1 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me saying, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore who sits on the many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth fornicated; and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
3 So he took me away in spirit to a wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. 5 And on her forehead a name was written: “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of the prostitutes and the abominations of the earth.” 6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, even with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And upon seeing her I was tremendously impressed. 7 So the angel said to me: “Why are you impressed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast, having the seven heads and the ten horns, that carries her.
Two weeks ago we identified the whore as being Jerusalem. We looked at all the theories as to her identity and using John's own internal clues we systematically ruled out all theories except for one. And there are over twenty parallels between the great city Babylon and the great city Jerusalem. And it shouldn't surprise us that Jerusalem is being given yet another a pagan name. In chapter 11:8 Jerusalem was called Sodom and Egypt because she had taken on the spiritual characteristics of both. In Galatians 4 Jerusalem was likened to Saudi Arabia. And in 1 Peter 5:13 and in Revelation 17-19 Jerusalem was called Babylon. God's point was that she was no better than any pagan nation once she rejected her Savior, Jesus.
Last week we looked at why Jerusalem's leadership was seen as being a whore - there was literal fornication, spiritual fornication, and political prostitution. Both the Roman and the Jewish politicians used the system to become enormously wealthy just as politicians today can enter politics without a lot of money to their name yet they exit politics a couple of decades later with hundreds of millions of dollars in their bank accounts. That money doesn't come from their meager salaries. It is one of the perks of political prostitution. But we saw that this is nothing new. It was going on even in John's day.
And when people witness such brazen use of politics for self-enrichment it makes them discouraged. They assume that the swamp will always be a swamp and that it cannot be fixed. But chapters 17-19 assure us that when politics is not cleaned up by the Gospel (which is one option that God sometimes uses), God will clean it up with judgment. But God in His providence does not allow these things to last forever.
Today we are going to be seeing that in verses 4-7 John lays out the specific charges that are being brought against Jerusalem before the court room of heaven. We will analyze Jerusalem's leadership under three headings - the beautiful appearance of the whore, the specific sins for which the whore is being judged, and the remedy for those who were seduced by the whore or at least who were unduly impressed by her.
The whore's beautiful adornments cover a world of iniquity
But the first thing we see is that this whore was not ugly. Indeed, she was so impressive that even her critics had grudging admiration for her. And the Bible does agree that there is a certain kind of impressiveness to at least some kinds of civil government. For example, in the image of the four empires given in Daniel 2, Daniel said that the image of a man that represented the four world empires was a "dazzling statue, awesome in appearance" (v. 31 NIV). To the outward eye you don't immediately see the corruption. You see something dazzling and awe inspiring. Now, it is true that as you moved from the gold of Babylon down to the iron and clay of Rome it got less dazzling and beautiful, but there can be a certain allurement that civics holds upon a population. There are things that seem admirable.
Well, here the image is of a prostitute who attracts men. And interestingly, verse 4 shows that she had priestly attire, priestly decorations, and priestly service. She looked good on the outside. There was a veneer of glory that covered over the assumed venereal disease and filthiness within. It's an incredibly powerful image of how Jerusalem's politics was able to maintain a facade of respectability while being utterly corrupt.
Priestly robes & temple curtain = luxury/splendor (v. 4a)
Well, Beale in his commentary points out that the combination of words in the Greek of verse 4 is word-for-word identical to the Septuagint translation's description of the High Priests garments in the Old Testament. It's almost a verbatim quote, which would make the first century reader immediately connect the whore with the Sadducees who ruled from the temple. There is no mistaking the insulting connection that God was making. He was calling the political leadership of Jerusalem the whore of Babylon. And of course, in my first sermon on chapter 17 we already looked at numerous other evidences that John gave that made the same connection.
But the beauty that covers the ugly corruption is also striking in both the image and what was symbolized. The buildings, temple, ceremonies, clothing, and everything about the Sadducees was designed to impress. For example, when you read the descriptions of the high priest's clothing it makes you realize that people did a double-take when they would see the high priest walking by. In Bible times they weren't even to wear that in public, but the Sadducees loved doing so. The same was true of the Pharisees and the Herodians, but the Sadducees were especially magnificent because of the huge amounts of money that they put into appearances. The Jewish writer, Philo, said this about the high-priest's robe: "[It is] a marvelous work to be beheld or to be contemplated. For it has an appearance thoroughly calculated to excite astonishment, such as no embroidered work conceived by man ever was for variety and costly magnificence."
