An exposition of Revelation 17:1-18:24. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, October 19, 2008
I like to think of myself as a pretty nice guy. I think I’m fairly compassionate and understanding. I think it is good and right to take a stand for the “little guy”. To speak up when others are wronged and to fight for what is just. I feel for those who hurt and don’t like to see others humiliated. But I will have to admit that I haven taken pleasure in seeing the arrogant stumble. I have been known to laugh when the “know-it-all” is revealed as a “know-nothing.” And truthfully I’ve gotten down right giddy when the wicked have been served their just deserts! I know we are in church and we’re all supposed to act sanctified and spiritual but I just being honest. When I’m watching a movie and the bad guy who has gotten away with murder throughout the whole movie finally gets caught – I take great pleasure in that. And the more vile, more corrupt and more arrogant the villain – the louder I want to cheer. Even in our “fallenness” we retain enough of the image and likeness of God that we rejoice in the triumph of good and cheer the defeat of evil. As we move into chapters 17 and 18 of the Revelation we are approaching “shout’n ground.” We’ve been introduced to the Red Dragon, the beast, the false prophet and now the great prostitute. In these chapters we hear of and then in chapter 19 the Lord Jesus splits the clouds astride a white stallion and brings an end to this world system and ushers in eternity. When those struggling believers in Asia Minor, groaning under the weight of persecution, heard of the destruction of the “great city” I don’t think they turned to one another and said, “Well now that’s interesting.” I think they stood to their feet and cheered. Our text this morning is found in chapters 17 and 18 of the Revelation.
Text: Revelation 17:1-18:24
The original recipients of this letter where struggling to survive. Because they refused to compromise their faith their jobs were taken from them. Their possessions were confiscated. They were tortured and tormented. And many were martyred. To remain true to Christ and resists the powers that be cost them dearly. Don’t misunderstand – they struggled with their faith. After all they were men and women of flesh and bone. They were frail children of dust even as we – yet they stood firm. But don’t forget the prayer of the saints under the altar – “How long O Sovereign Lord, holy and true before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6:10) Living for God, remaining faithful and true seemed only to make things worse while unrighteousness seemed to go on its merry way. Rome grew even more powerful. Caesar seemed embolden in his lust for blood. “How long O Sovereign Lord?” Even their beloved bishop – John the apostle whom Jesus loved – was not immune from Caesar’s wrath. John was exiled to Patmos and forced to live far from family and cherished friends. What possible good could come from his harsh imprisonment? How did his removal serve God’s kingdom? John was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day when he heard a voice behind him. He turned and there stood the risen Lord. “John, write what you see and hear.” And so for the last 1900 years the Lord of the church has inspired and encouraged believers in every age to withstand the wrath of the dragon and his beast in full assurance that the Lamb has conquered and the King is coming. As we work our way through the confusing and complicated images of our text we are going to discover that…
Thesis: The visions of chapters 17 & 18 vividly remind us that God will justly judge all rebellion, unbelief and idolatry and only those who are safe in Christ will escape His holy wrath.
Chapters 17-19 are a “fleshing out” of the 6th and 7th bowls of wrath. As happens throughout Revelation John gives an overview of what is to come and then comes back and fills in the details. Remember with the pouring out of His wrath through the bowls God’s wrath is finished. There is nothing to be added to them. They will bring an end to the age.
Let me draw three lessons from our text one from chapter 17 and two from chapter 18.
- God sovereignly proclaims His righteous judgment on the corrupt, wicked, and immoral world system. (17:1-18)
I remind you I think we get into trouble when we try to narrowly define who the characters in this drama represent. We know the Lamb. We know the red dragon. Those are made clear. When it comes to the beast, his prophet and this great prostitute – it’s not so clear. I think a great case can be made throughout for Nero, Domitian and the Roman Empire. But I don’t know that it satisfies everything. Marvelous cases have been made through the centuries identifying them with various tyrants both secular and religious and their cities/empires. I think that is the point! I think it is vague for a reason. As John made clear in his other letters the spirit of antichrist was alive and well in the first century. Believers have always battled these same forces in their various incarnations and will continue to do so until the Lord Jesus comes again. The message is the same in every generation – the kingdoms of this world will all come to an end. God will not be mocked. What you sow that you will also reap. Wickedness will be vanquished and righteousness will prevail. What is clear is that the woman represents a dominate world power – many waters = people, nations and languages. Also note 17:18, “the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth. 7 kings are identified with her and an 8th will come but will be one of the 7. Is this Rome with 7 emperors and the 8th being Domitian who was considered by many a new Nero? Is this a reference to the great kingdoms of the earth beginning with Egypt up through Rome and then the final kingdom that of the antichrist? I don’t know! Both can make a good case. Both answer many questions but do not answer all questions. Whatever the ultimate answer may be what is clear is there is an unholy alliance between the great prostitute, the beast and the kings of the earth. They will gather against the Lamb but will be soundly defeated for He is Lord of lords and King of kings. Further note the beast and the kings of the earth will turn on the prostitute and destroy her. And it is God who put it in their minds and heart to do it. Again the point is the kingdoms of the earth will fall. God sovereignly proclaims His just and righteous judgment of the corrupt, wicked and immoral world system.
- God’s righteous judgment brings ruin to the great powers behind the world system and to those who sell their souls to profit by its influence. (18:1-19, 21-24)
18:1-3 contains this grand pronouncement of doom and destruction. These verses outline the reasons for judgment which is basically “she” is the embodiment of every vile thing (18:2). And second, her great influence over the kings and merchants of the earth (18:3). The whole world has been corrupted by her influence. We find again the bitter fruit of Romans 1 with those who have traded the truth for a lie. In verse 4 we find a call for the people of God to flee any involvement with the woman or her ways least they be caught up in her destruction. Note the magnitude of her judgment 18:5-8. Remember these are the details related to the 6th and 7th bowls of wrath. With the destruction of the world system comes the pain of those who hitched their wagon to her star – 18:9-19. The kings of the earth – 18:9-10 The merchants of the earth – 18:11-17 The shipmasters/sailors – 18:18-19 Did you note anything in particular about their response? There is no repentance only sorrow for loss. 18:21-24 = the finality and totality of this judgment.
- God’s righteous judgment elicits the praise of the redeemed. (18:20)
How does heaven respond to God’s judgment? How do those struggling believers in Asia Minor react? How should we react to the announcement of God’s judgment of the wicked? “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her.” It is a call to celebrate. The word used for rejoice is used repeatedly in Luke 15 and the story of the prodigal son – meaning to make merry or celebrate. The world always opposes Christ, the gospel and the Church. It is not just the terrorists or extremists it is the whole system of the world weaving its threads of hatred and animosity into the fabric of society against anything Christian. That doesn’t mean we are to cower in fear or give up. On the contrary we are to stand our ground assured of the triumph of the Lamb and the certainty of God’s just judgment.