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The Revelation -- Which Interpretation?
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
We cannot know the future in detail. If, however, we have grasped correctly the general principles of the Revelation, we will know the outline of the future course of events. And this can be of help to us now, in enabling us to see affairs taking shape in preparation for that future including the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The setting up of the Kingdom at the return of Christ is presented to us in the latter part of the Revelation as a conflict between two great cities, "great Babylon" and "that great city, the holy Jerusalem". Babylon the Great is the present rulership that is to be destroyed; the holy city, New Jerusalem is the future rulership that shall enlighten the world. Regarding the fall of Babylon, there is a fundamentally different approach between the interpretation by Bro. Thomas, and practically all the other recent interpretations. In Bro. Thomas' exposition, it is Christ and the saints who carry out the destruction; in the other expositions Babylon is destroyed by the Beast and ten horns. These different interpretations carry two important implications for the future:
1. If the saints carry out the destruction of Babylon they must at that point in time have been raised from the dead. Therefore, the resurrection must take place at an early stage, that is, before the great judgements begin. But if it is thought that the destruction is by the Beast and the Ten Horns, and that this event is before the resurrection and marriage, then several events would have to take place [according to this theory, e.g., Bro. Whittaker, p. 219] before the return of Christ. What we shall be looking for in each case will be different. In
one case there is expectancy of Christ's early return; in the other case there must be a feeling that the time is not yet, with all the doubtful effects this can have on our diligence.
2. If the saints do not carry out the judgement on Babylon, there would be a violation of a principle of Divine justice. We will enlarge on what this means later.
THE SIGNIFICANCE AND NOTORIETY OF BABYLON
The importance we have just attached to Babylon the Great is not recognised in the recent interpretations. This disregard is understandable if a person thinks Babylon is destroyed by the Beast as it is only one of a number of events. So before we proceed further we think it desirable to show how Babylon pervades the latter chapters of the Revelation. Chapter 14 opens with the Lamb on Mount Zion, and after the warning to fear God because the hour of judgement is come, another angel declares: "Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication". Here is the dominant world power with 'all nations' under her spell, at this time. In the 16th chapter, in the 7th Vial that carries the judgements associated with Christ's return, great events are expressed -- "so mighty an 'earthquake' such as was not since men were on the earth"; "every 'island' fled away, and the 'mountains' were not found". In this context it says "and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath". So Babylon is to be the chief recipient of the Divine wrath:-- "the fierceness of his wrath". In chapter 17 Babylon is described as "that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth". Chapter 18 describes the power and greatness of Babylon, and how her evil influence would be paramount; "All nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication"; "By her sorceries were all nations deceived"; "for her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities". Her destruction is a process, and this is covered in chapter 18 as "the smoke of her burning" which continues until the Kingdom. The universal influence of Babylon at the time of her destruction is expressed in chapter 18 by the lamentations of the kings of the earth bewailing her as they see the smoke of her burning. They are joined by the merchants, shipmasters and sailors afar off weeping and wailing and casting dust on their heads, as they see the smoke of her burning. All this is symbolic language, but very graphic and expressive of the vast influence Babylon has. Lastly, that Babylon stands as the opposite to the Holy City, New Jerusalem, which is to govern all nations (21:24-25; cf. 18:21-23), is itself a proof that it will be the chief element of rulership amongst the nations as they oppose Christ.
BABYLON AND THE HARLOT ON THE BEAST: ROME OR JERUSALEM?
Babylon the Great, and the "harlot" (RV) on the beast, are symbols of the same system, expressing different aspects of it. This identity is stated at the end of
chapter 17: "And the woman thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth"; it is also apparent from v.5 that Babylon of the Old Testament, which ruled the then known world, is similarly described as a woman, "the lady of the kingdoms", who said in her heart, "I am, and none else beside me" (Isaiah 47:8).
What does this Babylon the Great, this harlot, represent? Bro. Thomas identifies the harlot as the Roman Catholic Church, or more precisely, the leaders who govern the Church. The city of chapter 18 is the final phase of the kingdom of men. Bro. Whittaker has the harlot as Israel, centred on Jerusalem. Bro. Norris cannot decide which of these two ideas is correct. Bro. Watkins has the harlot as the Roman Church and the beast as Israel!
The harlot and the beast on which she rides are given a very full description, and it ought not to be difficult to find the counterpart to the symbols in the past and the present. It will be found that all the various details are appropriate to the Roman Church and its leadership, at the present and in the developing future. Seven identifications are now given for the harlot being the Roman system.
1. The Roman Church is a harlot
In the Revelation the "bride" is a virgin, faithful to Christ; so that which is presented as a harlot has an unfaithful character -- unfaithful to Christ. This cannot be applied to Israel, who has never accepted a relationship with Christ. It fits the apostasy of the christian churches, headed up in the Roman Catholic system.
2. Sitting on seven hills, 17:9
In John's day Rome was known as the city of the seven hills, because the boundaries enclosed seven hills. This was so well established that a coin of the emperor Vespasian, issued about AD 70, shows a woman sitting on seven hills with the legend 'Roma'. Jerusalem is not a city of seven hills, and has never been known as such.
3. She sits upon many waters, 17:15
'Waters' are interpreted as "Peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues". They represent a world-wide system. Of her claimed 500 million adherents, the Roman Church has half of them outside Europe. When her cardinals assemble at Rome they come from all over the world. Her world-wide growth has been rapid in the 20th century. Although there are many Jews throughout the
world, Jerusalem cannot be said to 'sit' upon many waters; that is, have jurisdiction over them in some sense.
4. Her wine intoxicates kings and peoples of the earth, 17:2; 18:3
Rome's dogmas and mysteries must be accepted by all her adherents; this is skilfully maintained by her priestcraft administering the Confessional, Penance and Mass. Relative to God's Truth, her adherents are intoxicated, they cannot think straight. Israel has no such intoxicating wine that beguiles the world.
5. Drunk with the blood of the martyrs, 17:6; 18:24
"Drunken with blood" is a frightening symbol. The extent of the crime is expressed at the end of chapter 18: "And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth". This is very sweeping. Here is murder of God's people not for a brief 31/2 years in the future, but over many past centuries. Foxes Book of Martyrs describes the papal Roman tyranny against the heretics through the centuries in this country and in Europe. But the language is not true of Israel. Indeed, the Jews suffered equally with the saints at the hand of Rome. Their blood has been shed; they have not been shedders of blood.
6. The name 'Babylon'
On the harlot's forehead is the name 'Mystery, Babylon the Great'; and the great City of the nations is called 'Babylon'. Like other Revelation symbols, such as Balaarn, Jezebel, tree of life, it derives its meaning from an Old Testament situation. There was a Babylon the Great in the past, with her priestcraft and mysteries, deceiving the then known world. Jeremiah describes her as "a golden cup in the LORD's hands, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine, therefore the nations are mad" (Jer. 51:7). Like a stone cast into the water, Chaldean Babylon was to sink and not rise again (51:64). These phrases are reproduced in the description of the symbolic Babylon the Great. So the latter-day Babylon will have the characteristics, and the quality of the original Babylon. That the Roman Church is the embodiment of the spirit and practices of ancient Babylon has been well documented.
Ancient Babylon was the enemy of Israel, and the Roman Church maintains this hostility to the Jews to this day. It does not even recognise the existence of the State of Israel. Therefore to define Israel and Jerusalem by 'Babylon' is turning things upside down. The reverse of Israel being 'Babylon', Israel is scripturally the enemy of the latter-day Babylon. In the same chapters already referred to in Jeremiah, Israel is made the battle axe against Babylon (51:19-24). These words must refer to latter-day Babylon, for Israel has never yet been victorious over Babylon. This being so, we cannot have Israel as Babylon and also the enemy of Babylon.
7. Sitting on a beast with seven heads and ten horns, 17:3.
The beast in Revelation 17 is similar to the beast of the sea of chapter 13, they both have seven heads and ten horns. It is generally agreed that the beast of the sea of chapter 13, with its lion mouth speaking against God and the saints, is the same as the beast of Daniel 7 with its little horn speaking great things against the most High and wearing out the saints. Now the context of this 4th beast, following the three beasts, requires that it represents the Roman power. Daniel's 4th beast exists when Christ comes, because it says the saints take the kingdom from the 4th beast. So, working forward from Daniel's prophecy, we should expect to find in the Revelation a Roman beast with ten horns making war on Christ and the saints. This is what we find in Revelation 17. This establishes that the beast ridden by the harlot is associated with Rome and not Jerusalem.
Adding together the evidence of these seven items, it must surely be agreed that the harlot and the city Babylon are to be associated with Rome and not with Jerusalem.
WHO DESTROYS 'BABYLON': THE BEAST OR THE LAMB TOGETHER WITH THE SAINTS?
Accepting the evidence just given, that the harlot on the beast, alias Babylon the Great, is the last phase of the Roman christian system, the next question is, 'Who finally destroys it, the beast or the Lamb and the Saints?' This question may be examined by considering another question, 'Is the harlot/Babylon finally destroyed before or after the resurrection?' If before the resurrection, then the saints cannot be involved in the destruction. So the question of when the resurrection takes place is important to us, both in a personal sense, and in determining the course of future events. We believe there is ample evidence to show that the resurrection has taken place before Babylon finally falls for the saints are on the scene at that time. Here are seven points of evidence.
1. Revelation 14.
In Revelation 14:4 we are told that the redeemed "follow the Lamb withersoever he goeth". There follows in this chapter a sequence of three 'angels': the first declares that the hour of God's judgement is come; the second announces the fall of Babylon; and the third follows saying that the worshippers of the beast will be punished in the presence of the Lamb. As the redeemed are with the Lamb (v.4), it follows they are with Christ when Babylon falls (v.8) and the beast worshippers are punished.
2. Revelation 16.
The 7th Vial events belong to the future when the temple is opened in heaven. This may be established by comparing the language of the 7th Vial with Revelation 11: 15-19. In Revelation 11: 18 the resurrection takes place; and in verse 19 the temple is opened in heaven and there follows "lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail". It will be found
that these elements are the characteristics of the 7th Vial: a great voice out of the temple of God in heaven, thunders and lightnings, a great earthquake, and hail. And it is during this 7th Vial that Babylon comes up for remembrance before God. So Babylon is about to be destroyed: it has, therefore, not been destroyed already. Also chapter 11 has told us the resurrection has already taken place.
This sequence of events is also established by the sequence of symbols in chapter 16. At the end of the 6th Vial we have the announcement: "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth. . . " This is the point in time of the resurrection. The 7th Vial and the judgement of Babylon follows.
3. Revelation 18.
The fall of Babylon is announced in verse 2. The previous (opening) verse has, in symbolic language, a mighty angel coming down from 'heaven' to the 'earth'; and the earth is enlightened with his glory. So the enlightening work of the 'angel' is in hand before the announcement of Babylon's fall as in 14:6, 7. The enlightening of the nations is the work of Cbrist and the saints; they are the mighty 'angel' coming down from the new 'heaven' to the Gentile 'earth'. So once again, the sequence of events requires that the saints are resurrected and on the scene before the fall of Babylon. It is through the enlightening work of the saints that Babylon "is become the habitation of devils and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird" (v.2) -- the nations now see her in her true light.
4. Revelation 18:6: Reward her as she hath rewarded you.
As Babylon is about to be destroyed, the words are heard "Reward her even as she rewarded you". Are they addressed to the beast, or to the saints? They are appropriate to the saints who have suffered at the hands of Babylon. They are obviously not appropriate to the beast. It is the saints therefore who are going to destroy Babylon. The RV variant," Render unto her as she hath rendered", does not alter the sense: to 'render'is to requite back.
Later in this chapter we read: "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her" (v. 20). The saints must be there to be 'the heaven' and to make the rejoicing. As to carrying out the avenging, this is a principle of God, expressed by the Psalmist: "Let the saints be joyful in glory... a two-edged sword in their hand; to execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments on the people... To execute upon them the judgement written: this honour have all his saints" (Psa. 149:5-9). So there can be no doubt that the saints take part in the overthrow of Babylon; the resurrection must take place at an earlier stage.
5. Revelation 19: The Hallelujah rejoicing.
At the beginning of chapter 19 there is a great rejoicing at the judgement on the harlot-City. We read: "And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour,
and power, unto the Lord our God". Much people in 'heaven' means the saints are in power. This is confirmed by the 24 elders and the four living creatures being before the throne (v.4). Clearly the saints are alive, not still sleeping in the dust.
6. Daniel 7.
We have several times already pointed out that the saints take the kingdom from the fourth beast and its little horn. The little horn with its eyes like the eyes of a man, and speaking great words against the most High, is the Roman papal system. This is equivalent to the harlot in the Revelation. The saints must have been resurrected to carry out the work of taking the kingdom from the beast and its little horn.
7. Israel conquers Babylon.
We have already quoted from Jeremiah chapter 51, that the nation of Israel in the future is God's battle axe against Babylon. The saints will be the head of Israel in the future. Therefore it is the Lamb together with the saints and Israel who destroy the latter-day Babylon.
SOME DIFFICULTIES TO BE SOLVED
There are three difficulties [i.e., objections raised in the modern interpretations] to be considered in maintaining that the saints carry out the destruction of Babylon:
1. The horns burn the harlot with fire (Rev. 17:16).
2. The call in 18:4 - "Come out of her my people".
3. The marriage of the Lamb takes place in chapter 19.
1. The horns burns the harlot with fire (Rev. 17:16).
This verse reads: "And the ten horns ... shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate, and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her utterly with fire" (RV). Burning with fire is also used in chapter 18 regarding Babylon: "Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her" (ch. 18:8). It is not unreasonable to assume these two burnings are the same event, and as all agree that the Harlot and the City are the same system, it would follow that it is the horns that burn the City Babylon with fire, not the saints. In other words if the horns burn the Harlot, it is the horns that burn the City. Further, it will be contended, does not the phrase 'utterly burn' denote complete destruction, so that when the horns utterly burn the harlot, she is destroyed?
In considering this difficulty we will first examine whether the two burnings are the same situation and occasion. Careful comparison shows they are not.
a) In chapter 17 the horn-kings hate the Harlot; in chapter 18 they have affection towards her: "and the kings of the earth who have committed fornication
and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning" (v. 9). Living deliciously with her, and lamenting her fall is the opposite of hating her and eating her flesh. Again, at the time of the destruction of the City she "reigns over the kings of the earth". This is different from being hated and burned by these kings.
b) In chapter 17, she is desolate, her flesh eaten - she has lost her temporal power, she is widowed; but in chapter 18 she is again supported by temporal power, and says: "I sit a queen and am no widow". Surely these are two different situations, belonging to different times.
c) Though the character of the judgement in the two cases is similar, it is not identical. There is no doubt that in chapter 18 it is a final judgement and destruction: "And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall the great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all" (v. 21). There is not this finality about the judgement in chapter 17. 'Made desolate, naked, flesh eaten' represent severe judgement, but there is still life. Even the phrase 'burn her utterly with fire' that is added, does not necessarily mean final destruction. In Old Testament times Jerusalem was 'utterly burned with fire', but that was not her end. Jeremiah says she was subjected to a fire "that cannot be quenched" - extreme language like utterly burn. But after 70 years captivity Jerusalem revived in a weaker form and continued for centuries.
What then is the relation of these two 'burnings' in chapter 17 and chapter 18? The structure of chapter 17 needs careful attention. It appears at first sight that the horns hating the harlot (v.16), occurs after the beast and ten horns have made war on the Lamb, and the Lamb has overcome them (v. 14). This of course, cannot be, and on closer examination it is found that verses 8-14 inclusive, are a parenthesis about the beast, and is introduced to help explain the 'mystery' of the harlot. If we remove the parenthesis, we are left with the clear sequence regarding the harlot, reading verses 1-6 and following on with 15-18; and verse 18 links the two chapters. According to the continuous historical interpretation, the hating of the harlot, making her desolate, burning her with fire, occurred in the last century; the destruction of the City in chapter 18 belongs to the future. The hating of the harlot making her naked, burning her with fire, has already been described in Revelation 16, in the judgements of the first five Vials, particularly the 4th and 5th. The 4th was poured on the Sun, the civil power supporting the Papacy, and it was given unto it "to scorch men with fire." And men were scorched with great heat". The 5th Vial turned the kingdom into darkness. These judgements poured out by Napoleon on Catholic Europe, on the horn kingdoms that had been under the feudal system for a thousand years, certainly brought distress to the Catholic Church; the Church lost most of its vast lands and wealth, and influence. This was the first stage of the Harlot's judgement. She has been allowed to revive for the final conflict with the Lord Jesus himself, and her final judgement.
2. 'Come out of her my people'.
In the recent interpretations that claim Babylon is destroyed by the horns of Europe before Christ reveals himself, support is sought in the words of Revelation 18:4 exclaimed just before Babylon falls: "Come out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins". It is said that this proves that the saints have not been gathered at the point when Babylon falls.
Such a proposal is erroneous in two respects. Firstly, Christ's brethren, those truly in the Name, are never in Babylon, and so cannot be called on to come out of her; therefore these words cannot apply to them. Revelation 14:4 says that they are "not defiled with women" -- they have no association with the harlot and her daughters.
Secondly, there is a class of people to whom the words properly apply. Before the fall of Babylon the gospel is preached to every nation, kindred and people (ch. 14:6, 7), calling on them to fear God and worship him because the hour of judgement is come. Those who respond to this call must come out of Babylon, and repudiate her teachings and practices; they will be 'my people'. Jews are included in this call, for not only do they hold Babylonish ideas - the immortal soul and heaven going - but they will at this time be held captive in Europe; in the Great City in a geographical sense. Zechariah had prophesied of this situation: "Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the LORD: for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, saith the LORD. Deliver thyself, 0 Zion, that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon" (Zech. 2:6-7).
3. The Marriage of the Lamb, Chapter 19.
The marriage and the marriage feast of the Lamb is referred to in chapter 19, and it is proposed that this means that the resurrection does not take place until chapter 19. If this is so, it is asked -- how can the saints take part in the destruction of Babylon, which has already taken place in the previous chapter? But it is not true that the resurrection occurs in chapter 19. First, a study of the appropriate section in chapter 19 will show that the event in view in chapter 19 is the marriage supper or feast of the Lamb, rather than the marriage.
It should be noted that the translators have not rendered the tense correctly in verse 8. The diaglott reads: "the marriage of the Lamb came, and his wife prepared herself. And it was given unto her that she should be clothed with fine linen. . . " The past tense is used; and the marriage, in as far as it concerned resurrection and being arrayed in white linen were things of the past. Clothing in white linen is the symbol of putting on immortality - see 3:5; 6:11; 7:9. In the phrase of Rev. 19:8, fine linen is "the justification" of saints. So at the time at which we have arrived in chapter 19, putting on immortality is something in the past. The time has come for a Hallelujah rejoicing, and an invitation to the marriage feast of the Lamb. The marriage feast marks a great step forward in the developing situation in which the saints are taking the
kingdom and subduing human rule. It will probably mark the inauguration of the New Jerusalem rulership, at the great administrative centre built at Jerusalem. A harmonious piecing together of all relevant scripture could never arrive at the conclusion that the saints only come from the dust of death at this point in time. It would be quite contrary to the clear picture of Revelation chapter 14, where the redeemed are with the Lamb before the aionian gospel is preached and the angel declares that Babylon has fallen.
The question of when the resurrection took place is not involved in this chapter; the marriage supper does not define when it occurred. We have shown that resurrection takes place at an early stage, to allow the saints to carry out the judgements that bring about the fall of Babylon. In chapter 19 they are "the much people in heaven" (v. 1) -- in a ruling position -- rejoicing because the harlot has been judged, and the city destroyed.
CONTENTS | Chapter 10: ANOTHER "HISTORICAL" INTERPRETATION
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