Commentary on Revelation (covers all chapters from 1 thru 22, including Introduction)
Copyright © 2019 by Steve Sewell, Theology First. All Rights Reserved
All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Identification of terms:
The Great Harlot / Babylon The Great City – The world system
Many waters – The whole physical world
Seven Heads – Seven kingdoms or Empires
Ten Horns – World confederacy of nations
Eight King – Man of sin of 2 Thessalonians 2 (Antichrist)
The relationship between Chapter 13 and Chapter 17:
While both Revelation 13 and Revelation 17 deal with the seventh world empire, chapter 13 is focused on the entire Church age, while chapter 17 is focused on the end of this empire (when the eighth king rises) when it’s destroyed by Jesus at His return (Rev 17:14).
During the Church age (Christian era, gospel era), the beast is allowed to make war against the Church and to overcome them through persecution and death (Rev 13:7). However, in Rev 17:14, we see that Christ defeats the beast. Therefore, what we see in chapter 13 is the reign of the seventh world empire during the whole Church age—up until the end of the Church age when the “eighth king” rises to power (Rev 17:11), and Jesus defeats him. I believe this king is the “man of sin” (“man of lawlessness”) of 2 Thessalonians 2:3. I believe he is the actual “Antichrist” that the Apostle John mentions in 1 John 2:18. He will rule for a very brief time before being judged by Christ at His coming. This is the “abyss-beast” of Rev 17:8, which must not be confused with the “sea-beast” of chapter 13 (Rev 13:1).
The beast that comes up out of the “sea” in chapter 13, distinguishes itself from the beast that comes up out of the “abyss” in chapter 17 (Rev 17:8), which is associated with the “abyss” of Rev 9:11, Rev 11:7, Rev 20:1-3, which all directly relate to Satan and the “man of sin” (2 Th 2:3, 8-9). That beast, in the form of the “eighth king” will surface shortly before the return of Christ, toward the end of the Church age.
Both the sea-beast (ch 13) and the abyss-beast (ch 17) are part of the same seventh world empire. The period of the sea-beast extends throughout the whole Church age up until it’s ruled by the “eighth king” (Rev 17:11) at the end of it. I believe this king is the “man of sin” (world ruler). The abyss-beast is characterized by this human ruler, and his reign will be of short duration, which occurs at the end of the Church age, when he, the “eighth king” rises to power. The sea-beast of chapter 13 is characterized by the “seventh king” (Rev 17:10) in succession, who is Satan himself, and rules without a human king until the “eighth king” rises to power. He is the seventh human king, but the eighth in succession of kings.
It’s important to understand that there is a gap or interval between the sixth world ruler (combination of rulers per empire) and the eighth and final world ruler (Rev 17:8-11). During this interval, the ruler of this (ours) current seventh world empire (Church-age beast) is in a different form than the rulers of the previous six and the final eighth. Satan himself rules over the seventh empire, which is what we’re in now (Church age), which is the kingdom of darkness (“spirit of antichrist”). Satan rules directly as its king. The eighth king of this seventh empire will be of the same human form as the rulers of the first six empires. He will rise to power at the end of the Church age.
To be clear, the first six empires were ruled by human kings. The seventh empire (Church age) is ruled by Satan himself up until the end of this empire when the world is once again ruled by a human king—the “eight king” (Rev 17:11), whom I believe to be the “man of sin” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, who is also the Antichrist of 1 John 2:18.
Again, while both Revelation 13 and Revelation 17 deal with the seventh world empire, chapter 13 is focused on the entire Church age, while chapter 17 is focused on the end of this empire (when the eighth king rises) when it’s destroyed by Jesus at His return (Rev 17:14).
(Rev 17:1) – 1 And there came one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls, and spake with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the judgment of the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters;
“I will show thee the Judgment”
This refers to the judgment (destruction) of this “great harlot” at the return of Christ. Therefore, when John is “shown” the judgement of the great harlot, he’s seeing the beast of this chapter as it is during that time period, not from John’s day or ours. What’s primarily in view in this chapter is the “eighth king” (Rev 17:11), who is the last world ruler of this seven-headed beast, who will rule at the end of the seventh kingdom, which is the Church-age kingdom, the one we are in now. Until then, we are in the time-period where Satan himself rules the world as the seventh king. However, just prior to the return of Christ, he will rule through the “eighth king” (Rev 17:10-11), whom I believe to be the “man of sin” of 2 Thessalonians 2.
Therefore, this “judgment” is upon this world ruler and all the unbelieving world. At this point in time, all Christians will be resurrected, and so all that will remain on earth to be judged are unbelievers.
