Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, "with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication." So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement. But the angel said to me, "Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. "Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. "There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. "And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. "The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. "These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. "These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful." Then he said to me, "The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. "And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. "For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. "And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth." (Rev 17:1-18, NKJV)
We are in a section of Scripture that is exceedingly difficult for many to receive. Jesus is here dealing with a circumstance that is particularly reprehensible to Him-one He will not continue to tolerate. In His opening message to the churches, our Lord spoke clearly and concisely about corruption among His people. It is more serious than debauchery in the government, debasement and degradation among the masses, and profligacy in education. A breakdown in the family structure is serious, but not as grave as a breakdown in the church! I know of no congregation of Scripture that was ever upbraided for having godless homes or living in a corrupt government. That does not mean the Lord sanctioned such conditions, which surely existed in those early days of the church. It DOES mean the Lord places priorities where they ought to be.
Five of the seven churches who were the immediate recipients of this book were rebuked. All of the censures were because of corruption within the church. It will be good for us to remember our Lord's assessment of these congregations, and the sobriety with which He spoke.
EPHESUS: A departure from their "first love." "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place; unless you repent" (2:4-5). PERGAMOS: Individuals in the assembly who held to false doctrines. "But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality . . . Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth" (2:14-16). THYATIRA: They tolerated a false prophetess to seduce His servants. "Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works" (2:20-23). SARDIS: Although they had a good reputation, they were dead toward the Lord. "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you" (3:1-3). LAODICEA: This church was lukewarm-non-assertive for or againtst the Lord. "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'; and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" (3:15-17). No such word was delivered to Nero, then emperor of Rome. The heathens who worshiped idols and lived in rank immorality were given no such word. This by no means indicates approval of the government, or of the immorality that dominated that culture. Our Lord Jesus exhibited His very nature in this judgment of His churches. He simply will not countenance decline among His people!
Lest we be tempted to confine these warnings to the backslidding churches of Asia, the Lord says after each warning: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." This message is not to be hidden from the churches! Their preachers and teachers are charged with the solemn responsibility of alerting them to the Divine assessment of spiritual decline and the absence of advance.
THE NATURE OF SALVATION
Too often, the nature of salvation is obscured to the people. Because they are living too close to the world, Satan blinds them to the real character of redemption.
As broad and extensive as salvation is, there is absolutely no provision in it for spiritual deficiency or retardation. Grace is extensive, but makes no room for lethargy, indifference, toleration of false doctrine, immorality, or other forms of carnality. While every person in Christ possesses, and wrestles with, the "flesh," or "old man," grace makes no allowance for the expression of that nature-none at all!
There are no spiritual gifts for ministering to the immoral, or recovering those who have chosen to sin while wearing Jesus' name. This does NOT mean such people are hopelessly lost. It DOES mean nothing about this "great salvation" will contribute to the comfort of such people. The powerful and solitary message to such people is "REPENT . . . or else" (2:5,16).
There is such a remarkable consistency in this message that it is a marvel men could be deluded into ignoring it. "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom 8:7-8). "But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him" (Heb 10:39). "Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). "For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (Eph 5:5-6).
WHY SUCH STERNNESS?
The contemporary church is so insipid about sin, some may wonder why the Spirit speaks with such stern tones. Everything about salvation contributes to the rescue of men from sin-both from its guilt and its power, or dominion.
All of the resources required to overcome sin have been supplied. They are called "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Pet 1:3). No person who has come into Christ lacks what is required to live toward the Lord and be godly. If the godly life is not lived, it is because men do not want to live it. The grace of God, copiously showered on us in Christ, "has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age" (Tit 2:11-12). The grace of God is a most effective instructor. Those who yield to sin simply have rejected such instruction. An Intercessor has been provided in order that we may obtain grace when it is needed. "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb 4:15-16). Those who do not appropriate this grace simply have not asked for it. Thus the inappropriateness of all sin, drawing back, and godless toleration of spiritual flaw are seen. Provisions have been supplied in remarkably large quantities, and sufficient warnings have been issued with unusual clarity.
THE SIGNIFICANCE THIS
These observations are essential to the understanding of our text. Satan has, in fact, raised up a church that tolerates things our Lord does not endure. He has contrived a religious monster that removes the repulsiveness of sin, and countenances it within the religious realm. This is "Babylon the Great," and it cannot escape the judgment of God. It is unchangeable, locked into its wretched state. The ONLY hope for anyone ensnared by its subtlety is to separate from the realm in which is it found.
The Divine judgment of this wicked conglomerate extends from chapter 16-18, and is among some of the most harsh and exacting sections of Scripture. There is not a spark of mercy shown toward this devilish emulation of the church of God. There is no hope held out for it. It is connected exclusively with the adversary of our soul.
I WILL SHOW YOU
"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me . . . " The singularity of having a heavenly personality speak with John is worthy of noting. Such creatures are not at ease speaking with everyone! The fact that he spoke with John confirms the Apostle was in the realm where such communication was possible. Too, this is something John desired, and was qualified, to know. God has revealed He is disposed to share things with those close to Him, that could not otherwise be known. As it is written, "The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant" (Psa 25:14). Solomon also said, "His secret counsel is with the upright" (Prov 3:32). This is an aspect of the Divine nature that is most comforting to the heart of the believer.
An Involved Angel
In the heavenly Kingdom, messengers are generally themselves involved in the working of the Lord. They are not outsiders commenting on things occurring outside the perimeter of their involvement. So it is with this angel. He is "one of seven angels who had the seven bowls." He has been brought within the circumference of the Lord's working, and thus can provide valuable insight concerning that operation.
The language of this text reveals the closeness of the redeemed with heavenly personalities. Realizing we must not probe into this fellowship too far, some observations are in order. The angel is said to have "talked with" John. This is not the language of casualness, but of ordained familiarity. It substantiates the statement made in Hebrews 12:22: "But you have come to . . . an innumerable company of angels." These lofty personalities are at home in the presence of the redeemed!
The versatility of this angel may also be seen. Even though he had charge of one of the bowls of judgment, he was able to communicate some understanding to John. Such awesome judgments as those in which this angel was involved did not cause him to become unaware of John.
Think also how heavenly personalities not only long to understand the working of the Lord themselves, but are eager for men to know them also. There is a discontent with ignorance in the heavenly realms. Angels long to "look into" this glorious Gospel we have heard (1 Pet 1:12). The martyrs "under the altar" yearned to know when their blood would be vindicated (Rev 6:10). The closer we come to those sacred environs, the more we will participate in this quality.
Wherever there is contentment with spiritual ignorance, a most dire circumstance exists. Such a frame of spirit is completely out of harmony with heaven. It builds an impenetrable wall about the soul, robbing it of Divine resources, blessing, and advantage. Yet, this is a spirit that is fostered by spiritual Babylon. The number of professed believers that are content to remain unlearned in Kingdom matters is staggering.
The Great Harlot
"Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot . . . " This is the Divine commentary on the judgment we are beholding. Early, the wrath of God is said to have been poured out upon "the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image" (16:2). It is also said to have been emptied upon "the throne of the beast, and his kingdom" (16:10). Then reference is made to "the great city," and "great Babylon" (16:19). Now, we read of "the great harlot," or "whore."
All of these references are to the same spiritual entity-the false church. This devilish corruption has many different facets, and not a one of them is good.
First, this fabrication of the devil solicits the worship and service of men. It usurps the Lord of glory, demanding the allegiance that belongs to the Him alone. Thus we read of "the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image".
Second, this is a spiritual dominion-a government in which both power and influence are maintained by the devil. We therefore read of "the throne of the beast, and his kingdom."
Third, this is a great aggregation of humanity-a sort of confederation of people. They have been gathered together by the devil to oppose Jesus, even though some of them are not aware of that circumstance. We therefore read of "the great city," and "great Babylon."
Fourth, this is a representation of unfaithfulness to the Lord. In order to embrace what Satan has offered, the Lord Jesus must be forsaken. For this reason, we read of "the great harlot," or "whore." She is the epitome, or embodiment of all corruption.
" . . . who sits on many waters . . . " This is not a provincial corruption, or one limited to a certain geographic area. It is global in its impact. "Many waters" are precisely defined in verse 15. "The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues." Just as Jesus is gathering a people "out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Rev 5:9), so the devil is also amassing a people. His attempt to replicate the church is as precise as he is capable of making it.
The phrase "sits on many waters" denotes a posture of reigning, or presiding. This is no mere novelty we are witnessing, but a means through which the old serpent himself is reigning over the hearts of men. There is no continent in which this harlot is not found; no culture in which it has not dominated; no tongue that has not been corrupted with her jargon.
THE WORLD ORDER RECEIVES
" . . . with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication . . . " The church of Jesus Christ and the kings of this world cannot be joined together! The "kings of the earth" CANNOT commit fornication with the body of Christ. However, they can, and do, engage in such unfaithfulness with Babylon the great.
These kings take what belongs to the Lord, and give it to the great harlot. They offer their service, commendation, riches, and influence to the false church. They withhold them, and rightly so, from the true church, the redeemed of the Lord.
There have been corrupt offspring produced by this unholy union of "the kings of the earth" and the "great harlot." This is seen in, though not limited to, the state religions that have defiled history. Any place and every place "the kings of the earth" have joined themselves in unholy union with a professed church, the State has ALWAYS dominated. This is the union that is called "fornication." God, Jesus, the Spirit, and the Holy Scriptures are consistently pushed into the background in this wicked union. What belongs to the Lord is given to the State, and thus fornication is committed.
THE WORLD CORRUPTED BY THE HARLOT
" . . . and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication." We should expect Satan to launch an extensive effort against the saints of God. Note: his initiative is not against the Lamb, but against the those who are joined to Him. The Lord Jesus has been exalted above the devil and his host and is no longer accessible to them. Thus they assault the church.
This is a global effort, in which the powers of this world are gathered together against saints. It is the most wicked of all corrupt alliances. With remarkable graphic language, we are shown how the "inhabitants of the earth" are made to imbibe the powerless religion of the great harlot: i.e., "the wine of her fornication." This not merely the sampling of her wicked elixir, but something resulting in thorough intoxication-"DRUNK with the wine of her fornication."
The Kings of the Earth
This phrase is used no less than nine times in Revelation (1:5; 6:15; 16:14; 17:2,18; 18:3,9; 19:19; 21:24). These are consistently represented as opponents of Jesus, and are never set forth in a good light. Jesus is their prince, though not acknowledged by them (1:5). They hide themselves from the revealed Christ (6:15). The spirits of demons works among them (16:14). They commit fornication with corrupt religion (17:2; 18:3,9). They are dominated by Satan's corruption (17:18). Ultimately, they gather together against Christ and His people (19:19). They will be forced to bring all of their glory to Jesus, acknowledging Him to be the Head over all (21:24). The Psalmist frequently spoke of "the kings of the earth," but rarely, if ever, with commendable words (Psa 2:2; 76:12; 89:27; 102:15; 138:4; 148:11).
This does not mean every king is corrupt, or that no politician can be godly. Joseph was a holy ruler, and Daniel was a godly political official-but they were exceptions to the rule.
Why are "the kings of the earth" said to have committed "fornication" with this spiritual harlot? It is specifically said, "with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication" (17:2). Remember, the power of government was ordained by God for the suppression of evil and the encouragement of good. As it is written, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God . . . For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil . . . For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (Rom 13:1-4). The false church, however, has offered itself in the place of the God, to Whom government is accountable. The "kings of the earth" settled for an alliance with powerless religion, thereby committing fornication against God. This is what gave rise to State churches, which historically have caused great conflict for the saints. In these coalitions, the State has always taken the ascendency when conflict arose. Frequently, the head of the State was also the head of the church.
Of old time, holy prophets and the people of God made kings of the earth acutely aware of the Living God and His will. Think of examples like Moses and Pharaoh (Ex 7-12), Nathan and David (2 Sam 12:7-10), Elijah and the king of Samaria (2 Kgs 1:3-4), Elijah and Jehoram (2 Chron 21:12-15), Elisha and the king of Israel (2 Kgs 6:21-22), Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:25-32), John the Baptist and Herod (Matt 14:4).
In the Word, men of God have always had the ascendency over kings and rulers of State - but not in our text. Satan has developed a powerless church with which "the kings of the earth" feel comfortable. The wicked conglomerate does not convict "the kings of the earth," but is willing to give them the prominence due only to Jesus. But their alliance is "fornication," even though highly lauded by many in the religious community! Even though the Holy Spirit extends Himself to present "the kings of the earth" in this light, it is exceedingly rare to find a religious soul that speaks in this manner. That condition is evidence of the effectiveness of Satan's fabrication of the church.
The Inhabitants of the Earth
The expression "inhabitants of the earth" is one denoting those alienated from God. It does not refer to all who are alive in this world, but to those who have joined themselves to the worldly order.
Whereas those at home in this world would not yield themselves to God, they do submit to the false church. They are willing to keep her laws, while violating the Word of God. They accept her message, while repudiating the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They allow themselves to be directed by her, while refusing to be directed by God.
It should not be necessary to further expound this fact. It is abundantly evident to anyone casually familiar with the religious world. While powerless people choose to view this circumstance as acceptable, and one within which God is willing to work, this is not the case at all! This is expressing called "fornication" -unfaithfulness to Christ! It is giving to Babylon what is to be given to Christ Jesus alone!
Spiritual whoredom is a sin of the greatest magnitude, and is so viewed in Scripture. It is committed by those who have seen enough of God to know they must do something about their lives, but are unwilling to come to the Lord on His terms. They are NOT willing to let the world go, but ARE willing to keep it under a religious guise. They maintain their preference for temporal things, and their at-homeness in this world. They do so, however, covering their preference with a religious mantel. They are willing to have a church if it is a family church, or an entertaining church, or a politically active church, or a prospering church . . . etc. They are content to have preachers and teachers if they are educated ones, influential ones, impressively appearing ones-ones that do not make them ill-at-ease in the world.
But all of this is "fornication!" It is the prostitution of human affection-giving it to the world order in the name of religion. While the Lord Jesus came to deliver us "from this present evil world" (Gal 1:4), the "great harlot" allows people to remain "of the world," yet maintain a religious identity.
This Satanic effort is a global one, and deals with the powers of this world as well as its inhabitants. Jesus is alerting His people to this evil with most sober words. He is informing us of a Satanic initiative that is unparalleled, and most effective. This is designed to awaken sleeping souls.
I SAW A WOMAN
"So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. The angel will now provide John with an accurate portrayal of spiritual harlotry. It will require him to be extricated from the realm of flesh, so He is "carried away in the Spirit." This is a phrase denoting heavenly-mindedness: a state where the things of God are prominent, and the things of this world recede into the background. As you will recall, in the beginning of this Revelation, John was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (1:10). That circumstance made him capable of receiving the Revelation.
Here, John is transported into the realm of ultimate reality.
We will be exposed to a heavenly view of an earthly phenomenon. Keep in mind, from an earthly perspective, what John will be shown does NOT appear to be corrupt or unfaithful. That is why John must be shown the real nature of spiritual corruption. If judged from the standpoint of appearance, this "harlot" looks like the church at Laodicea, which boasted, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing" (Rev 3:17). Like the church at Sardis, it has "a name" that it is alive, but is really "dead" (Rev 3:1). This is "a form of godliness that denies the power thereof" (2 Tim 3:5). It is so corrupt that those caught in its snare fall into a state that is "is worse for them than the beginning" (2 Pet 2:20).
Carried Away in the Spirit
John is CARRIED away in the Spirit-transported to a realm more suitable for impartation of spiritual understanding. The prophet Ezekiel also experienced this carrying away. "So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away . . . He stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my hair; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem . . . Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the East Gate of the Lord's house . . . The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD" (Ezek 3:14; 8:3; 11:1; 37:1). Later, John is given insight concerning the joining of the bride with the Lord Jesus Christ. Of that occasion, John wrote, "And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God" (21:10).
This is an experience where the human spirit is elevated above earthly considerations, becoming preoccupied with God and His purpose. It is not a human achievement, but a Divine benefit. It is not achieved by discipline or regimentation, but by spiritual sensitivity. Here the soul is exposed to realities that cannot be known apart from Divine revelation.
THE WILDERNESS is a place of testing and revelation. It is isolated from the world, void of the distractions that tend to hide the truth from men. It will not be appropriate for John to hear of the judgment of religious corruption while he is beholding Rome, or Patmos, or even the churches. His heart and mind must be uncluttered from worldly distractions.
Again, this is the language of the prophets. Being brought into the wilderness denotes coming into a place where our dependence is totally upon the Lord. All earthly resources are stripped from the soul, as John is transported to a place where flesh is impotent and the world is forgotten. How often the Lord speaks in these terms. The lord brought Israel "out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness," where He could lead and feed them (Ezek 20:9-10). Here-in the wilderness-is where the Lord can speak more directly with men: i.e., "face to face" (Ezek 20:35-36). Comforting words can be administered in the wilderness (Hos 2:14).
John is therefore brought by the Spirit to a place where his vision is dominated by the things of God. His heart is undistracted, because of this grace, from the views of flesh.
I SAW THE WOMAN
"And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy . . . " What an awful sight John is given to see! Here is "the great whore," carried along by a scarlet beast. Everything about this beast is blasphemous and reprehensible. There are no comely characteristics in it-no redeeming qualities.
From an earthly point of view, "scarlet" would be a picture of royalty, as when Jesus was mocked (Matt 27:28). From heaven's perspective, however, it is a vivid depiction of sin-reprehensible sin (Isa 1:18).
This is a portrayal of the luster of earthly government-something of which men have been enamored throughout history. Such power has a strong drawing force, for which some are willing to sell, as it were, their soul. Men fight and lay their lives on the altar of sacrifice for the governments of this world. They often lie, cheat, steal, plunder, and forfeit their standards to obtain the world's power. This is what Satan offered Jesus in His initial wilderness temptation (Lk 4:5-7).
These principles (those of worldly government) carry the false church. They are what sustains her. It is her unity with the world that has made her appear great and formidable. Think how the nominal church glories in the luster created by worldly government. Age, tradition, logic, art, pageantry, ceremonies, superstitions-all appealing to man's desire for recognition and vain glory. It is not uncommon for religious bodies to glory in some history that is not found in Scripture: a movement, a person, a position, etc. The whole matter is a beast carrying an unfaithful church!
T.B. Braines, a notable child of God from the 19th century, had something to say about this situation-and he said it well. "To religious man, thee is something imposing in a system that can boast of antiquity so venerable, architecture so splendid, music so enchanting, organization so perfect, power so tremendous, pretension so overwhelming. But all of this is worthless in God's sight." (Pulpit Commentary) How sorely this perspective is needed in our time!
Another insightful man, D. Thomas, writes, "But what of conventional Christianity? It is an instrument for worldly gain and aggrandizement. Everywhere men trade in the Gospel, and the trade is carried on with all the passionate avarice, foul fallacies, and flatulent puffings that characterize the market. Pulpits are regarded as a means of livelihood, chapels and churches are become shops, ecclesiastics are the grandees of the world, robed in costly attire and rolling in chariots of opulence. Institutions abound and multiply, baptized with the name of Christian, where men of feeble talent, but crawling craftiness, creep into offices of salary and show. I protest that conventional Christianity is not the Christianity of Christ-a Divine entity that 'seeketh not her own.' The Christ exhibited in the creeds and institutions is as unlike the Christ of the Gospels, as the mechanical force of the manufacturing machine, throwing off commodities for trade, is unlike the vital energy in nature which clothes the landscape with verdure and fills the earth and the water with countless tribes of life." (Pulpit Commentary)
I have shared this rather lengthy quote to confirm I am not teaching something strange to people of faith. Do not suppose for one fleeting moment that godly men throughout the ages have not been concerned about the phenomenon to which this section of Revelation exposes us. We are living in a time when men have grown accustomed to lifeless religion. However, throughout the centuries, men and women of faith have not been able to swallow what Jesus wants to spew out of His mouth!
The real issue here is which world dominates. For the people of God, it is "the world to come." For spiritual Babylon, it is this world. The "beast" that carries her is of this world. It rose from the land, and was not sent from heaven. It aspires for earthly recognition, and not the praise that comes from God alone. Thus it allows a world system to carry it, sustain it, and offer its critique of her mission and emphasis.
Powerless religion is offensive to our Lord, and ought not be allowed by those wearing the name of Jesus. Insipid and childish preachers should be expelled from the pulpits of the land. Teachers and leaders without spiritual understanding, and with an affinity with this world should be disallowed by the body of Christ. Institutions that promulgate carnality, godless humor, and various forms of religious entertainment ought to be thrust from the household of faith. God will not allow the purveyors of flesh to enter into heaven, and they ought to be forbidden to be identified with the people of God here.
To some, it seems unbecomingly strong to speak in this manner. But I have actually understated the case. When men and women give to an institution what belongs to the Lord alone, an offense of greatest magnitude has occurred. When individuals reject the richness of God's grace in order to obtain the approval of men, they have committed enormous transgression.
There is a spiritual entity that Jesus calls a "great whore," or "harlot." Men may imagine that what carries her along is scholarly, intelligent, and accomplished. But to Jesus, it is a "scarlet beast." It has the appearance of royalty, but is a devouring and ravaging beast that tears men's souls, oppresses the saints, and corrupting the Word of the Almighty.
THE BEAST IDENTIFIED
" . . . having seven heads and ten horns." Later, the spirit will identify the seven heads as "seven mountains," and the ten horns as "ten kings" (verses 9,12). These details will be discussed later, when those particular verses are reviewed.
Suffice it to say at this point, we are speaking of a worldly power-an influence located in, and sustained by, this world. The whorish woman has nothing whatsoever to do with "mount Zion" or the "King of kings." This is a world-system with a religious flavor. To put it another way, it is the professed church garbed with the world's attire, and conducting itself as though there were no "world to come." It is the church at home in this world, courting the world, and allowing it to set its standards. It listens and speaks primarily to the world, and draws strength from it.
When the Spirit extends Himself to paint a vivid picture of unfaithfulness, it is for good reason. He is not speaking of political entities, evil though they may be. Those benighted souls that make no claim to being associated with Jesus are not the subject of this discourse. To be sure, they ARE wicked! However, they are NOT as wicked as those who pretend to be of Christ, yet reject the effectual working of His power (Eph 3:7). To profess to know God, yet deny Him in works (Tit 1:16), and to have a form of godliness but reject its power, is the worst sin of all!
The Attire of the Woman
"The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls . . . " This language of worldly opulence is also used by Ezekiel. The passage is lengthy, but provides the spiritual reasoning contained in this passage.
"I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you, says the Lord GOD. But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it. You took some of your garments and adorned multicolored high places for yourself, and played the harlot on them. Such things should not happen, nor be. You have also taken your beautiful jewelry from My gold and My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images and played the harlot with them. You took your embroidered garments and covered them, and you set My oil and My incense before them. Also My food which I gave you; the pastry of fine flour, oil, and honey which I fed you; you set it before them as sweet incense; and so it was, says the Lord GOD" (Ezek 16:10-17).
The Lord provided His people with comely attire-the "garments of salvation" (Isa 61:10). However, when the people chose affiliation with the world over affinity with Deity, their attire became reprehensible. This, then, is the language of apostasy-of spiritual degeneration. Note the digression.
Trusted in their own beauty. Played the harlot because of her fame. Disseminated her harlotry, pouring it out on everyone. Took what God had given her, and gave it to God's enemies. Thus what was given to be a blessing was corrupted by forming an alliance with the world. The language depicts religious profession garbed with the world. Interestingly, this is the same language used to describe Satan, who fell from lofty heights. "You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The sardius, topaz, and diamond, Beryl, onyx, and jasper, Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes Was prepared for you on the day you were created" (Ezek 28:13).
In this language, we can also see the attempt of Satan to emulate the church. The glorified body of Christ is described in these words: "having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal" (Rev 21:11).
Stated another way, spiritual Babylon presents herself to attract the world, not God. Her apparel is gaudy and uncomely because she is courting the world from which Jesus has delivered us.
The Drink She Has Chosen
" . . . having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication." The vivid language again points out the seriousness of Babylon's condition. What she used to bring satisfaction to herself is an abomination to God. It is filthy and corrupting, and is evidence of her unfaithfulness to the Lord.
The cup is "golden," but its contents are detestable. To say it another way, what she uses to bolster her pride looks good, but is actually evil. Jesus assessed the religion of he Pharisees with sternness. Their's was a theology of appearance with no substance. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also" (Matt 23:25-26). This is precisely the assessment of "great Babylon," the "harlot." She appears good, but is evil. She appears rich, but is poor. She seems to be godly, but is ungodly. Her's is the religion of fornication, unfaithfulness, and defilement.
This is a depiction of Babylon living for itself, satisfying its desires with the world's baubles. In the eighteenth chapter, this trait will be expounded more fully. There it is said the harlot "glorified herself and lived luxuriously" (18:7). While the real body of Christ makes herself "ready" for being joined to her Lord (19:7), the counterfeit bride thinks only of herself. Being of the world, she satiates her depraved appetite with the things of this world-things that will pass away.
The strength of this language must be grasped. What appears a golden cup, or something of beauty and value, is actually filled with things that are "abominations" to Christ. They are tokens of her unfaithfulness to the One who bought her. To fill her cup with those things, she had to pour out on the ground what God had given her. To become satisfied with what the world offers, she had to become dissatisfied with what the Lord offers.
One further thing about this cup. It is a poignant picture of deception. Something that looks good, but is actually abominable and reprehensible. It is no wonder so many warnings are given to the people of God concerning subterfuge and pretense. "Take heed that no one deceives you . . . Do not be deceived . . . Do not be deceived . . . Let no one deceive you with empty words . . . Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words" (Matt 24:4; 1 Cor 6:9; Gal 6:7; Eph 5:6; Col 2:4). In all of these texts, deception is declared as coming from religious sources. That is the most dangerous deception! The reason for the danger is that it disarms the soul, lulling it into spiritual sleep. In that case, safety is imagined while danger exists. Beyond all question, we are dealing with the most aggressive and dangerous of all Satanic initiatives. In it, he seeks to corrupt the fountain of life.
IMPRESSIVE AND EFFECTIVE
"And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." The concept of a name written upon the forehead is found several places in Scripture. Under the Law, Aaron wore a plate of pure gold upon his forehead that read, "HOLINESS TO THE LORD" (Ex 28:38). You may recall "the servants of God" were "sealed in their foreheads" (7:3). The second "beast," which is corrupt religion, promoted its contemptible cause by having people receive his mark in their forehead (14:9). In the world to come, those in Christ Jesus are said to have the Lord's name "in their foreheads" (22:4).
Two things are portrayed in this language: identity and character. The name on the forehead signified the one with whom we are aligned, or have become identified. It also signifies the character, or inward nature, of the one having the mark.
While the name is on the forehead, its significant is only apparent to those with understanding. The phrase is not meant to connote apparency, or something that is obvious to everyone. Babylon does not appear to be a harlot to those choosing to limit themselves to this world. It seems beautiful and to be desired.
The name is a compounded one. It is not simplistic, because evil and apostasy are not elementary. This is what draws men to spiritual Babylon - its seeming complexity and intricacy. But it is all a sham.
"Mystery" This word is associated with salvation also (Mk 4:11; Rom 11:25; 16:25; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 1:9; 3:3-4,9; 6:19; Col 1:26-27; 2:2; ; 4:3; 1 Tim 3:9,16). In the case of salvation, however, the use is quite different. The word denotes something good that is unveiled in Christ Jesus. With spiritual Babylon, the name "Mystery" indicates an influence that contradicts the Divine nature, and is thus obscured to the carnal mind. Just as the "mystery of godliness" contradicts the worldly mind set, and is thus obscure to those who are of the world, so Babylon contradicts the spiritual realities. In other words, it does not appear to be what it really is.
Inherent in this identity is another key consideration. The rise of spiritual Babylon contradicts all spiritual reasoning. There is nothing about redemption in Christ Jesus that promotes such a thing. Spiritual life, with all of its intricacies, contains nothing that allows for such a development. Babylon the great could not rise without the neglect of Jesus, the corruption of the Gospel, or the hatred of God's people. Its presence is a violent and unreasonable intrusion into the affairs of men.
"Babylon the Great"
This is a complex name. "Babylon" denotes both spiritual confusion and earthly glory. Among those seeking a city that has foundations, Babylon the Great brings confusion and disorientation, as was experienced at the tower of Babel. It ruthlessly enslaves the people of God as Babylon did under the rule of king Nebuchadnezzar. This is a city of flagrant contradiction. Like the second beast, it has the appearance of a lamb, but speaks as a dragon.
It is "great" because of its extensive influence. It is called "the great city" (16:19), "the great whore" (17:2; 19:2), "Babylon the Great" (17:5; 18:2), "that great city" (17:18; 18:18,19), and "that great city Babylon" (18:10). There has never been anything like it. No organization has ever enslaved as it does, or dealt such a devastating blow to the cause of truth as it has. That is why so much is devoted to its demise in the Revelation.
This is no small matter-not something inconsequential! We are beholding Satan's most aggressive effort against the saints. It is not found in the promotion of immortality. It is not encapsulated in the aggressive advancement of a political agenda. This is an unparalleled religious initiative that is "great" and impressive. Make no mistake about it, the "falling away" of which the Spirit spoke (2 Thess 2:3) is not something incidental. It is not to be viewed as a sort of harmless historical phenomenon from which we have been excluded. Nor, indeed, are the saints to placidly fold their arms and view it as something that must happen, and therefore causing no alarm within us. God would not provide an extensive commentary like this on something that was a mere historical happening-something of no concern to us. We dare not stand at a distance from this.
Mother of Abominations
We are told in Scripture of the leaven of wickedness affecting the church (1 Cor 5:7-8). Here, however, we are introduced to something of intriguing significance. Whereas righteousness fosters holiness (Rom 6:19,22), here is an entity that mothers, or nurses, abomination. It cares for abomination as a tender mother cares for her child. Babylon not only condones abomination, but has structured a religion that encourages men to continue living in sin. It nurses their vices, and makes them comfortable in their sin.
Of this condition, D. Thomas wrote, "Until conventional Christianity is banished from the land, and the Christianity of the sermon on the mount restored, the morality of the human race will sink lower and lower into devildom and corruption." (Pulpit Commentary) Strong words, indeed, and difficult to be received by the undiscerning! Do not imagine that this man, writing from the 1800's, is simply a reactionary. He, together with other men of God, have seen the wickedness of corrupt religion, and have sounded the alarm against it. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, the Wesley's the Campbells, and countless others have risen to blow the trumpet in Zion, summoning people to the greatest sobriety on this issue.
Jesus lays the responsibility for the world's "abominations" at the doorstep of "great Babylon." Because she was not "valiant for the truth," warning men of the eternal jeopardy of embracing that which occasioned Christ's death, she has actually encouraged sin. She has cast a mantel of approval upon rebellion by NOT speaking against it. She has anaesthetized the conscience of the condemned with her commitment to the flesh. Her tolerance of the intolerable has led men to view sin in an accommodating way.
What we are beholding is a most sobering vision! Our hearts and minds are to be alert as we enter into the sacred chamber of spiritual insight. This is no place for ignorance or naivety.
God has placed the church in the world as "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). If those identified with this church do not call men from their sin, they will become responsible for abomination. God's people are a responsible people!
OPPRESSION OF THE SAINTS
"I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus." The extreme wickedness of spiritual Babylon is seen in her aggressiveness to oppose those who do not agree with her. Because "the woman" has joined forces with the world, she has come to hate the people of God. Because their citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20-21), and they are "not of the world" (John 15:19), the "great harlot" cannot bear them.
At this point, there is something of significance to note. The REAL church is also pictured as a "woman" (Rev 12:1-6). She is persecuted. The false church, however, is a persecutor. What an arresting difference. One "woman" is oppressed, and the other one is an oppressor. One is afflicted, and the other afflicts. Herein the real nature of God's people is revealed. Like their Savior, they come to bless and provide benefits for men.
They bring a message of hope, and place themselves into the background. But this is not the case with "great Babylon." Like the devil who animates her, she comes to steal, kill, and destroy. She is not simply different from those who are not with her, but opposes them. There is no extent to which she will not go in this opposition. She will utilize as much liberty as is granted her from the Throne in her opposition of the saints-even down to killing them.
The language here is so arresting I cannot purge it from my mind. The whorish woman is "drunk with the blood of the saints." She has satisfied herself, and furthered her agenda, by taking the lives of God's people! Her cause could only be advanced by murdering the people of God!
Foreshadowed in the Prophets and Jesus
Religious oppression was foreshadowed in the prophets and the Lord Jesus. Both were opposed by religious people-the very ones to whom they ministered. Stephen spoke to such people with riveting words. "Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52). Jesus also addressed His enemies on this very subject. "Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.
In fact, you bear witness that you approve the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore the wisdom of God also said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,' that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation" (Lk 11:47-49). Jesus Himself was crucified through religious zealots who saw Him as a threat to their institution.
If anyone doubts that a professing church can stoop to such debauchery, let them hear the words of Jeremiah. He uncovered hypocrisy within God's people, and spoke of them shedding innocent blood. "Why do you beautify your way to seek love? Therefore you have also taught The wicked women your ways. Also on your skirts is found The blood of the lives of the poor innocents. I have not found it by secret search, But plainly on all these things. Yet you say, 'Because I am innocent, Surely His anger shall turn from me.' Behold, I will plead My case" (Jer 2:33-35).
Notice the remarkable parallel with the "great harlot." Jeremiah charged the people with teaching wicked people their ways. This parallels being the mother of the abominations of the earth. God also found the blood of innocent people within her. This parallels being drunk with the blood of the saints.
The Persecution of Saints
Throughout history, the saints of God have been persecuted. From one perspective, this opposition is totally unreasonable. God is good, His people are good, and their ways are good. They are not destructive, they institute no earthly wars, and they obey the laws of the land. They do not contribute to the crime rate, are industrious, and helpful. You might be prone to think such would be received by the world, and lauded for their character. But that is not the case. Because "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19), it CANNOT love the people of God. Our Lord stated the situation with precision: "Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19).
When, therefore, the nominal church joined hands with the world order, it obtained this hatred of the saints. This should not surprise us. When men attempt to mingle good and evil, evil ALWAYS dominates. Haggai states the principle in a most poignant way. He puts a question to the priests concerning how things become clean or defiled. "If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy? Then the priests answered and said, 'No.' And Haggai said, If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?" So the priests answered and said, 'It shall be unclean.' Then Haggai answered and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before Me, says the LORD, and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean" (Hag 2:12-14). The Lord was saying, when men traffic in contaminated realms, it defiles everything they do.
Applying this principle to our text, when religion chose to court the world, seeking its approval, it contaminated everything it did. The world is a condemned order, and as such cannot be joined with those who are citizens of heaven. But "great Babylon" made the attempt anyway, and a bloodbath followed. The most striking confirmation of the wickedness of Babylon is its slaughter of the saints of God.
Historically, the worldly church thrived for some time, without any seeming opposition. However, there came a time when the saints began to again speak boldly the Gospel of Christ. When they did, the professed church initiated some of the harshest persecutions known to man against them. Those first aggressions are known historically as papal persecutions, and were initiated by the Pope, head of the Roman church. In that Roman church, there was a remarkable blending of religion and worldliness. It was, and continues to be, governed after the manner of this world.
These bloody persecutions were so crude and heartless, that even worldly people marveled at them. During the persecution of the ALBIGENSES, a single incident will serve to confirm the cruelty leveled against the saints.
In the year 1524, at a town in France, called Melden, one John Clark setup a bill on the church door, wherein he called the pope Antichrist. For this offense he was repeatedly whipped, and then branded on the forehead. Going afterward to Mentz, in Lorraine, he demolished some images, for which he had his right hand and nose cut off, and his arms and breast torn with pincers. He sustained these cruelties with amazing fortitude, and was even sufficiently cool to sing the One hundredth and fifteenth Psalm, which expressly forbids idolatry; after which he was thrown into the fire, and burned to ashes. (Foxes Book of Martyrs)
On August 22, 1572, under the authority of the Roman church, the Saint Bartholomew massacre began in Paris, France. The design of this slaughter was to eradicate Protestantism, which was perceived as a threat to the church. The brutality with which this was carried out is to harsh for tender hearts. History records the saints blood flowed like a stream through Paris. Foxe records, "From Paris the destruction spread to all quarters of the realm." At Orleans, 1,000 were slain, including even children. 6,000 were slaughtered in Rouen. In one week's time, 100,000 Protestants were cut to pieces in this savage butchery. (Foxes Book of Martyrs)
Time does not permit the recounting of these religious persecutions. The French Revolution and Spanish Inquisition were times of intense persecution from the professed church. Other persecutions broke out in Italy, Bohemia, Germany, and the Netherlands. In England, under the reign of "Bloody Mary," the slaughter of countless saints took place. In Scotland, under the reign of King Henry VIII the church unleashed another persecution against saints who would not bow to corrupt religion. Thousands were slaughtered in a religious persecution leveled against Protestants in France, during 1814-1820.
Well known men of God endured persecution from the state-churches of their times. These include Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Bunyan, and John Wesley. Conservative estimates of those slaughtered in these persecutions exceed 50,000,000. The ONLY offense charged against these saints, is that they would not conform to corrupt religion, but rather opposed it.
All of this, and more, is depicted in Revelation as a whorish woman, seemingly attractive and successful, sitting on a beast, and drunk with the blood of the martyrs. This is the result of attempting to merge the church and the world! Crudely put, you end up with a "whore." As if that were not wicked enough, that entity engages in a fierce persecution of the saints of God-even to blood, if allowed to do so.
Not Confined to Rome
Some have limited this corruption to the Roman church. In so doing, they have overlooked the identity of this "harlot." She is not the ONLY unfaithful one, but is expressly called "the mother of harlots" (17:5). She first combined the world with religion, but she is not the last to do so. Like the Roman form of government (Republic) has been duplicated in other nations, so the Roman form of religion has been duplicated throughout the world. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a Christian institution that is not patterned after the worldly order. While plausible explanations are offered to us for this attempt, the Roman church is the mother of the wicked offspring. Those within the denominational world (divided Christendom), have structured themselves after the Roman church. They may not employ the titles pope, cardinal, bishop, and priest - but the concept is the same. They have ruling bodies, institutional rules, and earthly qualifications. All of this may appear quite innocent, but it is not. The truth of the matter is that very few churches, or groups of churches, require the new birth, Scriptural insight, or holiness among their leaders. Their chief strength is their administration and camaraderie, not their godliness. That is precisely what makes the "great city" Babylon, and a harlot. It also sets it in opposition to those who live by faith and walk in the Spirit-for neither of those are required by the institution.
John Marvels At the Sight
"And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement." John is taken back by what he sees. Our generation has grown accustomed to corrupt religion, even offering plausible arguments for its existence. But John did not engage in such corrupt reasoning. He did not reason that the inevitability of what he saw justified its existence. That is NOT a godly way of thinking.
John is, so to speak, stunned by the appearance spiritual harlotry! To him, it was incredible that professing Christians could be guilty of such atrocities: corrupting the truth, rejecting the power, and persecuting the saints of God. A faithless church is a gigantic contradiction on the landscape of humanity. Dead religion is spiritual freak, supported be neither reason nor ethics. Yet, it is all about us, and everyone with understanding knows it.
Perhaps John also reasoned "How can such corruption be permitted?" This is how the prophets also reasoned at times. "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he?" (Hab 1:13). Lest we forget, recall the description of this monstrosity.
Arrayed in exquisite raiment (17:4). Holding out an alluring cup (17:5). The mother of harlot (17:5). The mother of abominations (17:5). Drunk with the blood of saints (17:6). Corrupting the world (18:3). Names of blasphemy upon it (17:3). In a wilderness (17:3). Ruling over the kings of earth (17:18). Enriching earth's merchants (18:3). Imaging stability and security (18:7). Hated by those she rules (17:16) It is no wonder that John "marvels" at the appearance of an entity that is in league with Satan, yet wears the name of Jesus! Here is something that taught men to be unfaithful to God-and even institutionalized the effort. How did it arise? Where was the protecting hand of the Lord? Had Satan overpowered the Lord of glory? If the Lord is Sovereign, why did He not stop this from happening? These are all aspects of marveling at the emergence of such wickedness.
John did not marvel with respect-that is not the meaning of "admiration" (KJV), or "amazement" (NKJV). The word, more literally, means "surprise," or "astonishment." This is like a wicked miracle-a sign from hell. It is a supernatural phenomenon that cannot be accounted for by human involvements alone.
There Is A Reason!
The appearance of this beast-riding harlot is the direct result of men departing from God. Apostasy is the mother of delusion! Although I have mentioned this before, it is well to again site Paul's prophecy about these things. "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness" (2 Thess 2:7-12, NASB).
The term "mystery of iniquity" refers to Satanic working in a religious culture. It is mysterious, not because it cannot be understood, but because it defies sound reasoning. The principle revealed in spiritual Babylon was already at work in Paul's day. It was "restrained," however, by the dominancy of political power: to be specific, pagan Rome. However, when global government was cast down, universal spiritual corruption rose in its place, subverting the truth and oppressing the saints.
When men began to play at their religion, the bottomless pit was opened. When they used the truth only to promote their own enterprises, Satan was loosed. When they lost the love of the truth, the lie was released among them. When they served God with their mouth, while their heart was far from Him (Matt 15:8), God brought in "strong delusion." He will not allow men to tamper with His truth, despise His Son, and conduct their lives as though there were neither God nor judgment. Those imagining He is indifferent to such corruption will themselves begin to drink from the cup offered by the harlot. They soon will imbibe delusion, and absorb the manners of the world-all the while wearing the name of Jesus. They will be lulled into "the sleep of death" by the very religion they embrace. No wonder John was, so to speak, confounded this could happen. His heart was tender toward the Lord, and thus duly impressed by the vision given to him!
Would God such sensitivity were more common in our da. It would surely yield fruit that would more readily glorify God, bringing great benefit to His people.WHY DID YOU MARVEL?
"But the angel said to me, 'Why did you marvel?" Angels "desire" to look into the mysteries of the Gospel (1 Pet 1:12). But they are not ignorant of the ways and judgments of God. The angel marvels that John marveled at the woman on the beast. Remember, to the Lord, the best accomplishments of humanity are nothing. "Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, And are counted as the small dust on the scales; Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing" (Isa 40:5). Man in his best and most impressive natural state is described as one "whose breath is in his nostrils" (Isa 2:22). His wisdom is "foolishness" with God (1 Cor 3:19). Well did David say, "Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor" (Psa 39:5). O, do learn that truth m ore fully!
Spiritual Babylon, from this perspective, is but the enterprise of men-men who are motivated by the devil. The false church is great, but the true church is greater! Spiritual corruption is impressive, but the truth is more impressive! Religious error is potent, but spiritual reality is invincible! False doctrine does sway men, but the Gospel of Christ is "the power of God!" He that is in the world is great, but He that is in you is "greater!"
We are often tempted to marvel more at evil than at good. "Why did you marvel?" We may be provoked to wonder at Satan more than at Jesus. "Why did you marvel?" Your calamity may cause you to be more confounded than the blessing of the Almighty. "Why did you marvel?" Let no one be overwhelmed by the rapid spread of iniquity, the corruption of the truth, or the seeming success of wrong thinking. "Why did you marvel?" If we are going to marvel, let it be at the grace, wisdom, and power of our great God.
Make no mistake about it, there is a sense in which evil IS a marvel-that it could take place in God's world! There are two times in Scripture that Jesus is said to have marveled, or was amazed. One was at remarkable faith in a Gentile (Matt 8;10). The other was at the unbelief among His own people (Mk 6:6). That same situation-only on a much larger scale-is found in spiritual Babylon. Yet, it is not to be the lingering focus of faithful hearts. This "harlot" will be brought down!THE MYSTERY DIVULGED
"I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns." I will tell you that this explanation will NOT satisfy the carnal mind. There is a tendency in men to view the text of Revelation with great inconsistency. Men leap from peaks of literal to symbolic with great dexterity. One time a number is figurative, and another time it is literal. One time a mountain is metaphoric, and another time it is exacting. I do not deny that there appears, at times, to be some validity in this approach. However, for the most part, it generates a lot of confusion.
The use of the phrase, "Here is wisdom," indicates we are not dealing with a definition as ordinarily conceived. Such an explanation would not require wisdom.
The Origin of the Beast That Carries The Harlot
"The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition." Before launching into an explanation of the seven heads and ten horns, the Lord shows John the origin of the power carrying, or supporting, the apostate church. By saying "was, and is not," the Spirit is affirming we have been introduced to this power before. It was seen in old Babylonia (Gen 10:8-11; 11:4). We were introduced to it in Assyria, with the ancient capital of Nineveh (2 Kgs 19:36; Nah 1:1; 2:8-10). New Babylonia and its king Nebuchadnezzar also were a display of this beast (Jer 21:7). The Medes and the Persians were an exhibition of this wickedness (Dan 5:24-28). It was also seen in the Grecian empire (Dan 10:20).
All of these were beastly kingdoms. They devoured, plundered, forced, and destroyed. They all utilized the principles of this world, seeking to (1) Make themselves a name, (2) Joining hand in hand, (3) Conspiring to destroy any that opposed them, and (4) Extending their empire by both force and delusion. In the book of Revelation, the Roman empire surfaces as one of these powers also. We are beholding global political power, or government. It is the "beast which was."
And Is Not
All of the previously mentioned beastly empires passed away. They ARE NOT! They were all removed by the same means they employed to sustain their cause-force. The ultimate epitaph over every world power, regardless of its duration and seeming invincibility, is "AND IS NOT!" All earthly kingdoms, including pagan Rome, fall into the category mentioned in Daniel 2:44. "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever."
And Yet Is
Although individual kings fell, never to rise again, the PRINCIPLE sustaining them did surface again. It is the same principle, the same iniquity, that comes into view again and again. In Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, that power was very evident. It was the primary thing. But in the vision before us, it SUPPORTS religious delusion, remaining somewhat obscure.
The resurfacing of wickedness is a phenomenon often declared in Scripture. It is a reality with which we must learn to contend. The book of Judges, for example, exposes us to this sort of thing. "When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD . . . Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD . . . Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD" (Judges 4:1; 6:1; 13:1).
Allow me to briefly explore this principle. The tower of Babel was conceived AFTER the flood. Belshazzar fell AFTER his father Nebuchadnezzar became like the beasts of the field. In more recent times, Catholicism recovered from the blow dealt to it by Luther. The formalism exposed by the Wesleys surfaced again.
Incessant war must be waged against lifeless religion and influence that borrows principles from the world. It has the capacity to rise again, after suffering devastating defeat. Even on a personal level, the parts of your person that you have subdued in the power of the Spirit, can again resurface if not kept upon the cross.
Spiritual Babylon, the great harlot, is sustained by the same power that upheld Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar, and Nero. To be even more relevant, it is the same power that supported Hitler and Stalin.
Out of the Pit
" . . . and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit . . . " Babylon is wed to the world, but it is not from the world. It actually comes from the "bottomless pit"-the source of all corruption! Just as the "heavenly places" are the realm of all blessings (Eph 1:3), the "bottomless pit" is the source of all defilement. This is where Satan's wicked arsenal is maintained. Here is where the principles that carry the harlot, making her appear effective, originated-"the bottomless pit."
" . . . and go into perdition." Although this "beast" has surfaced from the bottomless pit again and again, its ultimate destiny is specified. It will go "into perdition." "Perdition" is destruction wrought by the Lord. It refers to the ultimate judgment against all evil, when it will be removed from circulation, and will no longer exercise influence. It is mentioned eight times in Scripture, and always has to do with Divine cursing and judgment (John 17:12; Phil 1:28; 2 Thess 2:3; 1 Tim 6:9; Heb 10:39; 2 Pet 3:7; Rev 17:8,11).
Lest we be tempted to be unduly impressed by this religious monstrosity, the Spirit reminds us of its destiny. There is no possible way for it to survive the judgment of the Lord. Although its influence may span generations and millennia, yet it will be brought to utter desolation. The kingdom of our Christ, on the other hand, will "increase," and have "no end" (Isa 9:7). If your heart is ever weighed down with the considerations of false religion being dominant, recall this passage of Scripture. It will lighten the load, and strengthen you to resist its demands upon your soul.
Those Snared By Her
They dwell upon the earth
"And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is." With whom does this spiritual prostitute, riding on earthly power, have influence? Who is it that are enamored of her, and yield to her enticements?
The Spirit states the case, and states it well. They are those who "dwell on the earth"-whose native habitat is the realm of the curse. They are the ones who "marvel" at the woman, and give honor to the beast that carries her. They are "friends of the world," and thus the enemies of God (James 4:4). They are dominated by the "carnal mind," and therefore incapable of being subject to the law of God (Rom 8;7).
We have heard of these people before. They shed the blood of the faithful (6:10). The rejoiced at the silence of God's witnesses, and were tormented by their presence (11;10). They worshiped the blaspheming beast, and are NOT written in the book of life (13:8). These are deceived by the miracles of the beast, and refuse to let it die (13;14). A motley group, indeed!
It is one thing to say these things, it is quite another to perceive them. Countless religious people maintain a primary association with this world, imagining they will still be able to detect spiritual error of false doctrine. They trust in their scholarship and reasoning powers to decipher truth from error. But both of these are utterly impotent apart from Divine affiliation. It is not possible for men to detect error or embrace the truth, while remaining an integral part of the cursed order. All such people, regardless of their religious upbringing, will be taken in by the harlot to which we are being exposed.
Not In the Book of Life
" . . . whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world." Again, Satan will tempt men to deny this truth. The "Book of life" is a spiritual way of referring to those who are "alive unto God" (Rom 6:11). It is another way of referring to those who "have eternal life" (1 John 5:13), or know God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3).
Stated another way, those who do not have fellowship with Christ (1 Cor 1:9), and do not live by faith, will be deceived by the "great harlot." They WILL embrace the lie, give their allegiance to what is false, and be ensnared by the devil. There is no way to escape these tragedies if our names are not in the Book of life! If we are not alive and sensitive to God, he will not keep us from what condemns!
O, that more people could embrace this truth. Churches are literally filled with people who live in practical alienation from God, yet imagine that they know the truth and are safe.
Let no soul be naive about this matter. Those who align themselves with the "great harlot" will share her destiny! Those who allow the world's wisdom and power to support their religion, will suffer perdition with the beast.
The Mind of Wisdom
"Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast."
The "seven heads and ten horns" have been mentioned before in this book. The twelfth chapter revealed the aggression of the devil against the people of God. There, he is depicted as "a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns" (12:3). Later, a beast rises out of the sea having the same traits. "Then Is stood on the sand of the sea. And Is saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns" (13:1). Preeminently, this speaks of the work of the devil. Secondarily, it emphasizes the means through which he executes his diabolical purpose-earthly government.
It is more than passing coincidence that the city of Rome was built upon seven hills. Historians frequently refer to it as "the seven hilled city." The names of the seven hills are (1) Capitolinus, (2) Palatinus, (3) Aventinus, (4) Esquilinus, (5) Coelius, (6) Viminalis, and (7) Quirinalis. The four first of these mountains were taken in by Romulus, the first founder of Rome. The remaining three were taken in by Servius Tullius, when he expanded the city. I do not question that Rome is involved in this vision, but do not believe it exhausts the meaning of the passage-else it would not require "wisdom" to decipher the meaning. "Wisdom" and historical identity are not the same.
I agree with brother Milligan, who said of Babylon, "Babylon embraces much more than Rome, and illustrations of what she is lie nearer our own door. Wherever professedly Christian men have thought the world's favor better than its reproach; wherever they have esteemed its honors a more desirable possession than its shame; wherever they have courted ease rather than welcomed suffering, have loved self-indulgence rather than self-sacrifice, and have substituted covetousness in grasping, for generosity in distributing what they had-there has been a part of the spirit of Babylon."(Milligan's Commentary on Revelation)
I site these observations, not because they prove the point, but to show a rather remarkable consistency in the view students of Scripture have taken on this subject. While some variation exists in the views, there has been a general consensus among believers that apostate religion is, in fact, the subject of the passage. I am not providing a peculiar view of the text, even though I have largely arrived at it on my own.
I conclude that we may look to Rome as the place where the opposing power was initiated, and after whose pattern it continues. In government, Rome brought a luster and dignity that was not common before it. In religion, it introduced a conglomeration of ritual, power, and religion that has proved to be the pattern for nearly all sectarian bodies.
The Lord then throws a bit of a wrinkle into the equation. "There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time" (v 10). Here, the word "kings" stands more for kingdoms than for individual rulers.
The King View
If we limit the city to Rome, taking the hills to be literal, the seven kings would be emperors of Rome. These are Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Cladius, and Nero (the first five). The existing ruler would be Vespasian, succeeder of Nero, and the seventh Titus. This would place the writing of Revelation during the time of Nero, which does not appear plausible. Also, it is the manner of Revelation to speak more of principle than of particular individuals.
The Kingdom View
If this is perceived as kingdoms, they would be Ancient Babylonia, Assyria, New Babylonia, Medes/Persians, and Grecia. The existing kingdom would be Rome, and the seventh would be a spiritual kingdom of great corruption. Were I to embrace a strictly historical view, this would be the most appealing one.
The overriding truth affirmed in this passage is that the greatest enemies of God's people are of this world, yet attempt to retain the shell of religion.
It is the devil that animates these opponents. The dragon himself had seven head and ten horns (12:1).
The devil also works through political means, an organized effort that employs the world's wisdom to make a name for itself. The beast from the sea has seven heads and ten horns (13:1).
However, the warfare of Satan against the saints reaches its crescendo in the false church, corrupt Christianity. The "great harlot" sat on a beast with seven heads and ten horns (17:7).
What we are beholding is an organized and unified effort. Satan is at its helm, earthly government is providing the principle of operation. But it is the corrupt church that represents the most extensive effort. By saying the woman rides on a beast with seven heads and ten horns, the Lord is showing us this is the very same opposition the church faced at the beginning. It has taken a more subtle form, and been sanctified with a religious mantel. However, it is still the devil spewing out a flood to destroy the bride of Christ.
"And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition." This is the principle of earthly government revived. The glory, as it were, of the ancient empire refurbished and utilized to oppose the saints. This time, however, instead of drawing attention to itself, it carries a spiritual harlot, who herself becomes the attraction.
By saying this "beast" "is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven," the Lord is saying the beast is different, yet operates with the same hellish principles as the kingdoms of the world. It is a spiritual power that animates and supports the enemies of God's people. In reality, however, all of them, including the animating beast, draw from the same well. Satan is their ultimate root, and the world is the mine from which it draws its practical resources.
The Ten Horns
"The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast." It is generally understood that this represents the breakup of the Roman empire. The ten kings, or kingdoms, were not yet in existence when John received the Revelation: i.e., they had "received no kingdom as yet." Those kingdoms are acknowledged to be (1) Vandals in Spain and Africa, (2) Visigoths in Germany, (3) Suevi in Spain, (4) Alans in France, (5) Burgundians in France, (6) Franks, (7) Britons in Europe, (8) Huns in Asia, (9) Lombards in Hungary and Austria, (10) Ravenna in Italy.
Their Power Given to the Beast
Just as the dragon, Satan, gave power to the beast, so these kingdoms give their power and strength to the beast. That is another way of saying they serve the purpose of the beast, aligning themselves against the people of God. Not only, therefore, is political government itself the opponent of the saints, but the wicked combination of religion and politics now bring harm to the people of God.
These all gave their kingdoms to the "beast" - i.e., they became the citadels of false religion. State churches rose in nearly all of these kingdoms, which were lesser kingdoms than the global empires before them. Politically, they were diverse. Spiritually, they "are of one mind."
Some are of the opinion the ancient Roman empire will be revived in these ten kingdoms prior to the coming of the Lord. They see the present European confederacy as a development of that situation. That such a thing could happen cannot be denied. That it is focus of this passage is questionable, to say the least.
The political entities receive "authority for one hour as kings with the beast." They flourish in this alliance, but only for a limited time. Remember, we are speaking of opponents of the body of Christ. In particular, of corrupt Christianity. It was aggressively promoted through these governments, and the churches that joined hands with them.
A Solemn Warning
While there is an element of mystery in this passage, some Kingdom principles are perceived. These represent the thrust of the passage, as it is not the manner of the Spirit to immerse us in the historical details of the future. We learn that Satan's initiative against the saints is an organized one. It reaches its apex when government and religion join together. In that unholy alliance, government consistently becomes dominant. Additionally, the alliance always becomes adversarial to those in Christ.
Opponents of the Lamb of God
"These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings . . . " Now we behold the real nature of earthly power. The word "these" refers to the ten kings or kingdoms just mentioned. While they might appear cultured and refined on the surface, they are the enemies of Christ. Limited to and dominated by the carnal mind, they are foolish enough to "make war with the Lamb."
From one point of view, this war has extended throughout history. The point of this verse however, is not the war they waged, but the termination of it. This is a futile war, even though the kings of the earth conspire together to wage it. They gather in vain against the Lord's Christ.
By saying they are given "one hour," the Spirit is declaring the vanity of their effort. In the words of the early church, they gather together "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done" (Acts 4:28). Do not read this text, therefore, in anticipation of a great initiative against the Lord Jesus. Rather, read it looking forward to the unquestionable triumph of our Lord. It is written, He will overcome them because "He IS Lord of lords and King of kings."
Those Who Are With Him
The triumph of Jesus includes all who are "with Him." Their presence does not guarantee the victory, but His presence assures they will triumph. Notice how the Lord has taken the Satanic aggression personally. From one point of view, Satan has spewed a flood out against the people of God. He is attacking the saints. From the higher view, the war is "with the Lamb."
And what of those who are with the Lamb? They are identified in non-institutional terms. They are not linked with the "great city" and "great harlot." The contrast with the corrupt church is remarkable. While it is rejected by Jesus and unfaithful, "those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful." That is not what they OUGHT to be, but what they are.
Real Commitment Not Present
"Then he said to me, 'The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire." The Lord will judge Babylon through the very ones with whom she joined herself! Her demise will come from the world system in which she trusted.
This is the language of the prophet Ezekiel, who also spoke of the fall of corrupt religion. With Ezekiel, it was Israel, who had corrupted herself with the religions of the world. The passage is lengthy, but carries in it the very language of this text. Here is his description of the Divine judgment against her. "Now then, O harlot, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD: Because your filthiness was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your harlotry with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children which you gave to them, surely, therefore, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved, and all those you hated; I will gather them from all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged; I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy. I will also give you into their hand, and they shall throw down your shrines and break down your high places. They shall also strip you of your clothes, take your beautiful jewelry, and leave you naked and bare. They shall also bring up an assembly against you, and they shall stone you with stones and thrust you through with their swords. They shall burn your houses with fire, and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; and I will make you cease playing the harlot, and you shall no longer hire lovers. So I will lay to rest My fury toward you, and My jealousy shall depart from you. I will be quiet, and be angry no more. Because you did not remember the days of your youth, but agitated Me with all these things, surely I will also recompense your deeds on your own head, says the Lord GOD. And you shall not commit lewdness in addition to all your abominations" (Ezek 16:35-43).
From one point of view, the false church used the world to further her own evil agenda. But from another point of view, the world used the false church to further its own interests. When those interests have been served, the world will turn like a wild beast on "the great harlot," bringing her down in infamy and shame. From one point of view, the harlot rode, or controlled, the beast. She "reigned over the kings of the earth," taking the dominance. But it was all short-lived. Such wicked alliances cannot last. When God's purpose has been served, she will come down. We must live in that anticipation.THE WHOLE MATTER IS OF GOD
"For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth." The Spirit speaks very specifically on this matter. This is not the mere foreknowledge of future history, but the declaration of Divine intention. It was not coincidence that the kings of the earth gave their kingdom to the beast, and worked in coalition with the "great harlot." It is true, the devil, or "great dragon," is the one who empowered the "beast" (13:4). Yet, it was not the devil's purpose that was ultimately being served. "For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose."
Remember, because men do not receive the love of the truth, God sends "strong delusion, that they might believe a lie" (2 Thess 2:11). That delusion takes a religious form-a Christian form, if you please. The Revelation has defined that form more precisely for us. It is religion organized and promoted using the principles employed by earthly government. The priority is placed upon the things of this world, and the wisdom of men becomes the engine of the organization. The touchstone that determines whether or not the organization receives a person or group is not that of God. God accepts people upon the basis of their reception of, and reliance upon, His only begotten Son. But it is not so with the "great harlot." Agreement with the institution, and the adoption of its agenda, is the means of obtaining approval. Character or spirituality have very little to do with the sanction and blessing of the false church.
The seeming irony of the case, is that the kings of the world agreed to operate in harmony with the great harlot's agenda. They were willing to put on the mantel of religion for a season. Our text, however, tells us that God "put it into their hearts" to do so. Some sophists do not believe such a thing is possible. Speaking of free will, they choose to affirm God never does such a thing. But they are seriously in error, and their position is in sharp conflict with the word of the Lord.
This is NOT strange language. Frequently God's Word speaks of God putting things in the heart of a person. In Ezra's day, the heathen king Artaxerxes determined to refurbish the house of the Lord. Of that determination Ezra said, "Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, Who has put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 7:27). On one occasion, the Psalmist reminds us that God provoked the enemies of Israel to hate her. "He turned their heart to hate His people, To deal craftily with His servants" (Psa 105:25). Solomon knew the Lord could turn the kings heart wherever He wanted: "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes" (Prov 21:1). When Nehemiah conceived of producing a genealogy of the people, he said, "Then my God put it into my heart to gather the nobles, the rulers, and the people, that they might be registered by genealogy" (Neh 7:5). This is, then, NOT an unconventional expression.
The Sovereignty of God is seen in this judgment. The kings give their power to the beast, and do so with one mind-heartily endorsing the beast's agenda. However, they only do it "until the words of God are fulfilled." See, it is God's purpose that is being fulfilled, not that of the devil. It is the Divine agenda that is being implemented, not that of the beast. The will of the Lord is being accomplished, not that of the great harlot. Whatever you may think of the devil and man's free will, neither shall proceed one millimeter past the determined will of God. They are serving Him, He is NOT serving them!
This reminds me of the Spirit's testimony concerning the conspiracy against the Lord Jesus-a machination that led to His death. At least, that is how it appeared to the eyes of men. What really occurred, however, is stated in a prayer by insightful saints. "The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ. For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done" (Acts 4:26-28).
This is precisely what is being declared in the Revelation: the fulfillment of the determined purpose of God. The unanimity between the world and the church was, of itself, wicked. Yet, it was something sent as a judgment upon professed Christendom because of its lethargic ways and refusal to receive the love of the truth. That very condition condemns all religious deadness. Lifeless religion is, in any situation, inexcusable and a reproach to God.CONCLUSION
Thus we have been exposed to "the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters" (Rev 17:1). The picture has been graphic, and provides much insight into the devil's assault against the people of God, and why it was allowed to happen. A brief review of what we have seen will be profitable. Remember, we are seeing a description of false religion - an apostasy that has occurred because men did not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved.
Seated on a beast with seven heads and ten horns (17:3). Here is religion carried along by the same principles that sustain earthly government. It is the world's concept of power that supports this wicked woman-corrupt religion.
Seated on seven hills (17:9). The loftiest worldly location, seen in Rome, yet descriptive of the best location the world has to offer.
Seated on many waters (17:15). Reigning over multitudes of people. This is no small enterprise, but a global one. From the human point of view, it is highly successful.
Attired with impressive clothing (17:4). Externals are the emphasis of false religion. It is impressive only to the eye and the mind of the flesh. That is why corrupt religion attracts carnal people.
Holding an enticing cup (17:4). Spiritual Babylon offers something that appears good, but is actually something reprehensible to God. This is so because what is offered does not have Christ as its center or eternal life as its objective.
The mother of harlots (17:5). False religion produces many children-and all like itself. This is the Scriptural explanation for the proliferation of religious sects and divisions, all bearing the name of Christ.
The mother of the abominations of the earth (17:5). False religion, rather than containing sin, actually promotes it. This condition exists because it salves the conscience of men, leading them to suppose they are all right, even though their nature has not been changed. They remain the same.
Drunk with the blood of the saints (17:6). False religion will be aggressive against the saints, even to the shedding of their blood. The reason is that true believers are a threat to worldly religion or institutionalism.
Blasphemous names upon her (17:3). God is reproached by lifeless religion. His name if effaced, and His cause obscured by a form of godliness that denies the power thereof.
In a wilderness (17:3). While reigning in the midst of multitudes, spiritual Babylon is actually in a desert, isolated from streams of living water, and the refreshing truth of God. Too, one must become isolated from the world to see her as she is.
Ruling over the kings of the earth (17:18). She manipulates earthy government for her own temporal advantage-and, for a while, the world consents to it. In such cases, religion is thought to sanctify government.
Hated by the powers over which she ruled (17:16). The world cannot forever tolerate religion, even in a corrupt form. It agrees to work with Babylon, only because God puts it in hearts to do so.
Brought down by the ones with which she aligned herself, after the purpose of God has been fulfilled (17:18). How different from the fellowship we experience with the Father and the Son. Those who are joined with the Lord are never repudiated by Him. But it is not so with the world. It is fickle, and will soon turn against those who imagine that joining in affinity with it will bring them advantage.
Beyond question, this is one of the most arresting passages in all of Scripture. My own life has been dramatically altered by a more clear perception of its message. The worst of all sin is religious sin-sin that takes place in a religious environment, and with the sanction of the institution. When our religion makes us comfortable in this world, we are being influenced by Babylon the great-the "great harlot." When men are content to remain at a distance from the Lord, while still wearing His name, the "great harlot" has made them drink her cup. When this world eclipses the world to come, and men still think they are Christians, they have been seduced by corrupt religion. The condition of such people is infinitely more serious than men dare to imagine. "Great Babylon" is to be taken seriously. She is to be shunned with consistency and zeal. God will not allow us to turn from His Son to anything else-even a seemingly successful religious institution.