Babylon: City Prostitute

The first entry in this series can be found here.
The previous entry can be found here.

All great novels (and movies) feature a fantastic struggle between good and evil. Often there is one person who represents the evil and one person who represents the good:

  • Voldemort versus Harry Potter
  • Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker
  • Sauron versus Frodo Baggins

Granted, the last example does a disservice to the depths of the story. Tolkien makes it clear that the entirety of the fellowship was necessary for success against Sauron. But we’ll come back to this idea as we go on.

The Bible is no different. There are many places where we see a contrast between good and evil. To name a few:

  • David versus Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
  • Lady Wisdom versus Lady Folly (Proverbs 7, 9, 31)
  • The Whore of Babylon versus the New Jerusalem (Revelation 17, 21).

In our passage today, John introduces us to the Whore of Babylon in an effort to contrast her with the New Jerusalem and call people to escape her promised destruction.

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the judgment of the notorious prostitute who sits on many waters. The kings of the earth committed sexual immorality with her, and those who live on the earth became drunk on the wine of her sexual immorality.” So he carried me away in the Spirit to a desert. I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and 10 horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She had a gold cup in her hand filled with everything vile and with the impurities of her prostitution. On her forehead a cryptic name was written:

BABYLON THE GREAT
THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES
AND OF THE VILE THINGS OF THE EARTH.

Then I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the saints and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished.

Then the angel said to me, “Why are you astonished? I will tell you the secret meaning of the woman and of the beast, with the seven heads and the 10 horns, that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and go to destruction. Those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast that was, and is not, and will be present again.

“Here is the mind with wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated. They are also seven kings: Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes, he must remain for a little while. The beast that was and is not, is himself an eighth king, yet he belongs to the seven and is going to destruction. The 10 horns you saw are 10 kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they will receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”

He also said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute was seated, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages. The 10 horns you saw, and the beast, will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, devour her flesh, and burn her up with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to carry out His plan by having one purpose and to give their kingdom to the beast until God’s words are accomplished. And the woman you saw is the great city that has an empire over the kings of the earth.”

Revelation 17:1-18

Last time we discussed Revelation, we saw the end of the world. Today, John rewinds the narrative and gives another vantage point to help us more fully understand the end of the world. Whereas in chapters 12-13 we saw the supernatural power behind the evil in this world, in this chapter and the next, we are introduced to the visible, human manifestations of this evilness. John refers to this as the Whore of Babylon, riding on the beast. He does this in three parts: he describes the evil world system (17:1-6), he reminds us of the demonic power behind it (17:7-15), and he announces its promised destruction (17:16-18:24; since 18:1-24 highlights the reactions to and meaning of Babylon’s destruction, today’s post will conclude at the end of chapter 17).

The Evil World System

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the judgment of the notorious prostitute who sits on many waters. The kings of the earth committed sexual immorality with her, and those who live on the earth became drunk on the wine of her sexual immorality.” So he carried me away in the Spirit to a desert. I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and 10 horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She had a gold cup in her hand filled with everything vile and with the impurities of her prostitution. On her forehead a cryptic name was written:

BABYLON THE GREAT
THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES
AND OF THE VILE THINGS OF THE EARTH.

Then I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the saints and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished.

Revelation 17:1-6

There are a few mysteries here that will be explained more fully in the following section, but here, it is worth pointing out that the prostitute sits on both many waters and a red beast. John explains in the following section that the waters are the world’s population (17:15). This is interesting, because it also says that she sits on a beast, and in 17:8, John reveals that this is the same beast from Revelation 13. The beast of Revelation 13 who died and was revived came out of the sea (in other words, out of humanity).

This prostitute is clothed in scarlet, the same color as the beast–according to this passage. The prostitute worships the beast and begins to look like the beast. We are what we worship. She perverts the world with her prostitution. This is why sex sells: Satan has taken sex and perverted it. When a person commits sexual immorality, he or she is partaking in worship of the beast, playing directly into the world system’s playbook. And John is clear that this sexual immorality leads to drunkenness, which ultimately takes power and control away from the one who is drunk. When people commit sexual immorality, they are giving their best life to the devil. This is in the background of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:15-17. The result of this sexual drunkenness is blasphemy–both in life and speech.

The cryptic name is worth focusing on. “Babylon the Great. The Mother of Prostitutes. And of the Vile things of the Earth.” If Babylon in Revelation represents the sinful world system and can be called the mother of everything evil, then it is not a great stretch to refer to the New Jerusalem (the Church) as the Mother of the saints. Therefore, like Cyprian said, we must take the Church as our Mother if we want to claim God as our Father. (And lest you think this comes out of nowhere, 17:14 makes it absolutely relevant.)

