Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
Text: Revelation 17
7 May 2017
Fourth Sunday of Easter
17 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” 6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. 7 But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. 9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated;10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” 15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”
In his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” the late Neil Postman compared two popular novels: Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Each novel depict a different vision of a dystopian world. Postman observed:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
Anyone who is paying attention to the world know that Orwell got it right for those living in the East. But Huxley got it for those of us living in the West.
The dragon and the beasts are Orwellian: they control by inflicting pain. But the Great Prostitute is Huxleyan: she controls by inflicting pleasure.
As we have said before, We’re far more comfortable identifying the beasts with nations and religions of the past than the present. But Revelation gives us a theology of history. It’s rarely either past or present — it’s often both/and. The Beasts are antichrists, the world-spirit, the lust of the eyes, lusts of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life. They might even show up in your favorite nation or denomination. (Notes on Revelation 13; cp 1 John 2:15-27)
The vision of the Great Prostitute is no different. She sits on seven hills. She is Rome. But she is also Washington DC and Hollywood. She is Amsterdam and Las Vegas. She is the City of Man and Vanity Fair.
“The Great Whore symbol of everyday experience is a very nice city to live in. The woman and the scarlet beast on which she sits comprise the streets we walk daily, the shops where we buy our vegetables while making small talk with the proprietor.” (Peterson, 145)
She is the world-spirit of infotainment – the seductive power behind the false trinities of politics, religion, and sports; of money, sex, and power.
She is the Mother of all Prostitutes – which means she is the supreme whore or she is the source of lesser whores.
Either way, she is the evil force behind sex-trafficking, internet porn, sexting, sexual promiscuity, and all other sexual confusions.
She is totally against monogamy and one-woman-man faithfulness; she is totally for LGBTQ. She establishes safe zones for them and danger zones for us.
She is drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And the blood of countless unborn children slaughtered in the womb.
She is the seductive woman behind the screen; the search engine who receives your wishes, and answers your prayers with the click of a mouse.
She promises to give you what you most desire in the world — yet fails to deliver.
The churches in Asia Minor were tempted to commit adultery with the Roman Empire and thus “Romanize” the church. They abandoned their first love, they committed idolatry and sexual immorality with false teachers, both religious and political. They were sleeping in the light and fading into darkness. Why?
Because what the dragon cannot get by inflicting pain only, he gets by inflicting and imposing pleasures also.
Likewise, churches in the United States are tempted in many ways to commit adultery with America and thus “Americanize” the church. It is safe to say that many churches and professing Christians have already given in to the temptations and consummated the relationship.
Richard Niebuhr explained liberal theology in this sentence: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
The same can be said of Americanized Christianity in general.
As Eugene Peterson says, “The great danger that the world poses for us is not in its gross evils, but in its easy religion. The promise of success, ecstasy, and meaning that we can get for a price is Whore-worship. It is the diabolical inversion of “you are bought with a price” to “I can get it for wholesale.” (Peterson, Reversed Thunder, 147)
Land Beast says: Make Babylon Great again! The church does not say “Amen!”
Sky Angel: Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great.
(Revelation 13:11-18; 14:8; 18:1-ff)
“This calls for a mind with wisdom” — Where better to get wisdom than the Book of Proverbs.
To understand the mother of prostitutes in Revelation 17 and how to defend yourself against her, you need wisdom from above. Get some here Proverbs 5:1-23; 6:16-35; 7:1-27; 9:13-18.
There, a king teaches us son the truth about sexy whores, foolish women, wayward wives.
She is loud and wayward;
her feet do not stay at home;
12 now in the street, now in the market,
and at every corner she lies in wait.
13 She seizes him and kisses him,
and with bold face she says to him,
With much seductive speech she persuades him;
with her smooth talk she compels him.
22 All at once he follows her,
as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
23 till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
he does not know that it will cost him his life.
24 And now, O sons, listen to me,
and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
do not stray into her paths,
26 for many a victim has she laid low,
and all her slain are a mighty throng.
27 Her house is the way to Sheol,
going down to the chambers of death.
My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
2 that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge.
3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil,
4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol;
6 she does not ponder the path of life;
her ways wander, and she does not know it.
Jesus was the son who learned this wisdom from Father and put it into practice. Now he is the king who teaches us this wisdom and calls us to follow him away from the whore into the new world.
Smashing Pumpkins sang “the world is a vampire”. St John saw that the world is a whore.
“The Great Whore image is not about sex, it is a metaphor of worship gone wrong. St John has nothing to say about the sexual conditions in the late first century; his business is with the conditions of faith. His pastoral responsibility is to prevent his Christians from quitting the enduringly arduous life of worship in favor of something which appears just as religious, looks a lot better, and is a lot easier. (146)
Whoredom uses sex to lie about life: the truth of life is that love is a gift, that relationships are commitments, that sexuality is the sacrament of spirituality. The whore’s lie is that love is purchased, that relationships are “deals,” that sexuality is appetite. Whoredom is the use of good to do evil…The great wrong in whoredom is not sexual immorality but spiritual sacrilege.” (Reversed Thunder, 146-147)
The Beast urges its followers to go in to the whore and come. The Lamb calls his followers to come out of the whore and go. Those who heed the folly of the Beast will live to regret it. Those who heed the wisdom of the Lamb will live to rejoice!
Why the Crass Image of a Whore?
“Flannery O’Connor, in answer to a question about why she created such bizarre characters in her stories, replied that for the near-blind you have to draw very large, simple caricatures. The Great Whore is one of these large, simple caricatures. It is an image that can bring to never-again-to-be-forgotten awareness the powerfully seductive presence of those who would obstruct or subvert our worship of the slain and risen lamb.” (Peterson, Reversed Thunder, 146)
One of the most powerful stories I have ever heard on the nature of the human heart is told by Malcolm Muggeridge. Working as a journalist in India, he left his residence one evening to go to a nearby river for a swim. As he entered the water, across the river he saw an Indian woman from the nearby village who had come to have her bath. Muggeridge impulsively felt the allurement of the moment, and temptation stormed into his mind. He had lived with this kind of struggle for years but had somehow fought it off in honor of his commitment to his wife, Kitty. On this occasion, however, he wondered if he could cross the line of marital fidelity. He struggled just for a moment and then swam furiously toward the woman, literally trying to outdistance his conscience. His mind fed him the fantasy that stolen waters would be sweet, and he swam the harder for it. Now he was just two or three feet away from her, and as he emerged from the water, any emotion that may have gripped him paled into insignificance when compared with the devastation that shattered him as he looked at her.
“She was old and hideous…and her skin was wrinkled and, worst of all, she was a leper….This creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask.” The experience left Muggeridge trembling and muttering under his breath, “What a dirty lecherous woman!” But then the rude shock of it dawned upon him—it was not the woman who was lecherous; it was his own heart.