Revelation chapter 17, like every chapter of the Bible, witnesses to the great struggle between good and evil, the controversy between Christ and Satan. Revelation 17 focuses in, as did Revelation 13, on the evil of the church mingling with the state.
The great harlot of this chapter is God's church, gone astray. God uses the symbol of a harlot throughout the BIBLE to represent His errant people. See, for instance, Ezekiel 16: 35. The beast, upon which the harlot rides, is the state, under the leadership of Satan, heading to perdition. The7 heads indicate that Satan has had 7 different earthly nation-states at 7 successive period's of earth's history as his puppet rulers. He wrestled the garden of Eden away from Adam and has not quit grappling since.
Thus we have a picture of God's church--those who should be the salt of the earth, convicting it of evil--in league with the world, the state, riding upon it. The church is going the broad way. She has no quarrels with the world. She is content to go along with the beast to perdition. Verse 7 says that the beast "carried her." The direction, correction, and admonishment that the church owes to a sinful world she relinquishes to Satan in the person of the present ruling powers. Thus the church, rather than being faithful to the husband that bought her, the Lord Jesus, is fornicating with the "Kings of the earth" (V. 2). Believers in the living God do not need to make deals with presidents and kings of this earth. They need instead to bear witness to those same kings about a much better kingdom, the kingdom of heaven. Jesus did this with Pilate, Daniel told it to Nebuchanezzar, and Paul did it with Nero. They were not on the same team.
The pages of church history unread by modern Christians hungry for earthly power, bear voluminous testimony about the evils of a heavily flirtatious relationship between the church and the state. The very foundations upon which true freedom is based, civil and religious liberty, are destroyed by the inevitable compulsion that arises in a "religious" state. If America had not the history of Roger Williams, and had not its beginnings on a Mayflower fleeing religious intoleration, the actions of the modern church would not be so insidious.
The harlot is described as being clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned in gold and precious stones and pearls. She is rich, clothed with prosperity theology. The teaching goes like this: God wants you increased in worldly goods, just like Abraham was. This prosperity theology neglects one very important truth: we have one much greater than Abraham who says, "Follow me." And He was poor. Was He born in the Bethlehem Hilton? The harlot is clothed in purple, the color of kings. But the King of kings did not ostentatiously wear purple in the days of His flesh, except when a purple robe was forced on Him by Roman soldiers. Not content with His example of humility, the modern church wants this world's finery. She wants to be clothed with worldly fashion, rather than with the pure, spotless wedding garment woven for her in the purity and courage of the Savior's life. Not content to be dressed in the premises of God by which one becomes a partaker of the divine nature, she wants precious stones and pearls now: showy and quick substitutes for the pearl of great price and the polished jewel of character which could be hers by patience and faith.
Verse 9 offers a challenge to the BIBLE student: "But here is the clue for those who can interpret it." (NEB) Perk up. Put on your thinking cap. Jesus is going to reveal something to the wise: The 7 heads are 7 mountains on which the woman sits, and they are 7 kings. The woman sits on 7 mountains. Did anyone ever hear of Rome being called the city built on 7 hills? Is there a church right now sitting atop Rome? Thinking of the inquisition, brutalities such as St. Bartholemew's massacre, and the stories of which Foxe's Book Of Martyrs is replete, would it not be fair to say of this power that it was "drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the witnesses' of Jesus?" (Rev. 17:6)
Thus one visible, large church is especially singled out here. Yet there are countless other leagues and associations which Satan is behind. Why is this one singled out? She is singled out because she is the MOTHER. She has refused to exercise discipline. The inhabitants of the earth have been "made drunk with the wine of her fornication." (17:2) She has nurtured them the wrong way. They have observed how this church, professing great holiness, divine insight, and special connection with heaven, has been indulging the same lusts--greed, striving for power, pride--that the world indulges. So what's the difference? But there is more to the revelation before us than just 7 mountains. The 7 heads are also 7 kings. Here is the deeper key.
