The Great City – Revelation Bible Guide Day 22
March 20, 2018
Previously in Revelation
21 and huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, dropped from heaven on people, until they cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague.
Day 22 – 5th Tuesday
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, 2 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.” 3 So he carried me away in the spirit[a] 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. 4 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; 5 and on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations.” 6 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. 7 But the angel said to me, “Why are you so amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the inhabitants of the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.
9 “This calls for a mind that has wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; also, they are seven kings, 10 of whom five have fallen, one is living, and the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are united in yielding their power and authority to the beast; 14 they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”
15 And he said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the whore is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the whore; they will make her desolate and naked; they will devour her flesh and burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by agreeing to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. 18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
Points of Interest
- “great whore” – There are several places in Scripture where male writers use prostitutes, whores, or adulterous women as metaphors for people or societies who are unfaithful to God. This is at best complicated. To my ear, it’s also unintentionally misogynistic. I consider the Bible to be an authoritative witness to the person and mission of Jesus and also a penetratingly insightful record of people’s understandings of and experiences of God. It’s critical to me in guiding me toward insight and truth about God, myself, and all of life. But it’s also written by real people in real cultures, that had real flaws. It’s OK to interrogate and push back on the parts that seem to reflect the shell of those cultures more than the core of its intended message. I find the “whore” language distracting and unhelpful, but I can hear the underlying truth that there are leaders and nations that look beautiful while they actually entice people to harm.
- “with whom the kinds of the earth have committed fornication” – Rome grew its empire through war and conquest but also through the submission, allegiance, and selling out of collaborators. That doesn’t end well for them or the people they represent.
- “clothed in purple and scarlet” – The Babylon/whore character has aspirations to wealth and royalty but is really just a parody of God’s reign and rule.
- “Babylon” – John is clearly writing about the Roman empire. There are hints of this everywhere in the text. But if he called Rome the “mother of whores and of earth’s abominations” and predicted its destruction, he would be executed and the churches he represents would also likely be persecuted or destroyed. So, he writes in thinly veiled code, calling Rome by the name of Israel’s ancient enemy, who destroyed their temple and city of Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C. He also gives the world a universal symbol for human powers that have impressive might and wealth while they are also full of evil. Babylon is Rome, but it is also every human society that builds great cities and amasses great wealth while doing violence, exploiting economically, proudly announcing its own greatness, while also leading people toward dependence on self and society and not on God. Babylon is also undeniably us.
- “drunk with the blood of the saints” – The non-Christian Roman historian Tacitus describes Emperor Nero’s brutal, bloody execution of followers of Jesus. Later emperors would do this again.
- “about to ascend from the bottomless pit” – Apparently, there was a widespread legend that Emperor Nero would arise from the underworld to rule and do evil again.
- “was and is not and is to come” – Human leaders and rulers that give Babylon its being are a parody of the good rule of God who was and is and is to come.
- “the seven heads are seven mountains” – One of many allusions to Rome, the city of seven hills, which – by some ways of counting – had had seven emperors by the writing of Revelation.
This week, in light of the judgment on all human systems that resist God and God’s good and humane ways on earth, we consider the command to, “Come out” and turn away from the evil baked into human societies, our own included. Today, consider how your praise or love of country has obscured your vision of what is good and true and beautiful. Ask God for clarity of vision to see your country’s blessings but also its violence and its evils for what they are.
A Direction for Prayer
Pray for the churches of America, that they would repent of any ways they have sold out to American patriotism that covers up past violence and pursues America first blessing over God’s desire for all peoples of the earth to love and follow Jesus into life, truth, joy, and peace.
The Bible Guide
This blog post is part of a Lenten journey through the book of Revelation. Every year during the season of Lent, we take a focused look at a portion of Scripture as part of our communal spiritual practice. This year, we are exploring what it means to be Children of God in a Fractured World, with Revelation as our lens. On Sundays, we’re exploring this with our sermons; on weekdays, we’re doing so with our bible guide. The bible guide series starts here.