As we launch into this disruptive chapter, we need to remember two ways to read apocalyptic narrative:
PREDICTIVE - Using information to determine precisely what will happen in the future.
DESCRIPTIVE - Using information to gain a general understanding of something that will happen sometime in the future.
It's the difference between these exact things will happen in exactly this way and they will appear exactly as presented in these exact places in time and here is a general sense of what is going to take place sometime in the future.
Jesus warned against the predictive approach to reading apocalyptic literature. As he said in Matthew 24:36, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." We do well to keep this declaration in the back of our minds
whenever reading The Book of Revelation.
Here's why this is an essential principle of Biblical interpretation.
In the late 1960s, a guest preacher spoke at the Sunday evening service of a rather large church. Claiming to be grounded in the Bible, in his sermon, he declared that "God will never allow man to walk on the moon." Whoops. It's an amazing thing when Neil Armstrong collides with your Biblically based predictions. That's not the work we are about.
Let's begin with verses one through six:
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 prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit 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. The woman was arrayed 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 sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly.
As we seek clarity of these initial verses, here's something you might want to write down:
THIS ISN'T ABOUT WHAT WILL HAPPEN…IT IS ABOUT WHAT IS HAPPENING.
The world is now and has always been in rebellion against God. Satan tempts and manipulates people within governments and institutions to draw people away from God. The prostitute is the dominant world system seducing people with an appeal for personal gain over against the demands of a righteous God.
We see how this plays out in an increasingly pagan culture. It's not that people lack religious faith. It's simply that their beliefs are increasingly pagan in nature. People find worship and meaning and devotion in social justice causes and environmentalism and mysticism and emotional fulfillment and the filling of felt needs and materialism, all avenues for religious experience without God. We even hear pagan religion reflected in an observation from people who should know better - "All religions lead to the same God." That belief is born from the dominant pagan culture.
These first six verses describe worship without God. They end with the brutal reality that opposition to the pagan world system can lead to pain, suffering, and even death. The MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES is drunk with the blood of the martyrs. And so, as we've already seen, those whose names have been written down in the Lamb's Book of Life are called to persevere. We have been given what it takes to resist the pagan pull of secular, humanistic religion.
Alistair Begg has a wonderful way of putting how we resist the pull of paganism:
"We are not called to be pragmatic but faithful: to say, God has said this, and so I will do it. What will see us hold the line is a simple, straightforward, unerring obedience to the Word of God - even if that means the fiery furnace."
In a recent survey conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, they found that around 33% of evangelical pastors believe one can earn a place in heaven by simply being a good person. Another 39% said there is no absolute moral truth and that "each individual must determine their own truth." So, like presidents, we pastors can be part of the problem, too.
All of this horribleness - as one commentator put it, "The Great Prostitute took a fiendish delight in hounding Christians to death" - all of this horribleness causes John to wonder with great wonder.
God answers John's wonder in verses seven through fourteen:
But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 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.”
Remember, Satan has already lost, only he doesn't know it. So he is going to continue to make war on God's creation. He has a deep-seated hatred for and violent opposition to God and all that is just and good. God created the world and called it good. God created us and called us very good. And Satan cannot stand that. There is so much about our lives and our world that is good. Most of us, most of the time, want to be the best for our families, our church, and our community. Most of us, most of the time, want to do what's best for our families, our church, and our community. There is so much to value and affirm about life. And that's why Satan wants to destroy it. He doesn't want us to worship the good God of creation. He wants us to turn away from the holiness of God. Hence, we read the description of how he tries to corrupt all that God has called good.
But guess what? Because your name has been written in the Lamb's Book of Life from before the foundation of the world, you will persevere. You are
Called and Chosen and Faithful. Never forget that when the doctor's diagnosis isn't good. Never forget that when the stack of bills grows higher. Never forget that when you are feeling lost or lonely or left out. Never forget that when tragedy sends you reeling. Never forget that when nothing seems to make sense. Never forget that when the phone call in the middle of the night brings bad news. These are all attacks of the Evil One to weaken your devotion to God. But you will persevere. Because you are called and chosen and faithful.
As verse eight spells it out, those who are enamored with the beast have a warped worldview. They do not understand that he is on his way to hell. And so they are deceived. They allow themselves to be deceived. They have been captured by the corrupt world system. As verse eight makes clear, they are those whose names have not been written in the Lamb's Book of Life from the foundation of the world. As expressed here, they are the opposite of the elect of God. Their names have not been written in the Lamb's Book of Life. It is an interesting way - expressed as a negative - of
saying only believers will escape the deception.
To remind us how powerful the deception is, even while all hell is breaking loose, people still worship the beast rather than the One, True, and Holy God. The Christ rejecters are the ones who will be traumatized in the end.
We wrap things up with verses fifteen through eighteen:
And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”
I love, love, love the eternal truth expressed in verse sixteen. Every revolutionary power contains within itself the seed of self-destruction. This verse describes the self-destroying power of evil. The wicked are not a happy band of fellow travelers. Since jealousy and hatred are at the heart of their wickedness, they are always on a road to mutual destruction. Even
the powers of evil serve the sovereign purpose of God.
But what are we called to do? We serve the sovereign purpose of God when we are loving and joyful and peaceful and patient and kind and good and faithful and gentle and self-controlled. If, no matter what we experience or go through in life, we exhibit those traits, then, by definition, we are persevering in the faith. We are called and chosen and faithful.
Make no mistake. Through these visions, God is preparing us for one of two things. Either we are approaching the end times and we will see it in our day. So persevere in the faith. Or it won't happen in our generation but God is nevertheless preparing us for our own individual end time. One way or another the end will come. It will either be in cataclysmic world events or in a personal cataclysmic event for us individually. But either way, because our names have been written in the Lamb's Book of Life, we will persevere.
These final verse of "In Christ Alone" capture this perfectly:
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand
Those are the words of God.
SOLI DEO GLORIA…
To the Glory of God Alone