Truth Is The Word

Revelation 17

Revelation Revisited Post 53

Babylon the great

Revelation Revisited Post 53

The beast becomes a whore and the whore becomes a city… say what?

In previous chapters of Revelation Religion has been depicted first as a beast from the land, and then as a scarlet woman, but in Chapter 18 she morphs into the city of Babylon. What’s going on?

The 3 depictions of Religion present both different aspects of its nature and the relationship that it has with Humanism:

  1. In Chapter 13 Religion is shown to be in partnership with the beast from the sea, Humanism in all its manifestations. It is Humanism’s voice, its False Prophet, its miracle worker, and its accreditor.
  2. In Chapter 17 Religion is depicted as a woman riding on the beast of Humanism, so the relationship between the two is still maintained. She wears the traditional whore’s headband which carries an ascription that starts with the words. ‘Mystery Babylon the Great…’
  3. She is thus connected both with the image of the beast and with the image of the city of Babylon.

Some commentators claim that in Revelation 18 Babylon must equate to the humanistic world and not religion because of the references to merchants, commerce, kings, and so on. Yet, despite this, the city is connected to the religious whore of the previous chapter by references to ‘her adulteries’ (Vs. 3), ‘her own cup’ (Vs. 6), and her dress of ‘purple and scarlet’ (Vs. 16). The city of Babylon appears to be combination of Humanism and Religion; in some way the two have become one (1 Corinthians 6:16). However, the primary identity of Babylon must be the whore of Religion, because Revelation 17:18 states specifically that ‘The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth’.

Throughout history Religion and Humanism have sometimes become so merged together that they have become virtually indistinguishable. The relationship between the Roman Catholic Pope and the kings of Europe in past centuries is an example of this. A modern day remnant of this type of union is the fact that the Queen of England is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

We also see a merging of Humanism and Religion in our day in the way much of the church has adopted humanistic values and practices. Has there ever been a time, I wonder, when the church has been so obsessed with money as it is today? Of course I am generalising, but all around me I see churches that are run like corporations and where collecting the ‘tithe’ gets more ‘air-time’ than Jesus.

Revelation 18:4 poses a particular problem for some folk and has been used by instigators of church splits, by cult gurus, and even by home-church extremists; ‘Come out of her, my people so that you will not share in her sins…’ To be absolutely consistent with my book ‘Revelation in the Stars’ I am going to reproduce here just what I wrote there:

‘This is a call, not to leave local churches or a particular denomination and ‘go it alone’, but a call to leave an apathetic, apostate environment. Get passionate about the things of God, and be part of a church family which has the same passion and commitment. The call of the Holy Spirit to the church of our day is to return to our first love… and to be the church which Jesus first loved. It doesn’t matter so much what form the local church takes. House churches provide a meaningful experience of simple and real church life. Congregational churches are also wonderful, so long as their leaders structure them organically as opposed to organisationally. However, I have serious doubts that a mega church could embrace the values, principles, and priorities of church life pictured in the book of Acts. Whatever form the local church takes, it is vital that we come out of religion and into real church. Here is what I mean by ‘real’ church:

Relationship: A church family in relationship with God and each other within an environment of order, participation, and accountability, and who value and seek to practice love and acceptance, and see their church as a ‘city of refuge’. A church that is principle, value, and relationship based rather than rules or results based. Where ministries are motivated from within rather than imposed from without. Where leadership’s role is serving, equipping, and facilitating rather than initiating programmes.

Outreach: A church that seeks to reach out to others, both corporately and individually, outside the congregational setting, to bring them into relationship with Jesus Christ, to teach them the basic principles of his kingdom, and to then release them to go and do likewise for others. A church positioned within the context of local community and seeking to serve its community both practically and spiritually.

Anointing: A church which embraces the person of the Holy Spirit and depends on his anointing for life and ministry, whilst eschewing manipulative or psychic methods and practices.

Doctrine: A church which holds to and seeks to teach sound, biblical, life-giving doctrine based on the scriptural revelation of what Jesus said and did, and to propagate this doctrine through other local churches. A church which emphasises expository preaching and teaching of the Bible.

