God’s Got This

1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ESV

In this chapter, Paul begins to address the primary issue for which he wrote his letter. There was confusion among the Thessalonian believers regarding the end times, and it was leading to some false and dangerous conclusions. It didn’t help that there were others, claiming to be speaking prophetically, who were throwing fuel on the flames of fear spreading among the flock.

Paul had already written to them regarding the pretribulation Rapture of the church in his first letter.

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 ESV

The return of Christ for His church would begin the day of the Lord and would be followed immediately by the seven years of Tribulation. There is a chronology or God-ordained timeline to all of the events associated with the coming day of the Lord and Paul wants to assuage their fears by clarifying the sequence of events.

Evidently, there was a great deal of anxiety present in the church because people were beginning to question whether the day of the Lord had already begun. A major contributor to this mindset was the persecution they were having to endure. If, as some were teaching, the day of the Lord had begun, then Paul must have been wrong about the Rapture. He had indicated that Christ’s return for the church would happen first. But the conditions under which the Thessalonians were having to live seemed to indicate that the last days had already begun and Jesus had not shown up yet. They were still on earth and not in heaven with Jesus.

Paul understands their fear and immediately addresses the true source of their confusion: A faulty understanding regarding Christ’s return for the church. He opens this section of his letter with the words, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV). In this one sentence, Paul addresses to separate events. The first, “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” has to do with His Second Coming. The second, “our being gathered together to him,” has to do with the Rapture of the church. A major risk the Thessalonians faced was to blend these two events into one. A second risk was to assume that Rapture had already occurred. That appears to be what the Thessalonians were wrestling with and what was causing their fear and confusion. They were alarmed that the day of the Lord had come and they had not been gathered together with him. Had Paul been wrong? Were they living in the last days? Had they missed something?

The Thessalonians had an incomplete and, therefore, incorrect understanding of the end times chain of events. While Paul had taught them about the Rapture of the church, they were being told by others that it had already happened. Which meant that they were living in the period of the Tribulation. And their circumstances seemed to point to that reality. They were suffering persecution and affliction. So, if they had missed the Rapture, it only made sense for them to begin looking for the second coming of the Lord. In essence, they were jumbling together a range of end times events and creating a false timeline that had resulted in confusion, not comfort.

But Paul tells them, “that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV). What day? The day of the Lord. The second coming of Christ will not take place until certain other events happen first. God has a timeline, and every event on that timeline has to happen in order and according to His divine plan. The first will be the removal of the church at the Rapture, which is what Paul taught them in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. And here, Paul tells them what will happen as a result of the Rapture of the church.

The presence of the church on the earth acts as a restraining influence on evil. That is because of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV

For we are the temple of the living God – 2 Corinthians 6:16 ESV

The church’s removal from the earth will leave a spiritual vacuum. And Paul points out that the restraining influence of the Spirit of God, who indwells the people of God, will be removed.

…you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. – 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 ESV

Paul is not inferring that the Holy Spirit vacates the premises. He is a divine being and is omnipresent. But with the removal of all believers from the earth, the primary role of the Spirit of God is removed as well.

“The Holy Spirit accomplishes His ministry of restraining lawlessness in the world mainly through the influence of Christians whom He indwells, specifically through their gospel preaching.” – Bibliotheca Sacra 154:615 (July-September 1997):329.

The Rapture of the church and the removal of the restrainer will usher in “the rebellion” and reveal “the lawlessness one.” These are references to the Tribulation and the Antichrist. The Rapture will be followed by the seven years of Tribulation, when the unbelieving world will rebel against God, even in the face of successive waves of divine judgment against them. And the Antichrist will rise to power and prominence during those days, seeking to destroy the people of Israel and all who come to faith during those difficult days. God, in His mercy and grace, will redeem a remnant of Jews and Gentiles during the days of the Tribulation, and Antichrist will pour out His wrath on them, resulting in the martyrdom of thousands of these Tribulation saints.

And this self-proclaimed world leader, operating under the power and influence of Satan, will go so far as to set himself up as God, erecting an idol of himself in the rebuilt temple of God in Jerusalem. We know from the book of Revelation that this egotistical and arrogant autocrat will require that all people worship him and him alone. The residents of the earth will be forced to receive a mark on their foreheads that designate them as belonging to the Antichrist. Without that mark, they will not be able to buy, sell or trade.

Paul is trying to let the Thessalonians know that the day of the Lord is going to look dramatically different than what they were experiencing. The persecution they were going through would pale in comparison. Jesus warned, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21-22 ESV).

And Paul informs them that the day of the Lord will culminate with the return of the Lord. Jesus Christ will come back to earth and deal with Antichrist once and for all. Again, the book of Revelation tells us that Antichrist will be cast into hell where he will undergo eternal torment. And all those who “refused to love the truth and so be saved” will join him there. The day of the Lord will end with the Great White Throne judgment, where all the unrighteous who have ever lived will receive the punishment they deserve for having rejected the gracious offer of salvation through Jesus Christ.

And Paul provides the Thessalonians with a strong word of warning, reminding them that they don’t want to reject the truth of God. They don’t want to negate or alter in any way what God has revealed about His redemptive plan. Those who reject His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone will find themselves beyond help and devoid of any hope of redemption.

Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 ESV

The Thessalonians had not missed the Rapture. And their suffering was not a sign that the end times had arrived. They needed to trust that God had a plan and He was working that plan to perfection. There was no reason for them to fear. Their current circumstances were not sufficient cause to doubt. They were “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (2 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

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Turn and Be Saved

14 Thus says the Lord:
“The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush,
    and the Sabeans, men of stature,
shall come over to you and be yours;
    they shall follow you;
    they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.
They will plead with you, saying:
    ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other,
    no god besides him.’”

15 Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
    O God of Israel, the Savior.
16 All of them are put to shame and confounded;
    the makers of idols go in confusion together.
17 But Israel is saved by the Lord
    with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be put to shame or confounded
    to all eternity.

18 For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
    (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
    (he established it;
he did not create it empty,
    he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.
19 I did not speak in secret,
    in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
    ‘Seek me in vain.’
I the Lord speak the truth;
    I declare what is right.

20 “Assemble yourselves and come;
    draw near together,
    you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
    who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god
    that cannot save.
21 Declare and present your case;
    let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
    Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
    And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
    there is none besides me.

22 “Turn to me and be saved,
    all the ends of the earth!
    For I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn;
    from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
    a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
    every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

24 “Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
    are righteousness and strength;
to him shall come and be ashamed
    all who were incensed against him.
25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
    shall be justified and shall glory.” – Isaiah 45:14-25 ESV

In verse 13, God makes it clear that Cyrus was going to obey His command to allow the people of Judah to return to their land, and without any incentive attached to his actions.

“…he shall build my city
    and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,”
    says the Lord of hosts.” – Isaiah 45:13 ESV

He would do it simply because God had ordained it. There was nothing in it for him. He would receive nothing for his efforts. In fact, Cyrus would end up giving more than he would get. The book of Ezra tells us that he “brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods” (Ezra 1:7 ESV). He returned these items of plunder to the Jews. And the Jews would walk away with great wealth because of the decree of Cyrus.

“And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:4 ESV

The returning remnant would walk out of Babylon carrying greta quantities of gold, silver, goods, and livestock. But Cyrus would receive nothing for his actions.

And yet, God tells the people of Judah, living in the days of Isaiah, that things will be quite different for their ancestors who are part of the remnant that returns.

