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Religious Babylon is Fallen

The Beginning of the End?  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction: On October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland dedicated America's most-recognizable statue, the Statue of Liberty. We call her Lady Liberty, and she stands in New York harbor at 151 feet tall. Initially, the French gave her to the United States to commemorate the French-American cooperation during the American Revolution and symbolize freedom, trampling the chains of tyranny and spreading outward from America. Then in 1892, with the establishment of Ellis Island as the chief entry station for immigrants, she became more closely associated with the hope of a better life as she consistently greeted more than 12 million immigrants over 32 years. During that time, she became the embodiment of the American dream. Poet Emma Lazarus depicted her as saying, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses," as she invited immigrants to come and find success in the land of golden opportunity.
This morning, Revelation 17 introduces us to a contrasting woman on the world stage. As John receives his vision in this passage, he does not see a woman representing the hope of freedom. Rather, he sees the woman who represents the system that has enslaved humanity since the tower of Babel - the system of false religion.
Read Revelation 17: 1-6
We must keep in mind that in our study, Pastor Ken just finished Revelation 16, where we saw the bowls of the wrath of God poured out on the earth. Revelation 16:17-21 concluded with the seventh bowl being poured out, and with that final plague, a voice from the throne in the temple of heaven cried out, "It is done!"
The next scene in the chronological flow of Revelation is in chapter 19:1-5, which says, "After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, "Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her." Again they said, "Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!" And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, "Amen! Alleluia!" Then a voice came from the throne, saying, "Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!"
So, right after the final plague, the saints in heaven who longed to see evil end and Christ reigning in glory on earth, for the first time since the wrongful death of Abel in Genesis 4:10, can rejoice because God's judgments on the wicked are now complete! The long-standing question of, "How long, O Lord . . until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" has finally been answered. "Alleluia!" they cry, "For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!"
But what about chapters 17 & 18? Where do they fit into all of this? Well, I am glad you asked that very insightful question.
Right after the seventh angel poured out his bowl, one of the seven angels (we do not know which one) hits the pause button chronologically, and instead of just moving on to the next world event, here describes what the judgment of God is destroying. In other words, this angel is interpreting why God needed to bring the world system to its knees.
In chapters 17 & 18, we get a vivid picture of the world system's wickedness, which will climax during the tribulation period, and witness the inevitable demise of its spiritual deception and material extravagance.
In chapter 17, we see the world system as the great harlot whose spiritual deception is doomed to destruction. This morning, our passage will answer three questions for us: who is the great harlot, where does she get her power, and what is her destiny?

Who is the Great Harlot? (Vv. 1-6)

Read Revelation 17:1-6

She is the epitome of idolatry.

First, we see that this woman is the epitome of idolatry. She is called the great harlot "with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication." The Old Testament prophets would often equate idolatry with immorality. In Nahum 3:1,4, Nahum cried out against Ninevah, "Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs . . . Because of the multitude of harlotries of the seductive harlot, the mistress of sorceries, Who sells nations through her harlotries, and families through her sorceries." Isaiah cried out against Tyre in Isaiah 25:15-17, saying, "Now it shall come to pass in that day that Tyre will be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king. At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the harlot: 'Take a harp, go about the city, you forgotten harlot; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that you may be remembered.' And it shall be, at the end of seventy years, that the LORD will deal with Tyre. She will return to her hire, and commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth." Jeremiah even called out Jerusalem for their spiritual immorality in Jeremiah 3:8-9, "Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees."
And so it is without a doubt that this woman represents the epitome of idolatry. She is the climax of anti-God culture that will come to its putrid head during the tribulation, yet it is also clear that she is not new to the world scene. Look down with me to verse 5. In verse 5, John tells us that a name was written on her forehead: "Mystery, Babylon the Great, The Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth." Her name is mystery Babylon: mystery because she has not yet been fully revealed. John does not want to confuse us and tie mystery Babylon to a specific city in existence today. She is a future city that will be the headquarters of all antichrist religion. We know this from verse 18, which says, "And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth." Yet, at the same time, she is the mother of harlots and the abominations of the earth. So, she will be revealed during the tribulation, but she is also an ancient evil. She is the source of all idolatry and all the world's abominations.
So, to understand how she will influence the world during the tribulation, let's see how she did so in the past. We catch our first glimpse of her in Genesis 11:1-9:
Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth." But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, "Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
We know from Genesis 10: 8-12 that just two generations after the flood Ham's grandson Nimrod established Babel, and under his leadership, they began to build a tower as a monument to man. He wanted mankind to make a name for themselves, and so the tower of Babel was the beginning of modern humanism. However, it was more than that; it was also a tower that would reach the gods in heaven, so it was also a spiritual religion. One commentator observed that the root of the word Babel could be the "gate of god." Historians tell us that this tower was a ziggurat, an ancient pagan temple. According to historical tradition, Nimrod's wife, Semiramis, established the first order of Babylonian prostitutes. So the first false religion in a post-flood world was a religion of arrogance and immorality. No wonder the Old Testament prophets so closely associated idolatry with immorality.
Unbelievable, isn't it?! Just two generations after the flood, man is once again engaging in Satanically inspired religion. So, what was God's response? To humble their rebellious arrogance, He confused their languages and scattered them, and they took various forms of that depraved religion with them. Babylon was the birthplace of false religion. Truly, she is the mother of all abominations.
Transition: Now who could fall for a woman like this? Well, this passage tells us most of the world does. It says that she sits on many waters, which is interpreted in verse 15 as the peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues of the world. But why would they fall for her? Verse 4 gives us the answer: she is deceptively beautiful.

She is deceptively beautiful.

Read Revelation 17:4a
Just like ancient prostitutes, this woman dresses to attract attention to herself. She is clothed in purple and scarlet, which are colors associated with royalty and luxury, and she is adorned with gold and precious stones. She is both beautiful and successful, and in her hand, she holds a golden (royal cup).
Decked out in the trappings of wealth, the great harlot seduces the kings and multitudes of the earth by offering a share in her wealth.
Transition: Enamored by the power and wealth she offers, the kings of the earth commit fornication with her, and the inhabitants of the earth follow right along as they both drink from her royal cup, and it is here that we discover another truth about her. She is horrifyingly violent.

She is horrifyingly violent.

Read Revelation 17:4b, 6
While the world thinks she offers glory and grandeur, in reality, all she has to offer is self-destruction brought on by her many abominations.
The fact that the woman has a golden cup is not surprising. Donald Grey Barnhouse observed, "It is also highly significant that the abominations and filthiness should be spoken of as coming from a golden cup . . . To those who are acquainted with the history of ancient religions, this significance is heightened by comparisons with the rites of the pagan religious mysteries . . . To drink of mysterious beverages was indispensable on the part of all who sought initiation in these mysteries . . . [for] till their understandings had been dimmed, and their passions excited by the medicated draught, they were not duly prepared for what they were either to hear or see."
No sooner are the nations drunk with her wine that her true nature is revealed in verse 6. "She is drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus." In the ancient world, being drunk with blood pictured the incomprehensible violence of a bloodthirsty savage. Not only are the nations drunk with her wine as they turn against Christians, but she is also drunk on her own wine. She is false religion at its finest - which is nothing short of a blood-crazed murderer of God's people.
She will be most active in the last days, but she is undoubtedly in the business of slaughtering Christians today. According to, 11 Christians are killed every day for their faith, as they continued to list the most dangerous places to be a Christian - countries where saying yes to Jesus is truly a life or death decision.
Transition: To John, this woman's violence was a staggering revelation. As he beheld this woman, he was amazed with great amazement. Who wouldn't be horrifyingly shocked at such a seemingly beautiful woman with such wicked intentions? But the angel turned to him and asked, "Why did you marvel?" As if to ask, "Didn't you know where her power comes from?" as he began to explain the mystery of the woman's power.

Where Does She Get Her Power? (Vv. 7-14)

Read Revelation 17:7-14
It is in verse 7 that it becomes clear, the great harlot, the mother of all abominations, gets her power from the antichrist. The beast carries her, and there can be no mistaking his identity. The beast has seven heads and ten horns, which is identical to the beast's description in Revelation 13:1, which says, "And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name." It is the antichrist that carries the great harlot and gives her his power. Now, remember, where does the antichrist get his power? According to Revelation 13:2, the dragon (Satan himself) gives power to the beast. So, we have here in Revelation 17 the great harlot, which is Satan's one world religion, and the antichrist who is Satan's one world ruler.
Like the harlot, the beast is a future ruler and the embodiment of all antichrist philosophy, but men like him are an ancient evil reaching back to Babel itself. The beast has seven heads. Verse 10 tells us that those seven heads are seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come.
The angel is describing the seven great world empires throughout human history that have persecuted God's people, and violently opposed God's truth. By the time of John's visions, the five fallen kingdoms were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. The one that existed at the time was Rome, and the one that has not yet come is the antichrist's final world empire. The seven heads are the seven kings who ruled as representatives of those kingdoms. In their time, the rulers of all of these kingdoms claimed to be gods, rejected God's truth, and persecuted God's people. The same will be true for the final antichrist. Only, he will be the grand finale of them all.
During the antichrist's final world empire, all who dwell on the earth, who are not written in the Book of Life, will be deceived and worship the beast. They will marvel at him because he was, is not, and yet is. As Pastor Ken explained in Revelation 13, the seventh head (the antichrist) will receive a mortal wound, but his wound will be healed. In other words, he will seem to die, but he will miraculously rise. He will be a powerful, eloquent leader, but halfway into the tribulation, he will convince the world that he is much more than that. He will convince the world that he is God! He will declare himself to be the one that was, that is not, and yet is. Let me be crystal clear, this declaration is an unashamed, unveiled claim to be the God of the universe. In Revelation 1:8, the Lord says of himself, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." And here the antichrist is making that same claim. After his miraculous healing, he will receive power from the pit - the dwelling place of demons. In this way, he will also be the eighth king. After he claims authority as god, he will be the undisputed ruler of the world, and his rule will take on a new power than it had before. This seventh king will also be the eighth king.
And it is at this point that the ten horns will come into play. Believing that the antichrist is God, the ten kings of the world will gladly submit themselves under His authority. The rulers of this world will unanimously agree that the antichrist is without question the world's supreme ruler, and they will give their authority and power to the beast. The last world empire will be a ten king confederacy under the antichrist's direction, and under the banner of this evil ruler, they will rally together for one single cause - to make war with the Lamb.
For the first time in history, Satan has his false christ in control of the global system, and the dragon fills the antichrist's heart with one all-consuming thought, "I am ready to stop the return of Jesus and overthrow his kingdom." In the end, the great deceiver deceives even himself.
I love the way the angel puts it in verse 12, this confederacy of evil will receive power, but it is only for one hour. The kingdom of evil is short-lived, for the Lamb will overcome them. Verse 14 and 17 reminds us that God is the one who is ultimately Sovereign. While the kings of this earth believe they are forming an unstoppable alliance, God is working behind the scenes to bring them to their ultimate destruction. The antichrist will not ascend and become the one "who is." No! He is going to destruction, for it is the Lamb, not the beast, who is King of kings and Lord of Lords.
Transition: But what about the great harlot? What is her destiny? She gets her power from the beast, but then what? Well, you would expect her power to dissolve after the destruction of the beast, but it is at this point that the narrative takes a shocking turn.

What Is Her Destiny? (Vv. 15-18)

Read Revelation 17:15-18
When the beast exalts himself as God, the charade will be over. You see, Satan was never interested in anything or anyone being worshipped besides himself. Since the beginning, the dragon's desire was always to be like the Most High, and he will settle for nothing less. False religion's seductive power over the world must come to an end. She has already fulfilled Satan's purposes. She is extremely wealthy and powerful, and the antichrist wants it all for himself. So, he turns on her. With help from the kings of the world, he destroys that one-world religion. He strips her of her wealth, slays her in the street, and burns her corpse, and there is no more religion. That is, except for one. All that is left is Satan's false messiah. He is the one king, the one idol, the one god of this world.
But the grand reveal of it all is that this is God's will for the antichrist's rule. The antichrist is doing the will of God. He is fulfilling the destiny of false religion by bringing her to her sudden end.
Conclusion: Now, the question that remains for you this morning is: what is my relationship to the great harlot? John intends for us to consider this question seriously. In Revelation 21:9-11, one of the seven angels (I would imagine the same one from chapter 17, although we can't be sure) who had the seven bowls introduces us to another woman, and the contrast couldn't be any more striking. She is "the bride, the Lamb's wife." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal."
Unlike the harlot, she is pure and faithful to the Lamb, and the contrast between these two women begs the question that has been echoed and re-echoed throughout Scripture: whom will you serve? Will you serve the One true God or the gods of this world? Will you worship in Baylon or in the New Jerusalem?
Revelation 18:4 says, "And I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues." Perhaps this morning, God is calling you out from a deceived global religion. Will you respond to the call of the Lamb by placing your trust in Christ alone?
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