November 22, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 20:20 in the audio file.
Or, Love to Hate and Raised to Fall
Series: Just Conquer Part 46
It has been observed that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and getting the same result, but expecting a different one. Because of sin, there are more insane people than polite people want to acknowledge. To be insane means to be in a state of mind which prevents normal perception and behavior. Our English word comes from insanus, which is the idea of not being sanus, so not healthy. While we know that man’s depravity means he is spiritually dead and incapable of seeing the truth on his own, one of the symptoms is a mental sickness that believes in the dark. It’s “normal” only in the sense that he’s not by himself in his perceptions of reality.
The last days will be marked by a society of unrestrained delusion. There will be great, global agreement on impossible things, at least until the hour when agreement self-destructs. This is the insane part, because the agreement was on destruction, so it was only a matter of time before it imploded. A society cannot survive if it is built on idolizing a liar and living in deception. Only those who can’t be insane won’t be, and the only ones who can’t are called by the Spirit and chosen by the Father and faithful to the Lamb.
The burden of Revelation 17 is to show the path of destruction, to show what has been determined for those who deceive and are deceived. They love to hate, their “love” turns to hate, and it is insane to think that it was ever going to turn out differently. They have a mind for war, a shared mind set for destruction, and those who are raised up in such an irrational system are destined to fall.
As believers, we are not just being given information about the future world insanity and the sorts of persecution that believers will face, we are being given a different mindset, we are being given a share in the conquering King, and we are being given confidence in God’s Word. All of His words will be fulfilled, and it can’t be any other way. It is the definition of insanity to deny His sovereignty, let alone to make war against the Lamb.
We have been considering John’s visions of the Great Tribulation for a number of chapters. What we have seen unveiled with the apostle are not things that have happened yet, they are not things that are currently on stage either. That said, we are not luny to think that they are immanent. We are not mentally unfit, or unhinged because we think they could happen at any moment, because John himself wrote that they would happen soon, as did many other NT writers. When we see insanity in our own day, we are seeing the same path of destruction. Our heightened awareness of the two paths, one of conquering and the other of being conquered, only helps us be faithful.
Revelation 17 began with a vision of a “great prostitute,” who represents a system of spheres which seduce men with the promise of prosperity and pleasure. The woman works with the beast, the Antichrist, until he turns on her, which anyone who knows anything about beasts could have told her would happen.
John introduced the prostitute and identified some of her behavior in verses 1-6, and in verses 7-18 he is given an angelic interpretation of what it all means. Five times we’ll read “that you saw” (verses 8, 12, 15, 16, 18) as the angel provides divine commentary.
John’s response to the vision begins halfway through our verse 6: “When I saw her, I marveled greatly.” We might compare this to the first time Digory saw Queen Jadis, or what Ahab thought about Jezebel: Wow, and Yikes! There was an overwhelming sense of pomp (she “was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup”) along with an overwhelming sense of corruption (she held “a cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality” and “was drunk with the blood of the saints”). The prostitute was a breathtaking nightmare.
The “angel said” to John, “‘Why do you marvel? I will show you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with the seven heads and ten horns that carries her” (verse 7). Her appearance has a perfectly sane explanation and John has no need to be so staggered. Now we see about the beast, the heads, then the horns.
The verse opens and shuts with a description of the beast as one who “was, and is not, and is about” to come. The beast is the Antichrist according to chapter 13, and his is mostly a political power with a religious complexion. The beast has always been jealous of the anointed Son, and even this description is a bad parody of the eternal Logos.
The beast “is about to rise from the bottomless pit,” from his underworld abyss (see 11:7). But even with such a devilish arrival, he will come from hell “and go to destruction.” It’s a one-way road to Looserville (ἀπώλειαν means loss and ruin). He’ll do damage all along his route, but the end of his comeback is downfall.
It has also been determined that many will love and laud this loser; “the dwellers on earth…will marvel to see the beast.” The angel explains their marveling as an inevitable identity. They are “the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” They were not chosen to see anything different. They were not chosen to know the truth, and so they can’t and won’t. They were not chosen to be delivered from the path of destruction.
John saw the prostitute riding the beast and he saw that the beast “was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns” (17:3). The angel has an interpretation.
“This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings” (verse 9-10a). As we’ve already seen, having a mind is no sure indicator of having wisdom in it.
That the heads symbolize “seven mountains” suggests the beast’s connection with Rome. John’s original readers surely would have connected the “seven hilled city,” the urbs septicollis, with Rome, as Suetonius and Virgil and Cicero and other Roman historians referred to it.
A mind with wisdom is needed, though, because it’s not just geographical, it’s also generational. The heads are also “seven kings,” and note the 5 + 1 + 1 pattern: “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” (verse 10). The sequence is much too specific to interpret the seven as just a perfect number, whatever the actual number. And also, such a specific sequence is impossible to fit with Roman emperors, as Preterists expect and as others attempt.
