The Rise and Fall of Religion
March 8, 2016

The Book of Revelation

“The Rise and Fall of Religion”

Revelation 17

The next two chapters in our study, chapters 17 and 18, is what you might call the ending of the tale of two Babylons. This ending was predicted in the second angelic proclamation in Revelation 14.

“And another angel followed, saying, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’” (Revelation 14:8 NKJV)

False religions and godless governments have always been upon this earth, and they’ve existed in an uneasy alliance, that is, one cannot exist without the other, and with one or the other in a subservient role.

Today we’ll look at Babylon as a system of false religions, and in chapter 18 we’ll look at Babylon as a system of government, or a godless government.

False religion has done more to doom people than anything else. It makes promises it cannot keep, promises of life, salvation, peace, security, and a hope in some sort of life in the hereafter. But it’s false, a lie, and one big deception.

This chapter warns us about the false religion known as “Religious Babylon,” or that religious system that exists during this time of Tribulation.

Today we’re going to approach this chapter a little bit differently than we’ve done in the past. We’re going to read the first six verses and then explain them through the remaining verses, which is what John himself does.

Read Revelation 17:1-6

John said he, “marveled with great amazement.” That’s not something I’d imagine from John at this point. He just got finished seeing the last seven bowl judgments of God being poured out upon the earth, and the utter destruction that’s going to take place because of them. Can you imagine his state of mind seeing these horrors?

Yet one of the seven angels comes to him and in essence says, “If you think that’s bad, now I’m going to show you the judgment of false religion,” and seeing this vision John is in complete amazement. It’s as if the horror of the bowl judgments is quickly replace by the absolutely horrific vision of woman sitting upon the beast, drunk with the blood of the saints, believers in Jesus Christ.

John describes this woman as the great harlot. In the Bible harlotry stands for false gods and their worship, false devotion and religion, all of which the Bible equates to idolatry and religious apostasy, Jeremiah 2:20-21; Ezekiel 16:17.

Those who play the harlot are those who outwardly seem religious, who say they believe in the God of the Bible, but are untrue to this relationship. They’re people who outwardly carry the name of God, calling themselves “Christians,” but worship and serve other gods, like the god of money, power, possessions, pleasure, and the list goes on from there.

This is false religion. It substitutes counterfeit solutions to the problems that confront humanity, rather than taking them to God and the Bible.

So this harlot represents false religions, and the many waters she sits upon is explained in verse 15

“The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.” (Revelation 17:15 NKJV)

False religions don’t just exist in isolated geographical areas; rather they’ve existed throughout time and throughout the earth. Further, this reveals that this false religious system will be worldwide during the time of Tribulation.

But not only will this false religious system be over people, but over governments as well.

“With whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” (Revelation 17:2 NKJV)

Not only will people be caught up into this false religion, but also the world’s governments will support it. It’ll be a worldwide religion in support of the Antichrist and it will seduce the peoples and governments to its cause.

Billions of people will be caught up into this false religion, but this really isn’t so hard to believe since billions of people are following false religions and worshiping idols around the world today.

Think about it, how many people prefer to belong to a religion that preaches another god or gods other than the Lord God of the Bible, or they belong to a Christian church that allows worldliness and sin to abound and does nothing about it, preaching tolerance instead.

Notice now her clothing

“The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.” (Revelation 17:4 NKJV)

Religion is extremely wealthy and politically powerful. We see this in her clothing. Purple is the color of royalty, and scarlet represents luxury and splendor. Religious Babylon is wealthy beyond imagination, which isn’t hard to imagine when you consider the wealth of the major religions today.

Like today’s religions, Religious Babylon will horde her wealth, spending it upon herself, while the world around her is in desperate need, given the wars and God’s judgments that are being poured out.

Further, she holds in her hand a cup of abominations, which is what all false religions hold, and that is idolatry and false worship, which will bring destruction upon all who follow.

The description of the beast she is riding upon is the same one described back in chapter 13, which we saw is the Antichrist, and this is again confirmed in an unusual and somewhat confusing verse which we’ll unpack in our time together.

“And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.” (Revelation 17:11 NKNV)

The beast that was, and is not is part of the scenario spoken about at the end of verse eight where it says, “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” This is the Antichrist, his life, apparent death and resurrection from a mortal wound.

Further we see he is possessed and empowered by Satan, who we’re told, “will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition.” Both the Antichrist and Satan’s departure into perdition speaks of their future residence in the Lake of Fire, Revelation 19:20; 20:10.

The seven heads are described as seven mountains.

Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.” (Revelation 17:9 NKJV)

We’ll look at this in a moment, but these seven heads also refer to seven kings or kingdoms.

“There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time.” (Revelation 17:10 NKJV)

Some describe these kings as emperors of Rome, but there’s some difficulty because at this time there only had been eight emperors, making the ones John are referring to into a guessing game.

However, seeing them as kingdoms matches perfectly, because the five that had fallen are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The one that is references Rome, and the one to come afterwards is what is referred to as the Revised Roman Empire under the rule of the Antichrist. Since Rome there hasn’t been a worldwide ruling empire.

Now comes verse eleven, which is interesting. It says the beast, that is, the Antichrist, is the eighth. Not only is the Antichrist the ruler of the seventh kingdom, but also for all intent and purposes, he is a kingdom unto himself, but the reality is that it isn’t his at all, rather it’s Satan’s.

The ten horns are ten kings, but they are kings without a kingdom. Daniel reveals that three are actually toppled by the Antichrist, Daniel 7.

Exactly who these ten kings are have been greatly speculated upon.

