The Book of Revelation, Part Two, Chapter 16, The Mystery of the Beast

How then shall the final formation of the beast come to its realization? In order to understand this, we must, in the first place, understand the expression that there shall still be a seventh powerful kingdom which has not yet been. For a time it was thought by some—and personally, we have been inclined to think—that Germany might become that seventh head. But evidently that is not the way in which God has it. Germany’s aim was extension of her own power and the Germanizing of the world; and that was not the purpose of the Almighty. No, but a mighty nation is still to appear, it seems, in an entirely different light. For if we take in connection with this picture of the seven heads the symbolism of the ten horns, and read that they are all of one mind and shall give their power to the beast, we receive the impression that the future realization of the kingdom of Antichrist shall rather be by way of confederation than by way of conquest. Taking these two statements together, then, it seems that we are justified in drawing the following picture. The text speaks of a seventh mighty power that is still in the future. It had not yet received its dominion at that time. But there can be no question about the fact that it shall receive its dominion. For a short while it shall show its power as a separate power. For it must continue a little while in the midst of all the other kingdoms or powers that may exist together with it. But after this little while is finished, whatever may be the history of it, the other powers, indicated by the ten horns, shall give their power to the beast together with that seventh head, thus forming the great, final confederation or league that shall constitute the ultimate form of the antichristian world-power. It shall be a league formed of the seventh head together with the ten horns. And then we can also understand the expression, apparently so difficult to grasp, “The beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven.” That is, the beast in its entirety, as a confederation of world-powers, all being of one mind and one purpose, and all giving their power to the beast that one great league is, in the first place, as such an eighth power. It is distinct from all the seven heads separately, for they formed no confederation. It is the old kingdom of Nimrod over again in modern form. First, therefore, the seven great powers, but the seventh culminating in the final manifestation of the antichristian world-power, which as such shall be the eighth. And, in the second place, that great, final world-power is of the seven in the sense that it is the culmination and the consummation of all history, the climax of the history of these seven powers, the combination of all that Egypt and Assyria, Babylonia and Persia; Greece and Rome, and all the powers that followed have ever stood for and realized. It shall be the ultimate product of all the aims of the powers of the world. To recapitulate in brief, therefore, there are to be eight world-powers in all. Six have been, in Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia; Greece; and Rome. The seventh is not yet, or, if it is today, it has not yet become plainly manifest. Its existence shall be peculiar in this respect, that it shall aim at the unification and combination of all the powers that exist at this time. And this shall lead to the final-league of nations to realize the kingdom of Antichrist. 

Spiritually, our text plainly characterizes this league, this final realization of the beast, as standing in direct antagonism against the Lamb and His people. For our text tells us that these confederate kings shall make war with the Lamb. Of course, they shall not fight Him in body: for the Lamb is exalted in heaven. But they shall attack all that stand for the Lamb in this dispensation. They shall fight the Lamb by fighting His Word, His worship, His name, His blood, His cause, His kingdom, His people. They shall deny the truth of His revelation. They shall refuse to believe His Word. They shall refuse to accept His authority. They shall not worship Him as King of kings and Lord of lords, and they shall instead worship the beast, deify their own power, and set up the image of the beast. And so they shall also fight His people. Notice how beautifully and significantly these people of the Lamb are designated in our text. They are the called, the chosen, the faithful. Because of their own effectual, irresistible calling they are also faithful. It is because Christ has called them that they consciously belong to Him. And it is because they are the chosen of God that the Lord has called them. Objectively, their faithfulness rests in the eternal counsel of God. They shall be faithful even unto death because the Lord Jehovah has chosen them to be His people. And subjectively, their faithfulness is assured in the irresistible calling of Christ Jesus, which can never be changed. And therefore the people of God shall be faithful also in those days. They may not be able to buy or sell, as it is expressed in the preceding chapter; but they shall faithfully cling to the name of Jesus because Jehovah of Hosts has chosen them, and because they have been called by the Spirit of Christ irresistibly. Hence, in the midst of tribulation, persecuted and pressed from all sides, as social outcasts in the world, they shall maintain, “The Lord Jehovah is our God, and Christ alone is King.” 

And they shall not be ashamed. Three times we are assured in the words of our passage that the victory shall be ours. In the first place, we read in verse 8 that the beast shall come up out of the abyss, but shall go into destruction. The same expression we read in verse 11. And finally, we read in verse 14 that the Lamb shall overcome them. How, in what way, we are told in a later connection. Now we are simply told the fact that also this final attempt of the devil shall fail. And at the same time we are informed as to the reason why: the Lamb is Lord of lords and King of kings. And that explains it all. He stands on Mount Zion as the great victor, as the Anointed of God, destined to rule over the kingdoms of the world. And when all these kingdoms, though striving to establish the kingdom of opposition, shall have served the purpose of Jesus Christ, He shall consume them by the breath of His mouth, establish the new heaven and the new earth, the kingdom of His people, and reign in glory over them forevermore. And therefore, the picture is rather clear, especially with a view to the times in which we now live. Watch, therefore, and cling to the name of Jesus; and have no fellowship with the great sin of Babylon, namely, to be carried by the beast. For then you shall have no fellowship with her judgment. And be comforted with this thought: the Lord is King of kings and Lord of lords! Our Lord is mightier than they all! The victory is assured! 

The Kingdom of the Beast 

Revelation 17:15-18 

15. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. 

16. And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. 

17. For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. 

18. And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth, over the kings of the earth.

The harlot and the beast with the seven heads and ten horns we have now discussed. And what remains to be considered is the relation between them and the judgment of the harlot as these are pictured in the entire chapter, and more particularly in the words of our present passage. The woman as such, so we found, is, first of all, the symbol of the church in this dispensation, the wife of Jehovah, the bride of Christ. But the woman pictured in the words of our passage is a harlot, and therefore a woman that has forsaken her rightful husband and lives in most intimate, but illegal, relationship with strangers, that are not her husband. And as such, the woman is symbolic of the apostate church, that has forsaken her rightful husband, Jesus Christ, has fallen away from the truth, and now surrenders herself as an institution to the service of the world and of Antichrist. But still more, this woman is also the figure of a great city that is to have dominion over the world and. over the kings of the earth. And we found that even as the true church is destined to develop into a city, the New Jerusalem, that is to come down from heaven, so also the apostate, or false, church is to develop into a city, a great center, that is representative of her real character, and at the same time the embodiment and center of the antichristian kingdom. 

The beast, so we found, is the same as the one that was pictured to us in chapter 13 and that was already mentioned in the eleventh chapter of this book. Plain this was, so we found, from its description as the beast with its seven heads and ten horns, as well as from its origin as the beast that rises up out of the abyss, and finally, too, from his relation to the inhabitants of the world and the saints of Christ. The former admire this beast and wonder after him; the latter stand in opposition to him and refuse to bow before him as their rightful king. It is therefore the world-power from its political aspect, as it shall finally give rise to the antichristian kingdom and all that it implies. Only, we also found that the point of view is different, and that we learn different details of this antichristian kingdom in the words of the passage we were discussing before. And we came to the conclusion that this beast is here pictured both in his historical development and in his final formation. His historical development is evidently pictured to us in the seven heads that represent, according to the interpretation of the angel, seven different manifestations of the antichristian world-power in the history of the world, one of which existed in the time of John, five of which had already risen and vanished before that time, and one of which is still to come. And we found that if we started from the safe assumption, that the one that is was the Roman Empire in all its glory, as it existed in John’s time, the five that had already fallen could be none other than the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Grecian empires, which had successively existed before that time, and all of which had already perished. And we found too that it is a striking characteristic of the period of this dispensation after the downfall of the Roman Empire in 476 that not one great empire has succeeded in obtaining and holding sway over all the world, something that became well-nigh an impossibility after the discovery and settlement of the new world had become an accomplished fact. The seventh power has not yet revealed itself in its full manifestation, but must still be revealed. And in the ten horns we have the picture of ten minor powers that shall exist simultaneously with the seventh head, exist side by side for a short time, but ultimately shall give their power to the beast. That is, with the seventh head, under its leadership, they shall come to one great confederation of nations, thus realizing the beast that was in Nimrod’s time, never was again, but again shall be in the future. That world-power shall stand antithetically against Christ and His people, shall make war against Him, but shall be overcome by Him and by the called and chosen and faithful, who shall reign with Christ in the New Jerusalem. 

In the present passage we find the judgment of the harlot. I think the general meaning of the words of our passage is so plain that after all we have discussed, it is scarcely necessary to give any direct and special explanation. In brief, they tell us that the ten kings and the beast, that committed fornication with the harlot for a long time and that made the best of her for their own interests and lust—that these shall finally bitterly hate the harlot and destroy her very appearance, kill her, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. And the text explains that this they do because God has given it in their hearts to do so and perform His will, come to one mind, the mind of the beast, and destroy the harlot they first loved. And it is only after the angel has spoken of the destruction of the harlot as such that he explains the symbol of the woman once more as the great city, which hath dominion over the kings of the earth. And in the next chapter the destruction of the city is pictured to us. Just as we have learned to distinguish, therefore, between the woman as the harlot-church and the woman as the mystic city, so we shall also have to distinguish between these two in their end. And the order of events will evidently be thus, that the apostate church as a separate church institution will be done away with first of all, so that the church shall no more exist, and that exactly this destruction of the church apostate shall lead to the final unification of all so-called religion, and culminate in the religion of the beast, without any church as such, but with Babylon, the great city, for its leading center. I think this order of events stands beyond all doubt, and is exactly as the text describes it to us, and therefore as such really needs no explanation. Yet we must make an attempt, in the light of what we see in the history of the world today, somewhat to explain the possibility of this order, and try to picture to ourselves how things are to develop, as far as we are permitted to see. And in order to obtain a clear understanding of these things we must try to explain what is really meant by the harlotry of the church with the beast. 

And then it will be necessary, first of all, that we obtain a clear picture of the realities that are symbolized by the woman, as well as by the beast. The woman, we must remember, in her outward appearance is the instituted church of Christ on earth. Outwardly she is nothing but the church in her entire appearance in the world. In every respect she looks like the true church externally. She calls herself church of Christ. She has her church edifices, just as the true church. In those sanctuaries the congregation gathers, at least on every sabbath, for worship. As you enter, you find that on the pulpit lies the Word of God, the Scriptures, just as it is in the true church. There is no difference. Behind the pulpit stands the regularly ordained minister of the Word. Regardless now of what use there is made of that Bible on the pulpit, regardless too of how the minister accomplishes his task of administering the Word, fact is that outwardly there is no difference. The Bible on the pulpit and the minister of that Bible behind it, pretending to administer the Word of God to the congregation, and that congregation too, in outward appearance look like the true church. They sing and pray, confess, and listen to the preaching of the Word. And as they go, they receive the benediction in the name of God. Regardless, again, of the nature of their worship, they evidently gather for the worship of God in their sanctuary. Yea, you will find that not only the Word but also the sacraments are administered. The members of the church are baptized: and occasionally they gather around the table of communion solemnly to celebrate the supper of the Lord. We may have our scruples as to the significance attached to these things. Fact is, nevertheless, that the sacraments as well as the Word are administered, as always and just as well in the true church of Christ. In a word, the harlot woman represents the church, the church of Christ, with the Word and the sacraments, as she comes to manifestation here upon earth. The woman is the church as we know her. Just as well as any real harlot outwardly looks just like any other woman, so also does the harlot-church look like the true Church of Christ on earth in her entire appearance. 

The same we must remember of the beast. In itself, the beast as pictured in the words of our passage is nothing wrong. It is simply the regular state with its regular, instituted government, as we all believe in the legality and necessity of its existence in this dispensation. This is very plain from the heads. They are seven kings, and they constitute seven manifestations of different states and governments. As such there was nothing wrong with them. God wills that they shall be there. God has Himself instituted government for this dispensation, just as well as He has established and instituted the church. It makes no difference now what form of government is meant. It does not make a particle of difference for our purpose whether the governments referred to were empires or monarchies or republics. Fact is that they are regularly instituted governments, with their heads and officers, with their power and authority, with their laws and maintenance of these laws, with their armies and navies. So also the ten horns inform us: they shall be ten kings, or ten governments, in the world. And therefore, also these represent nothing but regularly instituted, orderly, God-willed governments, institutions of God in the world. And therefore, outwardly, as to the form of this woman and of this beast there is nothing wrong. The woman represents the church as an institution of God; and the beast with all his heads and horns represents worldly government as God has willed that it should exist. Regardless now of their degenerate character, there is as such nothing wrong in either of them. They are both institutions of God. They both have their work and their purpose in the world. And without neither could this dispensation continue. 

But the purpose of our chapter is undoubtedly to picture these two in a most wonderful combination, in a most intimate union. And it is exactly the nature of this union, or confederacy, between the instituted church and the instituted government which makes of the woman the harlot and of the beast the antichristian kingdom. This is symbolically portrayed in the fact that the woman is sitting on the beast—a most intimate relation and combination of the two. 

—H.H.