Some of them goofy.
When I was in college Tim LaHaye published a book on Revelation that was famous for its literalistic drawings of the beasts of Revelation. They were at best corny but other words would be more accurate. It is now called Revelation Unveiled. Bless his heart, but this is not how to read Revelation.
What many evangelicals (of this kind of reading) need is what Craig Koester, in Revelation and the End of All Things, sketches with utter clarity. (Check out also Ian Paul, Revelation.A good book on how theologians and others in the history of the church have read Revelation is called The Book of Revelation and is by Timothy Beal, and it’s a good and easy read.)
What is that? Imagination. This Book of Revelation sets afire the imagination and should be turning us off to literal pictures. No one yet has sketched Aslan well, or Lucy Pevensie or Bilbo Baggins or Gollum. Movies mostly ruin the books and the images and what we have learned to see in reading the books.
Revelation was written for imaginations not for sketch artists. Enough with that.
Asking Who is Who is the wrong question. Instead, let the Book take you where it goes — flying beasts and wild things smoke and incense and more beasts and wild things and plagues and God’s wrath and judgment so the fury of justice take over. It’s an autostereogram or a kaleidoscope or something in Disneyland.
Want to read a book that takes imagination seriously for Revelation? Try Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder.
It takes imagination to see justice coming when evil owns the keys to the doors. Revelation tells us about that.
And Empire. And Babylon. And Rome. And the Bride of Christ.
The fifth cycle of visions begins where the previous cycle ends, with a triumphant song of praise rising from the assembly of the faithful. As cascades of harp sounds flood the heavens, the saints sing the song of Moses and the Lamb, celebrating God’s lordship over the nations. The followers of the Lamb sing beside a fiery sea of glass after conquering the beast, much as the people of Israel sang beside the sea after their liberation from pharaoh (15:2-4). Yet before the heavenly singers have finished, John warns that the end has not yet arrived, for the beast still rages on the earth (15:1). Therefore, just as God sent plagues upon pharaoh and his allies in order to liberate Israel from bondage, God s angels send plagues upon the beast and his allies in order to liberate the world from his tyranny (16:1-21). A number of the plagues in this fifth cycle — painful sores, water turning to blood, darkness, frogs, and hail—are similar to the plagues that fell on Egypt, and their purpose is also similar: to move the ungodly to repent and to liberate the faithful from oppressive powers.
The best thing you might need to do to read Revelation well is to throw away your Scofield Notes and your dispensational charts, turn your back on all those rapture date arguments, and spend time with JRR Tolkien or JK Rowling or CS Lewis, or maybe some Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner. Instead of pointing from Revelation to some current event, let the Revelation take you to another world … so you can understand this world’s evil as God conquers evil.
I continue with Craig Koester…
Up to this point in the drama, the leaders of the forces of evil have been Satan the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the false prophet, who is also known as the beast from the land. Now this sinister company is joined by a fourth figure: Babylon the great harlot, who rides on the seven-headed beast (17:3)John pens a merciless parody of the city’s wealth and power when he depicts a woman who, from a distance, might appear to be an elegant lady, for she is dressed in a purple and scarlet gown, and adorned with gold, jewels, and pearls. Yet with scathing satire, he points out that she sips sewage from the golden cup in her hand and clings to her grotesque mount in a drunken stupor. Attention to the dynamics of satire will be an important aspect of interpretation below. This vision is a turning point in the story of Satan’s empire, for the beast that carries the harlot suddenly lashes out and destroys her, thereby eliminating one of Gods adversaries. The next cycle of visions will bring the defeat of the beast itself (see the introduction to chapter 5 above).
Two sets of heavenly voices call out at the fall of Babylon, so that readers can see the meaning of her demise. First, an angel strikes up a kind of dirge over the city and declares, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” (18:2). He is joined by another heavenly voice that taunts the allies of Babylon by mimicking the woeful voices of the kings and merchants who reveled in the power and luxury that Babylon provided, until another angel interrupts their grieving by hurling a millstone into the sea as a sign of Babylon’s doom. Afterward, a second group of voices lifts up a chorus of praise and thanks to God for bringing Babylon’s arrogance, violence, and corrupting wealth to an end. As “Hallelujahs” spread throughout the heavens, the twenty-four elders and four living creatures, who so often lead the hosts of heaven and earth in praising God, bring the vision cycle to its climax by adding their “Amen,” while the multitudes raise a thundering song of thanks that the Lord God Almighty reigns (19:1-8). The harlot has been vanquished. The bride is ready. The faithful await the coming marriage feast.