that the ancient prejudice alleged of many business men, that they are not concerned with religion, will at last be confounded when there is no religion left, or so little that it hardly counts on any effective scale.
The end has not yet occurred in verses 15 and 16. The kings and the merchants are still able to stand afar off. Their lament is not for the harlot but for themselves.
In verse 17 again for the third time the symbolic term "in one hour" is used. This vision is still in connection with the "ten horns which are ten kings" mentioned in 17:12. The kings received authority for "one hour." Chapter 18 shows the result of their exercising of authority. Babylon has fallen and everyone is suffering.
In verse 19 all who make their living from the sea, which likely means all the people in the world who labor for the kings and the merchants, the so-called "little people" of the world, were also affected by the burning of the harlot. They threw dust on their heads and wept and mourned also. James Burton Coffman says that this all means that a working coalition between a watered down apostate Christianity and the unbridled forces of the devil will one day be terminated, and the final pre-judgement wreck of the whole social order will reach its roaring climax.
In verse 20 the voice from heaven, the voice which has been reciting the results of the judgement of the harlot, Babylon, says, "Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets." There are those who have not been harmed in this terrible judgement against the harlot. They are God's people, the saints, the apostles, and the prophets of all time. In this verse they are not yet in heaven but they will be. They may have undergone persecution, may indeed undergo much persecution when the kings of the earth burn the harlot, but this vision is to indicate to God's people that they are not eternally and spiritually harmed. They are to rejoice and be encouraged. The reason for rejoicing is that "God has pronounced judgement for you against her." God's word has been proved true. The righteous shall be saved and the wicked punished, and the universe itself will be demonstrated as just, and good. No greater cause of rejoicing could be found.
D. Chapter 18, Verses 21-24, The Result of the Final Judgement of Babylon, the Great City.
"(21) And a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, 'Thus will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. (22) "And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsmen of any crafts will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer; (23) and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. (24) 'And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.'" NASV.
These verses are taken by many to be the account of the final judgement of Babylon, the great city, and in another symbol, the harlot.
Verse 21 says, "a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea." At this point we should be reminded how Jeremiah, in the Old Testament, instructed Seriah, who was traveling to Babylon, to take a scroll of the prophecy of the destruction of Babylon, and upon his arrival in Babylon, to read it to the city, and then to throw the scroll, weighted with a stone, into the river Euphrates,. As it sank into the river he was told to prophecy that thus shall Babylon sink to rise no more.
That Old Testament prophecy was literally fulfilled. Old Babylon sank into oblivion, and even the ancient site of it is today not known for certain. A similar finality of the overthrow of Mystery Babylon is indicated here in the Revelation. Therefore it is impressed on the reader that this prophecy of the overthrow of the symbolic Babylon, the harlot, is not a temporary overthrow. Five times in this part of the vision are heard the words, "will not be found in you any longer," or, "and shall no more be found at all."
Verse 22 catalogs all the phases of life in Mystery Babylon that shall perish forever when final judgement falls. Civilization there will be as though it had never been. Verse 23 continues the list of things that shall perish. Here are listed all the things which all people normally count as worthwhile, arts, crafts, industry, lamplight, founding of families when marriages occur, etc. These shall perish completely in the final judgement of the harlot, Babylon.
The reason for this final judgement was given in the latter part of verse 23, "because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery." Truth was forsaken and deception practiced in the midst of all that appeared to be good.
In verse 24 the vision indicates that "in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth." Secular history available today records that the apostate church was responsible for the actual murder of many people, especially during the middle ages. But more than this, this verse represents the spirit of lawlessness and apostasy from the truth represented by the harlot. Jesus told Jerusalem that in their murder of the Messiah, all of the blood shed from Abel until that very day would come upon her. (Matt. 23:15). In the same way, the system that murdered the Christians, the true spiritual body of Christ, was chargeable with all the blood ever shed on earth. The two cases seem parallel.
Now with the end of chapter 18, the final complete judgement of the harlot church, Mystery Babylon, has been seen. In chapter 19 the final complete judgement of the beast upon which the harlot has been riding, and the final complete judgement of the false prophet will be seen.
