Sermon: The Destruction of the World’s Idolatrous Economic-Religious System (Revelation 17)

The Destruction of the World’s Idolatrous Economic-Religious System[1]

Revelation 17

Primary Truth Taught

The beast carries the harlot along for the purpose of seducing men and women to follow them rather than follow Christ.

Introduction

If there is one thing human nature tells us it is that, as much as we hate to admit it we can easily get taken in by a scammer or con artist. Often something looks good when in reality it isn’t good. If you’ve ever made a purchase believing the TV ad or the label that claimed something and never delivered then you know what I mean. Way too quickly can we be taken in by something and then when it’s too late, only then we discover our mistake. Maybe you’ve purchased that thing you thought would make your life better, only to discover it didn’t. Perhaps you can relate to this dynamic we all must resist.

Then you may have believed someone only to discover they had been lying all along, whether it be a broken relationship or a promise made then broken…you may be able to relate.

Humans are gullible and here in this passage the entire world is taken in and conned by the woman who rides the beast. This woman uses seduction and like the harlot in Proverbs makes many promises which go unfulfilled. She is carried around or empowered by what John calls the beast. In John’s day the beast was the Roman empire with all its power, in our day the beast is still alive and well seen in much of our world through the economic, governmental, and even religious systems.

Today, we read about a woman, one whose role is to seduce the world and seek to get the people to find security and meaning of life in the beast. Remember that the beast is symbolic of this secular world system especially in terms of economics and governments.

Last week we covered the seven bowl judgments, which take place prior to the return of Christ. By the time the seventh bowl is poured out, God’s wrath on His enemies is completed they are all destroyed.

Now John is taken by the angel who poured out the seventh bowl and shown a close-up review of the sixth and seventh bowls. One commentator calls this a large interpretive review of the sixth and seventh bowls, which have foretold the judgment of Babylon[2]

So, we are given an in-depth account of the destruction of Babylon and the Beast, a close-up if you will which took place at the end of the Bowl Judgments…

At this point we should be reminded that Babylon stands for the great city of sin that sets itself against God. Babylon is pictured as the Harlot who rides the Beast. In other words, the city of sin and idolatry is carried by the world system and both set themselves up against God. The Book of Revelation calls this city a harlot, which is a little mild; it really should be translated whore to be as accurate as possible. Babylon stands for everything that is lustful, sensual, and seductive not only in a sexual way but also in a greedy, covetous way within the world system. This is the great city of idolatry.

We remember that the Beast represents the secular world system of buying and selling, of governments, worldly kingdoms, everything that seeks to set itself up as sovereign over God.

Human Need Met

It’s important that we are told about this dynamic. God has shown us a truth here that should help us in the future to navigate through this world until or Lord returns. We have such a propensity toward sin, sensuality, greed, lust and covetousness that God by grace shows us how this world works. Guard your hearts and minds from the beast and the harlot.

Revelation 17:1–18 (ESV)

17 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 carries 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; 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. 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. 13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 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.”

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. 16 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, 17 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. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”

  1. John’s Vision of The Seductive Harlot-City Babylon

17 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.

The first thing we should notice is how the angel shows John the City of Babylon. The great city is pictured as an alluring prostitute. This is the danger of the city Babylon. Babylon seeks to seduce people to herself and to the beast and away from Christ.

While the world should be serving and worshipping Christ, this harlot has seduced the world as seen by her ability to seduce the kings of the earth, the world’s leaders.

The lust for power and fame has its grip on the kings of the earth and on the nations. All one has to do is take a survey of the Roman Emperors or any span of kings to see this dynamic holds true. Fame and power are what they thirsted for even to the point of claiming to be gods themselves.

What’s more, we see that along with the kings of the earth all the people who dwell on the earth have been seduced. We see those who are called literally earth-dwellers are those who seek to make earth their home and not God’s people who seek a better place. These are also described just to make sure we understand as those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Without getting too graphic, the literal picture here is that the earth-dwellers have committed sexual acts with the harlot and have become one with her. In Genesis we’re told that a man shall leave his parents and become “one flesh” with his wife, indicating one physically (sexual act while married) and becoming one spiritually (one in purpose). Here the world has in a very real sense married or committed itself to the harlot through her seduction. The mark of the beast is their commitment to the beast to the point of being owned by the beast.

