"Come out of Her, My People" (Revelation 17:1-8:24)
Revelation: The Time is Near
We are working through the last book of the Bible during our teaching time at Lord’s Day worship. The book’s called Revelation, or the Revelation of Jesus Christ. As with every Bible book, there is a human author and a divine author, the Holy Spirit. The human author of Revelation is John. I believe he is Jesus’s disciple John who also wrote the Gospel of John and three letters, 1, 2, and 3 John. In 1 John 2:15-17, this same John writes:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)
I read this passage this morning because these three verses summarize Revelation 17 & 18, the chapters for our study today. Take a Bible and turn to Revelation 17 & 18. They begin on p. 1037. As you find the passage, you will notice that chapters 17-18 stretch across three pages. They fill two full pages of double-columned text.
As you will see, they offer a series of visions depicting a single, symbolic event, the fall of a great city called Babylon. But the central message to God’s people in both chapters is 1 John 2:15-17: “Don’t love the world, keep doing God’s will.” Don’t love the world because it cuts you off from God’s love. Don’t love the world because it wants you to worship pleasure, power, and possessions instead of God. Don’t love the world because its promises are empty and temporary. Life with Christ lasts forever.
We recognize immediately that the world to which John refers is not God’s beautiful creation around us. He is referring to a world system, an earth-based, global-wide enterprise to take control and rule God’s creation without Him. It is a force, a spirit, a demonically-directed energy that operates among rebel humanity in a fallen world. It is the combination of attitudes and activities dominated by the “flesh,” not referring to the physical body, but to an anti-God, self-dependent perspective. The world is what emerges when sinful people live together on the same planet while snubbing God and serving His enemies.
Christians face an alliance of three enemies. They fight against the believer and the church throughout this life.
The first enemy is Sin. This is the enemy within. When a person receives a spiritual new birth, repents of sin, and trusts Jesus Christ for salvation, sin does not disappear. The presence of the Holy Spirit makes indwelling sin more obvious and horrible. The apostle Paul encourages us in the conflict against sin in 1 Peter 2:24
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
A second enemy is Satan and his demons. This is the enemy above. The Bible refers to Satan and his demonic soldiers as “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Satan is the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). He directs his armies to harass and persecute Christ’s people on this earth.
The third enemy is the Surrounding World. This is the enemy around us. In our study of Revelation, we have spent some time addressing the danger of the first two enemies. Chapters 17-18 focus on the danger of this third enemy, the Surrounding World. In the visions of Revelation 17-18, John sees the world symbolized by a woman (who thinks she’s a queen but is a prostitute). He also sees the world symbolized as a city, Babylon, the center of political and military power, economic prosperity, and cultural creativity.
Let me read a section of chapter 18 to give you a sense of how John depicts the world. Chapter 18, verse 4.
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; 5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. 7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ 8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.” 9 And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.” (Revelation 18:4–10)
This is not a literal woman nor the literal city of Babylon. The city of this vision represents the world system set against God. Before Christ returns, the whole system will collapse in utter ruin.
My task in the meantime is to persuade you not to love the world but to come out of her and remain loyal to Jesus Christ. To pursue that goal, let’s learn from Revelation 17-18: The Features of the World, The Faith of the World, the Fate of the World, and the Fight against the World.
The Features of the World
Survey these two chapters and familiarize yourself with some of the features of the World emphasized here.
First, the World is compared to a prostitute (17:1). The great prostitute. She seduces the powerful on earth (called “kings,” v. 2). She is seated meaning that she rules over many waters. 17:15 tells us that the waters are the people of earth. She controls them by making them drunk with various pleasures.
Second, the World is demonically-controlled. The woman rides the beast (17:3). We saw earlier in Chapter 13 that this beast is anti-Christ. Many are already in the world, and a great Anti-Christ will arrive on the scene before Christ’s return. He is identified in 17:11. He is empowered by Satan. As you read the rest of chapter 17, the powerful of the earth turn over their authority to this beast.
Third, the World is a city, called Babylon (17:5 and also 18:2, 10, & 21). It is an organized system. The name Babylon identifies the World with the early organized rebellion against God in Genesis 11. Instead of spreading across the earth to disperse God’s glory, human beings organized to build a tower that they thought would make a name for themselves instead of honoring God. So, God scattered his creatures by confusing their languages. Since then, the World Spirit has organized the people of all languages.