Many identify this harlot as the apostate Christian Church, with Roman Catholicism primarily in view. However, I believe this view is far too limiting. I believe this “great harlot” represents far more than one specific religion. I believe this harlot represents the whole world system (kingdom of the world)—which is also the “image of the beast” (Rev 13:14). This world system consists of all the false religions and philosophies and false gods of the world. Thus this harlot is the whole world system that opposes the truth.
Many believe that this harlot is the False Prophet of chapter 13 (also Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10), but the way the two are described, they aren’t even remotely alike (see vs. 3).
This is the first description that identifies this harlot as the world and its world system. The “many waters” are interpreted for us in verse 15 as “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” This, of course, describes the whole world.
(Rev 17:2) – 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and they that dwell in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her fornication.
“the wine of her fornication”
(See Jer 51:7; Rev 14:8; 18:3)
The activity of the kings (leaders) and people of the world with this harlot is described as “fornication.” Sex outside of marriage is outside of God’s design for it. Outside of God’s design, sex is impure, unholy, a false form of the true form that God intended for it. Likewise, outside of the truth of Christ, all belief systems are corrupt and “unclean” (vs. 4) and unholy, a false form of the true form. Sex outside of marriage is of Satan. Sex within marriage is of God. Likewise, all false belief systems are of Satan, while the truth of Christ is of God.
Religion is meant to bring one into a particular relationship or union with God. That’s why God referred to unfaithful Israel as adulterers (Jer 3:8-11; 5:7; 9:2; 23:10). By their unfaithfulness, they were committing spiritual adultery. For this reason, many insist that this harlot has to be apostate Christianity, with Roman Catholicism primarily in view. However, this harlot is not referred to as an adulterer, but is clearly identified with fornication, which is not the same thing. For that reason, this interpretation must be rejected. The interpretation of this commentary is more in harmony with the picture that this Greek word presents.
Furthermore, what we have to keep in mind is that Revelation is a book about the kingdom of light vs. the kingdom of darkness. It’s about the people of Christ’s kingdom against the people of Satan’s kingdom. It’s about the truth against the false. Revelation is also about the end of all things of this world. Therefore, the idea that this harlot is merely about one form of false religion, fails to see the whole picture.
(Rev 17:3) – 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness: and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
Refers to a place of wandering, which describes the world, a world apart from God.
A strong case against this woman (harlot) being the False Prophet is that in every place where the False Prophet is referred to, it’s as a “he.” This harlot is clearly a “she” (Rev 18:6-8;16,19). Not that either one is a literal man or woman, but how they are referred to is no accident, and is important in determining the correct identity.
The color of “scarlet” is a bright red. I believe this has to be a reference to the blood of the saints, those who are killed for their faith in Christ (vs. 6). The “beast” – which is the kingdom of darkness (see commentary on chapter 13) – is set against the truth and those who follow Christ. This beast will become the “eighth king” (vs. 11), and will rule as the seventh human king (Satan is the seventh in succession of kings) prior to the return of Christ, whom I believe to be the “man of sin” of 2 Th 2:1-12). We have to constantly keep in mind that the book of Revelation is largely about the persecution of God’s people in a world that hates Christ.
“names of blasphemy”
Everything this beast stands for is in opposition to Christ and the Christian faith, which is the only truth in the world. All the voices of false religion, false gods, anti-Christian philosophies, anti-Christian government, worldly values, sinful pleasures, etc., speak blasphemy against God.
“seven heads and ten horns”
(see verses 7-13)
(Rev 17:4) – 4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stone and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations, even the unclean things of her fornication,
The description here leads many to believe that this has to be the Roman Catholic Church. Admittedly, this does describe the appearance of the leaders of that religion. However, even if the Roman Church is in view, it’s only representative of the larger picture. Catholicism is a major, worldwide religion, with great influence, and with a history of persecuting Christians. So it’s understandable that this church would serve to represent the whole of false religion (as a type). However, to limit this “woman” to that one false religion is inconsistent with what this chapter reveals, and what this book reveals overall.
“abominations” (Gr. Bdelugma – 946)
The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, this word means:
- a foul thing, a detestable thing
a. of idols and things pertaining to idolatry
I think the definition of this word for “abominations” is a key to identifying this woman (harlot) as false belief systems. “Of idols and things pertaining to idolatry,” obviously refers to false religion and the worship of false gods. Furthermore, the next verse removes all doubt that this harlot is not just the Roman Catholic Church, but all the false belief systems of the world: “THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”
(Rev 17:5) – 5 and upon her forehead a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF THE HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
“MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT”
Better understood as: “A mystery: Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.”