E. Chapter 19, Verses 1-10, Hallelujahs Around the Throne of God as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is Prepared.
"(1) After these things I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; (2) because His judgements are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.' (3) And a second time they said, 'Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever.' (4) And the twenty four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne, saying, 'Amen. Hallelujah!' (5) And a voice came from the throne, saying, 'Give praise to our all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.' (6) And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of might peals of thunder, saying, 'Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns. (7) 'Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.' (8) And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (9) And He said to me, 'Write, Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' And he said to me, 'These are the true words of God.' (10) And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, 'Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.' NASV.
In verse 1 the next thing that happened to John, after the visions of chapter 18, was that he heard "a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven." The multitudes in heaven were praising God for His righteous judgement of the " great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality."
Verse 2 says that God's judgements are true and righteous. The terrible judgements symbolized in the Revelation upon nations and cities and individuals who spurn the mercies of God are "righteous" judgements. The holy and righteous God will not accommodate to human wickedness. God's moral laws can no more be broken with impunity than can God's law of gravity. It can be demonstrated that the law of gravity works. In these judgements it is also demonstrated that God's moral laws also work.
In verse 4 the twenty four elders and the four living creatures are there around the throne of God as they always have been in every vision of God's throne. They too are praising God because of His judgement of the harlot. But not that alone; God is praised because of the marriage of Christ to His true bride.
It is clear as we read this vision that the symbolic "bride of the Lamb" is made up of those who are redeemed in the judgement. They are described as "all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great." In verse 7 the bride is described as clothed "in fine linen", and the "fine linen" is described in turn as "the righteous acts of the saints". If there be any question, it is the "saints" who make up the "bride of the Lamb."
In verse 6 the voice says, "the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns." This obviously does not mean that the Lord just starts to reign at the time that the harlot is destroyed.. Through all the happenings that have been symbolized by the visions, God has been reigning and He continues to reign eternally. There has never been even a fraction of an instance when God has not been in complete control of the entire universe. James Burton Coffman points out that the only thing anyone has ever been able to prove by rebelling against God's laws is the inevitability of the prescribed penalties for breaking the laws. Everything that has ever happened brings forth these words from God's worshipers, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns."
In verse 7 the voice says, "the marriage of the Lamb is come." Then verse 9 speaks of "the marriage supper of the Lamb." The marriage supper takes place when the marriage takes place. The Lamb, of course, is Christ, the Son of God. To whom is He to be married? He is to be married to the "saints", those who are holy to the God. In this age of the New Testament, the "saints" to whom Christ is to be married are the Christians, the members of His church.
(If there is time, my essay on the marriage of Christians to Christ may be discussed, page 155 of Revelation notes.)
Verse 8 says, "It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean." The marriage garments of Christians are not provided by the Christians themselves. Christians do not put on during life on earth garments which they provide themselves and selfishly want to put on. The only fitting garment for the Christian in his wedding to God's Son is the garment God supplies. Although after the betrothal, the garment of fine linen is given to the bride, she must put it on. It is understood that, should she not clothe herself with the fine linen given to her, she will not be allowed to appear at the marriage supper for the wedding of the Lamb. The fine linen given to her is ":the righteous acts of the saints."
In verse 9 John was told to write, "Blessed are those who are invited (or bidden) to the marriage supper of the Lamb." Those invited to the marriage supper are those who are to receive an eternal home with Christ when He comes again. In a certain sense, God desires all men to have eternal life, and in that sense all men are called to accept salvation. But, in verse 8, "invited", or "bidden" refers to those who have accepted God's invitation through their beli4eving and obeying the gospel. And full obedience to the gospel includes not only repentance and baptism, but also the "righteous acts" referred to here in Revelation after one has already been betrothed to Christ.
Inverse 10 John was so impressed by the marvelous visions that he had seen that he impetuously fell down to worship the glorious angel who had aided him to see the visions. But the angel said, "See thou do it not," or, "Do not do that." This clearly indicates that it was sinful for John to fall down before the angel. Then the angel said, "I am a fellow-servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God."