Among those who believe that these seven kings are seven Roman Caesars, there is as much agreement about which seven as there is agreement about the efficacy of the Dominion election software, which is to say, not much. Even “Roman historians themselves debated whether Julius should be included as the first e.g., Suetonius [yes] vs. Tacitus [no].” (Osborne)
Start with Julius Caesar, then Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, then Nero would be sixth, making Galba the Antichrist? Or skip the three quick Caesars (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius), the beast would be Vespasian? What about the weighty evidence that John wrote Revelation during the reign of Domitian, with Titus before him, then how do you count?
An alternative would be to take these kings as considered with their dominions, so seven kingdoms throughout history. The first five would be Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The one that “is” would be the Roman Empire, and the one what will remain only a little while would be the final world kingdom of the Antichrist.
“As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction” (verse 11). This would allow for the beast to return from the abyss, rise to power, receive a mortal wound and recover, then reign as the seventh and in another way as the eighth, and so “belongs to the seven,” but the ultimate embodied devil-king.
As each of the heads had fallen or would fall, so the final head “goes to destruction.” Don’t forget, Jesus has already risen from the dead, the beast has no hope.
As a typical symbol in the Bible, horns stand for military powers. “The ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast” (verse 12). The horns are in cahoots.
“These are of one mind and hand over their power and authority to the beast” (verse 11). These kings couldn’t have received their power apart from the beast, but they combine their authority to honor and serve the beast. Like the earth-dwellers, they are a confederacy of the insane. “One mind” (μίαν γνώμην) here and in verse 17; they all vote raises for themselves.
“They will make war on the Lamb.” Whether or not these are the kings from the east referenced in 16:12, they will assemble at the place called Armageddon “for battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (16:14, 16), and the battle itself is summarily described in 19:19-21. It is a slaughter. These kings were raised to fall. It had to be.
“The Lamb will conquer them, for he is the Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (verse 14). The reason that the most powerful kings on earth can’t win is that they are facing the King of kings (see Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalm 136:2-3; Daniel 2:47). By definition their war was insane. Their perception of reality is destroyed, and so is their cause and their kingdoms.
The whole interpretation explains that they are raised to fall.
As the sane know, the insane will eventually tear themselves apart.
“And the angel said to me, ‘The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages'” (verse 15). The prostitute sits on them in terms of her dominating influence; she dominates all of the spheres of life. For a while, as she sat on the beast, she had great influence over the rulers of the world. Now they turn on her.
“And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute.” It’s a tale as old as time. Amnon hated Tamar after he raped her as much as he thought he loved her before (2 Samuel 13:15). The kings who loved the pleasurable company of the prostitute now seek her ruin. “They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.” God used similar language to describe His punishment on Israel’s unfaithfulness in Ezekiel.
> “And I will direct my jealousy against you, that they may deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire. They shall also strip you of your clothes and take away your beautiful jewels. Thus I will put an end to your lewdness and your whoring begun in the land of Egypt, so that you shall not lift up your eyes to them or remember Egypt anymore. > “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will deliver you into the hands of those whom you hate, into the hands of those from whom you turned in disgust, and they shall deal with you in hatred and take away all the fruit of your labor and leave you naked and bare, and the nakedness of your whoring shall be uncovered. Your lewdness and your whoring have brought this upon you, because you played the whore with the nations and defiled yourself with their idols.” (Ezekiel 23:25–30, ESV)
She’s “made desolate” (a form of ἐρημόω), laid waste, deserted, depopulated (BAGD). She is exposed, eaten, and engulfed in flame.
Just as with one mind the kings served the beast, with one mind they act here. More is said, “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” (verse 17).
A mindset of destruction will inevitably turn on itself, especially when God causes it to happen. It’s not just permission. He multiplies their insanity. God purposes for this sphere drunkenness and desolation.
“And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth” (verse 18). The prostitute can’t be Jerusalem. Jerusalem didn’t embrace Rome’s idolatry, and Jerusalem didn’t entice the kings of the world. Jerusalem was already failing before AD 70, not at the top of her game before being made desolate.
You cannot legislate, you cannot persuade and convince, deceived people not to attack themselves, or to attack what they think is not themselves but actually is. They believe that they are right, that their work is good. Such a state of delusion is not just demonic, it is divine.
Many cannot unsee the glory of the beast and his ways. They have a beast-bias, and their blindness is confirmed whenever they see darkness. We are among those who cannot unsee the Lamb. We cannot unsee the Logos by whom and through whom and for whom all things were created. We cannot unsee the Lamb who was slain and by His blood ransomed people for God from every tribe, tongue, and nation. We cannot unsee the Lord of lords and King of kings, and have courage to conquer in the Logos-Lamb-Lord of all.
Under normal circumstances I would charge you, as God’s people, to take advantage of this week’s liturgy to do all your eating of potatoes and pie and drinking of wine and sparkling cider and fellowshipping with family and friends to the glory of God. But these are not normal circumstances. So instead I charge you to double-down on your thankfulness, and, like you might use two paper plates at a potluck, double-up your ceramic plates with potatoes and pie and wine and cider and family and friends to the glory of God. Do not water down your gratitude-gravy by being grumpy or grumbly. Do not mask your defiance to despotic edicts with actual disobedience to God.
> And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18–21, ESV)