Sunday, May 29, 2016

REVELATION 17 - VISION OF THE GREAT PROSTITUTE

Revelation 17:1 through 22:9 tell the story of the Great Prostitute, or Harlot, the King and the Bride. The story of the Great Prostitute and her fall is long, extending from 17:1 to 19:10. This means it is important. There will be several comparisons between the Prostitute and the Bride. The Prostitute is the negative image of the Bride. The story of each one begins with the appearance of one of the seven angels who carried the bowls of judgment. The angel says come and I will show you and then carries John away in the Spirit to the wilderness to show him the Great Prostitute, as the Spirit carried Ezekiel into the wilderness. It also seems to reflect Isaiah 21, an oracle “concerning the wilderness of the sea” that foretells the destruction of the city of Babylon, even saying “Fallen fallen is Babylon”. These words will be repeated in Revelation 18.

The ending of both stories ends with words substantially similar to “these are the true words of God”. In each case, John fell down and attempted to worship the angel, but was prevented from doing so.

The Harlot is a symbol of the world system opposed to God. The Harlot is also called Babylon. That symbol makes since because, in the Old Testament, Babylon is the capital of those who rebel against or oppose God. Remember Nimrod, son of Cush, grandson of Ham? He was a mighty man and he established many cities which became enemies of God’s people. The first of those cities was Babel. (Genesis 10:10)  Later the people of Babel attempted to build a great tower to heaven to make a name for themselves. God thwarted their plan. (Genesis 11) Later, Babylon became the enemy of Israel, attacking it many times and finally destroying it and taking the survivors back to Babylon in exile. The fall of Babylon, the Great Prostitute, was announced by an angel is 14:8. It was shown in 16:18-19, the Seventh Bowl. Now we see a more detailed version of it.

The Vision of the Prostitute (what John saw)
17:1-6

The angel first says up he will show John the judgment of the Great Prostitute. He described her as: (1) seated on many waters; (2) the one with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality; and (3) who made those who dwell on earth drunk with the wine of that sexual immorality. Remember, “those who dwell on earth” refers to those who are no believers and are not sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Often the image of sexual immorality in the Old Testament, and in apocalyptic literature, is a symbol for idolatry. I think it is the case here. It goes back to the relationship between God and his people. God referred to himself as the groom or husband. HIs people, Israel, were his bride or wife. If they were unfaithful to him by worshipping other gods (idolatry), it was then similar to a wife being unfaithful to her husband (adultery or sexual immorality) In the New Testament, Christ is the groom and the church is the bride.It is similar to God’s condemnation of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 16. It is also the basis for Babylon’s judgment in Isaiah 21. The Beast forces worship of the state through physical power, violence, agains the church. It began with Rome. But Rome also seduced through economics and physical pleasure. This is represented by the prostitute.

The woman’s dress shows her to be wealthy and powerful, dress in the colors of royalty and adorned with jewels. She held a golden cup, an item reserved for the wealthy and powerful. This cup, though, is full of abominations having to do with sexual immorality. The word “abominations” was often used in the Old Testament for the practice of idolatry with various false gods. The word also brings to mind the “abomination of desolation” which described Antiochus’ desecration of the Jewish Temple Daniel foresaw in Daniel 9:27 and 11:31. Jesus used the phrase also to foretell the destruction of the temple by the Romans. (Matthew 24:15) On her forehead, was written a name of mystery, Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of the earth’s abominations.

In addition to her gross immorality, she was a persecutor and murderer of the saints, becoming drunk on their blood. (6) Their is a partnership between the government wishing unlimited power and the world system of greed and pleasure to kill their opponents, the followers of Christ who refuse to participate because they seek holiness and the worship of the one, true God.

The woman sat on a beast. The beast had blasphemous names, seven heads and ten horns. (3) This is the description given to the first beast, the beast rising from the sea. (13:1) This beast symbolized the power of government to persecute the saints. Like the beast from the sea, this beast is covered with blasphemous names. The fact that the woman sits on the beast indicates the world’s system of greed and pleasure is held up by the power of government. These two forces are united (at this point) against a common enemy, Christ and his church.

This vision was powerful. John marveled greatly at the prostitute, likely because of her obvious wealth and important position. She also looks like a great religious figure. But the angel rebuked him. And, good for us as well as John, the angel explained the meaning of the prostitute.

The Angel’s Explanation
17:7-14

The Beast is the one with the mortal wound. He was, is not, is about to rise from the pit. (8) The fits with the description of the beast from the sea, who had a mortal would, but it healed. (13:3) This beast has the power and authority of Satan, having Satan’s throne and great authority. (13:3) He leads people to worship himself and to worship Satan. He is a powerful force of government, forcing worship of the state and its leader. The first and immediate type of this was the Roman government, forcing emperor worship on its subjects and killing those who resisted. But the ultimate power that is the Beasts at the end of the age will be even more powerful and aggressive. The angel said the miracle of apparent resurrection will cause every non-believer on earth to marvel at him or worship him. But, the end of the beast is destruction. It “goes to destruction”. (11) Christ will defeat him.

The angel continued his explanation in verse nine. The beast had seven heads. (3) The angel said they are seven mountain and also seven kings. Some think the mountains represent the seven hills upon which Rome was built. Some interpret the kings as Roman emperors and attempt to order them to fit this passage. But, these appear to be kingdoms or centers of power. Daniel referred to kings, but clearly meant kingdoms. The beasts in Daniel are also kingdoms or governments.

Much time has been spent speculating on who the fallen five are, and the others in verse 10. I will not speculate, but instead concentrate on the shortness of their reign: a little while. (11)  It may be that the seven represent pagan kingdom across the age, since seven in Revelation represents complete periods of time. The Beast, as the eighth king, belongs to the seven in that it is a powerful government opposed to God.  Regardless, time is short for these early powers. Christ is coming in power to defeat all of his enemies. The Beast “goes to destruction”. (11)

The ten horns are ten future kings who join the beast. But their authority only lasts one hour, a very short time. (12) They agree with the beast and submit to his authority in order to make war on the Lamb (Christ). But this was a mistake, for the Lamb will conquer them. He is after all the Lord of lords and King of kings. We who follow him are the “chosen and faithful”. We can persevere because we know this.

The Prostitute Is Deserted
17:15-18

The angel revealed that the waters upon which the Great Prostitute was seated are the people of the earth (peoples, multitudes, nations, languages). This is a picture of a world order devoted to immorality ruling over all those who are not in Christ. But, there is trouble in this faux paradise. The governmental powers turn against the powers of the economic and social order. The kings turn on it and destroy it. This is because the kings believe the Beast’s power and worship must be absolute.

In verse 18, the angel told John the woman was the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth. She is “Babylon” symbolically.

Behind this destruction of Babylon the Great Prostitute is the Almighty God, who put it in the hearts of the kings to carry out God’s purpose. The description of her destruction is very similar to the destruction of Jerusalem God threatened in Ezekiel 16.

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