Father, we praise You today because You have rescued us out of the kingdom of darkness and qualified us to live in the kingdom of Your beloved Son. Even as the world has rebelled against You and continues to lift its hand against You in sin, we rejoice to say that our allegiance is to the Lord Jesus Christ. Deliver us, O God, from evil, and help us remain faithful to You even under the greatest pressures and most alluring seductions of the world. This we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Read Revelation 17-19
In Revelation 12, the Holy Spirit showed John that behind the world’s opposition to Christians stands a spiritual force—the Dragon, who is also the devil or Satan. In the ensuing chapters, the dragon called on two allies to help him in his war against the church. In particular, he beckoned two beasts—one of which represented the kingdoms of the world, and one of which represented culture in all its social, economic, and religious aspects.
Here, in Revelation 17–19, we see another angle on this same reality, another ally of the dragon. This time, the point is a stark warning to Christians not to be seduced by this world, or its luxuries and pleasures. Why? Because all of it is destined finally to be thrown down.
Revelation is organized according to a series of visions—seven or eight, depending on how you count—that describe the same period of time over and over again. Revelation 17 begins the sixth of those visions; like the others, it resets to the beginning of the period after Jesus’ resurrection and runs all the way to the Last Day, the day of judgment.
But how do we know this vision spirals back to the beginning? One clue is that Revelation 17 is all about the fall of Babylon. But in 14:8—at the end of one of the other visions—Babylon’s destruction was already declared. What’s more, the same thing happens again in 16:19. Twice now, at the end of two different visions, Babylon is said to have fallen. And yet, here she is again, alive and well, at the beginning of Revelation 17. This tells us pretty clearly that these visions aren’t chronological; they don’t follow one after another. Rather, they cycle back and tell the same story over and over again, beginning with the resurrection and ending at the Day of Judgment, each one from a slightly different angle and with heightened intensity.
The great question of Revelation 17 is this: “What does this woman, Babylon, represent?” Many answers have been given, but looking through Revelation 17–18, you can see rather clearly that the woman represents the whole economic, social, and even religious culture of humanity.
Think about it: she’s decked in the finest clothes, drinking wine, and offering her luxuries to the kings and merchants of the earth. In all this, she’s also bent on destroying the church, not just physically but spiritually as well. She wants Christians, like everyone else, to worship her and not God. And why is she named “Babylon”? Because since humanity banded together in Genesis to build the Tower of Babel—the place that would become Babylon—that city and her luxury has been the symbol of human arrogance and rebellion against God. This woman represents the whole of human culture in league with the beast (government power)—and behind it all stands the dragon.
These chapters are full of symbolic details. Revelation 17:9–11 makes it clear that the beast on which the woman rides represents both Rome and all the other kingdoms of the world; 17:12–14 describes other kings and kingdoms which ally themselves with the most powerful kingdoms of the world. Revelation 18 is an extended lament (or celebration, depending on which side you’re on) over the fall of Babylon. And then in Revelation 19, the scene shifts to heaven where the people of God, the ones who had been persecuted and seduced by the woman and yet remained faithful, rejoice over her fall. Finally, in the second half of Revelation 19, the beast on which the woman rode (the government power which upheld her) is itself thrown down by Jesus, who returns on a white horse as the King of King and Lord of Lords. The chapter closes, once again, with another vision of the end of history.
1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.
- Remember first of all that culture is presented here as an enemy to God’s people, not a friend. She is allied with the beast, in league with Satan, and clothed in red, the color of the beast, the dragon, and blood. Not only this, but remember that the desire of the dragon and the beast is to make war on the church, to destroy us. This is an important point. The culture around us—its beauty, its sensuality, its pleasures and glories and fun and security and excitement—are presented here as a threat to you as a Christian, a threat to your allegiance to Jesus. Certainly there are places in the Bible that say culture is good and to be enjoyed. But too many Christians act as if this other image of culture doesn’t exist. They say they’re just enjoying the creation and its goodness, and then look back and realize that their “godly enjoyment” has become worship, and they’re now tangled in sin.
- Read back over Revelation 17–18. What details do you see that correspond to various aspects of culture? What details might have been included in John’s vision of the woman Babylon, if he’d had this vision in the 21st century?
- Spend some time thinking about how you as a Christian can remain faithful to Jesus even as you must live in a fallen world and culture. How must Christians be wise as serpents? How can they be gentle as doves? How can they do both at once?
Watch Conrad Mbewe discuss how to deal with worldliness. (5:30)
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