Books Of The Bible
Revelation Series • Chapters 17, 18
FIRST LESSON Revelation 17, 18
L: 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 whore who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk.’ So 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.
C: The woman was clothed 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 fornication; and on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations.’ And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly amazed.
L: The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings.
C: After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. 2He called out with a mighty voice, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird, a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.
L: For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.’
C: Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.
L: Render to her as she herself has rendered, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed.
C: As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so give her a like measure of torment and grief. Since in her heart she says, “I rule as a queen; I am no widow, and I will never see grief,” therefore her plagues will come in a single day— pestilence and mourning and famine— and she will be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.’
L: And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, ‘Alas, alas, the great city, Babylon, the mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’
C: And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.
L: ‘Alas, alas, the great city, clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!’ And all shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, ‘What city was like the great city?’ 19And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out, ‘Alas, alas, the great city, where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in one hour she has been laid waste.
C: Rejoice over her, O heaven, you saints and apostles and prophets! For God has given judgment for you against her.’
L: Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘With such violence Babylon the great city will be thrown down, and will be found no more; and the sound of harpists and minstrels and of flutists and trumpeters will be heard in you no more; and an artisan of any trade will be found in you no more; and the sound of the millstone will be heard in you no more; and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more; and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more; for your merchants were the magnates of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. And in you was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slaughtered on earth.’
GOSPEL Mark 9:42
And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.
The Whore Of All Whores
Patricia Marvenko Smith
Today we continue our summer series of sermons on the Book of Revelation. Today is the tenth sermon in a series of twelve sermons.
Why the Book of Revelation? Because it is the inspired Word of God. Why the Book of Revelation? Because it speaks to so many issues in our lives. Why the Book of Revelation? Because it is sufficiently confusing, abstruse, and obscure that a person needs a guide/teacher to walk through the book with us. Why the Book of Revelation? Because it speaks powerfully to the satanic power which permeates the culture around us. Because it speaks powerfully about the harlot, the prostitute, the mother of all whores and her influence on our lives.
Today, we again need to be reminded that the Book of Revelation is like any other book in the Bible. Each book in the bible addresses a particular historical situation, that historical situation is often parallel to our own. It is helpful to understand that particular historical situation to more clearly understand a particular book in the Bible and its application to our lives today.
For example, in the Old Testament, we can more clearly understand the Book of Jeremiah if we grasp that it was written when the Jews were being carted off to Babylonian captivity when the Jewish nation fell to Babylonia in 598 BCE. We more clearly understand the Book of Daniel if we grasp that it was written in 168-165 BCE when 80,000 Jews were massacred by Antiochus Epiphanies and that moment in time is commemorated by our Jewish friends in Hanukah on December 6th. In the New Testament, we can more clearly understand the letters of the Apostle Paul if we grasp the historical background of Corinth in order to more fully understand the Book of Corinthians. In the Gospels, it is helpful to understand the distinctive traits of each of our four gospels, the distinctive traits of the authors of our four gospels and the distinctive traits of the audiences to which our four gospels are written. By closely comparing the four gospels, a person can more fully appreciate the message of the gospels.
So it is with the Book of Revelation. We need to understand the historical situation to which was addressed. We need to understand that the Book of Revelation was written to the time of intensive persecutions by two Roman emperors, Nero and Domitian. We have already heard from previous sermons about the crazy and bizarre personality habits and characteristics of these two Roman emperors. So much of the Book of Revelation starts to make sense to us if we grasp that Satan was thrown out of heaven and came down to earth and was re-incarnated the Beast, that seven headed monster with ten horns, who represents the seven headed monster of the Roman government. The ten horns represent lesser political powers such as the ten Parthian kings of that time. The Book of Revelation makes more sense to us if we understand that it was and is addressing what happens when evil gets a hold of government and it becomes THE BEAST whether it was THE BEAST of the Roman emperors of yester year or THE BEAST of the evil governments of this century. Most of us recall such beastly governments as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Big Daddy Amin and other dictators whose governments have done enormously evil things. It is helpful to understand the historical origins of the symbolism in the Book of Revelation and then apply it to similar situations in our world today.
