“Religion in the Red-Light District”
Series: Understanding The Book Of Revelation
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church Henderson, KY
- Please open your Bibles to Revelation, chapter 17.
We are continuing our series of messages verse-by-verse through the book of Revelation. The last chapter we studied, chapter 16, taught us about the last series of judgments that God is going to pour out upon the unbelievers of the earth during the time of Tribulation. We read of the seven angels pouring out the seven bowl judgments, the bowls of God’s wrath. So the judgments are complete and we might expect, then, to begin reading in chapter 17 about our Lord’s return, but it doesn’t come just yet. Christ’s return comes in chapter 19 and what we have before we get there is another small parenthesis in the chronology. In chapters 17 and 18 we focus upon one aspect of the bowl judgments, and this is a focus upon the world system identified as “Babylon.” Chapter 17 focuses upon the fall of the religious aspect of Babylon, and chapter 18 focuses upon the fall of the economic aspect of Babylon. So we’re going to be looking at the fall of this religious system during the time of Tribulation, this fall of Babylon, a religious system referred to in chapter 17 as a “great harlot.”
- Please stand in honor of the reading of the word of God.
1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,
I want to speak to you this morning on this topic: “Religion in the Red-Light District.” The “Red-light district” is that part of town your mother warned you to stay away from. The red-light district is the sordid and seedy part of town, the part of town where prostitutes sell their bodies to be used and abused.
So what do I mean by associating religion with the red-light district? I mean just what the Bible means, particularly in chapter 17. To follow after any other god, any other belief-system, any other so-called religion, is to engage in what the Bible calls harlotry, or fornication, or adultery, because to follow any other religious system is to be unfaithful to our Creator and to commit spiritual prostitution by fulfilling our lusts to have it any other way than God’s way.
Now what we learn from chapter 17 is that during the future time of Tribulation, the unbelievers of the earth will engage in spiritual prostitution. There will be a future false religion that will pave the way for the reign of the Antichrist.
There are some lessons for us from this future false religion that will pervade the earth. First, I want us to see:
I. The Symbol of Future Religion (1)
1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,
One of the angels tells John that he wants to show him “the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.” Now, this “great harlot who sits on many waters” is a symbol. We understand that the Book of Revelation is a book full of signs and symbols. The “great harlot” is a symbol. The “many waters” are a symbol, too. In fact, in verse 15, we learn that the many waters symbolize, “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.” So here is a great harlot who is successful in enticing many peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues to follow after her. These many people are the unbelievers during the time of Tribulation.
This harlot, this prostitute, is also referred to in verse 5 by the name “Babylon the Great.” So this “great harlot” is identified as “Babylon.” Now, in the book of Revelation, “Babylon” refers not to a world city, but to a world system. Let me say that again: “In the book of Revelation, ‘Babylon’ refers not to a world city, but to a world system.” Sometimes we speak of a geographical place, but we do not mean the literal place itself, so much as we do a system, industry, or culture. We speak, for example, of “Madison Avenue” and we do not always mean that specific location in New York City, but rather the entire advertising industry. We may speak of “Hollywood” and, in so doing, we may not be referring to that specific location in California, but rather Hollywood as a culture. Well, here in Revelation, “Babylon” refers to a future false religious system, a belief system that will dominate the earth during the reign of the Antichrist.
John gets a vision of how the religious stage will be set for the reign of Antichrist. That’s what this vision represents. The harlot who sits on many waters is a symbol of future religion. There will be a kind of unified religion, a one-world religious system that will bring people together from all over the world. Because this religion comes by way of a prostitute, and is given the name Babylon, we know that this future religion is a false religion. It is a religion based upon humanism, secularism and materialism.
We see this one-world false religion in its early stages today. There seems to be a growing interest in ecumenicism, a kind of universal religion, a one-size fits all approach to religion. Popular religious cults such as Tom Cruise’s Scientology, for example, offer humanistic solutions to humanity’s problems, allowing humanity to join and yet maintain whatever religious beliefs they may have. So a person can supposedly be both Christian and Scientologist at the same time. This is nothing less than spiritual prostitution, an example of not being true to our Lord by engaging in spiritual relations with other belief systems. Doing so waters-down Christian beliefs and mixes them into other beliefs that are against the teachings of the Bible.
Other indicators that the world is heading for a one-world religion may even include the beliefs and assertions of people such as the Oxford Scholar Richard Dawkins who recently published a best-selling book just two months ago entitled, The God Delusion. Dawkins, an avowed atheist, goes beyond arguing for atheism. He wants to make even the respect for belief in God socially unacceptable. He would love to see nothing more than the entire world giving up faith in the God of the Bible and unifying around our dependence upon only human intellect and achievement. So even now we can see the wheels turning toward a kind of universal false religious system, the very religious system the Antichrist will use to bring converts under his wing.
Now all of this means, of course, that you and I must be all the more vigilant in knowing and defending the truth. We must not sacrifice biblical teachings upon the altar of political correctness or the secular clamoring for “tolerance,” whatever that means. G.K. Chesterton said, “Tolerance is the virtue of a man who has no convictions.” We must know the truth of the Bible and faithfully teach the truth of the Bible to our children and grandchildren.
We see on the horizon the symbol of future religion, a future false religion called Babylon, the great harlot who has enticed many to follow her and to believe and live her ways. I want to develop this symbol of future religion by talking secondly about:
II. The Seduction of Future Religion (2-6)
There is a lesson here for us today. If we’re not careful, false teachings and wrong beliefs can seduce us with the crafty skill of a prostitute, luring us into a relationship built upon a lie. See this in verses two and following. We read in verse one about the symbol of future religion, the great harlot, the future false religion. John tells us more about this prostitute of false religion. See how she entices people to follow her. She is the great harlot, verse 2:
2 “with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
This great harlot, this Babylon, this false religious system working as a prostitute, seduces followers from all over the earth. Remember, chapter 17 is teaching us about a future time during the 7-year Tribulation period when all the world will unite around a false religion that paves the way for the reign of the Antichrist. The angel now carries John away into the wilderness to give him an even clearer picture of the seduction of future religion.
3 So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
Now the beast here in verse 3 is the Antichrist. We know that from chapter 13 where he is identified the same way, “having seven heads and ten horns (13:1).” He is also “full of names of blasphemy.” Remember, he wants to be god. His very existence is the epitome of blasphemy.
So the woman, the great harlot, religious Babylon, is sitting on the beast. Her sitting on the beast indicates that the beast, the coming Antichrist, supports this religious system. He is all for it right now. Remember from our earlier studies that the Antichrist will be very winsome and engaging. He will negotiate a seven year peace treaty in the Middle East and then break off that treaty 3 ½ years into the time of Tribulation. So the Antichrist, the beast here, supports the world religious system by using religion for his political purposes. This false religion is paving the way for his coming reign. What else do we read about this seductive future religion?
4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.
This is so characteristic of false religions. Like charming, deceptive prostitutes, false religions promise everything, but deliver nothing but a cheap substitute. A false religion is built upon lies. Jesus Christ said in John 14:6, “I am the Truth.” Depending upon any other religion to receive forgiveness of sin or to gain entrance into heaven is to depend upon a lie.
5 And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
It was common in the Ancient Near East for prostitutes to wear a headband with their name upon it. So here we have the symbol of future religion, the great harlot, wearing a headband that unashamedly proclaims who she is. In the Bible the word “mystery” simply means a truth that was hidden but is now revealed. John says, “Here is her name. I am revealing it. Her name is Babylon the Great.” She is the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth. That is, she is the very source of everything that stands in opposition to the One True God of the Bible.
She is called Babylon because of the origin of that word. You will remember in Genesis 10-11 that we read of the city of Babel where man erected a tower to be used for religious purposes. The tower itself came to be regarded as a symbol of man’s pride and rebellion against God. For this reason God judged Babel by scattering the people. The word Babylon comes from Babel, the town where man stood in opposition to the things of God. But while God judged the city of Babel, the Babylonian religious system exists to this very day.
6 I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.
When John says that he saw the woman “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus,” he is referring to the fact that this future false religious system seeks the death of Christians. This is not the first time we have read that believers in Christ will be martyred during the time of Tribulation. If Christians are thought to be religiously intolerant right-wing extremists today, then this day is nothing compared to the time of Tribulation.
We have seen the symbol of this false, future religion, and the seduction of future religion. Look with me now at:
III. The Structure of Future Religion (7-15)
Verse 6 leaves us with John marveling at this vision. So the angel promised to even more fully reveal the mystery of this future false religious system by telling him about the structure of it.
7 But the angel said to me, “Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.
8 “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
We learned back in chapter 13 that the beast, the Antichrist, imitates the death and resurrection of Christ. And so the angel says in verse 8, “the beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition.” This is a reference to Antichrist’s imitation of Christ’s death and resurrection. So the angel reminds us that “those who dwell on the earth will marvel.” Who are “those who dwell on the earth?” The angel says those, “whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world,” that is, the unbelievers. So the beast is the Antichrist, the one who was, and is not, and yet is. The Antichrist lends his support to the false religious system of Babylon. Now what about the Antichrist’s seven heads and ten horns? Well, the angel tells us about these, too.
9 “Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.
What are these seven mountains on which the woman sits? Next verse:
10 “There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time.
So the Antichrist’s seven heads represent seven kingdoms, seven worldwide kingdoms. Five have fallen: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. Five have fallen. One is: Rome; Rome still existed in John’s day. So that’s number six. And the other has not yet come; number seven. Which kingdom is number seven? The kingdom of the Antichrist. He is number seven, the kingdom that “has not yet come.” The angel tells us this in the next verse and also tells us that the kingdom of the Antichrist is also the eighth kingdom:
11 “And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.
The Antichrist is both kingdom seven and kingdom eight. He is the seventh kingdom when he comes into power. He is also called the eighth, however, because of his imitation of the death and resurrection of Christ. So when he supposedly dies, the seventh kingdom is no more. And when the Antichrist supposedly rises from the dead, he then becomes the eighth kingdom.
12 “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.
13 “These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.
Who are these ten kings? We don’t know. The Bible says they “have received no kingdom as yet.” They will rule, however, under the Antichrist. The Bible says that “they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.” So they will be sub-rulers underneath the power of the Antichrist during his 3 ½ year reign. That is probably what is meant, by the way, by the phrase, “one hour.” It is not to be understood as 60 minutes, but rather as a general term referring to a brief period of time, much like when Jesus said to those who arrested him in the Garden of Gethsemane, “This is your hour.” So there will be 10 unified kingdoms that rule under the authority of the Antichrist. We’ll not speculate as to who they are.
14 “These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”
So these ten kingdoms, along with the Antichrist, make war with the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of course the Lamb overcomes them. This is a reference to the Battle of Armageddon. The Lamb will win the war, why? Because, the angel says, “He is Lord of lords and King of kings!” And what does the angel say about those who are with Christ? They are “called, chosen, and faithful.” They are following the One True Christ. They are not like the people following Antichrist, the unbelievers symbolized by “the waters” mentioned in verse 15.
15 Then he said to me, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.
And there is a reminder, yet again, that we had better be following the right person. We’d better know where we’re going.
There was a time when Albert Einstein was going on a train to an out-of-town engagement. The conductor stopped by to punch his ticket. The great scientist, preoccupied with his work, with great embarrassment rummaged through his coat pockets and briefcase to no avail. He could not find his ticket. The conductor said, “We all know who you are, Dr. Einstein. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it. Everything is okay.”
The conductor walked on down the aisle punching other tickets. Before he moved to the next car, he looked back and saw Dr. Einstein down on his hands and knees looking under his seat trying to find his ticket. He came back and gently said, “Dr. Einstein, please don’t worry about it. I know who you are.” Einstein looked up and said, “I, too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going!”
Well you and I had better know where we’re going or we may find ourselves on a train headed in the wrong direction. Whom are you following? Are you loyal to Christ or are you following a false religious system?
We are learning about this future, false religion. We have seen the symbol of future religion, the seduction of future religion, and the structure of future religion. Finally, let’s see:
IV. The Sting of Future Religion (16-18)
16 “And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.
The kingdom of Antichrist, including his ten sub-rulers, will “hate the harlot.” That is, after using the false religious system for their own political purposes, to gain power, they will then throw her away. Just like a prostitute, this Babylonian world religious system will be used and abused. The kingdom of Antichrist and his ten sub-rulers will use the harlot and then hate the harlot, making her desolate and naked, eating her flesh and burning her with fire. These are all phrases to describe the self-serving ways of the Antichrist. Like a man uses a prostitute, the Antichrist is just using the future false religious system as a means to fulfill his own self-centered lusts. Then he throws her away. That’s the sting of false religion. You follow a false religion this is your end. You are used and abused. Now God isn’t surprised by any of these things:
17 “For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.
We see again the sovereignty of God in the book of Revelation. Nothing happens without God’s approval. Nothing escapes His notice. God is in control of everything. The Bible says it is God who has “put it into their hearts to fulfill His purposes.” God turns evil against itself. God is there behind the scenes, guiding the events of history to fulfill His perfect plan.
18 “And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.”
There again the angels tells John that the woman that he saw back in verse one is “that great city,” Babylon, the city which reigns over the kings of the earth. The woman is that false religious system that will be used by the Antichrist and his sub-rulers to fulfill their lustful desires and then thrown away like an abused prostitute.
And all those who follow the false religious system, all those who have committed fornication with her by following after the things in opposition to the One True God, will also feel the sting of her demise.
Conclusion / Invitation:
We often hear the familiar refrain: “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you believe it; so long as you’re sincere.” Chapter 17 teaches us that it matters very much what we believe. If we place our faith in anything or anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ then we’re practicing religion in the red-light district. We’re prostituting our faith by intermingling and intermixing with other beliefs.
This is why we often speak of Christianity not so much as a religion, but as a relationship. God has created us for relationship with Him. He is the Husband. The church is the bride. And He wants our exclusive, loyal, faithful devotion to Him alone.
- Stand for prayer.
We read earlier about “those whose names are not written in the Book of Life (v. 8).” Is your name written in the Book of Life?
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