A Tale of Two Cities

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Giving ourselves to anything but God could cost us eternal life.

Revelation(38) (Part of the Jesus Unveiled(37) series)
by Stuart Johns(54) on December 2, 2018 (Sunday Morning(65))

Sacrifice(5), Salvation(7)

Jesus Unveiled

A Tale of Two Cities

(Revelation 17:1-18)

 

INTRODUCTION

“For a thousand years, the Christian thinker with the greatest influence was Augustine of Hippo. ​​ His longest book, The City of God, interpreted history as the story of two cities, the struggle between those who depend on God and those who rely on themselves. ​​ He traced the earthly city’s origin to the city built by Cain (Gen. 4:17).

 

Genesis gives much less attention to Cain’s city than to Babel, the first city after the flood of Noah. ​​ Settling on a plain in ‘Shinar’ (Babylonia), the builders reasoned, ‘Let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth’ (Gen. 11:4).

 

The ruins of countless other ancient cities confirm parallels with Babel:

  • Intense human cooperative labor (‘build ourselves a city’)

  • Humanly devised religion (‘tower that reaches to the heavens’)

  • Desire to achieve greatness (‘make a name for ourselves’)

  • Resolve to do things ‘my way’ instead of by God’s will (‘not be scattered’)

 

In the case of Babel, God directly intervened, but he has not stopped humans from applying these same principles to their other cities and civilizations. ​​ Babel was the model. ​​ Consider a roll call of six great ancient cities and their civilizations:

  • Memphis of the Egyptian Kingdom

  • Nineveh of the Assyrian Empire

  • Babylon of the New Babylonian Empire

  • Persepolis of the Persian Empire

  • Antioch of the Seleucid Empire (Hellenistic power after Alexander the Great)

  • Rome of the Roman Republic and Empire

 

Each was the Babel of its own day. ​​ Each rose as an expression of engineering ingenuity, supported by military might and political scheming. ​​ Each was a commercial, religious, and cultural center. ​​ Each proudly opposed God and the people of God. ​​ Roll them all together, and they become the perfect forerunner for one future final great city and civilization opposed to God – ‘Babylon the Great,’ mistress of the world. ​​ As with the world’s first great city Babel, so with the last Babel: ​​ God will judge her directly and dramatically.”

 

[Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary, Revelation, 303]

 

BODY

  • ME

    • Video games

        • My best friend in high school, Jake, and I both worked at Chick-fil-A and we both loved playing tennis and video games

        • Jake had an original Nintendo, if I remember correctly

          • We didn’t play it much because the only game I remember playing on it was a tennis game

          • We enjoyed playing real tennis more than playing it on a video game system

        • We would go to the arcade quite often to play Galaga

          • I can’t tell you how many quarters we spent playing

          • The longer we played it the less quarters we spent, because we had learned the patterns of the game & didn’t die as often

          • I remember one day being at the arcade at the Galleria Mall in Hoover, AL

          • Jake was on fire that day and eventually got the top score

          • I was so impressed, but I also wanted to play – his one turn lasted quite awhile

        • Jake and I were completely drawn in to this game

          • We were giving our time, talents, and resources to Galaga and the arcade by default

          • I can say, with certainty, that Galaga was more important to me, at that time in my life, than my relationship with Jesus

          • I was always thinking about when I could go to the arcade and play Galaga

          • There was an arcade on the lower level of the mall where I worked at Chick-fil-A, so you can imagine the draw

    • Continual battle

        • Through college and in to my adult life, video games have continued to be something that I can get drawn into very easily

        • I like to finish things, so I will continue to play a game until I’m able to complete it 100%

          • I have done that with two games on my PS3

          • First was the video game based on the animated movie UP

          • I think the second one was Infamous

        • I spend much less time today, playing video games than I did several years ago

          • Levi has wanted me to get a PS4, so I can play video games with him, like I did with Wade and Seth

          • Wade wants me to get a gaming PC, so I can play video games with him

          • I’m content without those two items

        • Today, I spend much more of my time, talents, and resources in building the kingdom of God instead of completing video games

 

  • WE

    • Being drawn in by the pleasures of our culture

        • Probably for the rest of us, video games aren’t even a temptation

        • There are other pleasures of our culture that perhaps take our time, talents, and resources

          • Not necessarily bad, except that they can take our time, talents, resources, and focus away from God

            • Hunting, fishing, camping, and/or boating

            • Shopping, Watching movies

            • Traveling, Work, Sports

            • Eating out (food in general)

            • Etc. (we can all think of that one thing in our lives that we enjoy doing and may take to an extreme)

          • Others that are addictive and destructive in nature

            • Pornography

            • Alcohol and drug addiction

            • Sexual addiction

            • Hoarding, Christmas Season, Etc.

