APPENDIX #5: THE SELF-DESTRUCTIVE NATURE OF EVIL
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
Note: This appendix is for deep thinkers only.
An interesting perspective is introduced in 17:15-17: that evil has an inner dynamic of destruction built into it by God, and God uses this inner dynamic to achieve his purpose.
We see this in biblical history. For example:
God deliberately used the evil of Egypt to bring about Egypt’s destruction.
God deliberately used the aggression of Assyria to destroy the idolatrous northern kingdom of Israel.
God deliberately used the aggression of Babylon to destroy idolatrous Jerusalem.
He used the destructive aggression of Assyria and Babylon to implement his temporal judgment upon his idolatrous nation, without in any way validating or justifying that aggression. They were still accountable to him for their sin.
The fact that evil is not outside of God’s control is an extremely re-assuring truth.
But this inner dynamic of destruction goes even deeper; it is embedded in the world by God’s original decree: ‘On the day you eat of it you will surely die’ [Genesis 2:17]. Sin kills. Evil destroys. This principle holds true right up to today: rebellion against God brings destruction. It cannot be otherwise.
Let us look at ‘the big picture’ of human evil as a triptych – a three part picture:
The middle panel – the real thing: God created us for himself; we, in Adam and Eve, were deceived by and followed Satan, rebelling against God.
Left side panel – a real life dramatic demonstration of the real thing: This human rejection of God is depicted by Israel, the nation God created for himself. But just as the whole human race forsook God, so Israel forsook God and pursued idols. The history of Israel sums up [recapitulates] the story of the whole human race.
Right side panel – a symbolic representation of the real thing: The ‘woman’ - ‘Babylon’ the ‘great prostitute’ – represents the same human rebellion against God – humans prostituting themselves to Satan and his deceptions instead of aligning with God.
We know what happened to Adam and Eve [and through them the whole human race] – destruction.
We know what happened to Israel – destruction.
We also know the unavoidable outcome for the ‘Babylon’ of Revelation – it can only be destruction.
Wherever evil is chosen instead of God destruction is the only final outcome. And of necessity it cannot be otherwise. And while it exists – in this interim between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21 - evil must be limited. Hence the inner dynamic of destruction embedded by the wisdom and the grace of God. The creation was so structured that once sin entered destruction also entered.
But it goes even deeper than this. This dynamic of destruction is not there simply by God’s wisdom and grace. It is there because of the very nature of God. To forsake God is to choose evil. To forsake the Source and Giver of life is to choose death. To forsake the Light of the world is to choose darkness. In turning our backs to God, in rejecting God, we choose darkness, disintegration and death instead of light, life and wholeness. Severance from God automatically results in severance from life and wholeness. It is only by his gift, his grace, that the human race in any way survives its Genesis 3 rebellion and the brokenness that ensued.
In our arrogance we seek survival in human unity, whether it is political unity, religious or philosophical unity, or economic unity [note the tower of Babel in Genesis 11, and various human attempts ever since]. All such efforts to preserve and defend ourselves are ultimately in vain, because we are all painted with the same brush as Satan, the one who has deceived us. Like him we are intoxicated with our own importance. Satan tolerates no rivals. The ‘prostitute’ of Revelation 17 and 18 tolerates no rivals – she sits ‘as a queen’. We in our arrogance and self-esteem tolerate no rivals. So we bite and devour and destroy each other. But God will not let us go unchecked. God does not allow evil such a free rein, and uses evil to destroy evil.
We learn in 17:12-17 that the ‘beast’ - the very one who carried the ‘woman’, and the ‘kings of the earth’ who have ‘committed adultery with her’, ‘hate the prostitute’. We read that the ‘ten kings’ in their united purpose against the Lamb, give their authority ‘to the beast’ [verse 13]. But the beast and the kings also use this ‘authority’ against the prostitute. Together the beast and the kings bring the prostitute to ruin, leave her naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire [verse 16].
This is very graphic symbolism, if we let our minds imagine a human prostitute subjected to such disrespect and vicious physical attack by her handler and her clients.
The beast utterly despises the prostitute. He who lifted her up, he who carried her and generated her fame, does not care for her at all. She is merely a tool used in his arrogant opposition to the Lamb.
‘Babylon’ does not rule the beast, it is ‘the beast’ who rules her. Satan has deceived the world – human beings - into thinking themselves all-important and invincible. Satan, symbolised by this ‘beast’ which combines elements of the dragon and the two beasts of Chapters 12 and 13, rules in the hearts of men, and in the hearts of the leaders of men, with their permission and agreement.
He is ‘the prince of this world’ [John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11].
He is ‘the god of this age’ [2Corinthians 4:4].
He is ‘the ruler of the kingdom of the air’ [Ephesians 2:2].
He is ‘the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient’ [Ephesians 2:2].
The human illusion of independence, the human illusion of authority, is the product of Satan’s deceptions.
But beyond this jealousy within the ranks of evil that causes it to self-destruct is the purpose of God - ‘God has put it into the hearts of the ten ‘kings’ to accomplish his purpose’. Just as God used the unbelief of Judas, the fear and hatred of the Jews and the weakness of Pilate to accomplish his eternal purpose in the death of his Son, so God here, unknown to the evil, uses evil to destroy evil. Under God’s sovereign hand evil brings about its own demise. So great is his sovereign control.
And down through human history we can observe the rise and fall of nations … nations such as Babylon and Rome, brought down by other equally arrogant nations. The ‘prostitute’ rises and falls again and again at the hands of those who were intoxicated by her allurements. God ‘has put it into their hearts’ to accomplish his purpose. Evil and arrogant nations and their leaders are inevitably brought down. God does not permit evil to reign unchecked during this interim in which it exists.
In this book of Revelation, given by God to the Church that exists in this interim of suffering, in which ‘patient endurance’ is called for, this perspective is meant to encourage the redeemed with the assurance of God’s sovereign control and purpose:
The destruction that falls on all the ‘Babylons’ of the world accomplishes God’s purpose.
This apparent ‘rule’ of Satan is only ‘until God’s words are fulfilled’ [verse 17].
This inner dynamic of destruction has no place in the new heavens and the new earth. The evil one, who like the ‘thief’ in Jesus’ analogy, ‘comes only to steal and kill and destroy’ [John 10:9], will be no more. Evil will be no more. God uses it to bring about its own temporary destructions, until that time when the Lamb destroys it by the power of his presence and the power of his word.