God's people, except at rare times as a people, have played the harlot. They have gone seeking other lovers. Read the Bible. From Eden to Laodicea the story is the same. Isaiah scolds the Jews and Paul scolds the Corinthians. The fallen, guilt-laden nature inherited from Adam has always kept God's people from fully embracing their reconciliation to divine favor. The ways of the nations have always been overpowering. The 7 different heads of the beast are chronologically successive powers that have run this earth, directed by Satan, each one of which finally fell due to its failure to fulfill God's plans. Every one, that is, except the second Adam, the Lord Jesus, who ruled the wind and the sea and every power of the enemy, and His own flesh. He was perfect, undefiled, without sin, unscathed with evil in His victorious life over Satan. He won the new earth with the title deed of the humility of His crucifixtion. He purchased what has been lost. He repossessed Eden. He won, with sweat and blood and tears the right to be King of kings and Lord of lords in the age to come. And in the selflessness which characterizes all His person, He gives back all that He has dearly bought to those for whom He died! Herein is love.
Let us follow through the BIBLE outworking of the 7 successive kingdoms, 5 of whom have fallen, one which is, and another which is to come. (17:10)
DEATH. Paul writes in Romans 5 that "death reigned from Adam to Moses." Death reigned on this earth. It was king. God had, in this period, entrusted the stewardship of His truths to individuals: Adam, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, etc. He had specially chosen no nation at that time. Because of man's tremendous misuse of his free will and very poor stewardship of divine truth the voice of God through men was rare and nearly obliterated. Death reigned. Satan had corralled even the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob so that they were a slave people to the idolatrous Egyptians. The truths of God were btrt a faint whisper in a world given up to the same man-made religious and spiritual lies that had brought a flood upon their forefathers. But a faithful seed, a daughter of Zion in truth, Jochebed, prayed for her child earnestly. God heard and she providentially had occasion to teach and direct his development. The result was that one young man stood as a sturdy oak for YHWH.
Moses believed in the living God against all the allurements of the Egyptian sophistries. He counted the reproach of Christ a small price to pay in comparison with the pleasure of sin for a season. A faithful mother's work was to cause a great change in the history of the world. Death reigned from Adam to Moses because death reigns where law and divine justice are wanting. But now God is going to move into a new plan, a new dispensation of His eternal grace. He is going to choose an entire nation to make them repositories of His law, and objects of His power before the eyes of the world. He is going to make them His witnesses. They will be a peculiar people whose destiny is to be the crown of the world. They will obtain as a people what Adam had lost. They will exercise dominion of the earth, in a way that will bring prosperity to them and their neighbors and bring glory to God. God's rules, His laws, His methods will display their superiority through man's faithfulness.
1. ISRAEL. So Israel is chosen by God. Death had been King, but now God gives rulership of the earth to Israel. Israel is the first king. God is with her. Under Joshua the promised land is taken. The people fluctuate in faithfulness under the judges, but with the leadership of Samuel and then the example of David, the way is prepared for Solomon to lead one of the most glorious kingdoms the world has ever seen. The glory of Israel under His reign, though largely hidden from the world's archaeologists and historians was every bit as prosperous as the Bible indicates. Israel was by far the wealthiest and wisest nation on the face of the earth, to whom all paid tribute. [* Immanuel Velikovsky in Chapter 7 ("The Queen of Sheba") of Ages in Chaos marshals secular and sacred record to amply substantiate this. (Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y. 1952)] This time in Israel's history is a type of the glorious reign of the Lord Jesus in the age to come. When Solomon's temple, the most beautiful of the 7 wonders of the ancient world was built, God promised that His name would be there forever. Four centuries later the temple was destroyed mercilessly by the Babylonians. Had God forgotten His promise? Where whs the God of Israel when the teniple of Israel was demolished? Here is where the Revelation of Revelation 17 comes in:
It was not God's purpose for the first nation He chose on this earth, Israel, to fall. His intention was for it to prosper, fill the whole earth with a knowledge of His glory, and bring on the consummation of all things. But Satan entered in. Satan blotted out the divine purposes from the minds of God's professed people. Slowly the character of Satan worked its way into the leadership and populace of Israel. Where Satan is not resisted, God works no miracle. He sends prophets with warnings that His people may turn from their wrongdoing by their own choice. God sent Isaiah, Joel, Amos, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Micah to warn the backsliding Judahites and Israelites before the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions. But when God had done everything that He could within the "limits" of His holiness and the people still would not turn, the people were left to themselves (and thus Satan) by their own choice. Isn't this what happened to Saul? (1 Samuel 16:14) Was not this what happened to Judas? (John 13:27) Your beauty, 0 Israel, is slain on your high places! How have the mighty fallen!