The nations are loyal to Babylon because in her they think they have wealth and security.

Isaiah 23:17 (ESV)
17 At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth.

The nations so blindly follow Babylon that John writes that they are drunk from her seductive acts.

We see many apocalyptic symbols in the description of the harlot and all of them depict her ability to seduce the world from her fine outward appearance to her connection to the Beast to her ability to rule and reign over the kings of the earth.

Many have tried to pinpoint who Babylon is but the truth is that Babylon refers to every system of government, economics, or religion that sets itself against Christ… Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.

She literally births other prostitutes just like herself. She is the mother of all earthly abominations.

In John’s day, Rome was the latest of the harlots setting itself up against God. There were others before Rome and there have been others after her.

  1. The Angel’s Explanation of the Vision

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. 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; 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. 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. 13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 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.”

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. 16 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, 17 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. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”

We see something a bit strange. John is said to marvel at the vision of the harlot and the beast. This word translated as marvel is really a word that means amazement, fear, and speechlessness. We might say John was awestruck. The angel intercedes and asks John why he marvels. From John’s perspective this image seems undefeatable. How can the Church hold on when this harlot is so seductive, the beast so powerful and the entire world of lost people chases after it? We might be tempted to think the same thing as we simply look around at our world today. We will see here in a minute just how it all works.

At this point we should realize that in prophetic writing, mountains stand for great power or rule such as an impregnable kingdom, the horns refer to the specific kings ruling over their kingdoms.

The bottom line is simply this, this harlot Babylon and the beast she rides has seduced every lost person who has ever lived… 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, The world system has complete dominance and control over the hearts and worship of earth-dwellers…

The angel declares to John in the midst of this amazing vision that the church must be on guard. This calls for a mind with wisdom.

As John stands awestruck and trembling thinking how can a tiny church, miniature in comparison to this giant called the beast stand in the midst of this world system? Then the angel shares a secret with him…

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.”

The way that the church wins is she is in Christ and Christ wins. The Harlot has seduced and gathered the kings and rulers of the earth to fight against Jesus but notice the contrast…Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, they’re just kings.

Also notice how the doctrine of election comes into play here…the earth-dwellers whose names are not written in the book of life fight against the Lord. All who belong to Christ are safe and secure… and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

So, again we see Jesus does everything to secure His victory and our salvation. We are with Christ and secure.

Application

Guard your heart and mind. The Great Harlot Babylon and the Beast are powered by the dragon and seeking to seduce you.

They are seeking to entangle your heart by trying to get you to think that the blessings and security of God can be found in other places. Satan tried this with Adam and Eve and was successful. So, we must be armed for battle and ready to resist the temptation to find God in other things.

Here’s a test: Ask yourself this question…How would I react if America’s economy goes under? How would I react if all our savings, retirement, way of life was vaporized in a day?

  • I would be utterly devastated and life would be meaningless
  • I would not like it but life would go on
  • I would struggle but realize God is still in control
  • I would see God at work and rejoice

There is an account in the Bible of a person who this happened to and they were so connected to her home and her stuff that she failed when it came time to leave it behind.   Her heart was way too connected to a city of sin, much like the symbolic Babylon we read about today.
Genesis 19:23–26 (ESV)

23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

What made Lot’s wife look back? We are not told but there was something in Sodom and Gomorrah that had seduced her heart. She was fleeing the great city, running for her life, but her heart, as it were, was still fixed and attached and seduced by something in the city. Perhaps her house, her possessions or her money that she had to leave behind.

God desires us to be free from the seduction of idols so that if it were all taken or lost we could be like those who were not earth-dwellers but heaven-dwellers.

So, the challenge for the church today is how it is we follow the command to be in the world but not of the world.

We must not be so attached to the world that we would hesitate or look back being torn between our love for Jesus verses our love for the things of this world. That church is something each of us needs to deal with. We each struggle in different ways with different things but in the end we must love Christ more.

**Resources Used- Revelation by Beale and Triumph of the Lamb by Johnson

[1] The Book of Revelation by G K Beale, page 847

[2] IBID

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