Pastor Scott Andrews | March 12, 2023
As I have recently mentioned, I have not seen in my lifetime our country more divided than it is now – politically, morally, racially, spiritually. The so-called left and right are divided on virtually every topic. Interestingly, those divisions can almost be drawn geographically – the coasts leaning toward the left, the interior toward the right. Of course, the population centers are on the coasts, making the entire country lean left, or, liberal.
But here’s what’s interesting. Many of those same coastal regions are in economic and political decline – the entire west coast (California, Oregon, Washington) and much of the Atlantic northeast. As a result, many are fleeing those areas to move to states with more economic stability – like Texas and Florida which they excoriate. For example, New York lost almost 200,000 people between 2021 and 2022, and California lost half a million people between 2020 and 2022. The reason given is so-called out-migration – more leaving than those coming. I guess you could ask, who wouldn’t want to move to places with greater economic strength and prosperity – and more personal freedoms. It’s also interesting to note, while their governor is often in the news, Florida’s population grew by over 300,000 in the same time period, replacing Idaho as the nation’s fastest growing state.
Speaking of Idaho – have you seen where many counties in eastern Oregon – next to Idaho – are interested in being absorbed by Idaho – literally redraw the states’ boundaries. Make Oregon smaller, and Idaho bigger. Why? The eastern part of Oregon doesn’t want to belong to the likes of Portland – they identify more with Idaho’s policies. As I understand it, the issue may soon be put to voters.
But here’s a problem: those relocating bring with them their political and moral ideologies, slowly turning so-called red states into blue states. It’s as if they don’t understand their political strategies and dare I say, moral leanings, brought about the failures in their previous states.
But really, none of this should be surprising to us. This democratic – better, republic experiment seems to have run its course. We are going the way of all the earth – of every empire or country which existed before us. Especially as we have abandoned more and more the Christian faith. It should not then come as a surprise. Not only are we on a significant downward slide morally, that downward slide has been precipitated by a religious freefall – particularly in the Christian faith. More and more are declaring themselves agnostic or atheistic – others are turning to other religions – and less are committed to the Christian faith – especially the evangelical faith. And so, church membership and attendance are on the decline. The largest evangelical denomination – the Southern Baptists – have lost two million members in the last few years. Further, in 1999, 70% of Americans belonged to a church. Today, it is only 47% – the first time in our history it’s under 50% – notice, a drop of 23% in just over 20 years.
All that to say, our national decline in many ways mirrors our religious decline – again, within the Christian faith. What’s my point in all that? Here’s the question: where do you want to live? You see, in our ongoing study of the book of Revelation, John draws a sharp contrast between two women, and two cities. The two women are the beast-riding prostitute and the bride of the Lamb. The two cities are Babylon the Great and New Jerusalem. One is the city of man, one is the city of God. With whom and in which city do you want to live? Our nation has rather quickly declared its allegiance.
Last week, we finished the third septet of judgments – the seals, followed by the trumpets, followed by the seven bowls of plagues – which remember, finish the wrath of God. Near the end of chapter 16, we saw when the seventh angel poured out his bowl, there were flashes of lightning, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake, such as had never been since man came to be on the earth. So, we’re told the great city was split into three parts, speaking of total annihilation. Further, the cities of the nations fell. The cities of this nation, some already falling, will fall for the same reasons. The great city, we found, was Babylon the Great as God remembered her and gave her the cup of His fierce wrath.
So now, chapters 17 and 18 tell of this fall of Babylon. Now notice, chapter 17 begins with, “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters…’ Verse 3 says, “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast…” He goes on to identify the harlot/the prostitute as Babylon the Great.
But 21:9-10 say this, “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, ‘Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…” Did you notice? John is drawing an intentional contrast between two cities and two women. So again, the questions this morning are, in which city do you want to live? With what woman do you want to be identified?
So, let’s read our text today – all of chapter 17 – to see the description of the prostitute and the beast she rides – as well as her appointed end. Revelation 17:1 says…
Does that clear it up for you? As last week, I intend to cover this entire chapter in one week so I don’t have to come back to it next week. In the chapter, we see:
- The Introduction and Description of the Prostitute and the Beast (1-6)
- Then, we see The (Angelic) Description of the Beast (7-14)
- And finally, The Destruction of the Prostitute (15-18) by the beast, which catches us off guard.
Again, like last week, it’s not a lot of fun. I won’t try to turn over every rock, but simply hit the high points as we make our way through the text, starting with the introduction of these two – the harlot/the prostitute and the beast. One of the seven angels who had just poured out his bowl of God’s judgment said to John, come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters. Don’t miss that – John is expecting to see this harlot’s judgment, which explains his reaction of astonishment or great wonder in verse 6. Doesn’t look like judgment…yet.
The angel describes the harlot sitting on many waters, which we’ll find in verse 15 refers to people. Verse 2 tells us the kings of the earth committed immorality with her. Kind of disgusting – the word does speak of sexual immorality. But we find in the OT (Isaiah 1, Jeremiah 3, esp. Ezekiel 16 and 23) that people engaged in idolatry were often called adulteresses. They were immoral. That’s likely the meaning here. While sexual immorality is often rampant within the bounds of idolatry, the angel is speaking of worshiping false gods –here, namely the beast from chapter 13, who we know is the Antichrist.
And it wasn’t just the kings, the leaders – it was the earth dwellers, unbelievers, who were made drunk with the wine of her immorality. She led them to lose their moral senses in idolatry and all that comes with it. Again, don’t we see that mirrored in our own country – abandon God, and immorality runs rampant.
And so, the angel carried John away in the Spirit – the idea is either a spiritual vision or in some way spiritually transported him to see the harlot. He’s taken to the wilderness – which is either a place of protection as the woman with child in chapter 12, or like here, a place of testing and judgment.
There, John sees a woman sitting on a scarlet beast – the same beast we saw in chapter 13 rising from the sea. Here, he is scarlet which speaks of his wealth and even nobility. He is described further as full of blasphemous names and having seven heads and ten horns. That’s exactly the description we saw in 13:2, speaking of his power and authority, and the blasphemous names speak of his blasphemy and hostility toward God. We’ll come back to the beast in our next point.
In verse 4, we find the woman clothed with purple, a color of royalty, and scarlet, again, a symbol of wealth. In other words, she is that to which people will be drawn, especially if you make money, wealth, power, prestige your greatest pursuits. She is alive and well in the US today.
She is adorned with wealth – gold and precious stones and pearls – one of the most precious gems in the world at that time. In her hand she had a gold cup – so far, so good I guess – except the cup was full of abominations and the uncleanness of her immorality. The description is at once both provocative and repulsive. That’s the way sin is, by the way. Enticing, yet in the end, repulsive and destructive.
We are told her identity in verse 5, for on her forehead is a mysterious name written, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and the Abominations of the Earth. To be the mother of something means she produces it – she produces harlotry – prostitution – that is, this pursuit of other gods, and she produces all the abominations that go with it. We are supposed to be repulsed by the description. Who would pursue such a disgusting woman, such a deplorable city? And yet we live in a world, indeed a country today, which pursues exactly that. Our nation has rejected the true God and pursued instead gods of their own making, largely themselves and their own pleasures – abominations. Who would have thought we would live in a country, in fact a world, where such activities clearly condemned in Scripture are now accepted as normal – as human freedoms – as morally acceptable to be celebrated? Even the so-called church has lost its way, calling good evil, and evil good.
Verse 6, most challenging, And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. The saints or holy ones and the witnesses of Jesus are the same people – it’s written in apposition – these saints were witnesses of Jesus, which cost them their lives. Babylon killed then. And we remember 12:11, “And they overcame him (that is, the dragon or Satan) because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” These gave their lives because of their testimony to or about Jesus. And it made the harlot – the one who turned others away from Christ – it made her drunk on their blood. It’s a gory picture – she was intoxicated with the deaths of God’s people. Who would want to live there, with her?
