Last week we spent our time studying the seven bowl judgments of Revelation 16. In Revelation 16:17, we read about the seventh and final angel of the judgments.
17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” (Revelation 16:17 NIV)
I hope that none of us thought that with the pouring out of the seventh bowl the judgment was concluded at the end of chapter 16 because Revelation 17-18 is a continuation of the seventh bowl judgment. Let’s take a look at Revelation 17 this morning and see what we can learn.
1One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. 2With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” 3 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. 5This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 6I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. 7Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. 8The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come. 9“This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction. 12 “The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. 13They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. 14They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings– and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” 15Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. 16The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled. 18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 17:1-18 NIV)
This is a very difficult section of Revelation to understand. S. Lewis Johnson tells the story about when he preached on this section of Revelation. He said a man came up to him and said, “Well I must say that it really takes a lot of understanding to understand this section of Revelation.” Dr. Johnson said,
He would have sympathized with the great Apostle who said, ‘When I saw her I wondered greatly.’ So if you have the experience of not understanding everything that you find in this book then you have a great company of people who are sympathetic with you. Martin Luther himself said that so far as he was concerned he found this a very difficult book. Ulrich Zwingli, another of the great reformers, said that the Apocalypse is not a book of the Bible.
As great of a Bible teacher as Zwingli was, I don’t agree with him. The book of Revelation is such an important book of God’s Word that it commands our time, prayer, and attention. Revelation is the only book of the Bible that promises a blessing for those who read it, hear it, and take to heart what is written in it. Revelation 1:3 says,
3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3 NIV)
Over and over again we have learned during our study of Revelation about the sovereignty of Almighty God. Everything, absolutely everything that takes place in history is under His sovereign control. God’s will is being done. God’s perfect plan for history is unfolding before our very eyes my friends.
When we come to Revelation 17 we see once again how God is in control. We see this from Revelation 17:17 where we learn that God’s purpose is being accomplished through the power given to the beast. Read along with me.
17For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled. (Revelation 17:17 NIV)
Let’s back up and try to understand what comes before the announcement that the beast has his power only because of God’s purpose. In Revelation 17:1-6 we read about the punishment of the great “prostitute, who sits on many waters.” We learn that the kings of the earth, as well as the inhabitants of the earth, “committed adultery” with her. John is then carried away into the desert by the Spirit of God where he sees a woman sitting on a scarlet beast covered with blasphemous names with seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet and draped in precious jewels. She was holding a golden cup in her hand and it was filled with “abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.” She had a name written on her forehead, “Mystery Babylon the great mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.” The woman, evidently was a persecutor of the people of God, because she was drunk, not on wine, but on the blood of the saints.
At the end of verse 6 John is “astonished.” He’s astonished because he was told that he was going to see the punishment of the great prostitute, but instead of seeing her punishment he saw her lavished in the finest of clothing and jewels and in seemingly command. In Revelation 17:7-18 John is given the interpretation of the vision that he had while he was taken to the desert.
The woman is sitting on top of the beast. This is not the first time that we’ve run into the beast in Revelation. In Revelation 11:7 we were first introduced to the beast. Then, in Revelation 13, we were given much more detail about the beast. For the sake of time let me simply say that many believe the beast of Revelation 13 to be satanic power working through the Roman government that was persecuting the Christians of John’s day.
Now, in Revelation 17, we see the beast once again and this time the prostitute is riding on his back. The woman is identified by the angel as “Mystery Babylon, the great mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.” Even though the angel interprets for John who the prostitute is, there are many, many different ideas about what the phrase, “Mystery Babylon” means. Bible teachers throughout the ages have made their guess. Some have said that the prostitute is the Roman Catholic Church. Those who hold to this opinion are mainly historicists and futurists, but this view is not nearly as popular today as it was in times past. There are others, like John MacArthur, who believe that the woman represents false religion of every kind. MacArthur writes,
Because false religion is so much a part of this fallen world, it is no surprise that it will play a major role in the end times. During the Tribulation, all the world’s diverse false religions will be reunited into one great world religion. That ultimate expression of false religion will be an essential element of Antichrist’s final world empire, in holding together his military, economic, and political structure. Only religion can unite the world in the most compelling way. Politics, economics, even military force are unable to overcome the world’s cultural diversity. Only religion, with its appeal to the supernatural, can transcend the physical, geographical, historical, economic, and cultural barriers to world unity. Chapter 17 reveals the spiritual nature of Antichrist’s kingdom; chapter 18 follows with its material aspects. God will destroy both aspects of Antichrist’s kingdom. During the Tribulation, people will desperately seek religion because of what will be happening in the world. As the hammer blows of God’s judgment (the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments) devastate the earth and terrorize its inhabitants, people will turn in desperation to Antichrist as their savior. Aided by the false prophet and hordes of deceiving demons, Antichrist will establish a worldwide religion, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (John MacArthur, Revelation 12-21)
There is no doubt that false religion has led many people astray. There are so many quasi-Christian groups, cults, and religions who deny that Jesus is God’s one and only Son, the One who came and died for our sins so that we might be forgiven and restored to fellowship with God. These groups lead many astray, but I don’t believe that this is what we are dealing with in Revelation 17.