Even in the Old Testament this would have been the case if they had been allowed to wear the high priest's robe in public. Exodus 28:2 says that the clothing of the high priests was specifically designed "for glory and for beauty." Even originally there was a magnificence about their clothing. But by the first century AD their clothing was even more striking - some would say stunning. Several commentaries point out that these particular fabrics show the height of luxury and splendor. So just as a whore dresses to allure and to cover over that which is unattractive, the clothing of the Sadducees was a symbol of how they used pretended-spirituality to cover over their evils.
But Beale points out that these were also the same colors of the massive curtain that was hung in the temple, and even though he is an Idealist and he doesn't even apply the passage to first century Israel, he does note the striking parallels of verse 4 to both the high priest’s clothing and to the Temple curtain. He's not quite sure what to do with it, but he does acknowledge that it is a striking parallel. According to the Reformation Study Bible, the high priest's clothes were "made of the same expensive materials as the tabernacle."
But there was a difference. The Sadducees wanted something more beautiful and alluring than what the Old Testament provided for, so they turned to Babylon to get the most majestic curtain they could find. Now, this was ironic since God was going to call them Babylon the Great. Josephus points out that it was a Babylonian curtain, not a Jewish curtain. I have often wondered if this change was made after the curtain tore from top to bottom at Christ's crucifixion. They had to come up with something new and maybe they thought that this was the time to introduce it. In any case, at some point Josephus says that they made an untearable curtain. The Babylonian curtain was so massive it took three hundreds priests to change it. The curtain had occult images of the Zodiac sewn into it, not the simple images outlined in Exodus. So it was a blatant blasphemous adoption of demonic Babylonian worship. And why not? They were a part of a secret society much like the Free Masons that had already adopted a lot of the Babylonian occultism. You see a lot of parallels between modern Free Masonry and their secret societies.
You've got to remember that the Sadducees were liberals. They accepted only the five books of Moses, and they had to accept them because those books of Moses gave them the formal legitimacy in the temple that they needed. But they didn't believe in angels or miracles or traditional theology. They were liberals; they were syncretists who mixed Babylonian and Jewish worship.
But right now we are just dealing with the beauty of this occult curtain. It was so beautiful and massive that even Josephus (who didn't like the Sadducean compromises, though he was a Sadducee himself - who switched parties to the Pharisees; but even he) could not help but admire that curtain. It was a hand-breadth thick, forty cubits high and twenty cubits wide. And the symbolism according to Josephus was occult symbolism of the universe. So it was beautiful, yes, but it was also promoting the demonic occultism of Talmudism.
Priestly decorations (v. 4b)
Second, there were priestly decorations. Verse 4 says, "adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls." J. Massyngberde Ford says, "That the harlot is bedecked with gold and precious stones... sounds like a perversion of the high priest's breastplate." These stones were used by God for guidance, but the high priest was going to demons for guidance, as John will late demonstrate.
But the other illusion that both the Sadducees and Pharisees promoted was that wealth proved God's approval and support of their positions. They taught that poverty was a sign of God's disapproval and wealth was a sign that God was for them. And both the Sadducees and the Pharisees were enormously wealthy, but especially the Sadducees. To the average Jew it made it harder to be critical of these supposed men of God. But John lays waste to that illusion by using the image of a harlot who looks pretty and attractive on the outside but is full of contamination on the inside - ready to infect you at a moment's notice.
Priestly chalice (v. 4c)
And then finally, verse 4 says, "having in her hand a golden cup." This was the Eucharistic cup used at ceremonies like the Passover. The Sadducees, though appointed by Rome, were the priests of the temple. That would sort of be like the secular government appointing your pastors for you. It was a very odd setup; definitely not Biblical. And though there were Jews who opposed this setup and refused to use the temple any more (people like the Essenes for example), most Jews went along with the compromises because they didn't think they had a choice. And these priests gave the illusion of serving God and bringing people to God. But Christ told these religious leaders, "For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence... you also outwardly appear to be righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matt. 23:25-28) So the cup gave the illusion of being clean and right with God, while the contents of the cup were horrible.
So verse 4 presents the allurement of the leadership of the temple. There was something grand about their pomp and ceremony that was seductively alluring and calming. When you read descriptions of their concerts and services, they were so grand that people would involuntarily get choked up and be moved to tears; it made people emotionally connected. There was a seductive allure that was powerful. There was an admiration for their leadership, and the citizens turned a blind eye to their corruption because of the benefits that they got (which we looked at last week).
