The world seems so full of promise and excitement, until its secrets appear.
One of my favorite things about the book of Revelation is its name: The Book of Revelation. It’s like saying, The Book of Sight.
In every era of the church, we Christians have faced the challenge of discerning our times and making choices about how to live. 2020 is no different, except that we are closer now to the literal fulfillment of the book’s contents than our forbears. Like our friends in other time periods, we’re tempted to choose wrongly and often tempted to compromise. Revelation is a needed book, because without clear sight—divine GPS—you will succumb to something that will suck the spiritual life right out of you.
Three times in Revelation an angel told John, “I will show you.” Each of these instances was strategic. The first was in chapter 4 where an angel began to show John “what must take place” ( v. 1). This is obviously important since it sets the prophetic tone for the entire book, and of course, we need to know where we’re going. Another time, in chapter 21, the angel shows John “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (v. 9)—important, because it makes clear what Christ wants, and who we are. It’s both a purpose and identity statement all bundled into one.
Chapter 17 is also about an angel showing something. It’s a slow-motion look at the seventh Bowl, the judgment on Babylon (16:19), and important because especially toward the end of the age, you have to know what to avoid.
In verses 1-6, put yourself in John’s shoes, and see what he saw.
1 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, 2 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.”
The image of a prostitute and her customers will demonstrate something unfaithful, morally compromised, and economically corrupt. Her clientele involves governments the world over, so she portrays a global system. Involvement with her compromises purity, and as with literal drunkenness, numbs the mind and causes one to lose fear of consequences.
3 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. 4 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. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” 6 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.”
No doubt those without spiritual sight will find this woman alluring. But Revelation unveils to us her true nature—a lurid, ghoulish woman riding a monster—the very world system itself. She is prolific, breeding “daughters,” and thus creating a long history of corruption that has always been hostile to Christ and His followers.
I remember my first experience with television after being born again. I had never been a serious watcher, but I had a small color set, and one afternoon, I clicked it on. It was during the afternoon talk show/soap opera time slot. I watched for a little bit. I had only been saved about a month and had spent zero time in formal church meetings, or under preaching Ministry, or heavy-duty discipleship. No one had ever told me anything bad about television. Yet during that short stretch, I was amazed at how almost every attitude and value was the opposite of what Jesus wanted me to be—and this was 1984!
I asked my mentor if he had ever noticed anything odd about television, and he laughed and said, “It’s the world.” I had lived in “the world” for 21 years, but had never noticed anything amiss about it before. What made the difference? Sight. I’m not on an anti-television crusade here. My point is that even as a young believer, I had taken a quick look into that glass tube, and noticed what I was seeing was not normal.
What do you feel when you look out at the world? Not the world, meaning the Grand Canyon, or sunset beaches, but the world system. Do you feel excitement, hope? If so, God wants you to feel differently. That’s why He provided the image of a prostitute—so you’d have a visceral reaction to it, and handle it with care. But if you don’t, you’ll be in danger of spiritual fornication, as the kings of the earth in verse 2. They seek security, purpose, pleasure, and fulfillment from the world, and not from God. They are spiritually unfaithful in His eyes.
Though Christians agree with this concern, it is another thing to have insight into what the world really means.
7 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.
John had been in seeing mode throughout much of this book, but even at this moment, he needed to be told what he saw. This particularly difficult section will be a trip down the proverbial rabbit hole.
As the angel begins, he cannot talk about the world without mentioning the Antichrist, because the world rides the Antichrist. We heard a lot about the beast already in chapter 13, but these verses go into an almost mystical dimension of understanding about him.
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.
According to these verses, Antichrist was dead, and now re-enters circulation on the political scene. This isn’t resurrection, nor reincarnation, but some dark phenomenon that generates quite a show. Worldly people void of spiritual sight will be drawn into worshiping him. But people whose names are written in the book of life won’t. Why? Because when a person believes and receives Jesus Christ, they have eternal life, a life that enables them to see. One of the things they see clearly is that the beast cannot compete with the glory of Christ.
9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated.
The angel speaks in this passage about Rome—the political world system of the first century. The seven hills of Rome are Avotine, Caelian, Esquiline, Quirinal, Viminal, Capitoline, and Palatine. The coming beast is one with this political system, and the woman, the economic-religious aspect of it, rides around on him. Money, politics, and heretical religion always go together. As verses 10-13 show, they always oppose Christ and His believers. Bottom line: they lose.
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.”
Then, a surprise:
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.”
Though political, economic, and religious powers help each other, don’t think this is a loving, committed relationship; it is exclusively user-based. That’s why a lot of cloak and dagger, deals and betrayals, take place in this realm. We’re always vaguely aware that dramas are taking place behind closed doors. Some of them, like the sudden turn against the prostitute, break out into open view. Godless powers often turn on one another, but their strife is not random. God is ultimately in control, harnessing their thoughts while allowing them to express the full measure of their sin.
When you flirt with the world, you’re flirting with deceit. Spiritual blindness. Fornication. Using and being used. Dark strife. Hostility against Jesus Christ and His saints.
I used to see kids at youth events respond to the message of “Don’t love the world.” They would get inspired and invariably burn music tapes. Then, when the inspiration wore off a few weeks later, they’d go re-purchase those tapes. In other words, the world meant little more than Def Leppard. If you asked them what’s wrong with Def Leppard, they would say, It’s rock and roll. And what’s wrong with rock and roll? They’d respond, Christians don’t listen to rock and roll. Why don’t they? Because rock and roll have electric guitars and drums. When you finally hit bottom in this line of questioning, you wouldn’t find the stark images of Revelation 17 warning them. Instead, it would be some form of religious cultural reasoning.
And the adults around them weren’t doing much better since our “world” was also made up of self-created inventories. Some of the items are now laughingly outdated, such as owning a Sony Walkman or reading the sports page. This is why the Bible offers few lists of these kinds, as they antique so easily. When Scripture does offer them, like the one provided in chapter 18, the point is not to create a checklist that says, “avoid these at all costs and you’ll be fine.” Worldliness cannot be addressed this way. In fact, when we try to take that route, we usually find ourselves fighting against things overwhelmingly attractive. It takes jarring revelation to show the world’s ugly side.
This doesn’t mean God wants us to withdraw from the world and live a weird life. We should be reflective with our faith, as we guide our families through issues of the day. We should conscientiously bring the gospel to bear upon the things we allow into our homes or the things we’re promoting our kids to go and do. Over the last thirty-five years, I’ve seen some Christian families say, “We’re not going to be religious prudes,” while they dumbly embraced everything out there. Their reasoning was, “I don’t see any harm in it!” And they were right: I. Don’t. See. Their problem with a spiritual vision deeply damaged them.
Not only does this affect families, but whole churches. Back in Revelation chapter 2, the symbolic woman (there called Jezebel), brought false teachings into the church in Thyatira. Idolatry and sexual fornication were two things that immediately broke out there.
We’re people of sight. Not only do we see what the world is, but who Christ is, and who we are. As we’re making decisions, the world might cry out for us to it, but may we always answer from verse 14,
“I am with Christ, called, chosen, and faithful.”