Revelation 17-20

Good morning! Can you believe we’ve only got one more day, and we’ll have read through the entire Bible together in a year!? I’ll save a little extra gushiness for tomorrow, but I’m deeply grateful for the ways we have all dug deeper than we might have expected upon joining this effort (whenever we did throughout the last year). Truly, the community that has formed in the Facebook group has encouraged and carried me much further than I would have gone on my own. Your longsuffering faithfulness has been rewarded by the connections with one another, and I’m grateful for how this community has come alive beyond my wildest expectations. Thank you for your steadfastness in this effort!

Today in Revelation 17-20, we grapple with far less savory fare. We read the final death pangs of a world entirely turned over to punishing destruction. The Christians who interpret the world through the lens of this part of Revelation lean so heavily on the promise of their place in heaven, and feel so alienated from any part of normal society, that they condemn the world and anyone else unlike them to hell. This comes from a particularly bleak part of the Christian tradition, since it presumes that God will turn the divine back on this very world which was created and pronounced good so many times in Genesis 1. The offensive idolatries cannot be countered or undone—God will finally just “bomb them back to the Stone Age”.

The “Great Whore” rides at the beginning of this passage on another seven-headed, ten-horned beast—again almost certainly a stand-in for Rome. Different interpreters through the centuries have identified it otherwise though, choosing whomever is the great opponent of the day (the Catholic Church in early Reformation times, and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, for just two examples). Further description in Revelation 17 confirms the beast and the woman as metaphors, giving enough clues that early Christians could readily identify Rome. The woman is also identified as Babylon, a name that carries resonances from Hebrew history and is another veil for Rome.

Once these characters are “in place”, the penultimate battle lines are drawn. Heavenly hosts send out a great, repeated lament at Rome/Babylon’s impending collapse, emphasizing how quickly it’ll be overthrown, “in one hour”. We then hear about the “good side”, in the form of a marriage engagement between the Lamb and “his bride” the church, clothed with the fine linen of “the righteous deeds of the saints”. The heavenly rider (Jesus) then goes out and confronts the powers of the world. The beast, false prophet, and all the armies allied with them are defeated—turned into food for carrion birds—and Satan is locked in a bottomless pit for a time. (I’m not clear why “he must be let out for a little while” after a thousand years.) The martyrs who died in the persecution come back to life and rule with Christ for that thousand years. Afterwards, when evil escapes its prison for a time, it marshals forces against heaven once more, but is soundly defeated and cast eternally into the lake of fire. Following judgment of the living and the dead, Death and Hades are likewise thrown eternally into the lake of fire, demonstrating that eternal life is now at hand. Happy reading!

Read Revelation 17-20.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Revelation 21-22. Thanks for reading!

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