The Revelation – The Whore of Babylon – Rev. 17

Last week we had a great discussion of God’s Wrath using Abraham Heschel’s book The Prophets. This week we read about the result of His Wrath in Revelation 16-17 where the Whore of Babylon, the Mother of Harlots, and the Abominations upon the Earth is judged.

The Great Whore of Babylon:

Chapter 17 is a continuation of the pouring out of God’s wrath from the seventh bowl, the bowls themselves having come from the seventh trumpet, and the trumpets having arisen from the seventh seal. What started with the opening of the seals in Revelation 6:1 reaches its conclusion here. The crescendo of God’s judgment and wrath is poured out on Babylon, the great mother of harlots and of earth’s abominations, and with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication and through whom the dwellers on the earth have become drunk. (See, Jer. 51:7-8). It is to her that all people and powers give the glory, and the honor, and the majesty, rightly due to the Creator.

This woman stands in stark contrast to the heavenly woman of Revelation 12:1. The woman of Revelation 12 was clothed in heavenly attire – the sun, the moon, and the stars. She is the epitome of holiness and it is she that gives birth to the child whom Satan seeks to destroy. On the other hand, the woman of Revelation 17 is bedecked in the attire of this world – purple and scarlet; gold, jewels, and pearls. She is the epitome of earthly power and wealth and it is she that passes around the golden cup of abominations (sexual, religious, economic, political, martial) from which the people and their leaders get drunk. They are the contrast between light and darkness. John 3:19.

Throughout the prophetic tradition, the prophets have equated Israel’s worship of other gods and the things of this world with prostitution. See, Jer. 3-5, Ezek. 16. The entire book of Hosea is based upon the prophet’s marriage to a prostitute who does not quit the business. John draws on this tradition to envision the embodiment of humankind’s worship of worldly power, wealth, and status with worshipping the great Whore of Babylon. This is the very question that John asks of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 and that he asks of us. The Whore of Babylon is whatever aspect of the world that we worship instead of God.

The Fall of Babylon:

The way Babylon falls is unexpected. Babylon is the epitome of all that stands against God in the world. Babylon is the source of power and the allure of power for both the kings of the earth and all who dwell on the earth. And it is these who are enamored with Babylon and drunk on her power who wage war against the Lamb and murder his followers. Babylon is all-powerful.

In Revelation 12:7 God sends the archangel Michael to defeat the Dragon. Here, however, there are no warring angels, there is no Son of Man with a sharp two-edged sword (Rev. 1:16), and there is no Blood of the Lamb or testimony of the martyrs (Rev. 12:13). Rather it is evil itself that defeats itself. The beast and the kings who unsuccessfully made war on the Lamb, now successfully make war on Babylon. Even the Beast obeys the sovereign will of God.

Marks of Empire

As we looked at in our discussion of Revelation 13, the imagery that John uses in describing the beasts, the kings, and their location, clearly point to Rome. The seven heads are the seven Roman emperors, the seven mountains are the seven hills upon which Rome is located, and the ten kings are the local officials who participate in the church’s persecution. However, John’s references to the Old Testament empires of Babylon, Egypt, and others and his lack of using the word “Rome” allow us to see the “Whore of Babylon” more broadly as encompassing political imperial power more generally.

In his book, Dr. Gorman writes that John gives us seven (of course) features of empire that are common to all great earthly political powers. John wants his audience to recognize these characteristics in the Roman empire so that they do not become taken in by Rome, but more broadly, he writes so that we can also recognize these characteristics in other great powers as well. The seven marks of empire in Revelation are:

  1. A system of domination that seduces the powerful with the promise of more power, and seduces the common people with the promise of sharing in this power and in having security. (v.2)
  2. Empires are territorially grand and ideologically expansive which creates a false ecumenism of politics and religion which it blasphemously self-promotes in place of God. (vv.3-5)
  3. Empires present themselves as aesthetically pleasing and beneficial which covers up their abominations such as human exploitation. (v.4)
  4. Empires claim a divine status that is opposed to the true power of God as disclosed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and they will resort to violence to silence the pro-God, counter-imperial message of the faithful. (vv. 5, 14)
  5. For Empires, growth is based upon the acquiescence of the conquered. (v.13)
  6. Empires contain the seeds of their own destruction. Their subjects will eventually revolt and overthrow them, which is the judgment of God. (v.16-17)
  7. Specific empires rise and fall, but their allure and contemporary reality are always with us until the end of the age. They are how humanity and those at war with God stand in opposition to him.

When Revelation speaks to us today, it is this warning for us to know and understand who and what we are worshipping. Worship belongs to God alone, and not to the political or economic powers of the world. When you read Revelation 17 and the description of Babylon, see where the parallels are with today’s world and in today’s society.

SCHEDULE:

  • Please remember that Messiah has moved its mid-week service to noon.
  • Beginning in September we will be reading excerpts from Fr. Robert F. Capon’s book Kingdom, Grace, Judgment – The Parables of Jesus. I encourage you to purchase the book, but I will have the relevant excepts available. I will be using Fr. Aidan Kimel’s commentary on this book as my outline.

Dinner is a 6:30. The menu is chicken bog. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world, for all that is in the world – the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches – comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God abide forever.

1 John 2:15-17

1 thought on “The Revelation – The Whore of Babylon – Rev. 17”

  1. Pingback: Robert Capon – Parable of the Weeds, pt.1 – Ancient Anglican

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.