The specific charges
Hypocrisy (v. 4)
But now he brings several charges against the leadership of Israel. And as I go through these charges, I want you to ask yourself if our city or nation is any better. The most obvious first charge is that all this outward beauty was hypocrisy. They made a show of being a nation under God, but they were in reality overthrowing God's laws. They looked like priests of God's system but they were harlots of Satan's system.
And Christ made similar charges in Matthew 23. There are churches that are so professional in their presentations that people walk away from a service feeling wowed and comforted and emotionally moved. But when you analyze what is being said Sunday after the Sunday you realize that it is just a professional job. They are not preaching the whole counsel of God. The lawless hypocrisy runs deep in America's Christianity and in America's politics. And in first century Judaism you couldn't separate those two. Awe in worship often transferred into loyalty to the leaders of worship, which in turn led to loyalty to their politics. So there is the hypocrisy of being high priests, yet having prostituted themselves. And we looked at that in depth last week.
Full of abominations/idolatries (βδέλυγμα v. 4d)
The second charge may seem hard to believe since the Greek word for abominations is used of idolatry. And people might think that the Sadducees were anything but idolators. On that word βδέλυγμα, Beale says,
The additional reference to “abominations” (βδελυγμάτων) in 17:4 establishes beyond doubt the connection with idolatry, since this is one of the common words for idol or idolatrous sacrifice in the LXX (so at least forty-seven of about one hundred twenty-two total uses). Furthermore, the LXX equates “abomination” with figurative uses of πορνεία and its cognate verb, all of which indicate aspects of idolatry.
So he is accusing at least the Sadducees, if not all the leaders of Jerusalem, of idolatry. This would have been a puzzling surprise to many people prior to AD 70. But once Titus started carrying out the temple furniture, the idolatry that the Sadducees had introduced directly into the temple was there for all to see. It had mostly been secret before. Josephus was aware of some of the idolatrous compromises because he was of priestly lineage. He for example saw the idolatry and worship of stars on the massive temple curtain. And many of the Qumran community accused the Sadducees of occultism and idolatry because many of them were intimately familiar with what went on inside the temple, and they boycotted it. But the average citizen may not have been aware of these compromises. So when the actual temple furniture was being pulled out of the temple by the Roman soldiers, it was shockingly there for all to see - the Sadducees had carved occult signs and images right onto the temple furniture. I've given you some pictures of the temple furniture that were carved into stone AD 81 by actual eye witnesses. And you see various Roman and Greek gods as well as the gods of Babylon. There are more and more scholars who recognize this occultism that had crept into temple.
Of course, new evidence is arising that shows that the two other parties in power - the Pharisees and the Herodians, had also involved in occultism. And much of that occultism began to become public after AD 70 as well. The Pharisees also had a secret society that had a mixture of Bible and occultism. That split into two streams - the Kabbalistic stream that was very overtly occult and the Talmudic stream that was more subtle in its occultism. But archaeologists have uncovered six synagogues that have Zodiac mosaics with eastern gods included together with Biblical stories. And Biblical Archeology Review Journal has been trying to puzzle how this overt inclusion of occultism with the Bible was even possible. But Erwin Goodenough has documented this occult symbolism in many of the buildings of the elite throughout the empire. It was like there was a secret society that maintained power through connections in the secret society. So it is becoming less surprising that overt idolatry was happening rather than simply sexual abominations - though sexual abominations and filthiness is rationalized quite frequently in the Talmud, with long articles on which prurient activities with your children constitute incest and which ones do not; or which sexual activities with your neighbor's wife constitute adultery and which ones do not. So either way you translate this term, the leadership of Israel was deeply involved. But Beale's exegesis that this was idolatry is very convincing to me. And again, he is not a Preterist; he is and Idealist, but he often comes up with amazing first century information.
Full of filthiness/demonic (ἀκάθαρτα v. 4e)
The next word in verse 4 is translated as filthiness or uncleanness. And Beale connects that word with the demonic that is behind the idolatry. He says,
It should be remembered that both OT and NT, including John, think of demons behind idols. Consequently, it is significant that in 16:13–14 “unclean” (ἀκάθαρτος) was used of deceptive, demonic spirits from the devil, the beast, and the false prophet. In 18:2 the same word is used of various kinds of “unclean spirits,” which further defines a preceding reference to “demons.” There “Babylon the Great” is virtually equated with “a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit” (synonyms for “unclean” [ἀκαθάρτῆς] are also directly linked with deception in 21:27 and 1 Thess. 2:3).
