The Allegorical Symbolism of the Book of Revelation
Revelation begins its account by giving counsel and warning to the seven Churches and by using cosmological metaphor and covenantal symbolism of the Old Testament begins to relate the prophetic future of the Church.
The glorious triumph of the Lamb over the Dragon, Light over Darkness, and Spiritual Israel over Spiritual Babylon is vividly portrayed using the allegorical symbols of the Heavenly Temple and the Creation Cosmology of the Old Testament.
The Symbols of the Heavenly Temple
The earthly Temple in Jerusalem had been swept away in AD 70 by the armies of Rome exactly as Christ had foretold and so this prophecy of the apostle John exiled on Patmos begins by giving the Church a view of the events which are transpiring in the Heavenly Sanctuary. He is shown the scene of the Judgment, which commenced with Christ's ascension into heaven and His enthronement at "the right hand of the majesty on high". All the fallen Sons of Adam— every nation, tongue, and people are to appear at the arraignment before the Divine bar of justice which takes place in the "heavenly sanctuary".
He is shown the great throne of the Lord God Almighty who is the Ruler and Judge of heaven and earth. There are also the 24 Elders who are witnesses from the earth and we see the entire host of heavenly angels who continually worship God and praise Him who sits upon the throne. Then the great Scroll of the Everlasting Covenant is brought forth. This Covenant pronounces blessings upon those who are righteous and curses upon the unrighteous . The Law of God, as found in the covenantal scroll, is to be the judgmental standard of righteousness.
John beholds the glory and holiness of the scene and despairs that there is no hope for the fallen Adamic Family, only condemnation and doom. But then in the midst of the throne steps forth the Divine Lamb of God who is not only the Son of God but the Son of Man as well. Because He, the Divine Substitute and Sacrificial Lamb of God is there, the throne becomes, not only the seat of justice, but is in fact the "mercy seat" or "propitiatory" or "place of reconciliation". Jesus Christ, the Worthy One, standing in the throne reaches out to take the sealed covenantal scroll from the sacred hand of the Father. Then commences in Heaven the judgment of the world as the Gospel is proclaimed upon the earth to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people by His faithful sealed servants, the 144,000—Spiritual Israel, the Church, .
Thus as the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed on Earth, the Judgment goes on in Heaven. All the world is judged by the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!! Those who believe and repent have their names sealed into the Covenantal Book of Life and become part of the redeemed community, the 144,000. Those who are wicked and unbelieving receive the verdict of death and the "mark of the Beast" and will ultimately be destroyed in the Lake of Fire prepared for the Beast, the False Prophet, and the Devil. This theme is the background of the entire setting of Revelation.
This setting of the end-time Judgment of the world has one more motif which must also be explained before attempting to understand the meaning of the symbols of Revelation.
The Symbols of the Hebrew Cosmology (World View)
The covenantal world view of the Hebrews of the Old Testament was this: The Hebrews saw the Heavenly Sanctuary or Temple of God as the center of the entire universe. The loyal covenantal people of God on the earth—the children of Israel—encamped around the earthly sanctuary, each tribe under its own banner. The encampment on the East of the sanctuary was the encampment of Judah (the banner emblem of Judah was the Lion) and comprised the families of Judah, Issacar, and Zebulon. The encampment on the South of the sanctuary was the encampment of Reuben (the banner emblem of Reuben was the Face of a Man) and comprised the families of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. The encampment on the West of the sanctuary was the encampment of Ephraim (the banner emblem of Ephraim was the Ox) and comprised the families of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. The encampment on the North of the sanctuary was the encampment of Dan (the banner emblem of Dan was the Eagle) and comprised the families of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali.
The earthly sanctuary, the sacred ark of the covenant, and the encampment of Israel were situated in the center of the Promised Land, the covenantal promised land and inheritance of Abraham. In the heavens above the Earth was the Throne of God. This throne could move about in the heavens and was understood to be a great Chariot with wheels on all fours sides and guarded by the four cherubim angels attending the chariot of God. The stars in the heavens were angels surrounding the throne and they continually gave praises to the One who sits upon the throne.