Why is this woman a “mystery,” and why is she associated with “Babylon?” We need to consider the references to the Old Testament phrase: “Fallen, fallen, is Babylon” (Is 21:9; Jer 51:6-9):
NET – (Isaiah 21:9) – 9 Look what’s coming! A charioteer, a team of horses.” When questioned, he replies, “Babylon has fallen, fallen! All the idols of her gods lie shattered on the ground!”
(Jeremiah 51:6-9) – 6 Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and save every man his life; be not cut off in her iniquity: for it is the time of Jehovah’s vengeance; he will render unto her a recompense. 7 Babylon hath been a golden cup in Jehovah’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunk of her wine; therefore the nations are mad. 8 Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed: wail for her; take balm for her pain, if so be she may be healed. 9 We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed: forsake her, and let us go every one into his own country; for her judgment reacheth unto heaven, and is lifted up even to the skies.
Babylon, as a world empire at one time, should be viewed as a type of the world and its governing authorities. “All the idols of her gods” should be viewed as a type of all the false religions and gods of the world – the whole world system.
“THE MOTHER OF THE HARLOTS”
Calling this woman the “mother of the harlots” means that all the false belief systems of the world are rooted in her. In other words, she represents all false religions and philosophies and all false gods of the world – the whole world system.
“THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH”
Again, this settles the question of whether this harlot represents one form of false religion or all the false belief systems of the world (vs. 4). The answer is obviously ALL. Both of these descriptions (mother of harlots and abominations of the earth) make it clear.
The “mystery” is: Why is this harlot compared to Old Testament Babylon? The OT references and the commentary for this verse answers that question.
(Rev 17:6) – 6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I wondered with a great wonder.
Since this woman “sits upon” the beast, and since this woman is a major part and focus of the kingdom of darkness (the beast), both her and the beast are responsible for the “blood of the saints…..” Certain religions are well known for their persecution and killing of Christians. Islam and Roman Catholicism (the inquisition) would be the first to come to mind. But we can include others like Hinduism and Communism—North Korea and China, for example.
As it relates to Islam, it’s as much a government as it is a religion. They function as one. Thus in many of the Islamic countries, Christians are heavily persecuted by both the government and by individuals.
“when I saw her, I wondered with a great wonder”
Why did John “wonder with a great wonder?” We can only speculate. Some see this as a verification that John was seeing a segment of Christianity going into apostasy—namely, Roman Catholicism, which would cause him to wonder how they could be responsible for the persecution and death of Christians.
However, if you were given a glimpse of all the millions and millions upon millions of Christians killed throughout Church history, at the hands of the false religions and unbelieving authorities of the world, would that not make you wonder too? It would be a dreadful and overwhelming sight to behold. That’s what I believe is in view.
(Rev 17:7) – 7 And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou wonder? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and the ten horns.
(Also see commentary on Rev 13:1)
This “seven-headed” beast represents world dominion, which is carried out via seven different world empires in seven different time periods. Each head is a world empire. These are seven world empires or kingdoms. In John’s day, they were in the period of the sixth empire, which was Rome. We’re now living in the period of the seventh empire, which covers the whole Church era. The seventh empire is a Church-age empire. This chapter is primarily focused on the very end of that empire, when the “eighth king” will rule, but as the seventh human king.
The first five kingdoms were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. The sixth kingdom was the Roman Empire, which was in power in John’s day.
The sixth kingdom is one of two kingdoms during the Church age. Once the Roman Empire (sixth) fell – near the beginning of the Church age – the kingdom of darkness began its rule as the seventh kingdom, which covers the whole Church age from that point forward until the return of Christ (see commentary on chapter 13 for full explanation of the seventh kingdom).
(see verse 12)
(Rev 17:8) – 8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and is about to come up out of the abyss, and to go into perdition. And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, they whose name hath not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast, how that he was, and is not, and shall come.
The “beast” here has the “eighth king” (Rev 17:11) primarily in view in this chapter. I believe this eight king is the “man of sin” of 2 Thes 2:3), who is the “son of perdition,” who is the Antichrist (1 Jn 2:18).
“is about to come up out of the abyss, and to go into perdition.”
Since the “eighth king” is primarily in view in this chapter, this statement must be viewed from the end of the Church age, which is still during the seventh kingdom or empire. In other words, we must place ourselves at the time of the end to see this beast that “is about to come up out of the abyss, and to go into perdition.”
“perdition” = destruction
This world ruler will be judged by Christ at His coming, and will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev 19:20).
