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Fake Beauty and the Beast

Revelation 17:1-6
November 15, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

The sermon starts around 20:15 in the audio file.

Or, The Great Joyride of Unrighteousness

Series: Just Conquer Part 45


Because we are always becoming more of what we are, we’re not wrong to look down the road and see what’s coming. It’s as true for cultures and nations as it is for individuals.

God Himself promises to “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” His people (1 Peter 5:10), having chosen us in order “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). True Christians, are “by God’s power…being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). For all who believe, we trust that the testing of our faith makes our believing bolder, and the trials and contests increase our courage.

The reality works the other way as well. Hard hearts get harder. Willful bitterness swims into the deeper waters of Wormwood. Hatred mothers more hatred; the leech is never satisfied (Proverbs 30:15). Death produces more death, and the stench can be as thick as hell’s unquenchable smoke.

We are all becoming more of what we are. Christians are being made more like Christ, with more endurance and courage. Earth-dwellers are being made more like the world, more like the dragon, more hardened in sin against the Lamb. These next couple chapters of Revelation give a good look at what happens when God removes His restraining grace.

The apostle John isn’t the only one moved by the Spirit to write about such a day. The apostle Paul wrote about the time of “rebellion,” when “the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work,” and “the coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and be saved.” They are dying to death because they loved their life of lies. “God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12)

There is not only a man of lawlessness, there is likewise a woman that throws off all restraint.

Revelation 17 provides a vision of the great joyride of unrighteousness. It’s an international ride. The kings and the commoners embrace any lie necessary for a little more pleasure. This chapter is a “better” look, at least a more specific look at the world gone wild. It is a vision given by the Spirit to John to give to us. This is God’s message, these are God’s metaphors, this is part of the prophecy God wants us to hear and keep for sake of our blessing.

It shows the beauty and the beast, though the beauty is as fake as a successful Marxism, though more dangerous. Chapters 17 and 18 give this expanded explanation of the seventh bowl judgement. Per the end of chapter 16, all the bowls have been poured out, but these chapters fill in more about what it looks like when restraining grace is gone and why the bowl judgments are so fitting. Chapter 17 shows Babylon’s drunken “glory,” chapter 18 shows Babylon’s drunken ruin. Chapter 17 opens with the vision (verses 1-6) and then the rest of the chapter provides the interpretation (verses 7-18).

The Woman Introduced (verses 1-2)

We know that the bowl judgments of chapters 15-16 are connected to this scene because “one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came” to John (verse 1). This is one of the seven, not an extra angel, because “one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels” the bowls of wrath (Revelation 15:7). Perhaps it was the angel with the final bowl who invited John, and the same angel shows John a different woman in Revelation 21:9.

The angel said, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.” The key word in the vision, and through these couple chapters is, “prostitute” (ESV), “harlot” (NASB), “whore” (KJV). The Greek word is porne (πόρνη), which appears to be related to a Greek verb for “export for sale” (BAGD). It names a woman who sells herself (or was sold by another) for a man’s pleasure, which requires his cash rather than commitment. This sort of woman, and the sort of man who pursues her, cheapens the covenant and image-bearing joy meant for a married man and his wife. They do some of what a married couple would do, but without the vows, the love, the fruit, or the security of the household. A cognate noun or verb is used seven times just in this chapter to describe “sexual immorality” (ESV), “fornication” (KJV).

This is not the word for “adultery” (NIV); there is no covenant assumed or broken. Those who think the woman is unfaithful Jerusalem as an adulteress are wrong, even though Israel is called a harlot because of her unfaithfulness in the Old Testament.

This is the “great prostitute,” as in the “notorious” (HCSB) one, the infamous one. She is not actually one individual woman, though I’ve heard preachers make witty connections (and, apparently Mr. Biden is considering Mrs. Clinton for a U.N. Ambassador). It’s not the first time in the Apocalypse that a woman represents a group, and it’s not the last. The harlot is the great contrast with the Bride of the Lamb who is introduced to us in chapter 19. The joyride of unrighteousness with the prostitute pales in comparison not only with her longer judgment, but in comparison with the eternal gladness of the Bride. We’ll be able to identify this fake beauty as see more of the vision.

She “is seated on many waters,” which does have a geographical connection with the city of Babylon, named in verse 5, which sat on the Euphrates river (see also Jeremiah 51:13). But we’re told explicitly that these waters represent “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (verse 15). This woman has a leading, controlling, and seducing affect on people of the world.

She is the one “with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk” (verse 2). Like Dame Folly entices and intoxicates victims, so this dame makes fools out of national leaders, out of “kings” around the world. These great men commit great immorality for sake of the joyride. All the “dwellers on earth have become drunk” with her wine.

The kings of earth and the dwellers of earth are the worldly, and they know the world too well. I mean that in the way Scripture sometimes speaks of “knowing.” They are intimate with immorality. They are committed to pleasure, but it’s no marriage, there’s no long-lasting relationship or fruit. They are committed to themselves, they are committed to whatever gratification they can get.

The Woman Identified (verses 3-6)

To get this better look, John was “carried away in the Spirit into a wilderness.” The Spirit has brought him to heaven (4:2), will bring him onto a mountain (21:10), and now brings him into a desert. It’s a place of desolation, even a dwelling place of demons (18:2). Here John gets his own sight of the woman.