“The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush,
    and the Sabeans, men of stature,
shall come over to you and be yours;
    they shall follow you;
    they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.” – Isaiah 45:14 ESV

What a stark difference. Cyrus, who would obey the will of God, will receive nothing. But the rebellious people of Judah, who were sent into exile because of their disobedience, will receive the wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush. It makes no sense. It even seems a bit unfair. Which brings up the point God made in verse 9.

“Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
    ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT

This is why it makes no sense to argue with God and to dispute His ways. He does what He deems best. He acts in ways that make no sense. The people of Judah to whom Isaiah was prophesying could not understand why God was going to allow the Babylonians to defeat them and take them captive. And they were prone to dispute and disagree with His methods. But God was letting them know that His ways, while difficult to understand, were always for the best. He was providing them with a glimpse into the future and showing them that this nightmare had a happy ending to it. And if they would only trust Him, they would learn that they had no reason to doubt Him.

The people of Judah deserved no reward. They didn’t even merit their restoration to the land of promise. In the 70 years they would be exiled in Babylon, they would do nothing to earn God’s favor or merit their return to Jerusalem. And yet, God was revealing that they would return and with great wealth. And the Gentile nations that witnessed this God-ordained event would recognize the hand of God in it and respond, “Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him” (Isaiah 45:14 ESV).

At this point, we have to determine whether the details described in this prophecy have already been fulfilled. We know from the biblical record that the Babylonians eventually defeated Jerusalem and took the people of Judah captive. We also know that 70 years later, King Cyrus issued the decree that make possible their return to the land of promise. And it is a proven fact that the city of Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt. But when those things happened, did the Egyptians, Ethiopian, and Sabeans follow the people of Judah in chains and bow down before them? Did the Jews find their return to the land accompanied by Gentile subjection and the worship of Yahweh? The book of Nehemiah provides us with an answer to that question:

When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the people of Ashdod heard that the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem had moved ahead and that the breaches had begun to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to move with armed forces against Jerusalem and to create a disturbance in it. – Nehemiah 4:7-8 NLT

The Jews were opposed in their efforts to rebuild the city. They were surrounded by enemies who did everything in their power to derail their efforts. And to this day, Israel finds itself facing intense opposition to its presence in the land. So, it would seem that the content of this prophecy remains as yet, unfulfilled.

But the point of this passage is the sovereign work of God and His ongoing role as the Savior of Israel. And the emphasis is on His eternal relationship with His covenant people.

Israel is saved by the Lord
    with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be put to shame or confounded
    to all eternity. – Isaiah 45:17 ESV

While the people of Judah were having a hard time seeing past the news that they were going to fall to the Babylonians, God was focusing on the larger, long-term plan for their well-being. When God created the world, He did so with an eternal strategy in mind. It was never intended to be devoid of human life and filled with confusion.

For the Lord is God,
    and he created the heavens and earth
    and put everything in place.
He made the world to be lived in,
    not to be a place of empty chaos. – Isaiah 45:18 NLT

God did not make an empty world, but one that was meant to be occupied. And He did not tell the people of Israel to seek Him and then hide Himself from them. He had a reason behind His calling of them and it is eternal in scope. And God speaks of a time when He will call all the nations of the earth to come to Him.

“Assemble yourselves and come;
    draw near together,
    you survivors of the nations!” – Isaiah 45:20 ESV

There is a day coming when the nations of the earth will recognize that their false gods cannot save them. They will finally realize that their idols are lifeless and useless. And God will tell them, “there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me” (Isaiah 45:21 ESV). What will cause the nations of the earth to come to this recognition? What will finally make them recognize the futility of their false gods and the reality of God’s status as the one true God.? It will be the unprecedented judgment of God that will come upon the earth during the days of the Great Tribulation. Jesus described those coming days in very stark terms:

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21 ESV

In those days, God will bring unparalleled suffering, destruction, and death upon sinful mankind. But they will refuse to repent. They will remain obstinate and stubbornly resistant to the obvious judgment of God taking place all around them. The apostle John was given a vision of the Tribulation and recorded the amazingly obdurate nature of sinful mankind.

Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. His subjects ground their teeth in anguish, and they cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they did not repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. – Revelation 16:10-11 NLT

And yet, then as now, God’s will is that all men repent and return to Him. Which is why he calls out, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22 ESV). And all that God does is intended to convince sinful mankind that He is the one true God. There are no other gods. And while, during the Tribulation, the world will choose to worship the Antichrist and Satan, God will be persistently proving their weakness and His own power. And by the time the seven years of the Tribulation are over, all the world will find itself bowing down before God, just as He has predicted.

‘To me every knee shall bow,
    every tongue shall swear allegiance. – Isaiah 45:23 ESV

Man can choose to humble himself and worship God, or he will find himself humbled by God and bowing down before Him in fear and subjugation. Isaiah records God’s decree concerning that day.

“The descendants of your tormentors will come and bow before you. Those who despised you will kiss your feet. They will call you the City of the LORD, and Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 60:14 NLT

And in his letter to the Romans, Paul quotes from Isaiah 45, when he writes:

For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.'” – Romans 14:11 NLT

God calls on sinful mankind to turn and be saved. He pleads with them to repent of their sinful ways. But if they refuse, the day will come when they bow before Him anyway.

…to him shall come and be ashamed
    all who were incensed against him. – Isaiah 45:24 ESV

All will one day bow before Him – some in humility and worship, others in humiliation and fear. But there will be no one who remains ignorant of His place as the one true God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All Things New.

1 Draw near, O nations, to hear,
    and give attention, O peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that fills it;
    the world, and all that comes from it.
For the Lord is enraged against all the nations,
    and furious against all their host;
    he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter.
Their slain shall be cast out,
    and the stench of their corpses shall rise;
    the mountains shall flow with their blood.
All the host of heaven shall rot away,
    and the skies roll up like a scroll.
All their host shall fall,
    as leaves fall from the vine,
    like leaves falling from the fig tree.

For my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens;
    behold, it descends for judgment upon Edom,
    upon the people I have devoted to destruction.
The Lord has a sword; it is sated with blood;
    it is gorged with fat,
    with the blood of lambs and goats,
    with the fat of the kidneys of rams.
For the Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah,
    a great slaughter in the land of Edom.
Wild oxen shall fall with them,
    and young steers with the mighty bulls.
Their land shall drink its fill of blood,
    and their soil shall be gorged with fat.

For the Lord has a day of vengeance,
    a year of recompense for the cause of Zion.
And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch,
    and her soil into sulfur;
    her land shall become burning pitch.
10 Night and day it shall not be quenched;
    its smoke shall go up forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
    none shall pass through it forever and ever.
11 But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it,
    the owl and the raven shall dwell in it.
He shall stretch the line of confusion over it,
    and the plumb line of emptiness.
12 Its nobles—there is no one there to call it a kingdom,
    and all its princes shall be nothing.

13 Thorns shall grow over its strongholds,
    nettles and thistles in its fortresses.
It shall be the haunt of jackals,
    an abode for ostriches.
14 And wild animals shall meet with hyenas;
    the wild goat shall cry to his fellow;
indeed, there the night bird settles
    and finds for herself a resting place.

15 There the owl nests and lays
    and hatches and gathers her young in her shadow;
indeed, there the hawks are gathered,
    each one with her mate.
16 Seek and read from the book of the Lord:
    Not one of these shall be missing;
    none shall be without her mate.
For the mouth of the Lord has commanded,
    and his Spirit has gathered them.
17 He has cast the lot for them;
    his hand has portioned it out to them with the line;
they shall possess it forever;
    from generation to generation they shall dwell in it. – Isaiah 34:1-17 ESV

Destruction, slaughter, judgment, blood, vengeance, confusion, and emptiness.

