Revelation Part 30
The Judgment of the Great Prostitute
Rev. Ch. 17
I don’t know how may of you may have seen the movie The 6th Sense – but if you haven’t and are planning to – let me issue a spoiler alert for next minute or so.
As with most of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies, they contain a surprise ending – a big reveal that once seen, takes you back and makes sense of other things you’ve seen throughout the movie. The reveal completely reframes the entire story.
In the 6th Sense, a child psychologist works with a young man who is troubled because he thinks he sees dead people. Some of whom talk to him. When the movie plays out, we find out in fact that it is the psychologist who is actually dead. Suddenly almost everything of what you’ve already seen is completely recast.
In a very real way, this is how chapter 17 of The Revelation works. In it, comes “the big reveal.” All of which centers around the new figure who is shown to John by the angel – someone called “the great prostitute” or the great harlot.
It is no surprise then that getting the identity of this harlot (as she is called) correct, takes you back and strings a whole lot of what has come before, together in an entirely new way.
In the process, a number of the metaphors or symbols we’ve seen along the way, get mashed up together and we see how they are often various ways of seeing exactly the same thing from different angles.
So bear with me as first, we try to establish who or what this “great prostitute” is. Then, we’ll read the entire chapter through, wearing this new lens. And we’ll end with some applications.
Once again we are reminded that though the book of Revelation does not quote the Old Testament very much, it nevertheless makes more references or allusions to the Old Testament than any other New Testament book. You truly cannot make real sense of it apart from a firm grip on the OT. And nowhere is this more true than in this chapter.
The purpose of the chapter is given to us unambiguously in vs. 1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters,”
There is no question regarding what it is we are to be taking away from this vision: The Judgment of the Great Prostitute.
That being the focus, we need to identify her. 3 things to note here.
The phrase that “she is seated upon many waters” is helpful, since that idea is explained in vs. 15 “And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.”
An individual cannot be seated upon peoples, multitudes and nations. That an individual is not meant here seems pretty clear.
This is reinforced by vs. 2 where her “immorality” is with “the kings of the earth.”
This is reinforced yet again by vs. 3 where she is seen “sitting on a scarlet beast.” This description of the Beast having 7 heads and 10 horns was seen to be Satan himself in ch. 12. AND, it is also the antichrist mindset Satan uses to create a human society founded upon principles opposed to the rightful rule and reign of God.
There is no individual personage who we can imagine actually sits astride Satan in some way. This is clearly symbolic – but of who or what?
Of all the theories throughout history on this question, perhaps the prevailing view among the Reformers was the closest one. They were convinced the harlot depicted the Roman Catholic Church. In their eyes, the Church having sunk into selling indulgences, its seeking such vast wealth and political power – all the while abandoning the Gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone, and persecuting those who put their faith in Christ alone – made real sense. It still has a lot to commend it.
I think this is close, but a little too located in their own place and time.
I think the key does rest in the basic description: She is THE great Prostitute. And there can be little question that the prostitution being referred to here is spiritual, not physical.
There are 2 things which denote a harlot.
Rejection (or betrayal) of the sanctity of an exclusive intimate relationship in marriage, for some perceived gain. (Material wealth, security, status, satisfaction of illicit desires etc.)
Which always results in the harlot seeking to be as attractive as possible to the widest audience possible – rather than seeking to be most attractive to a singular love.
This is an image John and his first readers could not help but be drawn back to consider seeing as God’s most poignant way of referring to Israel’s sin against Him, as we just heard read to us from Ezekiel. A picture so graphically portrayed in the book of Hosea.
What appears to me to be the case, is that this pictures a people with professed fidelity to God and Jesus, I’ll say professed Christianity – but who in fact live more by the Worlds’ values and seek the Worlds’ acceptance and approval more than the Christ she claims to be betrothed to.
It is professing Christians & Christianity given over to the spirit of the age. Pursuing personal autonomy and denying that one owes allegiance to Jesus as Lord. Capitulating to the World’s morality so as not to be marginalized or persecuted. Inventing and promoting self-styled religion and spirituality apart from the Word so as to embrace everyone. Above all, seeking its approval from the World and seeking the material prosperity and security that acceptance offers.
We’ll claim to be “Christians” but we’ll seek what the World seeks, love what the World loves, approve what the World approves, and compromise wherever we need to, to be accepted and participate in what the World offers.
The liberal, compromising Church in whatever generation or form at any given time in history. And by whatever denomination or name.
God’s people, playing the whore with the world – to get its benefits.
And can there be a more timely warning to us? Can’t we see this all around us?
In July, I shared with you the account of Trinity Western University in Langley BC and their plight of being denied national accreditation for their law school because they require students and faculty hold to a very specific, Bible-based code of conduct. Each student was required to sign a community covenant which included a pledge not to lie, steal, cheat, curse, get drunk, use pornography—and to abstain from sex outside Biblical marriage. That last point proved too much for the Canadian Supreme Court. They ruled that to require students to abstain from sex outside of marriage discriminates against gay people. And on that basis, Trinity was rejected nationally from being able to add a law degree program.
The Canadian Supreme Court admitted that the University’s religious freedom was violated in this case. But ruled the law societies had the authority to refuse to approve this law school. Simply holding to a Biblical view of marriage was sufficient to keep them from forming a law school.
How did Western University respond to the Court ruling? We found out just this past week.
They have decided that getting the accreditation they were seeking, takes priority over their commitment to the moral covenant. And this very week have said students are no longer required to sign or abide by the covenant.
Believe me, I feel the pinch and the pain of the position Trinity was put in: Yield to the culture on this moral issue – or accept the consequence of not being allowed accreditation for the Law School.
But this IS the position the Church, Christians of all stripes, will be placed in increasingly in the days to come. And the question is, will we choose to consort with the World to get what it offers even if it means lack of fidelity to the God who made us, the Christ who saved us and the Spirit ho indwells us? Will WE play the harlot?
Will we take the temporary material security the World offers over the spiritual blessings of Christ? For we cannot have both.
Will we serve the World or self rather than King Jesus? We cannot serve 2 diametrically opposed masters. (Matt. 6:24)
Will we compromise on holiness to have what our flesh desires over what Christ has purchased for us? For without holiness, no man will see God. (Heb. 12:14)
Will we reshape worship and religion to be acceptable to those who reject the Gospel and the salvation found in Christ alone?
The Scripture paints those who claim to be Christ’s and yet take these steps – as prostitutes. And this spirit, this attitude, is the fountain from which every other abomination flows.
So now, let’s read through the text, stopping only long enough along the way to see how knowing this clarifies and changes the story line.
17:1 “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters”
What about this Prostitute – this compromising Christianity then? She is to be judged along with Satan and the World.
17: 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”
What of this woman’s activities? The kings of the earth have consorted with her. She has entered into an illicit relationship with the world powers. Seeking their approval and security above that of the God she professes to love.
And this relationship distorts all truth. It has produced effects something akin to drunkenness.
When the Church compromises this way, she distorts people’s vision and understanding of God and the truth so that they cast off restraint: We contribute to the moral decline of the world around us.
17:3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.
Make no mistake, the compromising church is supported by a scarlet beast full of blasphemous names. As we saw already, the beast with 7 heads and 10 horns was identified earlier: In ch. 12: this is the description given to Satan, and in ch. 13 to the Antichrist system.
So the metaphors get mixed together to reveal that The Beast is both Satan, AND the antichrist mindset he uses to create a human society founded upon principles opposed to the rightful rule and reign of God. The City of Man as opposed to the City of God. God created this world and mankind to live in right relationship with Himself, and Satan strives to turn that on its head in his hatred of God. And he uses us to do it. Precious mankind made in the image of God.
The picture is the Church allying itself so as to be supported by those/that which blasphemes God.
17:4-6a The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.
The woman is dressed as royalty, with wealth. But in her compromise of the Gospel, she actually ends up slaking her thirst on her immoralities – her illicit union with the World and its values.
Her name is Babylon the great – Babylon being the OT pinnacle of a godless society raised up in opposition to God’s people in judgment.
Thus in her compromise she has given birth to all literal prostitution and all the earth’s abominations. For ALL sin from the Garden of Eden forward flows from rebellion against the God who made us for Himself, in order to please ourselves above Him.
As a result, she is even intoxicated by the destruction of the saints. She is so distorted in her pursuit, she actually contributes to the destruction of the faithful. The liberal church turns on those who hold to Biblical authority and truth.
17: 6b-7 When I saw her, I marveled greatly. But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.
John was astonished – but the angel tells him not to be intimidated by her apparent wealth and status. We’ll come to see why.
17:8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.
The beast that supports her is what we’ve seen before; what was, but right then wasn’t on the scene, but would arise later and then be destroyed. Antichrist kingdoms and movements have come and gone before.
And as we’ve seen before, those who are not truly Christ’s will be taken in by the power, glamour and wealth she appears to have by virtue of her union with Satan.
17:9-11 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.
7 heads = 7 mountains – probably indicating pinnacles of power because they are also 7 kings. The antichrist spirit and philosophy always attaches itself to some worldly political system. Some have already come and gone, and some are yet to come.
The woman, the compromising Church always seeks to capitalize on the rise of world and political powers. To cozy up to whoever is most prominent and beneficial at the time.
But the last manifestation of this will have only a short time of power.
17:12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.
A great number of kings or world rulers will be allied with the Beast to get their turn at power.
17:13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast.
Such world powers will always be in league with Satan’s agenda and in opposing Jesus as King.
17:14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”
Each and every one of them will fall apart – even the last, under the just and final conquering war of The Lamb!
17:15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.
So remember, all of this is about the corrupting influence the compromising Church has upon the entire world. This is why she will be judged along with the Beast.
17:16-17 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.
What happens to the Church which compromises with the world in order to get its approval and material wealth? Those 10 kings, when they have no more use for the Woman, will ravage her and throw her aside. Compromise always leads to destruction by the very ones whose favor we court through it. The Church cannot perpetuate itself though compromise.
This is all part of God’s judgment plan.
17:18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”
When it is all said and done – the compromising Church is itself the very counterfeit city set up in opposition to God’s city of the New Jerusalem where Christ will reign for ever and ever.
The prostitute and those who consort with her, take that which is most representative of union, exclusivity, intimacy and commitment, and turn it into a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market.
When the Church, Christ’s betrothed bride seeks the attention and approval of those other than Him; looks for security and enrichment beyond what He promises to provide; invites into union with it those who are not Christ’s and expends her gifts on others for their ends rather than for His glory – we become the great harlot.
NOW – we can go back and see why the warnings to the 7 Churches in the opening chapters are so important, and how they are the thread which runs through the rest of the book.
The individual Christian and/or The Church at large when compromising with the world.
APPLICATIONS: 17:14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”
- A Word of Warning: Make no mistake – for all the money, all the machinery, all the Satanic influence, all the deception, all the prosperity and military might this world may possess, all will be defeated by the Lamb, the conquering Son of God. He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings, and those with Him remain faithful.
No matter how beneficial it might seem in the moment, all compromise with the world will end in those compromising – no matter what their profession of faith – being judged by the Lamb along with Satan and the World.
- A Reminder of the Gospel: Note how it is that all human sin and satanic power is destroyed – by the death, burial, resurrection and return of the incarnate Son of God.
It is the Lamb of God who alone conquers sin, satan, death and all that is contrary to the glory and goodness of God.
And how counter intuitive this is. Satan is seen as this massive, dreadful beast, scarlet, with 7 heads and 10 horns. On the back of which is all that is wicked and abominable and destructive – brought down by a Lamb. Brought down by the sacrificial and overcoming love of the living God for those who were once His enemies, redeemed by the atoning blood of the spotless Lamb. What a picture!
The Lamb WILL conquer them.
- An Encouragement to the True Believer: No matter how bad it might look. No matter how compromised the Church at large or some in it may become, those with Jesus are called chosen, and FAITHFUL.
He has saved us through His electing grace, and those He elects He preserves through the gift of faithfulness – to remain true to the very end. What a Savior this Lamb is. What a redeemer. How glorious our Jesus is.