God was forced to withdraw from Israel for the people would not have Him. This was symbolized by tile reniovai of the Shekinah, the token of God's glory and presence. Israel had failed to serve the divine purposes. As Amos had reasoned with the people, "How can two walk together except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3) For individuals there was the hope of the chastening correction of Assyria and Babylon, but the nation deserted God and was deserted of Him. The prophet Ezekiel declared: "Thus says the Lord God: Renloove the diadem, and take off the crown;...exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high..." (Ezekiel 21:26, 27) A spiritually-minded historian writes:
Here is the crown of Israel being taken away. Number one has, fallen. "Cut off your crown and cast it away...for the Lord rejected and forsaken the generation of His wrath." (Jeremiah 7:29)
2. BABYLON. The word of God makes quite plain to whom the crown which Israel sacrificed was given. At Jeremiah 7:26, an oracle given in 609/8 B.C., in the beginning of tile reign of Jehoi- kim, the Lord says "And NOW I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, my servant..." This date corroborates with Jeremiah's prophecy of the 70 years of Babylonian captivity mentioned in Jeremiah 25:11,12. There Jeremiah writes that after serving the King of Babylon for 70 years, the Jews would see the King of Babylon punished. Belshazzar, the King of Babylon, was killed in 539 B.C. as recorded in Daniel 5. This was exactly 70 years from the time that God gave Babylon Israel's forfeited crown.
God's purpose for Babylon, now that she had received the crown of rulership, was the same as it had been for Israel. God wanted a nation to appropriate and then spread a knowledge of His glory to all the earth. God worked vigorously for the fulfillment of His own purposes in Babylon's affairs just as He works to fulfill His plan for every individual. God brought Daniel to the court of Babylon soon after He transferred the crown so that the "cream of the crop" of Judah would have advantages in the new earthly capital for God's work, and that they might prepare the way for the Jews who were yet to be brought to exile to Babylon. Daniel's personal witness to the heathen king, which was instrumental in his conversion (Dan. 4:37), stands as a profound testiinony even to us today as a guideline for personal evangelism. But Babylon squandered her God-given blessings and fell as had Israel. Here is number two of the "five are fallen." The figures of sin in Babylon had reached their heaven-set limit and the handwriting wenton the wall, as it will soon in America.
3. MEDO-PERSIA. The Bible is equally plain to whom the crown passed next. Daniel 5:28, Daniel's interpretation of the handwriting on the wall states: "Your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians." Ezra 1:2 reads: "Thus says Cyrus, King of Persia, 'The Lord, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth...'" Though initially directed by the wise leadership of Cyrus, the Persians, like the Israelites and Babylonians, fell. The crown passed from this third power to the fourth, Greece.
5. GREECE. The leopard beast in Daniel's dream recorded in Daniel 7:6 has been traditionally interpreted by Jewish and Christian expositors as Greece. The leopard with four wings represents Alexander the Great's lightning-like charges: the four heads represent the eventual division of this kingdom into four parts, one each to Alexander's leading generals. This traditional interpretation certainly represents an apotelesmatic fulfillment of Daniel 7. But the final and ultimate fulfillment of the text of Daniel 7 deals with modern third world countries in Africa, India, and China.
