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Seven bowls, the strengthening of the godless powers, and the judgment of the sinners


(Chs. 15-17)

In this part of the Apocalypse, the Seer describes the kingdom of the beast, who has reached the apogee of his power and his control over the lives of mankind. Abandonment of the true faith spreads throughout almost all of mankind, and the Church drops to the edge of exhaustion: "it was granted to him to do battle with the saints and to be victorious over them" (Rev. 13:7). In order to encourage the believers who remained faithful to Christ, St. John directs their vision toward the heavenly world and shows them the great multitude of the Righteous Ones, who, like the Israelites who were saved from Pharaoh during the time of Moses, sing the song of victory (Exodus chs. 14-15).

However, just as Pharaoh's rule came to an end, so the days of the antichrist's rule will be terminated. The following chapters (16-20) paint God's judgment against the godless with brilliant strokes. The destruction of nature in the sixteenth chapter is similar to the description in the eighth chapter; however, here it reaches global proportions and makes a horrifying impression. Evidently, as before, the destruction of nature is brought about by mankind itself through wars and industrial waste. Increased suffering may be linked to the destruction of the ozone layer in the stratosphere and to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. According to the prophecy of the Savior, during the last year before the end of the world, conditions for life will be so unbearable that "if God had not shortened those days, no flesh would have been saved" (Matt. 24:22).

The description of the judgment and the punishment in chapters 16-20 of the Apocalypse follows the pattern of successively increasing guilt of God's enemies. The first to be subjected to punishment are those guilty people who had accepted the mark of the beast and the capital city of the antichristian empire ("Babylon"), then the antichrist and the false prophet, and finally the devil himself.

The narrative regarding the fall of Babylon is given twice: at first in general terms at the end of the sixteenth chapter, and then in more detail in chapters 18-19. Babylon is depicted as a harlot sitting on the beast. The name Babylon brings to mind the Chaldean Babylon, in which godless power was concentrated in ancient times. (It was the Chaldean forces that destroyed the ancient city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.) In describing the lavish extravagance of the "harlot," St. John imagined rich Rome with its harbor city. However, many traits attributed to Apocalyptic Babylon are not applicable to ancient Rome and evidently refer to the capital of the antichrist.

The angel's detailed explanation at the end of the seventeenth chapter regarding the "secret of Babylon" that concerned the antichrist and his kingdom is equally enigmatic. Probably these details will be understood in the future when the proper time comes. Some of the metaphorical expressions are taken from the description of Rome as standing on seven hills and of its godless emperors. "Five kings (heads of the beast) fell" refers to the first five Roman emperors, from Julius Caesar to Claudius. The sixth head is Nero and the seventh is Vespasian. "And the beast which was and which is not now, is the eighth, and (he is) from the number of seven" speaks of Domitian, the resurrected Nero in people's minds. He is the antichrist of the first century. However, the symbolism in the seventeenth chapter will likely have a new explanation at the time of the last antichrist.

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