Opposition Characters in Revelation
As discussed previously,
in order to understand the Revelation, we must have
a correct understanding of what the symbolic terms
meant to the first readers. In addition to
this, we must also have a clear understanding of who
the opposition characters are. It is obvious
from an overall view of the book that the forces of
evil will be destroyed and the forces of good will
be victorious. There is a conflict between the
forces of evil and of good. A correct
understanding of the Revelation depends on a correct
identification of precisely who the opposition
We are going to
determine who the opposition characters are by
examining the internal evidence within scripture and
then matching these characteristics up with the most
probable historical figures based on what we know of
Identifying the Good
We already know that
the Good Guys of Revelation are the Christians.
However, just for the sake of proper scholarship, we
are going to examine some of the internal evidence
in the Revelation that positively identifies this
written by the inspired apostle John, (Revelation
1:4), to Christians in the "seven churches of
Asia". In Revelation 1:6 John wrote: "And
hath made us kings and priests unto God and his
Father". Of significance is John's
usage of the word "us", taken from the Greek word "hemas"
pronounced (hay-mas'), which is a plural form of
primary pronoun of the first person. It could
also mean "we" or "our". John has therefore
identified himself as being in association with the
recipients of his revelation. Peter wrote that
Christians are "an holy priesthood" (1
Peter 2:5). Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:12 that
"we shall also reign with him" To the
Romans, Paul wrote, "they which receive
abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness
shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ"
(Romans 5:17). The kings and priests that John
is associating himself with are Christians who are
priests and who reign in life by Jesus Christ.
John further goes on in the same context to say,
"I John, who also am your brother, and companion in
tribulation, and in the kingdom"
(Revelation 1:9), "of Jesus Christ".
So we know from the first 9 verses of Revelation
that Christians are made [past tense] kings and
priests unto God in the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
We know this to be the spiritual kingdom that Jesus
spoke of to Pilate before His crucifixion.
"Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I
born, and for this cause came I into the world"
(John 18:37). Jesus also said in same context,
"My kingdom is not of this world" (John
So, John who is the
companion of the first readers of his letter, who
were all made kings and priests and were presently
in the kingdom of God, who were also suffering
together in the tribulation and persecution of the
day are the good guys of Revelation. In
scripture they were called "saints"
(Revelation 11:18), those who "overcome"
(Revelation 21:7), Those "that keep the
commandments of God" (Revelation 14:12),
"and the faith of Jesus Christ"
(Revelation 14:12). In scripture these same
people were known as "Christians"
(Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). They were
Christians then and today those who are in the
kingdom of God, who keep the commandments of God and
the faith of Jesus Christ and reign as priests and
kings in His spiritual kingdom and persevere until
the end, are also called Christians.
The application for
us today is that present day Christians, just like
the first century Christians must, to the degree
necessary, do the things they did, endure the things
they endured, suffer the things they suffered even
at the cost of their lives. The book of
Revelation is nothing short of a description of how
the Christian must live and die in the face of all
opposition. If the saints of the first century
had to faithfully endure the persecutions of the
day, then we can be assured that Christians today
must do the same.
"He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed
in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name
out of the book of life, but I will confess his name
before my Father, and before his angels."
Identifying the Bad
We know that the book
of Revelation is written to help the saints overcome
the forces of evil. This much is evident
throughout the book. The Christians must
endure, must remain faithful, must persevere, but
against whom? Who are the forces of evil which
are seeking to overthrow the Christians? We
know before we even begin that satan is at the heart
of the opposition. He is who seeks to do harm
to the children of God. One may ask why satan
wishes to harm those who are faithful to God?
Satan knows his fate. He is going to spend
eternity in Hell and he knows there is nothing that
can save him. Satan is powerless to hurt God
directly. He tried this and it failed
miserably. Satan thought he had won when Jesus
Christ was put to death. He could not have
been more mistaken and it was proven to him when God
raised Jesus from the dead, never to die again.
So then how does one
hurt someone they cannot reach and defeat directly?
By attacking those they love. God so loved the
world [mankind] that he sent his only begotten Son
to earth to die so that whosever believeth in Him
would no perish, but have everlasting life (John
3:16). God died for us, He did not die for
Satan. Satan knows how much God loves mankind
so since he cannot destroy God, he will try and
destroy those who God loves the most. You want
to hurt someone? There is no better way than to go
after the ones they love the most; their children.
