Revelation 17: Key To Interpreting the Book of Revelation?

I have mentioned before that Revelation 17:9-10 seems to me to provide decisive evidence against the futurist or “end times” approach to understanding the Book of Revelation.

We got up to chapter 17 of the Book of Revelation in my Sunday school class yesterday, and so we focused attention on that particular set of verses – but also others. Babylon the harlot is explicitly said to represent the city of Rome (17:18), and the beast here comes to denote not so much the Roman Empire as a whole, but the rulers of that Empire.

Interpreters are sometimes puzzled by the antagonism between the woman and the beast in this chapter (17:16). But given all the evidence pointing to the identity of the beast focusing not merely on Roman emperors in general, but in particular on Nero, the reference to the beast/emperor burning the prostitute/city with fire seems to have a fairly obvious reference.

What do readers think? Is Revelation 17, with its explicit statement that one of the kings represented by the beast was ruling in John’s own time, its reference to seven hills and thus to Rome, and its reference to the ruler burning the city with fire, not the most important evidence we have regarding how to best approach and interpret the Book of Revelation? Does it not make clear that we should seek meanings for its symbols in the author’s and original readers’ time, rather than our own?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-MacDonald/1043189517 Bob MacDonald

    The impact of the lust for money is evident in the garment factory fire in Bangladesh and thugs as security forces on behalf of the mining industry. Is this is what you mean by the great whore? (Obviously the 7 hills is Rome, but Rome’s empire is only one of many.) How does the Lamb conquer in this situation? Is it by Guatemalan displaced coming to Canada for a fair trial? Or by the consumer in the US saying no to the garment industry sweat shops? (At least this time there were doors that were not locked – but still to few for safety.)

  • Scott

    I suggested to someone yesterday that the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 would be a good place to start in interpreting Revelation, because it sets us clearly in John’s own day as opposed to ours.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Indeed, I did not mean to suggest that Revelation 17 is the only place one finds out this connection with the time of the author and original readers. But it is also true that many read the messages to the churches and treat that as about the past, but still treat the rest as future, and so Revelation 17 is still important evidence to highlight, in my opinion.

      • Scott

        Nor did I mean to suggest that chapters 2-3 are the only place to find continuity with John’s community. Finding symbolism throughout the “tribulation” sections (chapters 12-18/19) that keeps those scenes set in the Roman Empire of the late first century or early second century certainly is important evidence for contending with a futurist reading. It also creates a nice unity throughout the letter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenneth.myers.16 Kenneth Myers

    I would argue that the harlot is not Rome, but is supported by Rome – is sitting on the back of Rome (which eventually devours her). Now, let me see, what city was an unfaithful bride, rejecting her rightful husband and bedding down instead with pagan kings? In fact, what city had a long biblical history of doing this exact thing? Ah, yes – that would be JERUSALEM! Jerusalem rejected Messiah, embraced Caesar instead (“We have no king but Caesar!”), and within a generation (“this generation shall not pass…”) was destroyed by her paramour, eaten by the beast.

    • HimiH

      I too, have ben “getting” this interp of Jerusalem as Babylon. not sure tho’ as I don’t have a def confirmation on it but lately many others are starting to voice this as well. best to let bible interpret bible, esp Johns’ line by line, precept by precept, comparisions in all his books.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenneth.myers.16 Kenneth Myers

    I don’t see 17 as the key for interpreting the book – one would have to wait an awfully long time to get to the key, wading through all kinds of confusion in the process. It does inform the interpretation, however.

    I would suggest the key is the (ancient suzerain/vassal) covenantal structure found in most if not all of the prophets. Once this is overlaid on the book of Revelation, the book comes into clear focus, and is obviously a first century prophetic warning.

    Here’s the basic structure of the covenantal model (found all throughout the O.T. – Deuteronomy has this structure, as do most of the prophets; in the N.T. it is the structure for Matthew and Revelation, and some would argue for Romans).

    1. Transcendance (“Who makes the rules?”): an announcement of the authority/king/ruler who is making the covenant, and who is above and beyond the situation . Revelation 1: the Risen Lord.

    2. Hierarchy (“Who enforces the rules?”): the great king doesn’t stay in the conquered territory – he goes back to his throne, but he leaves representation, hierarchy, to implement his will. Revelation 2-3: Letters to theangels of the seven churches (the new hierarchy emerging in the new covenant people of God).

    3. Ethics (“What are the rules?”): in which the king’s terms of covenant are spelled out. Revelation 4-5: the Throneroom scene, where the scroll of the New Covenant is opened by the Lamb.

    4. Sanctions (“What are the consequences of keeping or breaking the rules?”): in which both the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience are spelled out. The bulk of the book of Revelation – chapters 6-19 – make up this sanctions section, particularly depicting, in O.T. imagery, the consequences of Jerusalem rejecting Messiah and at the same time the preservation of the New Covenant Church in the midst of the chaos.

    5. Continuity (“How does this covenant continue into the future?”): the final section is one of succession – how rulers/hierarchy/people transition into a future generation. In Revelation, chapters 20-22 are all about the emergence of a New Covenant People who continue into the future – indeed, into eternity.

  • http://historical-jesus.info/ Bernard Muller

    Here I am again with my analysis of Revelation:

    Rev 17:9: the woman sitting on 7 hills is the goddess Roma (aka the great harlot, aka Rome). On my website:
    http://historical-jesus.info/rjohn.html
    I showed both sides of a Roman coin minted in 71 CE during emperor Vespasian’s rule.
    http://historical-jesus.info/roma.jpg

    Rev 17:10: the 5 kings are Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius & Nero.
    The one who is: Galba. The one to come is Vespasian.
    Other parts of (Jewish) Revelation (mostly 13:1-3) confirm that.
    (Note: John pretented writing the (Jewish) Revelation under Galba’s rule (68-69 CE) but actually did it right after 70 CE).

    Rev 17:8 & 17:11 are later ambiguous Christian additions and would refer to emperor Domitian (an eighth to come) seen as a reincarnation of Nero (who was and is not).

    Yes, I agree, the (first) beast represents the Roman empire.
    The utterly burning of the city in 18:8 cannot refer to the one under Nero (because not all Rome was burned up) but is to come (in 71-74 CE), by way of the temporary 10 kings (which I see as glorified arsonists).

  • Robert

    It may be relevant that around the eastern Mediterranean, where of course the book was written, they sometimes personified a city as a goddess (the city goddess, or Tyche of the city), who was represented, on the coinage for instance, as a woman with a ‘mural crown’, or city wall, on her head. This could have led to the image of the city as a woman. The Nero hypothesis seemed a bit too pat for a long time, but he’s the one emperor of the time whose death was followed by persistent stories that he’d survived, and these were particularly prevalent in the eastern Mediterranean. It was common for pretenders to appear, or stories to circulate about the person having survived, when someone notable died under mysterious circumstances, and Nero was popular in the region.

  • Truth

    The Identity of the Beast can only be deciphered by the Spirit of God. We remain ignorance of its identity because we have rejected the role of the Spirit in deciphering scripture and instead follow academic conjectures and imaginations: http://truth.co.vu/beastident

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      On the page you link to, you put a lot of effort into avoiding the plain meaning of the text, and that is unsurprising, since you seem to think that you can bring in an appeal to the Spirit to justify ignoring what the text actually says.

      I love that you are still trying to get the European Union to be in there… :-)

    • himih

      I partially agree with this yet, part of the knock/search process entails considering all private interpretations and let H>S> lead the way as to what’s legit, & what’s not. Thus, it behooves one to realize “rejection” isn’t nec the word to apply here. For it seems the H>S> is busy over the centuries with “revelation(s)” to each generation/time period/era/etc., concerning scripture readings. i.e., seems to be a work in progress (to us) tho’ of course, its already “done” by YHWH/YHVY & His Son, Yeshua.
      God is my rock, and my salvation. (the meaning of Ha Shem, truly MJ’s)
      IF H>S> makes it plain & clear, then u could use the word “rejection.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.harnetty Sara Harnetty

    Interesting. I have read the argurment of looking at the context of Revelations to understand it. When it was written, which I’m guessing was about AD66, Israel revolted against Rome and John’s use of imagery was partly a reflection of the carnage that was going on at the time. Don’t know though. Just something I read.


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