The final chapters of Revelation are another seven-element cycle serving as the climax to the book. Chapter 16 ended with the nations gathering at Armageddon and the announcement from the heavenly temple that “it is done.” God has remembered Babylon the great and the stage is set for the final judgment of the kingdom of the beast. Like Daniel 7, the kingdom of Babylon and the nations will finally be replaced by God’s kingdom.
Using the phrase “and I saw” or “and I heard,” the final seven units of Revelation can be outlined as follows:
- 17:1-18 – The Great Whore and the Scarlet Beast
- 18:1-24 – The Fall of Babylon the Great
- 19:1-10 – Worship over God’s Just Judgment
- 19:11-21 – The Final Victory over Babylon
- 20:1-10 – The Thousand Year Reign
- 20:11-15 – The Great White Throne Judgment
- 21:1-22:5 – The New Heavens and New Earth
There are several unique features in Revelation 17. First, angelic guides are common in apocalyptic, but they are usually used differently in Revelation. In other apocalyptic (Ezekiel 37, Daniel 8, Zechariah 1-6), someone has a vision, then asks questions (“what does that mean?”), and the angelic guide gives an explanation. In the rest of Revelation angels are usually part of the vision, but in chapter 17 the angel is an apocalyptic host. John is shown the judgement of the prostitute and then then angel gives John an explanation of the vision. This explanation identifies key symbolic elements, some of which are clear, but others are still obscure. Like Daniel 8 or Daniel 10-12, the angel’s explanation often generates more questions than answers (for the modern reader).
Second, the image described in Revelation 17:1-6 is picture rather than an action. In other visions, John sees something happening. But the image of the prostitute is like a description of a painting or fresco. David Aune therefore suggests this is a specialized form of apocalyptic vision known as an ekphrasis, a literary description of a work of art (Revelation, 3:919). There is an old saying, “a picture paints a thousand words.” Think of an ekphrasis is the thousand words. What is John seeing? As I have said in another post, John is seeing some form of imperial propaganda, whether a coin depicting the goddess Roma or some statue or frieze showing the goddess sitting on the seven hills of Rome.
Third, Revelation 17:1-19:10 finally makes the identity of the enemy clear: Babylon is Rome. Just as Babylon was the great evil empire oppressing God’s people in Daniel, now Rome is the ultimate anti-God empire oppressing God’s people. The book has been hinting at the identity of the beast and the kingdom of the beast in chapters 12-16, now in chapters 17-19 it becomes clear John calls Rome a great prostitute drink on the blood of the saints.