What does the book of Revelation say? (part 13)

Ted Grimsrud

13. Seeking the Peace of the City—Revelation 17:1-18

[This is the thirteenth in a series of posts summarizing the message of the book of Revelation.  I have been writing on Revelation off and on for a long time. My intent with this project is to write a new book applying Revelation’s message to our modern world.]

I hate the use of “harlot” as a metaphor in Revelation 17. Among other things, it gives the misleading impression that the concerns John has in Revelation are about illicit sex. However, in terms of what the image communicates, we may see many parallels with our current situation—the one superpower that corrupts people from around the world to do its bidding, to serve its insatiable greed and will to dominate. And the arrogance and lack of self-awareness of this superpower.

The image here, too, of the hostility of the one superpower toward people who challenge it, especially out of concern for the vulnerable ones on whose lifeblood the system thrives. But also, that the Lamb’s way nonetheless conquers the system. And then the rather shocking picture—the kings who had earlier allied with the woman turn on her and destroy her. Is this a picture of the self-destructive nature of this insatiable greed and lust for power?

Revelation 17 as a call to seek Babylon’s well-being?

Let me test an idea: Even with all this destruction, the picture here actually holds out hope for the city symbolized by the harlot and Babylon. This vision is a call to seek the well-being of Babylon. At the end of the previous chapter, chapter 16, the seventh of the full out plagues is visited on the city Babylon. The greatest earthquake the world had ever known splits Babylon into three parts. A loud voice, presumably God’s, cries out: “It is done!” (16:17).

But then, starting in 17:1, there are more visions that elaborate on the final plague. The point, as with all the visions, is not to predict how the world will end. The “revelation of Jesus Christ” in the book of Revelation is not a vision of the chronological end of time but, rather, a vision of the purpose of our existence. The seventh and final plague that completes the vision is about purpose, not future predictions.

The final six chapters of the book elaborate the seventh plague. They make clear the purpose of the plagues—that Babylon would end and out of its ashes would arise the New Jerusalem. The revelation of Jesus Christ is a revelation not of the literal destruction of Babylon but of the transformation of Babylon itself into the New Jerusalem. The visions are not so much about a future outcome as they are about a present process: follow the Lamb resolutely wherever he goes. Continue reading “What does the book of Revelation say? (part 13)”