The Aftermath of Judgment
Revelation 19 correlates with koph, which is the 19th letter of the Hebrew alphabet that means “the back of the head, or what comes after.” In this case it is the aftermath of the judgment upon Babylon, the great harlot.
Chapter 19 starts out as a celestial praise and worship session for achieving victory, followed by the marriage scene. Rev. 19:1, 2 says,
1 After these things I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.”
The multitude in heaven are not identified as either men or angelic hosts. It does not matter, because the focus is upon the righteousness of divine judgment upon the great harlot, who is faulted for “corrupting the earth with her immorality” and for killing the prophets and saints. God is recognized as the Owner of all that He created, and this seems to be the purpose of His judgment. It is on account of the “true and righteous” nature of His judgments that “salvation and glory and power belong to our God.”
The great harlot of Babylon had established her power and glory upon injustice, immorality, and murder, while God allowed this to continue for a season. In terms of Daniel’s four beasts, that season was for “seven times,” or 2,520 years. But this also goes deeper, for the end of “seven times” from Nebuchadnezzar is also the end of six “days” of slavery to mortal flesh (i.e., 6,000 years). God’s original judgment upon Adam has enslaved the whole creation for six days.
The Laws of Sabbath and Slavery
The law in Exodus 21:2 says,
2 If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.
The presumption behind this law is that a man incurred a debt, often through sin, and that a judge had sentenced him to be sold in payment of that debt. Such slaves were to be set free after six years, according to the Sabbatical principle of resting every seventh day. Of course, if the man still owed more on his debt, he would be required to return to his slavery at the end of the seventh day. It was only at the Jubilee that any further debt was to be cancelled permanently, so that he could return to his property as a free man.
As we will see later, Revelation 20 speaks of a thousand-year Sabbath, where the entire earth is given rest from Babylonian oppression. However, then comes the Great White Throne judgment, at which time many will be judged and sentenced to be enslaved to the overcomers. This does not give the overcomers the right to abuse their slaves, of course. In fact, it will be a time when the overcomers will show their slaves (by example) the love of Christ, so that the slaves (former sinners) will learn the ways of God in a perfect environment.
This judgment of God, as we will explain later, is “the lake of fire,” or what Moses called “the fiery law” in Deut. 33:2 (KJV). It is not a torture chamber, but a condition of divine judgment according to the law of God. The law of God does not torture men unless they have tortured others. Instead, it sentences them to be “sold,” that is, to be placed under authority and to work to pay their debts.
God so sentenced man at the beginning (Gen. 3:17-19), and man’s enslavement to sin has continued for six “days” to the present time. The overthrow of Babylon was necessary because “they have refused to let them go” (Jer. 50:33) at the time specified by law. John’s revelation (as we will see) treats the millennium in Revelation 20 as a Sabbath for the whole earth, which is why I believe it is a literal time period.
Meanwhile, the multitude in heaven praise God for his righteous judgments upon the oppressor that has refused to respect the law of release in the Sabbath year. While there have been many lesser cases before the divine court during the past 6,000 years, the judgment against the great harlot had its roots in the original case against Adam.
The Smoke of Sacrifice
Revelation 19:3, 4 says,
3 And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever” [eis tous aionas ton aionon, “for the ages of the ages” (Diaglott)]. 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”
The smoke is seen rising prophetically from the destruction of Babylon. This is also a reference to the smoke seen rising from Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:28). It is also the same smoke seen rising from the destruction of Edom (Isaiah 34:10) and from gehenna, where Jerusalem is judged in unquenchable fire (Jer. 19:12; Isaiah 66:24).
Yet this smoke also serves another purpose when considered on the prophetic level seen in Revelation 19. Smoke was an important symbol in various sacrifices, and so we see how the judgment of God upon Babylon was also considered to be a great sacrifice. For example, Lev. 5:12 says,
12 And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it as its memorial portion and offer it up in smoke on the altar, with the offerings of the Lord by fire; it is a sin offering [khattaw].
The fact that the twenty-four elders and four living creatures worship God when they see the rising smoke can give our western minds the wrong impression. Are they really ecstatic about the death of the great harlot and the destruction of these cities? No, they rejoice because the sin has been dealt with, and the lawful order has been restored. This is the purpose of any sacrifice, such as the “sin offering” in the verse above.
Sin and Sin Offerings
The fire represents the law of God as it consumes the khattaw, “sin offering,” transforming it from substance to vapor that dissipates. The word khattaw literally means “sin,” but it also refers to a “sin offering,” because the offering represents the sin itself and is its substitute.
The word khattaw is referenced in Greek terms in 2 Cor. 5:21,
21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin [i.e., sin offering] on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Here we must understand Paul’s statement, not with a Greek mindset, but with Hebrew understanding. Jesus was sinless, but He became a sin offering (khattaw) on our behalf. Strictly speaking, He did not become “sin” for us, except insofar as the sin offering was identified with the sin of the one needing atonement or reconciliation.
Divine Judgment as a Sacrifice
The judgment of God may fall upon Jesus Christ on our behalf, paying the penalty for our sin; but those who do not have faith in His sacrifice are required to pay their own debt to the law. They are thus treated as a sacrifice in the attempt to pay the debt for their own sin. The problem with this, of course, is that it is an imperfect sacrifice that yet requires one greater to bring full reconciliation between the sinner and God. In that sense, it is similar to all animal sacrifices, which had to be repeated, because they were insufficient and therefore were only stop-gap measures.
So when the great harlot is judged, and her smoke rises, it is like an Old Covenant sin offering, which provides a temporary measure of debt-relief until the full reconciliation can take place later. Another way of putting it is in the distinction between atonement and reconciliation. Atonement “covers” sin; reconciliation “removes” sin altogether. Atonement gives an appearance of perfection or cleanliness. All animal sacrifices merely atoned, or covered, sin, giving us a legal perfection, but not actual perfection. Only the blood of the perfect Lamb of God could bring full and permanent reconciliation to mankind.
Isaiah 34:6 speaks of Edom’s destruction, saying, “The Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom.” In other words, the destruction of Edom and Bozrah, its capital city, was pictured in terms of God’s “sacrifice.”
Likewise, Ezekiel 39:17 says the same of Gog and Magog: “Assemble and come, gather from every side to My sacrifice, which I am going to sacrifice for you, as a great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel, that you may eat flesh and drink blood.”
This is the verse referenced toward the end of Revelation 19 as well, where it is called “the great supper of God” (Rev. 19:17). Ezekiel tells us that it is a divine Sacrifice, which, in the law, was to be eaten. Lev. 6:26 says,
26 The priest who offers it for sin [khattaw, “sin” or “sin offering”] shall eat it. It shall be eaten in a holy place, in the court of the tent of meeting.
The great multitude shout “Hallelujah!” It is not that they rejoice over the destruction, but that God has considered this to be a sacrifice. This satisfied the law, which says that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Like all Old Covenant sacrifices, it deals with the sin problem, though incompletely, awaiting the Great White Throne judgment, when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord and Savior (Phil. 2:10, 11).
As always we must view the law as corrective in nature, rather than in destructive terms. The destruction is temporary, along with death itself, for all things end with creation itself entering into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).
So Rev. 19:4 pictures the four living creatures, representing the creation itself, shouting “Amen! Hallelujah!” to the great sacrifice of God, knowing that the divine plan is perfect and will result in the reconciliation of all things.