Rev.17 — THE GREAT AND RESTLESS CITY
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on October 25th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 17.
Babylon The Great City: The first city mentioned in Scripture is the city built by Cain after he murdered Abel and was cursed as a restless wanderer. Cain built his city so that he would not be a restless wanderer – it was a counterfeit Eden and did not bring him rest.
The next city mentioned in Scripture was Babel, where men built a great tower reaching to the sky in an effort to dominate and create their own worship.
Babylon the Great in Revelation is a picture of human cities – mankind’s attempts to create a place of rest. The Great City is the center of human culture and influence in which men pursue and worship luxury and wealth, power, status and lusts. It is a prideful, culture- perverting system set up by men to serve the human desires for rest, peace, community, wealth, beauty and security. It is worth thinking about how our utterly our modern cities have not only failed to deliver on these promises, but how they have produced stress, gang warfare, isolation, poverty, ugliness and fear.
Rev. 17-18 is a courtroom scene in which 3 angels appear to bring judgment on Babylon the Great City. The first Angel is the prosecutor who exposes the true nature of Babylon. The second Angel is a judge who proclaims her guilt and fall. The third angel is an executioner who curses her.
This morning we will only deal with the first angel in Ch.17. We want to look at God’s exposure of the Great City/Prostitute and to see how she lures us through our restlessness.
We Are Restless People.
The Offers of the Great City: Vs.3-6 give us a symbolic picture of the Great City and what it offers. John sees, out in the desert, a prostitute, sitting on the beast from Rev.13:1-8, dressed in expensive clothes and covered with jewels, holding out a golden cup, …filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries”.
Everything about this image shows the enticements that promise to fulfill every longing ** the longing for wealth ** the longing for beauty ** the longing for food and wine ** the longing for sex. She is a picture of the enticements that draw human beings along into sin – all real needs for life – but things that in themselves do not satisfy us. We need food for health and strength, and we like the taste of food, so we eat and enjoy food. But when we begin the taste of food is going to fill the longing inside of us, we overeat and get sick or drunk.
She is The True Picture of Restlessness: This restlessness – which we inherited from Cain – is in us. We know that we are incomplete – unfinished – and we long to be complete – content – fulfilled.
The Prostitute has wealth and is beautifully dressed – but she is, ironically, out in the desert – a place of want and thirst. She offers a golden cup, but what she has to offer is idolatry – the pursuit of appetites that lead us into abominable behavior and adulterous love for the world (James 4).
The great city is a prostitute that appears attractive but up close is repulsive. And she is against the people of God – drunk on their blood. She has offered life, but delivered death. She has offered to enrich life, but has instead impoverished life. She offers rest but can only create more restlessness. She is the very essence of temptation and sin.
She is the Picture of Exile: The title written on her forehead identifies her as MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
Babylon was the place – for Jewish believers – of exile and captivity – a place where the people of God were far from home and from rest. John, who is himself in exile, suddenly sees that all believers are, in a sense, in exile.
We live with longing because we are not at home. This foreign land, in which we are exiles, offers to become our home. Just as the Babylonians pressured the Jews to accept their Babylonian gods and forget their Jewish identity – so this world pressures us to accept the things that would appear to fulfill our longings… food, sex, wealth, power, comforts… as a substitute for what we truly long for the place where we were meant to be at rest.
We Live in A Restless World.
John would have understood the beast as Rome – but the 7 heads and 10 horns do not fit any historical scheme we know of. However, understood symbolically these images do have something to say to us…
The Promise of Rest That Self Destructs: Here we have a picture of the beast on which the prostitute rides. We have already seen the beast as the violent power opposed to God and inspired by the Dragon. In vs.16, the beast turns on the prostitute and brings her to ruin – consuming her flesh and burning her with fire.
The beast itself who, once was, now is not, and yet will come claims to be as eternal and unshakable as God (who was, who is, and who is to come -Rev.1:4), but, will come up out of the abyss and will go to his destruction.
Taken together, these images make it clear that the promised rest of the Great City is an illusion – it is self-destructive – under judgment – even demonic in its nature. While the whole world is impressed with the rest offered by the prostitute and the beast – only the elect whose names are written in the book of life are given the wisdom to see its end.
The followers of Jesus are called to see the self destructive restlessness that characterizes life in our society and where it leads. There is a tremendous pull to find comfort and security in the Great City – to believe that our nation and our comfortable life will go on indefinitely – to hope that at some point we will reach a place where we have enough – find what we are looking for and can put restlessness to rest. But the promise of rest keeps us running after we know not what, and leads us to destruction.
Restlessness of Men Turns Them Against God: The restless beast not only devours its own rider – but also turns itself against God. The horns, or authorities – those who have not yet received a kingdom – a picture of those striving for position and place and authority and influence (again a picture of restlessness), align themselves with the beast, (the restless violent powers), to attack the Lamb and his called, chosen and faithful followers.
All of which is to say that people in their restlessness despise and reject the notion that rest is found in God alone. They turn against and attack the message of the Gospel and anyone who suggests that the offers of the prostitute and the promises of beast are empty. But the Lamb has the power to overcome them. The power of the Gospel of rest – though it appears to be weak in the face of the world’s promises – still overcomes even the hardest hearted.
God Has Promised Us Rest.
Faith and Our Hope of Rest: There is no true rest in this world – and this is a tension that we must live with – it is the truth. We have the promise of rest. We have the promise that one day we will finally be in the presence of God – in whose presence we were mean to live and breathe. Only then will the mysterious longing in our hearts be satisfied.
But now, today, we live with the longing of what we don’t yet have. Like Abraham, we wander, following God in faith, hoping for a city whose founder and builder is God – not Cain. And like Abraham, though our wandering often seems to take us in circles – yet, as we follow in faith – hoping – believing – we are being changed and are becoming like Jesus (or as John says – We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure – 1Jn.3:2-3).