Leviticus 21 describes the appropriate punishment for a priest’s daughter who becomes a prostitute. It’s not pretty. More to the point, it’s nearly repeated verbatim in Revelation 17.16-17 when John describes what the beast and the ten kings do to the whore of Babylon. They strip her, eat her, burn her, and kill her. As we previously mentioned, the whore of Babylon is not an actual person, but a personification of those who cooperate with the Empire. She’s (figuratively) the woman who sells her soul to get ahead. She is described as being fixated on sensuality (17.2,4), exploitation (18.13), commerce (18.11-13), violence (17.6), fraud (17.8), and idolatry (18.7). It’s easy to decry those things when they’re listed in such negative terms, but most of us are more familiar with their popular names: pleasure, ease, success, victory, spin, and self-preservation. Perhaps …
Today is Sunday and I am bummed out that I had to “cut” the whore of Babylon out of my sermon. There just wasn’t time to get into it, not properly, and getting into it poorly or dismissively would only obfuscate this powerful truth: everyone who rides the beast will be eaten by it.
The beast in this chapter is the same beast (out of the sea) from chapter 13. It’s best understood as ‘dragon-inspired’ political power, which—in John’s day—was exemplified by the Roman Empire and its persistent persecution of Christians. In chapter 17 the beast is described as being ‘scarlet’, which is to say it has been drenched in the blood of the martyrs. If that sounds gory, consider that the whore of Babylon is here drunk on the blood of the martyrs and ‘gore’ is a big part of …
I’m relieved that the pronouncements of judgment are almost over. At this point, I’m exhausted by the scope of evil, to say nothing of God’s plan for getting rid of it. It’s overwhelming to the point of numbness. I have spiritual pins-and-needles every time I read something like “the ____ angel (with a face like _____ ) opened up the _______, and said ‘wo to the _______-ers, for you will be _______-ed out beyond all recognition because of your _______-ness.’”
The one juicy little gem in these verses concerns the demonic frogs that deceive the people of the earth. In Greek there’s a bit of wordplay going on, as ‘evil spirits’ also literally means ‘bad breath.’ I find that amusing. It’s like John is telling his audience that everything they say stinks. They’ve got sociopolitical halitosis, morning coffee breath (literally) from …
Lex Talionis is a fancy way of saying ‘an eye for an eye’, or ‘what goes around comes around.’ There’s loads of that here in 16.1-9. For example, those who took the mark of the beast are not inflicted with painful sores—what began as a mark of fealty to the dragon has now become the proof that such fealty brings only death. It would be the cultural equivalent of everyone who loves Nike or Apple suddenly becoming inflicted with skin cancer in the shape of a swoosh or a bitten-macintosh. Then there’s the sea of coagulated blood. That’s another kind of comeuppance. All those who spilled the blood of the prophets are now required to swim in a sea of rot. It’s almost like the angels are saying. ‘You want blood? Here’s plenty. Go ahead and choke on it.’
NT Wright …
It has often been said that The Revelation was meant to be heard and not read. Obviously someone was going to have to read it to each congregation, but the point remains that the vast majority of God’s people were destined to hear it read aloud rather than pouring over it by themselves in a small room. Over and over and over again we see bits and pieces of worship and song scattered throughout John’s Revelation. It’s a public book. It’s a shared-experience. It’s a musical. An opera. It’s a liturgy. A theatrical production full of images, lights, and sounds.
Perhaps one of the many things we’re supposed to understand as a result is that God desires our worship. By allowing us to hear the worship in heaven, we become acclimatized to the requirement of worship on earth. We’re meant to …
I find this passage one of the most confusing in the entire book. The harvest language, though initially a little gruesome, actually makes more sense once you realize that harvest time was a joyful occasion for agrarian societies.
But the winepress was almost always the language of bloody, violent, judgment in the First Testament. And I feel uncomfortable with the thought that Christ might here be employing the methodology of the Beast in order to bring about his Kingdom Come.
A couple of textual notes—courtesy of Darryl Johnson, George Caird, FF Bruce, and NT Wright—have helped me find my way through, albeit slowly 🙂
For starters, in the First Testament “the vine of the earth” referred to Israel. But Jesus expropriated the term first for himself (“I am the True Vine…”) and then for his followers (“…and you are the branches.”). When John …
Earlier, in his address to the seven churches, John makes it clear that it’s possible to be a Christian and still serve the beast. Jezebel, the Nicolatians, and Balaam (though these were likely all nicknames) were all leaders within first century Christianity that advocated for a Christianity of compromise, a soft-gospel that permitted simultaneous allegiance to the Roman Imperial Cult and Jesus Christ. They wanted it both ways, and The Revelation warned them sharply against their milquetoast missiology.
Remember that the entire book of Revelation was written to those 7 churches—it’s a book for Christians, written by a leader within the Christian church, urging them to distinguish themselves from the corrupt systems of this world and to remain steadfast and faithful to Christ even if it should cost them their lives. These verses in chapter fourteen promise the downfall of Babylon …
This is my favorite line in the passage: “nobody can learn the song except for the 144,000…”
As before, the 144,000 are meant as a symbol—not a statistic—of God’s redeemed people. They are the firstfruits of for God and the Lamb, which is to say that they have been given pride-of-place in heaven because of their unwavering commitment to their King in opposition to the tyrannical forces of the dragon and its beastly counterparts.
But the part I think is cool is that bit about a song no one else can learn. God’s first resurrected followers can learn it, presumably for three reasons. First, they’ve suffered and died for the sake of Christ. Second, they’ve proven themselves faithful in the midst of that suffering. Finally, they’ve followed the Lamb in purity and in preparation.
Don’t get head-faked here by the reference to “celibacy.” …
Suppose I owe you $700USD, but when it comes time to pay up I only give you $600. That would be frustrating. If I gave you $600pesos that would be ridiculous! There is a vast difference between $700USD and $600pesos. No one in their right mind would overlook such shortchange.
But that’s exactly what we’re tempted to do in this piece of the Bible. John goes on at length describing the second beast that supports the first through abuse of power, money, and propaganda. To cap it all off, John tells us who this beast is—identified by his number 666. Most scholars agree that’s a reference to Nero. Nero had died several years earlier, but there was a legend floating around that he had been resurrected (hence the reference to the ‘fatal wound that had been healed’). This was John’s way …
Things are starting to get interesting!
After being cast down from heaven (12.9), the dragon calls up reinforcements from the sea. In the old stories, the sea was the primordial source of chaos and destruction. It was the abode of Leviathan, Rahab, and a host of watery adversaries. The sea-monster that emerges at the dragon’s beckoning, then, is nothing less than a manifestation of pure terror. It is a “beast” aligned with the dragon against the church.
So, to recap, we have the dragon and the sea monster on one side versus the slain-lamb and the martyrs on the other.
Of course not. But that’s the point—to remind John’s readers (and ourselves) that despite all appearances, the monsters eventually lose.
First Century Christians would have understood this sea-monster to represent the Roman Empire. However, there is—once again—a surplus of meaning in this text. …