Introduction: Opinionated columnist Paul Krugman of The New York Times recently wrote about a Latin American political party that promised to help motorists save money on gasoline. How? By building highways that ran only downhill. That’s the way history is going. We’re on the verge of an important election in our country and it may mean a shift in the political direction of our nation; but don’t expect it to reverse the way things are going. Our nation and world is on a downward course, and the book of Revelation tells what’s going to happen when it hits bottom.
Review and Context: Chapters 6-18 of Revelation are a description of the Tribulation Period. Chapters 6-7 are the seven seals. Chapters 8-11 are the seven trumpets. Chapters 12-14 are a photo album of the conflict of the ages. Chapters 15-18 are about the seven bowls of wrath. Chapter 15 describes this last series of judgments, and chapters 17 and 18 fill in some of the details about the destruction of Babylon. There are three aspects to the city of Babylon. First, Babylon will be the capital city of the antichrist, though I don’t know if it will literally be the rebuilt city of Babylon or if “Babylon” is simply a pseudonym for New York or Rome or Riyadh or Dubai. Second, Babylon refers to the worldwide political system that emanates from that city. We use that same terminology today when we say, “Washington announced today….” Third, Babylon refers to the false religious system of the antichrist, which will also be headquartered there. We also use that same kind of terminology. When we say “The Vatican” or even “Rome” we may well be thinking of the entire system of Roman Catholicism. So during the Great Tribulation, a city code-named Babylon will be the headquarters of the world’s political system and of the false church. Revelation 16:19 announced judgment on Babylon. Chapters 17 and 18 are a further explanation of that judgment.
Note: “Babylon” is mentioned about 300 times in the Bible and represents human opposition to true faith and to the true God. Babylon was founded by Nimrod; and according to ancient lore, Nimrod’s wife established a false religion there. Elements of this false religion have entered into many of the historic religions of this world (including Roman Catholicism). The city of Babylon provides the backdrop for the events of the book of Daniel. It was the great city of Nebuchadnezzar, and the home of the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The ruins of ancient Babylon are about 50 miles south of Bagdad. In 1983, Saddam Hussein started rebuilding the city. He inscribed his name of many of the bricks, envisioned the reconstruction of the city, built a fabulous modern palace there, and was ready to begin construction of cable cars over Babylon when war broke out. Now Iraqi officials have reopened the site to tourists, and there is some talk that the United Nations has plans for restoring Babylon as an international site and cultural center.
V. 1: An angel wants to show John “the prostitute who sits on many waters.” This isn’t a literal prostitute. In the Old Testament, idolatry and religious apostasy were frequently compared to harlotry. In adultery and harlotry, a person leaves a committed spouse to take up with someone else. In idolatry a person leaves his or her commitment to God to take up with a false god. The prostitute that John sees is a symbol of the false religious system that dominates the world (sits on many waters).
V. 2: The leaders of the world will become part of this false system. All the world leaders will be committed to the worship of the image of the antichrist. This verse does not refer to literal wine or literal adultery, but of a world that is intoxicated and swept away in the worship of a false god—namely the image of the antichrist.
V. 3: This woman is this religious Babylon. Just as Jesus has His bride (the church), the antichrist has his bride, his false church. The scarlet beast we’ve met before (Rev 13:1-4). He is the antichrist.
V. 4: This false religion will be very wealthy and well financed.
V. 5-6: This religious system will have a built-in inquisition, looking for true believers to hunt down and kill.
V. 7: The angel is now going to interpret this for John.
V. 8: This is a very interesting verse. It would appear from this verse that the antichrist is a world ruler who apparently is (or seems to be) assassinated or who somehow is (or appears to be) slain. Then he appears to rise again from the dead. In this he is mimicking the resurrection of the true Christ (see Revelation 13:3 & 12). This verse seems to suggest that when the antichrist is “resurrected,” a powerful super-demon from the Abyss will enter him and take possession of him.
V. 9: This may mean that the city of Babylon rests of seven hills, but it may also mean that the antichrist’s government is the seventh and last of the great empires of the world.
V. 10: The angel said there would be seven great anti-godly empires in God’s scheme of eschatology. We can identify these are five who had already been: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. One—Rome—was still in existence in John’s day. The last one—the antichrist’s empire—had not yet come.
V. 11: The antichrist is both the seventh and the eighth empire. The seventh before his “resurrection,” and the eighth after.
V. 12: The antichrist will divide his global empire into ten administrative zones. The “one hour” refers to the brief time of his reign—three and a half years.
V. 13-14: The whole ten-fold empire will have one purpose—to worship and obey the antichrist; but they will be no match for Christ when He returns.
V. 15: Now the angel offers further annotation. The “waters” of verse 1 refer to the nations of the world.
V. 16-18: When everything begins to fall apart, the antichrist will turn on his own religious system.
Conclusion: Many people have identified this false religious system as Roman Catholicism and there are many reasons to do so. But it could also be Islam. There will be a vast worldwide religion in the latter days that will be demonic in nature and will help the antichrist rise to power. But antichrist will then set up his own image in the temple and demand to be worshipped as God. And in the end, he will destroy his own religion for the sake of self-worship. The lesson for us is to abide in Christ. There is a great movement today to advance a pluralistic approach to religion, that all religions are equally true. But common sense tells us that all religions cannot be equally true. And true wisdom understands that the Bible is, by its very nature, an evangelistic book. The Gospel is an evangelistic message. The Lord Jesus is an evangelistic Savior. His people are evangelists by calling. We have an eternal message for young and old. We offer eternal life through Christ for both rich and poor.