Rev 9:11 – They have over them as king the angel of the abyss: his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek tongue he hath the name Apollyon.
Rev 11:7 – And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them.
In my commentary on Rev 9:11, we identified this “king of the abyss,” as Satan. In my commentary on Rev 11:7, we identified “the beast” out of the “abyss,” as the “eighth king,” whom I believe to be the “man of sin.” There’s not a discrepancy here, for as I explained in chapter 13, I believe that Satan will completely indwell this “eighth king” as the true ruler in him. I believe that these verses (9:11; 11:7; 17:8,11) confirm this interpretation beyond any reasonable doubt.
“was, and is not; and is about to come/shall come”
(See verses 10-11 for full explanation)
was = First six human kings
is not = Satan, 7th king, not human
is about to come = 8th king, but 7th human king (“of the seven”)
“they whose name hath not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world,”
NET — “The inhabitants of the earth—all those whose names have not been written in the book of life since the foundation of the world.”
While this “book” could be literal, I tend to believe that it’s merely symbolic for the record that God keeps of His elect, who are written in the “book of life” before they even come into the world. Those who never obtain salvation in Christ, were never in the book of life. They are the non-elect.
(Rev 17:9) – 9 Here is the mind that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth:
“here is the mind that hath wisdom”
This alerts us to the need to exercise good sense. Let’s not allow ourselves to get carried away with all kinds of sensationalism, as many teachers of prophecy do. Let’s be reasonable about how we interpret this passage. That goes for all prophecy in general—but particularly the whole book of Revelation.
“The seven heads are seven mountains”
These “seven heads” are identified here as “seven mountains.” We know that the seven heads represent seven world empires. So it’s in that context that we must interpret these seven mountains. We must keep in mind that this revelation is with the very end of the seventh empire in view, and is, therefore, in line with the way our world is today.
Therefore, I believe these seven mountains refer to the seven continents of the world: Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Australia, Antarctica. It makes total sense. This is in the context of the “eighth king,” who is to rule the whole world just prior to the return of Christ.
Many interpret these seven mountains as referring to the seven mountains of Rome. However, even if that’s what is in view in the days of John when this revelation was given, I believe it was meant to symbolize the world as it is at the time of the end when the “eighth king” rules as the final world leader. That’s what we have to keep in mind as we interpret this chapter, that it’s with the time of the end just prior to the return of Christ.
“on which the woman sitteth”
“The woman,” – which is the “Great Harlot” – represents the whole world system, which pertains to all the false religions and false teachings and false philosophies of the world. In other words, everything that opposes the truth of Christ.
Therefore, this revelation depicts this woman as influencing and dominating every continent of the world. There is no place on the planet that is not touched by her darkness, except where the truth of Christ is taught. However, just before Jesus returns, He will resurrect His people, and all that’s left will be darkness.
(Rev 17:10) – 10 and they are seven kings; the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a little while.
NET – ….9 They are also seven kings: 10 five have fallen; one is, and the other has not yet come, but whenever he does come, he must remain for only a brief time.
Better understood as seven kingdoms (world empires), which are ruled by human kings. Whether ruled by one king or several, they are combined here as one king over each world empire. View it as one office, ruled by one or more kings. For example, Rome (as the sixth empire) was ruled by many kings (Caesars/Emperors). But all those kings are viewed as one king, combining all their kings into one.
“five have fallen; one is, and the other has not yet come”
Five have fallen = The first five human kings (all kings over each empire combined as one king). Those empires were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece.
One is = Sixth human king (all kings of the Roman Empire combined as one king). The sixth kingdom was the Roman Empire, which was in power in John’s day—therefore, it “is” from John’s perspective.
Not yet come = The seventh human king has not yet come—not in John’s day, nor in ours. I believe the “man of sin” of 2 Thes 2:3 is the seventh human king that is in view here. He will rise to power at the end of this world empire, just prior to the return of Christ.
What’s being referred to here are all the human kings of the beast. Again, whether one king or several, they are combined here as one king over each of the seven world empires.
I explain the significance of the human kings in the next verse.
“but whenever he does come, he must remain for only a brief time”
This end time world ruler will rise to power just before the return of Christ, and will be very short-lived. We don’t know how long that will be, but probably not more than a few years.
(Rev 17:11) – 11 And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven; and he goeth into perdition.
NET – 11 The beast that was, and is not, is himself an eighth king and yet is one of the seven, and is going to destruction.
Was = The beast was in the form of human kings (first six empires).
Is not = Throughout most of the seventh empire (Church age), it’s not ruled by a human king, but by Satan himself—as ruler over the kingdom of darkness. There are no human kings ruling over the world during this time (our time). But rather, each country has their own ruler. Thus Satan rules over this world, which is characterized by the kingdom of darkness.
Is himself an eighth king and yet is one of the seven = Toward the end of the Church age kingdom – just prior to Christ’s return – the “eighth” king will rise to power as the seventh and final human ruler over the world. I believe this is the “man of sin” of 2 Thes 2:3. He is the true end time Antichrist. He literally becomes the beast—which is normally viewed as a combination of the seven world empires.
Explanation: This “man of sin” becomes the seventh human king, but is the “eighth” king in succession of world rulers. Satan rules over this world now as the seventh king, but not as the seventh human king. Thus, the current world empire (seventh) “is not” as it was in the days of the previous six empires, nor as it will be at the end of the current world empire (seventh) when the “man of sin” will rise to power as the final human world ruler. At that time, Satan will completely indwell and control this man who is commonly known as the Antichrist.
Is of the seven = To be clear, the final world ruler will be the “eighth king” in the succession of kings (Satan as the seventh), but will be the seventh human world ruler, in the same human likeness as the previous six. Thus, he is “of the seven,” as being among them or one of them.
Further explanation: The beast becomes the final king (the eighth) as the Antichrist. He will be the physical and outward and human manifestation of this seven-headed beast. He will embody and epitomize evil or the kingdom of darkness. To be more precise, I believe Satan will completely indwell and control this man personally. This man will be the full human embodiment of Satan himself. Thus, the Church-age beast will be characterized by this eighth king during this time (time of the end). He will rule the world only for a brief period of time before Jesus returns in judgment (“goes into perdition”).
Since this “man of sin” plays such a key role in end time events, it would be good to examine 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, where Paul goes into detail about this evil person. Therefore, I provide a commentary on that passage at the end of this chapter. I would also encourage you to read my commentaries on Revelation chapters 9 & 11.
(Rev 17:12) – 12 And the ten horns that thou sawest are ten kings, who have received no kingdom as yet; but they receive authority as kings, with the beast, for one hour.
These represent a confederation of ten kingdoms that will arise just before the return of Christ. These do not figure into the beast of chapter 13, which pertains to what the seventh kingdom is for most of the Church age. What we’re dealing with here in this chapter, and with this confederation, is the very end of that kingdom, when the “eighth king” (vs. 11) rises to power. Thus the beast of this verse refers to this eighth king—in other words, the Antichrist.
Considering the symbolic role the number ten has in this book (order and completion), I don’t believe this number should be taken as a literal ten kingdoms. I think that it’s likely symbolic of a worldwide alliance of nations that give their support to the “man of sin,” the eighth king, who will be the final world ruler.
“for one hour”
Symbolic for the short duration of this eighth king’s reign. We don’t know how long his reign will last, but we know that it will be short-lived, as in a few years.
(Rev 17:13) – 13 These have one mind, and they give their power and authority unto the beast.
NET – 13 These kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.
The “single intent” is to unify the world, to bring the world gogether in allegiance to “the beast,” this ruler whom the Bible refers to as the “man of sin” (2 Th 2:3) and as the “antichrist” (1 Jn 2:18). The only ones who will rebel against this antichrist, are those who belong to Christ. This new world ruler will retaliate by seeking to exterminate them, as we see in the next verse.
Note: One might wonder how the whole world could come together so quickly. As I’m writing this, we’re in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic. It’s amazing how quickly this virus has spread throughout the world, and how quickly the countries have come together in seeking a treatment and vaccine for it. There is an unmistakable form of unity among the nations here. Therefore, it’s easy to picture a global pandemic that is even deadlier at the end of the world that would bring the world together, and needing someone to lead the nations in defeating this disease. Not that this is the only way. But it does serve as one example of how rapidly the world could come together as one government and ruled by one leader over all.
(Rev 17:14) – 14 These shall war against the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they also shall overcome that are with him, called and chosen and faithful.
(Parallel passages: Rev 11:7-19; 14:6-20; 16:12-21; 19:11-21; 20:7-10)
“These shall war against the Lamb”
As chapter 11 indicates (read commentary), there will be a worldwide assault against the followers of Christ by the beast and this confederacy of nations. That’s what’s being referred to by the statement, “these shall war against the Lamb.” Before Jesus returns, there will be a worldwide effort to destroy the people of Christ (Rev 11:7). Most or many will die, but not all. This is the “war of Armageddon” (see commentary on Rev 16:12-16).