But again, whether you take this as the unclean demons or the uncleanness that the demons produced in people, it was again a very apropos description of the leadership of Jerusalem in AD 66. If I were to read from the Talmud some of the abominations that they justified, it would make you sick. But even Josephus recognized that from AD 66 and on, Jerusalem seemed like it was completely taken over by demons. These leaders had given legal ground for the demonic to take over the nation. And so it was not surprising to see those demonized leaders engaging the most outrageous kinds of sexual impurity. Occultism and sexual impurity seem to go hand in hand.
But are things any different today? No. Over the last several decades many people in high positions of power in our nation have been involved in both occultism and perverse sexuality. The same was true of the Franklin Credit Union scandal here in the Nebraska years ago. Our current president is the first one to have removed (at his wife's insistence) the explicitly occult artifacts, paintings, and objects from the White House. Previous administrations have been up to their eyeballs in the occult, including perverse rituals. And of course, the demonic has had a history of going after the power centers of a nation. Ralph Drollinger, the president of Capitol Ministries, wrote an article last week titled, "Sexual Sin and the Aphrodisiac of Power." He shows how those that he works with in Washington DC become far more vulnerable to sexual perversion than those who are not in power. There is a concentration of demonic temptation upon those in positions of power. So even though this passage is describing first century events, the same kinds of things are highlighted in the politics of many modern nations. Satan's kingdom keeps repeating what works.
Political prostitution (v. 4f with vv. 1-3)
The next charge against the whore is the word "fornication" which harks back to verses 1-3 - the harlotry that these leaders engaged in. And we saw that all three forms of prostitution occurred in first century Jerusalem. But this is likely referring to a metaphorical spiritual prostitution and political prostitution. It would be like telling modern politicians that their promises look beautiful and their rhetoric looks honorable, but it is simply a cover for an ocean of filth and lawless behavior that goes on behind closed doors. That's what this vision was basically saying about Jerusalem.
A brazen forehead (v. 5a)
The next charge is that she wears a name on her forehead. And many commentators point out that this is an allusion to the high priest's turban which had a gold plate on it. Let me read from Exodus 28:36-38,
Ex. 28:36 “You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE Lord. 37 And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. 38 So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.
Now, Revelation 17 reverses that. Instead of Israel being accepted because of what is on the High Priest's forehead, Israel is rejected. Instead of Holiness to the Lord, it is the opposite.
In any case, back to Exodus 28, that plaque with "HOLINESS TO THE LORD" engraved on it was a symbol that apart from Christ, the Great High Priest, nothing the people did would be accepted. Well, the Jewish leadership had already rejected Jesus, yet the high priests continued to wear that golden plate on their foreheads. So instead of Christ bearing the iniquity of the people, these leaders bore the iniquity - something they could not atone for. And that is why they filled up more and more guilt upon themselves and the whole nation.
So, many commentaries believe that Exodus 28 brings this passage to light and shows how nothing but iniquity can be seen when Jesus is rejected as High Priest. Instead, the name plate now reads: “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of the prostitutes and the abominations of the earth.” But the high priest proudly wore it anyway. He was brazen in his rebellion just like a harlot is brazen in her sin. She does not know how to blush. She has an obstinate forehead.
Following demonic "revelation" rather than Biblical revelation ("mystery" - v. 5b)
The next charge was following demonic revelation rather than Biblical revelation. The word "mystery" is the first word that appears on the high priest's turban. Mystery always refers to some kind of revelation. It is a secret that would otherwise not be known apart from revelation. The mysteries of the kingdom are the things that Scripture reveals to His church. But the Bible also speaks of the mystery of lawlessness (2 Thes. 2:7), and "doctrines of demons" (1 Tim. 4:1) and the knowledge of the deep things of Satan (Rev. 2:24), etc. This was what their oral traditions amounted to - the revelations of demons; the doctrines of demons. Talmudism claims to be a revelational religion, but their traditions were demonic traditions that overthrew Scripture according to Mark chapter 7. Their traditions were filled with the doctrines of demons and as such they came under God's condemnation.
Do we have revelations of demons today? Yes. Muhammad in his early life admitted that the revelations he was receiving came from demons and it terrified him. Later he attributed it to God, but there is overwhelming evidence that he received actual revelations from demons. The Mariolatry, celibacy, and other perverted traditions of Roman Catholicism are doctrines of demons. Mormonism is the same. It is demonic through and through. And many other cults and religions start with revelations of demons to some supposed prophet. Both the Sadducees and the Pharisees followed their oral traditions that were demonic to the core. The moment a church or a nation abandons Sola Scriptura (or Scripture Alone) it becomes vulnerable to demonic control. That's the lesson.