It is written of the leopard beast: "And dominion was given to it." (Daniel 7:6) This "dominion" is the dominion we have been tracing from the Bible record. Jesus refers in Luke 21 to the "times of the nations." This is a reference to the times over which God has given certain nations the responsibility of crown-rulership of this planet according to His laws and for His purposes. Greece was the fourth such national power. It too fell, though obviously many of the cultural effects of Greece are still all around us.
Which power succeeded Greece as the power witli potential to fulfill God's purposes to reach the world? Who was God's "chosen nation" after Greece? Igain we must find the answer in the BIBLE or else suffer the lust of human speculation. Daniel 11 is the single greatest unfolding of secular history in the BIBLE. Most expositors agree that the first third of that chapter chronicles a prophetic summary of the break-up of Alexander's territory into Four parts, two of which, Ptolemy's and Seleucus' became prominent. Ptolemy is the "King of the South" (Dan. 11:6) and Seleucus the "King of the North" (v. 7). Rome enters the prophecy First in verse 14. Verses 16-22 chronicle the Caesars through Tiberias. Verse 23 is then a "throw-back" in time to focus in on the beginning of Rome's rise. There we read:
5. ROME. The "he" is the Roman power, in the instant case the military leader Paulus, whose name providentially means "small" as indicated in the prophecy. Paulus utterly defeated Greece in 168 B.C., beginning the rise to unequaled prominence enjoyed by the Roman empire. The "deception" mentioned is that Rome granted Greece independence after the second Macedonian war, and then proceeded to plunder her. The prophecy says that "he" (Rome) will go up and "gain power." Here is the BIBLE'S indication of the crown transfer. In the authority of the crown is power, earthly power, backed by God's. While God honors the nation where he has placed that crown, the honored nation has the "power." Rome used this "power" to build an empire like none before her, but it did not last forever. Ronie crucified the Lord of glory, literally and figuratively. Her decline and fall is proverbial. Except for cultural and calendric vestiges Rome is gone, her glory fallen. There is no no more laughter in her coliseum. The Christians eaten by her lions are awaiting their change to eternal life at the Lord's return. The BIBLE quietly yields its verdict:
Now the prophecy reads "one is." Just as surely as God has had a "crown power" on earth in every age of the past, so He does now. This statement "one is" is a trumpet call to the present hour. It shows that before the Revelation could ever be fulfilled in its fullness, the fifth power would have to be reached in time, and fallen. While there is Biblical indication that the first disciples, including Paul, expected the return of the Lord in their day, they lived at the time of the fifth power, Rome. It had not yet fallen. (Remember though, too, that Jesus had at that time not yet given the "Revelation," so it does seem that those who teach that the consummation could have come in Paul's day could still be right. Prophecy is conditional.) The apostle John, who was given the Revelation by Jesus in the first century A.D., was shown things which were to take place "AFTER those things." (Rev. 1:19) He was thus taken ahead in time to the present. The vision given John in Revelation 17 is thus one in which John is "alive" now. How piercing into our ears and hearts then should be the Lord's message in verse one of the Revelation which says that these are things which "must shortly take place." (Rev. 1:1) "One is." Who is this one?
6. PAPACY. Remember that the 7 heads are 7 mountains.. The Roman Catholic papacy is now the power that sits upon the 7 hills. It has arisen from the ashes of the fall of the Roman Empire. It cannot be denied that the greatest earthly power in the Middle Ages was invested in tile Papacy. The potential existed (and exists) in her to fulfill God's purpose of filling the earth with a knowledge of His glory, His mercy toward each repentant believer in Jesus Christ, the fullness of redemption and reconciliation in Him. But as with all man-made religion, greed, lust, power-hunger, and jealousy have entered in. The same things which so corrupted the other crown powers have corrupted the Papacy. Indulgences, forgiveness through human priests, Mary-worship, and the ceremonial bondage of Roman Catholicism have clouded the pearl of great price, justification by faith in Christ Jesus. True human peace, pardon, and freedom are obfuscated by all the Roman Catholic religious paraphernalia. The one that "is," the present Papacy, is showing through the present Pope its power over "souls of men" (Rev. 18:3), and the great distance she is from ever fulfilling God's designs.