Fourth, the World targets Christ’s people (17:6). The woman herself is drunk on the blood of both saints and martyrs. The World attacks the Lamb and those with him (17:14).
Fifth, the World is addicted to Luxury. Look at 18:3.
For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” (Revelation 18:3)
This luxury is on display in the lists of chapter 18. 18:14 calls them “delicacies” and “splendors.”
Sixth, the strategy of the World is Exploitation. As we read in 18:6, the woman paid back others to enjoy power and pleasure. The world gets ahead by exploiting others. At the end of 18:13, we see the ultimate exploitation in the practice of human slavery. According to the recently released “Sound of Freedom” movie, there is more slavery in the world today than when it was legal. And many of today’s slaves are children.
Seventh, the spirit of the World is pride (18:7). The prostitute sees herself as a queen who never has anything to cry about because she always gets her way. She thinks herself indestructible.
These features do not belong exclusively to some future society just before the end of history. This is the World that surrounds us right now. Can you recognize these features in the World around you? Are you alert to these features in your own heart? Do you sense the seductive, Satanic, systematic, greedy, exploitative pride that seeks to undermine the gospel and those who believe it?
It may sound like I’m overstating the case, but it’s worse than what I’ve described. The most dangerous feature of the World is my second point in this message.
The Faith of the World
John identifies the World as a False Religion: a faith that competes with true faith in Jesus Christ. This theme could occupy a separate sermon, so let me quickly point to some of the evidence of the World as a Rival Religion.
First, the World is displayed as a prostitute. Engaging with her is sexual immorality (2x in 17:2, 4, 18:3 [2x], and 9). The vision picks up the Old Testament theme of idolatry as spiritual adultery. As a side note, the fact that God compares true worship with sexual fidelity should make us all the more repulsed by sexual sin. God created sex as a beautiful gift. He hid that gift inside marriage so that a man and a woman could experience a unique bond that in some small sense begins to reflect the close fellowship Christ has with those who love and worship Him. A careless view of sex is another deception the World pushes on us.
A second piece of evidence that the Word is a rival religion is that it is controlled by the beast who seeks worship. We saw this back in Chapter 13. He insists that people bear his image and give allegiance to him instead of God.
Third, 18:7 says that the World glorifies itself. This is the language of worship. We were created to give glory to God. Self-glory is a form of idolatry.
Fourth, 18:23 declares that all the nations were deceived by the sorcery of the city. Sorcery is associated with false religion and idolatry.
Fifth, people’s reaction to the World’s destruction reveals their idolatry. In chapter 18 we hear lament from various groups as the city burns. The powerful political and military leaders weep and wail (18:9-10). The retail merchants join the lament in 18:11-17. The suppliers who brought the luxurious goods “throw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned” over the city in 18:17b-20.
This kind of reaction shows that the things of the World had become idols, and the people of the World had become worshipers. When they lost what they had come to enjoy, they experienced not just disappointment but devastation. Everything was lost.
One way to detect idolatry in your heart is to ask, “What would I do if I lost this person or this thing?” It’s right to feel sadness and grief. But if our response is prolonged despair and hopelessness, then whatever we have lost or could lose has become a god to us. We love it in the wrong way. We love it too much.
Beware. The World is a rival religion. You will worship something. Be sure it is the Eternal God.
The Fate of the World
In 1 John 2:17, John assures us that the World is passing away. So consider the fate of the World from Revelation 17 & 18. This is the point of these two chapters. At the opening of chapter 17, the angel invites John to come and see “the judgment of the great prostitute.” The repeated refrain of these chapters is “Fallen, fallen is Babylon.”
Two emphases deserve our attention. First, God brings about the destruction of the World. In 17:14 it is the Lamb who conquers the World’s forces because He is now and always, “Lord of lords and King of kings.” In 17:17 we learn that God has worked to accomplish his purpose through the evil acts of the World’s powerful. It is God’s word that will be fulfilled in the destruction of this World. In 18:8 it is God who is mighty and judges the city. And then look at 18:20. Even the shipmasters who are part of the world system realize that “God has given judgment” for his people against the World. The World will control us if we forget that God is in control.
The second emphasis is how unexpectedly the World crumbles. To those in the World, it seems to happen so quickly: a single day (18:8) and a single hour (18:10, 17, and 19). In one sense, the World is continually passing away. 17:11 says that the beast “goes to destruction.” But because of pride, the World feels powerful and indestructible. By the time one who has been seduced by the World realizes that it’s all emptiness, it’s too late. Everything falls apart so quickly. It drops like a large stone to the bottom of the ocean (18:21).
According to Wikipedia, “On July 17, 1981, the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, suffered the structural collapse of two overhead walkways. Loaded with partygoers, the concrete and glass platforms cascaded down, crashing onto a tea dance in the lobby, killing 114 and injuring 216.”
The crowd thought that the walkways were strong or else they would have gotten off. When they realized the danger, they could not escape.
The Fight Against the World
Do not love the world. Don’t worship her. Don’t let her seduce you. Fight against her attacks. But how?
First: Don’t be surprised. Be aware. Know the danger. When John saw the prostitute woman in 17:6, he marveled greatly. He was shocked. In the very next verse, the angel asks John why he’s shocked. He should rather understand what’s going on. All Christians must as well. Don’t be shocked.
Isaac Watts asked in his hymn, “Is this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?” expecting a “No” answer. In our day, to reach people in the world, the church has become too much like the world. Be aware that the world is a dangerous and deceptive force.
Second: Apply wisdom. 17:9 instructs us that fighting off the world’s attacks calls for a mind with wisdom. Think about this problem and apply God-given wisdom. Take an example. The text compares the world to a city. So, you might conclude, the way to avoid being worldly is to move to the country. But Revelation 21 will describe the new earth as a perfect city coming down out of heaven. The city is not the problem but the exploitation of people that goes on in the name of self-glorification. And people can do that no matter where they live.
Or someone might read these chapters and conclude that wealth is the problem. I’m not worldly because I’m poor. But a poor person can be just as materialistic and greedy as someone who has wealth. Apply wisdom. Talk with wise brothers and sisters about subtle ways you might be deceived by the world to adopt its values.
One could read these chapters and conclude that the problem is culture. Just reject culture and you can avoid loving the world. But the angel laments at the end that the city’s corruption led to the loss of culture. The World misuses culture for the wrong purposes. But rejecting things like music, art, literature, education, and political involvement may make a person more deceived by the prideful World spirit. We must apply wisdom.
Christians used to care a lot more about avoiding worldliness. They talked a lot more about separation from the world. We could stand to revive some of that spirit. Unfortunately, many of those Christians fought the world by making a list of rules about what we don’t do to prove that we are not worldly. But worldliness is a spirit not a simple set of behaviors. It takes wisdom to live in this world without becoming drunk on its godless spirit.
Be alert to the problem. Apply wisdom. But also, affirm your identity. 17:14 says that those who are with the Conquering Lamb are called and chosen and faithful. Called by Christ. Chosen by Christ. Faithful to Christ. They are not like the dwellers on earth in 17:8 whose names were not written in the book of life before the foundation of the world. Jesus Christ assures his own that their names are written in his book of life. They have been there since before creation.
When you realize that Jesus Christ has called and chosen you, you will be faithful to him. The called and chosen will be faithful. Those who are not faithful were never called or chosen. So, you ask, how can I know whether I’m chosen and called? Answer: be faithful. But, you object, I’m not faithful. I fail. Then you repent. Part of faithfulness is acknowledging sin and turning from it. Faithfulness is the evidence that you have faith.
To belong to Christ means that you identify “with the Lamb” according to 17:14. You belong to the Lamb of the new world and not the beast of the old world. You identify with the One who came into this world with nothing. He did not have wealth, status, or power.
He faced the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life in his showdown with the devil. And he refused it all to demonstrate his perfect righteousness. He remained the unblemished Lamb who could die in the place of anyone who would ever trust in Him for salvation. He perfectly did the will of God and so abides forever. God raised him from the dead and is now King of kings and Lord of lords.
The world seduces. Jesus truly loves. The world takes. Jesus Christ gave his very life. The world deceives. Jesus is true to his promise forever. The secret to not loving the world is to desire and experience a better love. Humble Christians sing:
Take the World but give me Jesus In His cross, my trust shall be Till with clearer, brighter vision Face to face, my Lord I see. Take this world, my God’s enough.