“I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.” This beast is the AntiChrist, the beast from the sea introduced to us in chapter 13. As I said then, I believe the beast is both the embodied representative and the realm of his rule. I also believe that the details here point to it being Rome, but not fulfilled with first century Rome or the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century. That Rome had a likeness to the final Rome, as do all anti-christian governments.

That the woman is “sitting on” the beast means that she has some control over the beast; she rides the beast. So whatever all she represents, it is something even bigger than the political power, though they ride together, for a while. The beast is a blasphemer, always, and we’ll see the significance of the heads and horns in the interpretation that follows in verses 9-10.

Back to the picture of the woman, she “was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls.” She is dressed in grandeur, dressed to look like prosperity and royalty. She makes her appearance as a real beauty, but her beauty is only a surface symbolism. Her charm is deceitful and her beauty is vile.

She held “in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.” “Abominations” refers to “something disgusting that arouses wrath,” a pollutant (BAGD). “Impurities” are things that “may not be brought into contact with the divinity,” the unclean (BAGD). She thinks she’s fine wine in a golden chalice when really she’s foul sewage in a dirty styrofoam cup.

Her name is now revealed: “On her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.'” That’s quite a name. But, who is it?

“Babylon” has been understood by some as just a symbol for paganism. Others understand Babylon to be a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church. Others who take it less symbolically apply the name to either a restored Babylon, or a (restored) Rome, and others even as a name for Jerusalem, about to be destroyed in AD 70.

I believe it is a reference to Rome, for reasons that will be clearer in the inspired interpretation of the vision starting in verse 7. But regardless, this is bigger than a city, or better stated, the city represents a variety of spheres beyond the political sphere—that’s the AntiChrist, and more than the religious sphere—that’s the false prophet. This “woman” is on her joyride with them. They’re running fast and dangerous all together.

Think of the idea of sphere sovereignty. We believe that we’re to honor Christ as Lord in every sphere, and here is what it looks like when God gives men over to the passions of their flesh in every sphere. This is not sphere sovereignty, this is sphere drunkenness, sphere fornication. All the spheres are in on it, government and religion, and business and banking and entertainment and technology and media. Oh, how the media are in on it.

As the “mother of prostitutes” she keeps pulling more and more into the family business. Matthew Henry wrote that she is:

> “not only a harlot, but a mother of harlots, breeding up harlots, and nursing and training them up to idolatry, and all sorts of lewdness and wickedness—the parent and nurse of all false religion and filthy conversation.”

It is absolutely a global conspiracy offering a stimulus package like the world has never seen. The woman seduces compliance and spreads her spiritually transmitted diseases. Like the “strange” woman in Proverbs, she leads men as an ox to the slaughter (Proverbs 7:22).

Speaking of slaughter, the woman has no place for any who won’t take her services; she’s not content to let them be. John “saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” Don’t think this so-called woman, this whore, doesn’t know about Bride (in Revelation 19). Her joyride of unrighteousness is a show, temporary and superficial pleasure at best. Her beauty is fake, she’s got to play dress up just to get attention. The whole ride is fueled by her resentment, against the Lamb and against those He loves. The prostitute is as insecure as a CDC proclamation and is jealous of the Bride’s purity and true beauty. She hates Him and hates the love He has for His redeemed and every blessing He gives and promises. The harlot will slander, cancel, chase down, persecute, exile, and kill those she wishes she could be deep down.

The second half of verse six is John’s response of being disturbed, and the angel responds with an interpretation of the vision of the woman.


When I said at the beginning that we are becoming what we will be, it applies to current dwellers on earth who give themselves to the world. The prostitute and the beast have been at work as long as there has been a “city of man” as Augustine called it. Anti-Christian hanky-panky is an old business, but it will come to a climax before Christ’s return.

How does such a “pessimistic” trajectory of the world fit with an optimistic and Kuyperian worldview?

First, the Logos made all that was made, Jesus is Lord of it all, and His people are supposed to live like it, which includes all the spheres. He gives, and He takes away, blessed be His name and His people. He glorifies His people by giving them success, and He glorifies His people by granting them courage to conquer in suffering. So it’s up to the God of heaven to give us the circumstances in which He wants us to acknowledge His Son’s Lordship. Here we are.

Second, the Father is making us jealous-able. He is preparing a Bride for His Son, and Christ’s sacrifice purchased our righteous clothes and our righteous joy and our splendor. We will be presented to Christ without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish. This process is already at work, and this process is a light to the world that draws the elect and antagonizes the bitter.

What we must not be is inattentive to God’s blessings, let alone giving intentional props to the dragon. We’re in a Garden-of-Eden-established battle with the serpent, and we win that battle in our worship of God and our thankfulness to Him for electing us to be part of the Bride and for His care and comfort and love.


As children of God, we remember this is our Father’s world. As the church of God, we remember that Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us that we might be sanctified, eventually presented to Himself in splendor. He nourishes and cherishes us because we are members of His body. You are being made jealous-able by His love, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.


> Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4, ESV)