Satan knows he is lost and that his fate is sealed.
He also knows he only has just so long in order to
wreak vengeance on mankind, (Revelation 12:12).
Revelation teaches us
how to overcome satan. It describes in detail
the horrors of defeat and the joys of victory.
We are locked in the age old battle between evil and
good. God has given us what we must know in
order to defeat satan. It is up to us to
choose to overcome and we must do this even at the
cost of our lives or the lives of our loved ones.
It is not necessary
to understand every minute detail of the Revelation
in order to understand that it represents the battle
between evil and good. As long as we realize
who the ultimate enemy is and do what we must do to
overcome his evil influence and persevere to the
end, then we know all we really need to know in
order to make the proper application of this book to
our lives today.
So with that said, we
are going to positively identify satan as the chief
bad guy in this study and then we will try and
identify the evil agents serving under him and his
authority, trying to bring about his goals, which
are all aimed at utterly destroying Christianity
from the face of the earth.
In the individual
messages to the seven churches, satan is mentioned
four times, (Revelation 2:9;13;24;3:9). So we
quickly see in the Revelation that satan is the
principle adversary of the Christians. Later
in the book, he is represented as a "great red
dragon" (Revelation 12:3), the "old
serpent" (Revelation 20:2), the
"devil" (Revelation 12:9), he "that
deceived" (Revelation 20:10),
"accused" the saints before God
(Revelation 12:10), has
"great wrath" (Revelation 12:12), was
"worshipped", (Revelation 13:4),
"gave power" and "authority"
to his servants (Revelation 13:2;4), and wages war
with those who "keep the commandments of God
and have the testimony of Jesus Christ"
(Revelation 12:17). It is easy to
determine from internal evidence that Satan is the
head of all the forces of evil mentioned within the
In Scripture other
than Revelation we see similar characteristics of
Satan. It was the "serpent" that
deceived Eve in the garden. John identifies
"the devil" (John 8:44). The
"tempter" that came to Jesus was called
"the devil" and then called by the name
of "Satan" when rebuked by Christ
(Matthew 4:3-10). Satan had been given the
authority over the nations of earth to give their
"power" to whoever he wanted (Luke 4:6),
and offered it to Jesus if He would "fall down
and worship" him (Matthew 4:9). We see
a picture of Satan accusing or resisting Joshua
before the Lord in Zechariah 3:1-2. So we
learn long before the writing of the Revelation that
Satan's characteristics identify him as a mortal
enemy of any who would be faithful to God and
devoted to their destruction. The Revelation
illustrates Satan's characteristics in such a way
that any reader with an elementary knowledge of
scripture would undoubtedly know who he is. In
addition, John's illustrations of Satan reinforce
the thought of just how intense Satan's hatred is
and to what lengths he is willing to go to achieve
his goals. The student of Revelation needs to
pause and give thoughtful consideration to just how
horrible an enemy we are up against and the
ramifications for falling under his influence.
Revelation is a grim biography of the horrific
nature of Satan and an illustration of the perils
that await those who would choose to serve him.
Having learned that
it is Satan who has the authority to give power to
do evil to whatever nation he chooses, (Luke 4:6,
Revelation 13:2;4), we will look at those who were
given the power to be the adversaries of the
Christians in the first century as described in the
Revelation. What are their characteristics and
how do they match up with actual historical figures?
The persecutors of
There were two major
groups of people known for severe persecution of the
saints in the first century, the Jews and the Roman
Empire. Our purpose here is to determine which
group of oppressors are in view in the Revelation.
displayed their disbelief and hatred of the gospel
in the crucifixion of Christ, the stoning of
Stephen, the execution of James the Elder, the
repeated incarceration as of Peter and John, the
wild rage against Paul, and the murder of James. As
prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24, the fearful
judgment of God at last resulted in the destruction
of Jerusalem and the temple.
But this event only broke national power of the
Jews, not their hatred of Christianity. They caused
the death of Symeon, bishop of Jerusalem (A.D. 107);
they were particularly active in the burning of
Polycarp of Smyrna; and they inflamed the violence
of the Gentiles by eliminating the sect of the
persecution of Christianity continued until about
132-135 AD when a false messiah who called himself
Bar-Cochba (son of the stars, Numbers 24:17), placed
himself at the head of a huge Jewish revolt against
the Roman Empire. He caused all the Christians
who would not join him in his revolt to be cruelly
murdered. This resulted in yet another
crushing defeat by the Romans in 135 AD.
More than half a million Jews were slaughtered in
the war, immense numbers sold into slavery, 985
villages and 50 fortresses leveled to the ground,
nearly all Palestine laid waste, Jerusalem again
destroyed, and a Roman colony, Aelia Capitolina,
erected on its ruins, with an image of Jupiter and a
temple of Venus. After this the Jews had no
opportunity for any further large scale organized
persecution of the Christians, but they continued to
publish and circulate negative propaganda for
Later in this study
we will see that the evil entities described in
Revelation forced the people to worship idols of a
false God. It was against Jewish law to make
an idol of God and worship it under any
circumstances, therefore the principle forces
warring against Christianity can not be Jewish in
Moreover, it is
exceedingly significant that the Revelation was
addressed to seven churches, none of which were in
Jerusalem. If the Revelation were a letter of
triumph and perseverance over the Jews, then it
stands to reason the letter would have been
addressed to the church in Jerusalem instead of to
congregations far removed. It is obvious from
the addressees of the letter that the scope of the
persecution was considerably more widespread than
just one city or nation. The oppression of the
Christians in the Revelation was on a world wide
scale and the Jews were incapable of the level of
persecution described therein.
The Roman Empire:
The Roman empire was a melting pot of hundreds of
religions. These religions came into the
empire as a result of the introduction of the
religions of conquered nations into their society.
The empire was somewhat tolerant of these religions
and permitted them to exist in their society so long
as they did not pose a threat. Everything was fine
as long as all the religions tolerated the presence
of each other and everybody paid their taxes and
there was harmony. Christianity was not
tolerant of all these other religions and sought to
make converts of all other nations and peoples,
thereby attracting far greater numbers than the
Jews. Spreading rapidly, Christianity gained
the attention of the Roman State. With
Christianity's claim to be worshipping the one and
only true God with the one and only true faith and
utterly rejecting any form of idolatry, it quickly
grew to pose a threat to the existence of the Roman
Christians refused to
pay divine honors to the emperor and his statue, and
to take part in any idolatrous ceremonies at public
festivals. Their separation from politics and
all civil affairs in favor of the spiritual and
eternal interests of man and their close brotherly
union and frequent meetings further inflamed the
populace against them. The non-Christian
public considered believers in the one God as
atheists and enemies of their many Gods. There
began to circulate all kinds of rumors of horrible
abominations, even incest, cannibalism and
conspiracy against the state, practiced by the
Christians at their frequent religious assemblies
and love feasts. The general populace regarded
the frequent natural and political calamities of
that age as punishment inflicted by the many angry
gods for their tolerance of the Christian religion.
In North Africa arose the proverb: "If God does not
send rain, lay it to the Christians." At every
flood, or drought, or famine, or pestilence, the
fanatical populace cried: "Away with the atheists!
To the lions with the Christians!"
The overall negative
response from unbelievers to Christianity combined
with the Christians flat refusal to worship the
emperor or his statues resulted in accusations of
conspiracy against the Roman Emperors which was an
unpardonable crime. Thus, Christianity was
outlawed in the Roman Empire and the stage was set
for the most horrendous persecution of all time
against God's people. The Jewish people hated
the Christians and frequently reported them to the
authorities. The general population, full of
all kinds of false rumors, likewise distrusted and
exposed Christians to the authorities. They
were rounded up and punished as treasonous enemies
of the state. Killed, tortured, sold as
slaves, used in the games, horribly mistreated and
distrusted, Christians were faced with an almost
insurmountable obstacle to their belief and worship
of the one true and living God.
So with this said, we
will now examine the key characteristics of the
opposition characters to the Christians as described
in the Revelation and try to match them up with the
best historical group of oppressors from that age.
The opposition characters as described are
represented by three major illustrations. The
beast arising from the sea (Revelation 13:1), the
lesser beast arising from the earth (Revelation
13:11) and the scarlet woman (Revelation 17).
