by Duncan McKenzie
Volume II: The Book of Revelation
I. Introduction to the Book of Revelation
II. The Beast and the False Prophet (Revelation 13)
III. The Beast and the Harlot (Revelation 17)
IV. The Beast and the Fall of Babylon (Revelation 18)
V. The Second Coming (Revelation 19)
VI. The Millennium and New Heaven and New Earth; Preliminary Considerations
VII. The Millennium and New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 20-22)
VIII. Where Are We Now?
What is the Narrative of the book of Revelation?
Is there a narrative to Revelation? Does it have a unifying storyline? Despite the many complexities of the book, the answer to this question is a definite yes; there is a clear storyline to Revelation. Revelation is a tale of two cities, Babylon and New Jerusalem; these two cities are also said to be two women, the harlot and the bride (Rev. 17:1-3; Rev. 21:9-10). The judgments of Revelation culminate with the destruction of one of these women and then the marriage of the other. The harlot (Babylon) is destroyed and then the bride (New Jerusalem) becomes married (Rev. 19:1-7).
There is an exact parallel of Revelation’s contrast of two women/cities in Galatians. In Galatians 4:21-31 we are told of two women who are two wives (Hagar and Sarah) who correspond to two cities (physical Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem). We are told that these two women/cities are symbolic of two communities of people, those under the old covenant and those under the new covenant.
Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewomen. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar- for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children- but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all…But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. Galatians 4:21-31 NKJV emphasis added
It is obvious that the “Jerusalem above” of Galatians 4:26 corresponds to the New Jerusalem of Revelation (which comes down out of heaven, Rev. 21:2, 10); but could first-century Jerusalem (Gal. 4:25) correspond to Mystery Babylon (Rev. 17:5)? The answer is Yes! Babylon is called “the great city” in Revelation (Rev. 17:18; 18:21), The very first place in Revelation that we encounter “the great city” (Rev. 11:8) we are told that it was where Jesus was crucified (i.e. Jerusalem). Like pagan Babylon, Jerusalem had destroyed God’s Temple (i.e. Jesus, John 2:18-22) and was persecuting God’s people. In Revelation, as in Galatians (4:29), one women persecutes the other (i.e. the harlot persecutes the bride, Rev. 17:6; 18:24, cf. Matthew 23:29-37). Similarly in Revelation, as in Galatians (4:30), one of the two women is cast out (Rev. 18:21) while the other woman receives her inheritance (the Lord takes the bride as His wife).
It should be noted that, like the two women of Galatians, the two women of Revelation are also two wives. It is obvious that the bride is a wife, as she becomes married (Rev. 21:9). It is easy to miss that the harlot is also a wife (cf. Ezek. 16:32), a widowed wife. Unfaithful Israel went from being a queen to a widow when she had her King killed (Rev. 18:7; cf. Matt 21:5). Again, the subject of Revelation is exactly the same as Galatians 4:21-31; both are talking about two women/cities who are two wives. The contrast of these two women is being used as a vehicle to contrast the two covenants and those who were part of them.
The judgments of Revelation climax in chapter 17-19 with the destruction of the persecuting city of Babylon (Rev. 18:24) and then God marries His bride (Rev. 19:7). The exact same scenario of the burning of a wicked city (Matt. 22:7; Rev. 18:8) followed by a wedding is found in Matthew 22:
And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding and they were not willing to come. Again he sent out other servants, saying ‘Tell those who are invited “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies destroyed those murders and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. Matthew 22:1-10.
The above parable (which obviously speaks of the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem) explains why it is that right after the destruction of harlot Babylon that the bride becomes married.
After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.” Again they said, “Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creature fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying “Amen! Alleluia!” Then a voice came from the throne saying, “Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!” And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thundering saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:1-7
The harlot motif is a common Old Testament image for unfaithful Israel: Lev 17:7; Lev 20:5-6; Num 14:33; Num 15:39; Deut 31:16; Judg 2:17; Judg 8:27; 1 Chr. 5:25; 2 Chr 21:11; Ps 73:27; Hosea 1:2; Hos 2:2-5; Hos 4:15; Hos 9:1; Jer. 2:20; Jer 3:2,9,13: Jer 5:7,11; Jer 13:27; Eze. 6:9; Eze 16; Eze 23; Eze 43:7,9. The harlot of Revelation is arrayed in the colors of the Temple and clothes of the High Priest (Rev. 17:4; Rev. 18:16; cf. Ex. 28). The merchandise of harlot Babylon is the merchandise that was used in the construction and furnishings of the Temple (Rev. 18:12) as well as its sacrifices (v. 13) see my article “The Merchandise of Babylon” http://planetpreterist.com/news-2786.html. The plagues of Babylon (pestilence, mourning, famine and burning, Rev. 18:8 NASB) are exactly what happened to Jerusalem (not Rome) at AD 70.
The destruction of the harlot city in Revelation is drawn from the destruction of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 16. In Ezekiel 16 God said that the nations that Jerusalem had been unfaithful with (committing spiritual harlotry) would turn on her and destroy her with fire (vv. 35-43). Harlot Jerusalem is portrayed in Ezekiel 16 as being dressed in the furnishings of the tabernacle, her “food” consisting of items used in the sacrifices (vv. 10-13). This parallels the harlot Babylon being dressed in the furnishings of the Temple and garments of the High Priest, her “merchandise” consisting of items used in the sacrifices (Rev. 18:13). Revelation 17-19 is showing, the AD 70 burning of unfaithful Jerusalem and her Temple at the end of the old covenant age. Moses was told that this would happen in the “latter days”
And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?’…and evil with befall [them] in the latter days (Deut. 31:16-17, 29).
This is the storyline of Revelation: God judges and ultimately destroys His unfaithful old covenant wife and then marries His new covenant bride.
Lastly, scholars have been slow to catch on to what we preterists have been saying about harlot Babylon. NT Wright noted that there has even been hostility to this interpretation:
Recent commentators (e.g. Massyngberde Ford, 1975) have suggested the great and wicked city [of Rev. 17-19] is not Rome but Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 11:8). I have discovered that this suggestion arouses anger in some circles, which is not explained simply as annoyance at an exegetical peculiarity (plenty of those are to be found in all the journals, but they merely arouse curiosity). What is at stake here, and for whom?
N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 2 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), footnote, 358.
Saying the harlot is unfaithful Israel is hardly an exegetical peculiarity; it is not a tangential interpretation driven by the quest for novelty. Given the consistent OT portrayal of God’s unfaithful old covenant people as the harlot, unfaithful Israel should be the starting point in one’s examination of the harlot of Revelation. There are only two exceptions (where a Gentile city is called a harlot) in the whole OT for goodness sake!
Consider one of the conclusions that Wright came to in his study of the gospels:
When we read through the synoptic tradition (and John, for that matter) we find a great deal of warning of coming judgment, in all strands of the traditions, and all pointing in one direction. Jesus, I shall now argue, predicted that judgment would fall on the nation [of Israel] in general and on Jerusalem in particular. That is to say, he reinterprets a standard Jewish belief (the coming judgment which would fall on the nations) in terms of a coming judgment which would fall on impenitent Israel. The great prophets had done exactly the same. Jerusalem, under its present regime, had become Babylon.
emphasis mine, Jesus and the Victory of God, 322-323
Wright noted that his conclusion “may be held by some to carry implications for the reading of Rev. 17-19.” ibid 358
Since Jesus borrowed from the language of the fall of Babylon in talking about the fall of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:29 cf. Is. 13:10, 13) it should not be surprising that John did the same in Revelation.
For more on Babylon and the theme of Revelation see: “A Summary of Harlot Babylon” http://planetpreterist.com/news-2817.html “The Covenant Judgments of Revelation” http://planetpreterist.com/news-5109.html Duncan
Duncan McKenzie is a columnist for PlanetPreterist.com. Duncan has Masters and Ph.D degrees in Psychology and currently lives in Los Angeles, California.
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