Let us begin again with a prayer:
May God unto us gracious be,
And grant to us His blessing;
Lord, show Thy face to us, through Thee
Eternal life possessing:
That all Thy work and will, O God,
To us may be revealed,
And Christ’s salvation spread abroad
To heathen lands unsealed,
And unto God convert them.
Thine over all shall be the praise
And thanks of every nation,
And all the world with joy shall raise
The voice of exultation.
For Thou the scepter, Lord, dost wield
Sin to Thyself subjecting;
Thy Word, Thy people’s pasture-field,
And fence their feet protecting, Them in the way preserveth.
Thy fold, O God, shall bring to Thee– Martin Luther, 1524
The praise of holy living;
Thy Word shall richly fruitful be,
And earth shall yield thanksgiving.
Bless us, O Father! bless, O Son!
Grant, Holy Ghost, Thy blessing!
Thee earth shall honor – Thee alone,
Thy fear all souls possessing.
Now let our hearts say, Amen.
We come now at the last cycle of the book of Revelation. At this point, the sixth and seventh bowl of God’s wrath informed us again about the impending doom of God’s enemies: the dragon. the beast, and the false prophets. The fate of these symbolic historical characters comes to an end together with the destruction of everything in creation. Finally, as Paul wrote, God has “…put all things under his (Jesus’) feet (Ephesians 1:22)” and “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Philippians 2:10)”, This reveals to us the eschatologically outlook of Paul’s letters.
Now, there is one final symbolic character that John saw in his visions (Revelation 17-18). She is the Babylon the Harlot. The name “Babylon” historically connects her to the historical figure the Babylonian Empire whom God uses to drive Israel into exile. As an enemy of God’s people, we can read her from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. However, we can see later on as a symbolic historical character, that she represents any state who seduces the nations with her power to sexual immorality and spiritual adultery. So Babylon also represents Rome during John’s time but also every powerful state who uses its power to bring its constituents into false worship.
Later on, we can find out that for our own time and plac the deception and seduction goes beyond what it written in our own democratic constitution. In the Philipines, we know are guaranteed separation of the church and state. Yet, we have to understand that Harlot’s power to allure comes with the use of vanity in all its forms.
As Christians, we are called to resist the harlot’s worldly advances by putting off every earthly desire for recognition and admiration. Instead, we are to put on Christ, live in contentment with his temporary provisions here on earth, and rely on our identity as citizens of heaven, pilgrims here on earth bound for eternal life.
So our sermon for this Lord’s Day is divided into three points: 1) The Harlot; 2) The One Thousand Years; and 3) The Bride of Christ. We will focus on the first point today and next Sunday. Then the Sunday after, we will dwell on the second point and end the Sunday after with the last sermon point, Lord-willing ending our sermon series on the book of Revelation by the last week of May.
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. (Revelation 17:1-6a)
Verse 1 confirms us to that this vision is a continuation of the bowls cycle and further focus on a specific symbolic historical character for it reads, “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…” Now, the great prostitute here is whom we refer to as the harlot. A harlot or prostitute in the reference to New Testament imagery and understood in first century Greek/Roman culture refers to as a woman who renders sexual services as part of their religious worship. John already referred to this practice previously when he wrote in his warning against Thyatira, “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 1 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality (Revelation 2:20-21)”.
So the great prostitute or harlot was seen by John who sits on many waters (plural). It means as further explained by John as someone who rendered her services to “kings (which is plural) of the earth” She prostituted herself to anyone and everyone! She provides economic prosperity and offers affluence, purchasing power and unbridled pleasure than often leads to greed for more! These are the means she uses to have these men commit “… sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk (verse 2).” Her weapon is lust and she uses it to wield power over those who follows her.
Now, John saw the harlot sitting not in a palace but on a beast in the wilderness (verse 3). The visual irony is evident when we compare to the succeeding verse 4 where it reads, “…The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls…” She dresses extravagantly and yet she is oblivious with the reality surrounding her. She is treated a queen by riding over the scarlet beast but the beast places her in place of desolation. The deceiver is also being deceived and she will soon find her fate over the gruesome hand of those whom she deceives herself into thinking she has power over them but in reality she is bound to peril together with them. The angel wants John to see the reality behind the masquerade. John wants us to understand as we read these words the great reversal and disaster that awaits God’s enemies.
The Harlot is no friend to us pilgrims. While she seduces everyone and allures them with the promise of wealth, power, and pleasure, Christians sees through these and refuses to compromise. The golden cup she holds while attractive to the eyes are actually bearers of iniquity. John wrote, “she… holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.” She gives empty promises, promises she herself cannot keep. She promises to provide life but in reality, she only brings death. John further wrote what he saw, “…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 (verse 5).” The harlot is the Babylon the great, she is the mother of prostitutes. She bring death to all pilgrims who are not attracted to her and understand the false promises of life.
Yet despite of his reality, even John marveled at the sight of the Harlot. Verse 6b reads, “When I saw her, I marveled greatly.” John, the disciple of Jesus, the apostle of Christ, was also tempted to look and admire the outward appearance of the Harlot. She is indeed impressive to look at and no man can resist the temptation to admire her. But God made sure to rebuke John and us his readers when the angel exhorted in verse 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. 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.” God wants us to remember that one carrying the Harlot is a beast and the fate of the beast together with those who follows it will come to a destructive end.” Yes are impressive when we look at their outside appearances but they are all vanity. They will all come to an end.
All is vainity says King Solomon. He wrote “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2)”. He concludes “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (Ecclesiaster 2:11).” Labor is a honorable enterprise here on earth but we need to remember that the fruits of our labor while enjoyable and rewarding is temporal and provides no lasting joy. And those who follow after their lust for wealth, power, and pleasure are never satisfied and eventually with lose everything in the end.
This is the godly wisdom Scripture offers to the godly. All things temporal is bound to disappoint. We are called to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Jesus reminds us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21).” He wants us to remember the eschatological perspective here.
Nothing here on earth remains. And it is foolish to even think that everything we possess will matter when judgment comes. Luke wrote this about of Jesus about the foolishness of laying up your treasures on earth:
And he (Jesus) told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21).”
To whom are you laying those bricks for? Who will benefit in your toiling? Scripture reminds “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul (Mark 8:36)?” So Christian, let us continue to focus our minds to what matters most. Let us put off earthly lust and put on heavenly perspective. As Paul exhorts, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:2-4). This is our eschatological hope, our outlook and ethics. Let us encourage one another with these words.
ZCRC(Imus), the city of man offers empty promises and delivers only sin and destruction. Let us set our minds to Christ toward the City of God where He is our treasure, and he alone provides true and lasting joy. Let us glorify God and enjoy him forever. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.