In the Spirit of The Reformation Study Bible there is another viewpoint expressed which I believe best describes what’s taking place in Revelation 17. This viewpoint states,
Babylon the prostitute appears, representing the seductions of the world (17:4; 18:3). Her corruption is contrasted with the purity of the bride of the Lamb (19:7-9). Babylon stands for the city of Rome with its immorality. For the seven churches of Revelation, Rome was the source of all manner of idolatry—not only the worship of the Roman emperor, but also the structures of an idolatrous society. The paganism of the cities of Asia Minor made each into a small manifestation of Rome. Full economic and social participation (13:17) involved attendance at idol feasts and pagan religious celebrations. Worship of the emperor was an expected expression of political allegiance. Pagans called Christians ‘athiests’ because Christians did not worship the many gods, and they accused believers of hating humankind because Christians withdrew from compromised forms of social life (1 Peter 2:12; 4:3-4). (Spirit of The Reformation Study Bible, pg. 2074)
The seduction of the State, of a godless government, to lure its citizens in and away from serving and relying upon God alone is prevalent throughout God’s Word. God spoke a word of judgment against the holy city of Jerusalem for her harlotry in trusting others rather than God alone. In Isaiah 1:21-23 we read,
21See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her– but now murderers! 22Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. 23 Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. (Isaiah 1:21-23 NIV)
In Nahum 3:1-7 we read about God’s judgment on Nineveh because she “enslaved nations” by her prostitution. Read along with me.
Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! 2 The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots! 3 Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses– 4 all because of the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft. 5“I am against you,” declares the LORD Almighty. “I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame. 6 I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. 7All who see you will flee from you and say, ‘Nineveh is in ruins– who will mourn for her?’ Where can I find anyone to comfort you?” (Nahum 3:1-7 NIV)
In the last example that I want to share with you we see how God’s judgment came against the ancient city of Babylon because the “nations drank her wine and have gone mad.” Read along with me from Jeremiah 51:5-10.
5 For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the LORD Almighty, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel. 6 “Flee from Babylon! Run for your lives! Do not be destroyed because of her sins. It is time for the LORD’s vengeance; he will pay her what she deserves. 7 Babylon was a gold cup in the LORD’s hand; she made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore they have now gone mad. 8 Babylon will suddenly fall and be broken. Wail over her! Get balm for her pain; perhaps she can be healed. 9 “‘We would have healed Babylon, but she cannot be healed; let us leave her and each go to his own land, for her judgment reaches to the skies, it rises as high as the clouds.’ 10“‘The LORD has vindicated us; come, let us tell in Zion what the LORD our God has done.’ (Jeremiah 51:5-10 NIV)
There is another example of the seductive lure of the State in Isaiah 23:15-18 where God judges Tyre if you would like to look it up during your own study time.
This seduction was certainly a temptation to those who sat in the pews of the seven churches of Asia Minor, those who first read the letter we call Revelation. If you will remember our study of the “mark of the beast” in Revelation 13 and 14 then you will remember that we talked about how many believe that Christians would have been shut out of the marketplace if they refused to take the mark that showed their allegiance to Emperor Domitian.
You might also remember our study of Jesus’ letter to the Church in Thyatira. The residents of Thyatira were indebted to the Romans because their military presence brought protection to a city that had no natural barriers and had been under persistent attack by invaders. In 190 B.C. the Romans made Thyatira part of its empire. When the Romans did this they built a road through the city that became a major trade route for moving products to other cities in Asia Minor. Bible commentator, William Ramsay, points out that as the city became more and more prosperous it also became inundated with trade guilds.
