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God's Judgment of Rome

Revelation 17-19

James R. Davis

My, how we like winning today! I would like to let you in on a secret. There is a battle raging at this very moment; it is a battle between God and Satan. Guess who is going to win? As we play ball in the deadly serious game of life it is really not necessary for us to know every ball that is thrown and ever strike that is made, or every error made. It is not even necessary for us to understand every yard gained or touch down made. We do not even need to know the details of the game plan because we know who wins. So don't be intimidated by the powers that be, even if they seem to be winning. We can rest assured that things are going according to God's game plan. That is John's message to those Christians undergoing Roman persecution and it is his message to us today.

We have been given advanced notice, in preceding chapters that Babylon has fallen. (14:8; 16:17-21) In the following chapters 17-19, we shall see more clearly just who Babylon is and how great her fall was.

The Woman and the Beast (17:1-18)

The first question that arises as one enters into chapter seventeen is, who is the woman and whom does she represent? The last verse of chapter seventeen gives the greatest clue: "The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth." (17:18) Who else rules over the kings of the earth as John writes in AD 96, other than Rome? The waters the woman sits upon are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. (17:15) Who else is ruling peoples, multitudes, nations and languages, other than Rome? The seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills on which the woman sits. (17:9) As one looks at the topography of the city of Rome seven hills were enclosed within the city.

Then John speaks of seven kings, five of whom have fallen, " . . . one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction." Some go to extreme measure trying to pinpoint the historical significance of each successive ruler of Rome in an effort to decipher the meaning. The number seven has been used throughout the book to signify completeness, so the significance of the number seven is not seen in counting rulers. The significance is seen in the symbolism of the seven kings, which represent the whole series of Roman emperors, no matter how long the line of succession. (G. B. Caird, A Commentary on The Revelation of St. John The Divine, Harper & Row, New York and Evanston, 1966, Pg. 218.)

John is describing Rome as the mother of all prostitutes and the mother of all the abominations of the earth. As she sits with the kings of earth, she commits adultery and the entire earth is portrayed as being intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries. She is dressed as the queen of all harlots. Of course, John is speaking of spiritual adultery and fornication. Rome has seduced the whole earth to commit spiritual fornication by forcing emperor worship on the subjects of the empire. The whole earth is drunk with the wine of her spiritual fornication.

Rome reminds us of that pleasure mad, arrogant, presumptuous Babylon of old. It symbolizes the concentration of the luxury, vice and glamour of this world. She is viewed as the embodiment of "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life." (1 John 2:16) (Hendriksen, p. 201) The entire figure is that of worldliness.

We tend to be intimidated by such worldly power as that which Rome wielded. What difference will your life make in the overall scheme of things? You probably think, "Not much!" We may tend to think that Christians want make a difference in the overall scheme of things. But John portrays all the powers of the earth as making war against the Lamb. Guess who wins? The Lamb is Lord of Lord and King of Kings and he has with him his called, chosen and faithful followers. (17:14) The book of Revelation tells us that our lives will make a difference in the overall scheme of things.

The powers that be will only rule until God's words are fulfilled. John writes what the angel said to him, "The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled." (Revelation 17:15-17)

John portrays God at work fulfilling his will and purpose in our world at large but he is not so busy winning the battle that he has no time to write the names of the called, chosen and faithful in the book of life. What encouragement!!!

The Judgment of Rome (18:1-24)

In chapter eighteen, as John catches a glimpse of the heavenly realm, he sees an angel whose splendorous presence illuminates the earth as he shouts the cry of judgment.

"Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!
She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.
For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries."
(Revelation 18:2-3)

Rome's sins have piled up to the heavens. What a period of calamity this will be for those Christians alive on earth. So another voice warns and assures Christians saying, "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven and God has remembered her crimes." (Revelation 18:4b-5)

God is going to pay her a double portion for all the agony she has poured from her own cup. The mother of prostitutes will reap what she has sown. She will be given as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. Even the kings of the earth will stand far off and cry over her doom.

Those merchants who earlier refused to do business with Christians, in that they could not buy or sell because they would not receive the mark of the beast (13:16-17), now have no one to buy their cargoes. The world economy has collapsed due to Rome's fall. All her riches and splendor are gone. They weep and mourn because " . . . in one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin." (18:17)

After Rome's decline, there was serious economic dislocation and invasions and for the next 300 years Western Europe remained essentially a primitive culture. Virtually no machinery of government existed, and historical development was primarily a local and isolated matter. Regular commerce had almost entirely ceased although the money economy never entirely vanished. (Middle Ages, Funk & Wagnalls' New Encyclopedia, Vol. 17, pg.301) This shows us the devastation of the judgment of God as seen in John's vision.

The ships at sea will see the smoking ruins from afar. They will mourn and throw dust on their heads crying out.

"'Woe! Woe, O great city,
where all that had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth!
In one hour she has been brought to ruin! . . ." (Rev 18:19b)

But there is another cry heard that says, "Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you.'" (Rev 18:20) Then a large boulder is seen as it is hurled to earth as the final stroke is brought against Rome. She is never to rise again. The reason for her judgment is because of all the blood of the prophets and the saints who have been killed on the earth. (18:24)

The gravity of our personal sins is sometimes overlooked. In Rome was found the blood of all the saints who had been killed upon the earth. Jesus spoke to the Jews saying, "And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar." (Matthew 23:35) In submitting to the same attitudes of hate that brought about Abel's death, they agree with Cain's actions. Therefore the Jews are guilty of all the blood of all the prophets that has ever been shed since the beginning of time. Therefore, Rome is guilty of all the blood of the prophets and the saints that have ever been martyred. Her actions and attitudes consent to the same behavior.

The Hallelujah Chorus of the Victory Celebration (19:1-21)

Victory celebrations are always euphoric. As we read Revelation  the smell of victory is in the air, but it is one thing to smell victory and quite another to sing the songs of victory after the victory is won. After the judgment of Rome, John hears the roar of a great heavenly multitude shouting songs of victory:

"Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for true and just are his judgments.
He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants."
And again they shouted: "Hallelujah!
The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever." (Revelations 19:1-3)

Then all the living creatures fall down and praise the One on the throne saying, "Amen, Hallelujah!" Another single voice came from the throne, saying:

Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
both small and great!"

Then a great multitude bursts out in praise. Their voices sound like the roar of Niagara Falls (ad lib) . . . like peals of thunders and they were shouting:

"Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear."
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints. (Rev 19:6-8)

The angel says, "These are the true words of God." What deceitful words the world has heard from the dragon, beast and the false prophets, but ow they will hear the true words of God. Even today we know how things are going to end, God has revealed to us the beginning and the end. God's will continues to be wrought and Rome's destruction stands as a testimony to the truth of God's word. We may not know the details of the game plan but Christians will win in the end.

A rider on a white horse appears, he is called Faithful and True, the Word of God and he is wearing a robe with his named engraved on it, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It leaves no doubt as to the rider's identity. He rides out with many crowns on his head dressed in a white robe dipped in blood. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. Earlier in chapter fourteen, the judgment of God upon the earth was portrayed as the harvesting of grapes, which when gathered were thrown into the winepress of God's wrath. The grapes were trampled and blood rose to the horses bridles for a distance of 180 miles or 300 kilometers. The judgment spoken of in chapter fourteen has now come.

It was a death of disgrace in the Old Testament for a person to die and their body remain left unburied for the vultures of the air to eat. The prophets prophesied that Jezebel in the Old Testament would die and the dogs would drink her blood. It came to pass. Here we see a call for all the vultures of the air to come and gorge on the flesh of kings, generals and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great. The shame and disgrace that accompanies God's judgment is portrayed. (19:17-18)

The beast and the false prophets who had worked miraculous signs are captured. They are thrown alive in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword that came out of the rider's mouth and the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

Conclusion:

These chapters do not portray for us the final judgment of God when Christ will come in judgment on the final day of earth's existence. We shall get a glimpse of the final judgment in the last three chapters of Revelation. But here in chapters 17-19, John portrays for us God's temporal judgment against sin. He reminds us that vengeance does belong to the Lord and the Lord will repay. But not before those who sin are disciplined in an effort to turn them back to God, but if it fails they will experience the full fury of God's wrath.

Rome has been judged never to rise again. But this is not just about Rome; it is about any power in history that Satan breathes civil persecuting power into. Think of the nations that God judged in the Old Testament. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Israel, God's own people. Now God's judgment has come against Rome and it is reserved for any and all nations that are yet to come who forget God.

God's saints are protected and vindicated as the world is judged. Those who have died are standing before God's throne. They come with the Lord of Lords and King of Kings in judgment against the sinfulness of the world.

And now chapter twenty will portray God's judgment against that old dragon called the devil himself. We shall see that Satan's doom is fixed.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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