Let us pray before we begin:
Almighty and Holy Spirit, the comforter, pure, living, true— illumine, govern, sanctify me, and confirm my heart and mind in the faith, and in all genuine consolation; preserve and rule over me so that, dwelling in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life, I may behold the Lord and praise him with a joyful spirit, and in union with all the heavenly church. Amen. – Philip Melanchthon
We heard last week about the harlot riding over the beast in the wilderness. She displays grandeur and external beauty which attracts many kings and nations by blinding them with wealth and pleasure but at the same time brings death to those who knows her deception and sees right through her. She martyred many Christian pilgrims here on earth. And yet despite of her wickedness, John was amazed by her. So the angel rebuked John and revealed her the mystery of the great prostitute.
We are pick this up today and continue our sermon point regarding the harlot. We will cover a lot of grounds today and study a large portion of Scripture. From verses 6-18, we will unpack the details of the mystery of the harlot. The angel will tell John more about the beast and those who follow the harlot. Also, we will discover the tragic fate of the harlot at the hand of his admirer. We will know about her gruesome end. Then next week, we will continue with the whole Chapter 18 where John records the rejoicing of the saints in the heavens, the warning for the pilgrims here on earth, and the lamenting of the wicked followers of the dragon and his beast.
So there will be three parts to our sermon about the Harlot and they are: 1) The Harlot and the Beast; The Pilgrims on Earth and the Saints in Heaven; 3)The Harlot and the City of Man. We will finish the first part this Lord’s Day and end next week with the second and third part.
The Harlot and the Beast
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 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; 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. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 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. These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 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.” And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 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, 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. And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” (verses 6-18)
There are several things John want us to notice from these details he wrote regarding the harlot and the beast: 1) the title of the beast; 2) the identity of the seven heads and the ten kings; 3) the destiny of the harlot.
Verse 8 exposes the nature of the beast by giving him the title “was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction.” The threefold progression of this title resembles the title given to God in Christ in two occasion, The first is on chapter 1, verse 4 where it reads: “…who is and who was and who is to come” and after this in verse 8 where it reads in first person, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Now, the contrast here is apparent. God in Christ is who is which means he is divine while the dragon and his beasts are “..was”. This points to the end of the devil’s reign after Jesus’ first coming, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Christ now rules over heaven and earth. Next, God in Christ is “who was” which means as part of his humiliation, during his entire life of suffering, death, and burial, he paid for the penalty of sin, and finally conquered death. But the dragon and his beast is “is not” because he has been bound by the preaching of the gospel (compare Mark 3:27 and Revelation 20:3). Then finally, God in Christ is “who is come” which means he will come again and his second coming, he will bring judgment against his enemies and rescue his people. And the dragon and his beasts “is about to rise from the bottomless pit (referred to as the binding of Satan in Mark 3:27), and he will reign for a while but then finally met his destructive end.
The parallelism offers encouragement to all of us pilgrims here on earth. That while this present evil age continues to bring persecution and death to us Christians, its destiny is certain and while God in Christ seems hidden as a visible reality here on earth, he completely and securely reigns over his people and finally bring about justice in his second coming.
Verse 9 then calls us to discernment about the harlot and beasts. The angel explained to John the symbolism regarding the seven heads and ten horns. Heads and horns symbolize political and military power. At this point we need to know the specific identity of the harlot and beast as being pointed out by John and the angel. The seven heads represents the seven mountains and this is where now the harlot resides. Now, the seven mountains refers to the popular seven hills of Rome. So at this point, we are beginning to understand that relationship between the harlot and the beast. They both represent Rome during John’s time. Again, the beast is a demonized state who persecutes Christians while the harlot is worldliness who seduces Christian to sin and spiritual adultery. Rome is the center of power and pleasure. It promises life but brings about death. It looks impressive on the outside but in reality it is nothing but wicked rebellion against God. It is idolatrous at its core and any Christian must learn how to discern against its alluring power and get out from her!
Those who gets entangled by worldliness often do not realize it until it is finally too late and eventually perishes on this path. While no regenerate elect believer will finally fall, we need to hear these warnings against worldliness in order to trains us to be always watchful to make our election and calling sure (2 Peter 1:10). And because the visible church still compose of hypocrites who only profess faith but will not possess it, we need to exhort one another to persevere in the daily walk towards Celestial City.
Worldliness is an enemy of the church. Unfaithful churches lie in bed with her for the prospect of health, wealth, and prosperity with ever increasing membership from worldly congregations selecting worldly leaders. And yet faithful church are also challenged by this enemy mainly by strengthening its foothold to many of its members.
The changing quarantine protocols, difficultness to travel and even the resulting economic turmoil added to the list of excuses hypocrites use to mask their true dislike for corporate worship and fellowship with the saints. As a pastor, I find myself increasingly worried about the welfare of the churches today because staying at home ironically did not save us from the disease of worldliness. There is an increase in worldly affairs and decease in spiritual empathy and concern. That while diseases can kill the body, spiritual apathy kills both the body and soul. A lot so-called Christians finally gave in to worldliness and practically have given up to the weekly discipline of training to godliness through the ordinary means of grace. Just like what Paul said against his mission companion Demas, “…in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 2:10).” And what Jesus teaches in his parable of the sower, those seeds that “…fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them (Matthew 13:7).” Jesus explains that they are those “… who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful (Matthew 13:22).” Let this serve as a stern warning against those who maintain pseudo-spirituality and not train in godly living.
Going back to our text, the angel gave an intensive explanation about the identify of the seven heads and ten horns and in particular those leaders who will persecute the church and bring themselves into the finally war against Christ and her bride. It reads in verses 10-12, “…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. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 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.” To avoid speculations, it is suffice for us to say here that the eight king that belongs to seven is an political leader of a demonized state who resembles the tyranny of the dead emperor Nero. Then the kings who will follow him will rule with him for short period of time (one hour) and wage war against God’s people. So the symbolism remains the same, the beasts and his cohorts will persecute God’s people and thinking will win in the end but in reality God will use it to bring his wrath against them and bring them to judgment and eternal damnation.
God will use the greed for power and lust of the harlot, the beast, and their follows to devour each other and kill each other in the end. This was the fate of the harlot, “…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 (verse 16).” And the angel explains to John that this happens so we know that it is God “…who 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.” God is still in control. He is sovereign overall. Nothing happens without his consent even those who intends to bring harm against God’s people.
Uncertainty breeds fear and often we find ourselves worrying about our survival and existence. While I do not encourage irresponsible and reckless living, I want to exhort each one of us to remain calm and live peacefully the under the protection and comfort of God’s sovereignty and providence. Yes the world is a mess but what do you expect? Yes we pray for God to bring order and justice in our society but let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that we can bring utopia in this world. The gospel reconciles us to God and we are now living under his rule and reign. It alone brings peace and hope, not in any world systems of power, wealth, and prosperity. And when God finally returns and brings everything into its end, we will reign with him forever and ever. Let us encourage one another with these words.
ZCRC(Imus), God rules and reigns over his creation, his church, and finally consummate his kingdom in the end bringing judgment over this age and eternal life in the age to come. Let us continue resist worldliness, train ourselves in godliness, and submit to God’s Word and Spirit. Amen.