If one takes the 7 messages of the second and third chapters of Revelation as chronologically symbolic of the 7 church-ages since Christ rose from the dead, then the Thyatiran message of Revelation 2:18-29 would be analogous to thePapal church of the Middle Ages. There we read Jesus' words to her:
This indicates that Jesus is still ready to use the Papacy to His purposes, since the time of the "one is" is still the present hour. Jesus is giving her time to repent. But she is going on as if she is on the right program, as if the program of the church is the program of heaven: but it is not. The Pope labors to bring an international, carnal peace to a torn world, a peace which can ultimately be only outward. In so doing he masks, yea, denies the work of the True Prince of Peace, who, in letting His own body be torn, has already brought peace to the whole world. Jesus said that He did not come to bring outward peace, but a sword; a sword of truth that will cut away inner turmoil and guilt and bring inner peace. This comes not by leaders of state shaking hands but by humble citizens bowing before God. No, the crown cannot remain with a power so distant from the divine center. To whom will the crown be passed?
"And the other is not yet come." Who is this other that is soon to come? Revelation Chapter 13 describes two beasts. The first, with lion-bear-leopard features, is a conglomerate picture of the present world's power structure. The leopard body represents the increasing influence of the third world, especially Africa, India, and Asia. The legs of a bear symbolize the power of Russian communism on the march. The mouth of the lion is a symbol of the voice of the world's chief primate--the Pope. Thus we see represented all of the Eastern hemisphere through the combination of communism, Catholicism, the third world. But what of the West?
The second beast of Revelation 13 rounds out the world's power structure. The second beast is described as having two horns "like a lamb," yet speaking as a dragon. Here is the United States of America. Since John did not name this two-horned beast, but did name lion, leopard, and bear, it is probable the beast which he saw was unknown to him. Some have suggested this beast was a buffalo. The buffalo had two small horns, and yet could be ferocious like a dragon. The buffalo is also native to North America, and would thus be an apt symbol for the United States. The two horns must symbolize two great strengths of U.S. because a horn is a consistent Biblical symbol for power of some kind. What are the two great powers or strengths of the U.S.?
The famous French observer De Tocqueville, when he canie to America attempting to chronicle the American experience, claimed that a most distinguishing feature was the righteousness proclaimed from American pulpits. Without question, America's Protestantism, her position as recipient and carrier of the reformation heritage, is a cornerstone of her strength. It is only in the recent past that some kind of nameless pluralism has attempted to blur the true Protestant roots of American development. America's moral outlook, her commitment to the Calvinist habits of hard work and thrift, her implicit and explicit faith in the God of the Bible, are part of the Protestantism that built the strongest country in the history of the world. John describes these horns as being "like a lamb." A lamb is a Biblical symbol for Christ and thus this short expression prophesies a "Christ-like" or "Christian" nation.
America's second pillar of strength, or "horn," is undoubtedly her epochal constitutional government with its written committment to nationally protect the sanctity of the individual conscience. This was a grand and unique advance in mankind's search for political freedom. For the first time in world history no Pope was to regulate faith, no Caesar was to punish heresy, no monarch, royality, king or state was to dictate morality. There was to be "No religious test...re- quired as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." (Article 6 , Section 3 of the US Constitution.) The congress was forever prohibited from establishing any religion or "prohibiting the free exercise thereof. "(Amendment 1 of the US Constitution)
Revelation 13 goes on to describe this two-horned beast in verses 12-17. Verse 14 indicates that the U.S. will make an "image to the beast." Here is a sad prophecy. The nation which has protected individual liberties like no other in history's record will mimic the beast; that is, the U.S.A. will repudiate her heritage as defender of the individual conscience and instead use governmental power to coerce outward religious conformity. The crescendoing echoes of this new change are heard in the moral majority and new right's increasing vociferousness in the political forum, the moralistic and condemnatory tone of the anti-abortion and prayer amendment camps, the awful specter of the congress actually appointing an ambassador to the Vatican, and the move to elect leading evangelical preachers to public office.
