1 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. 2 With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” ~ Revelation 17:1-2
By nature, fallen human beings are religious. You might think this is good, but it is not. You see, religion is man's attempts to earn God's favor. But we can not earn His favor. In fact, we were made by God to worship Him. He made us to reach out to something beyond us. He made us with a longing and a restlessness and a desire and a capacity to relate to something that gives us meaning and purpose. Man is restless until he finds his rest in God. We were made with a God-shaped vacuum that only God can fill.
Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, when man rebelled against God, man started down this awful road of being defined by the accursed one. And since, we have lived according to our default worship mode. We still reach out for the supernatural but we no longer naturally long for God. In fact, the Bible says "no man seeks after God."
Immediately after the Fall, man began to live life with himself at the center of his world. And now, we live out of a religion that seeks to primarily accommodate ourselves. Our need for a relationship with God has been corrupted because of our love of self. And since, Satan has been accommodating religion in the heart of man. Religion begins with man while Christianity begins with Christ. In Revelation 17 we are, once again, given more details about this religion.
The final world empire of Satan will be ruled on this earth by the antichrist who will be assisted by the false prophet. This empire will be a military, materialistic, economic, and political kingdom. It will also be a religious one. As we will see, Revelation 18 will reveal the nature of the material side of Satan’s kingdom, whereas Revelation 17 will reveal the nature of its spiritual side. Revelation 18 will describe God’s judgment on Satan's material kingdom, and Revelation 17 will describe God’s judgment on his spiritual kingdom. In both cases Satan's kingdom is referred to as Babylon.
Now, you will notice that the chronology in these chapters isn't fluid. From the pouring out of the seventh bowl in Revelation 16 will be followed immediately by praise in heaven, recorded in Revelation 19, and then the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation 17 & 18 take us backward and describes for us not the judgment but what is being destroyed by that judgment, namely Satan's empire. In Revelation 17 we are looking at Babylon as the religious empire and its destruction.
In v.1 of today's text we read, "One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters."
Now, one of those angels will come and show John this great prostitute religion that sits by many waters. All major cities in the world are positioned in close proximity to water. This is partly why they have a certain measure of power. And, this Babylon or prostitute by nature will sit by many waters. This means the influence of Satan's kingdom will be global.
In Revelation 17:5, this kingdom is called, "Mystery Babylon the Great." It is called this so that we do not confuse it with some geographical location. Babylon will not be confined to any one city or place. It will be a movement and it will capture the minds and hearts of most. Mystery Babylon will be something deeper and broader and wider and more profound and more mystical than any physical location. In fact, here is an undisclosed Babylon, a secret reality to be revealed in its final form. This is Babylon beyond geography.
Revelation 16 ends just before Christ returns, but He will not return until Revelation 19. So, what we have here in Revelation 17-18 is a description of the religious system of the antichrist that will be on the earth before the return of Christ.
In Revelation 21:9 we read, "One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, 'Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.'"
This is God's reference to the true Church, the bride of the Lamb cleansed from every stain, from all defilement by the shed blood of the Lamb.
But, in today's text, we read of "the great prostitute, who sits by many waters." This great prostitute is a metaphor for false religion, being led by Satan himself. In the Old Testament there are several cities which are called prostitute cities because they were involved in idol worship.
In v.2 of today's text we read, "With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries."
This religion is referred to as a "prostitute" because these people will not know the God of the Bible, and they, therefore, will be not be His. They will not follow the God who created them, they will follow the god who is out to deceive them.
The word translated "adultery" is always used in the Bible as a symbol for idolatry. Whenever people in the Bible turn to other gods, rather than the true God, God calls it adultery. He describes these as those who have joined themselves to a prostitute.
Babylon the Great will be the mother of all idolatry. This final world religion will embrace all of the religions of the world, not including Christianity which is not even a religion. Whereas religion is man reaching to attain status with God, Christianity is God coming down to man to give him eternal life. This Babylon, of which John writes, is the very same Babylon that once gave birth to all of the prostituted religions of the world. Frequently, we discover, that throughout the book of the Revelation, women appear as symbols of religion.
So, Babylon the Great will give birth to all forms of false religions across the world, and she will be the mother of all religions. She gave birth to them all the way back in Genesis, and in the end they all will come home to her, because they will all have come from her.
In v.2 of today's text, John is not talking about real wine, and he’s not talking about real sexual immorality. He is talking about becoming a part of the false form of religion. They will all get drunk with it; they will all be intoxicated with passion for this religion that appeals to their flesh. Totally, passionately, and intensely, they will give their hearts to this counterfeit of what their hearts truly long for, which is a personal relationship with God Himself through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.