Revelation Chapter 17 (Part 2: Verses 7-18)


Adam Maarschalk: December 3, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 17

UPDATE: This post was written when I understood the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 to be the same as the sea beast of Revelation 13:1-10, the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 to be the first seven Roman emperors, and the 10 horns of Revelation 17:12-14 to be the rulers of Rome’s 10 Senatorial Provinces. I now understand the seven kings to Revelation 17:10 to be the high priests of the house of Annas, and the 10 horns to be 10 Jewish generals (named by Josephus) who were appointed around January 67 AD to oversee specific territories and to prepare for war with Rome. This post will be updated accordingly when time allows.

In Part 1 of our study of Revelation 17, we examined the first six verses of this chapter. We considered the identity of Babylon the Great, and saw numerous reasons for believing that this was in fact first-century Jerusalem, as well as Old Covenant temple-based Judaism. We were also introduced again (as in chapter 13) to the beast with seven heads and ten horns. In this second part, we will see how the angel unveils to John the meaning of the prostitute (Babylon the great) and the beast. When we come to verse 18, we will consider the significance of the reference to a “great city.”

B. The Meaning of the Woman and the Beast (Rev. 17:7-18)

Verse 7: The angel now prepares to tell John clearly who the woman and the beast are. He begins with the beast. Again we are told that the beast carries the woman. Recall that in our study of Revelation 13 a few weeks ago, we took note of the fact that the beast of the sea is both spoken of as an individual (the specific sense) and as a kingdom (generic sense).

Verse 8: The angel tells John that all “the dwellers on earth” (Israel)** whose names were not written in the book of life would marvel to see the beast that “was and is not and is to come.” There is a clear parallel here to Revelation 13:3-4, which states “…and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast…” (cf. Rev. 13:12 and the discussion there regarding the beast’s mortal head wound). More is said on this in verse 11.

**[In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]

Verses 9-10: Steve Gregg comments,

The principal concern in verses 7 through 11 has to do with the meaning of the seven heads of the beast as mountains (v. 9) and kings (v. 10). David S. Clark writes: “We had the beast located geographically on the seven hills, which meant Rome. Now we have him located in history to tell us what period of Rome we are dealing with. And there is no period of Rome’s history that will fit this description but the dynasty of the Caesars…”

In our study of Revelation 13, we looked ahead to this very passage. This is what we noted regarding the reference to the seven mountains spoken of in verse 9:

…there should be no doubt that this is speaking of Rome, and even Futurist scholars generally concede this point (although they may anticipate a revival of the Roman Empire). Kenneth Gentry also notes that the Coin of Vespasian (emperor of Rome from 69-79 AD) discovered by archaeologists pictures the goddess Roma as a woman seated on seven hills. Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, is the one city in history famous for its seven mountains. First-century Rome used to celebrate a feast called Septimontium, the feast of “the seven-hilled city.”

We also noted the following regarding the seven kings of verse 10, which states, “they [the seven heads] 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”:

This description of the seven kings lines up well with historical data showing the emperors who reigned in the Roman Empire up until the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, which is as follows:

Order of Emperors Name of Emperor Length of Reign Notes/Details
#1 Julius Caesar October 49 BC – March 44 BC “Perpetual Dictator”
#2 Augustus January 27 BC – August 14 AD -time of Jesus’ birth
#3 Tiberius August 14 AD – March 37 AD -time of Jesus’ ascension
#4 Caligula March 37 AD – January 41 AD Murdered
#5 Claudius January 41 AD – October 54 AD Assassinated
#6 Nero October 54 AD – June 68 AD Committed suicide
#7 Galba June 68 AD – January 69 AD Murdered
#8 Otho January 69 AD – April 69 AD Committed suicide
#9 Vitellius April 69 AD – December 69AD Murdered
#10 Vespasian December 69 AD – June 79 AD Destroyed Jerusalem

Some historians do not consider Julius Caesar to be one of the emperors, and rather designate him as one who played a key role in transforming the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD), however, was one who did, and the above list reflects his own list in his writing titled Antiquities of the Jews (Books 18 and 19). Numerous Roman historians contemporary to Josephus agree. Among these were Dio Cassius and Suetonius (70-135 AD), who wrote Lives of the Twelve Caesars and De Vita Caesarum. Julius Caesar was appointed as “perpetual dictator” in 42 BC, so his inclusion in such a list would not have been strange.

According to the above list, then, Nero was the “king” of whom John said “one is” (i.e. “he is reigning now”), and Galba was the one who had “not yet come.” Galba reigned only six months, making him a good candidate to be the one who “must remain only a little while.”

There is no barrier to our interpretation here in the fact that John uses the term “kings” and not “emperors.” Tiberius was referred to as a king in John 19:15, and Claudius was referred to as a king in Acts 17:7. Both were Roman emperors.  One may also note that the chart above indicates more Roman emperors than were referenced by John. Kenneth Gentry quotes J. Russell Stuart, who spoke on this matter in his book Apocalypse:

But why only seven kings? First because the number seven is the reigning symbolic number of the book; then, secondly, because this covers the ground which the writer means specially to occupy, viz., it goes down to the period when the persecution then raging would cease (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 163).

We know that the imperial persecution initiated by Nero ceased with his death in 68 AD. Gentry makes the point that if it can be accepted that Revelation was written prior to that time, then “the enumeration of the ‘kings’ covers all of imperial history up until John’s time and the events ‘shortly’ to follow [a reference to the word ‘shortly’ in Rev. 1:1]… For then it would be the case that in John’s day only six emperors had ascended the imperial throne.”

Verse 11: We are told that the beast “was and is not”, but also [1] is an eighth king [2] belongs in some sense to the seven kings, and [3] goes to destruction. For Jay Adams, this “represents the remainder of the emperors who will be of or like the former seven.” Is this a reference to the fact that the Roman Empire fell into such chaos and disorder during the “Year of the Four Emperors” (following Nero’s suicide) that it nearly ceased to exist? See the study on Revelation 13:12 for this discussion.

Kenneth Gentry believes that the key to understanding this reference to “an eighth” is found in the language of the text. He notes that up until this phrase is mentioned, the definite article “the” is used when referring to the seven kings. However, it is “conspicuously absent in the reference to the eighth head/king…the eighth is “an eighth.” He continues,

This indicates that John is not concerned with the number of the particular emperor arising after the seventh in the Roman Civil War. Rather he is interested solely with the fact that there is one coming soon, who will, as the empire’s stabilizing head bring life back to the empire. There is a very important sense in which the revival of the Empire under Vespasian, was a revival under “an eighth,” who is “of the seven.” It is the same Roman Empire that is brought to life from the death of Civil War. John’s concern is particularly with the contemporaneous events, i.e., here the Roman Civil War that occurred within the compass of the reign of the seven kings… The fact that this revival is of an eighth head, however, indicates the rapid recovery of the Beast. That recovery will come shortly after the demise of the original seven (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, pp. 315-316).

Verses 12-14: John then turns to a discussion of the ten kings who represented the ten horns of the beast. We also visited this topic in our study of chapter 13, and I will reproduce some of our conclusions here:

John says in Rev. 17:12-13 [that these 10 horns] 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. These are of one mind and hand over their power and authority to the beast.” Some have thought these 10 kings to be the very ones listed in the chart above, since all 10 of them reigned (or had begun to reign, in Vespasian’s case) before Jerusalem’s destruction. However, John wrote that in his day they had “not yet received royal power,” so this view is eliminated. Another more likely view is that these 10 kings were the rulers of the 10 empirical (senatorial) provinces of Rome who were empowered by Nero to assist him in carrying out his campaign of persecution against the saints, which Scripture refers to as “war on the Lamb” (Rev. 17:14; cf. Acts 9:5 where Paul, as an unbeliever, also made “war on the Lamb”).[1]

The Global Glossary on the Greco-Roman world says there were 10 Senatorial Provinces in ancient Rome: They were “areas that were governed by Roman pro-magistrates; there were ten senatorial provinces, eight of which were led by ex-praetors and two of which were led by ex-consuls.” Wikipedia lists these 10 Senatorial Provinces, as they existed in 14 AD, as follows: [1] Achaea [2] Africa [3] Asia [4] Creta et Cyrene [5] Cyprus [6] Gallia Narbonensis [7] Hispania Baetica [8] Macedonia [9] Pontus et Bithynia [10] Sicilia. One Biblical mention of a Roman provincial ruler is in Acts 18:12-17, where we are told of Gallio the “proconsul of Achaia.” In Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas had direct contact with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7). See here for more information on the Senatorial Provinces of the Roman Empire, and how and by whom authority was distributed.

David S. Clark’s description is helpful in seeing how vast this empire was:

We know that Rome embraced at that time the countries of Europe that bordered on the Mediterranean Sea, and the northern part of Africa and considerable territory in Asia, and also in central Europe. Rome had conquered the world (Steve Gregg, p. 414).

The above quotation from Wikipedia lists out the 10 provinces of Rome as they were then named. Steve Gregg lists them by names that would be considered more modern (p. 456): Italy, Achaia, Asia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Germany. As seen in this map, Israel/Palestine belonged to the province of Egypt. Indeed, Rome was the world at that time, as can be seen by Luke’s description of Caesar Augustus’ decree “that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1; cf. Acts 2:5).

Photo credit: (Original source: David Camden)

Verses 15-17: John is then told the meaning of the “many waters” referred to in verse 1. They represent “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages,” and this is where the prostitute was seated. As seen already, the scope of these many waters could certainly be a valid description of the Roman Empire in the first century. Does this indicate that the prostitute IS the Roman Empire, or simply that its influence reached throughout the Roman Empire? David Chilton opts for the latter (as do I), saying (Steve Gregg, pp. 416, 418),

Jerusalem could truly be portrayed as seated on “many waters” (i.e. the nations) because of the great and pervasive influence the Jews had in all parts of the Roman Empire before the destruction of Jerusalem. Their synagogues were in every city, and the extent of their colonization can be seen in the record of the Day of Pentecost, which tells us that “there were Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).

In verse 16, we are told that the 10 horns (kings) would join the beast in hating “the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.” Earlier in verse 3 we saw the prostitute (Jerusalem) sitting on the beast which was “full of blasphemous names” (Rome). Now the beast has turned on the prostitute with hatred. Steve Gregg points out that this very same turn of events was predicted for Jerusalem just before it fell in 586 BC for playing the harlot (pp. 418, 420): “I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure…I will gather them from all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them…And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged; I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy…They shall burn your houses with fire…and I will make you cease playing the harlot (Ezekiel 16:37-41). What is the significance of verse 16 then, in light of Jerusalem’s downfall in 70 AD?

First, it’s probably no coincidence that the word “desolate” is used here, just as it is used in Rev. 18:17, 19 and also in Daniel 9:27 and by Jesus in Luke 21:20 (recognized even by most Futurists as referring to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD). Thus, the use of this word again here in reference to Jerusalem would be more than fitting. Secondly, we do know from accounts provided by Josephus (a Jewish historian) and Tacitus (a Roman historian from the same time period) that a number of kings from surrounding provinces joined Vespasian and Titus in Rome’s war against Israel from 67-70 AD. Thirdly, at the very end of July 70 AD, on the exact same day as Jerusalem was burned in 586 BC, the Second Temple was burned to the ground. Josephus remarked that from a distance the entire city of Jerusalem appeared to be on fire. In fact, during August and September 70 the rest of the city was set on fire and leveled to the ground. More will be said of this in our study on chapter 18. Suffice it to say that all the elements necessary for this prophecy to be fulfilled were present in 70 AD.

Regarding the second point, that multiple provincial kings joined Rome’s war against Israel, it was already mentioned in our discussion of verse 3 that this began with a Jewish revolt in the fall of 66 AD. I wrote in greater detail about this sequence of events in my term paper:

[1] Zealots and Revolutionaries (against Rome) take control of the Jerusalem temple. [2] The Jewish/Roman War begins in October with a revolt at Caesarea due to a group of Greeks sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue. The revolt occurred because the Jews were frustrated that the local Roman garrison did not intervene. [3] The High Priest successfully leads a massacre of the Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem. [4] The Romans in Caesarea slaughter 20,000 Jews. [5] About 13,000 more Jews are put to death in Damascus, Syria.

This was just the beginning of the carnage. After a less than successful attack on Galilee and Jerusalem by Cestius Gallus, the Roman governor of Syria, Nero declared war on Israel in February 67 AD, dispatching Vespasian as his general with triple the forces initially led by Cestius Gallus. The link I provided above provides many details of the events which transpired during the next 3.5 years.

Verse 18: As already pointed out, the woman is identified as “the great city” and is said to have “dominion over the kings of the earth.” The designation “great city” was given to Jerusalem in Revelation 11:8, and is repeated here in these chapters as a reference to Babylon the Great on at least seven occasions (16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21; cf. Rev. 14:8). Steve Gregg notes that this verse “is considered most definitive in the recognition of Rome as the harlot city,” for those who are of this opinion. He adds, “if no other data were given in Revelation for the identification of the city, no one would question that this is Rome” (p. 420). Yet we have seen a wealth of data suggesting otherwise. Steve Gregg then quotes David Chilton on this matter (p. 422):

If the City is Jerusalem, how can it be said to wield this kind of worldwide political power? The answer is that Revelation is not a book about politics; it is a book about the Covenant. Jerusalem did reign over the nations. She did possess a Kingdom which was above all the kingdoms of the world. She had a covenantal priority over the kingdoms of the earth.

Lamentations, written shortly after Jerusalem fell the first time in 586 BC, begins this way: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.” Interestingly, as we will see in our study of chapter 18, the great city in John’s day says, “I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see” (Rev. 18:7). Also when Jeremiah prophesied of Jerusalem’s soon coming destruction in his day, he wrote:

And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them” (Jeremiah 22:8-9).

Jerusalem was great in the political sense as well, though. Take note of Josephus’ description of Jerusalem in his introduction to Wars of the Jews:

“it had so come to pass, that our city Jerusalem had arrived at a higher degree of felicity than any other city under the Roman government, and yet at last fell into the sorest of calamities again” (Wars Preface 1.4).

Kenneth Gentry also writes (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 171),

Jerusalem housed a Temple that, according to Tacitus “was famous beyond all other works of men.” Another Roman historian, Pliny, said of Jerusalem that it was “by far the most famous city of the ancient Orient.” According to Josephus, a certain Agatharchides spoke of Jerusalem thus: “There are a people called Jews, who dwell in a city the strongest of all other cities, which the inhabitants call Jerusalem.” Appian called it “the great city Jerusalem.” …More important, however, is the covenantal significance of Jerusalem. The obvious role of Jerusalem in the history of the covenant should merit it such greatness… Josephus sadly extols Jerusalem’s lost glory after its destruction: “This was the end which Jerusalem came to be the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificance, and of mighty fame among all mankind (Wars 7:1:1)… And where is not that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation, which was fortified by so many walls round about, which had so many fortresses and large towers to defend it, which could hardly contain the instruments prepared for the war, and which had so many tens of thousands of men to fight for it? Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations” (Wars 7:8:7).

J. Stuart Russell makes another observation, regarding the phrase “kings of the earth” used in this verse and often thought to be wider in scope than Israel/Palestine. Not only is this expression found throughout Revelation, he says, but it’s also in Acts 4:26-27. There “Herod and Pontius Pilate are identified by the very same expression. Plainly, then, in Acts the expression means ‘the leaders or rulers of the Land’ (i.e. of Israel). If that is the phrase’s meaning here in verse 18, then Jerusalem surely can be said to be the city that reigns over the rulers of Israel” (p. 422).


Our study of Revelation 18 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

[1] This campaign of persecution led by Nero took place from November 64 AD – June 68 AD, a period of 42 months, which most preterists see as a fulfillment of Revelation 13:5-7. See here for more details.

Revelation Chapter 17 (Part 1: Verses 1-6)


Adam Maarschalk: December 3, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 17

UPDATE: This post was written when I understood the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 to be the same as the sea beast of Revelation 13:1-10, the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 to be the first seven Roman emperors, and the 10 horns of Revelation 17:12-14 to be the rulers of Rome’s 10 Senatorial Provinces. I now understand the seven kings to Revelation 17:10 to be seven Zealot leaders belonging to the family dynasty of Hezekiah the Zealot, and the 10 horns to be 10 Jewish generals (named by Josephus) who were appointed around January AD 67 to oversee specific territories and to prepare for war with Rome. This post will be updated accordingly when time allows.

A. The Scarlet Woman and the Scarlet Beast (Rev. 17:1-6)

Verse 1: At this point, the seven bowl judgments have been poured out on Babylon the Great (Rev. 16:19) by seven angels. One of these angels now takes John to see her judgment. Babylon, whose identity we will soon discuss, is referred to as “the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.” Steve Gregg, in his book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” reminds us that the fall of Babylon was first announced in Rev. 14:8 (p. 400). He then adds,

Chapters 17-19 reveal the destruction of Babylon in greater detail, the precursor to the marriage of the Lamb to a new bride. Appropriately, the chaste bride is contrasted with the wicked city depicted as a great harlot (v. 1). In order to gain this insight, John is transported in vision into the wilderness (v. 3). David S. Clark points out that “sometimes he was carried away into heaven to see visions; but the thing he was about to see now had no affinity with heaven, and he could not see such a scene as this in heaven, so he was taken to a wilderness as a more appropriate place, and one more in congruity with what he was about to see.”

Verse 2: Babylon is indicted for its sexual immorality, by which “the dwellers on earth” and “the kings of the earth” were made guilty. In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case. Notice that the reference to “the kings of the earth” here is distinct from the reference to “the kings of the whole world” in Revelation 16:14, where that reference was to the provincial kings of the entire Roman Empire.

We have also noted a couple of times that at this point in John’s narrative, there is division in the preterist camp regarding who judgment is being poured out upon. Some say it’s the Roman Empire, and others say it’s Jerusalem (this is my view). Steve Gregg (pp. 402-406) summarizes J. Stuart Russell’s arguments on why Babylon is to be identified with Jerusalem, and not with Rome. He lists 13 such reasons[1], which are reproduced here:

#1: The fall of Rome [in 476 AD] does not fall within the things “which must shortly take place,” which is the stated subject matter of the Apocalypse (cf. 1:1). [The fall of Jerusalem does, as it occurred in 70 AD, in John’s own day];

#2: The Olivet Discourse, which Russell conceives as a shorter treatment of the same subject matter as Revelation, does not include a discussion of the fate of Rome (see Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21);

#3: As Revelation presents a series of contrasts—a Lamb vs. a dragon; the Father’s name vs. the beast’s name on people’s foreheads; the bride vs. the harlot—so also the Apocalypse contrasts two cities, Babylon and the New Jerusalem. The latter is the church. The earthly Jerusalem is clearly in view in earlier chapters. To bring Rome into the picture at this point would introduce a third city and destroy the symmetry of the book;

#4: As a symbolic name for Jerusalem, Babylon would be as fitting as Sodom and Egypt, which were applied to Jerusalem earlier (11:8);

#5: The phrase “that great city” was used of Jerusalem earlier (11:8), as it is used repeatedly in these chapters regarding Babylon;

#6: In chapter 14, the winepress was trodden “outside the city” (14:20), which almost all understand to refer to Jerusalem, yet the only “city” named earlier in that chapter is Babylon (14:8), hence, Babylon equals Jerusalem;

#7: The division of Babylon into “three parts” in 16:19 best fits Jerusalem… (cf. Ezek. 5:1-12). [By this, Steve Gregg is also referring to the historical fact of three warring factions in Jerusalem during the siege leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, which literally carved up the city into three parts. See previous post on chapter 16.];

#8: The appellation “the harlot” is an established label for Jerusalem from the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 1:21; 57:8; Jer. 2:2, 20); it could never be applied to Rome or any Gentile city, since they have never been in a covenant relationship with God. As Chilton writes: “The metaphor of harlotry is exclusively used in the Old Testament for a city or nation that has abandoned the Covenant and turned toward false gods; and with only two exceptions…[2] the term is always used for faithless Israel;

#9: Jerusalem sat upon seven hills as truly as did Rome [SEE FINAL NOTE at the end of this post];

#10: If “the kings of the earth” [verse 2] be understood to mean “the rulers of the land (Israel),” then Jerusalem, as appropriately as Rome, could be said to be “that great city” in 17:18 [more on this later];

#11: The expression “that great city which reigns over the rulers of the land” (v. 18) is fully equivalent to that which is said of Jerusalem in Lamentations 1:1—“Who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces”;

#12: The Jews of Jerusalem were idolatrous, as was Rome;

#13: No city other than Jerusalem could be charged with the blood of the prophets and saints and apostles (see 17:6; 18:20, 24).

Verse 3: John then sees a woman sitting on a scarlet (red) beast with seven heads and ten horns. We already discussed the identity of this beast at length in Revelation 13 (See Post #1 here and Post #5 here), seeing a compelling case for its identity as Nero in the specific sense and the Roman Empire in the general sense. The woman here in verse 3 is seen as a prostitute (verse 1), and the fact that she is sitting on the beast does not mean that she is one and the same with the beast. Rather it suggests a very close relationship between the woman and the beast, who are both distinct in their identity. In my term paper on the events of 70 AD, I wrote the following regarding the significance of the woman (Jerusalem, as representing Israel) riding the beast (Rome):

In what sense might Jerusalem have sat on the beast with seven heads (mountains), the beast that would ultimately turn on her and destroy her (Rev. 17:3, 9, 16-18)? Israel had enjoyed a good relationship with Rome until the Jewish revolt began in 66 AD, and Judaism was recognized as a valid religion within the Roman Empire. Josephus wrote of this relationship, “It seems to me to be necessary here to give an account of all the honors that the Romans and their emperors paid to our nation [Israel], and of the leagues of mutual assistance they have made with it” (Antiquities, 14.10.1-2). The Jews frequently took advantage of this relationship to induce persecution against Jesus and His followers (Luke 23:2; John 18:28-31, 19:15; Acts 4:27, 16:20, 17:7, 18:12, 21:11, 24:1-9, 25:1-2). W.H.C. Frend even writes that “the promptings of orthodox Jews in the capitol had something to do with” Nero’s decision to begin persecuting Christians in 64 AD (The Rise of Christianity [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984], 109; quoted in Kenneth Gentry, 2002, p. 63).

Kenneth Gentry suggests that the beast is seen as scarlet for any (or all) of the following reasons: [1] The robes worn by Roman emperors were red in color [2] Rome, led by Nero, was responsible for shedding much blood among God’s people [3] Nero was famous for his red beard. Regarding this last point, Gentry says, “It would seem most appropriate to expect the red color of the beast to also correspond to the person designated as the beast whose number is 666” (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 217). In other words, this is likely one more means by which John made known to his first-century readers exactly who the beast was (in the singular sense) without saying so explicitly.

Verses 4-5: The woman is seen to be wearing purple and scarlet, and gold, jewels, and pearls. She has in her hand a golden cup “full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.” Her forehead proclaimed that she was “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” In my term paper on the events of 70 AD, I noted some observations made by Todd Dennis, the founder of the Preterist Archive:

…the description of the harlot’s attire (purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls) was nearly identical to the ephod worn by the high priest (Revelation 17:4; cf. Exodus 28:5-21). The golden cup she held was likely symbolic of the temple vessels, the greatest part of which were gold and silver, according to the Jewish historian Josephus (Wars 5.4.4). On Aaron’s forehead was the inscription “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36). The harlot’s forehead, on the other hand, bore the title “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Rev. 17:5).

The attire of the harlot was also similar to what Josephus said was discovered “in the midst [of the inmost court], that most sacred part of the temple” when Jerusalem was captured by the Romans in 70 AD:

“The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls” (Revelation 17:4).

“But then this house, as it was divided into two parts, the inner part was lower than the appearance of the outer, and had golden doors of fifty-five cubits altitude, and sixteen in breadth; but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful” (Wars 5.5.4).

In Jeremiah’s day, Judah (with its capital of Jerusalem) was indicted because it had “played the whore with many lovers” and “polluted the land with…vile whoredom” (Jeremiah 3:1-2). Like Israel in John’s day, Judah prior to its fall in 586 BC had “the forehead of a whore” (verse 3).

Duncan McKenzie’s article has helped me to understand that “Babylon the Great” here was more than just a physical city in its identity. It was also a religious system full of abominations. That system, I believe, was Old Covenant temple-based Judaism. In the next chapter, we will see a command from God regarding Babylon, saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). We know from chapter 1 that John’s immediate audience did not live in Jerusalem (or Rome), but in Asia Minor. The believers in Jerusalem did flee, as we noted in chapter 7, but what did this message mean to believers already living outside of Jerusalem and Judea?

God’s message was about breaking completely free from Old Covenant temple-based Judaism. Babylon represented not only Jerusalem, but also the unfaithful community which had rejected Jesus in order to maintain corrupted Old Covenant practices. Both physical Jerusalem and temple-based Judaism were judged and destroyed in 70 AD. In Daniel 9:26-27 we see that it is on “the wing of abominations” that one comes “who makes desolate” (cf. Rev. 17:16, Matt. 23:38). This is in reference to the destruction of “the city and the sanctuary” (as related to Daniel’s own people and his holy city—Dan. 9:24). What are the abominations spoken of in both Daniel and Revelation? Regarding Daniel 9, John Calvin several centuries ago remarked:

I have no hesitation in referring this language of the angel to that profanation of the Temple which happened after the manifestation of Christ, when sacrifices ceased, and the shadows of the law were abolished. From the time, therefore, at which the sacrifice really ceased to be offered; this refers to the period at which Christ by his advent should abolish the shadows of the law, thus making all offering of sacrifices to God totally valueless… God’s wrath followed the profanation of the Temple. The Jews never anticipated the final cessation of their ceremonies, and always boasted in their peculiar external worship, and unless God had openly demonstrated it before their eyes, they would never have renounced their sacrifices and rites as mere shadowy representations. Hence Jerusalem and their Temple were exposed to the vengeance of the Gentiles.

As Russell pointed out earlier, John is being shown a contrasting picture of two women: the harlot of chapters 17 and 18, and the bride in chapter 19 clothed with “fine linen, bright and pure…the righteous deeds of the saints” (see verses 1-8). One (the harlot, representing Judaism) persecuted the other (the bride, Christ’s Church), as we will see again in the next verse. What is most fascinating is Paul’s own contrasting of two women in his epistle to the Galatians:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons,one by a slave woman andone by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, whilethe son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are twocovenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor. For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers,like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say?”Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave butof the free woman (Galatians 4:21-31, emphasis added).

Note how the following passages contrast each other:

A. Revelation 17:1: “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.’”

A. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”

B. Revelation 17:3: “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.”

B. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

On these matters, Duncan McKenzie concludes:

Revelation is talking about the same subject as Galatians; both books are contrasting two “cities” (physical Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem in Galatians, Babylon and the New or heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation) that are two “wives” (Hagar and Sarah in Galatians, the widowed harlot and the bride in Revelation).  These two women of Galatians and Revelation represent two communities, those of the old and new covenants…  In the book of Revelation, as in Galatians (4:29), one woman persecutes the other (i.e. the harlot persecutes the bride, Rev. 17:6).  Similarly in Revelation, as in Galatians, one of the two women is cast out (and destroyed—Rev. 18:21) while the other woman receives her inheritance (i.e. the Lord takes her as His bride).  This explains why the very next subject in Revelation after Babylon is destroyed is the wedding of the bride (Rev. 19:1-10).  God deposes of His unfaithful old covenant wife (who irrevocably broke her covenant of marriage with God and became a widow when she had Jesus killed) and then marries His faithful new covenant bride…

Just as the New Jerusalem is not a literal city but a community of people (the bride, the new covenant community) so Babylon was not a literal city but a community of people (the harlot, the unfaithful old covenant community)… While Babylon was centered in Jerusalem, its citizens were all those of unfaithful Israel that were rejecting Jesus for the temple system.

When the earthly Jerusalem fell, God’s true people were in possession of “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:18-28). Upon the removal of that which could be shaken (vs. 27; cf. Hebrews 9:8-10), there remained “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (vs. 28; cf. Daniel 7:21-22, Matthew 21:43).

Verse 6: The woman is said to be “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” This same charge was laid upon those of “the earth” (Rev. 16:1) in the previous chapter, where it was said that “they have shed the blood of saints and prophets (16:4-7).” In chapter 18 we will see that “in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24), and that the “saints and apostles and prophets” were told to rejoice over her destruction (18:20). Who was responsible for shedding all the blood of the prophets and the saints, according to Jesus, and who would receive judgment as a result? David Lowman, a Presbyterian pastor, aptly points out that the answer can be found in Matthew 23:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets’” Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate (Matthew 23:29-38, emphasis added).


In Part 2 of our study on Revelation 17 we will see how the angel unveils to John the meaning of the prostitute (Babylon) and the beast…

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

[1] Kenneth Gentry, in his book Before Jerusalem Fell, lists his own set of reasons (pp. 240-241): “Briefly, the evidence for the identifying of Jerusalem as the Harlot is based on the following: (1) Both are called ‘the great city’ (Rev. 14:8; 11:8). (2) The Harlot is filled with the blood of the saints (cp. Rev. 16:6; 17:6, 18:21, 24; with Matt. 23:34-38; Luke 13:33; Acts 7:51-52). Jerusalem had previously been called by pagan names quite compatible with the designation ‘Babylon’ (cp. Rev. 14:8 and 17:5 with 11:8). (4) Rome could not fornicate against God, for only Jerusalem was God’s wife (Rev. 17:2-5, cp. Isa. 1:20; Jer. 31:31). (5) There is an obvious contrast between the Harlot and the chaste bride (cp. Rev. 17:2-5 with Rev. 21:1ff.) that suggests a contrast with the Jerusalem below and the Jerusalem above (Rev. 21:2; cp. Gal. 4:24ff.; Heb. 12:18ff.). The fact that the Harlot is seated on the seven-headed Beast (obviously representative of Rome) indicates not identity with Rome, but alliance with Rome against Christianity (cp. Matt. 23:37ff.; John 19:6-16; Acts 17:7).” SEE ALSO QUESTION #9 HERE:

[2] Note from Steve Gregg: “The two exceptions are Tyre (Isaiah 23:15-17) and Nineveh (Nahum 3:4). It is notable that both of these pagan cities, Tyre (See I Kings 5:1-12; 9:13; Amos 1:9) and Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-10), had at one time been in covenant with God.”


FINAL NOTE: Regarding J. Stuart Russell’s 13 arguments for identifying Babylon with Jerusalem, there was one that I wasn’t quite on board with earlier (i.e. I thought it shouldn’t belong to his list). That was #9, which stated, “Jerusalem sat upon seven hills as truly as did Rome.” Then today I came across this information at the site of Australian Pastor Andrew Corbett:

The City of Jerusalem as it existed in the time of Christ Jesus was widely reckoned to be the “City of Seven Hills.” This fact was well recognized in Jewish circles. In the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer, an eighth century midrashic narrative (section 10), the writer mentioned without commentary (showing that the understanding was well known and required no defense) that “Jerusalem is situated on seven hills” (recorded in The Book of Legends, edited by Bialik and Ravnitzky, p. 371, paragraph 111). And, so it was. Those “seven hills” are easy to identify. If one starts with the Mount of Olives just to the east of the main City of Jerusalem (but still reckoned to be located within the environs of Jerusalem), there are three summits to that Mount of Olives. The northern summit (hill) is called Scopus [Hill One], the middle summit (hill) was called Nob [Hill Two], the highest point of Olivet itself, and the southern summit (hill) was called in the Holy Scriptures the “Mount of Corruption” or “Mount of Offence” [Hill Three] (II Kings 23:13). On the middle ridge between the Kedron and the Tyropoeon Valleys there was (formerly) in the south “Mount Zion” [Hill Four] (the original “Mount Zion” and not the later southwest hill that was later called by that name), then the “Ophel Mount” [Hill Five] and then to the north of that the “Rock” around which “Fort Antonia” was built [Hill Six]. And finally, there was thesouthwest hill itself [Hill Seven] that finally became known in the time of Simon the Hasmonean as the new “Mount Zion.” This makes “Seven Hills” in all.

So, indeed, J. Stuart Russell was correct. Still, as we will see in the following post, there is another sense also in which the woman (apostate Israel) can be seen as seated on the seven mountains of Rome (if Rome is in view in Revelation 17:9).

Revelation Chapter 16


Rod Opferkew: November 26, 2009

Scripture text for this study:  Revelation 16

[Primary source: Revelation: Four Views – A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg (1997); pages 352-397. Contained in this post is a consideration of the preterist viewpoint. Notes from Adam are in red font.]

First and foremost, who is the recipient of the judgments in this chapter?  The first fifteen chapters present a lot of evidence that the target of God’s wrath was Israel, or more specifically, the capital city of Jerusalem.  However, some Preterists say there may be evidence that Rome was the target.  One expositor in particular, Jay Adams, breaks up Revelation into essentially two sections. He then points out that the bowl judgments seem to parallel the trumpet judgments. He states that the trumpet judgments are meant for Israel, and the bowl judgments are meant for the Roman Empire. David Chilton, Kenneth Gentry, and others believe that first-century Israel is designated for judgment throughout the entire book, with the exception of judgment upon the beast in Rev. 13:10, 16:10, and 19:20.

Here in verse 1 we see that the seven angels are told to “pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.

The trumpets and bowls do have distinct differences.  The effects of the trumpet judgments are often only partial (affecting one-third of the earth, trees, green grass, sea, ships, springs of water, the sun, moon, and stars–see Revelation 8:6-12), whereas the effects of the bowl judgments are total. The bowls are associated with the seven last plagues, as seen in Revelation 15:1.  A likely scenario is that “the trumpets depict preliminary calamities that fall upon Israel during the Jewish War, while the bowls present plagues associated with the final and utter devastation of Jerusalem” (Steve Gregg, p. 360).

First bowl (verse 2): This plague was likely symbolic, though there is evidence that literal boils and rashes were present due to the lack of proper sanitation in the besieged city (Jerusalem, especially during the final five-month siege from April-September 70 AD). Remember, there were thousands of dead bodies and streets were filled with blood and sewage, making disease rampant.  It can be seen that in verse 11, the people were still afflicted as they remained unrepentant of their sin and rejection of Christ.

It should be noted that the plagues in this first bowl judgment parallel the plagues that Moses brought down on Egypt in Exodus 9:8-12 (See Appendix 1 below for more such parallels).  Also a striking coincidence is that this is the same warning that Moses gave to the people of Israel if they were to become disobedient and unfaithful to His covenant (Deuteronomy 28:27, 35).

Second bowl (verse 3): Notice the parallel with the first plague in Egypt, i.e. the Nile turning to blood in Exodus 7: 17-21.  However, the blood is not free-flowing, it is like the blood of a corpse, “clotted, coagulated and putrefying” (Gregg, p. 360).  Judea was being compared to the sea, which has been seen elsewhere in Revelation to represent the Gentile nations (e.g. Revelation 13:1-10).  Josephus writes of a battle that took place on the Sea of Galilee in which the Romans overtook the fleeing Jews in boats and massacred them in the water (Wars, III: 10:9). I wrote the following in my term paper on Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD:

In early spring 67 AD, which was 3.5 years before Jerusalem’s final downfall, Vespasian first entered Judea with a 60,000-member army. In the campaign which was to follow he destroyed at least 150,000 inhabitants of Galilee and Judea, along with many towns. One of the first towns Vespasian crushed was Joppa, because its inhabitants had provoked his men by their frequent piracies at sea. The Jews there tried to flee from Vespasian on their ships, but Vespasian was helped by a tremendous storm that blew in just as they began to flee. Their vessels were crushed against each other and against the rocks, and when this slaughter was complete more than 4,200 bodies were strewn along the coast and a very long stretch of the coast was stained with blood.

Third bowl (verses 4-7): Literal “streams of blood” are well documented during the siege of Jerusalem, as blood flowed freely in the streets and polluted the water sources. Also in my term paper I wrote the following regarding the bloody slaughter which occurred immediately following the burning of the Second Temple in Jerusalem:

The Romans then hoisted their own idol-covered banners at every key point of the temple area, and plundered and burned the houses in the city. They murdered by the sword every Jew they could find, man, woman, and child. Their only compassion was for the dead, whom they encountered in mass numbers in many of the houses, mostly victims of the famine. Josephus writes, “But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many houses was quenched with these men’s blood” (The Wars Of The Jews, 6:8:5).

The amount of blood that flowed, not only in Jerusalem but also throughout the surrounding region, could possibly bring to mind a passage like Revelation 14:19-20, which says, “So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia [about 184 miles].” This was the understanding of John Wesley (1703-1791) who, in his commentary on this passage, wrote:

“And the winepress was trodden – By the Son of God, Rev 19:15. Without [outside] the city – Jerusalem. They to whom St. John writes, when a man said, ‘the city,’ immediately understood this. And blood came out of the winepress, even to the horses’ bridles – So deep at its first flowing from the winepress! One thousand six hundred furlongs – So far! At least two hundred miles, through the whole land of Palestine.”

We also have this account from Josephus:

Now, this destruction that fell upon the Jews, as it was not inferior to any of the rest in itself, so did it still appear greater than it really was; and this, because not only the whole of the country through which they had fled was filled with slaughter, and [the] Jordan [River] could not be passed over, by reason of the dead bodies that were in it, but because the Lake Asphaltitis [the modern Dead Sea] was also full of dead bodies, that were carried down into it by the river. And now, Placidus…slew such as had fled to the lake, insomuch that all Perea had either surrendered themselves, or were taken by the Romans, as far as Macherus (Josephus, “Account of the Lake Asphaltitis,” War of the Jews 4:7:6).

Verse 6 seems to point to Jerusalem in A.D. 70 instead of Rome.  The killing of the prophets was among the great sins of Israel (This can be seen, for example, in 2 Chronicles 36:15-16, Luke 13:33-34 and Acts 7:52).  Jesus named this fact as the very reason that the symbolized blood of the righteous would be poured out in judgment upon that generation which heard Him speak (Matt 23:31-36) (Gregg, p. 366). More is said on this in our study of Revelation 17:6 and also Rev. 18:20, 24.

Fourth bowl (verses 8-9): These verses probably need to be taken symbolically, as there is no record of increasing heat that was both dangerous and scorching to the people during this time.  The sun in this instance is seen “as a symbol of mighty political and religious leaders…or refers to the oppression and tyranny exercised by the leaders of the Zealot sects that terrorized the citizens inside the besieged city of Jerusalem,” assuming Jerusalem was the intended target for this judgment.  If Rome is the target, then this judgment “may represent the tyranny of Roman leaders or the ruthlessness of the gothic and Vandal kings that attacked Rome and brought about her downfall [in 476 AD]” (Gregg, p. 368). God declared that He would judge an unfaithful Israel in this way (with scorching), as seen in Deuteronomy 28:22.

** Note that this is the opposite of the blessing the Israelites received in the Exodus, when Israel was shielded from the heat of the sun by the Glory-Cloud (Exodus 13:21-22, also Psalm 91:1-6). Also it was pointed out in our study of chapter 8 that judgment references to the sun in the Old Testament were clearly not meant to be seen as literal. David Chilton wrote regarding Revelation 8:12:

The imagery here was long used in the prophets to depict the fall of nations and national rulers (cf. Isa. 13:9-11, 19; 24:19-23; 34:4-5; Ezek. 32:7-8, 11-12; Joel 2:10, 28-32; Acts 2:16-21. [He quotes F.W. Farrar (1831-1903), who wrote that] “ruler after ruler, chieftain after chieftain of the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation was assassinated and ruined. Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, all died by murder or suicide; Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa, and most of the Herodian Princes, together with not a few of the leading High Priests of Jerusalem, perished in disgrace, or in exile, or by violent hands. All these were quenched suns and darkened stars” (Gregg, pp. 166, 168).

Fifth bowl (verses 10-11): This verse clearly seems to be pointed at the Roman Empire. The throne of the beast is well thought to be the city of Rome itself (See our study on Revelation 13). David Chilton is referenced here, and he writes,

“Although most of the judgments throughout Revelation are aimed specifically at apostate Israel, the heathen who join Israel against the Church come under condemnation as well. Indeed the Great Tribulation itself would prove to be “the hour of testing, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the Land” (372).

The darkness referenced here which comes upon the throne of the beast (i.e. Rome) is symbolically taken to be the political turmoil and overthrow of its leaders, in particular when Nero (the beast in the singular sense) committed suicide in 68 A.D.  Upon his death, the Roman Empire quickly began to crumble, and the following year (69 A.D.) became known as the “Year of the Four Emperors” because of the rise and fall of four more leaders in Rome – Galba, Otho and Vitellius, all of whom reigned for eight months or less.

Those expositors who see the second half of Revelation as pointing to the fall of the Roman Empire refer to these verses as pertaining to the invasions which led to the ultimate fall of Rome in the fifth century.

Sixth bowl (verses 12-16): The great river Euphrates is represented in this bowl judgment just like it was in the sixth trumpet judgment. (The drying up the river was the strategy of Cyrus the Persian, the conqueror of historical Babylon in 536 B.C. The river was diverted away from the walls of Babylon, and this allowed his army to march under the wall and overtake the city and its king, Belshazzar, without much resistance.)  Here, the Babylon of Revelation is seen by some to be Rome and this bowl judgment to be the downfall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century A.D. (Gregg, p. 378).

Other writers see the Babylon of Revelation again pointing to Jerusalem and its related destruction in 70 A.D. God helped his people Israel through the drying up of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22) and the River Jordan (Joshua 3:9-17; 4:22-24).  It is ironic that God is now using this same type of judgment against Israel, the new Babylon which is invaded by a new Cyrus (all the while miraculously saving the true Covenant people). History tells us that this vision mirrors the return of Vespasian’s armies (now led by his son, Titus) bringing in reinforcements, and Josephus writes that these reinforcements came from the region of the Euphrates in the east (Gregg, p. 380).

Coming from the mouth of the devil (the dragon) were three unclean spirits like frogs, a parallel to the second Egyptian plague (Ex. 8:1-15). “Natural Egypt was judged with natural frogs, and spiritual Egypt (Israel) was judged with spiritual frogs” (p. 380).

Neither preterist camp believes that Armageddon is a literal place in northern Israel, but that it instead refers to the “mountain of Megiddo”, the nearest hill to the plain of Megiddo where many Old Testament battles were fought (Judges 5:19; 2 Kings 9:27; 2 Chron. 35:20-25). There is debate over whether this refers to the siege on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or whether it foreshadowed the destruction of Rome. The Historicist view is that the term “Armageddon” simply refers to any great nation suffering a great disaster (pp. 382, 384). Earlier we saw that John Wesley tied this passage to Rev. 19:11-21, and rightly so. We noted the following in our study of Revelation 14:

This is often referred to as the “Battle of Armageddon,” which Tim Lahaye and other Futurist authors generally say will happen in the plain of Megiddo. Author John Noe, on the other hand, notes that what the Bible refers to as a “battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14) would transpire “at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16). In Hebrew it’s actually “Har-Magedon,” as “har” means mountain in Hebrew (“Armageddon” is based on the Greek rendering, since “h” is silent in Hebrew). Therefore, this battle was to take place primarily on a mountain, not in a valley. Noe adds,

The most likely case is that Revelation’s “Har” is Jerusalem. Geographically, Jerusalem sits on top of a mountain. To get there from any direction one must go “up to Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 19:34; 1 Ki. 12:28; 2 Ki. 18:17; 2 Chron. 2:16; Ezra 1:3; 7:7; Zech. 14:17; Matt. 20:17, 18; Mark 10:32, 33; Luke 18:31; 19:28; John 2:13; 5:1; Acts 11:2; 15:2; 21:12, 15; 24:11; 25:9; Gal. 1:17, 18). Jerusalem is also called God’s “holy mountain” (Psa. 43:3) and the “chief among the mountains” (Isa. 2:2-3; also 14:13; Exod. 15:17; Joel 2:32; 3:16-17)… “Magedon/Megiddo” may also be comparative imagery. A great slaughter once took place in the valley of Megiddo (2 Ki. 9:27; Zech. 12:11). Throughout ancient history, this valley was also a favorite corridor for invading armies and the scene of numerous famous battles (Jud. 4-7; 1 Sam. 29-31; 2 Sam. 4; 1 Ki. 9:15; 2 Ki. 9-10; 22; 2 Chron. 35). So much blood was shed in this valley of Jezreel or Megiddo that it became a synonym for slaughter, violence, bloodshed, and battlefield, as well as a symbol for God’s judgment (Hos. 1:4-5). In our day, Armageddon has also become synonymous with and a symbol for the ultimate in warfare and conflict.

In a similar fashion, the word “Waterloo” has garnered a symbolic use. Back in 1815, this town in Belgium was the battleground and scene of Napoleon’s final defeat. Today, we have a saying that some one or some thing has met their “Waterloo.” We don’t mean they have met that city in Europe. We mean, by way of comparative imagery, that they have met a decisive or crushing defeat, or their demise. I suggest Revelation employs the word Magedon/Megiddo in this same manner. History records that a great slaughter took place on a mountain in Palestine within the lifetime of the original recipients of the book of Revelation. In A.D. 70 the Roman armies of Titus totally destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. According to Eusebius, 1.1 million Jews were killed.

In verse 15, Jesus tells us that He is coming like a thief.  This parallels His words to the Laodiceans, stating that they should buy white garments (see Rev. 3:18), and also His similar words to the people of Sardis (see 3:5).

Steve Gregg writes,

Jesus told His disciples that some of them standing with him “shall not taste death” before they “see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matt. 16:28).  This could not have been fulfilled much later than A.D. 70, since most of the generation of disciples would have died by that time.  This “coming” of the Son Man could refer to the judgment upon Jerusalem (384).

If interested in a more detailed discussion of whether or not Christ came in judgment upon Jerusalem in 70 AD, please see this post here and also this post here.

Seventh bowl (verses 17-21): Again, which city is this judgment falling on, Jerusalem or Rome?  Steve Gregg notes that some Preterists see Revelation 11:13 and 16:19 as concrete evidence that Revelation chapters 4-11 refer to the judgments on Jerusalem (Israel) and that chapters 13-19 refer to the fall of Rome. If referring to Rome, this bowl judgment would have been consummated in 476 A.D, the year pagan Rome fell. There is more evidence, however, to support the idea that the great city is referring to Jerusalem, and its fall in 70 A.D. The following post on Revelation 17 will get into this evidence in much more detail.

Verse 18: We are told that there was a great earthquake, greater than any other in history. The writer of Hebrews notes that a great earthquake in both heaven and earth would take place with the dissolution of the Old Covenant (Heb. 12:26-28, also see Heb. 8:13). As we saw in Rev. 4:5, 8:5, and 11:19, the cosmic phenomena here (“flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder“) mirrors the phenomena that occurred when Moses delivered the Law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16). The significance of this parallel is that Jerusalem’s destruction (along with the temple) completed the transition from Judaism (the Old Covenant) to the New Covenant.

Verse 19: It should be noted that the city was broken up into three parts. This can only mean Jerusalem.  This is a reference to Ezekiel 5:1-12, when the prophet was required to shave his head and divide it into three parts, and was told by God: “This is Jerusalem” (Ezek 5:5).  One third was burned, one third was chopped up by the sword, and the last third was scattered into the wind.  This happened in 586 B.C. (some were burned inside the city, some were slain by swords by the Babylonians, and the remaining were scattered among the nations). The city was again divided like this in 70 A.D. Josephus, and also the early church writer Eusebius, tell us that at least 1.1 million Jews were killed in the burning of the Second Temple and Jerusalem, some due to the fire, and some due to the sword (see quotes from the section on the Third Bowl Judgment above). Just as in 586 BC, those who survived were sold into slavery:

All above the age of seventeen were sent in chains into Egypt, to be employed there as slaves, or distributed throughout the empire to be sacrificed as gladiators in the amphitheatres ; whilst those who were under this age, were exposed to sale.

Philip Carrington (in 1931) noted an additional means of fulfillment for this vision,

This refers to the division into three factions, which became acute after the return of Titus. While Titus was besieging it from without, the three leaders of rival factions were fighting fiercely within: but for this the city might have staved off defeat for a long time, even perhaps indefinitely, for no great army could support itself for the long in those days in the neighborhood of Jerusalem; there was no water and no supplies. The fighting within the city delivered it quickly into the hands of Titus (Gregg, p. 393-94).

The three factions were led by [1] Eleazar, who was over the Zealots [2] John of Gischala, who was over the Galileans, and [3] Simon, who was over the Idumeans. It remained this way until the city was destroyed. The conditions were awful. In one night 8500 people were killed, and their bodies were cast outside of Jerusalem without being buried. The outer temple was “overflowing with blood” (says Josephus) and the inner court even had large pools of blood in it. Homes and gravesites were looted.

Verse 21: Josephus gives us great insight into the “hailstones, weighting about one hundred pounds.”  He wrote of large stones being shot from catapults by the Roman armies, which the watchmen in the city reported as appearing white in the sky (Gregg, p. 395-96). I wrote the following in my term paper on Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD:

The 10th Legion of the Romans begins to launch white boulders as heavy as 100 pounds over the city walls into Jerusalem. They are cast by catapults from Roman engines from a distance of up to two furlongs (a quarter mile) away. Josephus records that the watchmen on the wall, if they saw them coming, would shout, “The Son cometh!” (Wars 5.6.3). After a while the Romans learned to blacken the stones so that they couldn’t as easily be detected, and thus many were crushed by these stones.

J. Stuart Russell, in his 1878 book titled The Parousia, offers this explanation [for the words of the watchmen] (p. 482): “It could not but be well known to the Jews that the great hope and faith of the Christians was the speedy coming of the Son. It was about this very time, according to Hegesippus [110-180 AD], that St. James, the brother of our Lord, publicly testified in the temple that ‘the Son of man was about to come in the clouds of heaven,’ and then sealed his testimony with his blood [in 62 AD]. It seems highly probable that the Jews, in their defiant and desperate blasphemy, when they saw the white mass hurtling though the air, raised the ribald cry, ‘The Son is coming,’ in mockery of the Christian hope of the Parousia.”

Stones used by Roman catapults

Boulders believed to be used in Roman catapults (Photo Source)


APPENDIX 1:Comparison of the Trumpet and Bowl Judgments of Revelation with the Plagues upon Egypt

David Chilton saw many parallels between the seven Trumpet Judgments (Revelation 8:6-9:21, 11:15-19), the seven Bowl Judgments (Revelation 16:1-21), and the ten plagues upon Egypt (Exodus 7:14-11:32). Many of these parallels are demonstrated in the chart below. Just as God’s people, Israel, came out of Egypt during the days of Moses, God’s people (the Church) came out of apostate Israel/Judaism during the generation following Christ’s death and resurrection, at which time He inaugurated the New Covenant. Before drawing this comparison, Chilton gives a brief summary of how this imagery has played out since the blowing of the Seventh Trumpet:

The Seventh Trumpet was the sign that ‘there shall be no more delay’ (cf. 10:6-7). Time has run out; wrath to the utmost has now come upon Israel. From this point on, St. John abandons the language and imagery of warning, concentrating wholly on the message of Jerusalem’s impending destruction. As he describes the City’s doom, he extends and intensifies the Exodus imagery that has already been so pervasive throughout the prophecy… St. John’s more usual metaphors for the Great City are taken from the Exodus pattern: Jerusalem is not only Egypt [Rev. 11:8], but also the other enemies of Israel. He has shown us the Egyptian Dragon chasing the Woman into the wilderness (Chapter 12); a revived Balak and Balaam seeking to destroy God’s people by war and by seduction to idolatry (chapter 13); the sealed armies of the New Israel gathered on Mount Zion to celebrate the feasts (Chapter 14); and the saints standing in triumph at the ‘Red Sea,’ singing the Song of Moses (chapter 15). Now, in Chapter 16, seven judgments corresponding to the ten Egyptian Plagues are to be poured out on the Great City. There is also a marked correspondence between these Chalice [Bowl]—judgments and the Trumpet—judgments of Chapters 8-11. Because the Trumpets were essentially warnings, they took only a third of the Land; with the Chalices, the destruction is total.

1.  On the LAND; 1/3 earth, trees, grass burned (Revelation 8:7) 1. On the LAND, becoming sores (Revelation 16:2) 1. Boils (6th Plague: Exodus 9:8-12)
2. On the sea; 1/3 sea becomes blood, 1/3 sea creatures die, 1/3 ships destroyed (8:8-9) 2.  On the sea, becoming blood (16:3) 2.  Waters become blood (1st Plague: Ex. 7:17-21)
3. On the rivers and springs; 1/3 waters become wormwood (8:10-11) 3. On rivers and springs, becoming blood (16:4-7) 3. Waters become blood (1st Plague: Ex. 7:17-21)
4. 1/4 of sun, moon, and stars darkened (8:12) 4. On the sun, causing it to scorch (16:8-9) 4. Darkness (9th Plague: Ex. 10:21-23)
5.  Demonic locusts tormenting men (9:1-12) 5. On the throne of the Beast, causing darkness (16:10-11) 5. Locusts (8th Plague: Ex. 10:4-20)
6. Army from Euphrates kills 1/3 mankind (9:13-21) 6.  On Euphrates, drying it up to make way for kings of the East; invasion of frog-demons; Armageddon (16:12-16) 6. Invasion of frogs from river (2nd Plague: Ex. 8:2-4)
7.  Voices, storm, earthquake, hail (11:15-19) 7.  On the air, causing storm, earthquake, and hail (16:17-21) 7. Hail (7th Plague: Ex. 9:18-26)




A couple weeks ago, PJ Miller highlighted a most interesting comparison of three prophecies in Revelation 16 and three similar accounts from Josephus, the famous Jewish historian who was an eyewitness to the Roman-Jewish War of 67-73 AD. They are as follows:

1. John’s Revelation – “And there were noises and thundering and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.” (16:18)

1. Josephus – “for there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming” (“Wars of the Jews” 4:4:5)

2. John’s Revelation – “Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.” (16:19)

2. Josephus – “it so happened that the sedition at Jerusalem was revived, and parted into three factions, and that one faction fought against the other; which partition in such evil cases may be said to be a good thing, and the effect of divine justice.” (5:1:1)

3. John’s Revelation – “And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent.” (16:21)

3. Josephus –  “Now the stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs and further. The blow they gave was no way to be sustained, not only by those that stood first in the way, but by those that were beyond them for a great space. As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white color, and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but could be seen also before it came by its brightness;” (5:6:3)

Original Source:

Regarding #1 above, we noted in the body of this post that verse 18 actually appears to parallel the phenomena which occurred when Moses delivered the Law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16). It’s possible that the “great earthquake” spoken of here was not a physical one, but was rather a spiritual earthquake signifying the overthrow of the Old Covenant in favor of the New Covenant existing exclusively and universally (Hebrews 12:26-28, Matthew 21:33-45). Personally, I view Josephus’ account of that earthquake as a fulfillment not of Revelation 16:18, but of Rev. 11:13, which reads, “And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.”

The reason for this is that a few short sections later after Josephus’ words quoted above, still speaking of this same event, he adds, “[Taking advantage of the noise of the storm, some of the Jewish zealots cut the bars of the temple gates with temple saws, allowing the Idumaeans to come in and join them in slaughtering some of the people]. The din from all quarters was rendered more terrific by the howling of the storm. And by daybreak they saw 8,500 dead bodies there” (Wars of the Jews 4:5:1). This occurred in 68 AD.

Josephus does not attribute a certain number of deaths to the earthquake, and a certain number of deaths to the warfare which took place, but only notes that a total of 8500 dead bodies were discovered the morning after this earthquake. This is remarkably close to the Biblical account (i.e. it’s entirely possible that 7000 were killed due to the earthquake, and 1500 due to the warfare). These things were discussed here.


Our study of Revelation 17 (Part 1) can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

Revelation Chapter 15


Mike: November 19, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 15

The following information should be of help to the reader while reading this post:

[1] Notes and material from Mike are in original black font.
[2] Notes from Steve Gregg are from the following source: “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).”
[3] Notes from Sam Storms are from the following source: “A Study of Revelation 14-15, Part III.”
[4] Notes from David Guzik (a Futurist) are from: “David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible.”
[5] Notes from Adam are in red font.