The Throne of God in heaven rested upon a great transparent heavenly glassy crystal sea. The angels did the bidding of God and carried out God's wishes in the affairs of man. They executed the judgments of the Great Judge in Heaven. When a portent appeared in the heavens, events on Earth were sure to follow. Falling stars were angels carrying out the commands of God. Comets were portents of Divine intervention in the affairs of man.
The great heavenly Sanctuary was the abode of the Eternal Judge, the King of Israel, the Lord God Almighty. The Temple on Earth was understood to be a mere copy of the great throne room in Heaven from whence the Judge and Lawgiver of Israel ruled and administered justice for the children of Abraham. The Ark of the Covenant and the Shekinah glory with the covering Cherubim were a pattern of the true Throne of God in Heaven. Even the pagan religions of the day believed that their temples on earth were patterns of things in the heavens (the 3 great Egyptian pyramids on earth were a pattern of the 3 stars in the Orion constellation in heaven).
The encampment of Israel was to live within the terms of the covenant. Those who disobeyed the terms of the covenant were declared "unrighteous" and were cut off from the covenant and disinherited from the promises and blessings of the covenant. The curses of the covenant fell upon the transgressor of the covenant. The four living creatures which surrounded the throne were angels who administered justice in the encampment. They had the faces of a Lion, a Man, an Ox, and an Eagle to show that they protected and carried out judgment in the encampment of Israel. God punished disobedient Israel with the "four terrible covenantal curses"—Sword, Famine, Pestilence, and Wild Beasts of the Earth. Each of these four Cherubim ruled a fourth part of the earth and went to the four corners of the earth in judgment and justice. (see Ezekiel 1, Zechariah 6 and Revelation 6 and 7—the four angelic creatures who guarded the throne— each one successively with the face of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. The four horsemen and the four winds also represent these four angelic creatures who do God's bidding.)
The rivers and fountains of waters nourished the Earth and gave life to the plants and animals and man living on the Earth.
Surrounding the civilized covenantal "island" of the land of Israel was the great chaotic rebellious "Sea", the lawless lands of the Gentiles. Satan—the Lawless One, the adversary of God—was the ruler of the unbelieving Gentiles from his great city, Babylon. This great city was the "seat of the Beast" and this city was nourished by the great Euphrates River which flowed into the city and gave life to the city. Satan was the seven headed Serpent Dragon, Leviathan, who ruled the chaotic lawless sea of peoples who were outside of the blessings of the divine covenant. God prohibited the sea of the Gentiles from overflowing into the land of Israel. He guarded the borders of the Promised Land and punished those nations who would invade the Holy Land of the Covenantal People.
Beneath Babylon was the allegorical demonic abode of the nether world, called the abyss, shades, or hades, the land of darkness and unclean spirits of wickedness and the land of scorpions, dragons, and locusts and all things unclean. These unclean spirits come forth from the underworld and stream out of Babylon and attack the Promised Land from the north. The armies of Babylon always attacked from the north because the great desert which was situated between Israel and Babylon prohibited an attack directly from the east. Thus Babylon was always "The King of the North". Egypt however, the other enemy of Israel, was south of the Promised Land and always attacked from the south and was always "The King of the South".
To summarize, we find that the Judeo/Christian peoples believed there were seven allegorical realms of the created order over which God ruled from the Throne Room of God sitting above the Creation—
1.) The Earth upon which the sanctuary encampment of covenantal Israel was situated.
2.) The Chaotic Sea surrounding the Earth.
3.) The Rivers and Fountains of Waters flowing through and nourishing the Earth.
4.) The High Heavens or Upper Firmament which surrounded the Heavenly Sanctuary of Yahweh were the abode of the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars.
5.) The Bottomless Pit or the Abyss over which the Seat of the Beast, Babylon, was situated.
6.) The River Euphrates which nourished and gave life to Babylon.
7.) The Lower Heavens or Lower Firmament called the Air or the Atmosphere.
Having described the background of the ancient cosmology which is employed by the Apostle John for the Book of Revelation, we can better understand the ALLEGORICAL symbolism which he, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses to describe the great controversy between Christ and Satan.
The question of the identity of the Seven Heads of the Beast of Revelation 12, 13 and Revelation 17 is one the issues that has caused a lot of discussion among evangelical Christians today.