One of the things
that positively identifies the forces of evil is the
fact that they tried to force people to worship the
image of the sea beast. The beast was
undoubtedly a malignant force hostile to the
Christians and demanded the worship of all the
people. Revelation 13:15 teaches us that "as
many as would not worship the image of the beast
should be killed." An "image" to the first
century Christians simply meant a statue or a
likeness of someone or something. There were
two beasts mentioned in Revelation. The beast
from the sea (Revelation 13:1), and the beast from
the earth (Revelation 13:11). The sea beast
got his authority directly from the dragon
(Revelation 13:2), which was Satan. The earth
beast "exercised" or operated under the authority of
the sea beast and required the people of the earth
to worship the images of the sea beast (Revelation
13:12). This is forced worship of an evil
entity which was characterized by the building of
physical idols for the people to bow down to.
"And the woman which thou sawest is that great city,
which reigneth over the kings of the earth."
The women in view
here is the one referred to in Revelation 17:5 as
"MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF THE
HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH".
In this study, she is referred to as the "Scarlet
Woman" in the commentary for chapter 17.
There is considerable disagreement over whether this
woman is representative of Rome or of Jerusalem.
It is the position of this Bible student that she
represents the city of Rome.
She is depicted as
one who is riding on the seven headed, ten horned
beast in Revelation 17. Much can be said here
about chapter 17. This chapter of the
Revelation goes to great lengths to identify the
forces of evil against the Christians.
Starting in verse 7 of chapter 17 the angel speaking
in John's vision gives an explanation of the vision
to him. "The seven heads are seven mountains
on which the woman sitteth" This is a very
significant clue to the identity of the evil forces.
The Roman Empire was built on the seven hills of
Rome. They had a yearly celebration called the
Septimontium which commemorated the enclosure of the
seven hills of Rome within the walls of the city.
It was common custom
in the centuries before Christ for people in the
Roman world to refer to the City of Rome itself as
the "City of Seven Hills." The references are
numerous and consistent. And indeed, when Romulus
and Remus wanted to build a city in the area of the
Tibur River (just inland from the coast to afford a
greater protection for the city from sea pirates or
from the naval warfare of hostile powers), it was
decided that the city had to be on "seven hills."
The number "seven" was a universal symbol that
signified 'completion' or 'perfection', and the
founders of Rome wanted people to know that this
city was destined to have a world influence and
fame, and that it was no ordinary city that was
being constructed in the 8th century BC.
The seven hills were:
- Aventine Hill
- Caelian Hill
- Capitoline Hill
- Esquiline Hill
- Palatine Hill
- Quirinal Hill
- Viminal Hill
The fact that Rome
was designated "The Seven Hilled City" was
significant enough to render it as a suitable
candidate for being the city represented by the
mother of harlots but it does not automatically mean
this is who it represents. The City of
Jerusalem as it existed in the time of Christ Jesus
was also known as a "City of Seven Hills." This fact
was well recognized in Jewish circles. In the Pirke
de-Rabbi Eliezer, an 8th century midrashic narrative
(section 10), the writer mentioned that "Jerusalem
is situated on seven hills" (recorded in The Book of
Legends, edited by Bialik and Ravnitzky, p. 371,
paragraph 111). And, so it was. Those "seven hills"
are easy to identify.
starts with the Mount of
Olives just to the east of the main City of
Jerusalem there are three summits to that Mount of
- The northern
summit (hill) is called Scopus.
- The middle
summit (hill) was called Nob.
- The highest
point of Olivet itself, and the southern summit
was called in the Holy Scriptures the "Mount of
Corruption" or "Mount of Offence", mentioned in
II Kings 23:13.
the middle ridge between the Kedron and the
Tyropoeon Valleys there was (formerly) in the
south "Mount Zion".
the north of that the "Rock" around which "Fort
Antonia" was built.
finally, there was the southwest hill itself
that finally became known in the time of
Simon the Hasmonean
as the new "Mount Zion."
Both Rome and
Jerusalem were known as cities of seven hills so to
identify the 'mother of harlots' we must look
In Revelation 17:4 we
see that this woman is incredibly wealthy.
Both Rome and Jerusalem fit this description,
however in this verse we see something that points
to Rome more so than Jerusalem, "having in her
hand a golden cup full of abominations, even the
unclean things of her fornication" Her
wealth was a result of ill gotten fortune and
associated with spiritual fornication which we know
is idolatry. The mother of harlots was herself
guilty of idolatry. Judah as a nation was not
given over to idolatry. They had
rejected Jesus as the Messiah and were clinging to
the law of Moses instead of the faith of Jesus
Christ. They were worshipping under an
abolished system of faith, but they were worshipping
the one true and living God.