Armageddon: This so-called War of Armageddon is normally understood as a literal battle between the Antichrist (and his army) and Christ (and His army) upon Christ’s return. However, let’s be realistic. How does an army of the world gather to fight against the Christ (God) of Heaven who hasn’t even shown up yet (Rev 16:13-14; 11:7; 19:19; 20:7-10)? How could they possibly gather to fight against Jesus and His army when they don’t even know about His return? Or even if they did know, how could they possibly know when? Or, if Christ returned first, how could they possibly have enough time to gather together the armies of the whole world? They couldn’t!
I believe a much more reasonable interpretation is that this War of Armageddon refers to the worldwide assault against Christians that will take place just prior the return of Christ in judgment against them. When you make war against the people of Christ, you’re actually making war against Christ Himself. So to be clear, there will come a time when the whole world of unbelievers (led by the “man of sin” of 2 Th 2; the “eighth king” of Rev 17:11) will turn against the followers of Christ worldwide (Rev 11:7-10). This “war” ends upon Jesus’ return in judgment. This is the true War of Armageddon.
“and the Lamb shall overcome them”
“they also shall overcome that are with him”
However, the defeat and death of Christians will only be temporary, because they (we) shall be brought back to life via the resurrection. Those believers who are still alive, will be caught up with them (Rev 11:8-12; 1 Th 4:13-18; 1 Cor 15:50-54). We will then return with Christ in judgment of the world (Rev 19:11-21). Thus, in the end, we win!
“called and chosen and faithful”
Those who respond to the message of Christ in faith are the elect of God. They are also “faithful.” Those who are genuinely saved will demonstrate the fruit of salvation in their lives. True faith in Christ is characterized by faithfulness. Those who profess Christ, but not living a life of faithfulness to Christ, reveal a false salvation. During the time of the worldwide war against Christians prior to the return of Christ, false believers will be revealed for who they really are. Likewise, true believers.
(Rev 17:15) – 15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the harlot sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
The “waters” where the “harlot sits,” clearly refers to the entire world and its people. The system of false belief is global.
(Rev 17:16) – 16 And the ten horns which thou sawest, and the beast, these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her utterly with fire.
The Antichrist (eighth king, man of sin) will demand the worship of all people (2 Thes 2:4). That’s when he and the confederation of “ten kings” (Rev 17:16) will turn against all the religions of the world, which is the “great harlot” (Rev 17:1), which is also “Babylon the great” (Rev 17:5), which refers to the whole world system.
“shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her utterly with fire.”
I believe all these terms are symbolic. I believe that “desolate and naked” refer to the Antichrist’s decree to outlaw all religion, in favor of worship of himself. In regard to being burned by “fire,” this has to be symbolic, just as “her flesh” is obviously symbolic. If flesh is symbolic, then the burning of her flesh must also be symbolic. Therefore, what’s being described here is the consuming or elimination of all the religions of the world, so that the Antichrist can receive all worship for himself.
In order for this world ruler to become the sole object of worship, he must claim and deceive people to believe that he is God himself (2 Th 2:4). All people of all religions – except Christianity – will believe his deception and give their allegiance to him. He is the true antichrist of Revelation, not the beast of chapter 13—which is the kingdom of darkness, which reigns over the world now in our day and throughout the Church age, up until the end when the Antichrist rises to power. This is Satan’s final effort to receive the worship of all people through this antichrist world ruler.
One cannot say for sure, but at this point in history (current times), it appears that the “eighth king” – the “man of sin” – may turn out to be the 12th Imam of Islam (or Mahdi), the Islamic “savior” who is to appear on the world stage near the end of the world—according to their own teachings. The goal of Islam is world dominance. We see an aggressive push toward that even now in our day.
The confederacy of nations (ten horns/kingdoms) could very well turn out to be a united Islamic state that rules the world, under the leadership of the 12th Imam—the “man of sin” or the “eighth king.” When we read the biblical–historical account (Ge 16:11-12; Ge 25:17-18; Ge 21:9-10; Ga 4:28-30) between the people of Ismael and Isaac (through whom Jesus came), it would make sense that Satan would incite the people of Ismael in leading the world against the people if Isaac (we are his spiritual offspring through Christ – Ro 9:7-8). But again, I cannot be dogmatic about it. It’s just an educated guess—but reasonable, I think.
While it’s very difficult to determine the details of how the world events leading up to the return of Christ will come to pass, it could be that this 12th Imam will make his appearance as the “eighth king,” and leads his people to world dominance. It seems clear that much of this world Islamic dominance will already be obtained before the 12th Imam even shows up. But when he does, the “ten horns,” the confederacy of nations, will give their allegiance to him (vs. 17). At that point, they will begin an all-out effort to destroy Christians worldwide, which is the “war of Armageddon” (Rev 16:12-16).
(Rev 17:17) – 17 For God did put in their hearts to do his mind, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God should be accomplished.
NET – 17 For God has put into their minds to carry out his purpose by making a decision to give their royal power to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled.
God Himself puts it into the minds of these leaders to give their allegiance to this man, for the purpose of unifying the world under his authority. I believe this is where 2 Thessalonians 2 comes in:
(2 Th 2:10-12) – 10 and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved. 11 Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false. 12 And so all of them who have not believed the truth but have delighted in evil will be condemned.
Those who refuse to believe the truth, will be given a “deluding influence” to believe that which is “false”—which refers to the lies of the Antichrist. Whether God sends this deluding influence directly from Himself, or uses Satan to do so (my personal belief), it will serve as a judgment against them for their rejection of His Son.
With the world believing the same lie about this man, it will be easy to unite the world under his leadership.
“until the words of God are fulfilled.”
I believe this refers to the whole plan of God for the world up to the return of Christ.
(Rev 17:18) – 18 And the woman whom thou sawest is the great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
(See Rev 11:8; 16:17-19; 18:10,16,18,19,21)
In John’s day, the “great city” that reigned over the “kings of the earth,” was Rome. The religion of Rome was, and is, Roman Catholicism—which symbolizes all the false religions and idols and philosophies of the world, with Roman Catholicism spearheading it all (because of its history and its extensive influence).
Thus this “great city” (Babylon the Great – Rev 17:5; 18:2,10) is symbolic for both the governing authorities and the false belief systems of the world—everything outside of Christianity (see commentary Rev 11:8); in other words, the whole world system.
So to be clear, Rome serves as a type of the world, and its religion as a type of all false belief systems of the world.
All of this is referred to as “Babylon the Great,” the whole world and its anti-Christian system. The destruction of the physical aspect of this world system, is detailed in the next chapter (18).
Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
I won’t deal with all the details of this passage, but only those which are most pertinent to our discussion.
(2 Th 2:1) – 1 Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him;
Paul is referring to the resurrection of the God’s people (“our gathering”), which occurs at the time of Christ’s return (“coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”).
(2 Th 2:2) – 2 to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand;
NET – 2 not to be easily shaken from your composure or disturbed by any kind of spirit or message or letter allegedly from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.
“The day of the Lord” refers to the time of His return in judgment and to gather His people unto Himself, which is followed by the “new heavens and new earth” (2 Pe 3:10-13; Rev 21:1-2).
(2 Th 2:3) – 3 let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition,
NET – 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.
Here Paul says that the return of Christ (“day of the Lord”) will not happen until this “man of sin” is revealed in “his time” (vs. 6). In other words, this “man of sin” will rise to power shortly before Jesus returns in judgment.
Greek word for this is Apostasia.
The Greek word for this is translated in two different ways: the falling away (or the apostasy) and the rebellion. I’m inclined to believe that “the rebellion” is the correct rendering, because in the same sentence this word is tied to the “man of sin,” and the very next verse describes his rebellion. This rebellion is directly associated with Satan (vs. 9), who rebels against God for the last time through this “man of sin” in an effort to be worshipped by the people of the world. Again, verse 4 confirms that interpretation. Of course, this rebellion against God is also on the part of the people of the world who give their allegiance to the “man of sin.” This rebellion also refers to the all-out assault against Christians just prior to the return of Christ — known as the “War of Armageddon” (see commentary on chapter 11:7 and 16:16).
There are those who see this passage as the “apostasy” or the “falling away” from the Christian faith. In that regard, many believe this refers to the Roman Catholic Church. However, I don’t believe that fits the context or flow of the passage. Whichever of those two words one uses for this Greek word, Apostasia, it’s directly tied to the “man of sin,” not to the Church or the Christian faith. In other words, Paul doesn’t say that it’s a falling away or an apostasy from the Christian faith. It simply says “the Apostasia.” Paul then connects that word to the “man of sin.”
The interpretation given in this commentary is supported by Leon Morris, who wrote the Tyndale Commentary on 2 Thessalonians. I’ll quote part of what he says about this verse (bold mind):
The necessary prelude to the coming of Christ is “the rebellion.” The AV translation is defective at two points here: it does not give the definite article, and falling away hardly gives the force of apostasia. The article stamps the rebellion as something that was known to the readers, and evidently it had formed part of Paul’s previous teaching. Our difficulty is that we have not the advantage the Thessalonians had in this matter. In classical Greek the word apostasia denoted a political or military rebellion; but in the Greek Old Testament we find it used of rebellion against God (e.g. Jos. xxii. 22), and this becomes the accepted Biblical usage. Paul’s thought is that in the last times there will be an outstanding manifestation of the powers of evil arrayed against God. Cf. Mt xxiv. 10ff.; 1 Tim. iv. 1-3; 2 Tim. iii. 1-9, iv. 3f. (does Rev. xii. 7ff. Refer to the same kind of events?). It is as though Satan were throwing all his forces into one last despairing effort.