7. PAPAL-US. These signs are the loud whispers of that more ominous eventuality which they presage; a constitutional convention that will topple all the accumulated effort, wisdom, and shed blood that has erected the constitution of the U.S. and its guarantees of liberty. For the beast which the U.S. will "image"--whether it be the Roman, the Babylonian, or the Papal--is a beast which merges church and state to the applause of the brainwashed majority and the persecution of the nonconforming minority, no matter how God-fearing they may be. And the ultimate "image of the beast" the U.S. could create, an " image" shuddering to contemplate, an "image" seemingly impossible to arise in this land of liberty, is one in which there is a single, visible, religious head. A protestant "Pope". One sure action of this protestant beast will be to influence the constitutional convention to pass a National Sunday Law which will mandate the first day of the week as a special day of national rest, thus opposing God's immutable law, the Ten Commandments, the fourth of which clearly indicates that the seventh day is the Sabbath.
When this "image to the beast" is set up, the time which is coming quickly, there will be a "double-crown" because of signs which this image power performs are done "in the sight of the beast" (Rev. 13:14): that is, the protestant power, based in America, will be powerfully functioning at the same time as the "beast," the papal world system.
These two powers, the Papal beast and the protestant false prophet are mentioned, along with the devil, as the main coalition against God in the battle of Armageddon. (Rev. 16: 13) All readers of the LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH and believers in the Russia-attacking-Israel last day events scenerio should pay special attention to this. The two sides in the battle of Armageddon are God and Satan. It is not a battle of earthly nations. The whole world will be outwardly united, not divided by war, under the Antichrist. The united world is Satan's side. The true believers who will be persecuted, like the Jews under the Nazis, are God's side. (It will probably take a limited nuclear exchange, a sort of "false Armageddon" for the world to get to the point where it will unite politically.) It is thus the work of apostate protestantism acting on the government of the U.S. that fulfills the prophetic words of Revelation 13:16, 17:
The advance notice of this totally regulated economy, in which no one can buy or sell without the proper mark, is discernable in the universal product code stamped on goods sold in America, the sophisticated computer technology that the government already daily utilizes, and the increasing push by those who hold the marionette strings of the bankers to implement the elecronic funds transfer system.
As hard as it may be to believe: it now, the BIBLE record warns that this apostate power, this "image of the beast," will or- der anyone who will not worship the "image" "to be killed." (Rev. 13:15) This fits the record of all the other crown powers. Every one of them engineered a death decree of some kind upon innocent people of God. Israel ordered Jeremiah killed, Babylon ordered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be thrown in the fire, Medo-Persia sought Daniel's death in the lion's den. Greece under Antiochus committed terrible atrocities, Rome put the Prince of Glory Himself on the cross, the Papacy has exterminated untold thousands for heresy. American Protestantism is next in this lineup.
When this persecuting power appears, perhaps freshly bathed in the unholy water of a new constitutional convention, it will "continue a short space," for so Revelation 17:10 tells us. This Protestant/Papal duo will not be the "crown" power for long. There will be no 500 year reign as with Israel or Rome. No, with modern technology and teleconnmunications these final events will be rapid ones.
8. SATAN. Here is a prophecy of Satan appearing as a powerful world leader; as the Antichrist, or else claiming to be Christ Himself. He will receive world-wide homage. Satan is the only possible power who could "belong to the seven" because he has been alive at the same time that all the crown powers have been around. When the seventh crown power, the U.S., collapses, the resulting world power vacuum will be ripe for Satan's master delusion, when he appears as a charismatic, black messiah, rousing the world, especially the third world, to this allegiance. He will claim to be Christ returned. Thus how important, as Jesus clearly told us in Matthew 24:23-28, to understand the Bible's true teachings about His return. Do you you understand it?
Another idea, which I think will dovetail with the interpretation above, as only the Lord can do, is to look at the series of Popes since the "deadly wound" was healed with the Lateran Concordat of 1929: