We hear a great deal about women in our society today. Rightly so. I look back in history and understand the obsession with equality. Since the earliest times and over many centuries women have been treated appallingly, oppressed and abused. Although Eve was made for Adam as a wife and the other half of mankind, things quickly deteriorated into the pattern of the pagans, including polygamy.
So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)
The promise of a great nation and many descendants came to Abraham and his wife Sarah. When they acted to “help” God’s plan along, the slave woman Hagar was humiliated and driven out of the household. God blessed Ishmael. He became a great nation and lived in hostility with his brother just as the prophecy over his life stated in Genesis 16:9-12. The son of the promise still came to Sarah, the recognized wife of Abraham, as God promised.
God always honoured his institution of marriage. In the geneology of Jesus Solomon is called the son of David by Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.
Throughout the Old Testament, women were treated as inferior to men, having no rights at all. In spite of this, Biblical history is full of strong women, in political as well as spiritual leadership. It is a thrilling study to research the strong women of the ancient nations, like Deborah in the time of the judges and Hulda, the prophetess in the time of Josiah. Take a closer look at Proverbs 31 and see an accomplished career woman with a husband and children who support and encourage her.
Jesus came to change all this. He acted liberally regarding women in society around the first century. The mere fact that he talked to a woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria must have been quite a story and enough to condemn him by the church. Many Pharisees were called the bleeding Pharisees. They were not allowed to even look at a woman passing by in the street. They would then, very piously, close their eyes and bump into walls and pillars, picking up scratches and bruises in the process.
Women played an important role in the life of Jesus and the early church. Priscilla was one of the leading theologians in the church as seen in Acts 19. Many scholars are of the opinion that she might have been the author of Hebrews and withheld her name for fear of discrimination about the fact that she was a female in leadership.
Today we have the feminist movement active in the Western world. They rant and rave about every possible inequality. It is obvious that they work towards a society where women would take the lead as the stronger sex, refuting centuries of opinion to the opposite. In so many dramas and TV series, the women are the judges, advocates, doctors, government ministers and presidents, leading pathetic men who cannot make decisions without them. Why can’t the strong women become the humble, wise male heroes of whom history and society are full? They act like the men we all hate – rigid and loud, shouting down opposition and violently dealing with it.
Here in Revelation is the ultimate woman of our nightmares. She is sitting on a scarlet beast, the colour of brothels, suggesting she is a harlot herself, deceiving with her female wiles. The phrase: She sits upon many waters denotes the confusion and chaos of the nations of the earth (17:15). The harlot is clothed in royal colours, attractive and authoritative. She is bedecked in jewels, gold and pearls, suggesting money and luxury, symbolic of the allure of riches. She looked very attractive – even John was stricken with wonder (17:6).
Babylon was built on the Euphrates river and is the symbol of all evil and sin. The nations are drunk with her wine, suggesting they want more and more. Money, sex and power rule the world in its many manifestations on many levels of life. She rules in the desert with no possibility of a harvest or fruit, just hunger and thirst. Her name is a secret. She is worshipped by so many who do not even know they are bowing down to her rule. Sin can be a variety of things and even very unique and secretive – known to only those involved.
The people are bedazzled by evil (17:8). Evil should be identified and rejected. It is a beast that is not always easy to see clearly. We need the wisdom of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to discern and resist. The angel had to tell John the secret meaning of the woman. Sin does not look like sin! You need insight and warning.
The golden cup is mentioned in Jeremiah 51:7 as a symbol of power.
Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore the nations are deranged.
She had a name on her forehead (17:5)
MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
Rome’s prostitutes had a frontlet with their names. Today the pimps have their sign tattooed on sex slaves. Even the wife of Claudius, an emperor of Rome, Messalina, served in the brothels of Rome for money. Into this horror, Christianity was born and men converted to chastity as opposed to instant and always available sexual pleasure. Disciplined moral behaviour is a miracle of the Cross. Secular society has not changed much. Our community is permissive and evil and the church can only stay standing in the power of the Cross.
The word “mystery” is, perhaps, part of the name. It serves as a prefix which tells us that the name is not literal, but symbolical.
For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7)
She is drunk with the blood of the saints – the cruel spirit of hounding and harassment marked pagan Rome. She is always set on destroying the church with merciless persecution throughout the centuries.
Woman sits on the beast of blasphemy and idolatry and it happens when her power and her allure are called salvation. So many seek redemption in the idols of money, power, sex and even sacrifice children to it.
The beast on which she sits has seven heads and ten horns depicting power. The angel describes the beast as the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
In the victory of Christ the beast that was, in other words that had in successive ages been seen in the great world-powers, is slain, or, as the angel expresses it, is not. But though he is not, he will show signs of vitality. He will rise into temporary power. He shall come up out of the abyss. The march of his power, however, is only a march to perdition. He will be utterly destroyed (17:8)
The seven mountains mentioned in 17:9 are the “mountains” of society as a whole and has been identified by some scholars as Religion, Family, Education, Government, the Media, the Arts and Business. It suggests complete control of the beast over society.
For us, the mountains will dance – rejoice, Church of the living Christ!
“For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace;
The mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isaiah 55: 12)
Kings that have fallen could be Rome and subsequent empires. Seven kings depict a complete number of persecuting forces.
The one hour mentioned in 17:12 denote the time of the bloody struggle within Rome during the civil war of June 68AD – December 69AD.
Sin was often symbolized by cities like Nineveh in Nahum 3:4, Tyre in Isaiah 23:16-17 and even Jerusalem in Isaiah 1:21 and Ezekiel 16:15. Hosea’s life is a metaphor for the fornication of God’s people with a harlot and God’s unfailing love to win them back.
The desert is a place of visions for so many faith heroes like Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus. It suggests distance from the city of confusion, with silence, focus and protection. When we find ourselves in the desert of the rule of the harlot, our God is there to make rivers and pathways in the wilderness. Our provision is at the table set before us and in the face of our enemies, in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalms 23).
The beast is on the way to destruction (17:11). He is on the losing side. We have hope for deliverance from the Creator and His creation.
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19)
The Lamb will conquer and those loyal to the Lamb with Him. The church will share His victory (17:14) Victory comes by the Cross and the Crown of Jesus.
The harlot will be devoured by fire. It is the same punishment prescribed for the daughter of the priest who has been found guilty of sexual immorality (Leviticus 21:9). Her own lovers will turn against her. There is no loyalty in evil; no honour amongst thieves.
The purposes of God are active and victorious even if it looks like the purposes of earthly kings and evil. God is always working for the good of mankind. (Romans 28:8 and Nehemiah 13:2.) These scriptures are pillars of encouragement to be remembered in all trials and tribulation.
The last verses of this chapter (17:14-18) are a summary of the message of Revelation.
For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. (17:17)