And so, John was greatly astonished. Which brings us to the second point – the description of the beast. The angel who was escorting John asked, why do you wonder – why are you astonished? I will tell you of the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. And he starts with the beast through verse 14.
Now let’s remember the context. We learned of the destruction of Babylon the Great in chapter 16 – now we are learning how. By the way, this is yet another very challenging passage in Revelation – believe it or not, some suggest the most puzzling of the book. It is interesting – John is astonished by what he sees, so the angel says he will help him understand – he will tell John and us the mystery. Having read and studied it, I’m not sure the angel was that helpful, but here we go.
Verse 8 reminds us of what we learned about the Antichrist back in chapter 13. There, we read, “I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast.” So here, we read the beast was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. It seems to imply that the beast had been present, and now was not, but would reappear. We don’t know if that all happens within the tribulation period or not – likely so, since the implication seems to be that they see the fatal wound, but then see this supposed resurrection – remember, imitating Christ.
As a result, the end of verse 8 says they will wonder when they see the beast – that is, that he was and is not and will come. All those will wonder, notice, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. We’ve found, and will find in chapter 20, that the book of life is the book containing the names of the righteous – the children of God, those who believe in God’s provision of salvation by grace through faith. Now, of course, through the death of His Son, which is why it is called the Lamb’s book of life.
Now, we see these names have been written in the book of life since before the foundation of world, which is intriguing. I’m not going to get into why the names were written there and then – but the implication seems to be that they were at some point chosen for salvation – regardless of the cause of that choice – since before time. In fact, verse 14 will call them the called, the chosen and the faithful. By the way, just an aside, that means the old song, “There’s a new name written down in glory, and it’s mine, oh yes it’s mine” is not necessarily true. Your name has been written since before the beginning of time.
In verse 9, the angel goes on, telling us that understanding what he says requires a mind of wisdom. We read the same thing back in chapter 13 regarding the number of the beast – 666. There, we learned that while there are lots of guesses as to the meaning of the number of the name – when we need to know it, we will. I believe the same is true here – when we need to know all the angel tells us, we will know. So any speculation, some of which I’ll share, is just that – speculation.
The angel tells us what the symbols of the beast are. He says the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. Now, at this time in history, everyone knew Rome was built on seven hills or seven mountains. Clearly, this beast is somehow in authority over the city of Rome, upon which the woman sits. And we remember that John was writing during the Roman Empire – specifically, during the time of Emperor Domitian, who with other emperors, was seen as divine, as a god. And since Christians refused to participate in the emperor cult, they were singled out for persecution. Even martyrdom in some cases.
We’ll come back to Babylon the Great – clearly a euphemism for Rome – I think representative of all cities of all time, but especially the end of time, the city of man which stands in opposition to God and His people. Which means, whatever appropriate similarities existed in Babylon and Rome will be repeated at the end of time.
In verse 10, the angel says the seven heads are also seven kings: five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. Lots of discussion about these seven kings – attempts at identifying them as certain Roman emperors, specifically the ones who opposed Christianity, or perhaps seven kingdoms which also opposed the faith. Lots of challenges. Clearly, five of them are dead, and one is ruling, and one is yet to come – another who will oppose the faith. Perhaps. And he will only remain a little while.
But then, verses 11-13 talk about an eighth king – the beast, who was and is not and who will come. He, too, is in line with the seven – perhaps speaking of his opposition to Christians. None will do so more than the beast. He is clearly the Antichrist who will come – but who will also go to destruction when his work is finished – we read about that at the end of chapter 19.
