Executing Babylon the Great
1. How does the angel describe the scarlet-colored wild beast, and what kind of wisdom is needed to understand the symbols of Revelation?
IN FURTHER describing the scarlet-colored wild beast of Revelation 17:3, the angel tells John: “Here is where the intelligence that has wisdom comes in: The seven heads mean seven mountains, where the woman sits on top. And there are seven kings: five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet arrived, but when he does arrive he must remain a short while.” (Revelation 17:9, 10) The angel is here conveying wisdom from above, the only wisdom that can give understanding of the symbols in Revelation. (James 3:17) This wisdom enlightens the John class and its companions as to the seriousness of the times in which we live. It builds in devoted hearts appreciation of Jehovah’s judgments, now about to be carried out, and inculcates a healthy fear of Jehovah. As Proverbs 9:10 states: “The fear of Jehovah is the start of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Most Holy One is what understanding is.” What does divine wisdom reveal to us about the wild beast?
2. What is the meaning of the seven heads of the scarlet-colored wild beast, and how is it that “five have fallen, one is”?
2 The seven heads of that ferocious beast stand for seven “mountains,” or seven “kings.” Both terms are used Scripturally to refer to governmental powers. (Jeremiah 51:24, 25; Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 45) In the Bible, six world powers are mentioned as having an impact on the affairs of God’s people: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Of these, five had already come and gone by the time John received Revelation, whereas Rome was still very much a world power. This corresponds well with the words, “five have fallen, one is.” But what of “the other” that was due to come?
3. (a) How did the Roman Empire come to be divided? (b) What developments took place in the West? (c) How is the Holy Roman Empire to be viewed?
3 The Roman Empire endured and even expanded for hundreds of years after John’s day. In 330 C.E., Emperor Constantine moved his capital from Rome to Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. In 395 C.E., the Roman Empire was split into Eastern and Western parts. In 410 C.E., Rome itself fell to Alaric, king of the Visigoths (a Germanic tribe that had converted to the Arian brand of “Christianity”). Germanic tribes (also “Christian”) conquered Spain and much of the territory of Rome in North Africa. There were centuries of upheaval, unrest, and readjustment in Europe. Notable emperors arose in the West, such as Charlemagne, who formed an alliance with Pope Leo III in the 9th century, and Frederick II, who reigned in the 13th century. But their domain, though named the Holy Roman Empire, was much smaller than that of the earlier Roman Empire at its zenith. It was more of a restoration or a continuation of this ancient power than a new empire.
4. What successes did the Eastern Empire have, but what happened to much of the former territory of ancient Rome in North Africa, Spain, and Syria?
4 Rome’s Eastern Empire, centered at Constantinople, endured in a somewhat uneasy relationship with the Western Empire. In the sixth century, Eastern emperor Justinian I was able to reconquer much of North Africa, and he also intervened in Spain and Italy. In the seventh century, Justinian II recovered for the Empire areas of Macedonia that had been conquered by Slavic tribesmen. By the eighth century, however, much of the former territory of ancient Rome in North Africa, Spain, and Syria had come under the new empire of Islam and thus passed from the control of both Constantinople and Rome.
5. Though the city of Rome fell in 410 C.E., how is it that it took many more centuries for all traces of the political Roman Empire to pass from the world scene?
5 The city of Constantinople itself endured somewhat longer. It survived frequent attacks from Persians, Arabs, Bulgars, and Russians until in 1203 it finally fell—not to Muslims but to Crusaders from the West. In 1453, though, it came under the power of the Muslim Ottoman ruler Mehmed II and soon became capital of the Ottoman, or Turkish, Empire. Thus, although the city of Rome fell in 410 C.E., it took many more centuries for all traces of the political Roman Empire to pass from the world scene. And even then, its influence was still discernible in religious empires based on the papacy of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox churches.
6. What brand-new empires developed, and which one became the most successful?
6 By the 15th century, however, some countries were building brand-new empires. While some of these new imperial powers were found in the territory of former colonies of Rome, their empires were not mere continuations of the Roman Empire. Portugal, Spain, France, and Holland all became seats of far-flung domains. But the most successful was Britain, which came to preside over a huge empire on which ‘the sun never set.’ This empire spread at different times over much of North America, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, as well as the expanse of the South Pacific.
7. How did a kind of dual world power come to exist, and how long did John say that the seventh ‘head,’ or world power, would continue?