        • We need to recognize when those items have taken the place of God in our lives

    • Refocusing our time, talents, and resources

        • When we see that something has taken the place of God, we have to take the steps necessary to refocus

        • We may have to take a break from doing those things in order to reconnect with the One who created us, loves us, and desires our time, talents, and resources

 

John has one of the seven bowl-angels come to him and take him to the desert to see the next part of this end-time vision. ​​ The next section of this vision will focus on two cities. ​​ We’ll unpack the two cities over the next several chapters. ​​ What John wants us to understand from chapter 17 is that . . .

 

BIG IDEA – Giving ourselves to anything but God could cost us eternal life.

 

Let’s pray

 

  • GOD (Revelation 17:1-18)

    • The vision (vv. 1-6)

        • Before we begin the vision I want us to go to verse 18, because it will help us understand the rest of the vision

          • The angel tells John that the woman in the vision, who is the great prostitute, is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth

          • For John, and his readers in the 1st Century, they identified the great city as Rome, but that certainly isn’t the case for us today or for the millions of people since the 1st Century

          • Mounce expresses it well, “Yet Babylon the Great, source of universal harlotry and abomination (v. 5), is more than first-century Rome. ​​ Every great center of power that has prostituted its wealth and influence restores to life the spirit of ancient Babylon.” ​​ [Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 321]

          • So, the great prostitute that John sees is a world system/kingdom that has turned its back on God and given its time, talents, and resources to pursuing the pleasures of evil

        • An angel comes to John

          • We’re told that the angel is one of the ones who had the seven bowls, so there is a connection between this part of the vision and what we saw in chapters 15 & 16

          • The angel tells John that he will show him the punishment of the great prostitute

            • He explains that this great prostitute is the one who sits on many waters (this will be explained when the angel interprets the vision)

            • This great prostitute was very successful at her trade, because the kings of the earth were drawn in by her beauty, wealth, and advances, and the inhabitants of the earth were caught up with what she had to offer them, which is described as the wine of her adulteries

            • The leaders and the common people were all attracted to her and gave themselves to her

            • They are in danger!

          • At this point, the angel takes John to the desert to give him a more detailed description of this vision

        • The angel carries him into the desert

          • We see that John is not carried away physically to the desert (he is still on the island of Patmos), but rather in the Spirit, he is in a desert

          • Two characters are introduced at this point

            • A woman and a scarlet beast – both are described here

            • The woman

              • This is the same woman that the angel identifies as the great prostitute in v. 1

              • She is now not only sitting on many waters, but also on top of a scarlet beast (we’ll talk about this beast in a moment)

              • The woman’s outfit

                • She is dressed in purple and scarlet

                  • The dye for these two pieces of cloth were very expensive to extract, therefore only the wealthy could afford to where purple and scarlet garments

                  • Purple was considered the color of royalty, while scarlet was considered the color of wealth

                • She is glittering with gold, precious stones, and pearls

                  • If we remember that the woman represents Rome or another city that will rise up in the end times then we can see a contrast between this city bent on opposing God and embracing evil and the new Jerusalem

                  • “Her gold, precious stones, and pearls (17:4) further contribute to this picture of wealth (18:12, 16), but also help underpin the impending contrast with the city of God, which was built of gold, had streets of gold and gates of pearls, and had precious stones on its foundation (21:18-21).” ​​ [Keener, The NIV Application Commentary, Revelation, 406-407]

                • PRINCIPLE – The political and religious wealth of this world is enticing.

                  • It is always tempting to embrace the newest religious beliefs or partner with the fasting growing church movements or denominations

                  • It’s also tempting to embrace the trending political, economic, technological, and social movements

                  • We all want to be both physically and spiritually wealthy, but it can come with a cost if we don’t choose wisely

                  • Keener helps us to have an eternal perspective on wealth, “The true and ultimate wealth comes not from trade with Babylon, not from buying and selling with the beast (13:17; cf. Ps. 73:6), but from relinquishing worldly wealth for the promises of Jesus (3:17-18).” ​​ [Keener, 407]

                  • Revelation 3:17-18, You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ ​​ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. ​​ I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

                  • It brings us back to Augustine’s premise: what city are we going to choose to live in? (God’s or the world’s?)