The devil–through the beast and prostitute–wants to destroy the Church. They prefer to do this by corrupting them into carbon copies of themselves, drunk on sexual immorality. But when the Church stands firm, they settle for a second option: violence and murder. And then, not only are they drunk on sexual immorality, but they are so drunk on sexual immorality that they are numbed to the violence against people created in God’s image and this encourages them to even more drunkenness.

This should astonish us. It should cause us to make war against everything in our souls that could lead us down this dark road of unfaithfulness. In fact, as our passage continues, a professed Christian who continues flirting with sexual immorality can not have assurance of salvation. Break free from this destructive vice!

Its Demonic Power

Then the angel said to me, “Why are you astonished? I will tell you the secret meaning of the woman and of the beast, with the seven heads and the 10 horns, that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and go to destruction. Those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast that was, and is not, and will be present again.

“Here is the mind with wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated. They are also seven kings: Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes, he must remain for a little while. The beast that was and is not, is himself an eighth king, yet he belongs to the seven and is going to destruction. The 10 horns you saw are 10 kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they will receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”

He also said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute was seated, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages.”

Revelation 17:7-15

The beast is not yet visible, but one day it will be. This will astonish the evil world system. This astonishment must be due to the fact that they will one day realize that they are not in charge of their own destiny. They will realize that they’ve been deceived by the beast.

Verses 9-13 are probably the most difficult verses in the book of Revelation. To keep it simple, it looks like this must refer to Rome–the empire in power at the time of John’s writing. There’s a legend that Nero would be raised from the dead. Also, using some numerology methods, the number of his name is 666 (cf. 13:18). And interestingly enough, if one looks at a list of Emperors of Rome, Nero was the fifth (“five have fallen”). Otho and Aulus Vitellius only reigned a total of a year–combined–and simultaneously with Vespasian (“one is”). Titus would reign for two years (as the seventh: “the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain for a little while”). Domitian–another violent persecutor of Christians–could be understood as a revived Nero (see Augustine, City of God XX.19.3 for a reference to Nero as the beast (Antichrist).

This forces us to determine how we can make sense of the book of Revelation today, if the identity of the beast refers to someone who died almost 2,000 years ago. (I would posit that 17:12 and the reference to the 10 kings are still future.) At the risk of oversimplifying things, I would point to the previous section to make sense of this passage for today. The spirit of the antichrist is still present and active in the world: worship the beast, partake in immorality with him, or die for the pleasure of the beast (cf. 17:13-14). Even though I live in the United States where our freedom of religion is still respected, the immorality and filth of the beast is everywhere–even here. In other countries where freedom of religion is not respected, the violence against those who fail to worship the beast by partaking of immorality is a regular experience.

If the world worships the beast by their immoral deeds, then the Church worships God by our righteous deeds. It’s not enough to just not do immoral things; we must actively practice righteousness! (We’ll return to 17:14-15 below.)

Its Promised Destruction

The 10 horns you saw, and the beast, will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, devour her flesh, and burn her up with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to carry out His plan by having one purpose and to give their kingdom to the beast until God’s words are accomplished. And the woman you saw is the great city that has an empire over the kings of the earth.

Revelation 17:16-18

The evil world system is doomed. Christ will war against it, but even more than that, John makes it clear that the ten kings at the end–along with the beast–will turn on the prostitute and destroy her. The evil world system will crumble from the inside. This is all part of God’s plan.

The sexual revolution is part of this process. In America, we’ve seen this revolution charge ahead at breakneck speed, to the point that even some in the LGB community feel that things have gone too far by adding the T to the community. The linked article there opens by saying, “The spectacle of a revolution eating its children has not been uncommon in history,” which is extremely interesting, given the phrasing of 17:16, “They will make her desolate and naked, devour her flesh, and burn her up with fire” (emphasis added).

This is why Tolkien’s emphasis on unity is so critical for success against Sauron. It’s simply a commentary on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 12:25, “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.”

So what is there to do? Is there any hope against this promised destruction? The promised hope is seen in 17:14-15.

Those with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.

He also said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute was seated, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages.”

Believers are called and chosen (cf. Matthew 22:14). But it is not enough to be called and chosen. We are not saved by election alone, but by faith that works through love (cf. Galatians 5:6). We must be faithful as well. Those who belong to Jesus are faithful (cf. Revelation 7:9-17; 14:1-5). This means that they don’t partake in the worship of the beast with the prostitute–through sexual immorality (cf. 14:4).

But what about those under the sway of the prostitute? These are the same people from which Jesus calls His people: “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language” (7:9). As such, Christians must insist that people repent and believe in Jesus. Destruction results either way–either destruction of your sinful habits or destruction of you.

I promise that you will prefer the former. Place your faith in Jesus today! Commit to fighting against the prostitute by loving sinners enough to call them out of their destructive, sinful habits.

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Sola Fide
Solus Christus
Sola Scriptura

Thanks for reading.

The next entry can be found here.

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