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A. We’ve just finished the seven bowls of God’s wrath poured out by the seven angels. Last week we talked about the sixth bowl: the assembling of the armies of earth against God’s saints, and then the seventh bowl: the judgment day earthquake and hail.
1. But the seven bowls aren’t really over. There are continued references to the seven angels who poured out the seven bowls through the next few chapters, beginning in the first verse of Rev.7.
2. Not only that, but the dragon, beast and false prophet from ch.12-15 continue in the story as well.
3. In fact, Rev.17-19 seems to be an extended elaboration of the sixth and seventh bowls, so it’s important that we go into this with the sixth and seventh bowls in mind.
4. Rev.17 is too long to cover in one week, so we’ll look at the setting of the scene this week and then the explanation of the details next week.
B. Revelation 17:1–7 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.” 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.” 6a And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. 6b When I saw her, I marveled greatly. 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 carries her.”
C. So, in this vision we are introduced to the great prostitute, she is sitting on a beast, clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations, and upon her forehead was written, "BABYLON THE GREAT, MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF EARTH’S ABOMINATIONS." So, the first question is...
II. (The harlot)
A. Who is this prostitute? Well, what are our hints? What are the indicators here of who she is?
1. She is a prostitute, so for the sake of her own gain she is luring people away from the right path, or from the one they should love.
2. Secondly, she is seated on many waters, which means she is appealing to all people on earth.
a. This interpretation is given in Revelation 17:15, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.”
b. She’s not a local prostitute, just affecting a few. She is luring people astray throughout the world.
3. Next, she is referred to as sitting on a scarlet beast full of blasphemous names which had seven heads and ten horns.
a. Who is this beast? It seems to be a conflation of the dragon of ch.12 and the first beast of ch.13. It’s called a beast, not a dragon, but it’s red like the dragon, it’s full of blasphemous names like the beast, and it’s got seven heads and ten horns like both of them.
b. So, she is supported by the devil and his wicked helpers.
4. She is also referred to as Babylon the Great. Just a few verses earlier, in the vivid picture of the judgment day, Rev.16:19 says that “God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath,” so she symbolizes something God hates & will destroy.
a. When we talked about Babylon the Great, we said it represented the city of man, or humanity in rebellion against God.
5. Perhaps the best way to describe who this prostitute is is that she’s the world, not in the sense of John 3:16 (For God so loved the world), but in the sense of 1John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” or in John 15:19, where Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
a. This is consistent with Rev.18:4, where John hears a voice from heaven talking about this same woman, “Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues.”
B. Her beauty
1. Now you would think that whoever would be riding on a seven-headed, ten-horned monster would herself be hideous. But that is not the case here. Notice how attractive she is: “The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup.” (Rev.17:4)
2. So although she is carried along by the power of Satan, yet she is apparently beautiful and enticing and seductive!
3. Well, though the three monsters we’ve been talking about since ch.12 are hideous, they are also very clever. They know that their effectiveness will be limited if they merely approach people as repulsive monsters. They know that in order to maximize their success, they need to improve their public image; they need to come across as appealing and life-giving. So, they called in the top experts in the demonic marketing department.
4. And what did they come up with? This prostitute! She reminds us of the woman of Prov.7:16-21, who says, “I have covered my bed with colored linens...I have perfumed my bed with myrrh and cinnamon. Come, let's drink deep of love till morning; let's enjoy ourselves with love!” And with persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk.
5. She was literally dressed to kill – just like this prostitute.
6. Why even John seems taken by her when he sees her, “When I saw her, I marveled greatly,” much to the chagrin of the angel, apparently, who challenged him, “Why do you marvel?” (Rev.17:6-7)
7. You see, one of Satan’s most powerful tools is when he appears as an angel of light. (2Cor.11:14)
8. And one of the most powerful tools of these devilish monsters is to seduce the world in the form of a beautiful seductress. That’s why Revelation introduces us to this woman who is trying to seduce people away from Christ.
9. That’s the reason the world does not always appear hideous. It often appears alluring & exciting.
10. And not only does she look appealing, but the drink she offers looks the same, for she is serving it in a gold cup, a cup which looks elegant and exquisite, hiding the poisonous and filthy contents: “a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality.” (Rev.17:4)
11. You expect the most precious drink to come from a gold cup. This is part of the trick. The most vile things are made to look enticing.
C. And now notice the effect she has on people. V.2 “Those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”
1. She makes the whole world drunk! Drunk with the wine of worldliness.
2. You know that when a person gets drunk, at first he enjoys the taste and the sensation, but after a little while he starts losing his ability to see and think clearly.
3. It’s interesting that there is such a connection between promiscuous sexual immorality and drunkenness. It seems people want to be uninhibited. They don’t want to think straight. They want to get carried away. They want to silence their consciences!
4. The prostitute has them under her spell.
5. Did you know that there is such a thing as a spiritual alcoholic?
D. There are two competing women in Revelation just as there are in Proverbs.
1. The two women of Proverbs, of course, are named Folly and Wisdom. They both call out in the street trying to convince people to come to them and buy what they’re selling. One is selling wisdom, which begins with the fear of God. The other is trying to lure people into foolishness.
2. And in the same way, there are two women of Revelation doing the same thing. The harlot is not the only woman in the story of this book.
3. Here in Rev.17:1 one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls of God’s wrath said to John, “Come, I will show you the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.” Then, several chapters later, one of the seven angels with the seven bowls of God’s wrath shows John the other woman, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” Rev.21:9
4. The church corresponds to “Wisdom” and the harlot (the world) corresponds to “Folly.”
5. To understand the harlot we need to realize that she’s in competition with the Rev.12 woman, who is also the bride of Christ.