1.) The Seven-headed Beast with ten horns is the Roman Empire. Satan is the power behind this seven-headed dragon-beast which persecutes the church throughout her earthly sojourn of symbolic "1260 days". The fall of the pagan Roman Empire is symbolized in Revelation 13 as its having received a "deadly wound". The deadly wound is "healed" however and from the ashes of the Imperial Roman Empire arises Papal Rome which is an "image" or pseudo-Christian duplicate of the pagan Roman Empire. The "pontiffs" of Imperial Rome were replaced by the "pontiffs" of Papal Rome. Now Papal Rome sits upon the seven hills of Rome and pompously claims to rule the Christian church from its Vatican Papal throne as the so-called "Vicar of the Son of God". (VICARIVS FILII DEI = 666)
2.) The lamb-like Beast is the "False Prophet", the apostate Roman papacy that heals the deadly wound that Pagan Rome receives in the collapse of the Empire. Thus Pagan Rome lives on as Papal Rome due to the ability of the "False Prophet", the lamb-like Beast, to breathe life back into Imperial Rome and causes all the world to worship the Roman Beast again, but now as Papal Rome. Make no mistake, the religion of Pagan Rome is the same religion as Papal Rome. The religion and gods of Pagan Rome came from the ancient Babylonian worship of Nimrod and Semaramis. The lamb-like Beast of the apostate Roman papacy has erected an exact duplicate or image to the first Beast of Rev 13:1.
3.) Now to come to Rev 17 and the Seven-headed Beast with ten horns and the Woman who is sitting on the Beast. This woman is the "Woman with the Cup" as she was universally understood in John's day as being Venus the promiscuous goddess of "love" (fornication and prostitution through her temple prostitutes) and "wrath" who drank the blood of her enemies from her cup. More can be said of the proof of her identity from the literature of Roman mythology at another time, however the worship of this woman by Pagan Rome was taken into the apostasy of Papal Rome as the Virgin Mary cultus with her vestal virgins, the celibate nuns.
Every teaching and "Mystery" that Pagan Rome embraced re-appeared in Papal Rome but with "Christian" terminology. Thus the "Image to the Beast", Papal Rome, is actually a worship of the "Queen of Heaven"—Venus, Semaramis, Diana, or Isis and all the other gods of Rome in the form of the "canonized" Virgin Mary and the "Saints" who comprise the new Papal Roman pantheon of mini-gods to intercede for worshippers.
4.) The seven mountains or hills—Rome was universally recognized to have been built on the Seven Hills of Romulus. Rome is the city which rules over all the world (Rev 17:18)
5.) The seven heads symbolize the kings of Rome, the Caesars, who ruled Rome in John's day until the fall of the Empire. (these are the powers that were "restraining" the manifestation of the "Man of Sin" which Paul refers to in 2 Thes 2). The meaning of the apocalyptic phrase "five have fallen, one is, and the other is yet to come" is a symbolic way to tell the apostle John that the reign of the Caesars is about to end, but there are still a few more Caesars to come in the future before they are "taken out of the way" (2 Thes 2:7) and replaced by the "eighth head"—the False Prophet—Papal Rome.
6.) After the Caesars are taken out of the way, the "ten horns" or divisions which composed the Roman Empire was must reign and give their power to the "False Prophet", the Papacy—the "eighth" head. But eventually the people who have been made drunken by the "wine" of her false teachings will turn upon this "harlot", Papal Rome, and will withdraw their loyalty to her and help effect her physical fall at the end of the age. This spiritual fall is brought about by the "loud cry" of the Angel of Rev 18 which is the giving of the Gospel to all the world in the Judgment Hour setting, warning all to "come out of her my people". This restoration of the gospel message which was begun with the Protestant Reformation and which is being completed today will lighten the entire Earth with the brightness of its glory.
The final proclamation of the Gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ's imputed righteousness will effect the spiritual fall of Babylon by "drying up the River Euphrates". In the Judgment Hour all will be judged by the holy Law of God, but justified by faith alone in the imputed righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. This message will be finally given in the latter rain power of the Holy Spirit and the end of Babylon and the world will come.
Even so come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen