Now if you’ll take a Bible from the pew racks in front of you or turn in your own copy of the Scriptures to the last book of the Bible, to the book of Revelation, chapter 17; Revelation chapter 17. We’ll read through verse 10 of chapter 19. Once you have the Scriptures open, that’s on page 1036, by the way, if you’re using one of our church Bibles, once you have them open before you please bow your heads with me as we pray together.
O Lord our God would You come now please and visit with us in the mighty work of the Holy Spirit to take up the Scriptures and as we read them together, as we sit under the ministry of their message, so work in our hearts to kill and silence fear, to strengthen faith, and to enable us as we cling to Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords to live in dependent obedience for His praise and glory. For we ask it in His name, amen.
We have been making our way through Revelation on Sunday evenings. Before we read the passage let me offer a few quick comments to help orient you to the material that we will find here. We have been observing over these weeks a critique emerging in the book of Revelation, a critique of unbelieving human culture and human society. And the structures of human civilization rebelling against God have been described as a great beast wielding political power or as a mighty city. And that last image, in particular, the great city, the symbol of anti-Christian civilization is picked up again in our passage tonight only now it is personified. The great city is personified here as a prostitute, seductive and deceptive and cruel. That is, we might say, the environment in which we all must live until Jesus comes. We live in the midst of that great city called, in our text, Babylon, the mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations. And John is writing to help Christians in his day and in our day to understand and survive while living in the midst of Babylon.
Then if you’ll turn over to chapter 19, verses 6 to 10, you’ll see at the other end of our passage another woman. She stands in sharp contrast to the prostitute, Babylon. She is the Bride, the Lamb’s wife. If the prostitute is a way to talk about anti-Christian civilization, the Bride is a way to talk about the society of the redeemed, the Church of Jesus Christ. John portrays her at her marriage feast in a great celebration, united forever to her Savior. And to a suffering Church in John’s day and in ours, enduring the predations and the pain of life under the tyranny of Babylon, that is a profoundly encouraging image to see. Here is our destiny. So the whole passage is bracketed, do you see, by these two women – the prostitute, Babylon, and the Bride, the Church.
And between those two images of the two women, there are two sets of songs. Most of chapter 18, is taken up with a series of songs of lamentation and despair as the world watches the downfall of Babylon. And in her demise, they see their own end in the judgment of God. But the first five verses of chapter 19, look at the same event, the downfall of Babylon, and they view it from a different vantage point – the perspective of the angels and the elders around God’s throne and of the Church on earth and in heaven. And from that vantage point, the fall of Babylon becomes grounds not for songs of lament and despair, but for songs of praise and thanksgiving as the Lord delivers His people from their oppressors and vindicates His justice and triumphs gloriously over all.
And so with that in outline as the message of our passage, let’s direct our attention to the text of God’s holy Word. Revelation chapter 17 at verse 1. This is the inerrant Word of Almighty God:
“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, 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.’ 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. 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.
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 carry her. 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. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 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. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 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. These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 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.’
And the angel said to me, ‘The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 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. And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.’”
And then in chapter eighteen there are a series of songs of lament, but if you will look at verse 4 of chapter 18, you will hear another voice addressing not Babylon but God’s people. Verse 4 of chapter 18:
“Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow and mourning I shall never see.’ For this reason, her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.’”
Then chapter 19 at verse 1:
“After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’
Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.’ And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, ‘Amen. Hallelujah!’ And from the throne came a voice saying, ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.’
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb, has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’ Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.’ For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy, inerrant Word.
Tonight I want to think with you about the two women in John’s remarkable vision – the prostitute and the Bride. And we ought, I think, to be deeply grateful to God in His wise providence for so ordering things that we should be at this point in the book at this season of our nation’s history. Think about where we are at this cultural moment. Just about eighteen months ago the Supreme Court of the United States of America legalized so-called same-sex marriage in every state in the Union. And all around us, the radical social agenda of the sexual revolution continues to gather momentum in our legislatures, on our college campuses, among our neighbors. On our streets, the officer involved shootings of young black men continue to generate dramatic protests and unmasked profound racial tensions still boiling away not terribly far beneath the surface of our society.
And then you turn on the television news and we find ourselves standing open-mouthed, dumbfounded at revelation after revelation of corruption and mismanagement and deception and perversion and debauchery from our leaders and from candidates for the highest office in the land. Those whose calling it is to preserve liberty and maintain order and protect the most vulnerable instead use power for their own ends to advance the perverse agenda of abortionists or to promote sexual chaos that has become the new normal. The poor get poorer and the least of these are ignored in the service of a quick buck. “But hey, that’s just the cost of doing business,” we are told. And so when all the experts, when all the experts can do is talk over the top of one another on our television screens and our politicians are masters not at telling us the facts but at manipulating the media, don’t we need a voice to cut through the cacophony with clarity and honesty and truth? Don’t we need to hear an analysis that shows us reality and offers us some hope?
Brothers and sisters, it was for such a world as ours to speak for such a time as this that the book of Revelation was first written. The fact is, the world of John’s day and our own world are not so terribly different. And his message, as I hope we’ll see, continues to hold out to us the same hope it did to the suffering church in the first century.
The Great Prostitute
Notice, if you will, the first woman in the text, the great prostitute. Did you see how she is described in verses 1 to 6, of chapter 17? Seated on many waters, seducing and intoxicating the political leaders of the world with sexual immorality. In verses 3 to 6, John sees her sitting on a scarlet beast covered in blasphemous names. She’s dressed like a queen in purple and scarlet, bedecked with jewelry and finery and the golden cup in her hand. It’s full of impurity and sexual immorality. The mystery name that she carries is “Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And she herself, we are told, is “drunk with the blood” of God’s people. It’s a dramatic vision!
The Angelic Interpretation
And we’re not left to scratch our heads wondering about what it all means. An angel interprets the vision for John and for us. Do you see that in verses 7 through 18, the angelic interpretation? Notice what he says first about the beast upon which the prostitute rides; Verse 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.” Now we met this beast back in chapter 13 verse 1. It is, we saw, the counterfeit Christ who claims kingly dominion in the political realm. He is a parody of God the Son, the Lord Jesus, and so the expression we find here that the beast “was and is not and is to come” mocks language that the book of Revelation uses first of God the Father in chapter 1 verse 4 and again in verse 8. He’s the one who “was and is and is to come,” and it’s also used of Jesus Himself in chapter 1 verse 18; “He is the first and the last, the living one. I died and behold I am alive forevermore,” He says. The beast, on the other hand, “was and is not and is to come.” That is to say, whatever he has been and done and whatever he will yet be and do, he is nevertheless presently, already defeated. He “is not!”
Human Civilization in Rebellion to God
And then John says its’ seven heads are seven mountains upon which the woman, Babylon, is seated. Now immediately John’s original readers would have thought of the city of Rome built on its seven hills. But then we learn that these seven heads are also seven kings. Five are dead; one is here at the time John wrote; another is to come. And the commentators go simply crazy with theories about these seven kings. Are they seven ancient kingdoms? Are they the seven most important emperors of Rome? In my view, all of that, all such attempts are ultimately red herrings in the end. John’s point is less about which specific kings or kingdoms, ancient or modern, are represented here. He’s less interested in whether or not the present or the future president of the United States is referred to here somewhere, or the Pope, or Osama bin Laden, or whomever your own brand of apocalyptic conspiracy theory has latched on to. That is not the point! Rather, we are meant to see that the great prostitute, Babylon, this symbol of human civilization in rebellion against God, is carried and upheld by politicians and princes in every age. Even the beast himself, John says in verse 11, belongs to the seven. That is, he shares their character. A political power, maybe even the climactic expression of anti-Christian political power, but of the same character as the rest nonetheless.
The Conquering Lamb
And a similar message comes out in verse 12. Look at verse 12; the ten horns are ten kings who hand over power to the beast and make war on the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, and on the church. The point is actually really very simple in the end. Despite the thick layers of metaphor that John piles up, we ought not to be surprised when the political office is leveraged for wicked ends. When those in power reject the Lordship of Jesus Christ and set themselves to undermine all that is just and good and true. Do notice carefully, however, before we move on, that John says of the last of these seven kings in verse 10, that he will remain “only a little while!” The beast, likewise, verse 11, “goes to destruction.” The seven kings in verses 12 through 14, receive authority but only for one hour together with the beast. This is meant to be a chilling picture!
And yet, we’re meant to see that the awful power that threatens the power of God across the ages in our day as in others days is nonetheless marvelously, wonderfully limited – a little while, one hour, and then they go to destruction. Yes, they make war against the Lamb, but verse 14, “the Lamb will conquer him,” the beast, “for He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful.”
I wonder if that’s a word we may need to hear tonight with special care. If you’re a Christian, you are called and chosen and faithful, believing, trusting. Now we know Jesus conquers. We know Jesus is the true and only King. But when you last turned on CNN or FOX News, was that really the truth that was most operative in your heart in the last two weeks, let’s say? Or were you gripped, rather, with fear at the beast and its seven heads and its ten horns and the great prostitute who seduces the world with her perversions being paraded in front of you yet again? Don’t we need reminding today, particularly, that the Lamb conquers? The Lamb conquers! No enemy of the Lamb, foreign or domestic, can prevail in the arena of God’s eternal purpose. None of the abominations that Babylon seeks to normalize in our culture will be allowed to stand in the end. The Lamb wins! The Lamb wins! Have you forgotten it?
Then, notice verses 15 to 18 that for all the drama and seductive beauty of the great prostitute, for all that human civilization living in rebellion against God seems so alluring, notice carefully that in the end, it is utterly self-defeating. Do you see that in the text? The waters where the prostitute sits, we are told, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages. Babylon will deceive the world but the political powers she controls in order to do so, verse 16, they hate her. Look at verse 16. “They will make her desolate and naked. They devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.” An awful image! Do you see what it's saying? These power-hungry politicians who extend the reach of Babylon in every age and in every land, they are ultimately parasitic. The whole system is self-destructive! Sin is always like that, actually. It often has every appearance of wisdom but as the beast and the horns and the prostitute eventually learn, all who set themselves up in alliance against the final claims of King Jesus are MAD.
God’s Sovereign Purpose
M-A-D! Those of you who can remember the Cold War remember that acronym, perhaps – Mutually Assured Destruction. That’s what sin is like. That’s what happens to those who follow the temptations of Babylon. The various parts and players of global society, busily shaking their fists at God, taking counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” But their destruction is mutually assured. The nations plot in vain, because, verse 17, God has put it into their hearts to carry out His purpose of “being of one mind and handing over royal power to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled.” Here’s the truth! Whatever it may look like on CNN or FOX News, here’s what’s really going on! The Lord is carrying out His sovereign purpose until His words are fulfilled.
Do not marvel!
But what do we make of this part of the vision? John tells us in the text actually two things: He says first of all, “Do not marvel!” In chapter 17 verses 6 and 7, we’re told that when John takes in this vision of Babylon the prostitute he “marveled greatly.” That is, he is astonished and perplexed and almost overcome by it. I know how he feels; don’t you? We’ve all seen something of the great prostitute plying her trade on the national stage of late, haven’t we? And hasn’t it been easy to join John in his perplexity and in his fear to marvel, to be horrified, overtaken perhaps with confusion at the monstrous reality of human culture that can be so twisted and so base? I think we need to hear the challenge of the angel to John in verse 7. “Why do you marvel?” That’s what the dwellers on the earth, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world do. That’s what they do, in verse 8. Do you see that? When they see the beast that the prostitute is sitting on, they marvel. But the people of God ought not to be surprised nor afraid nor impressed. For all her beauty and royal glory, for all that the powerful and the important of the world submit to her allure, we know she doesn’t have the last word, don’t we? Not only shall the Lamb conquer, but God has made the whole self-defeating system serve His greater end to bring His Word to fulfillment in the end.
People of God, it’s time for us to stop wringing our hands in fear about the outcome of the election! Are you really surprised that Babylon acts in Babylonian ways and says Babylonian things? She is a great prostitute, the mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations. She has been seducing the nations since John wrote Revelation. And the Lamb on the throne remains King of kings and Lord of lords for all that, doesn’t He? Of all people, Christians alone have a reason for confidence and hope in a dark world. We have a reason for confidence and hope in a dark world. And so of all people, Christians ought to be the most serene knowing that Babylon and the beast are MAD. Their program entails Mutually Assured Destruction in the end.
Come Out of Her, My People!
And the second thing John says we must do is there in chapter 18, verses 4 to 8. We read it together earlier. Jesus says, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues.” Now John is building there on the language of the prophets who were warning Israel to stand apart from the sins of the nations before judgment came. Passages like Isaiah 52 verse 11, “Depart, depart, go out from there. Touch no unclean thing.” Or Jeremiah 51:45, “Go out from the midst of her, my people.” We are to be distinct and separate and holy. The attitudes that we see celebrated and valued by the world are to find no echo in the heart of a child of God.
And if you’ll look carefully, you will see that the songs of lament for Babylon’s downfall with which chapter 18 is littered, show us why and how we must be different as God’s people. Notice Babylon’s sexual immorality, verse 3; her arrogant self-assurance, verse 7, “I sit as queen. I am no widow and mourning I shall never see.” Her materialism verses 11 through 13, and again in 16 and 17 and 19, the things that she values. The way she trades even human beings like mere commodities, verse 13. Her idolatry, her soul longs for fruit and delicacies and splendors, verse 14. Those are the marks of Babylon whose downfall, we are told in verse 9, comes in a single hour. No matter her material assets, her political power, her seductive allure, her global following, it takes one hour for her destruction to be complete. Before the judgment seat of King Jesus, the wickedness of the world cannot stand. And so, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues.” Or, to put it a little differently, while you remain in the world, do not be of the world! While you cannot withdraw altogether from Babylon’s presence, you can withdraw from Babylon’s principles and Babylon’s practices. Christians must not mimic the world! To be among the chosen and faithful of the Lamb is to be called to holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord. To sexual chastity and purity, to economic generosity and sacrifice, to personal humility and servant-heartedness.
