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Revelation 17:1-19:5: Hallelujah for His Judgments Print E-mail
Sunday, 03 June 2012

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Normally, when we think of singing praises to God, our first thoughts are not to sing of His judgments. We sing of His grace and His mercy and His love (and rightfully so, for all of these attributes are worthy of our praise). We sing of His righteousness and holiness since this is modeled to us over and over again in the Bible (see Isaiah 6, Revelation 4). Yet, we do not sing much about Godís judgments. And I get that. I mean, itís not easy to write a praise song about Godís punishment of sinners. Yet, as we noted last week, the book of Revelation teaches us about Godís justice in judging sinners. And we saw Godís people praising God for His just judgments. We see that again in our passage this morning. John gives us a vision of judgment (ch. 17-18) and Godís people respond with praise (19:1-5). As we look at these chapters this morning, I do not want us to miss the connection between Godís judgments and His peopleís praise. I want us to see what God is teaching us through this connection.

John has already mentioned the judgment of Babylon (see 14:8, 16:19).  Part of the judgment that falls with the pouring of the seventh bowl of wrath is the judgment of Babylon.  In chapters 17-18, we are given more details about that judgment.  What we need to remember as we study this text (and any text) is the larger context of the book.  In particular, we need to remember that John is writing to the seven churches in Asia who were facing temptation and suffering at the hands of Rome.  Although John is writing about future events in these chapters, he is doing it with one eye still on the present situation of the churches.  They get a picture of what will ultimately happen to any kingdom or empire that opposes Christ.  So then, what does John see in his vision of the great prostitute?

The vision and identification of the prostitute and beast (17:1-15)

As we read a minute ago, John is told that he is going to see a vision of the judgment of the great prostitute.  Yet, the vision does not begin with judgment.  Rather, it begins by establishing the relationship between the prostitute and the beast.  She is seated upon the beast and is described as being arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup.  It is easy to see why so many are led astray by her.  She is powerful and attractive.  Yet, her cup is full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.  She looks good on the outside, but she is full of wickedness.  So then, who is this great prostitute?  And who is the beast that she is seated upon?  John goes on to tell us.

The woman is identified in verses 5-6 as Babylon the great.  Babylon was a city of great immorality and idolatry in the Old Testament.  John is using it here to symbolize humanity in rebellion against God.  Babylon represents man united together in hostility toward their Maker.  In Johnís day, the clearest example of such rebellion was Rome and we see this coming out in his description of the beast.  But this does not mean that John is only writing about Rome.  Rather, he is writing about all of manís collective rebellion, whatever present form it might take.  Such hostility towards God leads to the blood of the martyrs of Jesus, with which the prostitute has become drunk.  She hates God and she hates His people.  She is intoxicated by their deaths.

But what about the beast?  After the angel questions John for marveling at the prostitute, he goes on to identify the beast and what will happen to it in verses 7-14.  The beast here is the same beast that is described in 13:1-8, which will be worshipped for recovering from its mortal wound.  Yet the angel reminds John that it will ultimately go to destruction, which is why John should not marvel too much.  The beast has seven heads, which the angel says symbolizes seven mountains and seven kings.  The mountains could be a reference to Rome, since it was built upon seven hills or just a reference to the power and authority of the beast.  The seven kings are more difficult to identify.  Some see them as emperors of Rome, but have difficulty in identifying the particular emperors since John speaks of five of them already dying, the sixth currently being alive, and the seventh still to come. 

Others think John is simply making the point that the kingdoms of the earth are coming to an end.  Five have already been laid low, Romeís rule is coming to an end, and the seventh will be brought low as well.  Although John could be referencing particular emperors, it seems more likely that he is referring to kings in general who are in rebellion against God (once again using the number seven symbolically).  The beast will be like these kings, but will be distinct (an eighth) and will go to destruction.  Going on, the angel identifies the ten horns as ten more kings who will reign in the future for a short time, possibly referring to the end of this age.  They will give their authority to the beast who will come at the close of the age and they will all 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.  Finally, the angel identifies the waters beneath the woman as the nations over which she reigns and has authority.  All of those whose name was not written in the book of life.