Not exactly words of comfort, are they? And while they may create in us a sense of unease and discomfort because of the way they portray our God, they provide a much-needed reminder of the comprehensiveness God’s divine nature. In an age when we prefer to focus all our attention on the love of God, the 34th chapter of Isaiah is a stark reminder of His hatred for sin and the wrath He expresses toward those who willingly flaunt their sin in His face.

This entire chapter is a universal message directed at all the nations of the world. It is God’s indictment against any and all who refuse to acknowledge Him as the one and only God. While they may enjoy their season of rebellion against Him, the day is coming when judgment will fall on each and every one of them.

For the Lord is enraged against the nations.
    His fury is against all their armies.
He will completely destroy them,
    dooming them to slaughter. – Isaiah 34:2 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of this very same day of pending judgment.

“His cry of judgment will reach the ends of the earth,
    for the Lord will bring his case against all the nations.
He will judge all the people of the earth,
    slaughtering the wicked with the sword.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!”

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:
    “Look! Disaster will fall upon nation after nation!
A great whirlwind of fury is rising
    from the most distant corners of the earth!”  – Jeremiah 25:31-32 NLT

Both Isaiah and Jeremiah speak of a battle of epic proportions and a slaughter so great that the bodies of the dead will remain unburied.

Their dead will be left unburied,
    and the stench of rotting bodies will fill the land… – Isaiah 34:3 NLT

In that day those the Lord has slaughtered will fill the earth from one end to the other. No one will mourn for them or gather up their bodies to bury them. They will be scattered on the ground like manure. – Jeremiah 25:33 NLT

Obviously, this will be a battle like nothing the world has ever witnessed. It does not depict a war between nations, as were the first two world wars. This will be a conflict between the nations of the world and God Almighty. Ultimately, it will be a spiritual battle played out between the forces of Satan and the Son of God. But that does not mean it will be metaphorical or allegorical in nature. No, this end-times showdown between God and the self-exalted nations of the world will involve actual armies, intent on defeating God and displacing Him as the ruler of the world.

Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great Euphrates River, and it dried up so that the kings from the east could march their armies toward the west without hindrance. And I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs leap from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. They are demonic spirits who work miracles and go out to all the rulers of the world to gather them for battle against the Lord on that great judgment day of God the Almighty. – Revelation 16:12-14 NLT

And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon. – Revelation 16:16 NLT

These nations will be demonically inspired to wage war against God Almighty and His people. And while their numbers will be great, their effort will end in failure. This gathering of the nations in opposition to God will usher in the Second Coming of Christ. And the apostle John describes Jesus as coming on the clouds, dressed in white, and prepared to “release the fierce wrath of God” (Revelation 19:15 NLT). And His arrival will spell doom for the enemies of God.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, shouting to the vultures flying high in the sky: “Come! Gather together for the great banquet God has prepared. Come and eat the flesh of kings, generals, and strong warriors; of horses and their riders; and of all humanity, both free and slave, small and great.” – Revelation 19:17-18 NLT

Isaiah goes on to describe the nature of the destruction. It will be widespread and complete. And Isaiah uses the Edomites, the descenants of Esau, as the representatives of all the nations of the world. Esau was the twin brother of Jacob, and both were born to Isaac. But God chose Jacob to be the one through whom His promise of a Messiah would come. And in the book of Malachi, God expressed His love for Jacob and His hatred for Esau.

“I have always loved you,” says the Lord.

But you retort, “Really? How have you loved us?”

And the Lord replies, “This is how I showed my love for you: I loved your ancestor Jacob, but I rejected his brother, Esau, and devastated his hill country. I turned Esau’s inheritance into a desert for jackals.”

Esau’s descendants in Edom may say, “We have been shattered, but we will rebuild the ruins.” – Malachi 1:2-4 NLT

Esau’s descendants, angry at their rejection by God, displayed a stubborn determination to resist the will of God. And their challenge to God’s sovereignty and authority remains alive and well today. The Edomites are, in essence, the poster boy for all those who stand in opposition to God. And Isaiah makes it quite clear that allthose who stand opposed to God will ultimately fall.

He will make a mighty slaughter in Edom.
Even men as strong as wild oxen will die—
    the young men alongside the veterans.
The land will be soaked with blood
    and the soil enriched with fat. – Isaiah 34:6-7 NLT

But what is the purpose behind all of this slaughter? Why will God bring such devastation on the nations of the earth? Isaiah tells us.

For the Lord has a day of vengeance,
    a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. – Isaiah 34:8 ESV

Part of God’s covenant promise to Abraham was that any nation who cursed his descendants would be cursed themselves.

“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.” – Genesis 12:3 ESV

And while there have been many nations which have persecuted the people of God over the centuries, the intensity of Israel’s persecution will reach its apex during the seven years of the Tribulation. Under the influence of the Antichrist, the nations of the earth will turn on the people of Israel with greater degree of hostility and intensity than has ever been seen before. And while many Jews and Christians will die as martyrs during the Tribulation, God will keep His promise to curse those who curse Israel.

Isaiah’s description of this coming day of God’s judgment is filled with imagery that conveys complete and utter destruction, but primarily of humanity. Notice that the animals are allowed to occupy the land once occupied by the nations.

The land will lie deserted from generation to generation.
    No one will live there anymore. – Isaiah 34:10 NLT

This is meant to convey that God’s judgment is final and complete. It is not just a temporary setback for mankind. Remember what the Edomites said: “We have been shattered, but we will rebuild the ruins.” That will not be the case when God is done with His judgment of the nations of the earth. 

God’s devastation of His creation sets the stage for His restoration and recreation of all that He has made. The sin-tarnished creation will be restored to its original luster by God. He will make all things new.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 64:43:19 ESV

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:5 ESV

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind. – Isaiah 65:17 ESV

The day is coming when God “shall stretch the line of confusion…and the plumb line of emptiness” over the land. He will judge the world in righteousness. But He will also restore to it the peace and fruitfulness it had enjoyed in the days of creation. He will make all things new.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A King Will Reign in Righteousness

1 Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
    and princes will rule in justice.
Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,
    a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in a dry place,
    like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed,
    and the ears of those who hear will give attention.
The heart of the hasty will understand and know,
    and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly.
The fool will no more be called noble,
    nor the scoundrel said to be honorable.
For the fool speaks folly,
    and his heart is busy with iniquity,
to practice ungodliness,
    to utter error concerning the Lord,
to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied,
    and to deprive the thirsty of drink.
As for the scoundrel—his devices are evil;
    he plans wicked schemes
to ruin the poor with lying words,
    even when the plea of the needy is right.
But he who is noble plans noble things,
    and on noble things he stands. – Isaiah 32:1-8 ESV

In the future time period, predicted by Isaiah in the preceding chapter, there will be a time of great victory over the enemies of God’s people, foreshadowed by the soon-to-take-place defeat of the Assyrians. The miraculous nature of their fall, with an angel God destroying 185,000 of their soldiers in the middle of the night, is meant to be a precursor to an even greater victory in the end times: The Battle of Armageddon.

When Christ returns at the end of the seven years of the Tribulation, He will win a decisive victory over the combined armies of the world, which will be led by the Antichrist. The apostle John describes this epic battle in the book of Revelation. With the pouring out of the sixth bowl judgment, John saw:

…demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. – Revelation 16:14-16 ESV

The word “Armageddon” is derived from the Hebrew word Har-Magedone, which means “Mount Megiddo.” The Hebrew word Har can also refer to a “hill,” and since there is no mountain known as Mount Megiddo, it is thought that this is likely a reference to the hill country that surrounds the plain of Meggido, some sixty miles north of Jerusalem Megiddo. It is in this massive plain that the armies of the world will assemble to wage war against the people of God, which will include the Jewish people and all those who will have come to faith in Christ during the days of the Tribulation. But John was given a further glimpse of this epic battle. He saw a vision of Jesus, arrayed in a white robe dipped in blood and riding a white horse. He was leading “the armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress” (Revelation 19:14-15 NLT).