It’s as though John were saying to us, “Whenever you turn on the television screen and you see those who ought to be role models celebrated instead for their perversion or rewarded for their sin, let it be a spur to you to stand apart, to come out from her to be holy. Let the sin in the world around you trigger a growing desire for purity of heart within you. Do not be surprised at Babylon being Babylonian,” John says. “Instead, come out from her my people. Pursue holiness! Be distinct that all may know whose you are, to whom you belong. Not Babylon, not the beast, but the King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Tsunami of Praise!
And then if you’ll turn over to chapter 19, you’ll see that while the fall of Babylon is mourned and lamented by the citizens of the world, heaven has a different response altogether, doesn’t it? Verses 1 to 5 of chapter 19; the tsunami of praise, I wonder if you remember it from chapters 4 and 5, that swept outward from the epicenter of God’s throne so that the living creatures around the throne and then the elders and then that vast multitude began to sing praises. Well here we are back again in a similar scene around the throne but this time that tsunami sweeps back inward in those same concentric circles, in toward the throne. First, in verses 1 to 3, a great multitude in heaven begins to sing, “‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’ Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.’” And then the next concentric circle in takes up the song, the twenty-four elders, and the next, the four living creatures, they fall down and worship verse 4, saying “Amen, hallelujah!” And then fascinatingly from the throne itself comes a voice. “Praise our God all you his servants! You who fear him, small and great.” Sweeping in from the church triumphant through the elders and the angelic creatures around the throne, all the way in, until even the one seated on the throne, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, is engaged in the adoration of the living God. He echoes back the praises of the saints and the angels with a summons to praise our God indeed.
The Downfall of Babylon!
And what is the subject of heaven’s joy? It is the end of Babylon. It is the downfall of Babylon. The final end of human culture developed and constructed in defiance of God. The final end of political power wielded in order to impress. The final end of persecution and social exclusion of those who follow the Lamb. It is the final vindication that the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Brothers and sisters, one day Babylon will fall. One day righteousness will triumph. One day the oppressed and the downtrodden will be liberated. One day the great prostitute will fall. And John wants us to see it clearly, to hear echoing down through the ages the songs of heaven into which we will be swept on that great day. And as we do, he wants us to hold on, to press on, and to wait for that day’s dawn with perseverance no matter the predations of the beast or the seductions of the prostitute.
The Bride of the Lamb
And then, at last, the scene finally shifts and here now we see the second woman of John’s great vision, even as the worship of heaven mounts to a crescendo. Like the roar, John says, of many waters and the sound of many peals of thunder, the church triumphant sings, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns! Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory for the marriage supper of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was granted to her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure, for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” That is why we are to come out of Babylon, by the way. That is why we are to have no part in her immorality and sin. That’s why holiness matters. It is our wedding dress. It is our fitness for the heavenly celebration. It is our preparation for glory. Without holiness, remember, no one shall see the Lord. You can’t get married in that. You must clothe yourselves in fine linen, bright and pure, the righteous deeds of the saints.
Now some of us are worn out by living here in Babylon, aren’t we? We’re tired; we’re anxious. Maybe we feel marginalized culturally, patronized by our society. The pressure to compromise, to join the nations in drinking from Babylon’s golden cup of impurity is strong indeed. It’s hard work living in Babylon. But one day soon, one day soon the Lamb will come. Babylon will be overthrown in an hour and the Bride will go to her wedding day in joy at last. And so the words of the angel are true, aren’t they? It might not always feel like it, maybe it doesn’t to you right now. It might feel even that sometimes the great prostitute has triumphed. But hear the truth, you members of the Bride of Christ, the Lamb’s wife, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Blessed are you. These, after all, are the true words of God. Do you believe them? Is this the operating system that has control of your heart and generates your response when Babylon parades across your newsfeed each day? “Blessed are those who have been invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” The day is nearer now, brothers and sisters than when we first believed. One day soon the Lamb will come and Babylon will fall. You are blessed! You are blessed! The supper, the marriage supper is coming, and so John would say to us very simply, “Whatever happens in eight days, nine days, press on. Do not be afraid! The King of kings, He reigns, and the Lamb, the Lamb, He conquers.”
Let’s pray together!
Our Father, we bow before You with gratitude, praising You that the Lamb has triumphed, the Lamb wins. The Lamb conquers. Not Babylon, not the beast, not the great dragon, the Devil himself – the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. King of kings; Lord of lords. Help us to live in the grip of that truth, not in the grip of unbelief or fear. And so we commend one another and Your people in this place into Your wise keeping. Help us not to marvel like the world does, but instead to trust in King Jesus who even in the dark days in which we live is governing all things, working them together til His Word is fulfilled. And so we pray with John while we wait, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Hasten the day when the marriage supper arrives. Til then, give us persevering grace, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.
To view recordings of our entire services, visit our Facebook page.