Has taken on the characteristics of Babylon (v. 5c)
And a lot of these demonic traditions have a common theme - they pick up the occultism of ancient Babylon. Demons don't seem to be very creative. They keep reintroducing the same worn-out ancient symbols into the new Religions of Islam, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Free Masonry, New Ageism, and other cults. They share many of the same symbols. That’s why the Reformation wasn’t that far off when they tried to prove that the Roman Catholic Church was Babylon and had Babylonian symbols. They got the history wrong, but their applications were spot on.
Anyway, that is what happened to Judaism. Jerusalem's spiritual name here is "Babylon the Great." There is a reason why the Talmud is called the Babylonian Talmud, and why the curtain in the temple was Babylonian, and why so many superstitions in the Talmud originated in Babylon. One modern paper distributed by Chidush, a Jewish Educational organization, says,
Academies in Babylonia, headed by rabbis called geonim ...were instrumental in establishing the Babylonian Talmud as the authoritative text of the Jewish religion. They also established Babylonian customs as the norm throughout the Jewish world.
The Kabbalah was the compilation of some of these mystical and occultic practices that were written down. Even a modern Jewish prayer book explains how Kabbalism is at the heart of the Jewish worship practices of today. Judaism is not a Biblical religion; it is a syncretism of two religions. For example, it says, "Without the Kabbalistic prayers, would the service even have its own name? I doubt it." Later it says, "The Hebrew M'yuchad or 'united' reflects the kabbalistic notion that God is composed of male and female parts, which must be united to form one complete God." And it lists many more Kabbalistic practices of modern Judaism that came straight out of the religious occultism of Babylon. And the book thinks that's OK. Jerusalem had drifted far from its Biblical roots. Remember that in verse 1 the angel was going to be showing the judgment (the Greek word is κρίμα) or the court evidence against Jerusalem. He is building a case for why it must be judged. And I believe God does this with every nation that comes under judgment. Without repentance there is always a day of reckoning in history.
Set the tone for others on political prostitution (v. 5d)
The next charge was their proselytism - trying to involve others in the same prostitution. Like begets like. Humanistic politics will never produce the kingdom of God, no matter how conservative it is. Like produces like, or as Ezekiel says, "Like mother, like daughter." Verse 5 says, "the Mother of the prostitutes..." Last week we saw that political prostitution was primarily in mind in these chapters, even though all three forms of prostitution were present. And the reason Jerusalem's leadership produced more and more metaphorical prostitutes was because they were aggressive on their proselytism. Jesus said,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matt. 23:15)
Nero's wife was a Jewess who promoted Judaism in the empire every chance she got. She helped to fill Nero's court with Jewish advisors. The Talmud says that Nero became a Jewish proselyte. They were always seeking to influence.
But there were other ways that they spread their prostitution. Last week we looked in depth at the political prostitution that went on. The Sadducees developed banking centers all over the known world, and money was used to control and continue to benefit from politics. And last week I showed you how that worked.
They were the masters of political prostitution, and they mentored new prostitutes in every generation. It's just the way politics works. And when you come in as an outsider like Nicodemus, and you start criticizing this lawlessness (and try to clean up the swamp), you become public enemy number 1. The threats that were being made against Nicodemus when he rebuked the Sanhedrin for judging Christ without evidence was pretty obvious.
Produced abominations in the land (v. 5e)
Verse 5 goes on and shows that she was not only the mother of political prostitutes, she was also the mother of "the abominations of the land." Since the same word is used earlier to refer to idolatry, then we would expect her to promote idolatry. And she did. Ken Gentry devotes an entire chapter of one of his books to show how the temple had become perhaps the biggest idol. But the Sadducees worshiped money, power, position, influence, and above everything else, the temple, from which they could constantly siphon off more money. Josephus says that the population was absolutely convinced that God would not allow His temple to be destroyed, so it lulled them into a sense of security.
But as I have already mentioned, there was literal idolatry that was pushed by the two secret societies of the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They competed just like some modern secret societies compete, but they still shared the same Babylonian occultism.
Murders God's saints (v. 6a-b)
The next charge was murder of God's saints. "And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, even with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus." Jesus had predicted that the judgment outlined in these chapters would come upon Jerusalem within that generation, and that part of the reason for the judgment was that Jerusalem had killed so many prophets and saints. In Matthew 23 he said,
Matt. 23:31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ ”
Just as a side-note: Christ's prophecy that Jerusalem would be left desolate until Jerusalem would one day say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD" is a prediction of a far distant future conversion - when Jerusalem will welcome Christ as their Lord.