Thyatira’s workers were linked together by their trade guilds and yet for those who converted to Christianity this posed a huge problem. You may wonder how being a member of a labor union would cause problems for Christians in Thyatira? These trade guilds weren’t formed to simply fight for better working conditions or higher wages, the Thyatiran trade guilds were religiously oriented and pagan to the core. Robert Mounce writes,
In a city whose economic life was dominated by trade guilds in which pagan religious practices had become the criteria for membership, Christian converts would be faced with the problem of compromising their stand at least enough to allow participation in a common meal dedicated to some pagan deity. To reject this accommodation could mean social isolation and economic hardship. (Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, pg. 86)
The primary source of pressure being exerted upon the hearts and minds of the followers of Jesus in Thyatira wasn’t coming from the Roman government, they weren’t being led away by adherents to Zeus, or Asklepios, but they were being tempted by their wallets. If a man or woman was a merchant in Thyatira and unwilling to attend the weekly trade guild meetings where there was a buffet of food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality available to everyone on a weekly basis then they would suffer financially. If they weren’t willing to attend the trade conventions and participate in the pagan practices with the rest of their friends then they could be blacklisted and suffer economic hardships.
Christians in Thyatira weren’t the only ones who faced the pressure to belong to trade guilds or to compromise their faith for their livelihood. In Ephesus we see where Paul ran into opposition for opposing the silversmith Demetrius. Take a look at Acts 19 with me.
23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” 28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29Soon the whole city was in an uproar. (Acts 19:23-29a NIV)
What was happening in Ephesus was the threat of the trade guild, the threat of the loss of income by tradesmen who made their money off the goddess Diana or Artemis. If you were a Christian silversmith and your conscience wouldn’t allow you to make silver statues of the goddess then your business would suffer.
Some of you might wonder what in the world this has to do with us living in the United States of America today? That’s a great question. How do we avoid the seduction of our own society, if there is any seduction? Let me tell you that anything that takes the place of Almighty God and seduces you to turn your attention away from the Lord for your provision, your strength, your worship, is a beast that will eventually destroy you.
I remember about twelve or thirteen years ago there was a mom here in our community who would come by the church periodically for help. She had five children, she wasn’t married, and her government check wouldn’t always cover her needs. Her days were filled with taking care of her kids and trying to figure out how to make the check stretch until the next one came in the mail.
One day Linda and I were talking and I told her that she was smart and capable of providing for her own kids. She and I talked about her future and how she was way too smart and capable to depend on her measly check from the government for the rest of her life. We talked about jobs and childcare and she made the decision that she could provide better for her family than the government could. We prayed together and asked the Lord to lead her out of the situation she was in and to provide employment for her. Linda found a job at City Bites. If you go down to the City Bites on Western and ask for Linda next week you will be greeted by a woman with a smile on her face. She’s not mired in depression any longer. She’s seen the Lord work in her life in marvelous ways and she is continuing to watch Him work. Linda’s youngest son is in our gym on Wednesday nights playing basketball and listening to Ray teach the Word of God.
Linda was “seduced” into believing that the government would take care of her when in fact it never did. Her eyes were opened and she became convinced that the Lord alone was her provision and He has been since that day.
It would be wrong for us to simply see the “prostitute” of Revelation 17 as governments like the Roman government or the United States government. These can certainly fit the scenario, but the beast and the seduction of the prostitute can come against you and me in many forms.
Seduction can be so subtle. The lure of that which promises us happiness, contentment, security, and pleasure is strong, but in the end it will destroy us. What is so subtle about all of these things is that they do seem to deliver for awhile. It feels good for awhile, we feel secure for awhile, we experience what we think is peace for awhile, but it isn’t long until the while is over and we find ourselves well down the road of destruction.
God will destroy the destroyers my friend. History bears this out. James R. Davis wrote,
Rome has been judged never to rise again. But this is not just about Rome; it is about any power in history that Satan breathes civil persecuting power into. Think of the nations that God judged in the Old Testament. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Israel, God’s own people. Now God’s judgment has come against Rome and it is reserved for any and all nations that are yet to come who forget God. (James R. Davis)
The immorality of the Romans destroyed them from the inside out. An invading army wasn’t even necessary. The nation was so weakened because of its immorality that a child could have toppled Rome. The mighty nation of Germany and its godless leader, Adolf Hitler, were destroyed. The mighty Soviet Union crumbled without a bullet being fired by its arch enemy, the United States. What is true for nations is also true for all of the power that seduce God’s people—they will be destroyed.
We need not get lured into the seductive enticements of those who would wish to lead us away from total and absolute dependence on God. We can learn from Revelation and cling to the Lamb of God who will lead us to life rather than destruction. I want to invite you this very morning to turn away from whatever it is that has been seducing you, leading you away from God, and turn back to Jesus. Won’t you invite Him into your heart this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 4, 2007