The name on her
forehead "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER
OF THE HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH"
is also a clue.
Babylon, the mother of harlots is a reference back
to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon who erected a
giant golden statue of himself and forced his people
to bow down and worship it, thus committing
spiritual fornication in the form of idolatry.
With this practice, Babylon spawned, fostered and
engendered spiritual harlotry and the abominations
of the earth. With Nebuchadnezzar's forced
king worship, he literally spawned spiritual
harlotry in the form of idolatry. The Roman
Empire, with the enforcement of the Imperial Cult
did the exact same thing. The Imperial Cult
was charged with the task of promoting the worship
of the emperors as gods. This connection
between Rome and ancient Babylon is too significant
Revelation 17:12 says
"the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings,
which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive
power as kings one hour with the beast."
The Roman Empire was a provincial government.
They conquered a nation, added it to the empire and
appointed a king over the province. They could
be appointed or replaced directly by the emperor.
Interestingly, it was required in the Roman Empire
for them to have at least ten imperial provinces.
The woman sitting on
the beast in Revelation was called a great city.
And this great city ruled over the kings of the
earth. Jerusalem was a large city but not in
any way comparable in size to Rome, moreover, the
rulers of Judah did not rule over the kings of the
earth by any means, rather, they were subject to the
Roman Empire themselves. This is yet another
characteristic of the great harlot which points to
Rome but cannot be reconciled with Jerusalem.
And finally, in
Revelation 18:17-19, we read, "for in an hour so
great riches is made desolate. And every shipmaster,
and every one that saileth any wither, and mariners,
and as many as gain their living by sea, stood afar
off, and cried out as they looked upon the smoke of
her burning, saying, What (city) is like the great
city? And they cast dust on their heads, and cried,
weeping and mourning, saying, Woe, woe, the great
city, wherein all that had their ships in the sea
were made rich by reason of her costliness! for in
one hour is she made desolate".
The great city which
reigned over the kings of the earth was a maritime
city. It had sea ports and ships which is
something Jerusalem never had. The closest sea
port to Jerusalem was Joppa, which was forty miles
Given the evidence
from scripture, there is no city in the first
century that matches these characteristics better
than the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire
required all people living under their rule to
worship the emperors. They also persecuted
those who refused to do so and often executed them.
The Roman empire also had a government sanctioned
organization that was responsible for enforcing
emperor worship among other things. This
organization was called the "Concilia" or sometimes
the "Commune". They went throughout the empire
and constructed temples and set up statues of the
emperors and forced the people to worship these
statues. Those who bowed down to worship were
given a certificate which enabled them to buy, sell
and participate in government programs. They
had great authority from the Empire and worked to
promote its interests throughout. This
hierarchical structure within the Roman Empire fits
the description given in John's Revelation so
closely that there can be no reasonable doubt that
the opposition forces against whom the Christians
were required to resist was the Imperial Roman
Empire herself with Satan operating in the
So, having examined
the meaning of the figurative language to the first
readers of the Revelation and having established who
the opposition characters are, we are now ready to
begin a study of the visions of Revelation.
Keeping in mind that the basic template for
unraveling the mysteries of these visions are:
1) The visions
are symbolized to protect the innocent.
2) The first readers of the Revelation would
be able to understand it.
3) What the Revelation meant to them, is what
it must mean to us today.
The basic message of
the Revelation is that those who overcome and remain
faithful until death will be victorious over the
forces of evil and will receive the crown of life.
The application for us today is that Christians in
the 21st century are the same as Christians in the
first century. The requirements for
faithfulness today are the same as in the first
century A.D. Nothing has changed, there is no
difference. If the first century Christians
had to be willing to die for their faith, we must
likewise do so today if necessary.
If we today want to
be assured of being faithful Christians, we must
pattern our lives after the only approved examples
we have of the original Christians at the beginning.
Using only the Bible, living like the first century
Christians lived, believing what they believed,
teaching what they taught, doing what they did and,
if necessary, die like they were required to die, we
will be confident of being today just what they were