But it was Jerusalem that was over and over again blamed for the martyrdoms of the saints. And the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation both lay most of the blame for persecution (even Rome's persecution) at the feet of the Jews. We have seen in previous chapters that it was the Jews who instigated the Roman persecution. And the Jewish population comprised a massive portion of Rome's entire population. Ken Gentry points out,
This Jewish opposition is all the more significant when we realize that the Jewish-Christian element was a small remnant of a vast Jewish community of the first century (Rom. 11:5). In fact, in the first century, Jews represent between nine and fifteen per cent of the Roman Empire's population. In this regard Paul Barnett notes that 'successive Roman rulers for more than a century had prudently recognized both the size of the Jewish community within the empire (approximately 15% overall) and the peculiar character of Jewish religious nationalism.'
And all of this empire-wide persecution of Christianity was orchestrated from Jerusalem. The harlot rides the beast and directs the beast in her persecution. Saul (before he got converted and became Paul the apostle) had papers that gave him permission to arrest Christians anywhere in the empire. It was the leaders of Jerusalem who gave him that permission. He arrested them and brought them back to Jerusalem for trial and death. Our country is drenched with the blood of abortions and unlawful wars, but Jerusalem was drenched in the blood of Christians.
Is very seductive (v. 6c)
The last thing that is once again hinted at in verse 6 is that Jerusalem was being judged because of her seductive deception of citizens. Verse 6 says, "And upon seeing her I was tremendously impressed." And in verse 7 he receives a rebuke for being tremendously impressed with her. If even the apostle was tremendously impressed, you can understand why the average citizen would have been. Who doesn't love their homeland? Who doesn't glow with pride when your own nation does something great? Who doesn't read our country's history and find patches of that history that make us feel warm and patriotic? It is easy to overlook the faults when we have invested so much in our country's success. But when patriotism blinds us to its evils, we become part of the problem. When patriotism keeps us from resisting its evils, we are no longer true patriots.
How to resist the whore's seductiveness
Listen to God's warning (v. 7a)
And verse 7 gives us two things that help us to not get sucked in by the seductive grandeur of political speeches and to not make an idol of America's greatness. The first is to pay attention to God's warnings that any of us can inappropriately idolize our city or our country. Verse 7: "So the angel said to me: 'Why are you impressed?'" The angel wasn't simply curious. Several commentaries point out that the way this language is used elsewhere in the book, he is clearly issuing a rebuke to John. They are divided on what he is being rebuked for, but they agree that he is being rebuked. Some take the Greek word "impressed" to mean that he was surprised to see how bad things were. Others take it that he was himself being allured by her and wanting to honor her and be loyal to her or at least admire her.
But either way, all it takes to break that spell is for the angel to explain the evil of the woman by explaining the evil of the beast she rides. And on either interpretation, John should have realized that Jerusalem was as evil as God says that it was. By analogy, we have a tendency to easily see the evils of the Soviet Empire, Hitler's Nazi Germany, or Robert Mugabe's rape of his nation through inflationary banking. Yet we somehow are not as clear-sighted on our own nation's evils. We don't get as upset with our own Socialism or our own Fascism. We don't get as upset with our own Federal Reserve, even though it has been stealing from the people too. Christians still want to sing, "God bless America" as if we deserve it. So I'm not dogmatic on whether John was surprised or whether he was impressed and admiring. Beale summarizes the second possible interpretation this way:
As observed in the comments on 17:3a, some commentators understand θαυμάζω to refer to John’s “admiration” of the woman. Such a nuance of the verb as “adore, admire” could be borne out from 17:8 and 13:3 (see on 13:3; 17:3, 8). If so, the angel’s question would be an implicit rebuke not to admire her, as perhaps also suggested by 19:10 and 22:8, where an angel rebukes the seer (“do not do that”) and redirects his actions of worship (ἔπεσα προσκυνῆσαι) from a wrong object of reverence to God. Also supporting this idea is Babylon’s appearance in the guise of a religiously faithful figure. She is attired almost identically to the bride-city of Christ in ch. 21 (17:4) (cf. also 18:16 and 19:8). That the bride’s linen is defined as the “righteous deeds of the saints” in 19:8 may have momentarily led John to think that Babylon was not all bad but had some attractive spiritual features. Enhancing such an impression may have been the fact that the OT describes the high priest as also adorned with “gold, purple, scarlet, linen, and [precious] stones,” like the whore-Babylon (see on 17:16) and Christ’s bride-city (21:18–21). Consequently, John may have been temporarily captivated by what appeared, in part, to be a spiritually attractive figure and was blinded to the full, true ungodly nature of the harlot (see further below).
And then he summarizes the surprise or puzzlement interpretation:
...part of the depiction of the Babylonian woman is from the OT portrayal of Jezebel ... Part of the prophet’s perplexity may have been due to the combination in one figure of sinful and apparently righteous features. John’s initial attraction certainly dissipated in the light of the angel’s further revelation of the wickedness of Babylon and her final destiny of judgment in 17:8–18:24.
But whether John is being rebuked for admiration or for surprise (as in "I had no idea that Jerusalem was so bad), it is very instructive that he was being rebuked. There was something about Jerusalem that made John not want judgment. There was something he admired about her. It was, after all, the nation that he was born into, fought for, loved, and served for most of his life. His ministry was to the Jews. It is much harder to preach a message of judgment against the nation that you love and admire.
And the same is true today. Though we pastors intellectually know that our nation is not beyond critique, it is hard to bring God's Word against the structures we have lived within our whole life. But whether we refuse to critique America's iniquities because we think that America is not that bad or whether we do so because of blind patriotic love, this angel's words stand as a rebuke to never set the state up as an idol. It is never beyond critique. In fact, if we love our nation we will weep over our nation like the prophet Jeremiah did (yes), but we will still bring God's Word of reproof.
Analyze the whore and the beast from God's perspective (v. 7b)
But the second thing that can keep us from being seduced by our nation's political prostitution is to analyze the whore and the beast from God's perspective. Verse 7 ends by saying, "I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast, having the seven heads and the ten horns, that carries her." And he goes on to do that. And interestingly, as you continue reading you find that the angel primarily talks about the beast. And people wonder what that was about - wasn't he going to explain about the woman? But he does in a round about way. By showing how she is identified with the beast and will eventually be hated by the beast, he successfully shows that John and his readers should not put their hope or confidence in the woman. She is like the beast but will be judged by the beast.
And the application is that when we realize that America and most nations of the modern world look more like the Beast and the harlot than they do like the Bible's descriptions of a small and godly state, we will be more willing to be a prophetic voice against it. We must look at politics through the lens of the Bible, not through the lens of loyalty to one party. We must see modern politics as being hateful and abominable idolatry in God's eyes so that we don't become part of the problem ourselves. We must learn to look past the beautiful and tear-jerking rhetoric and trappings of modern politics and see the disease ridden nature of politics (the demonic; the VD so to speak) so that we can help the problem rather than further the problem. The church must once again become salt and light in our society so that we can push back the darkness and slow down the rottenness. If the whole church would once again embrace a Biblical worldview of culture, I am convinced that America would be turned upside down. But if we continue to have great admiration for the harlot and continue to be seduced by modern political pragmatism, we will continue to slide into oblivion. This chapter is a call +for the church to stop playing games with the harlot and to stand as a prophetic voice against her wiles. May it be so. Amen.
He says, "It is not coincidental that in the LXX predominantly the high priest's garment and sometimes part of the sanctuary are also described as adorned with 'gold, purple, scarlet, linen, and [precious] stones' the identical combination of words used to describe the Babylonian harlot's attire in Rev. 17:4 and 18:16." G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 886. ↩
Philo, Spec Laws 1:17. ↩
Thomas, Robert L. Revelation 8–22 An Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1995; Swete, Henry Barclay. Commentary on Revelation. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1977; Aune, David E. Revelation. Word Biblical Commentary, Vols. 52a and 52b, edited by Ralph p. Martin. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997 and 1998; Beckwith, Isbon T. The Apocalypse of John. New York: MacMillan, 1919; reprinted, Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001; Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised ed. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, edited by F. F. Bruce and Gordon D. Fee. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977; Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary of the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972; Bratcher, Robert G. and Howard A. Hatton. A Handbook on The Revelation to John. New York: The United Bible Societies, 1993. ↩
R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 136. ↩
Josephus calls it "a Babylonian curtain." Josephus, The Jewish War, 5:5:4. ↩
The Jewish Encyclopedia points out: “Cabala comprised originally the entire traditional lore, in contradistinction to the written law (Torah), and therefore included the prophetic and hagiographic books of the Bible, which were supposed to have been ‘received’ by the power of the Holy Spirit rather than as writings from God’s hand... Each ‘received’ doctrine was claimed as tradition from the Fathers...to be traced back to the Prophets or to Moses on Sinai... The chief characteristic of the Cabala is that, unlike the Scriptures, it was entrusted only to the few elect ones;…’” “Cabala... The specific term for the esoteric or mystic doctrine concerning God and the universe, asserted to have come down as a revelation to elect saints from a remote past, and preserved only by a privileged few. At first consisting only of empirical lore, it assumed, under the influence of Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean philosophy, a speculative character. In the geonic period it is connected with a Mishnah-like text-book, the ‘Sefer Yetzirah,’ and forms the object of the systematic study of the elect, called ‘mekubbalim’ or ‘ba’ale ha-kabbalah’ (possessors of, or adepts in, the Cabala). These receive afterward the name of ‘maskilim’ (the wise), after Dan. xii. 10; and because the Cabala is called (‘Hokmah nistarah’ = the hidden wisdom), the initials of which are , they receive also the name of (‘adepts in grace’) (Eccl. ix. 11, Hebr.).” ↩
"...before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures." (Wars 5.5.4) ↩
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 856. ↩
Kabalistic teachings can be found in all the early Jewish secret societies, whether establishment or revolutionary. The main competing secret societies were the Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, Sicarii, Zealots, Essenes, and the Alexandrian Gnostics of which the Therapeutae were one sub-group. Of the Alexandrian Gnostics, the Jewish Encyclopedia says, “But especially does Gnosticism testify to the antiquity of the Cabala. Of Chaldean origin... Gnosticism was Jewish in character long before it became Christian... Gnosticism—that is, the cabalistic ‘Hokmah’ (wisdom)—seems to have been the first attempt on the part of the Jewish sages to give the empirical mystic lore, with the help of Platonic and Pythagorean or Stoic ideas, a speculative turn; hence the danger of heresy…of which the systems of Philo, an adept in Cabala...show many pitfalls... “Jewish gnosticism unquestionably antedates Christianity, for Biblical exegesis had already reached an age of five hundred years by the first century C.E. Judaism had been in close contact with Babylonian-Persian ideas for at least that length of time, and for nearly as long a period with Hellenistic ideas. Magic, also, which,...was a not unimportant part of the doctrines and manifestations of gnosticism, largely occupied Jewish thinkers. There is, in general, no circle of ideas to which elements of gnosticism have been traced, and with which the Jews were not acquainted.” ↩
"But we have seen loyal Jewws throughout the Roman world using pagan symbols, using most of those in the Dura paintings and many others as well, and since their being Jews implied that they were reading their Scripture, we must assume that in some way the Jews combined pagan symbols with Scripture almost everywhere, whether in representation of Scriptural scenes or not." Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 260. ↩
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 855–856. ↩
Both the Sadducees and the Pharisees followed oral traditions that contained "laws" not found in the Bible. Of the Pharisees Josephus says, "For the present I wish merely to explain that the Pharisees had passed on to the people certain regulations handed down [νομιμα τινα παρεδοσαν] by former generations and not found in the Laws of Moses." (Antiquities 13.297; see also 17.41). Most scholarship has up to recently assumed that the Sadducees strictly followed the Mosaic law and did not have their own oral traditions. But such is not the case. Jeffrey Rubenstein ably demonstrates how "the Sadducees clearly possessed an interpretive tradition of their own, one that differed from Pharisaic/Rabbinic halakhah on many points, but nonetheless included ancient 'traditions.'" For example, "the Temple Scroll and other Qumran texts are replete with laws not found in Scripture." Rubenstein, Jeffrey. "The Sadducees and the Water Libation." The Jewish Quarterly Review 84, no. 4 (1994): 425, 426. doi:10.2307/1455084. ↩
Jennifer Troy, "Jews in the Diaspora: The Bar Kohkva Revolt" (Weaver Family Foundation, 2005), p. 10. ↩
Blavatsky defines the Kabalah this way: "“Kabalist. From Q B L H, Kabala, an unwritten or oral tradition. The kabalist is a student of ‘secret science’, one who interprets the hidden meaning of the Scriptures with the help of the symbolical Kabala… The Tanaim were the first kabalists among the Jews; they appeared at Jerusalem about the beginning of the third century before the Christian era… This secret doctrine is identical with the Persian wisdom, or ‘magic’... ” Kabalah (Heb.) The hidden wisdom of the Hebrew Rabbis of the middle ages derived from the older secret doctrines concerning divine things and cosmogony, which were combined into a theology after the time of the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. All the works that fall under the esoteric category are termed Kabalistic.” (Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary, p. 167-168). ↩
Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman (ed), My People's Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries, volume 8 - Kabbalat Shabbat (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2005), p. 14. ↩
Ibid., p. 136. ↩
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues (Fountain Inn, SC: Good Birth Ministries, 2009), p. 72. ↩
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 862. ↩