And John goes on to describe how Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, totally destroys the combined armies of the world, bringing an end to the rule of the Antichrist and terminating the seven years of the Tribulation.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse. And the vultures all gorged themselves on the dead bodies. – Revelation 19:19-21 NLT

And when Isaiah describes a king who will reign in righteousness and princes who will rule alongside him justice, he is speaking prophetically of this future period in history. The book of Revelation provides us with further insight into this end-times event. As a result of their defeat at the battle of Armageddon, Antichrist and his associate, the false prophet, will be cast into hell. This will be followed by the binding of Satan. John describes him as being captured by an angel of God and thrown “into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward, he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:3 NLT). With Satan imprisoned and His influence removed from the earth, the Millennial Kingdom of Christ will begin, free from Satanic opposition. And John was given a vision of what happens next.

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4 NLT

This literal one-thousand-year period of time will be like nothing mankind has ever seen of experience. And Isaiah attempts to give us some insight into its uniqueness. For the first time in a long time, those with eyes will actually see the truth of God. Those with hears will hear it. The imagery Isaiah uses is meant to provide a picture of spiritual transformation taking place in the hearts and minds of the people on earth at the time. The truth of God, so often marred by the stammering tongues and deceitful half-truths of men will be clearly understood. People will no longer listen to the words of fools and elevate these kinds of people to places of honor. The days of godless leaders misguiding the people will be over. In a world where injustice and unrighteousness have become the norm, God will usher in a one-thousand-year period of peace, righteousness and spiritual prosperity, made possible by the reign on His Son on the throne of David.

The prophet, Daniel, was also given a vision of this future scene.

As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14 NLT

The end of the age culminates with the righteous rule of Christ on earth. And Isaiah, later on in his book, provides us with further details concerning how the Tribulation will come to an end and the millennial kingdom of Christ will begin.

He put on righteousness as his body armor
    and placed the helmet of salvation on his head.
He clothed himself with a robe of vengeance
    and wrapped himself in a cloak of divine passion.
He will repay his enemies for their evil deeds.
    His fury will fall on his foes.
    He will pay them back even to the ends of the earth.
In the west, people will respect the name of the Lord;
    in the east, they will glorify him.
For he will come like a raging flood tide
    driven by the breath of the Lord.

“The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem
    to buy back those in Israel
who have turned from their sins,”
    says the Lord. – Isaiah 59:17-20 NLT

And Isaiah clearly indicates that the actions of Jesus will be to fulfill the covenant God had made with the people of Israel generations earlier.

“And this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children’s children forever. I, the Lord, have spoken! – Isaiah 59:21 NLT

What we have here is a remarkable reminder of God’s faithfulness. He keeps His commitments and fulfills His promises. It may not always appear as if God is holding up His end of the bargain, but there has never been a case where God has failed to come through on what He has said He will do.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
 – Numbers 23:19 NLT

As Paul reminded Timothy:

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. – 2 Timothy 2:13 NLT

In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to offend Him, God will remain faithful to them. He will accomplish each and every promise He has made to them. When God told the people of Judah that a day was coming when “a king will reign in righteousness,” He meant it. And while the time waiting for the fulfillment of this promise has been long, the delay doesn’t in any way negate the reality of its future fulfillment. He has promised, and He will fulfill that promise, down to the very last detail.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Living With the End in Mind.

When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:

“How the oppressor has ceased,
    the insolent fury ceased!
The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked,
    the scepter of rulers,
that struck the peoples in wrath
    with unceasing blows,
that ruled the nations in anger
    with unrelenting persecution.
The whole earth is at rest and quiet;
    they break forth into singing.
The cypresses rejoice at you,
    the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low,
    no woodcutter comes up against us.’
Sheol beneath is stirred up
    to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades to greet you,
    all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
    all who were kings of the nations.
10 All of them will answer
    and say to you:
‘You too have become as weak as we!
    You have become like us!’
11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
    the sound of your harps;
maggots are laid as a bed beneath you,
    and worms are your covers.”  – Isaiah 14:3-11 ESV

As the opening verses of this chapter suggest, God is a covenant-keeping God. He keeps His word. And all that He promised to Abraham will come to pass. And much had already taken place by the time Isaiah was writing the book that bears his name. God had made of Abraham a great nation. The people of Israel were living in the land of Canaan, just as God had promised they would be. But they were a divided nation. Due to their unfaithfulness to God and, particularly, the unfaithfulness of Solomon, God had split their nation in two, leaving them with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Both nations had experienced a succession of kings who had each proven to be far-from-godly in terms of their leadership. They had promoted idolatry and modeled unfaithfulness to their people. So, while God had kept His part of the covenant, the people had failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Because there was a second covenant made between God and His people, and we find it recorded in the book of Exodus.

“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:4-6 ESV

Unlike the covenant made with Abraham, this covenant was conditional. Notice the word, “if.” They were going to be required to obey God’s voice and keep His covenant. And part of that covenant would include the Ten Commandments, which were given by God a short time later. The whole purpose behind this covenant was to set apart the people of Israel as God’s chosen people. They were to be distinctive and different. Their lives were to be ruled by a different set of standards, provided to them by God. And by living according to this divine standards, they would be separated or sanctified from the pagan nations surrounding them. And through their willful obedience to God’s law, the people would be assured of God’s blessings.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

But if they failed to keep their end of the covenant agreement, they would experience the curses that come from disobedience to His law.

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. – Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

The lists of blessings and curses are lengthy and quite specific. And sadly, by the time Isaiah had begun to prophesy, the people of Judah and Israel had begun to experience more curses than blessings. They were reaping the rewards of their unfaithfulness to God.

But what makes this section of Isaiah so remarkable is that God is reminding His people that He will continue to be faithful to them in the midst of their unfaithfulness. They may have failed in their obligation to keep the law of God, but He would not fail to keep His promises to Abraham. It’s interesting to note that, when Moses had delivered the covenant requirements to the people of Israel in the Sinai wilderness, they had eagerly and enthusiasticaly responded, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8 ESV). But little did they know that their promise would fall far short of reality.

So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Everything. Because in these verses we find God committing Himself once again to save His people, not because of them, but in spite of them. He predicts a day when the people of Israel will taunt the king of Babylon, casting dispersions against the one who had destroyed their once-great city and taken them captive. Keep in mind, all of this was being disclosed to the people of Judah long before the events themselves had taken place. God is providing them with a glimpse into their future – a future that will include devastating judgment, but also merciful and undeserved restoration. They will experience the curses of God because of their disobedience, but also the blessings of God because of His covenant faithfulness.

In spite of all that was going to happen to them, they would one day find themselves in a position to flaunt their newfound freedom in the face of their former oppressors.

And, as we have seen before, this prophecy must be examined closely in order to determine if it has fully taken place. Has it been fulfilled some time in the past? Or is there some aspect of what God is promising that is “not yet”?

First of all, God promises a future time marked by “rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve” (Isaiah 14:3 ESV). While the people of Judah would return from Babylon after 70 years in captivity, their tenure in the land from that point forward would be far from restful and free from pain and suffering. Yes, they would rebuild the city of Jerusalem, restore the temple and repopulate the land, but they would have no king and find themselves the 80-pound weakling on a block full of much bigger and more powerful bullies.