This is a very interesting and important statement by the angel. First of all it attests that servants of God, like John and his brethren, are of equal rank, at least, with angels. The term "your brethren" (that is, John's brethren) is qualified by the phrase "that hold the testimony of Jesus." Now John and the other eleven apostles of Jesus, "hold the testimony of Jesus" in a more complete sense than anyone else of John's brethren, than any other Christians. For this reason, James Burton Coffman suggests that the twelve apostles of Jesus are the brethren referred to here when Revelation speaks of John and his brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus. However, further than this, all Christians are servants of God to bring the testimony of Jesus to all men. In that sense, all Christians are the brethren of John. The twelve apostles were direct prophets of God, being inspired in their teachings directly by the Holy Spirit of God. Christians are not prophets in that direct sense, but they are prophets in the sense of being messengers of God to carry out the great commission to this age. So Christians are certainly not to worship angels. The reason is that angels are fellow servants with Christians. An important side issue here is that, if Christians are not to worship angels, they certainly are not to worship other people. Even a woman like Mary, the mother of Jesus in the flesh.
And then verse 19 says, "For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." "Prophecy" is the message of God to man. Some portions of prophecy foretell the future. Some portions do not. But prophecy is always something that God wants people to hear and which people need to hear. And the future is always bound up in it because the future is always the result of everything God does. The "spirit of prophecy" is spoken of here in verse 10. The "spirit" of God's prophecy to people is that which gives life to the prophecy, that which makes it eternally true and living in the fullest extent in which only God can impart. That spirit is said to be "the testimony of Jesus." The "testimony of Jesus" is that which gives life to God's prophecy. God's prophecy comes to Christians through men like John and those men who wrote the Bible. But it is only the testimony of Jesus behind it that gives life to it.
The "testimony of Jesus" gives life to God's message to man because the Savior, God Himself, is the author of that testimony. All life giving spirits come from God, the Creator. God's prophecy is eternal and able to impart life to people because it is itself given life by the eternal testimony of Jesus. Christians must worship only God, from Whom flows a living message informing Christians that they are fellow-servants with His angels.
F. Chapter 19, Verses 11-16, The King of Kings and Lord of Lords Comes Forth on a White Horse.
"(11) And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. (12) And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself. (1) And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. (14) And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. (15) And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. (16) And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.'" NASV.
In verse 11, the rider on the white horse reminds one of the rider on the white horse who came out with the breaking of the first of the seven seals in chapter 6, verse 2. The visions which followed the breaking of each seal in chapters 6 and 7 were symbols of God's judgements brought upon earth and how the judgements affected Christians during their life on earth. The horse represented warfare. The color white represented purity. Thus, a white horse represented righteous warfare. The One riding on the white horse was none other than the Son of God, with the crown given Him by God, going forth conquering and to conquer. It is the Son of God who executes judgements of God, even the partial judgements portrayed by the seven seals.
Now in chapter 19, verse 11, The Son of God comes riding forth again on His white horse to execute judgement, this time the final and complete judgement of God on the wicked world. There is not the slightest doubt that this rider on the white horse is the Son of God. The name written on His robe and on His thigh is "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." He is also called "faithful and true." No one who ever lived on earth is "faithful and true" in the superlative sense except our Lord, Jesus Christ.
"In righteousness He judges and wages war." Many people reject this aspect of the Lord. They say this contradicts their conception of a gracious and merciful Lord. But such views are simply incorrect. Ladd says, "Everywhere in the New Testament the element of victory through judgement is an inescapable aspect of Christ's total work."
Verse 12 says that "His eyes are a flame of fire." The recalls the first vision John had of Christ in chapter 1. There it said His eyes were like a flame of fire. The Lord is not just a meek and humble being, although He exhibits that aspect toward people in His offer of mercy to all. He is one with the Almighty God, and when He exercises His wrath He eyes appear as a flame of fire. The "many diadems" on His head are symbolic of the vast and eternal authority He has. He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and in earth." (Matt. 28:18). In this vision He is exercising His authority to carry out judgement.