The judgment of the prostitute (17:16-18:24)

After identifying the woman and the beast and the waters, we begin to see Godís judgment in 17:16-18.  Look at those with me.  Again, as we saw with the four horseman in chapter 6, we see evil turning against itself.  The ten kings and the beast destroy the prostitute, which is Godís plan for rebellious humanity.  Godís purpose is to destroy evil and rebellion.  Thus, even though the beast is doing what he wants to do, he is actually fulfilling Godís plan for the prostitute.

The reason for the judgment is identified in 18:1-8.  Look at that with me.  Babylon has become a haunt for every unclean spirit.  She has led the nations astray with her luxurious living.  And her sins are heaped high as heaven.  She is receiving back as she herself has paid back others.  Thus, we see again that Godís judgments are just.  Babylon is getting what her rebellion deserved.  God tells His people to stay away from her, which would apply particularly to those churches who were being tempted to forsake the Lord and embrace idolatry.  Such a choice will only lead to just judgment.  She may seem powerful, but her end will be swift and severe.

John then describes the mourning that takes place for her judgment.  Three groups are identified: the kings (v. 9-10), the merchants (v. 11-17a), and the sailors (v. 17b-19).  These are the ones who have benefited from their relationship with Babylon.  They have enjoyed their immorality and luxurious living.  But now they only stand by and mourn at her judgment because that means the end of their enjoyment.  One of my commentatorís writes: ďThe great city has brought profit to many but affection to none.Ē 1  There is no lasting joy or pleasure in rebellion to God.  After the angel calls on heaven to rejoice, which we will consider in a moment, a final description of Babylonís judgment is given in verses 21-24.  Look at those with me.  The judgment will be final.  Notice the repetition of the words no more.  No more music, no more work, no more light, no more marriage, no more rejoicing.  The rebellion has been ended.

The praise of God for judging the prostitute (19:1-5)

So the earth-dwellers respond with mourning, but how do Godís people respond?  In 18:20 they are told to rejoice over her, which is exactly what we see in 19:1-5.  Look at that with me.  John describes two groups worshipping here.  First, in verses 1-3 we see the praise of a great multitude in heaven.  In verses 4-5 we are told of the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures.  All of these are worshipping God and singing His praises.  Three times they cry out: Hallelujah (Praise Yahweh), which is the only time this is used in the New Testament.  So then, what is the reason for such an outburst of praise?  John tells us: Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.  God has answered the cry of the martyrs in 6:9-11 and the prayers of the saints in 8:3-4.  He has judged the great prostitute.  Her punishment will last forever.  And for this, God is praised.

Perhaps this does not sit well with you this morning.  On the surface it might seem odd.  Yet, we need to be clear about what is happening here.  One of my commentators states it well: ďThe rejoicing does not arise out of a selfish spirit of revenge but out of a fulfilled hope that God has defended the honor of his just name by not leaving sin unpunished and by showing his people to have been in the right and the verdict rendered by the ungodly world against the saints to be wrong.Ē 2  Godís people rejoice in Godís justice.  He has righted all the wrongs and for that they lift their voices in praise.

Even now we can rejoice and sing for Godís just judgments to come.  We can find joy in the justice of our God.  Our God is the sovereign Lord of history.  He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  To Him belong salvation and glory and power.  He is the God who has redeemed a people from every tongue and tribe and nation by sending His only Son to die on a cross in our place.  He has redeemed a people by the blood of the Lamb.  He has called them and chosen them.  And they have conquered by turning from their sins and remaining faithful to Him to the end.  So then, will you be numbered among those who are mourning or rejoicing on that Day?  Will you seek your pleasure in this life or in the life to come?  Will you find your joy in remaining with those who are in rebellion against God or will you turn from your sins and trust in what Christ has done for you at the cross? 

The end is clear for the two groups: one will weep and wail, the other will sing and rejoice.  One group will finally see the folly of rejecting God, while the other will spend eternity rejoicing over His glory and grace.  My prayer for you this morning is that you belong to the latter.  My prayer for you is that you have turned from your sins and trusted in Jesus as your Savior and Lord.  If not, then let today be the beginning of your praise.  May you say with all of the saints: Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God!  Amen. 

1  Leon Morris, Revelation TNTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), p. 211.
2  G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), p. 916-17.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 11 June 2012 )

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