Godlessness Meets God
March 13, 2016 | Randy Smith
Godlessness Meets GodRevelation 17:1-18
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
I always find the story of Demas interesting; very sad, but interesting. He was a close traveling companion of the apostle Paul and is mentioned only three brief times in the Bible. He listened to Paul's tremendous teaching. No doubt he witnessed some of Paul's miracles. He even had the privilege to be under Paul's leadership. Yet despite all this, Demas found the world more attractive. 2 Timothy 4:10 says, "Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica."
This world gives off a certain appeal. For the most part, all have been captivated by the promises for joy and satisfaction it offers. We want as much of it as we can get. And what we can't get, we covet and admire in those who have it. Money. Fame and popularity. Personal freedom. Power. The list continues.
You see, we have all been built by God to seek satisfaction and purpose and happiness and fulfillment. The world holds out the promise in its ability to meet those needs.
However, God has created us to have those needs met in Him. First, He satisfies them at a deeper and more rewarding level. And second, to choose the world is to strike a vote of no confidence toward God. It is one or the other. Choose the world and we call that idolatry. God calls it spiritual prostitution.
God's warnings throughout Scripture are clear. "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever" (1 Jn. 2:15-17).
Did you hear some of those final words? "The world is passing away." The day will come when the lights of Hollywood will be turned off. The "stars" will be shown to be humans no different than us. The godless attitudes and philosophies will be no more. But more than just the end of godlessness, there will be the judgment and final overthrow of godlessness. Those who do not submit to God will one day pay a hefty price for their spiritual treason.
Last week in chapter 16 we covered God's judgment on the world. Now for the next two weeks in chapters 17 and 18 we will see a detailed description of the fate of the world in their opposition to Christ.
So permit me now to point out some highlights from chapter 17. My goal is to show the world in its true colors and her awaiting defeat and to celebrate the coming victory God's faithful will have with Him.
Last week we left off with seven angels that distributed God's final wrath in the bowl judgments. Now verse 1 returns to those angels and says one of those angels that brought the seven bowls remarked, "Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot."
So who is the "great harlot?" I believe we know a harlot is a prostitute, one who sells her body for sex. God is not speaking of that in the literal sense. He is talking about spiritual prostitution. When Israel ran after other gods, the Lord said she was committing spiritual adultery. But here we have spiritual prostitution or spiritual harlotry. The great harlot is the secular power prone to seduce others away from the Lord. It's the world system that seeks to oppose God.
The world (the "great harlot") says things like: There are many ways to God. Follow Jesus and you'll miss out on fun. Everybody is doing it. It's okay to watch it as long as you don't do it. This life is all you've got. Be true to yourself even if it's contrary to the Bible.
To make this point even clearer, John in verse 3 using more symbolic language saying the harlot (here called a "woman," again the world) is sitting on a "scarlet beast."
We remember the beast we were introduced to in chapter 13. The beast is the antichrist that is propped up and supported by Satan ("the red dragon"). Here we see the harlot sitting on the red beast is supported and propped up by antichrist. The world at its core is not neutral. Neither is it autonomous by acting on its own. It's built on demonic forces bent on destroying the work of God. Basically, the world is riding on the back of Satan.
It's a bad system to follow, but it's an easy system to follow. Reason being, the world on the outside seems very attractive. Verse 4 tells is the harlot is "clothed in purple and scarlet" (not filthy rags). In the ancient world, those were the colors of splendor and royalty. Verse 4 says she is "adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls." She appears to have value. Even "in her hand [is] a golden cup." And here we see that what she offers appears to be very satisfying. All this to say, she (the harlot) has a tremendous ability for seduction.
Yet our goal this morning is to expose the world's reality - a great harlot driven along by the devil. We must cut through the smokescreen even when it's disguised in apparent morality and religion to see the world, the harlot for what she truly is. When we strip away the thin façade of attractiveness, we learn, verse 3, she's riding a force "full of blasphemous names." In other words, she thinks she exists in the place of God. Verse 4, the golden cup is "full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality." And verse 5, she is "Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth."
The culture around us in every society is ruled by the evil one, the devil. Satan is the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4), and he uses the world as the great harlot to seduce hearts away from the Lord. As it says in verse 2, she makes all drunk with the wine of her immorality. She spiritually intoxicates people away from an intimate and pure relationship with Christ.
In John's day it was Rome. In our day it's everything in America that opposes God. And in our country at this time, I can say the overwhelming percent of the population is spiritually drunk and is committing spiritual immorality against God with the harlot. Are you among them?
One of the continual concerns with raising little children is their ongoing desire to put everything into their mouths. They lack discernment. If it looks good, into the mouth it goes. We have to lock up our kitchen cabinets. Why? Because kids will drink deadly poisons.
This chapter is a warning us not to drink the spiritual poisons of the world. You see, the container looks good. The label on the outside is attractive. It might even smell good and be pleasing to the taste after a couple sips. But it's going to kill you! See the world for what it is. Reject it and flee from it, using your zeal to pursue Christ and find in Him a satisfaction that is truly satisfying. Do you want to be spiritually married to a harlot or do you want to be spiritually married to Christ?
If you dabble with the world, you will always learn your lesson the hard way. It's like the stupid line I remember hearing in high school. "How do you know you won't like drugs until you try them?" Well, maybe I take seriously the scientific research that shows their effects on your body. Maybe I've read about and have seen the broken lives of people that get hooked on that stuff. Maybe I don't need an artificial stimulant to find enjoyment in life. I've never tried to drive through Manhattan blindfolded, but I don't anticipate doing it anytime soon! The world is like a drug, holding out promise but filled be betrayal. Look at what it's done to people. Trust what the Bible says about it. Don't mess with it!
Before we move on, an interesting connection is seen with this angel spoken of in verse 1 with his reappearance later in the book. Here in chapter 17 he introduces John to the great harlot. Yet in chapter 21 (verse 9) he introduces John to the Bride of Christ (the church). Both are the only two systems to choose from. Both are dressed in glory. One is drunk with the blood of the saints (17:6), while the other is saved by the blood of the Lamb (1:5). One is deceptive and empty on the inside, while the other is truth and has the substance to meet our hearts desires both now and into all of eternity. No fence to ride. You are connected to someone. Either you're a part of the harlot or a part of the bride.
If you are confused with all the symbolism don't feel alone. John, the receiver of the vision, had the same problem himself. The angel responds to John in verse 7, "Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns."
So the woman is the great harlot. We could say the world, say Rome (John's day) or even Babylon (a term used often by John in Revelation). In a sense it is every city and yet no city in particular. It's a system, not the people themselves. It is the anti-God kingdom of me. And as we've seen, she's on the beast. The beast is the antichrist. But we have also seen that the beasts are the antichrists as well. Remember 1 John 2:18? "Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour." The final antichrist world leader is the beast proper. Yet throughout the history of the world there have been many beasts or antichrists moved by Satan, world leaders that support, energize, prop up the world.
That's why John can say this beast in verse 8, "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction." Prior to the final antichrist, there have been many antichrists, world leaders who were persecutors of God's people. As soon as one disappears, another one is on the scene. Verse 8, "You saw [him then he] is not, and is [again] about to [reappear]." In Rome, evil Nero is gone and not soon after evil Domitian is on his heels. There is a continual resurrection of sorts. Remember, Satan likes to imitate God. Jesus Christ had a true resurrection. This kind of resurrection is the best the beast can do. The final antichrist is the incarnation of evil. Verse 8 says he comes from the pit of hell, the abyss. And verse 8 says one day he will one day be destroyed by God.
Yet when we hate God and love the world, it shows we are seduced by this system. Remember 13:3? "The whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast." If God doesn't amaze us, the world will. Verse 8 tells us the world will go after him, that is, those whose names are not "written in the book of life from the foundation of the world."
We know God's people are marked (remember the seal on their foreheads). We can't see this mark. Neither can we see whose names are written in God's book of life. Yet what we can see in our own lives is where our hearts gravitate. What amazes us? What do we think about the world? How do we spend our time? What's our attitude toward God's commandments? What are we pursuing?
We can declare all we want with our lips. Jesus even said that means very little (Mt. 15:8). We can say we have belief. Great, but the demons believe as well (Jas. 2:19). The question is, where are our hearts? Are they with the world or with Christ? Do we see Christ more attractive than the world?
Verses 9-13 have brought interpreters many challenges. Often the desire is to take these passages literally. Yet as hard as we try to do that, I believe we encounter various problems. For instance verse 9 says the beast has seven heads. Verse 9 says the seven heads are seven kings. And of those seven kings, "five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come."
Clearly if we go literal, these have to be the Roman Emperors of John's day (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero). Yet no matter how you slice it, it doesn't work. Or some have believed they refer not to individual kings, but rather individual kingdoms (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece). Again many problems with that interpretation. I could spell all these options out for you, but we'd be here for hours and I'd probably bore you to death.
I believe the best route is to understand most numbers in Revelation as symbolic. Seven, we've seen that number a lot is the number of completeness or perfection. Therefore I believe this refers to all the anti-Christian governments between the fall of Rome and the final antichrist. Or we could say, all the beast empires led by antichrists that will culminate with the final beast empire led by the antichrist.
Yet these verses make some points we can be sure of. Verse 10 says the reign of the final future beast will be for "a little while." Also in verse 12, we see the beast's power is "for one hour." All that to say is that the beast's reign will be short as we count time. In the events of world history, his oppressive reign against God's people will be a blip on the radar.
And then in verse 11, as we saw in verse 8, the beast and all who follow him will go to "destruction." There will be a final world leader and final world system that opposes God at His return. This doesn't happen until these world forces in their folly and utmost arrogance seek to oppose God. Remember last week we learned about Armageddon?
Verse 13 says these kings of the world alive at that time "have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast." They are all willing accomplices in their hatred for God's kingdom. And what do they do? Verse 14, along with the unholy trinity, "These will wage war against the Lamb." The result? Verse 14, "The Lamb will overcome them." Why? Verse 14, "Because He is Lord of lords and King of kings." And not that He needs us to pull off the victory, but there by His side to celebrate His victory are His people. Verse 14, "Those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful." Chosen by God's sovereign grace, pulled out of this world of darkness and faithful to obey Savior and love Him above all things. They are "with Him." That's what it means to follow Christ - to reject the world and be "with Him" in all things.
The beast goes down. His followers go down. The harlot we learned about is attacked by the beast (kingdoms united in hatred and jealousy won't stand), verse 16, and goes down as well. In the final analysis, the powers of evil are overthrown by the powers of God.
Last night I was reading in 1 Corinthians 6 about the literal harlot. "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, 'The two will become one flesh'" (1 Cor. 6:15-16).
I thought about that and said that also sounds so much like the spiritual harlotry we spoke about this morning. As a matter of fact, let me read from Proverbs 7. A great passage about physical harlotry, but think about the parallels as you consider it from a spiritual harlotry perspective.
"And lurks by every corner. So she seizes him and kisses him, and with a brazen face she says to him: 'I was due to offer peace offerings; today I have paid my vows. Therefore I have come out to meet you, to seek your presence earnestly, and I have found you. I have spread my couch with coverings, with colored linens of Egypt. I have sprinkled my bed With myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let us drink our fill of love until morning; Let us delight ourselves with caresses.' With her many persuasions she entices him; with her flattering lips she seduces him. Suddenly he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool, until an arrow pierces through his liver; as a bird hastens to the snare, so he does not know that it will cost him his life. Now therefore, my sons, listen to me, and pay attention to the words of my mouth. Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths. For many are the victims she has cast down, and numerous are all her slain. Her house is the way to Sheol, descending to the chambers of death" (Pr. 7:12b-18, 21-27).
Be prepared to see through the deceptive tactics of the world coming to you through the "father of lies." See past the exterior attractiveness to the deadly venom on the inside. And look to the beauty of Christ. Pursue the One who loves you, is perfect throughout and promises to be sufficient to meet your deepest needs.