Verse 12 says, "He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself." There are two important ways suggested in which we can understand this statement. (1) Beasley-Murray says, "The unknown name of Christ is consistent with the fact that His nature, His relationship to the Father, and even His relationship to humanity, are beyond all human understanding." Humans do not understand Deity and in this sense people do not know His name. (2) Barclay thought it might be the sacred, unknown name of God represented in the Hebrew Old Testament by four letters which were unpronounceable, IHWH. The American Standard Bible pronounces it as JEHOVAH. Many believe the translation should be JAHWEH.. However the sacred Hebrew word for God is still not known to any man; and it could be appropriately applied to Christ as well as to God the Father.
In verse 13 "He is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with (or dipped in) blood." Zerr says that His garment is dipped in blood because Christ shed His blood for mankind. Even in the exercise of His wrath one is reminded of His sacrifice for mankind. Judgement is executed only upon those who rejected the sacrifice." Verse 13 also says,. "His name is called the Word of God." The Apostle John in four other places in the New Testament, called Jesus "The Word". (John 1:1,14; 1st John 1:1; 5:7). Here in verse 14 a sharp sword comes from His mouth. This reminds one of the description of the Son of God in Revelation chapter 1 which said that a sharp two-edged sword comes from His mouth. And all this reminds one of the scripture which says, "The word of is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. And piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit." (Heb. 4:12). And Paul spoke of the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Eph. 6:17). Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our abode with him." (John 14:23). But Jesus also said, "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him in the last day." (John 12:48). Thus, we understand the two-edged nature of the Lord and His word. In Him and in His word is the power and incisiveness to divide the selfish soul from the spirit when one's soul hinders one from drawing near to God. If people do not let the word of God do its work in them during their time on earth before the judgement, it will judge them at the time of judgement.
Verse 14 says, " The armies which are in heaven followed Him upon white horses." Some think that these armies are symbolic of Christians who follow Christ after having been taken to heaven. But we are reminded of the words of Paul in 2nd Thess. 1:7, when Paul spoke of the Lord Jesus Christ being "revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire." The Lord Himself said, "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire." (Matt. 13:41-42). The Lord also said, " The angels shall come forth, and take out the wicked from among the righteous," (Matt. 13:49). The conclusion is that "the armies which are in heaven", which come forth with the Lord in verse 14 are armies of God's angels.
In verse 15 there are three figures, or three symbols, which represent the word of God by which the Sin of God executes judgement. The first is the sharp sword which proceeds out of His mouth. The second is the "rod of iron" with which the Lord rules in fulfillment of prophecy (Psalm 2:7). And the third is seen in the words, "He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty." Here Christ, the Word personified, is shown treading the wine press of God's wrath. Each of these appear to be figures representing the word of God.
In verse 16, the title "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS" refers to the fact that Christ is already reigning. He is reigning in every heart that will yield to the gospel. The warning is that when He comes in the clouds of His glory with His angels as indicated here, the final execution of judgement will be completed. It will be executed by the one who is and has been and continues to be King.
G. Chapter 19, Verses 17 and 18, An Angel Calls for the Birds to Eat the Flesh of All Lost Men.
"(17) And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in mid-heaven. 'Come, assemble for the great supper of God,' (18) in order that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.'" NASV.
In verse 17 "the great supper of God" is announced. James Burton Coffman suggests that this "supper" is like a counterpart of the "marriage supper of the Lamb" except it is applied to the wicked rather than to the people of God. If people who are bidden to the "marriage supper of the Lamb" will not come, then there is another "supper" prepared for them; and they cannot escape attending it. This is, of course, all symbolic. There are no literal birds in heaven waiting to eat the flesh of people.
Verse 18 says that, in this symbolic great supper, it is the evil people who get eaten. James Burton Coffman says, "Inherent in this is the fact that if men choose to live like animals, denying any image of God in themselves, or even that God exists, the final results will bring them (symbolically) to the same end as that of a dead horse. (The birds will come and eat their flesh.) If man was born of evolution, being only material flesh, then he has not more (eternal) value than a worm or a dog.
"All this about the birds eating the flesh of men is symbolic. The awful truth is what man is eternal and judgement is eternal. When evil men die, it is not an end like that of an animal which simply ceases to exist. In the next verses, 20 and 21, this vision of the birds who eat the flesh of men is tied to the vision of men being thrown alive into the eternal lake of fire which burns with brimstone. These are visions of the final judgement of the wicked. In the final judgement there will be a complete division of the human race into two groups. There will be the church which is loyal to her true head, and the world which casts its lot with evil."
H. Chapter 19, Verses 19-21, The Beast and the False Prophet Are Thrown into the Lake of Fire.
"(19) And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against Him who sat upon the horse, and against His army. (20) And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. (21) And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh." NASV.
In verse 19 the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies are all symbolically the same. This is the scarlet sea beast of the seven heads and ten horns of chapter 13:1. Or, in our age, this is the ten kings of chapter 17:11-17 who hate and burn the harlot. They all stand for evil people, people under the control of the dragon, or Satan. Verse 19 says they are "gathered to make war." It does not say that they get the opportunity to engage in war when the Lord comes. If, in this vision, there is any war actually going on it is going on now, before the Lord comes, in the hearts of people while all are together on earth. It is not a warfare that takes place after Christ comes again. The next verse, verse 20, makes this clear by telling what does take place when Christ comes again.
The "beast" and the "false prophet" are simply taken alive and cast into the lake of fire. The "beast" is the sea monster first seen in chapter 13:1. The "false prophet" is the land beast first seen in chapter 13:11. The whole wicked world as made up of those who subscribe to human atheistic power, and those who subscribe to so9me kind of false religious power; the whole wicked world both secular and religious, is very likely symbolized here. This is a vision of the final judgement of all the symbols of wicked men. the sea beast, the land beast, the kings, the armies, the false prophet, the seventh head of the beast, the harlot, and the eighth head of the beast. They are all encompassed now in verse 20 ion the two symbols, the beast and the false prophet.
Verse 21 brings together the symbols of the "sword" and the "birds" which eat the flesh of those killed by the sword. The sword, of course, is the word of God. This puts the real meaning of all this in the spiritual realm. God in His fleshly state (Christ's fleshly life on earth)has served for naught as far as the evil person is concerned. The evil person has not used his fleshly life to draw near to God, his Creator, and to become God's steward on earth, but he has rejected God's truth for Satan's lie. He has chosen to be Satan's steward. He has tried in his fleshly life reject his true, eternal, spiritual identity, and to live only for the gratification of his flesh. In the end his garment of flesh is "eaten" by carrion and he is left stark naked, a spiritual being separated from the source and life of all spirits. There is no place for him in all the spiritual realm except the place reserved for God's enemy Satan. He elected to follow Satan when he had a choice. In the end he will no longer have a choice but must continue to live with Satan in his punishment.
This what God in the "seals" and the "trumpets" and the "bowls of wrath" has been trying to teach people throughout history. This why God placed "stumbling blocks" before the wicked and sent them "strong delusions" in this life. This why in this life God turns the wicked over to Satan so that they may reap what they have sown. God wants evil men to wake up before it is too late.
Since they have rejected the gospel and have chosen evil, there is nothing God can do for them except subject them to the consequences of their choice through the rest of their life on earth. In His wisdom, God knows that a remnant, finding themselves definitely in league with Satan, will repent before it is too late. Wickedness must not be glossed over. Some men cannot be reached except through the avenue of being turned over to the evil which they have chosen. Per chance, as they travel their wicked way they will recognize their error and repent, as did the prodigal son. There will come a time, however, when they will no longer have a choice. They will then be doomed to live eternally with Satan in his punishment.
This whole series of visions in chapters 17, 18 and 19 has again covered the history of the New Testament age, into the future at the end of the age. It covers the same ground as the visions of the "seals", the visions of the "trumpets," and the visions of the "bowls of wrath." These visions of the fall of the great harlot and the two beasts has given special attention to the overthrow of the powers of evil that Satan has engineered among men.
Next in chapters 20, 21, and 22 will be shown again in symbolic visions the history of God's creation in the New Testament age. This final section, however, seems to depict purely spiritual beings. Satan, the evil spirit, is used by God for His purpose and then consigned finally to the lake of fire. The final triumph of Christ and His church in the purely spiritual realm is the subject of the last two chapters, 21 and 22.