If you have not already done so, I encourage you to read the Prologue to this study, as it provides the framework for understanding the rest of it. Remember that Revelation consists of seven visions which state the same theme of Jesus as Lord.
Fifth Vision: Triumphant Lamb (Revelation 14-19)
In the previous vision, the Lamb is shown in defiance against the devices of the Dragon to preserve the faithful ones. In this vision, the Lamb goes forth to conquer, which revisits the first seal from the second vision of Revelation. It follows the previous vision because we tend to see the trials and tribulation before we see God’s deliverance and provision, and because God always has the last word.
In response to the Dragon’s two-pronged attack against the people of God, John sees the Lamb gather His holy ones—the very same ones portrayed in the sixth seal—to Himself on Mount Zion, which has always stood for the spiritual stronghold within Jerusalem (once more showing interconnectivity between the visions). Angels give warning to the followers of the Dragon and his beasts before carrying out the end of the conflict.
What this signifies is that despite the complexities and relentless onslaught of the Dragon (plainly identified as the “serpent of old” and Satan himself) against the faithful ones, the Lamb stands firm against him, inasmuch that the Dragon’s designs and schemes are conducted at the lenience and forbearance of the Lamb as warnings are given to the world before He eternally ends the War in Heaven.
Amidst the praise and adoration of God, all of Heaven declares the justice and worthiness of the Lamb. Out of this praise comes seven angels (again, a sign of completion) who carry plagues in “bowls of wrath.” Akin to the plagues of Egypt and even the way God cursed the ground in Genesis 3, the entire world is ravaged by the unrelenting wrath of God. Note that the plagues do not leave behind a remainder portion, much less a majority portion, as depicted with the seals and their trumpets. God’s wrath is without restraint.
Rather than portray the sovereignty of God amidst global chaos against the entire world, the plagues serve to portray the severity of God specifically against those who rally against Him. As with the sixth seal, there is an interlude after the seventh bowl—a direct promise from Jesus.
Interesting to note that the enemies of the Lamb gather themselves at a place called “Armageddon” to the Hebrews, which is a Greek translation of “Har-Megiddo.” The mountainous region of Megiddo in modern Israel was a frequent battleground in Jewish history, notably for the death of King Josiah. As a result, “mourning like Megiddo” was a common Hebrew expression in biblical times to denote tremendous grief and sorrow. The name “Megiddo” means “piercing,” and its root word also gadad means “slaughter.”
The word “Calvary” comes from the Latin phrase for “place of the skull,” which is usually transliterated as “Golgotha” in English Bibles. Essentially, “Calvary” is the English form of the Latin translation of “Golgotha.” Golgotha itself contains the word for “skull,” but as a full Aramaic phrase has also been suggested to mean “Mount of Execution.”
Rather than a future world war with unknown contenders in the physically irrelevant region of the hills of Megiddo, I believe the Armageddon reference is actually a coded reference to the crucifixion of Jesus. If that seems a stretch to some, keep in mind that before the next plague is poured from its bowl, a shout comes from the tabernacle—“It is done!” Those are the same words shouted by Jesus from the cross—tetelestai in the Greek—before He gave up the ghost. John was the one who penned Jesus’ last words on the cross for us, so it is beyond coincidence for the words to be shouted in this vision at the end of the Battle of Armageddon. While that may be a little confusing and unfamiliar to modern Western Christians, I believe it is the most probable interpretation of the original recipients of Revelation, as well as the interpretation which best fits with the primary purpose of Revelation.
Even though Jesus’ death and resurrection stand as the guarantee of hope for those who believe, it also stands as the ultimate condemnation for those who reject God. It is the winnowing fork that separates the grain from the chaff. It is for this reason that God’s wrath continues upon the unrepentant after the coded reference of Christ’s death and subsequent victory over death.
Once the bowls have been poured and the wrath of God meted out, the vision moves on to the doom of Babylon the Great. John is whisked away back to the wilderness where the Woman was hidden, but instead of seeing the glorious Woman adorned with the sun from chapter 12, he sees a woman clothed in purple and scarlet astride a scarlet beast (red like the Dragon) with seven heads and ten crowns (also like the Dragon). This woman is called a great harlot, and contrasts with the woman whose offspring were pure of sin. She’s seen reveling in abominations and is even named as such—Babylon the Great, Mother of Harlots and Abominations. She specifically revels in the blood of the saints, and the beast she rides is virtually called ancient Rome all but by name. By siding with the same spiritual forces which ruled ancient Rome, the Great Harlot is now in league with the Dragon.
Many scholars and readers alike will look for parallels between the Great Harlot and the Roman Catholic Church. While there are undoubtedly similarities to be drawn from the Vatican’s extensive history, the principle here goes deeper than even that. The contrast is akin to the dual covenants as described by Paul in Galatians 4 between the child of bondage, Ishmael, and the child of promise, Isaac. The spiritual conflict between the “Ishmael” crowd—those in bondage—and the “Isaac” crowd—those made free in Christ—is the point. The “Ishmael church” will always oppose the “Isaac church” at best, and at worst will actively seek its ruin. The papacy’s legacy is definitely tarnished, but the Great Harlot includes anyone who rejects God while claiming His name—the spiritual principle and mystery of Babylon is no more yet no less than that.
The fate of the Great Harlot is to be destroyed by the very vehicle through which she persecuted the saints. Even as her chickens come home to roost, the world will mourn her passing, as they are warned to flee from her—for the plagues shall strike her immediately and at once.
Before God judges the principalities, powers, and spiritual forces of evil, He will first judge those who have betrayed His name.
When John saw Great Babylon destroyed—first personified as a woman, then as a great city—the mourning on earth was contrasted with rejoicing in Heaven. It was only with the final destruction of Babylon that the Bride could be presented without spot or wrinkle. When the Bride was made ready, John saw Jesus on a white horse, marshaled for war and crowned with greatness.
The kings—personifications of the beast—turn against Jesus, but Jesus destroys them all, and the beast on which the Harlot sat (the dragon-like one) and the other lamb-like beast that is now personified as a false prophet are cast into the lake of fire. What is interesting to note is that the enemies of God are defeated in the reverse order in which they are introduced. The Dragon is utterly defeated, once his intermediaries and servants are cast into the lake of fire, for every vessel and system in which he invested his power and authority has been destroyed. This vision follows the Vision of the War in Heaven because it is the Lamb’s triumph over the Dragon whose rebellion began long ago.