And yet, God speaks of a day when “the oppressor has ceased” and He has broken the staff of the wicked. He describes a whole earth that is “at rest and quiet.” Verse eight seems to describe a time of peace, because the trees rejoice in the fact that they will not be chopped down to make weapons of warfare. The forests will stand intact, no longer falling to the axes of the enemies who use their wood to build seige engines and fuel their fires.

Everything about these verses seems to speak of a time that has not yet come. While there are aspects of this prophecy that have been fulfilled in part, God is describing a time far into the future that remains as yet unfulfilled. His timeline if far lengthier than ours. His prophetic calendar goes well beyond centuries or millenniums of time. While we focus on the here-and-now, God has His sights set on the hereafter. He knows how the story ends. His plans for Israel and Judah extend far beyond the days of Abraham, Moses, David, or Elijah.

One of the amazing things about the Word of God is the way it paints a comprehensive and cohesive picture of God’s redemptive plan. The Bible is one book containing a single story of God’s plan for the world He has created. It provides us with a complete overview of His entire strategy, from start to finish. And, in the book of Revelation, we are given a glimpse into “that day” when much of what we read in Isaiah 14 will actually be fulfilled. John writes:

After all this I saw another angel come down from heaven with great authority, and the earth grew bright with his splendor. He gave a mighty shout:

“Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen!
    She has become a home for demons.
She is a hideout for every foul spirit,
    a hideout for every foul vulture
    and every foul and dreadful animal.
For all the nations have fallen
    because of the wine of her passionate immorality.
The kings of the world
    have committed adultery with her.
Because of her desires for extravagant luxury,
    the merchants of the world have grown rich.” – Revelation 18:1-3 NLT

While we view Babylon as little more than a once-great city whose fame is little more than ancient history, God knows that it will play a significant part in the future. It is far than just a city, it represents all that is opposed to God in this world. It is the poster-boy for pride, arrogance, self-sufficiency, immorality, idolatry, materialism and human achievement. This former icon of man’s power and prestige will show up again in the end times, reviving the same attitude that marked the people of Babel when they tried to build a tower to the heavens. Rather than multiply and fill the land according to God’s command, they had determined to build a city and a reputation for greatness.

Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves – Genesis 11:4 ESV

Some things never change, like the pride and arrogance of man. But God reveals that a day is coming when His people will rejoice over the demise of Babylon. And He is speaking of far more than an ancient civilization that has been long-gone. He is letting us know that there is a day coming when another Babylon, a far greater and more powerful nation, will also suffer defeat at His hands.

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens,
    decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls!
In a single moment
    all the wealth of the city is gone!” – Revelation 18:16-17 NLT

And just as He told the people of Judah they would one day rejoice over the fall of ancient Babylon, they will also rejoice over the fall of the Babylon that is to come.

Rejoice over her fate, O heaven
    and people of God and apostles and prophets!
For at last God has judged her
    for your sakes. – Revelation 18:20 NLT

God always has the end in mind. And the thing we have to constantly remember is that the end God has in store will fulfill each and every promise He has ever made.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Victory!

17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. Revelation 19:17-21 ESV

Verses 6-10 of this chapter revealed to John details concerning the marriage supper of the Lamb. And the angel told John that, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9 ESV). It will be a joyous celebration as Christ consummates His marriage to His bride, the church. But now, John is told about another supper that will take place at the return of Christ. And this will be a radically different kind of supper, where the invited guests will be birds. John is also given a vision of yet another angel who calls out with a loud voice to all the birds of the sky, saying,  “Come, gather for the great supper of God(Revelation 19:17 ESV). This supper will feature the birds as the invited guests and sinful humanity as the main course. These birds are being called “to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great” (Revelation 19:18 ESV). Here we are given an important point of clarification that lets us know that the menu for this supper will contain the corpses of all the armed combatants who have chosen to stand against Christ and His heavenly army. Jesus referred to this scene in His Olivet Discourse.

Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. – Matthew 24:28 ESV

What John is seeing here is the aftermath of the Battle of Armageddon. In chapter 16, in conjunction with the pouring out of the sixth bowl judgment, John was given a rather bizarre vision of three frog-like creatures, coming out of the mouths of the Satan, the Antichrist and the false prophet. And then he was given clarification as to exactly what these creatures were and what they would do.

14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. “ – Revelation 16:14-16 ESV

These demonic forces will cause the kings of the earth to gather their armies in order to do battle against Christ and His forces. But in this chapter, John was shown that it would be a lop-sided battle, with Jesus single-handedly winning the day.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. – Revelation 19:15 ESV

These armies, led by Antichrist himself, will gather “to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army” (Revelation 19:19 ESV). Rather than marvel at the supernatural arrival of Jesus Christ, as He comes out of the sky followed by a great army, these armies of the earth will try to stand against Him. Motivated by demons and led by the Antichrist, they will attempt to overthrow Christ and undermine the will of God. But John says they “were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh” (Revelation 19:21 ESV). Not only that, but the Antichrist and the false prophet are captured and thrown into the lake of fire. They are not annihilated, but simply relegated to hell, and they will be its first occupants. Hell and Hades are often confused. Hades is the abode of the dead, the place where the souls all those who die apart from Christ are kept until the final judgment. Hell, or the lake of fire, is the place God has reserved for all those who have been judged as unworthy of eternal life in His presence. The Antichrist and his false prophet are sent straight to hell. They do not suffer death, but are captured alive and are sent by God to their final place of judgment. And we will discover in the very next chapter, that Antichrist and the false prophet will be joined in the lake of fire by all those who have refused to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Savior.

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:14-15 ESV

But what happens to all those who die in the Battle of Armageddon? We get the answer to that question in chapter 20.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. – Revelation 20:11-13 ESV

We will talk more about this event in our next post. But suffice it to say, God has a plan and He is going to enact that plan. He will deal with Satan, Antichrist, the false prophet and all those who have refused to submit to His authority as God. He will judge each according to what he or she has done. Their punishment will be just and well-deserved.

But all that John has seen in this chapter sets up the establishment of Christ’s earthly kingdom, where He will reign in Jerusalem for 1,000 years. Justice will once again return to the earth. Righteousness will once again reign, just as it did in the days before Adam and Eve made their fateful decision to rebel against God and disobey His command. The return of Christ brings the defeat of Antichrist and his forces. His great power will be no match for the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Those who chose to follow and worship him will discover that they have picked the wrong savior. They have sided with the false Christ. Their fall will be great and Christ’s victory will be complete.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

No More.

21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,

“So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence,
    and will be found no more;
22 and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters,
    will be heard in you no more,
and a craftsman of any craft
    will be found in you no more,
and the sound of the mill
    will be heard in you no more,
23 and the light of a lamp
    will shine in you no more,
and the voice of bridegroom and bride
    will be heard in you no more,
for your merchants were the great ones of the earth,
    and all 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 earth.”  Revelation 18:21-24 ESV

 

millstone2John is shown yet another mighty angel. Or perhaps it is the same angel he saw before. But this time, the angel took a large stone, similar to a millstone, and threw it into the sea.The imagery of this vision is very similar to a scene from the book of Jeremiah, in which the prophet sent a prince named Seraiah to Babylon with instructions to read the words from a scroll containing all the judgments against Babylon. Then, he was to “tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted’” (Jeremiah 51:63-64 ESV). Jeremiah was pronouncing judgment against Babylon for her role in the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of her people as captives. Even though Babylon had been used by God to bring about this punishment upon the people of Judah because of their rebellion against Him, the would suffer for the part they played in Judah’s fall. In a similar way, John sees the angel take the large stone and throw it into the sea, and he hears the angel call out, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more” (Revelation 18:21 ESV). As the heavy stone disappears into the sea, never to be seen again, so will Babylon disappear off the face of the earth, never to rise again to power or prominence. John’s use of the term, “millstone” to describe the stone he saw the angel hurl into the sea, has important implications. A millstone was a large, round stone that was used to grind grain, nuts and other food elements. Also known as a grinding stone, it provides an apt description for Babylon, because as a nation, they had been grinding other nations under their power, eventually crushing and consuming them. And the Babylon represented in chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation will be the ultimate grinding stone of Satan, used to crush and defeat the people of God and the saints during the days of the tribulation. But God will bring a sudden and abrupt end to Babylon’s world domination and remove its ability to persecute the people of God once and for all time.

