Dr. Richard L. Strauss
April 22, 1979
There are a number of women mentioned in the book of Revelation. Back in Revelation 2:20, we met a woman named Jezebel who was making her influence felt in the church at Thyatira. She represented the Satanic false religion that was seeking to capture the church. Jezebel represented religion of the wrong kind. In Chapter 12 we met a sun-clothed woman with child, and we learned that she represented the nation Israel. She was a woman with a man child, and we know the man child was Jesus Christ by comparing other passages in Revelation. Of course, the nation of Israel is also representative of a religion, the religion of Judaism. So again, a woman in the book of Revelation represented religion. In chapter 19 we shall meet another woman: the bride of the Lamb, which represents the true church of Jesus Christ. We hesitate to call Christianity a religion [since it is really a personal relationship with God], but in a wholesome sense we can use that term. Again a woman represents religion--true religion: a right relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
In all of these references, the women are symbols of religion, true or false. When we come to chapter 17 then and read of the great harlot who sits on many waters, we immediately suspect that she likewise is representative of religion. There is every evidence from the chapter that she does.
We are about to encounter the apex of false religion, the great world church of the last days. We have seen Satan's counterfeit trinity (Revelation 13). Satan the father, Antichrist the son, and the false prophet the spirit. Now we are going to see Satan's counterfeit church. You see, he has a counterfeit of the whole thing. When he said, "I will be like God," he really meant it. Everything God does, he tries to copy. His counterfeit church is his imitation of the true church, and the bride of Christ.
Today we'd like to look at the first six verses of chapter 17: the appearance of the great world church. When we meet next time, we'll cover the associate of that church and the annihilation of it.
This vision of the great world church is introduced to John by one of the angels that participated in the seven bowl judgments. "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters" (Revelation 17:1b).
There are several matters in this very first verse that we need to note, the first being that this woman is called a harlot. Spiritual adultery, or fornication, or harlotry refers in the Scripture to embracing false gods or false religious systems. Near the end of Moses' life, the Lord spoke to him and said, "Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land" (Deuteronomy 31:16). Israel's spiritual harlotries are described in vivid terms in Ezekiel 16 and 23, and the whole book of Hosea. The fact that this woman is called a harlot indicates that she represents a false religious system.
Notice secondly in this verse that the harlot sits on many waters. That is explained for us in verse 15 where the waters are said to be indicative of the peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues of the earth. This false religious system will be world-wide in scope; it will hold multitudes of people in its control.
Thirdly, this vision concerns its judgment, its devastation, its annihilation. This world-wide false religious system will be destroyed. It is doomed to extinction, according to the infallible Word of God. Judgment is the subject of this chapter.
Look on to verse 2. The kings of the earth are guilty of committing fornication with this harlot. In other words, the governmental rulers of the earth will embrace this false religious system and will be brought under its Satanic influence. It is becoming obvious that Satan's purpose in this counterfeit church are not only religious, but political. We are seeing here a wedding of false religion and human government. Satan will use religion to manipulate and control governments. And with their leaders submitting to the control of this false religious system, the masses of people on earth blindly embrace it as well, until they are as totally and hopelessly controlled by it as a person drunk with wine is controlled by that wine.
Many people find it difficult to accept the fact that a false religious system would dominate and captivate so many people. Most people have the idea that a multitude of people can't be wrong. If so many people believe it, it must be right. How would God allow something so wrong to grow to such fantastic proportions, and so tremendously overshadow what is right? That's just beyond our comprehension; we find it difficult to accept.
But here it is, right before our eyes. And it's no new concept. Jesus himself, while here on earth, said, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus warned us, so we should not be surprised when we see it today. In fact, we should not be surprised when we see even religious people who claim to be Christians apostatizing from the true faith that is in Jesus Christ and the true doctrines of God's Word. That shouldn't surprise us because Jesus warned us.
Paul and Peter in their epistles warn of growing unbelief and apostasy within the framework of the professing church (see 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1, 5; 2 Peter 2:1-2). We need not be surprised by what we see happening on the ecclesiastical scene of our day. If the coming of the Lord is as near as we think, we should expect to see people embracing Satanic doctrines. The Bible clearly predicts it.
In verse 3, John accepts the angel's invitation and is transported in spirit--so this is a vision. He sees a scene described as "wilderness" where he views the harlot. The woman is seated upon a scarlet-colored beast who is full of blasphemy and who has seven heads and ten horns.
A comparison with Revelation 13 reveals that this beast is none other than the Antichrist, the man of sin, the one who openly blasphemes the name of God. What a sad commentary it is on organized religion when it seeks to associate itself and identify itself with a political ruler who brazenly repudiates God.
Now there are some things in this chapter that I don't understand. But what I've shared with you so far is very clear. We have here a woman who represents a false religious system, and she is aligned with Satan's Antichrist in the last days. She wants to be aligned with him because she is grasping for power and influence. So she joins hands with a godless governmental leader in order to increase her power. And she does increase it. Her position seated on the beast would indicate that not only is he supporting her, but that she is controlling and directing him, at least for the present.
We would assume that the time reference for this prophecy is shortly prior to the middle of Daniel's Seventieth Week, right before the Great Tribulation. For during the last 3-1/2, years the Antichrist shares his glory with none. Here he is controlled by the woman, but eventually the whole world will be forced to worship him, and him alone. There will be no other religion during the time of the Great Tribulation. So let's move on through the chapter until we see this great world church is destroyed by the Antichrist.
In verse 4, the woman is described in more detail. Riches beyond degree. Her purple and scarlet robes, her gold and precious stones and pearls, and the golden cup in her hand are not surprising to us in view of the ecclesiastical pomp and the ornate trappings that have become so much a part of organized religion through the centuries. But that cup in her hand is full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication. What was evidently intended by the harlot to have beautiful religious meaning actually betrays her spiritual fornication, the honor and worship she gives to others that belong only to God.
But when we reach verse 5, we are told for the first time the name of this harlot. Upon her forehead is written,
"MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT,
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
OF THE EARTH."
Mystery, Babylon the Great. Why is this great world church of the last days called Babylon? John calls this a mystery. A divine mystery is a truth previously unrevealed but now made known. The nature and history of Babylon is not a mystery. But that what began in Babylon years ago would continue through the centuries to this final form is a truth that has not previously been revealed in the Scripture. So let's answer that question by going back to the Old Testament to see how Babylon began and what Babylon stood for.
Genesis is the book of beginnings. In it we find the beginning of blood sacrifices, the divinely prescribed means by which a sinful man can approach a holy God (Genesis 3:21). In it we likewise find the beginning of human government (Genesis 9:6). Here were two spheres which God ordained: religion (and I use the word advisedly), and government. These were separate spheres, and God intended them to remain separate until the kingdom of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who would unite the two spheres, in Himself, the Priest-King.
However, men do not always submit themselves to the will of God. In Genesis 10, Noah's son Ham had a son named Cush, and Cush had a son named Nimrod, the mighty hunter. In Genesis 10:9, Nimrod began a kingdom which he named Babel, meaning "the gate of God." This is the first mention of Babel in the Bible. Nimrod started the kingdom of Babylon. The beginning of the kingdom of Babel is amplified in chapter 11. When they reached the plain of Shinar they said, "Let's build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven."
Now notice, Nimrod the ruler of this kingdom is interested in two things: a city and a tower. The first was the seat of governmental authority, the second was a new and man-made approach to God. The implications of this tower are clearly religious. And contrary to God's eternal will, Nimrod combined in himself these two spheres--human government and false religion. That God was displeased is quite obvious. He confounded their language so that they could not communicate with one another, and scattered them abroad. But he let them keep their name, Babel--only he filled it with new meaning, using it as a contracted form for the verb "to confuse." And so instead of the "gate of God," Babel became the "place of confusion."
But this judgment is not the end of Babel. Extra-Biblical lore tell us that Nimrod's wife Semiramis initiated a mystery religious system of which she was the high priestess. She gave birth to a son whom she named Tammuz, and whom she claimed was miraculously conceived. Furthermore, Tammuz was said to have been killed by a wild beast and then brought back to life. This Tammuz was considered to be the savior in the new Babylonian mystery cult, and an intricate order of worship developed around he and his mother. This is the first false religious system, the mother of harlots--spiritual adultery.
The mother-child cult spread to all surrounding nations, and while the names are changed in different cultures, the image of the queen of heaven with the babe in her arms is found in almost every ancient culture: in Egypt it was Isis and Horus, in Greece Aphrodite and Eros, and in Rome Venus and Cupid.
It was this very cult that formed the basis of the Phoenician worship of Baal that Jezebel introduced into Israel and while Abraham was called away from this very religion in Babylon, it became a stumbling block to his descendants through their history. We find references to it throughout the Old Testament (see Ezekiel 8:14; Jeremiah 7:18, Jeremiah 44:17-19).
When Constantine declared the whole Roman Empire to be Christian in 325 A. D., many of the religious forms of rituals of the Roman expression of this Babylonian mother-child cult were incorporated into Christianity (see Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons first published in 1898). Same priest performed same rites--now called Christian and Constantine became at one time both head of the church and the state. From that time to this, the Roman Church has combined both the religious and the political spheres in itself, bearing the marks of the Original Babylon, mother of harlots.
Now some of you are thinking that I am about to say the Roman Church is the great harlot in Revelation 17, and I am not, because I do not think that it is. The facts I have just presented seem to make it clear that the Roman Church does bear some of the marks of Babylonianism, but she's not the only one who does. I do not think that the Roman Church is the sum and substance of the great world church.
We look at Protestantism and also see some of the marks of Babylonianism. The great bulk of Protestantism is now turning away from the truth of the divinely revealed Scriptures, sacrificing sound doctrine for the sake of organizational unity. We call it the ecumenical movement--"ecumenical" meaning world-wide--and it finds its expression in the World Council of Churches. As this organization departs further and further from truths of God's Word, it becomes more and more of a political entity. One of its admitted purpose is to form a huge power bloc to influence governments and legislation. It too is taking on the characteristics of Babel.
Coupled with that, there is a phenomenal increase in occultism in our day--of black magic, and sorcery, and divination, and spiritism, and astrology. This is the most unusual phenomena the world has seen.
Religions. False religions. All in various segments, not yet together, but some unusual things happening between them.
I have a file with a number of clippings that I have accumulated through the years about some of the things that are happening. For example, very recently, this very year (1979), the World Council of Churches is subsidizing Marxist terrorists in Rhodesia and in other places. It's a religious system reaching out to an ungodly, anti-God, atheistic system. You know, I've often wondered how a Protestant religion, coupled with any other religion, could ever make the kind of an impact on the earth that needs to be made to approximate what we see in Revelation 17. It's amazing to see these kinds of overtures between religion and anti-religion, wedding themselves together. It's unbelievable.
Not only that, but the World Council of Churches has had in recent years a Buddhist in one of its high positions. And they make overtures to other world religions. My, if they can bring the Buddhists, and the Muslims, and the Hindus, and the Shintoists, and others under their wing, they will have a power structure like the world has never seen.
There have been some interesting developments in recent years between the Roman Catholic church and the World Council of Churches that bear watching. "Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abomination of the earth." For the first time in history, a pope sent a message to a WCC assembly this summer (July 1978), in Uppsala, Sweden. For the first time in history, nine Catholic theologians have been appointed to the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC. Protestant spokesmen are openly advocating the union of the WCC with Rome. I believe it is possible that ultimately other major world religions will also join forces with this movement, and there will be what many are advocating, one-world religion, associated with one-world government.
I don't know what this great world church will be. I plead ignorance. All I know is that there are some interesting things happening in our world today. Christians ought to read their newspapers, and Time magazine, or Newsweek, or US News & World Report, and watch their television newscasts--however they get their news--with eyes wide open and ears wide open and hearts wide open because some exciting things are happening that could indicate that the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is soon.
I'm not going to make any more speculations about who the great world church is beyond what I've already suggested to you. That's about the extent of my spectacularism--it's not very spectacular, is it?! But we don't need to speculate beyond this. We need only know that there will be in the last days a world religion coupled with a world government. One world. One church. Unfortunately for those who live to see it, it will be under the rule of the Antichrist.
This is the religion we are studying. And while it is a false religion, a harlot religion, it claims to be the true one. The only way it can reinforce that claim is to eradicate every trace of the true religion: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And that is exactly what we read in verse 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" (Revelation 17:6). The King James says "when I saw her, I wondered with great wonder."
The word wonder or admiration here does not mean "approval," but rather "astonishment." John is appalled at this prophetic scene before him. And saints through the ages have been appalled at the persecution of true believers at the hands of apostate Christendom. In our lifetime there have been mass slaughters of true believers, sometimes even by those claiming to be Christians. But the world has not seen anything comparable to the slaughter of true believers during the Great Tribulation. This woman, this harlot, will be drunk with the blood of the saints.
Every evidence from this book points to the fact that most of those who trust Jesus Christ during the Great Tribulation will lose their lives for their faith. According to Revelation 7:9 there will be a great multitude which no man can number from all the nations and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues. Those who escape death by the hand of the great harlot will probably experience death at the hand of the Antichrist when he demands that the world worship him and they refuse to bow down and receive his mark in their foreheads (Revelation 13:15).
What do we learn from these observations? First and most obvious is this: Being a member of a church is really not the important matter. This passage teaches us that there will be literally millions of church members who will be duped by Satan. They will not be born-again. They will believe Satan's lies, and according to Revelation 20:11-15, will spend eternity in hell. The issue is not whether you belong to a church. It's isn't even about whether you're religious. The question is, have you have ever received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior from sin? If you have, then your name is written in the Lamb's book of life, and you shall spend eternity with the Lord.
Second, the crowd is not always right. Do not be afraid to take your stand with something that is numerically small, comparatively speaking. Jesus said that His true followers would be few. Every evidence we have in God's Word indicates that the human population of hell will far outnumber the human population of heaven. That's what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14. Great numbers of adherents do not necessarily make a group right. If you've been afraid to take your stand for Christ because you don't want to be the minority, then you may suffer with the majority for eternity. Trust Christ now. Some opposition or persecution in this life does not even begin to compare with the torment of separation from God forever.
Third, as we get closer to the coming of our Lord, you can expect opposition. It will come. If you genuinely know Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin and you are letting Him control your life, you can expect opposition. As the great world church begins to solidify--whatever it will be--the pressure on true believers is going to mount. What Jesus predicted will become all the more real: People will hate us and want to persecute us. There is nothing to fear, and nothing to worry about, and nothing to be disturbed about. Jesus told us it will come; we can expect it (John 15:18-21). I don't mean that we ought to develop a persecution complex but I mean to say that when it comes we ought to thank God for the privilege of being fellowshippers in His sufferings.
Now I'm not saying it's going to come in our lifetimes; I don't know whether it will. I don't think the Lord Jesus wants us to set dates, as some prophetic teachers have done. And while it seems that the coming of the Lord is near, I can't say He's going to come in this decade; I don't know that He is. Maybe the great world church will take place very quickly after the rapture and we won't even see it before the Lord takes us to be with Himself. I don't know!
All I know is that Jesus warned us that persecution could come. But Jesus is going to come, too. Are you ready for Him? If He should come tonight, will you be able to stand before Him with confidence and not be ashamed at His coming?
Oh, dear Christian friend, if there are things in our lives that grieve the heart of God, why not get them right with Him, and get them in a daily expectancy of His coming? Let's pray.
Our heavenly Father, we ask You now to seal the message of Your Word to our lives. We pray that You'll deliver us from becoming witch hunters and stone throwers. We pray that we may just be positive, joyful proclaimers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these latter days, living in a daily expectancy of our Lord's return. We ask it in His name. Amen.
Continue to RV-12A: The Great World Church (Part 2)