Monday, August 7, 2023

The Lamb, the Dragon, the Prostitute, the Beast, and the Bride

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12) 
The book of Revelation is a prophetic vision, and as such uses biblical imagery and symbols to present the history it describes and foretells. In the book, we meet “the Lamb,” Jesus Christ, who has ascended into heaven and is administering his reign over all. He judges “the great prostitute,” representing apostate Israel, and he vindicates “the bride” of Christ, his church composed of Jew and Gentile. The “beast” is Rome, both a blasphemous persecutor of the saints which is overcome by Christ and an instrument of his judgment on Jerusalem. The “great dragon” is the devil (12:9) who makes war on the church but has been cast down and bound and will be judged by Christ (12, 20).

The Lamb

Jesus is the Lamb that was slain, who ransomed people for God from every nation by his blood, who now reigns in heavenly glory (Rev. 5). Having conquered, he ascended into heaven to his Father and received the scroll. His death and resurrection enables him now to administer the kingdom and pour out covenantal blessings and curses. The whole book reveals and extolls the risen and ascended Christ, his care for his church, and his rule over all. He is "the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth" and "him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood" (1:5).

The Dragon 

The “great dragon” is “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). He sought to devour the promised Christ, but failed to do so (12:4). Following Christ's ascension, the devil was cast down with his angels by Michael and his angels (12:9). Satan is defeated, although not inactive. As much as he can, he wages war on the saints (2:10, 12:17). He worked through the beast (13:2, 4). But the dragon was bound in such a way as to not deceive the nations anymore (20:2-3). He is unable to prevent the spread of the gospel. At the end of the millennium, he will be let loose for a time, but only to be overcome by Christ at his second coming and cast into the lake of fire (20:9-10). 

The Prostitute 

Otherwise likeminded commentators debate whether the great city is Rome or Jerusalem, but I believe Jerusalem is the city in question. “The great city” is the city where our Lord was crucified (11:8), i.e. Jerusalem. It is the same as the “holy city” where the temple is (11:2). “The great city” is also described as “Sodom and Egypt” (11:8) and as “Babylon the great” and “the great prostitute” (16:19, 17:18). The prostitute is seated on a beast that symbolizes Rome (17:9-11), but she is distinct from Rome because the beast eventually rises up and destroys the prostitute (17:16-17). This “great city” is guilty of killing the apostles and prophets and saints (17:6, 18:20, 24), a description that fits Jerusalem especially well (see Matt. 23-24). The immoral prostitute is contrasted with the bride, as apostate covenant-breakers who rejected Christ are contrasted with the true church of Christ. Revelation prophesies the Jewish War (AD 66-70) and the fall of Jerusalem (AD 70).

The Beast

By the 60s, Rome had also begun to persecute Christians. Revelation portrays Rome and its emperors as the beast from the sea with seven heads and ten horns (13:1-10, 18:7-17). The seven heads are interpreted to be seven mountains and seven kings (17:9-11). Rome was well known for being built on seven mountains. Chapter 13 not only describes this beast, but also a second beast, rising out of the earth, described in 19:10 as “the false prophet,” symbolizing either the emperor cult or false religion generally (think of the false teachers in 2-3).

The number of the beast is 666 and it is the number of a man. In languages where letters are used as numbers, as is the case in Greek and Hebrew, you can calculate the numerical value of a person’s name. This practice is called gematria and was used in the ancient world. When Nero Caesar’s name is written in Hebrew, its numerical value is 666. This is not surprising since Revelation 13 echos Daniel 7 where beasts refer to kings/kingdoms (the fourth being Rome) and since Revelation 17:9-11 makes note of the sixth ruler of the city with seven mountains as it describes the beast (Nero was the sixth emperor of Rome; see previous post).

The danger was that people were encouraged to worship the beast and its image (13:12-15). The mark/name of the beast indicated those who worshipped the emperor (14:9, 16:2), just as the mark/name of God indicated those who worshipped God (7:3, 14:1). Compare this to Ezekiel 9:4 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9. To receive the mark was to receive the name, similar to how we are baptized into the Triune name (Matt. 28:18-20). Those who participated in Roman society were expected to worship Rome and the emperor, and to refuse to do so risked exclusion from society and death. Emperor worship was particularly strong in the province of Asia, the home of the seven churches to which John wrote. The mark itself was inherently sinful, a symbol of idolatry, loyalty to a false god. The need to have the mark to buy and sell is not what defined the mark or what made the mark bad - it was pressure to receive the mark. Just because something is required to buy or sell does not mean it is like the mark of the beast.

Even though the beast would blaspheme God and make war on the saints (13:6-7), the beast would be used by God to destroy the prostitute (17:16-17) and overcome by the victorious Christ (17:14, 19:17-21, 20:10).

The Bride, the wife of the Lamb

After the initial vision regarding the seven churches in 1-3, we find a vision of the church in chapter 7 that portrays it as the “144,000” and the “great multitude from every nation.” John heard their number and then saw the multitude. The church is described as the woman and “the rest of her offspring” in chapter 12, those who “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (see also 14:12). The church moved to center stage in chapters 19-22, especially as “the Bride.” To understand “the marriage supper of the Lamb,” it is helpful to remember the parable in Matthew 22:1-14. It is a present and future reality. Revelation 21:1-4 describes the church in glory after the final judgment. Revelation 21:9-22:5 is a vision describing the Bride, the church - not heaven, nor the eternal state in particular, although the church is perfected in eternity, and is currently a work in progress. The invitation is presently open to come to wedding feast, to enter the city, to drink the living waters. 
"The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price." (Revelation 22:17) 

1 comment:

Jim Lauerman said...

Peter, this is an excellent summary of what we have been studying in our Revelation class at Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) for the last year. Your summary is succinct, accurate, and helpful. Thank you.