And the angel describes the impact of God’s judgment against the city of Babylon. Six different times, the angel is heard to repeat the words, “no more,” expressing the full and irreversible fall of this once-great city. There will be no more music played within its walls. There will be no more craftsmen selling their wares. The sound of wheat being ground at the mill will cease. There will be no one to light a lamp. And there will be no more marriage celebrations taking place. The usual affairs of life will be no more. And it is no coincidence that the words the angel speaks are very similar to those spoken by God to the people of Israel, just before He gave them over to the Babylonians thousands of years earlier.

“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. 10 Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. – Jeremiah 25:8-11 ESV

God is now going to bring this same degree of destruction on the nation of Babylon, the dominion of the Antichrist and the symbol of mankind’s rebellion against Him. God punished the people of Israel, but eventually restored them to the land. After 70 years in captivity, He faithfully kept His promise to place a remnant of them back in Canaan, allowing them to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. But there will be no rebuilding or repopulating of Babylon. Its destruction will be final.

The angel provides three reasons for Babylon’s fall. First, it will be because her “merchants were the great ones of the earth” (Revelation 18:23 ESV). There is a sense in which Babylon and the businessmen who grow rich as a result of her power and prominence, will represent the pride of human achievement. The commercial success of this fallen, godless kingdom will be great and its influence will be felt around the globe. The pride and self-sufficiency that this kind of material success breeds, will become infectious, spreading like a cancer throughout the world. Secondly, Babylon will fall because it deceived the nations by means of sorcery. This metaphor is often used to describe the deceptions and seductions of idolatry. The worship of Antichrist will deceive many, leading them to succumb to his power and influence. They will see him as their savior, offering them everything they think they want and need, including joy, security, honor, and meaning in life. Babylon will become the source of all their wants and wishes. But they will be deceived. And finally, God will hold Babylon responsible for “the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth” (Revelation 18:24 ESV). This wicked world system, under the control of Antichrist, will be brought to an end because of its undeniable role in the death of God’s people. The Babylon of Revelation 18 clearly represents the city that will be in existence at that time, but it also represents the world system that has stood against God and His people for all time. Even during the days of Jeremiah, God had harsh words to say to the Babylon of his day, regarding their treatment of the people of Israel and His plan to repay them for their actions.

Babylon must fall for the slain of Israel,
    just as for Babylon have fallen the slain of all the earth. – Jeremiah 51:49 ESV

As the book of Revelation moves to its concluding chapters, John is seeing the days of the tribulation coming to a close. The time of the Gentiles is quickly coming to its final end. And this period of time, which has been in place for centuries, has been marked by false religions and a love affair with money and commercial success. Mankind has been deceived and distracted by countless false gods, offering themselves up as alternatives to the one true God. And the materialism and financial success marked by modernity has caused mankind to seek independence from God, thinking that money and the power it buys, can provide us with all we need to enjoy life. But false religions and a faulty dependence upon worldly possessions have never and will never satisfy. They are what the Bible describes as broken cisterns – man-made alternatives to God, which are designed to provide what only God can provide, but fail to do so. Once again, in the book of Jeremiah, we have the words of God spoken against the people of God. He accuses them of abandoning Him and of turning to false and faulty replacements for Him. And that is the primary problem with the age of the Gentiles, represented by the rise of Babylon during the days of the tribulation.

12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
    be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
    the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
    broken cisterns that can hold no water. – Jeremiah 2:12-13 ESV

Self-sufficiency, pride and a refusal to place our hope in God. Those are the characteristics of our age and they will only become more pronounced during the dark days of the tribulation. They will come to a head and manifest themselves in the city occupied by Antichrist. But God will bring all of this to an end. He will destroy the false idols and all man-made institutions, set up as alternative sources of joy, happiness, contentment and fulfillment. They will be no more.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Mighty Is the Lord God.

1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
    She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
    a haunt for every unclean bird,
    a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.
For all nations have drunk
    the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,
    and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
    lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
    and God has remembered her iniquities.
Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,
    and repay her double for her deeds;
    mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.
As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,
    so give her a like measure of torment and mourning,
since in her heart she says,
    ‘I sit as a queen,
I am no widow,
    and mourning I shall never see.’
For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,
    death and mourning and famine,
and she will be burned up with fire;
    for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her. Revelation 18:1-8 ESV

 

detail-of-a-lion-found-along-the-processional-way-from-ishtar-gate-into-the-city-of-babylon-the-ishtar-gate-was-constructed-around-575-bc-by-king-nebuchadnezzar-iiIn this chapter, John records yet more specific information regarding the fall of Babylon. In the previous chapter, he provided us with a description of the false religious system associated with the city and its government. While some commentators choose to see all references to Babylon in these two chapters as symbolic only, it seems clear that the geographic location of the former city of Babylon is in view as well. The Scriptures appear to indicate that the city will yet again become a center of power from which the Antichrist operates during the days of the tribulation. It will become the political, religious and economic focal point of the world during that time, with the Antichrist operating his government from within its borders.

In chapter 17, John was shown the destruction of the false religious system, also referred to as Babylon or the great prostitute. Now, in chapter 18, he is given a vision of the destruction of Babylon’s financial system. If you recall, one of the things the false prophet did, along with establishing the apostate church built around the worship of Antichrist, was to institute the requirement of the mark of the beast. This visible symbol or mark was required to be affixed to the right hand or forehead of every individual on earth.

16 Also it [the false prophet] causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. – Revelation 13:16-17 ESV

The mark was a non-negotiable requirement that became the means by which anyone could participate in the economy set up by the Antichrist and his world-wide government. The monopoly created by this kind of manipulative control would greatly influence the Antichrist’s power and fill the treasuries of his government. And John is given just a glimpse into the outcome of this kind of economic control.

…the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living. – Revelation 18:3 ESV

There appear to be two falls of Babylon described in these two chapters. The first involves the fall of the false religious system that was set up by the false prophet. Chapter 17 describes its fall, which takes place at the midway point of the 7 years of tribulation. But chapter 18 describes the fall of Babylon in its political and commercial form, which will take place at the end of the great tribulation, 3-1/2 years later. John was given a partial view of Babylon’s ultimate destruction back in chapter 16.

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings,[c] peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. – Revelation 16:17-19 ESV

It seems clear that this is referring to an actual city, the city of Babylon. And the result of this event will be that the city falls, literally and physically, resulting in its location becoming desolate and abandoned by mankind. The angel describes it as becoming, “a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast” (Revelation 18:2 ESV). This formerly great city will become the abode of the demonic, an apt description of what it had really been all along. This geographic location on the planet has had a long history of immoral and unrighteous behavior associated with it, stretching all the way back to the tower of Babel, when mankind attempted to disobey the will of God.