                  • 1 John 2:16-18, For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. ​​ The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. ​​ Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. ​​ This is how we know it is the last hour.

                  • Giving ourselves to anything but God could cost us eternal life.

                  • Is there anything in your life that shows you’re living in the city of this world?

                  • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Ask the Lord to direct me to anything in my life that I’m giving myself to ahead of Him, and then ask Him to give me the strength to sacrifice it.

                • She has a title written on her forehead

                  • This certainly corresponds to the mark of the beast found in Rev. 13:16

                  • But it could also refer to custom of the Roman prostitutes in the 1st Century to write their names on a headband that they wore

                  • Some believe that the word “Mystery” is part of the name written on her forehead, but others believe it is descriptive of a name with hidden meaning

                  • Babylon the Great (this is the “great system of godlessness that leads people away from the worship of God and to their own destruction [Mounce, 311])

                  • The Mother of Prostitutes (to be the “mother of” something means that they are characterized by that thing, but also that they have reproduced that character in others [Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 613]; Babylon, then Rome in John’s time, and perhaps any major city in our time, and definitely some future kingdom, will be the source of idolatry and evil)

                  • The Mother of the Abominations of the Earth (again whatever city will be the “great prostitute,” during the end, will be the source that influences the entire earth to adopt all kinds of evil and abominations)

              • What the woman is holding in her hand

                • The woman represents the religious side of the end times, while the beast represents the political side

                • She is holding a golden cup in her hand

                • We’re told that it is filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries

                • The contents of this cup are obviously what has intoxicated the inhabitants of the earth, as we saw in v. 2 and she made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries as we saw in Rev. 14:8

                • The religious practices that this end times city will encourage everyone to participate in will involve moral corruption and things that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, would consider unclean or sacrilegious

                • Isaiah 5:20, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

                • “The idols of heart and life are filled to the brim as she shares them with a senseless humanity that falls into a drunken stupor, no longer able to see real truth, beauty, and goodness found only in God and His salvation through the Lamb.” ​​ [Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition: ​​ Exalting Jesus in Revelation, 263]

              • The condition of the woman

                • She is drunk with the blood of the saints

                • It will not be enough to simply set up a godless form of religion, but the woman (religious system of this future city) will also persecute and kill those who are followers of Jesus Christ

                • Those who are martyred during this time are sealed in Christ through the willing sacrifice of their own lives

              • We know who the woman is, what she is wearing, and what she has in her hand, but she is also riding on a scarlet beast

            • Scarlet beast

              • We are given a brief description of the scarlet beast

              • He has blasphemous names covering his entire body

              • He has seven heads and ten horns

              • What we see in the remainder of chapter 17 is the angels interpretation of the beast from this vision of the woman and the beast

              • It is here that we understand the seven heads and ten horns

              • We don’t see the punishment of the “great prostitute” that the angel promised to show John until chapter 18

        • As John looks upon the image of the woman and the beast, he is astonished – he perhaps saw something in the character of the woman that was unexpected [Patterson, The New American Commentary, Revelation, 321]

    • Interpretation of the vision (vv. 7-18)

        • The angel asks why John is astonished and then tells him that he will explain the mystery of the woman and the beast she rides on

        • Wisdom to understand the return of the beast (vv. 8-9a)

          • Some scholars put the beginning of v. 9 with the previous statement about the return of the beast, while others put it with the interpretation of the seven heads – both require a mind with wisdom

          • Twice in v. 8 we see the same statement – the beast once was, now is not, and will come again

            • This is an attempt by evil to mimic and mock God and Jesus Christ

            • Revelation 1:4, John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: ​​ Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come . . . (this is referring to God)

            • Revelation 1:18, I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! ​​ And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (this is referring to Jesus, also found in Rev. 2:8)

            • This same idea of the beast coming, dying, and being resurrected was mentioned in Rev. 13:3, One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. ​​ The whole world was astonished and followed the beast.

            • We see again that the inhabitants of the earth, who have not repented of their sins, will find the resurrection of the beast to be astonishing

            • In the middle of these two statements we find the principle – the golden nugget of truth

            • PRINCIPLE – Evil tries to imitate God, but will be destroyed.

              • This is an incredible promise that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, can hold on to

              • We may see evil “winning” in our culture

              • Evil will twist the truth, just a little bit, so that it appears to be godly and righteous

              • Evil will use imitation of the real to try to deceive humanity

              • But the truth remains that evil will be destroyed!

              • We’ll see expanded in v. 14

          • The angel moves from explaining the imitation of the beast to his actual features, beginning with the seven heads

        • Seven heads explained (vv. 9b-11)

          • The seven heads represent two things

            • Seven hills that the woman sits on

              • For John’s readers, the interpretation of the seven heads being seven hills would have immediately brought to mind Rome

              • Ancient Latin authors all referred to Rome as urbs septicollis meaning “seven-hilled city”

              • “Rome began as a network of seven hill settlements on the left bank of the Tiber . . .” ​​ [Mounce, 315]

              • Christians in the 1st Century viewed Rome as the godless, immoral, idolatrous city that it was

              • The angel also interprets the seven heads as seven kings

            • Seven kings

              • Here is where the interpretation for us, today, becomes much more difficult

              • There are two primary beliefs concerning what the angel meant by seven kings as we try to understand it today

                • Kings/Emperors

                  • Those who hold to this belief try to create a list of six Emperors that would include the Emperor during John’s time

                  • The only problem is that there is not agreement on who the Emperor was during John’s writing (Nero, Vespasian, or Domitian)

                  • There is also debate over whether Julius Caesar or Augustus was the first true Emperor

                  • There is also more than six Emperors between Julius Caesar and Trajan (14 to be exact)

                  • Some scholars lump three of them together because all three reigned in a one year period

                  • This is not a very strong solution to the interpretation of the seven heads being seven kings

                  • In their favor is the fact that the Greek word used for “king” is everywhere in the New Testament translated as “king” and not “kingdom”

                  • With that in mind the second solution is not very strong either, but is definitely fascinating

                • Kingdoms

                  • If the “great prostitute” represents a city, it would not be inconceivable that the seven kings could represent seven kingdoms

                  • These kingdoms would all share the same characteristics of being the powerhouses of their time that opposed God’s people

                  • Scholars have compiled a list of the five fallen kings/kingdoms found in Scripture that would have those characteristics

                  • Egypt (Memphis) during the days of Israelite slavery (Exod. 1)

                  • Assyria (Nineveh) during the days of the prophets Hosea and Isaiah (2 Kings 15)

                  • Babylon (Babylon) during the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel (2 Kings 25)

                  • Persia (Persepolis) during the days of Esther the queen (the book of Esther)

                  • The Seleucid Empire (Antioch) was successor to part of Alexander the Great’s realm (Daniel 8:23-25; 11:21-35)

                  • Rome would be the sixth kingdom during John’s time (1st Century)

                  • There’ll be a seventh kingdom that will rise in the future that will share the same characteristics as the first six, but will only be around for a short period of time, because the beast will begin to reign as the eighth king

                  • “MacArthur says, ‘The Antichrist’s kingdom is said to be both the seventh and the eighth kingdoms because of his supposed demise and resurrection. ​​ He is the seventh before and the eighth after his ‘resurrection’’ (Study Bible, 2016).” ​​ [Akin, 266]

              • There is a third option that I particularly favor

                • The number seven is symbolic of completion and the power of the Roman Empire historically

                • “In Revelation the seven kings represent the entire period of Roman domination regardless of the exact number of emperors. ​​ The important point is that the end is drawing near.” ​​ [Mounce, 317]

                • Osborne agrees with Mounce that the numbering was not a reference to specific emperors, but rather pointing to the fact that the Roman tyranny would soon end and the eschaton would be ushered in [Osborne, 620]

                • The number seven throughout Revelation has been symbolic of completion, so it would make sense that it once again represents completion as it pertains to a world-wide system of godlessness, immorality, and idolatry

          • The angel moves on from the seven heads to the ten horns

        • Ten horns explained (vv. 12-14)

          • The ten horns refer to ten kings and their kingdoms that have not come on the international scene yet

            • Daniel 7:7-24 is the only other place in Scripture where a ten-horned beast is mentioned (this is perhaps the background for this beast here)

            • Osborne reminds us that in Rev. 7:1 the four angels at the four corners of the earth have been holding back the four winds of destruction and he also reminds us that in Rev. 16:12 the Euphrates is dried up, perhaps by the four winds, allowing the “kings of the east” to easily join the beast for a final battle against God [Osborne, 621]

            • They and the beast are given authority by Satan, but it is short-lived (one hour)

            • Their reign doesn’t need to be long, because they only have one purpose – to give their power and authority to the beast so he can make war against the Lamb

          • PRINCIPLE – Evil is fighting a losing battle.

            • The Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings

              • This is not the first time that Jesus has overcome Satan and his followers

              • He won the victory over sin and death when He died on the cross, was buried, and came alive again

                • This is the hope we have as followers of Jesus Christ

                • God fulfilled His plan to redeem us from our sin by sending Jesus from heaven to earth to take our punishment for sin

                • We’re all born sinners, separated from God, deserving eternal separation from Him

                • But because of His infinite love for us, He sent Jesus to take our place – He became for us, even though He had never sinned, so that God would see us as righteous before Him

                • It is a free gift from God that we have to take for ourselves

                • Romans 6:23, For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

                • We can be on the winning side of this final battle by receiving God’s gift of eternal life through believing in Jesus Christ by faith

                • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Receive God’s gift of eternal life by believing in Jesus by faith.

              • Jesus not only overcame sin and death through His perfect sacrifice, but He will also overcome evil in the final battle

            • The Lamb is Jesus Christ and He is not coming alone

              • He is bringing with Him those whom He has called, chosen, and are faithful

              • This is Jesus’ army as mentioned in Rev. 19:14

              • God is the One who calls and chooses His own, our response to Him is to be faithful

          • The angel now explains the reference to the woman sitting on the waters

        • Waters explained (v. 15)

          • The waters represent all people, which is evident in the four-fold description of peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages

          • No one is exempt from the influence and control of the woman

          • Osborne explains, “To ‘sit upon’ a nation is to conquer and control it.” ​​ [Osborne, 609]

          • Finally we see the destruction of the woman after she has served her purpose

        • The destruction of the woman (vv. 16-17)

          • Evil is only concerned about itself and no one else

            • Therefore, evil often turns on itself

            • When the immoral, idolatrous religious structure, represented by the woman, has served its purpose in convincing the inhabitants of the earth to worship and follow Satan, then the beast and the ten kings will hate her and destroy her

            • They will bring her to ruin and strip her naked – this final great city, which once was dressed like royalty, will be completely stripped, exposed, and humiliated

            • To have her flesh eaten reminds us of Jezebel after she fell from the window and was completely devoured by dogs

            • The destruction of this once great city will be complete when it is burned with fire

            • “God has built into the universe a law of sowing and reaping that cannot be violated.” ​​ [Easley, 314]

            • Galatians 6:7-8, Do not be deceived: ​​ God cannot be mocked. ​​ A man reaps what he sows. ​​ The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.

            • Giving ourselves to anything but God could cost us eternal life.

          • PRINCIPLE – God is sovereign!

            • The ten kings were not offering their power and authority to the beast of their own accord

            • Evil is jealous and controlling – not naturally inclined to offer up what power and authority they have to someone else

            • They were willing to do this, because of God’s sovereignty – He put it into their hearts the willingness to do this, so that His purpose could be accomplished

            • We have in the Bible God’s promises concerning salvation for those who repent and final destruction for those who do not

 

CONCLUSION

“My friend C. J. Mahaney has well said, ‘Today, the greatest challenge facing [evangelical, Bible-believing] American [Christians] is not persecution from the world, but seduction by the world’ (‘Is This Verse,’ 22). ​​ The Christian apologist C. S. Lewis would add, ‘We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who goes on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. ​​ We are too easily pleased. (Weight of Glory, 25-26). ​​ Babylon offers mud pies in the slum. ​​ The new Jerusalem ruled by the King of kings and the Lord of lords offers a glorious holiday at a crystal sea that will last forever. ​​ Do not be too easily pleased. ​​ Do not be seduced by a world that can never deliver what is truly lasting and ultimately satisfying.” ​​ [Akin, 269]

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