“The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” (17:12-14)
Using John’s time as an example, we can illustrate what the angel is saying in this section. The Roman Empire was made up of many kingdoms and kings, all of which were subservient to the authority of Rome. Obviously John would be quite familiar with this, since he came from just such a place. The various Herods were all kings in Judea who were subservient to Rome and who did Rome’s bidding. They cooperated with Rome in killing Jesus and James and in the imprisonment of Peter and Pau. Rome had many such vassal kings under its control. These are represented by the ten horns of the red beast. In the fifth century AD, enough of these vassal states rose up to topple the Roman Government, bringing the Empire to an end. If you examine carefully almost any great empire of the past, you will see this pattern play out. In this text, the real purpose of the empire was to oppose the Lamb and His Church, and these kings did their best, but in the end, they toppled Rome, not the Church.
Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” (17:15-18)
We just saw how the beast, which in John’s day represented Rome, was destroyed by its “horns” and now we will see how Babylon the whore is destroyed. The beast and its horns hate her, and the day comes when they get together and destroy her.
There is a catch, however. The beast represents Rome, and so does the prostitute Babylon; they destroy each other.
In history there is a matrix that some historians call the “Dynastic Cycle”. The Dynastic Cycle works like this (this is the short version): A new vibrant empire begins to grow in its wealth and power, and it continues to grow for a period of time. Then, it begins to slow and then stop in its growth of territory, wealth and power. When this happens, it usually begins to suffer moral decay through every type of corruption. Its bureaucracies and costs expand, it suffers financial problems and heavy debt as its power wanes and its corruption grows further. Eventually it collapses financially and is overthrown by it subservient peoples who crack down on all forms of corruption and the process begins all over again; evil destroys itself in the end. When people reach a certain point in their rebellion against God, He simply lets them have what they want, and they destroy themselves (cf. Romans 1:18-32).
The most ironic thing of all is that throughout this entire process, these empires are warring against the Lamb and His Church. The Church they are so desperate to kill off is the one group that is trying to help them out of their inevitable fate as it preaches the Gospel of repentance and reconciliation with God.
Astonishing, don’t you think?
Babylon is fallen, felled by her own corruption…