Structure: A church which aims to extend the kingdom of God by establishing interdependently autonomous local churches founded on the principles presented in the book of Acts and embodied in the ROADS concept (relationship, outreach, anointing, doctrine, and structure). A church which believes that the relational dynamics it values can only be evidenced satisfactorily within a small congregational setting. Whose model for church life and functionality is organic rather than institutional – Christ Jesus is the effective head of the church and the Holy Spirit motivates and empowers ministries in and through the body of people constituting the local church. Whose leadership is by means of a functional plurality of Elders, where each plays a role and makes a contribution vital to the effectiveness of the whole; ministry, as well as decision making, is both shared and joint.’

To come out of something we need to go into something else, so it is wise to consider carefully what it is we are called into. We are called into a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and we are called into the organic body of Christ, the real church, expressed in many places and in many ways but always as groups of committed disciples under the headship of the Lord Jesus.

Next week I plan to move on to section Six (Chapter 19) – a much happier part of Revelation.

 

 

The whore of Babylon

Behold the Whore

Revelation post 52

John the Baptist revealed the Lord Jesus to his disciples with the words, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”; In Revelation Chapter 17 an angel essentially says to John the Revelator, “Behold the Whore of Babylon who embodies the sins of the world.”

It is easy to get confused by the stream of images and symbols that flash through the book of Revelation, especially when different images are used to describe the same reality. So, I will attempt to explain the images in Chapter 17 as simply as possible. A scarlet woman is introduced who is referred to as ‘the great prostitute’ and ‘Mystery Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth’. Although this particular imagery has not been used before in Revelation, we have already encountered the reality it describes. The second beast of Chapter 13 is called ‘the false prophet’ (Revelation 16:13) and I have already made the claim that this beast/prophet represents Religion in all its negative forms. In Chapter 13 Religion is described as partnering Humanism, the Beast from the Sea. Here in Chapter 17 it is described as riding on the beast of Humanism – it’s the same idea in different words and images.

Up to this point we have been aware that religion is a false prophet, but here in Chapter 17 we are shown something startling concerning the true identity of the Earth Beast/Great Whore of Religion. As Christians, it is easy for us to see Islam, Hinduism, and so on, as false prophets. As Protestants, it is also possible for us to understand why teachers like Matthew Henry regarded Roman Catholicism as the Great Prostitute. But, we might be shocked to realise that more than world religions and Roman Catholicism are in view here.

‘I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns’ (Revelation 17:6-8).

whore of abaylon

Sun clothed womanThe angel asked John why he was so astonished when he saw the Whore of Babylon, and that is a question we too need to ask. John must have seen many Roman women of high standing dressed in similar fashion, and he would have been familiar with the immoral behaviour in that society. Why did seeing this woman shock him so? I think it was because he recognised her from an earlier vision. Chapter 12 starts with the vision of ‘a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head’ (Rev 12:1). Here in Chapter 17 John is confronted with the vision of a woman clothed in gaudy splendour, with a beast under her feet, and a whore’s headband identifying her. Could this be the same woman? I think it is; the sun-clothed woman has become the Great Prostitute! We identified the sun-clothed woman as representing the people of God, firstly ancient Israel and then later, the church. Now we see the church, in intimate partnership with the beast of Humanism, abandoned to idolatry and bent on persecuting true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

How did much of the ‘church’ degenerate to such an extent? The short answer is, by adopting the values and methods of the humanistic world system instead of being different from it. On the one hand we find the liberal ‘church’, focused on social and political issues and wanting desperately to merge into a one-world religion of compromise and false peace. On the other hand, we have the wealth and feel good ‘church’ eagerly adopting business structures and practices from the world and setting before its followers the false promise of everlasting prosperity.

Having described the Whore, John then sketches a complex portrayal of Humanism as existing in every age: like the Roman powers of his day, the great Babylonian and Greek powers that preceded Rome, and the world powers which were to come after his generation. With pointed irony John writes, ‘The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come’ (Revelation 17:8). God was earlier described as ‘him who is, and who was, and who is to come’ (Revelation 1:4) but the beast once was, now is not, and yet will come.

For millennia religion has piggybacked on Humanism, serving the Beast and getting rewarded for its services. But now, in the end, the Beast turns on the Whore and destroys her in a most horrible way.

Chapters 17 and 18 are unremittingly distressing and dark, so when reading them it is important that we let our eyes return to the beginning of Part 5 of Revelation:

“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the ages.
Who will not fear you, O Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Revelation 15:3-4

 

 

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar. I have started a site called Classical Guitar SA to serve classical guitar enthusiasts in South Africa.