“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4 ESV

In this account, we see that, from day one, the territory known as Babylon, was associated with the sins of self-sufficiency, self-determinism, and self-glorification. Rather than obey God, men attempted to control their own fate and set themselves up as gods. And Babylon would become an ever-lasting symbol of man’s endless pursuit of autonomy and self-idolatry. But John is shown the final outcome God has in store for this great city. It will fall. And its fall will be great. All those nations that “have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality” will fall along with her. And notice what the second angel says about the city:

As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,
    so give her a like measure of torment and mourning. – Revelation 18:7 ESV

During the tribulation, Babylon will yet again become a prosperous and highly influential city. It will be restored to its former glory, replicating its glory days under King Nebuchadnezzar. But as great as Babylon will become, it will prove no match for Almighty God. As powerful, wealthy and influential as it will be during the waning days of the tribulation, it will experience a devastating fall – at the hands of God. The city’s pride, self-sufficiency, and love affair with immorality will come to an end. And so, a voice from heaven calls all believers living at that time to remove themselves from the city. They are to flee from her borders, distancing themselves from her immorality and rebellion against God. Like Lot running from Sodom and Gomorrah, the tribulation saints are to vacate the premises of Babylon, in anticipation of God’s judgment against her.

It is payback time. The voice from heaven that John hears describes the sins of Babylon being heaped up as high as heaven, an obvious comparison to the bricks heaped up by the people living in Babel. The sins of Babylon are obvious to God, and He will pay her back double for all that she has done. Like all those who stand opposed to God and who set themselves up as their own gods, Babylon and its inhabitants saw themselves as invulnerable and untouchable.

I sit as a queen,
I am no widow,
    and mourning I shall never see.” – Revelation 18:7 ESV

But as the proverb says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 ESV). And in a single day, judgment would come against Babylon. God will bring about the fall of this once-great city, “for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her” (Revelation 18:8 ESV)

The ultimate fall of Babylon will be real, but also symbolic. It represents the defeat of any and all who stand against God. Mankind has long opposed the will of God, refusing to accept Him as God and choosing to turn to man-made religions, making gods out of wealth, materialism, politics, government, and prosperity. Babylon will become a real-life representation of all these things, an actual city where godlessness reigns and rebellion against the God of the universe emanates. But Babylon will prove no match for God. The Antichrist will be exposed as a lousy stand-in for the real Savior of the world: Jesus Christ. And it is the one-and-only Christ who will return to the earth and set up the one true kingdom where righteousness will reign. The false kingdom of the Antichrist will be destroyed, to be replaced with the true kingdom of God on earth.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Until the Words of God Are Fulfilled.

But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” Revelation 17:7-18 ESV

mapromeempireatheightIt’s fascinating that John is somewhat chided by the angel for having found all the talk about the great prostitute a bit difficult to understand. The angel promises to make the mystery clear and yet, this has become one of the most disputed passages in all of the book of Revelation. It seems apparent that the great prostitute introduced in the first six verses is a representation of the apostate church that comes to power in the world during the tribulation. Led by the false prophet, this false religion will promote the worship of the Antichrist. And it will lead the charge in the persecution of both orthodox Jews and tribulation saints. Countless believers in Christ, who come to faith during the seven-year period of the tribulation, will be put to death for refusing to accept the mark of the beast and for their unwillingness to worship the Antichrist.

But the angel promises to give John further insight into the identity of the woman and the beast. Back in verse three, John describes seeing the woman “sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.” Now, in verse eight, the angel provides John with a bit more information regarding the identity of the beast:

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. – Revelation 17:8 ESV

The somewhat cryptic phrase, “it was and is not and is to come” shows up again later on in this same passage. But what does it mean? One of the things that makes it so difficult to determine just exactly who the angel is referring to in this passage is his use of the term, “beast.” Throughout the book of Revelation, that name is used to refer to Satan himself, the world ruler and the political government he sets up on earth. And because the three entities are so closely linked, it can become confusing as to which one is being talked about at any given time. In these verses, it seems that Satan, the Antichrist and his one-world government are all included in the angel’s description. The beast that was and is not and is about to rise from the bottomless pit seems to be a reference to the government or political system of the Antichrist. It will be a former world power that faded from the scene, but that will appear once again and become a the dominant political force on the planet – all because of the influence of Satan himself. The reference to the beast coming out of the abyss can only refer to Satan. The abyss or bottomless pit is his domain. It is from there that his power comes, and it is his power that makes possible this former world government to essentially resurrect and regain its former glory. And while Satan will be the invisible force behind this nation’s rise to former glory, the visible force will be Antichrist. And the people of the earth, those whose names are not written in the book of life, will marvel at his accomplishment. The unbelieving world will see the Antichrist as a political miracle worker and his kingdom as a sign of his divinity.

As always, when studying the book of Revelation, one must keep in mind other passages found in the book that can shed light on the seeming mysteries of John’s visions. Back in chapter 13, John was given another vision of the beast that coincides with what he is describing here.

1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” – Revelation 13:1-4 ESV

What is important to note is that the dragon, or Satan, is the one who gives his power to the the beast. And, just as in chapter 17, this beast is described as having seven heads and ten horns – a point that the angel tells John “calls for a mind with wisdom” (Revelation 17:9 ESV). This is going to be difficult to understand. It is going to require wisdom and discernment. And, as if the imagery is not already confusing enough, the angel informs John that the seven heads are actually seven mountains, on which the woman sits. And they represent seven kings. So, which is it? First of all, we need to notice the use of the number seven. As usual, it is a reference to completeness or wholeness. These seven kings or nations will represent seven empires that will form a comprehensive picture of mankind’s power and authority. The angel describes these seven kings or kingdoms as, “five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come” (Revelation 17:10 ESV). They would appear to be progressive or sequential in nature, with five of these kingdoms having existed at one time, but having faded from prominence. The one that “is” refers to the Roman empire that ruled the world when John penned the book of Revelation. And the one that “has not yet come” refers to the kingdom of the Antichrist, which will rise to power and prominence during the tribulation. It seems most likely that the five former kingdoms referred to by the angel include Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. If you add Rome and then the kingdom that was yet to come and would remain a little while, you have the seven heads, mountains of kingdoms portrayed by the vision. And what do all of these kingdoms share in common? They have all persecuted or will persecute the people of God. Each has a less-then-ideal track record with the people of Israel and this will continue into the tribulation.

But what about the eighth nation mentioned in verse 11? To what could this be referring? Once again, the seven kings or mountains represent seven separate and successive kingdoms that will rule on earth. The first six include Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and the Roman empire of John’s day. But the Roman empire has since faded from view. The world is made up of a conglomeration of various nations and world powers, many of whom are remnants of the former Roman empire. A look at a map of the Roman empire at its zenith reveals that its domain was primarily located around the Mediterranean Sea and encompassed all of the land of Israel and extended all the way East into the former land of Babylon and Assyria. It seems that this empire will be revived in some form or fashion not long after the rapture of the church. That resurrected or restored Roman empire will form the seventh kingdom. And during the period of the tribulation, the Antichrist will come to power, setting up what is essentially an eighth kingdom. His rise to prominence will be accomplished by robbing power from a confederation of ten kings who will jointly rule the restored Roman empire. The angel makes it clear that the ten horns represent these ten kings, who will “receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast” (Revelation 17:12 ESV). Their joint rule will be brief in duration, ending with the Antichrist taking over as the supreme ruler over all the earth. As the angel states, these kings will “hand over their power and authority to the beast” (Revelation 17:14 ESV) or the Antichrist. He will have sole authority and power over all the nations of the earth, overseeing his one-world government from the restored city of Babylon. And one of Antichrist’s primary objectives will be to make war on the Lamb. He will stand opposed to Jesus Christ, but He will lose in his effort to overthrow Christ’s rightful position as King of kings and Lord of lords. The rest of the book of Revelation will present this epic struggle between the forces of Antichrist and Jesus Christ. It will culminate in a final battle and with the removal from power of Antichrist, Satan, and the false prophet. But more on that later.