7 By the 19th century, some of the colonies in North America had already broken away from Britain to form the independent United States of America. Politically, some conflict between the new nation and the former motherland continued. Nevertheless, the first world war forced both countries to recognize their common interests and cemented a special relationship between them. Thus, a kind of dual world power came to exist, made up of the United States of America, now the world’s wealthiest nation, and Great Britain, seat of the world’s largest empire. Here, then, is the seventh ‘head,’ or world power, that continues into the time of the end and in the territories of which the modern-day Witnesses of Jehovah first got established. Compared with the long reign of the sixth head, the seventh remains only “a short while,” until God’s Kingdom destroys all national entities.
Why Called an Eighth King?
8, 9. What does the angel call the symbolic scarlet-colored wild beast, and in what way does it spring from the seven?
8 The angel further explains to John: “And the wild beast that was but is not, it is also itself an eighth king, but springs from the seven, and it goes off into destruction.” (Revelation 17:11) The symbolic scarlet-colored wild beast “springs from” the seven heads; that is, it is born from, or owes its existence to, those heads of the original “wild beast . . . out of the sea,” of which the scarlet-colored wild beast is an image. In what way? Well, in 1919 the Anglo-American power was the ascendant head. The previous six heads had fallen, and the position of dominant world power had passed to this dual head and was now centered in it. This seventh head, as the current representative of the line of world powers, was the moving force in establishing the League of Nations and is still the major promoter and financial support of the United Nations. Thus, in symbol, the scarlet-colored wild beast—the eighth king—“springs from” the original seven heads. Viewed in this way, the statement that it sprang from the seven harmonizes well with the earlier revelation that the wild beast with two horns like a lamb (the Anglo-American World Power, the seventh head of that original wild beast) urged the making of the image and gave it life.—Revelation 13:1, 11, 14, 15.
9 Additionally, original members of the League of Nations included, along with Great Britain, governments that ruled in the seats of some of the previous heads, namely Greece, Iran (Persia), and Italy (Rome). Eventually, governments ruling the territory controlled by the previous six world powers came to be supportive members of the image of the wild beast. In this sense, too, it could be said that this scarlet-colored wild beast sprang from the seven world powers.
10. (a) How can it be said that the scarlet-colored wild beast “is also itself an eighth king”? (b) How did a leader of the former Soviet Union express support for the United Nations?
10 Notice that the scarlet-colored wild beast “is also itself an eighth king.” Thus, the United Nations today is designed to look like a world government. At times it has even acted like one, sending armies into the field to resolve international disputes, as in Korea, the Sinai Peninsula, some African countries, and Lebanon. But it is only the image of a king. Like a religious image, it has no real influence or power apart from what is invested in it by those who brought it into existence and worship it. On occasion, this symbolic wild beast looks weak; but it has never experienced the kind of wholesale abandonment by dictator-oriented members that sent the League of Nations reeling into the abyss. (Revelation 17:8) Though holding radically different opinions in other areas, a prominent leader of the former Soviet Union in 1987 joined the popes of Rome in expressing support for the UN. He even called for “a comprehensive system of international security” based on the UN. As John soon learns, the time will come when the UN will act with considerable authority. Then it, in its turn, “goes off into destruction.”
Ten Kings for One Hour
11. What does Jehovah’s angel tell about the ten horns on the symbolic scarlet-colored wild beast?
11 In the previous chapter of Revelation, the sixth and seventh angels poured out bowls of the anger of God. Thus we were advised that earth’s kings are being gathered to God’s war at Armageddon and that ‘Babylon the Great is to be remembered in the sight of God.’ (Revelation 16:1, 14, 19) Now we will learn in greater detail how God’s judgments on these are to be executed. Listen again to Jehovah’s angel as he speaks to John. “And the ten horns that you saw mean ten kings, who have not yet received a kingdom, but they do receive authority as kings one hour with the wild beast. These have one thought, and so they give their power and authority to the wild beast. These will battle with the Lamb, but, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, the Lamb will conquer them. Also, those called and chosen and faithful with him will do so.”—Revelation 17:12-14.
12. (a) What do the ten horns depict? (b) How is it that the symbolic ten horns ‘had not yet received a kingdom’? (c) How do the symbolic ten horns have “a kingdom” now, and for how long?
12 The ten horns depict all the political powers that presently hold sway on the world scene and that support the image of the wild beast. Very few of the countries that now exist were known in John’s day. And those that were, such as Egypt and Persia (Iran), today have an entirely different political setup. Hence, in the first century, the ‘ten horns had not yet received a kingdom.’ But now in the Lord’s day, they have “a kingdom,” or political authority. With the collapse of the great colonial empires, particularly since the second world war, many new nations have been born. These, as well as the longer-established powers, must rule with the wild beast for a short period—just “one hour”—before Jehovah brings an end to all worldly political authority at Armageddon.
13. In what way do the ten horns have “one thought,” and what attitude toward the Lamb does this ensure?
13 Today, nationalism is one of the strongest forces motivating these ten horns. They have “one thought” in that they want to preserve their national sovereignty rather than accept God’s Kingdom. This was their purpose in subscribing to the League of Nations and the United Nations organization in the first place—to preserve world peace and thus safeguard their own existence. Such an attitude ensures that the horns will oppose the Lamb, the “Lord of lords and King of kings,” because Jehovah has purposed that his Kingdom under Jesus Christ will shortly replace all these kingdoms.—Daniel 7:13, 14; Matthew 24:30; 25:31-33, 46.
14. How is it possible for the rulers of the world to battle with the Lamb, and what will be the outcome?
14 Of course, there is nothing that the rulers of this world can do against Jesus himself. He is in heaven, far out of their reach. But Jesus’ brothers, the remaining ones of the woman’s seed, are still on earth and apparently vulnerable. (Revelation 12:17) Many of the horns have already demonstrated bitter hostility toward them, and in this way they have battled with the Lamb. (Matthew 25:40, 45) Soon, though, the time will come for God’s Kingdom to “crush and put an end to all these kingdoms.” (Daniel 2:44) Then, the kings of the earth will be in a fight to the finish with the Lamb, as we shall soon see. (Revelation 19:11-21) But here we learn enough to realize that the nations will not succeed. Though they and the UN scarlet-colored wild beast have their “one thought,” they cannot defeat the great “Lord of lords and King of kings,” nor can they defeat “those called and chosen and faithful with him,” which includes his anointed followers still on earth. These too will have conquered by keeping integrity in answer to Satan’s vile accusations.—Romans 8:37-39; Revelation 12:10, 11.
Devastating the Harlot
15. What does the angel say about the harlot and the attitude and action of the ten horns and the wild beast toward her?
15 God’s people are not the only objects of the enmity of the ten horns. The angel now draws John’s attention back to the harlot: “And he says to me: ‘The waters that you saw, where the harlot is sitting, mean peoples and crowds and nations and tongues. And the ten horns that you saw, and the wild beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her devastated and naked, and will eat up her fleshy parts and will completely burn her with fire.’”—Revelation 17:15, 16.
16. Why will Babylon the Great not be able to rely on her waters for protective support when political governments turn against her?
16 Just as ancient Babylon relied on her watery defenses, Babylon the Great today relies on her huge membership of “peoples and crowds and nations and tongues.” The angel appropriately draws our attention to these before telling of a shocking development: Political governments of this earth will turn violently upon Babylon the Great. What will all those “peoples and crowds and nations and tongues” do then? God’s people are already warning Babylon the Great that the water of the river Euphrates will dry up. (Revelation 16:12) Those waters will finally drain away completely. They will not be able to give the disgusting old harlot any effectual support in her hour of greatest need.—Isaiah 44:27; Jeremiah 50:38; 51:36, 37.
17. (a) Why will the wealth of Babylon the Great not save her? (b) How will the end of Babylon the Great be far from dignified? (c) Besides the ten horns, or individual nations, what else joins in the rampage against Babylon the Great?
17 Certainly, the immense material wealth of Babylon the Great will not save her. It may even hasten her destruction, for the vision shows that when the wild beast and the ten horns vent their hatred on her they will strip off her royal robes and all her jewelry. They will plunder her wealth. They “make her . . . naked,” shamefully exposing her real character. What devastation! Her end is also far from dignified. They destroy her, “eat up her fleshy parts,” reducing her to a lifeless skeleton. Finally, they “completely burn her with fire.” She is burned up like a carrier of the plague, without even a decent burial! It is not the nations alone, as represented by the ten horns, that destroy the great harlot, but “the wild beast,” meaning the UN itself, joins them in this rampage. It will give its sanction to the destruction of false religion. Many of the 190-and-more nations within the UN have already displayed, by their voting pattern, a hostility toward religion, especially that of Christendom.
18. (a) What potential for the nations to turn against Babylonish religion has already been seen? (b) What will be the basic reason for the all-out attack on the great harlot?
18 Why would the nations treat their former paramour so outrageously? We have seen in recent history the potential for such a turning against Babylonish religion. Official government opposition has tremendously reduced the influence of religion in lands such as the former Soviet Union and China. In Protestant sectors of Europe, widespread apathy and doubt have emptied the churches, so that religion is practically dead. The vast Catholic empire is torn by rebellion and disagreement, which her leaders have been unable to calm. We should not, though, lose sight of the fact that this final, all-out attack on Babylon the Great comes as an expression of God’s unalterable judgment on the great harlot.
Carrying Out God’s Thought
19. (a) How can the execution of Jehovah’s judgment against the great harlot be illustrated by his judgment on apostate Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E.? (b) What did the desolated, uninhabited condition of Jerusalem after 607 B.C.E. prefigure for our day?
19 How does Jehovah execute this judgment? This may be illustrated by Jehovah’s action against his apostate people in ancient times, concerning whom he said: “In the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen horrible things, committing adultery and walking in falsehood; and they have strengthened the hands of evildoers in order that they should not return, each one from his own badness. To me all of them have become like Sodom, and the inhabitants of her like Gomorrah.” (Jeremiah 23:14) In 607 B.C.E., Jehovah used Nebuchadnezzar to ‘strip off the garments, take away the beautiful articles, and leave naked and nude’ that spiritually adulterous city. (Ezekiel 23:4, 26, 29) Jerusalem of that time was a pattern of Christendom today, and as John saw in earlier visions, Jehovah will administer to Christendom and the rest of false religion a similar punishment. The desolated, uninhabited condition of Jerusalem after 607 B.C.E. shows what religious Christendom will look like after being stripped of her wealth and shamefully exposed. And the rest of Babylon the Great will fare no better.
20. (a) How does John show that Jehovah once again will use human rulers in executing judgment? (b) What is God’s “thought”? (c) In what way will the nations carry out their “one thought,” but whose thought will really be carried out?
20 Again Jehovah uses human rulers in executing judgment. “For God put it into their hearts to carry out his thought, even to carry out their one thought by giving their kingdom to the wild beast, until the words of God will have been accomplished.” (Revelation 17:17) What is God’s “thought”? To arrange for the executioners of Babylon the Great to band together, in order to destroy her completely. Of course, the rulers’ motive in attacking her will be to carry out their own “one thought.” They will feel that it is in their nationalistic interests to turn upon the great harlot. They may come to view the continued existence of organized religion within their boundaries as a threat to their sovereignty. But Jehovah will actually be maneuvering matters; they will carry out his thought by destroying his age-old, adulterous enemy at one stroke!—Compare Jeremiah 7:8-11, 34.
21. Since the scarlet-colored wild beast will be used in destroying Babylon the Great, what will the nations evidently do with regard to the United Nations?
21 Yes, the nations will use the scarlet-colored wild beast, the United Nations, in destroying Babylon the Great. They do not act on their own initiative, for Jehovah puts it into their hearts “even to carry out their one thought by giving their kingdom to the wild beast.” When the time comes, the nations will evidently see the need to strengthen the United Nations. They will give it teeth, as it were, lending it whatever authority and power they possess so that it can turn upon false religion and fight successfully against her “until the words of God will have been accomplished.” Thus, the ancient harlot will come to her complete end. And good riddance to her!
22. (a) At Revelation 17:18, what is signified by the way the angel concludes his testimony? (b) How do Jehovah’s Witnesses respond to the unraveling of the mystery?
22 As if to emphasize the certainty of Jehovah’s execution of judgment on the world empire of false religion, the angel concludes his testimony by saying: “And the woman whom you saw means the great city that has a kingdom over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 17:18) Like Babylon of Belshazzar’s time, Babylon the Great has “been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” (Daniel 5:27, The New English Bible) Her execution will be swift and final. And how do Jehovah’s Witnesses respond to the unraveling of the mystery of the great harlot and of the scarlet-colored wild beast? They show zeal in proclaiming Jehovah’s day of judgment, while answering “with graciousness” sincere searchers for truth. (Colossians 4:5, 6; Revelation 17:3, 7) As our next chapter will show, all who are desirous of surviving when the great harlot is executed must act, and act quickly!
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The Succession of Seven World Powers
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“It is also itself an eighth king”
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Turning their backs on the Lamb, “they give their power and authority to the wild beast”
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Christendom as the principal part of Babylon the Great will resemble ancient Jerusalem in utter ruin