Revelation 17:1-8:The collapse of the system.
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. 2 With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.’3 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4 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. 5 The name written on her forehead was a mystery: babylon the greatthe mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.6 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. 7 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. 8 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. NIV
One day, ‘Babylon’ is going to fall. In John’s day, Babylon represented Rome – outwardly impressive, but inwardly corrupt. However, Rome was but one expression of Babylon, which is that entire world system a system standing opposed to God. It takes on different forms in different centuries, in different lands and different regions. But it is always there as an all-pervading presence. Yet one day it won’t be.
This passage enables us to see its essentially demonic nature and empowerment (3, 7, 8; see chapter 13). Babylon ‘’rides’’ upon the beast.
This world is seductive, like a prostitute. The sexual imagery is potent. First of all, Rome was filled with its own moral decadence, and eventually, like all such empires, it collapsed under its own weight. Secondly, paganism and sexual immorality tend to go hand in hand. Thirdly, sex is one of the devil’s most potent weapons, and he uses it repeatedly to take people down. Fourthly, adultery, in the Bible, is a metaphor for spiritual infidelity, where people chase after other gods.
When we drink what the world offers, we are going to get disoriented, and we are liable to be seduced. The world may look attractive, but there is poison in her ‘’golden cup’’ (4).
This world is savage (6). We are reminded again that in a world like this – a world system that hates Jesus – it is fundamentally a dangerous thing to align with Him and bear witness to Him. The world will hate us for that. ‘’I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus’’. (Tom Wright translation).
Babylon, and what she offers, is a pale, poor, perverted parody of reality. The backdrop to Revelation is a true, faithful ‘marriage’ relationship between the Lamb (Jesus) and His bride (the church). Indeed, this is the big picture story of the Bible: God offering to marry a people. The devil tries to seduce us with a gaudy, glitzy alternative that can never satisfy.