Revelation 17: 4-18
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. The name written on her forehead was a mystery:
babylon the great
the mother of prostitutes
and of the abominations of the earth.
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. 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. 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.
‘This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.
‘The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings – and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.’
Then the angel said to me, ‘The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.’
Yesterday we talked about this prostitute that appears in Revelation 17. Who is this prostitute, this Harlot, who is seducing the nations? She is called 'Babylon'
For John and the church in the first century, Babylon meant the city of Rome. Not so much the physical city, but what it represented. The values and views andculture which dominated the city.
The name Babylon appears all throughout the Old Testament. The first time is in Genesis 11 when people try to build the tower of Babel saying:
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves….” (Gen 11:4)
Let us build ourselves…Let’s make a name for ourselves.
Babylon represents a life which is all about my glory and my fame and my name being exalted.
From that point onwards, Babylon always represents a system of prideful, man-centred power opposed to God. It’s the attitude of: 'I don’t need God – I am god.'
Why is Babylon so seductive? Why is this harlot, this prostitute to attractive to so many people? Everyone falls for her – or almost everyone.
“With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”
Kings couldn’t wait to jump into bed with her and everyone else got drunk on her wine. Why? Because of what she offers, what she promises. It’s everything we ever thought we wanted.
Look at what it says:
“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…”
You can feel the draw, the attraction. She looks stunning, dressed to kill. Purple was the royal colour representing power and status. Scarlet was the colour of wealth. So that’s what’s being offered in this golden cup. Power, status, wealth, all wrapped up in sensual pleasure.
Money, sex and power. Not much changes.
She’s saying: Come and drink. Come and enjoy.
It looks like she’s offering all we want most in life - power, pleasure, position, prosperity, comfort, luxury, fantasy, fulfilment. It’s humanism, hedonism, the good life.
But look at what is in the golden cup:
“She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.” (17:4)
She looks stunning, the cup is made of gold – but inside – it’s full of filth, it’s disgusting, it’s vile. But no one realises that until they drink from it.
Have you ever done that? Eaten something – maybe a sandwich – and then looked down and discovered that the bread was all mouldy. Or there was something in it that shouldn’t be there. Or maybe you’ve drank something, and discovered something disgusting at the bottom of the cup.
That’s what happens here – Babylon offers everything you thought you ever wanted, but when you take it, when you drink it in, you get to the bottom and realise it’s disgusting, it’s vile, it’s destroying you.
So that’s what Babylon meant for John and the Christians in the first century. It meant Rome and all that she offered the people who lived there - power, wealth, pleasure – but only if they would allow themselves to be seduced and worship the emperor.
What about us in 2017? What is the Harlot of Babylon for us?
This woman, this prostitute, represents the dominant culture that we live in today. Culture is like water to a fish, it’s what we swim in, and don’t even realise it. It’s oxygen that we breathe in every day, and aren’t aware of it.
It’s all around us all the time. Every billboard, every TV show, every ad, every book or movie, everything we see or hear – it’s all preaching a message, whether we realise it or not. It’s conveying a belief about life, what is most important - about what is right and wrong, what makes us happy, what we can do to be attractive or powerful or promoted or fulfilled. It tells us what to think about ourselves and what to think about God and morality and issues.
And we are seduced, we are sucked into the system, whether we like it or not. We can’t get away from it. It’s like the Matrix, it’s all around us.
It’s like the great song by David Gray called Babylon. It says this:
“Let go your heart let go your head
And feel it now
Let go your heart let go your head
And feel it now
That’s the enticement of Babylon – don’t think about it, just let go, feel it, and enjoy it.
What about us as Christians shouldn’t we be different? And if so, how? That's what we'll think about tomorrow.