  • Some point to them as being rulers of those nations of the European Economic Community, or what we refer to as the Revised Roman Empire. The problem is that that they have no kingdom, that is, they don’t rule over a nation, which they presently do, and there are presently over 10 nations within the EEC.
  • An interesting possibility is that presently there are ten major banking districts in the world, and as everyone know, money rules.
  • But it could be something else. At this point there’s no clear-cut answers.

But we need to get our eyes off the beast and onto the harlot, because that’s what this vision is all about. It’s about Religious Babylon who sits atop the beast.

Could this mean that a religious influence or power is over the Antichrist? Does Religious Babylon give the Antichrist’s kingdom a sort of spiritual cohesiveness? Does this mean that this false religion is being supported by and dependent upon the Antichrist and his state?

There always seems to be a connection between religion and state. So there seems to be a symbiotic relationship where both government and religion need each other to survive.

John also sees written on her forehead, “Mystery, Babylon the Great, Mother of Harlots and Abominations.”

Notice that her name isn’t “Mystery Babylon,” rather the word mystery describes who she is, and it’s the name that constitutes the mystery.

Babylon was where all religion began. Back during the time of Nimrod, it says that in defiance to God he built a tower to reach into heaven. It was an attempt to oust God and put humanity in His place.

From its inception the tower was associated with the religious practices of sorcery and astrology. This practice was kept by the Babylonians because we see these same religious practices when Babylon became a world power, as magicians, astrologers were considered the wise men and guided the kings and the empire.

These same practices are not only present in our day, but are on the increase with daily horoscopes and psychic hotlines and websites, transcendental meditation, yoga, witchcraft, Wiccan, and the like. Generically it’s called the New Age Movement. But there’s nothing new about it. It’s simply these same ancient religious practices dressed up in 20th century garb.

And today these practices are completely acceptable. In fact, many corporations are hiring New Age consultants trying to up their production through consciousness-raising techniques. One New Age consultant said, “It all started in Babylon folks.”

Now this next part is going to get a little bit dicey, but it needs to be explained, that Babylon the Great, Mother of all Harlots and Abominations could very well be centered in Rome, and may be either Roman Catholicism or an off-shoot.

There is remarkable similarities between the cult of Semiramis (Si-MIR-uh-mis), the wife of Nimrod, and part of the Babylonian religion, and the worship of Mary and aspects of Roman Catholicism, which can also be seen in other religious practices found around the world, like Islam, some dating back to when missionaries visited countries like India, Japan, and Mexico.

Now, rather than get involved in bringing up Roman Catholicism’s past and these various religious practices, I’ve chosen to just stay with the passage and the information it presents.

John referenced the woman sitting upon the beast whose seven heads were identified as seven mountains in verse nine. In ancient times Rome was known as the city of seven hills, which was even on its coinage. And in Revelation 17:18 the woman is called “the great city,” a reference also used of Rome during the time the Apostle John wrote down these words.

Now the reason I bring all of this up is that Babylon the Great is both a religion and a city, and being that the city on seven hills is Rome, and was identified as Rome by Tertullian in the late 2nd century, I believe that this describes the Vatican, which is the center of Roman Catholicism and is a city, country, and religion within the city of Rome and the country of Italy. Now, it doesn’t have to be Roman Catholicism per say, but this is where it’s centered.

Further Religious Babylon is responsible for the great holocaust of believers seeing that she is drunk upon their blood, which when you look at Roman Catholicism past, you see the same thing.

Now that we’ve looked at the rise of religion, let’s now look at its demise.

For a while the Antichrist will permit this one-world religion to rule, but what we see at the end of this chapter is that he’s biding his time, because both he and his government hate it.

Read Revelation 17:16-17

History reveals that no world leader has ever enjoyed being subjugated to religion and religious leaders. Our own president is living proof of this. Yet, there’s a sort of uneasy and self-serving alliance that goes on between the Antichrist and Religious Babylon.

And when this false religion has served its purpose and is no longer necessary, these kings who give their kingdoms over to the Antichrist, will turn on Religious Babylon and completely destroy her, making the Antichrist now the object of worship.

Notice the wording

  • They make her desolate: The wealth of the religion makes her destruction necessary. To keep the empire running and the need for the people to worship the Antichrist, they need the religion’s vast resources.
  • They strip her naked: They will expose her corruptions, showing the world their actions were necessary
  • They’ll eat her flesh: They’ll devour everything that she is, leaving nothing but the bones, and
  • They’ll burn her with fire: What’s interesting is that this is legal wording condemning those who commit detestable practices, Leviticus 20:14; 21:9, Joshua 7:15, 25.

And this all fits into what it says, “God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose.”

These kings without knowing it are fulfilling God’s purpose by destroying once and for all false religion and all her detestable practices.

What I believe is that the Lord is not into any religion or religious system, rather He’s into a personal relationship.

Jesus brings this out when speaking to the church.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20 NKJV)

Jesus doesn’t back a religious system; rather He comes into people’s lives who hear His knocking upon the door of their hearts, and then ask Jesus to come into their life to be both their Savior and Lord.

Further, this whole scenario should teach the church and Christians not to assimilate or associate with what is false. The Lord said,

“Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” (2 Corinthians 6:17 NKJV)

Today there seems to be a new movement stressing our need to get along and join with other religions, but we need to be careful not to fall into this ecumenical trap.

The Bible says, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14 NKJV)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “You cannot have unity without forsaking the truth, and to forsake truth for the sake of unity is to betray Jesus Christ.”

And so we need to take the Biblical admonition and come out from among all these other religions and be separate and be holy unto the Lord.

So when you hear those people who sound all pious saying how we need to join hands because we all worship the same God, don’t believe it.

Know that God is a jealous God and He won’t abide our playing the harlot by going after false gods, no matter how noble the purpose may seem. The Bible says,

Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.” (Deuteronomy 6:13-15 NIV)

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