Elements of the Chapter
Babylon, The Bride Of Antichrist
Chapters 17 and 18 of the Book of Revelation present us with a description of the great harlot and of her fall.
It is of the utmost significance that we obtain as clear a conception of this picture, of the appearance and the essential character of this harlot, as possible. In the first place, this is necessary for the clear and definite understanding of the rest of the Book of Revelation. But, in the second place, this clear conception of Babylon and her essential significance is also necessary for a practical reason. The voice comes to the people of God in the eighteenth chapter, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues," a voice which ultimately may signify an irresistible, effectual call into everlasting glory, the final deliverance of the church of Christ, when the days shall be shortened, but which undoubtedly bears the practical significance that the people of God may never have fellowship with this Babylon in the world. And in order to go out of her and refuse to have fellowship with her we must be able to discern her also among the many movements of our own day. Hence, the clear understanding of the character and manifestation of Babylon, the great harlot, is of extreme practical importance.
At the same time, however, we may as well confess that this is one of the most difficult passages of the entire Book of Revelation to understand, a passage which for that very reason has found many interpreters and has been favored with as many different interpretations. By far the most efficient method would be that of treating the entire portion in just one chapter, so that you might immediately have a clear conception of the whole. But because of the abundance of material, this is a practical impossibility. We cannot treat Chapters 17 and 18 in one chapter. And therefore we shall have to divide our material, and gradually explain these two chapters, carefully reviewing what-we had before, in the former exposition of this book, so that finally we may obtain a clear conception of the whole. And therefore we start with verses 1 to 6 of Chapter 17.
By way of introduction, I must still caution you against the possibility of introducing an imaginary and false time element into these two chapters which speak of the fall of Babylon. We are so naturally and easily inclined to picture to our mind the events that are recorded and the realization of the various prophecies in this book as occurring in the same order in which they are revealed in the Book of Revelation. More than once we have warned you against such a conception of the book which we are discussing. But the same caution is called for again in this particular connection. You must not picture the course of events thus, that what is revealed in Chapters 17 and 18 chronologically follows the events pictured in Chapter 16: for this is evidently not the case. As we have remarked in the previous chapter, after Chapter 16 there is no history any more. All has been finished. The seven vials have been poured out. Antichrist has been at battle with Gog and Magog on Armageddon, and they have been in the winepress of the wrath of God. History, therefore, has come to an end. There is no Babylon any more. For also of its destruction we read in connection with the seven vials. Nor shall she ever receive a chance to develop herself anew. For this very evident reason, which must be plain to all, it is an impossibility to conceive of the events pictured in the two chapters we must now discuss as chronologically following those pictured in Chapter 16. There is but one possibility; and that is to conceive of these two chapters as presenting a more detailed picture of something which we have already been told in broad outline before. In fact, we are presented with a detailed portraiture of Babylon and her fall, of the battle of Armageddon, of the last attempt of Satan to deceive the nations which are called Gog and Magog in Scripture and which live at the four corners of the earth, and, finally, of the beautiful New Jerusalem which comes down from heaven from God Almighty.
Of Babylon and her destruction we have read before. Essentially we have met her in Chapter 11, where she still appears as the outward holy city, but where her very name is designated as being identical with that of Sodom and Gomorrah, where the Lord was crucified. Jerusalem no doubt appears in that chapter as the city which essentially is Babylonian in character and persecutes the witnesses of Jesus. Again, we read of her destruction already in Chapter 14, verse 8, where it is announced by the angel as imminent when he cries, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." And in our previous discourse, in connection with the pouring out of the seventh vial, we also met with her destruction. For there it was said: "And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath." It is, of course, that same Babylon of which we meet a description rather in detail in the words of the present chapter and of the passage we are discussing now.
In the second place, it may be interesting to reviow some of the interpretations which have been presented of this great harlot. In doing so we shall find that interpreters generally have struggled to overcome the difficulty that this Babylon is pictured both as a woman and as a city, but have but ill succeeded in interpreting it.
There are interpretations which have it that this Babylon is nothing else than the city of Rome as it existed at the time of John, - the mighty capital of the powerful Roman Empire at that time, the city which indeed became guilty of the blood of many of the children of God who held the testimony of Jesus. This interpretation they base on verse 9, where we read that the seven heads of the beast on which the harlot sitteth are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth. The city of Rome is famous for its being built on seven hills. And these are indicated in the verse that we just cited. There are others who claim that in this woman we must see the power of the papacy as finding its center in the papal see, and therefore, again in the city of Rome. The Romish Church especially through the papacy rules over the kings of the earth. She spoke words of blasphemy indeed, and made kings and nations drunk with the wine of her spiritual fornications. She persecuted the church and the saints of Christ Jesus, and her hands are red with the blood of the saints. In all these respects she surely answers the description given of her in the text. And therefore, we must surely think of the Roman Catholic Church of all ages, according to these interpretations. Still others find in this Babylon nothing but a picture of the false church as she has apostatized from Jesus Christ and from the truth of the Word of God and become a servant of Satan and Antichrist: the counterfeit church, or counterfeit Christianity in general. And there are even those who find in Babylon the picture of the world-city as we know it today, so that London and Paris and New York and Chicago and many other large towns are individual examples of this general picture that is called Babylon in our passage. These world-cities, so they say, are the great centers of religion and philosophy, of science and art, of commerce and industry. And they have their influence for evil felt all over the known world. Thus they present the picture of the harlot who commits fornication with all the nations of the earth.
All these interpretations struggle, evidently, to harmonize the presentation of the woman-harlot with that of the prosperous city as indicated in the text. But it seems to me that none of these interpretations succeeds entirely. It certainly will not do simply to explain that Babylon is the city of Rome. For, in the first place, it is not true that the text in verse 9 warrants that conclusion. For, first of all, it may not escape our attention that the text further interprets these seven mountains as being seven kings. And besides, Rome was built, if at all, not on seven mountains, but simply on seven hills. But besides, this interpretation evidently leaves the symbolism of the woman, by which evidently the church is indicated, altogether out of sight. Babylon is a city, surely; but it is also a woman. And the two must in some way be harmonized. For the same reason it cannot indicate simply the counterfeit church, whether it is the papal Rome or the false church in general. For she is not merely the church, but also the city, and is very definitely pictured as a city which is the center of commerce and industry and science and art, admired by all the great of the world. Chapter 18 can never be explained on this basis. And therefore, both of these elements we must continually bear in mind. And whether we shall at all gain a conception of Babylon the great will depend upon our being able to harmonize the idea of the woman and the idea of the city.
First of all, then, let us study her pretentious appearance as the woman. Evidently the text makes a distinction between her outward appearance and her essential character, a distinction which comes down to this, that she appears as a woman, but that her essential character, as expressed in her mysterious name, is that of a city, named Babylon.
One of the seven angels who had the seven vials and poured them out on the earth, so John tells us, spoke to him and led him into a wilderness, in order that he might see and understand the mystery of the great harlot and witness her judgment. The wilderness in this case may be taken as the proper abode of this woman-It must not be connected with the wilderness into which the church fled after the exaltation of Christ. The wilderness is a picture of the desolation caused by sin, and as such the proper abode for all that exalts itself against the living God and loves unrighteousness. At the same time, this wilderness, I take it, is already prophetic of the judgment this harlot, beautifully arrayed, may expect. In that wilderness, then, John beholds a woman seated on a scarlet colored beast, with seven heads and ten horns, and full of names of blasphemy. To this beast we shall not pay attention just now, seeing that he is explained in the next portion of this chapter. The woman now draws our attention. She is richly and beautifully arrayed with all that is glittering and luxurious in the world, being decked with precious stones and pearls and arrayed in purple and scarlet, while holding in her hand a golden cup. She certainly makes the impression of being rich and powerful, enveloped in a halo of worldly glory. The beast carries her, and is evidently controlled by her. And on her forehead she bears a name, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. Such is the picture. And we are told that John was amazed and wondered with great wonder at the sight of her.
If you ask who this woman is, it may be observed, in the first place, that the woman in Scripture is continually the symbol of the church of God and of God's covenant people in the external sense of the word.
Surely, essentially only the true spiritual people of God are His bride, are the wife of Jehovah, those who stand on the basis of faithfulness in covenant relation to their God. Nevertheless, also the church as she appears in the present dispensation is compared to a woman, a married woman, the wife of Jehovah.
In the Old Testament we find this picture time and again, that Israel as a nation, the covenant people in the outward sense, are called Jehovah's wife. He has married her, and she stands in relation of a covenant to Him, pledged to be faithful to her husband. In the Song of Solomon we find throughout that the entire symbolism of the book is based on this very idea, that the church is the bride of Christ. And in the New Testament we meet with this same relation repeatedly. The apostle Paul writes to the church in Ephesus: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." And after he has spoken of this relation between man and wife in the succeeding verses, he concludes, "This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church," (Ephesians 5:25-32).
In the nineteenth chapter of this same Book of Revelation we find the great multitude in glory singing at the eve of the marriage supper of the Lamb: "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints," (Revelation 19:7, 8). And in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation the same idea is expressed: "And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife," (Revelation 21:9). And very strikingly, also here the bride, the wife of the Lamb, is a city. For the passage continues, vs. 10: "And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God." Also there the church is the bride, but at the same time a city. Or let me remind you of the picture which was given in Chapter 12 of this book. Also there the church was presented as a woman, clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet. Also there the woman was a mother, just as she is here.
Only, in that connection she appears as the mother of the Great Seed and the mother of believers. And therefore, we first of all reach the conclusion that this woman is the church as she appears on earth. It may cause a little astonishment; but also John was astonished. It is when we bear in mind this fact that we can understand why John was astonished with such great amazement. He had seen this woman as the church before. Her general features were still the same. Only she is now allied with the scarlet colored beast that carries her: and that is the cause undoubtedly of John's astonishment and wonder. The woman is the church in her historical appearance on earth.
But to this we must hasten to add that this harlot is not a portraiture of the true church, but of the false, the counterfeit church, which has apostatized from her true husband and is now committing fornication with the enemy. For in the text she is called the great harlot with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication; and they that dwell on the earth were made drunken with the wine of her fornication. In the golden cup which she holds in her hand and which is the symbol of her deceitful abominations there is nothing but the unclean things of her fornication. In a word, she is a harlot.
And what is a harlot? In the general sense of the word, the harlot is a woman who sells that which is her characteristic honor and glory and lives in dissipation, a woman without honor, who lives in most intimate relation and intercourse with men outside of the sacred bond of marriage. But in Scripture, and especially in this connection, a harlot is something more: it is generally the woman who has been married, who has sworn faith and love in all things to her rightful husband once, but has shamefully forsaken him in order to whore after other men, strangers. She is the unfaithful, the deceitful woman, who breaks the most sacred pledge. And spiritually, fornication and harlotry in Scripture indicate the breaking of the covenant, the departure from the ways of Jehovah and the service of other gods. As such it appears time and again in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 16:8-22 we read of Israel as the wife of Jehovah, prepared and blessed by Him, but whoring after other gods: "Now when I-fassed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine. Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers' skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk. I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head. Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom. And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God. But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was. And of thy garments thou didst take, and deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and playedst the harlot thereupon: the like things shall not come, neither shall it be so. Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them, And tookest thy broidered garments, and coveredst them: and thou hast set mine oil and mine incense before them. My meat also which I gave thee, fine flour, and oil, and honey, wherewith I fed thee, thou hast even set it before them for a sweet savour: and thus it was saith the Lord God. Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them? And in all thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted in thy blood." A complete picture you have in this passage of the spiritual harlot, the covenant people of God in the outward sense, blessed with all the blessings of the covenant, but employing them in the service of strange gods and departing from the ways of Jehovah, their rightful husband. The same truth lies at the basis of the prophecy of Hosea, where the prophet receives the command that he must take unto himself a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms, in order to symbolize the harlotry of Israel, the covenant people of Jehovah. And therefore, in the spiritual sense a harlot is one who has belonged to Jehovah in the external sense of the word, was in covenant relation with Him, was blessed by Him, but deceitfully has broken her pledge and now sacrifices her honor unto other gods.
In the words of our text, therefore, we have a picture of the harlot church, the false church, the counterfeit church. For even as the devil aims at establishing a counterfeit kingdom, so he also establishes a counterfeit church. Naturally! We have told you before that he uses all the institutions which God has placed on earth in this dispensation for the maintenance and establishment of his kingdom, that he employs them all for his own purpose and for the propagation of his own principle. The same is true of the church. Also the church as an institution in this dispensation, designed to be the army of the kingdom,- also that church the devil shrewdly employs in his service. And the result is that a counterfeit church, the harlot church, is established. The true church is the spiritual bride of Christ, ingrafted into Him by a true faith, and through Him stands in covenant relation with the Lord Jehovah. But that counterfeit church is the church which still bears the name of church, still appears as the church in the world, still claims or pretends to be the church, outwardly also looks like the church, has its ministers and sacraments, the preaching of the Word and teaching, and all kinds of institutions and societies besides, but employs all the blessings she has outwardly received in the service of Antichrist, and not in the service of Jehovah. Her ministers preach for Antichrist. The officebearers work for Antichrist. Publicly she displays all the signs of Antichrist, and all her members she educates to work for the dragon and his kingdom. She enjoys the favor and the good will of the world, of the great and the mighty and the strong and the rich in the world. And they bless and deck her with all kinds of precious jewels and gold. She becomes great and powerful. And the more she labors in the interest of the antichristian kingdom, the more she will enjoy the favor of the dragon: for she is nothing but his harlot, and allows herself to be the instrument of Antichrist.
That this is true is plain from the description that is given of her in the text. For she is called the harlot, and is described as one who commits fornication with the great of the earth and with all that dwell in the world. That this is true is plain also from the fact that she is sitting on the scarlet beast with his seven heads an ten horns, evidently implying that she is borne by the power of Antichrist, and, at the same time, controls that power with her fascinating fornications. That this is true, finally, is also plain from the fact that of her the terrible sentence is expressed that she is fairly drunken with the blood of the saints. Surely, this woman is the church as she appears on earth; but it is the false church, rapidly developing in our own time. It is the church that has abandoned the truth of the Word of God, that laughs about the truth of the atonement of Christ and tramples under foot the blood of the new covenant. Every pledge with her Lord and covenant God she has broken. And even those who do remain faithful she kills in her hatred.
But this is not all. For this woman, representing the counterfeit or false church, is also represented to us as a city. We read that this woman bears a name on her forehead, "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF THE HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."
In regard to this name, let us observe, in the first place, that the name in Scripture is always expressive of one's real being. And therefore, we learn that the real being of this woman is that of a city, and specifically of Babylon. In the second place, note that in this case the name is called "Mystery." A mystery is that which is concealed, which is hidden from view, which does not reveal itself on' the surface. So it is here: not so much because the woman bears the name of a city, - for that might be very well expected of her, as we shall see, - but because the name of that city is Babylon. We would not expect the name of this Babylon, no more than we would expect her to be seated on this scarlet colored beast. She appears as the church. If we were bidden to guess the name of this woman as she appears, we would say her name is Church, Christianity, the Covenant People. Or, if we would guess her name as to her essential and future character, we would say, "This is Jerusalem, the Holy City, the bride of Christ." But this is not the case. This woman appears as the church; but she is the false church. She bears the appearance of Jerusalem, the Holy City, the bride of Christ; but in essence she is nothing but Babylon. That is her real nature.
As to the significance of the name as such, we can be brief. Babylon stands in Scripture .for all that opposes the kingdom of God. It stands for the initiation of the kingdom of Antichrist in remotest past times under the mighty Nimrod. And if God had not prevented it by the confusion of speech, she would have succeeded then already in establishing the outward kingdom of Antichrist. She is the capital of the kingdom of oppression for the people of God, which always stood inimical over against the kingdom of God even in the Old Testament. In a word, Babylon is a name which suggests a center of the kingdom of the dragon. And therefore, this woman, which is a harlot church and the mother and propagator of all spiritual harlotry, - this woman is essentially the center of the antichristian world power, and shall in the future reveal herself as such.
Strange this may seem at first sight. Yet, at a second consideration this is but perfectly natural. The figure of the woman changes ultimately into that of a great city which controls the affairs of the world and is a center of all the movements and science and art and literature and commerce and industry in all the earth. In a word, the figure of this woman, of this harlot-church, changes into that of the city which shall be the center and the chief power in the antichristian kingdom.
But, as I say, this need not surprise us in the least. The same is true of the true church. She ultimately appears as the New Jerusalem, that comes down out of heaven from God. The church that is in this dispensation, the woman, the bride of Christ, is at the same time destined to be the power in control ultimately of the new heaven and of the new earth, destined to reign with Christ forever in the glorious city, the New Jerusalem. The real, the mystical character of the church is that of a city, the glorious city that shall be the center of the new creation, of the kingdom of Christ in glory. The same now is true of the false church. She appears as the woman; in reality she is also a city. This false church, with all her harlotry and power, shall ultimately reveal herself as the power in the kingdom of Antichrist. Essentially she is one with Antichrist. Gradually she shall reveal her character more clearly. Gradually her bridal alliance with the opponent of Christ shall be brought to light. And when once the beast shall reign supreme for a time and shall actually have succeeded in establishing his glorious kingdom, it will be that false Christianity, the harlot-church, that shall be the center of its dominion.
If you ask how this shall be historically realized, the answer in our time, it seems to me, cannot be so very difficult. According to the apostle Paul, before the Man of Sin can reveal himself, a great apostasy must take place, apostasy from the true church. That is, the false church will openly reveal herself as such, will openly separate herself from all that calls itself after the true and living Christ, not so much in name, but in very fact. The church shall deny the Christ, shall trample under foot the blood of Christ, shall invent a religion, a Christianity, of its own, and thus shall become a mighty, apostate church, calling itself Christianity, and in reality being related to the kingdom of Antichrist. That mighty, apostate church shall naturally embrace all that calls itself Christendom but is not. It shall embrace and control all the so-called Christian world and ultimately be perfectly identified with the kingdom of Antichrist. It is not at all inconceivable, it is indeed in perfect harmony with the picture given in the text, that this apostate Christendom shall erect a center in some great world-city, a literal city, with all the modern conveniences and products of science and art conceivable. A city, it shall be, which is a center in every respect, a city of science and philosophy and religion, a city which is the center of the antichristian kingdom, thoroughly imbued with the harlotry of the apostate church. Literally the woman shall thus merge into a kingdom, with the city whose name is mystically Babylon in the center. And Christianity shall have become antichristianity to the core.
That movement is in the air today. It presses itself forward at every corner and from various angles. The church must do away with all creeds and doctrine, so we hear today. And I have no doubt but she will do so, nay, even to a large extent has done so already. And having done away with all doctrine, she must labor for her own reconstruction and for the reconstruction of the entire world. She must unite. Denominationalism must have an end. All churches of all kinds of creeds and doctrines and different shades of belief must become literally one. Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Gentile, - all must unite in the one great purpose, the reconstruction of the world. This world must become a suitable place to live in for all men. The blessings of this world must become the blessings of all.
And therefore the word that is so warningly spoken to the true church I will sound in your ears, namely: "Come out of her, my people, and have no fellowship with her sins." The great amalgamation movement that is in the air today is not of Christ and not of the true church, but is of the dragon and of Antichrist. And to go along with it will mean a loss of the truth, a loss of all that is sacred and dear, a loss of the Christ Himself. Stand, therefore, and watch, that ye may have no fellowship with the sins of Babylon.
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