Reflections on Revelation #289

‘Day 289

17 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of sexual immorality, and those who live on the earth became drunk with the wine of her sexual immorality.” REV 17:1-2. (NASB)

To many, the 17th chapter of Revelation is a puzzling mystery, but a careful look will show us it is not. God is using one of the symbols employed consistently in Bible prophecy: a women representing a church. (See e.g., Jeremiah 6:2 or Ephesians 5:25). This simply means that a good woman represents a good church (e.g. Rev 12:1) and a bad woman a bad church. This is the woman of Rev 17

Rev 17 is a rerun of Rev 13. The woman in the desert has been seen before, in chapter twelve (verses 6, 13-16). So has the beast with seven heads, ten horns and the names of blasphemy (Rev 12:3-4; 13:1-6). These characters also echo characters from the OT (Exod 28; Ezek 23; Dan 7). “What goes around comes around,” and “there is nothing new under the sun.” Satan’s strategies tend to be fairly consistent. The problem is not that he surprises us, but that we tend to fall for the same tricks over and over again. Daniel’s Little Horn (Abomination of Desolation), Paul’s Lawless one, John’s antichrist, Revelation’s Beast, Babylon and a Harlot riding a beast are all describing the same thing.

Some might complain that John’s portrayal of Babylon as a prostitute represents a sexist stereotype that is no longer appropriate in today’s world. It is true, the women of Revelation do appear in stereotypical roles, but these images were already current in John’s day. Writers of the first century often personified their homeland in female terms. Coins and other artwork typically depicted a city as a goddess enthroned by a river. So the Book of Revelation was adopting images that communicated effectively within that culture. While Westerners may be uncomfortable with this language today, it can be explained in terms of the cultural context God chose.

That means Revelation was well designed to communicate truth in the first century. Not every aspect of the way that truth was presented will be “present truth” for today. God is not on trial in the logic or the style of the Bible’s writers.

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