But in verse 12 of our chapter, we read the beast had ten horns – symbolizing power – which are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom. In other words, they haven’t arisen yet – they will apparently be in power during the end of time, in the tribulation along with the beast. We read they will receive authority as kings for one hour – which simply means a limited amount of time. And verse 13 tells us they have one purpose – to give their power and authority to the beast. These ten kings are aligned with the Antichrist. All you’ve heard about the European Union or a resurrected Roman Empire – I don’t know about all that. I think the number ten in Revelation speaks of completion or fullness – these ten kings speak of the rulers of the earth, wholesale, following the Antichrist.
In fact, verse 14 tells us they will wage war against the Lamb – we will read about that battle of Armageddon in chapter 19 when the Lamb returns. And He will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings – He bears that title on His thigh. And He will strike down the beast and the false prophet – and strike down the nations who stand with them against Him. And in His army will be His people – the called, chosen and faithful.
Which brings us to our last point – verses 15-18 where we see the destruction of the prostitute. It doesn’t look like destruction. She’s the leading city of the day – decked out in all the things we pine after – wealth, power, nobility, prestige. She’s riding the scarlet beast. All seems wonderful. She even sits upon the waters – which now we find are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. We’ve seen that or similar lists seven times in this book now – referring to people everywhere. That is, those people she has led into immorality and idolatry.
But verse 16 takes a dramatic turn. The ten horns which you saw – the ten kings which gave their power and authority to the beast – the one this woman is riding – these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. That seems to be a fair degree of animosity. What’s going on here?
Nothing, except what we’ve said from the beginning. The red dragon, the beast from the sea, the beast from the land – the unholy trinity made up of Satan, the Antichrist and the false prophet hate people – even their own followers. Why? Because people are created in the image of God. True, they have rebelled against God, and we saw in chapter 16 they blaspheme the name of God, they refuse to repent and give Him glory. But that does not matter. Evil hates evil, and brings about its own destruction. Who would want to live there?
You’ve seen that, haven’t you – in the world. People hate people – they are jealous and envious, they fight, they kill, they destroy. Evil implodes on itself. The only remedy is to worship the God in whose image we are created – where we find peace and hope and joy. But as people remain dead in trespasses and sin – these they do not pursue.
And so, the scarlet beast and the ten kings – representative of all evil leaders and empires – will rebel against the harlot – Babylon the Great. You say, but isn’t that like civil war – to fight against the same team. Yes, yes it is.
Why do they do this? It’s part of God’s judgment. Don’t miss verse 17, For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose – self-destruction – by giving their power – the power of the ten kings – to the beast. Until the words of God throughout Scripture by His prophets will be fulfilled. Evil will be defeated and banished, and God will be all in all. This is all unfolding according to divine plan.
The woman who you saw is the great city, Babylon, which reigns over the kings of the earth for a time. But even her doom is sure. Which brings us to our conclusion. I asked the questions, I ask them again: in which city do you want to live and with which woman do you want to be identified? You see, Babylon the Great in all glory, looks enticing. Many, even most, are drawn to her. And yet, her condemnation and destruction are assured. And the bride of the Lamb – her future glory and exaltation are equally assured. Where do you want to live?
Which raises another challenge today. Many want to move into the new neighborhood – the new city – but bring their politics and morality with them. Forget politics – can you move from one city to the next without changing your citizenship? Can you become part of the bride of the Lamb, and still live like you’re in Babylon? Can you call yourself a child of God and live like a follower of the beast? No, you can’t.
Many professing believers are confused about the freedom we enjoy in Christ. They think freedom is a release from legalism – and there is a sense in which that is true. But biblical freedom is freedom from slavery to sin, and freedom to obey Christ. We’ve exchanged masters, from sin to Jesus. We aren’t free to pursue Babylon and its enticements. We are free to pursue Christ.
Galatians 5 says it this way, “For you were called to freedom, brothers; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another….But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality….” And the like.
Paul actually then says, “of which [things] I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Why? You haven’t changed addresses. You’re still living in Babylon. We are not free to pursue Babylon’s immorality – we are free to pursue righteousness and Christ. I challenge us to live like residents of a different city as part of the bride of Christ. Live like children of God.