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As woman, Babylon is symbol of the church, in the first place, as all Scripture plainly indicates. The church, the people of God, the covenant people, appear time and again in Holy Writ under the symbol of a married woman. In the Old Testament, Israel is the wife of Jehovah, pledged to Him in sacred bond of marriage in all faith and truth. And in the New Testament, the church is the bride of Christ. Especially in the book of Revelation, so we found, she appears time and again as the bride of Christ, appears again and again as a woman and mother both. In the twelfth chapter of this book we meet with a rather elaborate description of the church symbolized as a woman. And as the church she appears as the perfected bride of the Lamb, without spot or wrinkle. And therefore, the symbol of the woman as such is, on the basis of Scripture, nothing else than the people of God, the church of Christ, pledged to Him in faith and truth in all things. 

But we found, in the second place, that this woman is a harlot, and as such representative not of the true, but of the apostate church. A harlot in Scripture is a married woman that has forsaken her rightful husband, has become unfaithful, and whores after other men, that are strangers. And so is the false, or the apostate church. Committing spiritual fornication, she bears the name of church. She stands outwardly in covenant relation to the God of salvation. She enjoys all the spiritual blessings of that relation to God. But essentially she has broken the pledge of faith and truth and separated herself from the covenant God, in order to ally herself with the powers of the world and the kingdom of Antichrist. She has all the outward appearance of the church, with ministry and officebearers, with the outward signs of the Word and the sacraments. She is busy in all kinds of nominally Christian work, and has perhaps more organizations than any other local church on earth. But she denies the truth, forsakes her God and Savior, tramples under foot the blood of the new covenant. In a word, Babylon, as the harlot woman, is the apostate church in this dispensation. 

And finally, we found that at first consideration it may seem strange that this woman also appears as a city. But at second thought we found that after all this is not strange whatever, if only the analogy of the true church is kept in view. Also the true church is finally pictured to us as a city, as the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, destined to rule centrally over all the works of God in the new creation. And the same is true of the false church. In every sense of the word the work of Satan is the parallel with the works of God. Even as the ultimate purpose of God is to establish His own kingdom in glory, so the purpose of the devil is to establish his own kingdom through the power of Antichrist. And even as in God’s plan the church is, as it were, the army of the kingdom on earth, but is destined to rule over the works of God in the new kingdom that is to come, so also Satan established his own counterfeit church, in order that also she may develop into a city and ultimately have control over all things in the antichristian kingdom. That city, that center of the antichristian kingdom, that shall cap the climax bf apostate Christianity, shall be Babylon in character although she shall continue to claim to be the true Jerusalem. And therefore the warning voice came to us from above: “Go, ye out of hey, my people, that ye may have no fellowship with her sins.” 

And now we must make a little study of the beast that carries the woman and with which she is evidently closely allied. 

As to the character and identity of this beast, we need not be in doubt very long. In fact, in the light of what we have discussed in the past, we have already recognized this beast as the same as the one that was pictured to us in chapters 11 and 13. It is the antichristian world-power especially from its political point of view. It is the attempt of the devil to establish his own kingdom through the agencies of the powers that have been instituted for this present sinful world and dispensation. That this is true is clear, in the first place, from the fact that the general description here and in chapter 13 is the same. You will remember that in that chapter we were told of the beast that rose up out of the sea and that manifested itself as having seven heads and ten horns. So also this beast that is described in our present passage and that is carrying the woman is possessed of seven heads and ten horns. In the second place, it may be noticed that this beast has the same origin as the one pictured in chapter 11. True, in chapter 13 he is pictured as coming out of the sea, which symbolized the tempestuous ocean of the nations and tribes and tongues of the earth, swept on by war and revolution, while here he is pictured as coming up out of the abyss. But this is not necessarily conflicting. We must remember, in the first place, that in chapter 11 this same beast, that is there pictured in his antagonism and hatred against the two witnesses of Jesus Christ and in his war against them, is pictured as coming up out of the abyss, just as in the passage before us. There can be no doubt about the identity of the two. The same beast is pictured all the while, in chapters 11 and 17 as coming up out of the abyss, and in chapter 13 as rising out of the sea of war- and revolution-swept nations. And the difference is simply this, that in the one case he is pictured as to the idea and spiritual character. Spiritually this beast finds his origin in the abyss, in the, kingdom of darkness, in the mind of the devil; and therefore he is pictured as rising up out of the abyss. But the devil realizes his kingdom, this antichristian beast, through the agency of men and in the course of history; and for that reason he is also pictured as coming up out of the sea. In both, therefore, it is the same beast. But in the one case he is pictured as being the ultimate historic result of all the uprisings and developments of the kingdoms and nations of the world, while in the other he is pictured to us in his essential and spiritual origin, namely, in the wicked mind of Satan himself. In the third place, we immediately recognize this beast as identical with the one we have studied before because evidently his relation to the inhabitants of the earth is the same, both in regard to the saints and to the followers of Antichrist. In chapter 13 we read that all the dwellers of the earth wondered after the beast, were surprised at his wonderful appearance, admired and worshipped him. So in our text we read that the inhabitants of the earth wondered at the appearance of this beast, especially in view of the fact that he was, and is not, and yet is. In chapter 13 we read, however, that those whose names were written in the book of life of the Lamb were an exception to this rule, since they did not worship the beast, neither his image. And so do we read in our chapter that those that worship the beast are limited as to their number to the ones whose names are not written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world. And finally, in chapter 13 we read that the saints who refused to worship the beast and his image and to receive the sign of the beast on their forehead or hand were bitterly hated and maliciously persecuted, so that they could neither buy nor sell. Here we read that those that give their power to the beast are all of one mind, also in their war against the Lamb and against the called and chosen and faithful of Jesus Christ. And therefore, in general there can be no question about the fact that here we have again a picture of the final manifestation of Antichrist, the highest development of all the power of the world, the greatest feat of the devil, the terrible and glorious kingdom that shall come in the future to make war with the Lamb and His people. It is the picture of that great, universal kingdom that shall have sway over all the nations of the world for a time and have control over all things; but that shall be the opposition kingdom against the kingdom of Jesus Christ and shall make life unbearable, for the saints of Jesus. But although the identity of this beast with the one that is mentioned in chapter 13 is established beyond any possible doubt, yet it must not be overlooked that in ou; chapter he is described from a different point of view and with a different purpose. That may be regarded as plain from the simple fact that we have here once more a description of the same beast, and that rather elaborately. If the vision in this chapter were not for a different purpose and in order to show the beast from a different point of view, it would have been sufficient for the angel to explain to, John that this was the same beast as the one he saw before rising up out of the sea. This, however, he does not do; but, on the contrary, he adds various details in the interpretation which have not been mentioned before. In the second place, this is plain from these details themselves. We read of this beast that “he was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss,” and that “he was, and is not, and shall be,” and the equally mysterious words, “The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven.” So we read in this text a detailed explanation of the historic significance of the seven heads and the ten horns. Of the seven heads we read that they are seven mountains and seven kings, of which five are fallen, one still is, and the seventh is still to come in the future, while the beast as a whole is himself an eighth kingdom, or king, and is of the seven. And of the ten horns we also read that they are ten kings that have not yet received their power, but that shall receive authority in the future and shall give their power to the beast, all being of one mind with the beast. All these apparently mysterious details are added to the information we receive in chapter 13. And hence, it is plain that the purpose of this description is different from that in the former chapter. And that difference, it seems to me, consists in this, that in chapter 13 the purpose was simply to picture the terrible opposition of the beast against the kingdom of the Anointed of God, while in our chapter this opposition recedes into the background. The purpose of our chapter is in connection with chapters 18 and 19 to reveal the historical development of the antichristian power, as well as its final defeat and descent into destruction, as are mentioned three times in the words of our present passage. And then it is our conviction that in the heads we receive a picture of the various individual manifestations of the antichristian world-power in the history of the world, while in the ten horns we have a picture of the final formation of this power, when all the kings of the earth shall unite, being of one mind, to give their power to the beast. We must remember that in principle the beast, representing the antichristian power of the world, exists throughout the history of the world, particularly in the new dispensation. It existed in Daniel’s time in the form of the Babylonian Empire; and Daniel prophesies of different forms of that same world-power that are to manifest themselves as principally opposed to the people of God. He speaks of the Persian, of the Grecian, of the Syrian and Roman power that is still to come in the future, each of which are temporary manifestations of the world-power in history, so clearly even that in Antiochus Epiphanes we may find a clear type of Antichrist in person. At any rate, the world-power as such always exists, and characteristically, is always opposed to the people of God. Instead of being satisfied to occupy their God-ordained position in the world, they aim at absolute control and at the establishment of one grand kingdom, in which man shall be his own god. The result is that there are various successive manifestations of the world-power, and that the latter passes through different stages of development. At the same time, we must remember that none of these realize the entire beast. None of them succeeds to establish the universal kingdom for which they strive. On the contrary, they all fail; and in so far they do not fulfill the symbol of the beast in its entirety. 

—H.H.