Verse 1:   “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

According to the Futurist view, the sign John saw signifies God’s final judgments on earth dwellers during a future 7-year Tribulation. The Preterist view generally sees these plagues as those which fell upon apostate Israel during the Roman-Jewish War as it led up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD. Steve Gregg notes that we have seen this type of prelude before, saying, “This chapter gives a prelude to the judgment of the seven bowls [which take place in chapter 16]. There was a heavenly scene of victory in chapters 4-5, just prior to the breaking of the seven seals, and a similar prelude in 8:1-6 anticipated the seven trumpets” (p. 344).

Sam Storms comments, “This ‘sign’ John now sees in heaven is the third such portent, the first two being that of the pregnant woman in 12:1ff. and the great red dragon in 12:3ff.” Sam Storms views the bowl judgments which are to come, not last as regards the “sequence of history,” but “last in terms of John’s narrative.” He notes that some understand the reference to these plagues as “the last” to mean that the time for repentance is now past. In any case, the text ties the meaning of this phrase to the fact that with these seven plagues “the wrath of God is finished.” [Some translations render this phrase, “the wrath of God is complete.”]

Gregg (p. 344) quotes from David Chilton, who writes,

There is no reason to assume that these must be the “last” plagues in an ultimate, absolute, and universal sense; rather, in terms of the specifically limited purpose and scope of the Book of Revelation, they comprise the final outpouring of God’s wrath, His great cosmic Judgment against Jerusalem, abolishing the Old Covenant world-order once and for all.

Verse 2:And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and  also those who conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.”

Q: Who is seen standing beside the sea of glass mingled with fire?
A: Those who had conquered the beast, its image, and the number of its name (
See chapter 13).

Sam Storms proposes that since this chapter references the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (as we will see), such an allusion can also be seen in this verse. He offers the following thoughts:

Given the ‘new exodus’ motif in this chapter, this ‘sea’ probably alludes to the Red Sea through which the Israelites were delivered. Others have seen it as identical with the ‘sea of glass like crystal’ (4:6) which stands before the throne in heaven.

Steve Gregg is one who opts for the latter, saying,

The sea of glass here is referring to the throne room of God based on what we read in Rev 4:6. There is the added detail that the sea of glass is mingled with fire, suggesting the judgment about to proceed from Gods throne. Evidently they are the same group as the 144,000 in the preceding chapter, except they are no longer on ‘Mount Zion’ but in heaven, with harps given them by God (v. 2), corresponding to the harps from heaven that played the ‘new song’ that only the 144,000 were able to learn (14:2-3).

Verses 3-4:And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.’”

The original song of Moses was the song of deliverance sung by the Israelites in Exodus 15. David Guzik remarks, “Only one song is sung, but this song goes by two titles (the song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb). The two titles refer to a single song. Here is a perfect union between law and love, between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.” Steve Gregg comments (pp. 344, 346),

It is, of course, the Lamb, and not Moses, who was instrumental in the deliverance of which they sing, but the reference to Moses calls to mind again the Exodus and reminds us that Jerusalem had become the new Egypt (Rev. 11:8). The original ‘song of Moses’ was the song of deliverance sung by the Israelites when they found themselves permanently free from their former oppressor (cf. Exodus 15). As Egypt had lost ‘horse and rider’ in the Red Sea, so Jerusalem’s horses had been bridle-deep in a virtual sea of blood (a truly red sea!—Rev. 14:20).

Sam Storms breaks down the lyrics to this song in a helpful way: “The lyrics that follow in vv. 3-4 do not appear to be drawn from the song of Moses in Exodus 15, but rather come from a variety of OT texts.” He lists these sources as follows:

“Great and marvelous are Thy works” comes from Ps. 111:2-4 (and Dt. 28:59-60 LXX).

“O Lord God, the Almighty” is found repeatedly in the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

“Righteous and true are Thy ways” echoes Dt. 32:4. It would seem that this phrase parallels the first, “showing that God’s sovereign acts are not demonstrations of raw power but moral expressions of his just character” (Beale, 795).

Compare these with 16:7 and 19:2 and it becomes clear that what John is declaring to be great, marvelous, righteous, and true are God’s judgments against the unbelieving world…

“Thou King of the nations” alludes to Jer. 10:7.

“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name?” This, too, echoes Jer. 10:7.

“For Thou alone art holy; for all the nations will come and worship before Thee, for Thy righteous acts have been revealed,” all comes from Ps. 86:8-10 and Ps. 98:2.

The wrath of God against apostate Israel is now finished (verse 1), and the end of the old covenant age has come (Matthew 24:3). So it’s fitting that John would hear the song of Moses at this time. The old covenant age was initiated with the giving of the law through Moses. That age was now coming to a dramatic end, and the new covenant age was shining forth. This was also a marvelous work of the Lord, and the nations were being gathered to worship Him.

Verses 5-6:After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests.”

Sam Storms remarks,

The OT background to the concept of ‘seven plagues’ is probably Lev. 26 where four times it is said that God will judge Israel ‘seven times’ if she is unfaithful (vv. 18,21,24,28). Here, too, in Revelation we have four sets of seven judgments (seals, trumpets, thunders, bowls).

This is a good observation by Sam Storms, and it’s interesting that, being a Historicist, he would say this. The Historicist view says that the book of Revelation has been, and is being, fulfilled throughout this present Church Age. Unfaithful Israel, which Storms spoke of, was judged and destroyed a generation after Christ’s death and resurrection, fulfilling and vindicating His own prophecies (e.g. Matthew 23:29-38, 24:2, 24:34; Luke 19:41-44, 23:28-31). This likely reference to Leviticus 26 is one more indication (among many that we’ve seen) that these judgments recorded by John were indeed intended to fall upon faithless Israel in his day.

In verse 6 we see that “the seven angels with the seven plagues” (the bowl judgments) are “clothed in pure, bright linen.” For me personally, this calls to mind a scene in Revelation 19, where we read the following (19:14), “…And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following Him [Jesus] on white horses…” First of all, this passage is popularly interpreted as referring to Christ’s future Second Coming. Is this the case? This is something we will consider later.

Secondly, I had always assumed that these armies must be the saints of God, especially in light of 19:8, which speaks of Christ’s Bride: “…’it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” In chapter 19 it may very well be that those armies are indeed the saints of God (i.e. people). This is something we will examine in more depth when we get to that point in our study. Yet it’s interesting that here in chapter 15 it is angels, and not people, who are “clothed in pure, bright linen.” This is something to keep in mind perhaps…

Verse 7:And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever…”

Sam Storms says, “The verbal similarity between ‘the seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God’ here in 15:7 and the ‘golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints’ in 5:8, together with 8:3-5, suggests that the saints’ prayers for vindication in 6:9-11 are now being fully answered.

Verse 8: “…and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.”

John sees the temple, or sanctuary in heaven, opened for the second time in his visions (compare to Revelation 11:19). Steve Gregg comments (pp. 350, 352):

Just prior to the outpouring of the bowls, the temple fills with smoke from the glory of God (v. 8). This harks back to the dedication of the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34-35) and Solomon’s temple (I Kings 8:10-11), in both of which cases, as here, no one could enter the sanctuary. In the present case, it is generally agreed that the emblem suggests a debarring of intercession, such as might ordinarily occur in the temple, for the city about to be judged.

Gregg then quotes David S. Clark and Jay Adams, who both concur that the “day of grace was past” for this city, so that intercession would no longer have any effect until God’s wrath had been completely poured out. Gregg adds,

The seven plagues to follow (16:1-21) will re-enact several of the Exodus plagues on Egypt, but because these are the last plagues (v. 1), the order of the Exodus events is reversed. John sees the glory of God in the tabernacle of the Testimony first, and after that the plagues, sent not to free God’s people from slavery (the redeemed are already free), but as a last effort to bring the earth’s inhabitants, like Pharaoh, to repentance.


Our study of Revelation 16 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

The Manhattan Declaration: Distorting the Gospel

The context of this post is that it’s a reproduction of something I recently posted as a note on Facebook. As it contains a sizeable amount of research, I’ve decided to also post it here. I was first made aware of the Manhattan Declaration on an excellent blog site:, where several articles have been written on this topic (please refer to the end of this post for links to those articles). This post deals with the Manhattan Declaration and also the topic of nationalism in general. Some of what I’ve written here is a reflection of my own process of searching my heart to see where nationalism has [1] distracted me from what is more important (the message of Christ and Him crucified), and/or [2] tainted my perspective on things which are eternal. I’m still on that journey.


–by Adam Maarschalk–

In my previous note, “Has Nationalism Taken Priority over the Gospel in Our Hearts?” I expressed some of my views regarding nationalism and the high priority that it has for many professing Christians here in the US. To be clear again, my point is not that all political involvement is illegitimate. I also have my own political opinions, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. At the same time, my growing sense is that for many of us who say we follow Christ, nationalism has both overshadowed the gospel and distorted its message in our minds. Here is a statement I made in my previous post:

I think that too many of us [i.e. followers of Christ] in this nation have become more passionate about taking on political causes, proclaiming the superiority of the United States, and fighting ‘liberalism’ than we are about proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and upholding Biblical truth.

