God commands to “pour out the seven bowls of God’s fury upon the earth.” Enter the plagues.
The first one causes festering and ugly sores to break out on all the worshippers of the beast. The second turns the sea into blood, killing all fish and sea creatures. Oh hey wait – Boo! Why kill the fish? What purpose does that serve? I dunno – let’s see that in the post St. Peter world that all the fishermen have gone over to the Beast.
The third bowl of fury turns all the rivers into blood. Man, there goes our drinking water. The fourth bowl of fury burns people. They are scorched by heat and in response they blasphemies against God. Yeah, that actually makes sense. God isn’t trying to win people over with a bit of honey but a lot of vinegar. (Actually, he isn’t trying to win anyone over. This is torturing of his enemies, pure and simple. He could make it easier on them and kill them swiftly if he wanted to – he is God, after all. But he’s opting for this approach. Yeah, this is a nasty book).
The fifth bowl of fury plunges the world into darkness, and “people bit their tongues in pain.” I’m not sure I get the connection, but that’s what the Bible says. The sixth bowl dries up the water in the River Euphrates. That seems like a weak one. After all the horrible things – all seas made blood, all rivers likewise, all light taken away – after all that God hits one stinking river? Seems pretty weanie after all that came before.
But apparently it’s at a key location, for now John tells of the false prophet. It’s all a bit cryptic, even for Revelations, so I’m not really sure what this false prophet is. I think it’s the second beast or something. Or maybe I missed something. It’s hard to keep track of all the weird stuff in this book.
Anyone, we’re gearing up for a battle – a big battle that’ll take place at Armageddon. The footnotes tell me that this in Hebrew means “Mountain of Megiddo.” That’s an actual place, and the site of many key battles. (The footnotes say it’s listed in Judges 5:19, the Second Book of Kings 9:27, and the Second Book of Chronicles 35:20-24. Let’s see – 5:19 in Judges does mention Megiddo in the Song of Deborah. So that’s where that big battle was. In Kings, that’s where Jehu kills Ahaziah of Judah. In Chronicles, that’s where the good king Josiah was struck down). Nowadays, Armageddon is more a concept than a place. It can be used interchangeably with apocalypse. But it refers to a specific place – the high point by Megiddo.
Anyhow, the seventh cup of fury is finally poured and a great earthquake happens. It’s the greatest one ever. We’re told that “the great city” splits into three parts. I figured this meant Jerusalem, but no, the footnotes say it means Rome. Man, trying to understand all the stuff in this book is like trying to analyze the lyrics to American Pie.
Now we’re in Babylon the Great – the town of Babylon, I suppose. Well, actually that’s a matter of debate. The way it’s described clearly reflects on Rome, not Babylon. There is a reference to the seven hills – that’s Rome. There is a line about “the great city that has sovereignty over the kings of the earth.” That’s certainly Rome at this time. I guess the author uses Babylon as his proxy name to refer back to the old Babylonian Captivity, when the bad guys ruled and forced the truly religious (like Daniel) to go underground. . Now he’s saying this is the Christian version of that. Also, if he spoke so badly of Rome, he could really end up in trouble with the authorities.
Also, this Bible speaks of “the great harlot” at Babylon. I can only assume that most Bibles translate it as the “Whore of Babylon” as that’s the famous phrase. I bet that’s what the King James Bible calls her.
Anyhow, this Babylon/Rome/whatever is a horrible place full of all sorts of sinning. An angel decides to take John aside and explain the symbolism of what he’s seeing. Well, that’s different. John, in the middle of his vision, has a character in his vision explain the meaning of his vision. Also – this indicates that even the Book of Revelations thinks that the Book of Revelations shouldn’t be taken literally, but more symbolically/allegorically.
The discussion of the symbols really loses my attention, though. It’s also this stuff explaining why there is seven of this or ten of that – and even the explanations are obscure and in some cases we literally have no idea what’s going on. For example, then angels tell John that seven heads on the beast represent, “seven kings: five have already fallen, on still lives, and the last one has not yet come.” OK, who the hell are they? We don’t really know. The beast himself apparently represents Nero. Sure why not – the 666 number of the beast apparently refers to him.
Angels start singing how Babylon has fallen. That seems a bit premature – it hasn’t fallen yet. But you get a bunch of songs and poems here praising the fall of Babylon, and denouncing those who sided with it. One thing I found striking is how often the section denounces the merchants who profited off of Babylon.
Nothing actually happens here, just some ritualistic poems calling for its fall; incantations I suppose.
OK, now it’s time for Babylon to actually fall. Really, this is extremely anti-climatic. After the wonderful set up earlier on with the seven seals and the seven trumpets, you’d expect some big build up here.
Nah. God just rides out with his forces and that’s that. The beast is overcome. The false prophet is overcome. Blink and you’ll miss the Battle of Armageddon.
One thing I can say – the good guys all ride white horses. OK, so this is where that motif begins.
Well, the battle isn’t entirely over, but what’s left is described in about as perfunctory manner as in the previous chapter. An angel comes down and seizes the dragon (AKA Satan). He ties up the dragon and throws it into the abyss, where it’ll stay for 1,000 years. Side note: with all the other things that caught on in this chapter, I wonder why we never got a popular imagery of Satan as a dragon. He’s typically more bull-like than dragon.
Apparently, Satan will be let out after 1,000, but only for a little while. And it’s 1,000 years away – so who cares. Oh, and a Gog and Magog reference is thrown in for good measure. That is a clear Ezekiel reference. Again, this book is like a psychotic version of Ezekiel.
This chapter also starts to transition into the post-Armageddon period of glory. There is a great throne. The martyred dead rise from their graves and help God sitting in Judgment. Yes, Judgment Day occurs in Chapter 20 – right after Satan has been tied up.
So, after 15 or so chapters of seemingly unrelenting horrors, we get to the good news. The good guys are in charge.
Now begins the millennium – the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. A new holy city, a new Jerusalem is in place. In fact, the old earth and even the old heaven are gone. They are no longer needed. We have a new earth and a new heaven.
John never refers to God by name here. He just says, “The one who sat on the throne.” Maybe it’s a professional seat warmer. Nah, as Throne Sitter says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” OK, that’s just a really cool line right there. He also says, “The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God.” Yeah, I’ll bet you’ll be his God, what with you being the actual God and all.
Jerusalem is introduced as “The wife of the Lamb.” That phrase got my attention – is Jesus getting laid? No, wait – no. It’s referring to a city, not an actual wife.
We get yet another Ezekiel-esque moment as John gives us far too much information on the physical description of the new Jerusalem. It’s not nearly as long as Ezekiel’s eight chapters of cubit talk – I’ll say that for it.
Also, since this is the Lord’s city on earth, it’s far more spectacular than anything Ezekiel even imagined. The walls are made of jasper. The city is pure gold, “clear as glass.” That’s quite the image. There is no sun or stars, but that’s cool. You don’t need it with the glory of the Lord giving light. I hope it gives heat, too – because otherwise you’ll really miss those parts of the sun.
The angel takes John to a river of life-giving water. (That sounds very poetic, but isn’t all water life giving?). Then he shows John the tree of life. Oh – that’s where Terence Malick got the phrase from for his movie. Huh. Even in its very last chapter the Bible can throw an unexpected cultural reference at me. Anyhow, this millennium will be a glory time, with nothing accursed left anymore. (Of course, you have to go through the apocalypse to get there).
Time to wrap up – the last 16 verses are an epilogue. John wants it known that everything he saw is imminent. The angels tells him it, “must happen soon” and then reinforces the point later, saying that, “the appointed time is near.” People still often believe that the End is Coming Soon – but for me it’s just another reason to assume this vision is just nuts. He said it would happen soon ….nearly 2,000 years ago. At the very least, he has such an usual definition of the word soon that he should probably avoid using it.
In the meantime, the angel counsels John to, “Let the wicked still act wickedly, and the filthy still be filthy. The righteous must still do right, and the holy still be holy.’ That back half of that sounds nice, but the front half is rather nasty. There is no attempt to save the wicked. There is no effort to reach out to them. Peoples’ characters are fixed and immutable as good or bad, and screw the bad. No grace of God for them. (I can’t imagine Paul or Jesus would like that very much). Oh, and letting them stay wicked means they get to suffer through all of this – all of the monstrous act foreseen in this last book of the Bible.
You can make a bit of an argument for that if you really think the end is coming then there isn’t time to help. But that means he’s completely wrong about how long it’ll take. It can’t be any “a thousand years to us is a day to the heavenly” allegorical dodge. Because if the end is really 2,000 years away, then why and blazes wouldn’t you try to reach out to the damned?
John ends his vision by writing that no words should be added or removed to his vision, it should be left as is. Anyone who does add/subtract to it shall be cursed. Yeah, copyists would do that sometimes. There are clear examples elsewhere in the Bible of that happening, because some of the oldest surviving copies we have of some of these books don’t line up. Usually it’s just a minor case of grammar differences, but some copies have a story or two that other copies of the same book don’t. But I already discussed that earlier, when going over the last chapter of Mark, or the “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” story in John.
Oh, here is the last line: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.” As nasty and ugly and blasted a book as Revelations typically is, that’s a nice note to end on.
This is one of the best-written books in the Bible – at least in the first half. In the second half it tends to lose its way and become muddled, but the section on the build up through the seven seals and the seven trumpets was masterful.
It’s a very nasty image. It has a happy ending, sure, but the main focus is on all the sufferings. It’s Biblical torture porn. On the one hand, I can understand why this book gets so much attention, because it is well-written and does talk about The End. Then again, I got to wonder about people who make this book central to their faith. The message here is nastier than the message is pretty much every other book of the New Testament. Who the hell wants to envision God as someone who let’s all of this happens? It’s an engaging read, but an appalling message.