6. This prostitute is not just an agent of the dragon and the beast, she is also a counterfeit bride.
7. Like a prostitute acts as a substitute or surrogate wife, so this prostitute inserts herself as an alternative to the bride of Christ, the church.
8. Besides Christ, nothing has ever been made on earth more beautiful than the true church of Christ, clothed in the righteous robe of her Bridegroom, she is more beautiful than all the beauty queens.
9. Nothing can outshine her; all Satan can do is imitate her.
10. So, in Rev.17:4 the harlot is dressed almost identically to the bride of Christ, who is “adorned with every kind of precious stone,” pearls and gold (21:18-21), & clothed in linen (cf.18:16,19:8).
11. The two women may bear some similarities outwardly, but inwardly they couldn’t be any more different. The woman in ch.12 gave birth to the church (Rev.12:17), the harlot of ch.17 attempts to destroy the church. The harlot offers others a cup full of abominations and impurities; the bride of Christ offers a cup of her Lord’s blood for the forgiveness of sin.
E. But we would be remiss if we did not mention the fact that this prostitute is the persecutor of the saints.
1. She doesn’t just try to seduce the people of God, she also tries to pressure them.
2. 6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.
3. Why kill the saints? To silence them? Yes. But also to pressure and intimidate those who remain.
4. You kill one and a thousand capitulate. Or that’s how the strategy goes.
III. So we see the situation we’re in in this world.
A. We have a mighty God who has redeemed us through the death of His Son and promised us a glorious &eternal future. But the world in which we live is not our friend. It is hostile to our Savior.
1. We live in the world but we are not supposed to be of the world. We are supposed to be a different society, a different nation, a different people, with a different way of living, and a different way of thinking. We’re not supposed to desire the same things or love the same things as our non-believing neighbors.
2. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1Peter 2:9-10
B. But our enemy is a con artist and a master of deception. He specializes in making things look different than they really are.
1. We expect evil to look evil. We expect bad people to look bad. But the things that are most bad are the bad things which look good, the dangerous things that look safe, the harmful things that look harmless.
2. “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2Cor.11:14) He deals in counterfeits. He has created counterfeit joys, counterfeit roads, counterfeit pleasures, counterfeit fulfillments, counterfeit worldviews, counterfeit laws, counterfeit heavens, and counterfeit homes.
3. He makes right look wrong and wrong look right.
4. He makes abomination look lovely and God's law look grotesque.
5. He makes treasure look like dung, and dung look like treasure.
6. He makes the Lord of liberty who came to set the captives free look repressive.
7. He makes the One who is the perpetually new wine that can’t be put into old wineskins appear to be stodgy and old-fashioned.
8. He makes the One who rides on a white horse, whose eyes are a flame of fire, and upon whose head are many crowns; and from whose mouth comes a sharp sword to look boring.
9. He disguises death as life and life as death.
a. That’s what he did with Adam and Eve, didn’t he? What actually would cause death, he said would bring life. And what actually would bring life, he implied would cause death.
10. So we can’t trust the way things look. We’ve got to realize that Satan can make things look very differently to us than they really are.
11. Some only see the attractiveness, and have no idea of the monsters behind it. And that’s just the way the enemy wants it.
12. Even John marveled greatly at the woman (v.6)!
13. Despite the hideous monsters, the world really does appeal to us, doesn’t it?
14. The best fishing lures are the most visually impressive ones. They’re death disguised as life.
15. Just like with the seductive adulteress in Prov.7. So appealing! The victims had no idea they were walking into a trap, no idea that they were walking to their doom. “Little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave.” Prov.9:18
16. We’ve just got to remember what’s really going on. The world is a ploy of Satan. It looks attractive. It looks inviting. It looks safe. But the one behind it is Satan, making it look good.
17. This is why Peter warns us to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1Peter 5:8
18. One great problem of modern humans is that we don’t believe in monsters.
19. Satan’s hope is that you will only see the glamour of the world, and have no idea who really is behind all that seductive beauty.
C. Is this all about sexuality? No. It’s about much more than that.
1. In the Bible sexual immorality is frequently used as a vivid picture of idolatry, even in the book of Revelation (Rev.2:14, 20-21; 9:21; 14:8).
2. And though sexual immorality can be an idol, many other things can be also – even good things like family, work, success, money, sports, beauty, music, fun, house, health.
D. But there’s one more we see here in this passage: the dulling of pain.
1. The prostitute here has a golden cup of wine by which she gets earth-dwellers drunk.
2. Because of human sin, God cursed the world (Gen.3). He introduced pain and toil into human experience. Now, life hurts. (It’s actually good for us that life hurts, but it still hurts.)
3. And so the world offers innocent-looking pain killers to dull human pain.
4. The problem is, these pain killers also remove all desire to resist Satan’s destructive influence. They also blind people to the dangerous nature of the path they’re on. They numb people from fear of a coming judgment.
E. Because of the appeal of the world, we often have a longing to have both Christ AND the world.
1. But that’s not the way it works.
2. "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other.” Matthew 6:24
3. Being a Christian isn't just a matter of loving Jesus, or desiring salvation, or wanting to go to heaven. There is also something that you must not love: the world.
4. James 4:4 “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
F. We are asked to resist the world not because it is too much for us but because it is far too little! Much more has been prepared for the children of God.
1. Christians are really not being asked to give anything up. We are just being told not to settle for less than the greatest Treasure there is.
2. Two things are key to resisting the trap of the world:
a. Realizing it’s a lie foisted upon us by a vicious crew of monsters,
b. Realizing that Christ is the true fulfillment of all human longings.