Recently the national media has given some coverage to The Manhattan Declaration (, an ecumenical initiative dealing with [1] the sanctity of life [2] the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union between husband and wife [3] the rights of conscience and human liberty. While there are points of social concern outlined in this declaration which I could agree with, these same points could be agreed upon by many who don’t even claim to be Christian. The greater issue at stake here is again this: the distortion and even redefining of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and of our purpose as God’s people here on earth. This is again evident in the issues surrounding the Manhattan Declaration.

In the Preamble to this document, it is said that Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Christians are united “as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” To be sure, this is a wonderful thing to be united upon, if only it were true that these three groups are united in this way. This statement clearly makes light of the Reformation led by Martin Luther in the 16th century. What has fundamentally changed so that Catholicism now clearly stands firm on the gospel of Jesus Christ? This is an issue which deserves its own post, so I will say no more at this point (however, it is dealt with at more length in one of the links I will provide below).

Then in the FAQ section (under #8), we read:

So the signatories are happy to stand alongside our LDS brothers and sisters who have worked so heroically in the cause of defending marriage, our Jewish brothers and sisters, members of other faiths, and people of no particular faith (even pro-life atheists such as the great Nat Hentoff), who affirm our principles and wish to join us in proclaiming and defending them.

Mormons and religious Jews are our “brothers and sisters”??? Really? The issues highlighted in this declaration are NOT more important than clarity regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ and what it means to be His followers. It gets worse…

Jim Daly, the President and CEO of Focus on the Family [and I don’t have to tell you how influential this organization is], is one of the principle signatories of this declaration. Please pay close attention to how he explains his rationale for signing it, keeping in mind that Christians in the US are his target audience:

Given the magnitude of this document…I’d like to share with you now why I was so eager to sign it—and why I hope you will, too.

It is important, first off, to note that the Manhattan Declaration is not a partisan or political statement… Instead, it addresses and elevates four specific areas of universal consensus. Some have referred to these as ‘threshold issues,’ meaning they represent the foundation of our faith and the pivot point from which everything else flows. This is the bedrock. If we can’t agree on these areas of doctrine, everything else will be of reduced value.

These four areas are:

1. The sanctity of life
2. The sanctity of marriage
3. The protection of religious liberty
4. The rejection of unjust laws

Sources (emphasis added):

If you’re a believer and reading this, I hope you find Daly’s statement as disturbing as I do. The foundation of my faith is Jesus and Him crucified and the truth revealed in Scripture, not four political/social issues. The last two areas listed by Daly aren’t even doctrines, by any stretch of the imagination. Ephesians 2:19-21 tells us very clearly what the foundation of our faith is.

Daly wants you and I to place our faith on a foundation other than Christ. Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, and unbelievers of many persuasions could agree with these four “areas of doctrine.” No thank you, Mr. Daly. You’re preaching another gospel. I’ll keep my faith on a foundation that can’t be shaken when politics fail.

Chuck Colson, one of the three framers of this document, has also repeatedly referred to these tenets as being part and parcel of the gospel. In one place, he says,

Just imagine what could happen if we could say to the world that a million Christians have made this pledge—that we will not compromise the faith, no matter what. I think that would have an extraordinary impact on American culture. And just as important, I believe the Manhattan Declaration can help revitalize the church in America. One great weakness of the Church today is its biblical and doctrinal ignorance. This document is, in fact, a form of catechism for the foundational truths of the faith. Now, opponents of the document have tried to paint it as a political tool—a way to resurrect the religious right. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Source: (emphasis added)

Why would the framers and key signatories continue to equate these tenets with the gospel, and then invite unbelievers to commit to them? Not only that, but all who sign are now told that they have pledged to never compromise the gospel (even if they are unbelievers!). On the MD’s official website, there is now a “Message to All Signers of the Manhattan Declaration,” where one will see the following words:

We believe God is looking for good men and women who will pledge (as those who have done in signing the Manhattan Declaration), never to compromise the gospel, and to become well-informed, effective advocates of true and godly principles.


Now wait a minute! How can this be? This goes far beyond affirming Catholicism as holding to the Biblical gospel (which it does not), and calling Mormons and Jews our “brothers and sisters” (in the faith?), which is compromise enough. Remember that the framers of this document invited “members of other faiths, and people of no particular faith (even pro-life atheists…)” to sign. How can Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, and others who are not followers of Christ never “compromise the gospel”? They haven’t yet believed the message of the gospel, much less been transformed by it, much less be in a position to never compromise it.

If the framers had kept this document purely political, that would be one thing (although I still wouldn’t sign it), but they are providing one of the muddiest definitions of the gospel I’ve ever seen. This document has a political agenda, pure and simple, despite what Chuck Colson has said. Here is Colson in his own words, as reported in the New York Times:

‘We argue that there is a hierarchy of issues. A lot of younger evangelicals say they’re all alike. We’re hoping to educate them that these are the three most important issues’ – abortion, marriage, and religious liberty.”


There are plenty of reasons why Colson’s statement is not necessarily true (especially regarding religious liberty) and should be debated, but I’ll leave it alone. Artificially fixing these or any social ills through legislation and heavy political action won’t ultimately change the hearts of people in this nation. The gospel will, and that’s what is being marginalized and distorted by this and many other initiatives. I can’t and won’t sign this document, for the reasons already given and others. I could say a lot more, but I’d like to instead point to two excellent articles on this subject. The first one can be found here—it’s a comprehensive list of 19 thought-provoking questions for professing evangelicals who have signed, or are thinking about signing, this document:

This in-depth post from Steve Camp, a former recording artist whose lyrics might remind some of Keith Green, is also very good:

These statements near the beginning of this article jumped out at me right away:

In John 18:36 our Lord says these surprising words in answer to an inquisition by Pontius Pilate, ‘…If my kingdom were of this world, my disciples would be fighting…’ These words cut straight to the heart of the matter before us today. Clearly, the Lord’s kingdom is not of this world. Jesus did not come as a social revolutionary to clean up the culture from lascivious delinquents; or as a religious zealot to overthrow the Sanhedrin; or even as a political agitator to dethrone the Emperor. His kingdom is eternal; it is not of this world…

But why then is it today, beloved, that we do see His disciples fighting? –and fighting not for eternal things, but for the temporal things of this earth. Fighting for religious rights; fighting against unregenerate people for acting like unregenerate people; fighting against the secularization of public policy; fighting for a social moral imperative; fighting against senate filibusters; fighting for family values, etc. And yet, with an eerie wholesale silence we don’t see them contending for the faith, boasting in the cross, heralding the good news of the gospel of grace through faith in Christ alone, and proclaiming Jesus Christ and Him crucified as the answer for the social ills plaguing our society today.[1]

Of course, Steve Camp is speaking generally here, and not saying that no one is preaching the gospel. Just like in my recent note, he is asking what we as believers in this nation are most passionate about. Which one overshadows the other: politics/nationalism or the gospel? Steve Camp goes on to list 12 dangers of what he calls “Evangelical Co-Belligerence.” I find his points very thought-provoking… All are very good, but #5, 7, 9, and 12 perked my interest the most. Here are his points in skeleton form (he elaborates on all of them in the link I provided, and this is well worth reading):

1. The Lack of Biblical Foundation (for engaging in “culture wars”)
2. The Removal of the Offense of the Cross
3. The Secularization of Being “Salt and Light”
4. The Promotion of a Moral Human Imperative
5. The Denial of the Efficacy of the Gospel
6. The Condoning of Unequally-Yoked Alliances
7. The Alienation of Unbelievers for “Acting Like Unbelievers”
8. The Body of Christ Turned Into Political Agitators
9. The ECB Political Entitlement—“Religious Rights”
10. The Pagan Co-Belligerents—Still “Safe” in Their Sin
11. The Church Turned PAC/Lobbyist/Voting Force
12. The Inevitable Conclusion: Win the Culture War; Lose a Voice for the Gospel

Camp closes his post with these words:

When one eliminates the centrality of the gospel from the social cause; or amputates the call to repentance to unregenerate people they’d rather play politics with, share picket lines with, boycott corporations with, legislate morality with, and strong arm politicians by militant means with—rather than deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus Christ with; when one tries to focus on everything from family; to culture wars; to filibusters; to elections; to religious rights; to a bankrupt social moral imperatives; rather than on focusing on the Lord and His ‘once for all faith delivered to the saints’, where does this all lead? …May the church turn away from this defection from Christ and His Word and come back to the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel as the cure for the sin sick hearts of mankind.

Finally, I would also like to close by referring to an interview by Charlie Rose with Greg Boyd, a pastor here in the Minneapolis area, regarding his book, “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church.” For those who know of Boyd, you probably know that he embraces what is known as “open theism,” and I’m certainly not on board with that. Setting that aside for now, I do appreciate and agree with what he says in this interview, found here (the total running time for these three video segments is 21 minutes):



Further recommended articles:


Articles to date on PJ Miller’s site regarding the Manhattan Declaration:


[1] In a similar way, I posed this question in my previous note, and I still present it as an open challenge to fellow believers:

“I think our priorities are misplaced. Let’s say I publicly question the teachings of high-profile preachers who claim to be anointed yet distort the gospel, preach heresy, and dishonor the name of Jesus every day on TBN, GOD TV, The Word Network, etc. Surely I will hear “Don’t judge”, “touch not the Lord’s anointed”, “that’s not loving,” etc. But if I were to blast away at President Obama (whose authority has been instituted by God—Romans 13:1, Daniel 2:21, John 19:11), the policies of this administration, or anything deemed liberal, I would get all kinds of “amens” and thumbs up [from my Conservative friends on Facebook]. Something’s wrong, and to me this is a clear double standard [as well as illustrating what is and isn’t so important to us].”