Revelation 17:1-18 – A Vision of the End

“The Whore of Babylon” by Hans Burgkmair, 1523

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters.With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery:

BABYLON THE GREAT

THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES

AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH

I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, 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. The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its 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 it once was, now is not, and yet will come.

“This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

“The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” (New International Version)

Today’s New Testament lesson is the beginning of a long and elaborate vision of the Apostle John. The vision includes a woman and a scarlet beast, and the angel’s interpretation of what John saw.

An Incredible Vision

“The Whore of Babylon” from Martin Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible.

Consistent with Old Testament’s imagery depicting the relationship between God and people, John’s vision is of a prostitute whom the kings of the earth committed adultery. This great offense will not be overlooked. It is provoking divine wrath.

The prostitute sits on a scarlet beast, an imposing and rather incredible looking creature with seven heads and ten horns. The woman and the beast signify and portray the pinnacle of opulence, extravagance, and luxury. Yet, she is also the ultimate depiction of corruption, indecency, and irreverence.

The great prostitute influences all the world. She is the evil genius behind the blood of the Christian martyrs. The woman deceives and connives so that she can wreak her violence against the saints of God.

John appears to be slack jawed with all this. The prostitute’s seductive influence has been so great that nations fall to her erotic power. She is so diabolically smooth, her presentation so marvelous, that even John is mesmerized by her.

Why Are You Astonished?

The angel’s question to John is akin to saying, “Well, what did you expect? The Wicked Witch of the West? Evil is much more sinister than an ugly old woman. Unrighteousness cloaks itself in nice garb. Snap out of it, man!”

Astonishment and awe belong to God, not some alluring vision of beauty. The enticement only traps humanity into a sticky web which the Black Widow can feed upon. The woman and the beast are doomed to destruction. Their time is imminently near.

John (and us) must see beyond the surface presentation to the darkness within. Antichrist is not only a person but the evil systems which feed upon helpless humans caught in the web of seduction.

The End Times

The leaders of the earth, deceived and smitten by the temptress, ally together to wage war on all that is right, just, and good – all the while believing they are fighting for beauty. It will eventually climax at Armageddon, the place of final victory over all the malevolence.

The Lamb shall overcome the nefarious forces of corruption. The faithful followers of God need only to persevere and see the punishment of the wicked. Please keep in mind that none of this has a timetable for us to chart. Biblical time revolves primarily around events, not precision clockwork.

It is not our task to walk around predicting dates, nor is it to point fingers at anyone we don’t like as being the antichrist. There’s plenty of shock-and-awe in the Apocalypse of John without us adding to it with our half-baked ideas of the end times.

The world, as it presently exists, is distorted by sin. And we humans tend to be ill-equipped in discerning the difference between The Great Prostitute and Lady Wisdom. What the book of Revelation does for us is show, with alarming symbolism, just how difficult it can be to navigate this old fallen world.

So, let us run to God; trust in the Lamb; and be filled with the Spirit.

Sovereign God, you are slow to anger and abound in steadfast love. Grant to national leaders the wisdom, courage and insight needed for this time of change and uncertainty. Give to all who exercise authority determination to defend the principles of freedom, love and tolerance, strength to protect and safeguard the innocent and clarity of vision to guide the world into the paths of justice and peace. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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