This chapter ends with the angel providing John with an understanding of the symbolism behind the waters described in the first six verses. They are “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (Revelation 17:15 ESV). The great prostitute or false religion set up by the false prophet will have an overwhelming influence over the people of the earth. But Antichrist is not going to share his power and influence with anyone. So, under the divine instigation of God, Antichrist and his forces will turn on the apostate church, and destroy it. And the angel makes it clear that “God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled” (Revelation 17:17 ESV). God is going to cause Satan’s kingdom to divide and turn against itself. Even at the zenith of his power and influence over the world, Satan will not be able to resist the greater power of God. During the final days of the tribulation, there will be a religious and political form to the Antichrist’s rule. There will be an apostate church and an all-powerful government, but Antichrist will ultimately eliminate any and all competition to his rule, consolidating all power under him alone. Even the false church will fall, yielding all its power, influence and wealth to his cause. But John is given good news.

“…the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” – Revelation 17:14 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Great Prostitute.

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. Revelation 17:1-6 ESV

In chapters 17 and 18, John is going to be given a detailed description of the destruction of Babylon, but as it represents the religious apostasy of the day (chapter 17) and the political power established by the Antichrist (chapter 18). Much of what John is being shown in these two chapters actually takes place before the events of chapter 16. The content of these two chapters provides us with a more precise understanding of just what will take place for the apostate church to rise to power and prominence during the first half of the tribulation. And chapter 18 will explain how Antichrist rose out of seeming obscurity to a position of global dominance.

An angel, who carried one of the seven bowls of judgment, appears to John and offers to introduce him to “the great prostitute.” As John will discover, this woman is actually the personification of the decadent and immoral religious system set up by the false prophet. We were first introduced to the false prophet in chapter 14, where he was introduced to John in a vision and appeared as the second beast.

12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. – Revelation 14:12-17 ESV

This individual will operate under the direct jurisdiction of Antichrist, and set up a mandatory religious system that worships the image of the Antichrist. Much like emperor worship during the days of the Caesar in Rome, the people living during the tribulation will be forced to bow down to the Antichrist and treat him like a god. And the angel describes this false religious system as a prostitute. This is a common metaphor used in Scripture to describe spiritual adultery and the sin of idolatry.

At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. – Isaiah 23:17 ESV

19 Your evil will chastise you,
    and your apostasy will reprove you.
Know and see that it is evil and bitter
    for you to forsake the Lord your God;
    the fear of me is not in you,
declares the Lord God of hosts.

20 “For long ago I broke your yoke
    and burst your bonds;
    but you said, ‘I will not serve.’
Yes, on every high hill
    and under every green tree
    you bowed down like a whore.” – Jeremiah 2:19-20 ESV

And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
    graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
    and peoples with her charms.

Behold, I am against you,
    declares the Lord of hosts,
    and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
    and kingdoms at your shame. – Nahum 3:4-5 ESV

This religious system, set up by the false prophet, is guilty of having lured and enticed the kings of the earth. In other words, other world leaders will “get in bed” with this false religion, seeing it to be to their benefit to do so. And the people of the earth will become drunk with the wine of her immorality. They will drink in all the lies associated with this religion and worship an idol in place of the one true God. And John is shown a vision of this woman or false religion “sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns” (Revelation 17:3 ESV). This is an almost word-for-word repeat of the description of the Antichrist, provided in chapter 13.

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. – Revelation 13:1 ESV

This false religious system will have direct ties to the rule and reign of Antichrist. They will have a symbiotic relationship, each benefiting the other. The false prophet will come to power only because the Antichrist has assumed supreme authority over the earth. And the false prophet will cause the people of the earth not only to submit to Antichrist’s leadership, but to worship him as a god. He will delude and deceive the people, performing signs and wonders, much like the Old Testament prophets of God did. But he will speak lies and blaspheme the name of God Almighty. Paul wrote about this coming day in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 ESV

The imagery associated with John’s vision of this false religion conveys the idea of luxury and royalty. She is “arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls” (Revelation 17:4 ESV). This religious system will be marked by wealth. It will have the trappings of financial success and be marked by pomp and circumstance. It is interesting to note that during the Reformation of the 16th-Century, many of the Reformers labeled the Pope as the Antichrist and the Catholic church as the false religion or apostate church. They did this, in part, because of its decadence, obsession with material wealth and for what they believed was false teaching regarding salvation.

Whereof it followeth Rome to be the seat of Antichrist, and the pope to be very antichrist himself. I could prove the same by many other scriptures, old writers, and strong reasons. (Thomas Cramner, Works by Cranmer, vol.1, pp.6-7).

Yea, to speak it in plain words; lest that we submit ourselves to Satan, thinking that we submit ourselves to Jesus Christ, for, as for your Roman kirk, as it is now corrupted, and the authority thereof, whereon stands the hope of your victory, I no more doubt but that it is the synagogue of Satan, and the head thereof, called the pope, to be that man of sin, of whom the apostle speaks. (John Knox, The History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland, p.65).

…nothing else than the kingdom of Babylon and of very Antichrist. For who is the man of sin and the son of perdition, but he who by his teaching and his ordinances increases the sin and perdition of souls in the church; while he yet sits in the church as if he were God? All these conditions have now for many ages been fulfilled by the papal tyranny. (Martin Luther, First Principles, pp. 196-197).

You can see how they could have used the description provided by John in this chapter to reach their conclusions. But what John is seeing is something far greater and more significant than anything the Reformers could have ever imagined. This false church is described as having a name of mystery written on its forehead: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Revelation 17:5 ESV). The name, Babylon, has a long association with false religions and idolatry. Throughout the Scriptures, Babylon is used to refer to the influence of pagan religions upon the people of Israel, but also the New Testament church. It represents any and all counterfeit religions that offer up alternatives to the way of God. Even several of the seven churches to whom Jesus addressed His words in chapters two and three, were guilty of succumbing to the influence of the false teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:14-15). The church in Thyatira was guilty of allowing the influence of a woman “who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20 ESV).

The deadly influence of Babylon, the false religious system that permeate our world, has been around since the beginning. Paul describes how it came to be.

22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. – Romans 1:22-25 ESV

And these individuals who chose to worship the creation rather than the Creator, have never been content to coexist with those who worship the one true God. From day one, they have stood opposed to all those who claim God as the one and only God. And the false prophet and his false religious system will not tolerate the people of God, the Jews, or the followers of Christ, including those who come to faith during the tribulation. John is told that this apostate religious system will be “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6 ESV). One of the greatest acts of rebellion on the part of this false religious system will be its role in the death of both Jews and Christians during the great tribulation. Satan, the power behind Antichrist’s rule, is ultimately opposed to anything and everyone associated with God and His Son. The whole purpose of the Antichrist’s rise to power is to marshal the forces of earth against the people of God. And the false prophet will create the ultimate one-world religion that unites the people of earth under one umbrella of religious expression, making illegal the worship of God or His Son, Jesus Christ. And while all of this is slated to happen during the days of the tribulation, we are already seeing the world’s slow, but steady shift in this direction. While we do not yet see the people of earth united under a single religious system, we do see the increasing hostility toward both Judaism and Christianity. The intolerance and hatred being expressed toward all those who worship the one true God is increasing exponentially. And the great tribulation will bring it all to a head.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson