Studies in the book of Revelation
Study 8 – Rome, the church’s political enemy
Chapter 12 Jesus is in control
The woman is said not to be an actual individual but a sign – namely, the true Zion of God (see Genesis 37:9; Galatians 4:26); the dragon is also symbolic – the devil in the guise of the divine emperor. But the child ‘a Son, a male’ (Greek) is not referred to as a sign; he is the real person of the Son of Psalm 2, begotten from the dead (Revelation 1:5; Psalm, 2:7 = Acts 13:32-34; Hebrews 1:5-6) and ascended to God’s throne to rule all nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9). This introductory vision of the ascended Christ sets the scene for chapters 13 – 16, as the vision of chapter 4 -5 depicted the Son of Man approaching the Ancient of Days to receive the everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:9-10) sets the scene for chapters 6 – 11.
The conflict of Michael V Lucifer is the continuation of the battle of Eve and the serpent. In reaction against the ascension of Jesus to be our High Priest and advocate, Satan attempts to exert pressure on the saints on earth, ‘the rest of her seed’. The ‘time, times and half a time’ (12:14) deliberately parallels the persecutions of Nero with those of Antiochus Epiphanes (168 – 164 BC, Daniel 7:25). But the people of God will be preserved as was Elijah during his three-and-a-half years of drought (James 5:17; 1 Kings 17).
 We must not base a theory on verse 4 about Lucifer’s fall involving 33.3 percent of heaven’s angels. Use Scripture to interpret Scripture; cf. the little horn (Antiochus) who cast the stars on the ground (namely saints) and trampled them (Daniel 8:10)! In Revelation 12 the accuser himself is cast down to the earth; cf. John 12:31; Luke 10:18. As a result he tramples on the saints!
Chapter 13 Caesar worship
- The land-beast out of the sea (verses 1-10)
If the dragon is the devil in his specific form of the emperor’s claim to deity, this first beast is the Empire. The woman of chapter 17 who rides on this beast is the imperial city, Rome itself.
The Empire here assimilates all the main features of the four empires of Daniel chapter 7 that preceded it. Julius Caesar is undoubtedly the wounded head (verse 3). His assassination was a protest against autocracy, but the empire lived on and some of the later Caesars proved to be even more despotic. Caesar worship began with the deification of Roma as the goddess to be worshipped; but only after his death, in temples built in his honour in Ephesus and Nicaea by Augustus his successor, he was jointly worshipped with Roma. Then Augustus encouraged non-Romans to worship Roma and himself in the new temple at Pergamum. All other religions were permitted also. Although Tiberius discouraged Caesar worship, the megalomaniac Caligula enforced it, planning to place his own image in the Holy of Holies of the temple in Jerusalem! His death occurred before that threat could be fulfilled. Then Claudius exempted the Jews from acknowledging his deity. But Nero was a sadist who utterly persecuted the Christians in Rome, throwing them to the lions, boiling them in oil and even covering them with tar to burn them as torched at a garden party.
- The beast out of the earth (verses 11-18)
‘The Province’, the administration of Asia Minor, supported the Empire. Its two horns probably signify:
- a) ‘The Commune’ – representative priests who spoke for the Province of Asia Minor; and
- b) ‘The Proconsuls’ who served for one year each.
The Commune caused the people to worship the Emperor, arranging the ritual and directing its performance, ordering the building of temples, erecting statue, fixing holy days and festivals (cf. Acts 13:6-12; 16:16; 19:13-16).
Satan’s greatest longing (e.g. Daniel 3) is to use all forms of humanism and occult to produce the totalitarian state than enforces human ‘worship’.
 ‘The number of the beast‘ (verse 18) is [only] a human number. (Some suggest that the numerical value of the Hebrew letters for NERON CAESAR add up to 666).
Chapter 14 The promotion of the pure – the empire’s eclipse
Verses 1-5 Refusing the mark of the Beast on their foreheads (verse 9; 13:16) they bear instead the name of the Father. Through martyrdom for refusing the pollution of idolatry (Exodus 34:15; Deuteronomy 31:16; Judges 2:17) they have achieved heaven’s bliss and glory (cf. the two visions of chapter 7, but this 144.000 are not from natural Israel nor are they sealed against death!).
Verses 6-11 The messages of three angels:
- a) The gospel to pagans (cf. Acts 14:15) and warning against rejecting it;
- b) Rome’s overthrow because of her idolatry;
- c) The worshippers of the Beast tormented (in contrast to the bliss of those devoted to the Lamb, verse 1-5).
Verses 12-13 patience of the persecuted and the joy of the martyred.
Verses 14-20 judgement on the Empire – the Day of the Lord invading history as it will ultimately end history and usher in eternity. (The bloodbath of 1600 stadia or 320 kilometers is the distance from Dan to Beersheba, signifying total judgement on the land/earth).
Chapters 15 -16 Judgments on the city of Rome
Once more (as in chapters 10 – 11) we are presented with the prelude (chapter 15) to the end – this time it’s the end of Imperial Rome. Her last plagues are here described – and yet again presented in terms of the ultimate Day of the Lord.
The pause in the proceedings with which chapter 15 opens shows God as slow to anger and abounding in mercy. the martyrs from Nero’s atrocities have crossed a sea of blood – they loved not their lives even unto death (12:11) – and appropriately sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb as they enter the final resurrection ‘house’ (2 Corinthians 5:1-4). At its dedication, Moses’ tabernacle was filled with the clouds of God’s majestic presence (Exodus 40:34-35). It’s now too late for any intercession for the city.
The bowls of wrath (on Rome) resemble the trumpets (on Jerusalem). The altar (16:7) from which the martyrs’ prayers arose earlier (6:9-11), now conveys on high their praise of God’s judgements.
The diverting of the Euphrates around Old Testament Babylon, causing the river bed within the city to dry up, enabled Cyrus’s army to invade and conquer the otherwise invulnerable metropolis, according to the historian Herodotus (= Daniel 5). Here (16:12) it suggests the invasion of the forces from the East that broke the prestige of Rome; her eventual downfall was from tribes of Asia and Northern Europe.
The frog-like croaking spirits (verse 13-14) from the mouths of the devilish trinity (Satan, empire and imperial cult) imply doctrinal propaganda against the gospel. The outcome is the assembling of leaders from throughout the Empire to the battle of the Day of God Almighty’s intervention at ‘Har-Megeddon’, literally ‘the Mountain of Megiddo’. The name must be symbolic as Megiddo is a plain, not a mountain! It is a code word for the supernatural victory enjoyed in Judges 4 -5 by Barak and Deborah when unseasonal rain bogged down the chariots of Sisera and his confederacy of Canaanite kings. That is to say, when the Empire strikes back in a demonic unity, God’s King will intervene from Zion (see Psalms 2; 110; 46 etc). That is not only true of the ultimate coming of the King (chapter 20) but every previous historic ‘day of battle’ (Psalm 110:3). So, we can praise God as we stand still to witness his deliverance (Exodus 14:13; 2 Chronicles 20:17). God shakes everything that can be shaken (16:17-21).
However, ‘Pharaoh’ has hardened this heart (16:9, 11, 21), in contrast to some who repented when Jerusalem fell (11:13).