Thursday, May 29, 2008

When In Rome...

We return to our consideration of that truly enigmatic figure-- the whore named, Babylon. We have pieced together a skeleton built of characteristics extracted from her description in Revelation 17. Let's put some flesh and bone on that and see what we have.

She is first mentioned in Revelation 14:8 where her fall is announced by an angel. Her evil influence in the world is likened to wine and its effects. Her name comes up again in 16:19 in association with the seventh bowl in which God makes her drink the wine of his wrath, the picture of poetic justice. So important is she in understanding the unfolding of redemptive history, chapters 17 and 18 form an interlude which takes the reader aside from the flow of prophetic time just to take a deeper look at her. It's necessary, for she is a mystery that cannot be understood by man apart from divine illumination.

It has not been uncommon, since the Reformation, for the figure to be interpreted as the Roman Catholic Church, despite the fact that most of the Reformers did not take the Petrine remark as a reference to Rome. Evidently, the references within the description of the whore were clear enough to them without any other scriptural references. Exactly how clear are they?

In 95 A.D. there was only one city in the entire world that could have fit the description, and since then, no real contenders have emerged. There are only a handful of great cities renown for sitting on seven hills (or mountains): Rome and Constantinople are the most obvious, a case can be made for Jerusalem (but a lame one in my mind). Either of the capitals of the Roman Empire could be made to fit the rest of the description through chapter 18, but Jerusalem doesn't even come close. When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, it ceased being the center of idolatrous worship in all but name only, which leaves Rome standing unassailable as the target of the figure.

That's not the same as saying that the RCC is the whore, but there is a great deal of sense in seeing her that way, especially in light of 18:4-5. I think the whore imagery reaches far beyond the halls of the Vatican, but suffice it to say, I think she knows her way around those halls in the dark!