************ Sermon on Revelation 17:7-18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 2, 2009
"The Destruction of the Beast"
Last time we looked at the great prostitute. Remember how attractive she is? Clothed in gold and scarlet; glittering with gold, precious stones, and pearls; holding in her hand a golden cup. A quick peek at the end of the chapter told us that the prostitute represents the cities of this earth in their rebellion against God (Rev 17:18).
We learned that the prostitute's attraction especially is economic prosperity. She seeks to beguile us away from God and the Gospel through materialism; she wants us to sell our souls for a dollar. Remember the struggle of the Asia Minor Christians – to remain in the trade guilds, to practice idolatry, just so they could provide for their families and remain in business?
We learned that the prostitute's attraction is world-wide. She attracts peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages. It seems that the entire world goes after her.
The prostitute, we learned, has a partner – the scarlet beast of Revelation 13 with seven heads and ten horns and covered with blasphemous names. This beast, remember, is a servant of the dragon (who is Satan) and attacks the church and the Gospel through persecution.
The beast and the woman have a common hatred – they both hate God. They have a common goal – to attack God by attacking the Gospel and the church. They have a common joy – to get drunk on the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.
We have to say that the great prostitute is attractive in appearance but revolting in reality.
Now, remember how Revelation 17 starts? It starts with the great prostitute's destruction!
(Rev 17:1) One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters."But before the destruction is described, the angel takes John on a side trip and shows him the allure, the power, and the hatred of the great prostitute.
I The Destruction of the Beast (vs 6b-14)
A The second part of verse 6 tells us John's response to the great prostitute: "When I saw her, I was greatly astonished" (Rev 17:6). Do you know what is probably my favorite word in the Greek New Testament? The word for "astonished." This word is plastered all over the Gospels. Over and over again, we are told that people are astonished by the ministry and teaching of Jesus. The word suggests amazement in a positive sense – what I would call admiration.
But that is not the case in Revelation 17. When John saw the great prostitute, he was "greatly astonished." This time, the word suggests confusion and fear. Confusion because John expects to see the woman suffering under judgment – instead, he sees her seductive beauty leading the whole world astray. Fear because John expects to see the woman's defeat – instead, she is drunk on the blood of the Gospel martyrs. So, in confusion and fear, maybe we should say horrified astonishment, John wonders what kind of enemy the woman is.
B In the next seven verses the angel describes the destruction of the beast. Again, remember how the chapter starts – with the punishment of the great prostitute. Does the angel take another side trip? Does John need to tell the angel to focus, to get back on subject? Not at all. Rather, we are to see that the woman and the beast are inseparable, they work in tandem, their relationship is mutually beneficial – which is why the woman rides the beast. So, the destruction of the beast has negative consequences for the great prostitute.
Let's start with the description of the beast: "The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come ..." (Rev 17:8). Two times verse 8 tells us this. Who does this sound like? "Was, is not, and is to come." Who does this sound like? Doesn't this sound like God? Earlier in the Revelation, God is described as Him "who is, and who was, and who is to come" (Rev 1:4,8). This expresses the eternity of God. Remember, God is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last (Rev 1:8,17). God is the Fountain from which all else comes.
God is Him "who is, and who was, and who is to come." The beast "was, now is not, and will come." The beast tries to be like God but He is nothing but a cheap imitation. Don't forget, this is one of the tools Satan uses – he tries to imitate God in order to lead people astray. For instance, he sets up a counterfeit trinity of dragon, beast out of the sea, and beast out of the earth (Rev 12 & 13); he sets up a fake resurrection to imitate Easter's resurrection (Rev 13). But the beast is not God by a long shot. That is the message of the angel – the beast tries to be like God, he tries to be God, but he does not and cannot succeed because he "was, now is not, and will come."
Let's look at the three tenses. The beast "once was." In the past, there was a time when the beast "was." When the power of godless governments was used to persecute God's people almost to the point of extinction – think of Egypt and Assyria and Babylon and Rome!
The beast "now is not." Does this mean the beast is out of commission? Hardly. But what it does mean is that his activity is severely curtailed. Why? Because of the cross and the grave. Because of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. He has been thrown into the Abyss. So, his powers are restrained. At the present time, he is not able to unite the peoples of the world against the church and the Gospel.
As for the future, the beast "will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction" (Rev 17:8).
The beast "once was, now is not, and yet will come." Notice the reaction of the unbelieving world: we see the word "astonished" again. Not the confusion and fear of John. Rather, the same admiration that people have for Jesus. Unbelievers admire the beast – but, then, they have been deceived.
C The angel prefaces the rest of his comments by saying "This calls for a mind with wisdom" (Rev 17:9). Wisdom. Do you think the Spirit knows some of the crazy things that are said and done with the following verses? Do you think the Spirit knows the wild leaps of imagination and exegesis that happen today? Of course the Spirit knows. So, under the inspiration of the Spirit, the angel calls for wisdom as we look at the seven heads and ten horns.
The seven heads are identified as seven hills and seven kings. Many people are eager to identify these with seven Roman emperors because everyone knows Rome is built on seven hills. But then the discussion becomes hot and heavy: which Roman emperors? Very few people can agree. This is further complicated when we are told the beast is both one of the seven kings and an eighth king. Others propose that the seven kings who become eight kings are actually world kingdoms. But again the discussion: which kingdoms. Very few people can again agree.
The key (the wisdom) to understanding this lies in the number "7". How has John used numbers in every other place? John has not used numbers literally; rather, he has used them for their symbolic significance. This is apocalyptic literature, remember? For instance, John writes the Revelation to the 7 churches of Asia Minor – but we know there were more than 7 churches. John mentions the sealing of 144,000 – but we know this actually is a crowd beyond numbering. Numbers have symbolic significance in the Revelation; they are not to be taken literally.
Remember what 7 represents? The number 7 represents completeness, wholeness, fullness. So, the seven heads which are seven hills (or mountains) and seven kings represent the full number of earthly powers that have persecuted the church throughout human history.
But what does verse 10 mean when it says "Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come" (Rev 17:10). Very simple, really. We are closer to the end than to the beginning. Yes, the beast is still alive. Yes, persecution still happens. But the end of the age is coming. "Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come."
What about the ten horns? "The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast" (Rev 17:12). This is apocalyptic literature, remember. The number 10 is not to be taken literally. I am sure you realize that many today identify the ten horns with the European Economic Community (EEC). In fact, entire books have been written about this one verse. This identification falls apart when we realize there are now more than 10 countries in the EEC.
The ten horns are ten kings who make war against the Lamb. But they are also more than ten kings. Like the seven heads, they represent the full number of earthly powers that have persecuted the church throughout human history. The key phrase when it comes to the ten horns is not their number but their time: "one hour." They will receive authority for "one hour." One hour is the smallest measurement of time in the Ancient World. We measure time in minutes and seconds and even nano-seconds. But the Ancient World measured time in hours. Meaning what? That the kings of the earth, in their opposition to the church and the Gospel, will reign for only the briefest of times. Yes, it seems long, never ending, lasting forever when you are the one facing persecution. I am sure this is what it felt like for the churches and Christians of Asia Minor as they suffered under Rome. But when measured against eternity, it is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just a blink of an eye. Just a blip on the radar.
Do you hear what John is saying? The seven heads which are seven hills (or mountains) which are seven kings – five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come. The ten horns which are ten kings – receive authority for one hour. Do you hear what John is saying? The end is coming. Their time is nearly up. Their destruction – which is also the beast's destruction and the prostitute's destruction and the dragon's destruction – is coming and in fact is almost here.
D Why? Why is their time nearly up? Why is their destruction almost here? Listen to what John says:
(Rev 17:14) They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings ...
Notice Who overcomes the seven kings, the ten kings, the kings of the earth, the beast, the prostitute, the dragon? The Lamb. Not the Lamb with His mighty angels. Not the Lamb with the great multitude beyond number. Just the Lamb.
We have met the Lamb before, in Revelation 5. He is the Lamb Who was slain. He is the Lamb Who with His blood purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And remember His reward? He ascended into heaven. He was seated at the right hand of God where He now reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords. He received His crown and His throne not because of His ability as a warrior, not because of His strength as a Lion, but because of His sacrifice as a Lamb.
The Lamb alone wins the victory. But the Lamb is not alone. "With him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers." Does this include you? Yes it does, if you are one of His followers. Yes it does, if you are a follower of the Lamb. Yes it does, if you are faithful and true to the Gospel.
The Lamb will overcome them. In fact, the coming victory is simply the completion, the mopping up, of the victory He already won at the cross. The cross did it all! That was the place of victory. That was the decisive battle. He conquers His enemies as the Lamb.
II The Destruction of the Prostitute (vs 15-17)
A Finally, after all this, we come to what the angel first promised John – the punishment of the great prostitute. Notice what happens in verse 16:
(Rev 17:16) The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.What is going on here? We have a saying: "There is no honor among thieves." In other words, a thief will steal from another thief. Or, sell him out. "There is no honor among thieves." Well, there is no honor when it comes to the dragon, the beast, the woman, and the kings of the earth either. They turn on each other.
Too often we think of the wicked as being cohesive, as being united, as being one big happy family. But we must never forget the self-destructive power of sin. We must never forget that sin always contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. So what do we see? We see that the wicked give way to their wicked nature. For a while, they are united in their evil – think of the woman riding on the beast. But after a time, they turn on each other. Wicked people do not get along in their wickedness forever.
Along this line, let me warn you, congregation, of relationships and friendships based on shared sin. For instance, someone joins another because of their shared hatred for a third person. Or, two people get along because they both share a joy and a lust for gossip. Or, talk to someone on City Council, the Board of Supervisors, the School Board, or even Church Council and they will all tell you the same thing – that angry people join together in their sinful anger. Or, ever notice how drug addicts and alcoholics always recognize and seek each other out. Think of Herod and Pilate. They disliked each other. But they became friends. Why? Because they were joined together by their hatred for Christ and the Gospel. Think of Joseph's brothers. There was always rivalry among the sons of the different women but they joined together in their sinful jealousy of Joseph. However, verse 16 reminds us that wicked people do not get along in their wickedness forever.
So what happens to the woman, the great prostitute? She is attacked and destroyed by the beast and the ten horns. The kings and kingdoms of the world turn on their own partner. How foolish! How dumb! Remember what Jesus said?
(Lk 11:17-18) Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. (18) If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?Remember why Jesus said this? Because Jesus was charged with casting out evil spirits by the power of Satan. In other words, Jesus was accused of using Satan's power to cast out Satan's demons. How ridiculous! "If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?"
Satan is not dumb. He is sly as a fox and cunning as a serpent. So why would Satan attack himself?
B Here we come to verse 17. It starts with "for" – because, the reason why. Why does Satan attack Satan? Listen to verse 17:
(Rev 17:17) For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled."God has put it into their hearts." The same God Who gives the kings their authority for one hour, has put into their hearts to turn on one another. What we see, what we are told, is that God rules over all things, at all times, without exception, so that nothing happens in all of creation that is contrary to His will. It is all according to His plan.
"If there is one thing in all the world that the rebels do not want to do, it is the purpose of God. But they are helpless to keep that sovereign purpose out of their hearts, to protect their minds from the invasion by the Lord God Almighty. In doing what they want to do, hating the prostitute and ripping her to pieces, they are doing precisely what God wants. And in gathering to wage their war against the Messiah, they are merely assembling for their own execution" (Dennis E. Johnson, "Triumph of the Lamb: a commentary on Revelation").
Do you want proof of this? Look at the cross. The cross. Who killed Jesus? Well, that is easy to answer. Judas killed Jesus because Judas betrayed Him. But what about Caiaphas who schemed against Him? Or Pilate who handed Him over? Or the crowds who yelled for His blood? Or the soldiers who nailed Him to the tree? So, who killed Jesus? Listen to what Peter says, full of the Spirit on Pentecost. "You, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross" (Acts 2:23). Yes, Jesus was killed by Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate, the crowds, and the soldiers – and, I can add your name and my name to the list. We all are the humans who are responsible. But we cannot leave it there because Peter does not leave it there. Remember what else Peter says? "This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge" (Acts 2:23). There you have it again – the plan of God, the foreknowledge of God. God in control. Satan forced to lay the seeds of his own destruction.
When all has been said and done, I want you to remember two things about those who make war against the Lamb, the Gospel, and the church. First, it is the Lamb who was slain Who overcomes them. Second, their destruction is all part of the plan of God. And, I guess I can add a third thing: their time is almost up.
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