Therefore, the rendering of “rebellion” fits the context better than “apostasy” or “falling away.” Note Morris’ sentence: “In classical Greek the word apostasia denoted a political or military rebellion; but in the Greek Old Testament we find it used of rebellion against God.” This is exactly how this commentary on Revelation views the fifth and sixth trumpets. I believe that all three of these types of rebellion is involved in these two trumpets. Namely, we see a political and military rebellion, and of course, rebellion against God and His people.
(2 Th 2:4) – 4 he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God.
This describes Satan perfectly. He rebelled against God in Heaven because he wanted to take God’s place. He was thus, kicked out of Heaven. So at the very end of the world, Satan will again seek to be worshipped, through this “man of sin,” this “eighth king” (Rev 17:11).
Where Paul refers to the “temple of God,” this is figurative language, and not to be taken as a literal, physical temple, as Dispensationalism teaches. It simply means that Satan will turn against all the religions and idols and philosophies of the world (Rev 17:16-17) – particularly against the Church of Christ – and make himself the sole object of worship as god of all people. In other words, reference to the “temple of God” is merely figurative language to refer to his desire and forceful last effort to dethrone the true God of the universe — as he takes full possession of this “man of sin.” But again, since we know that the true temple of God is His Church (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21), it’s Christ and His people who are the primary target of their hatred (Satan and his people).
(2 Th 2:5-6) – 5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 6 And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season.
This “man of sin” will be revealed in “his own time,” which coincides with the releasing of Satan (Rev 20:1-4, 7-10) and the time period of Christ’s return (vs. 8). Therefore, I believe this “retraining” refers to the restraint or “binding” of Satan during the Church age (Rev 20:2). Therefore, the releasing of Satan and the revealing of the “man of sin,” occur at the same time. Once Satan is released (Rev 20:7), then the “man of sin” will rise in power, and will ultimately move against the Church (Rev 11:7; 20:7-9) once he has proclaimed himself as “God,” whom Christ will destroy in His return:
(2 Th 2:7) – 7 For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way.
Again, I believe this “restraint” is the binding of Satan in Rev 20:1-2 by the angel over the abyss (see commentary on those verses). I believe this angel is the one who “restrains” until he himself is “taken out of the way.” In other words, when he’s out of the way and Satan is finally free. Satan, who will work through the “lawless one” (“man of sin” – vs. 3) when the time comes, is now being “restrained” from gathering the nations against the people of Christ until the time that God has set, which is just before Jesus returns in judgment of them. This “gathering” (vs. 8) is what is known as the “War of Armageddon” (Rev 16:16).
(2 Th 2:8-9) – 8 And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming; 9 even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
NET – 9 The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders,
Again, I believe this “man of sin” will be completely indwelt by Satan himself, and will, therefore, be able to work “all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders” among the people of the world — deceiving everyone except those who belong to Christ.
(2 Th 2:10) – 10 and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
NET – 10 and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved.
I believe that all who will be saved, will be saved by this point in time. In other words, I believe the Church will be complete just prior to the glorious return of Christ — at which time we’re also resurrected.
(2 Th 2:11-12) – 11 And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: 12 that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
NET – 11 Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false. 12 And so all of them who have not believed the truth but have delighted in evil will be condemned.
I believe that this means that all who have already made a final decision against Christ, will “believe what is false” in regard to this “man of sin” and whom he presents himself to be. In other words, there will be worldwide acceptance of him as “God.” The outcome for all those people, will be eternal “judgment” (“condemnation”). In the worldwide rejection of the truth of Christ, it will be very easy for the people of the world to unite in “believing what is false.” In rejection of the truth, there is no other option but to believe the false.
Let me be clear, God is not a deceiver. The Bible makes it clear that Satan is the deceiver of the world (Rev 12:9; 13:14). In fact, in context, Rev 20:8 plainly says that it’s Satan who will “deceive the nations,” and bring them against the Church. Therefore, we’re not to interpret this to mean that God deceives the world with a common lie that all will be made to believe. Rather, that it’s through God’s releasing of Satan that this “deluding influence” is accomplished, as Satan himself does the actual deceiving.
End of Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2.