So it is with the prostitute, the harlot, the mother of all whores. The mother of all whores is the focus of today’s sermon. She is riding on the beast of the beastly Roman government. What does she represent? From the readings in Revelation 17 and 18, we clearly hear that she is Babylon, the city, the great city of Rome, the great wealth of the city of Rome. The kings of the earth trade with her and have intercourse with this whore, this prostitute, this mother of all evils. We read in Revelation 17 and 18 about all the wealth that poured into this city. The prostitute represents the city, the culture, the decadence of an enormous concentration of wealth and commercial trade.
Examine the following image by Patricia Marvenko Smith.
Patricia Marvenko Smith
Notice the beast, the beastly evil government of the Roman emperors, with its seven heads. Notice the ten horns that represent the ten lesser political powers. Notice its feet stomping on the earth. Notice its red color, the color of the blood of the martyrs. Notice the harlot, the prostitute, the mother of all whores, who is riding on the beast. What does she symbolize? Babylon, the city, Roman, the great city of the earth, the greatest city in the whole world.
The culture of the city needs to be distinguished from the government of the Roman empire. The city, with its wealth, its influence, its ambience, its values needs to be distinguished from the Roman government just like the wealth and culture of America is to be distinguished from our government. We can clearly see the harlot who is different from the beast but riding on the beast itself. Both the harlot and the beast will be thrown into the lake of fire at the end of the Book of Revelation.
To begin the sermon for today, I would like to go in another direction. That is, where is the worst place to live on the earth today? What city is the worst city in which to live? The Mercer Group and their research (which report on BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation) investigates 39 factors which determine the “quality of life” of a particular city. There are 215 large cities on earth that they analyze. Of those 215 cities, which city is the worst to live in? Which city is the hellhole, the sewer, the bottom of the sani-can that collects the feces on earth? Which is the worst city on earth in which to live? According to Mercer Research Group, the worst city in which to live on earth is Brazzaville, the capital city of the nation of The Congo. There have been ten years of civil war in that city. The second worst city in the world in which to live is Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic. The third worst city in the world in which to live is Baghdad in Iraq because of the war there.
When John the prophet thought of the worst city in his world, he did not think in the equivalents of Brazzaville, Bangui and Baghdad, but he thought of the wealthiest, the greatest, the most opulent, the most powerful city and culture in all the world. He thought of Rome itself. Babylon. Babylon the Great, the whore of all whores. The cesspool. The sewer. The bottom of the sani-can.
Let me explain. I am thinking of the wealth, opulence and power which was concentrated under the reign of King Louis, XIV in France. I am thinking of his palace in Versailles, the hall of mirrors, the gilded gold bathroom, the excessive and grandiose gold that permeates his palace. I am also thinking of King Ludvig II in Austria and his castle name Schloss Neuschwanstein. In Disneyland, the castle of the Magic Kingdom is fashioned after Ludvig’s castle, Neuschwanstein. If you visit Neuschwnstein in Austria, you will never see such wealth and opulence and golden grandeur concentrated in one place.
The concentration of wealth in these castles is almost decadent, sinful, perverse, and offensive. Sometimes in history, there is so much wealth and opulence and power concentrate in one location that it begins to stink and smell rancid and rotten. The concentration of wealth in these castles and kings gave rise to the political revolutions that swept the kings and their vast wealth out of Europe. The excessive wealth of the kings gave rise to the political reformations into democratic states. Their wealth had begun to stink like the foulest odor and the time was ripe for revolutions in Western Europe.
So was the wealth in the city of Rome. In the history of the world, no city had ever been so wealthy. In that western world, all roads traveled to Rome and all the material goods from every corner in the world traveled to Rome. The decadence of the Roman wealth lead to a deterioration of its morality. For the prophet John, Rome was the cesspool, the sewer, the sani-can of all cities.
Let us now listen to the descriptions of the decadent wealth of Rome, not from the Book of Revelation, but from authors who were living in and near Rome at that time. The decadence of wealth had led to a decadence of morality. We will hear from scholars such as Juvenal in his SATIRES, Suetonius in his LIVES OF THE CAESARS, Tacitus in his works and the Jewish Talmud. The Jewish Talmud says that if there were ten measures of wealth given to the world, nine of them were given to Rome. These quotations are found in William Barclay’s commentary on the Book of Revelation, Volume 2.
I would like to read one quote from Aristides: “Merchandise is brought in from every land and sea, everything that every season begets, and every country produces, the products of rivers and lakes, the arts of the Greeks and the barbarians, so that if anyone were to wish to see all of these things, he would have to visit the whole inhabited world to see them—or to visit Rome. So many great ships arrive from all over the world at every hour, at every season, that Rome is like some common factory of the world, for you may see such great cargoes from the Indies or from the blessed Arabias. Everything flows to Rome. If there is anything you cannot see at Rome, then it is a thing that does not exist and which never existed.”
As we read Revelation 18 and heard similar words: “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives. ‘Alas, alas, the great city, clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls!”
I would like to read for you a quotation from Suetonius about Emperor Caligula: “In reckless extravagance, he outdid the prodigals of all time in ingenuity, inventing a new sort of baths and unnatural varieties of food and feasts. For he would bath in hot or cold perfumed oils, drink pearls of great price dissolved in vinegar, and set before his guests loaves and meats of gold.”
About Nero, Suetonius tells us: “He compelled people to set before him banquets costing $66,000. He never wore the same garment twice. He played dice for $6,000 a point. He fished with a golden net drawn by cords woven of purple and scarlet threads. It is said that he never made a journey with less than a thousand carriages, with mules shod with silver.”
“It was an age of extraordinary gluttony. Dishes of peacocks’ brains and nightengales’ tongues were set before the guests at banquets. Vitellius, who was emperor for less than a year, succeeded in spending fourteen million dollars mainly on food. Suetonius tells us of his favorite dish: In his favorite dish, he mingled the livers of pike, the brains of pheasants and peacocks, the tongues of flamingoes, and the milk of lampreys, brought by his seafaring captains from the whole world.”
Will Durant, in his STORY OF CIVILIZATION, said of these Romans: “Their homes were luxurious. Floors of mosaics and marble. Columns of marble, alabaster and onyx. Walls painted with brilliant murals and encrusted with costly stones.”
These decadent scenes from the wealthiest city of the world are similar to the indulgent, extravagant and wasteful habits of King Louis XIV of France and Ludvig II of Austria. Such extravagant and indulgent wealth leads to a nation’s downfall. Such extravagant and self indulgent wealth leads to the degradation of morality throughout the land.
As a consequence of all this self indulgent wealth and prosperity, a person finds a decline in the morality and moral social fabric of the times. And so the Book of Revelation describe the consequences of this perverted wealth as a cup of abomination. It is the mother of all whores and prostitutes. It is a gold cup filled with obscene and filthy things.
Seneca, the Roman senator, said: “My city is the sewer of the world. Another Roman philosopher said, “All gutters lead to Rome.” We know that all roads lead to Rome, but this philosopher also said that all gutters on the sides of the road lead to Rome. Tacitus said, “It is the place where, from all over the world, atrocities and shameful things are popular.” Will Durant, in his STORY OF CIVILIZATION, said, “Morals, which have been loosened by riches and luxury, became impoverished in the Roman empire. There was a new freedom from restraint.”
I would like to share with you about the disintegration of values regarding divorce, abortion, and adultery.
The city of Rome, symbolic of the Roman Empire, which is different than the Roman government, was a society where it was advantageous not to have children. For example, Juvenal wrote, “There is nothing so beautiful as a barren wife.” Marriage was “a passing adventure of not great significance whatsoever.”
There was an essential hostility to children in the Roman culture, the Roman city, the Roman value system. Infanticide, the killing of babies after their birth, was fairly common at that time. Contraception, both mechanical and chemical, was practiced at that time. Juvenal said that “Only the poor woman has babies. Great is the skill and powerful is the drug of an abortionist for the rich.”
Prostitution was legalized. Prostitution was so inexpensive that even the poorest Roman young man could afford it. Male prostitution was also common in the Roman Empire at that time. The philosopher Ovid sarcastically said at that time, “Pure women are only those who have not been asked.”
This pagan world was skeptical of the afterlife. Will Durant reports that the epitaph on one tomb said, “I was. I was not. I am not. I care not.” This carefree attitude towards life on earth and the afterlife was symbolic of the Roman empire.
The attitude towards recreation is also revealing. We need to contrast THE GAMES of the Greeks and THE GAMES of the Romans. We all have watched the Olympic Games and see the brilliant development of the human body in all of its glory and athleticism. What a pleasure it is to watch the Olympic games and see the might, the muscles, the co-ordination, the determination of the human spirit at each of these athletic contests. We see the best athletes in the world competing. We see the human body at is athletic best. But what were THE GAMES of the Roman world, the Roman culture, the Roman city? In the Roman games, there was a thirst for blood and gore. The more blood and more the more gore, the better for the fans. The hordes of people jammed the Roman coliseum to watch the blood flow. Nero, in one day, had four hundred tigers fight bulls and elephants until they were all dead. There was so much blood flowing on the sandy floor of the coliseum, it had to be washed out by a river of water. That is what pleased the fans. Violence. Brutality. Cruelty. Sadism. Gladiators. Martyrs being fed to the lions because of their belief and loyalty to Christ while the crowds roared their approval.
This excessive, self indulgent and opulent wealth led to a spiritual disease called “Epicureanism.” Epicureanism is basically licentiousness, which is doing what you want when you want. This kind of wealth led to a loosening of the moral values in Rome which lead to the decadence and fall of the Roman empire.
Briefly, let us listen to the life of the Roman philosopher at that time by the name of Seneca. I have been fascinated with Seneca because he was born precisely in the same year that Jesus was born, in the year 4 BCE. In the same year, Jesus was born in Palestine; Seneca was born in Rome. Seneca became wealthy. Seneca became the leading wine grower in Italy. Seneca was worth an estimated $30,000,000 according to 1944 dollars. He was a senator, an orator, and an author. He was one of the most influential and powerful men of his time. As he grew older in life and turned sixty-two years old, he decided that his life needed a new direction. Seneca left his famous life of power and prestige and began to live a life of quiet simplicity. He left Nero and Rome and all that Nero and Rome symbolized. Seneca, the new soul for simplicity, began to write about the symbolic Rome, as the gutter, the cesspool, the decadent city. Nero ordered Seneca to be executed. Seneca took his own life with a glass of hemlock, as Socrates had done during the fall of Greece. Seneca said, “Rome is the cesspool. All gutters lead to Rome.”
The Book of Revelation is saying similar things about Rome. Rather than calling Rome a cesspool or a gutter, the prophet John in the Book of Revelation calls Rome “A whore, a harlot, the mother of all whores.” Not only was the government corrupt and the largest beast the world had ever seen, the very city itself was corrupt. The city, the culture, the civilization, the customs, the mores: these had all become corrupt. It was more than the government which had become corrupt. So had society itself.
So how does this all apply to your life and mine?
Living in America, I feel that our government, for all of its problems and imperfections, is still the best system of government in the world. But I sometimes feel that our culture, our American civilization, our customs and values have become corrupt. To much of the world, our American society is nothing more than a prostitute, the whore of all whores, a materialistic decadence that exhibits no restraint, that everything goes and that everything is permissible. Just like Epicureanism in the past.
I know that it is fashionable for many Christian churches to say this today: “American’s culture has become decadent, not its government but its culture.” It seems so easy to take cheap potshots at American culture, that our freedoms have disintegrated into moral decadence. It is so easy to say such things and most church people shout a hearty “amen.”
Knowing all of this, it still needs to be said. Our American culture, our pop culture, our everyday culture has become morally sick.
The other day at Bible camp, a couple of high school seniors got up to give a camp fire talk on temptation. They started to talk about the TV show, SOUTH PARK, and all the kids immediately laughed in titillating appreciation. We adults? We never watch SOUTH PARK, but the high school kids did and knew what was being pushed in that show. Our culture is overwhelmingly affected with a deep pervasive sense of immorality through and through.
I remember visiting the nation of Turkey and our guide saying, “There is no drug problem in Turkey. Our kids are too poor to afford drugs. Drugs are for the rich kids, for the dopies and the stoners in America.” We just slough off such comments as being the price of freedom for living in a free society.
Abortions are now permissible and popular in America. Abortions have become a way of life and family planning. There are more abortions in America than deliveries of new babies. It has become a way of life for us, and we yawn with mindless indifference, saying to ourselves, “That is the price of freedom.”
In Revelation 18, we hear these words, “Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”
We recall the Apostle John in John 17 where Jesus does not pray to have us taken out of the world but to remain strong, loyal and pure while we remain in the this world. We Christians need to be reminded that we are to be IN this world of ours but not OF this world of ours. That is so difficult to do: to be IN this sick society of ours but not OF this sick society and its values. But that is the call of Christ and the call of the Book of Revelation: that we do not partake of the sins of our society, that we remain loyal to the values of Christ.
Sermon number ten.
Next week, The Last Judgment. In two weeks, the conclusion, The New Jerusalem.
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