Reading: Revelation 17:1-18
When I read the book of Revelation sometimes the words are so vibrant that I can see the pictures in my mind’s eye vividly, like today’s. Revelation began with a powerful image of Jesus – one that is both beautiful and memorable. Here we have another vivid picture: the Woman on the Beast.
Throughout scripture false religion has been identified with adultery and prostitution. Fertility gods, vestal virgins, shrine prostitutes, even sexual orgies intended to stimulate the gods to action were all common elements of the religions around Israel; the influence of these practices frequently impeded the faithfulness of Israel. In the opening chapters of Revelation, the Seven Churches have been warned not to associate with the Nicolatians – a group for whom anything goes, and to avoid Jezebel even to the point of death. Idolatry in the Old Testament was associated with immorality because the worship of false gods was not only in violation of God’s covenant relationship with Israel but was like ‘cheating‘ on him in its unfaithfulness, (Ezekiel 16 demonstrates this link powerfully). To abandon God in favour of other spiritual relationships is adultery on a cosmic scale.
In this chapter what we see is false religion combined with political power. The woman rides the beast which “once was, now is not and one day will be”, this returning political and religious empire causes worldwide astonishment. The beast has with it the power of kings who have gladly bowed down before it to give it their power.
For the original hearers this imagery would have undoubtedly brought to mind Rome – as it was both a powerful worldwide empire and the centre of emperor worship. Simon Woodman writes,
“The manifestation of this ‘great city’ in John’s own day is clearly found in the city of Rome, together with the empire that accompanied it. But his failure to name the city indicates that John wants Rome to be understood as simply the most recent expression of the ancient underlying force of corrupt and corrupting empire, best symbolised as Babylon: the whore and the beast. ” (The Book of Revelation p.52).
For the seven churches and early church, which were striving to remain pure under the seductive power of Rome and false religions, the image of the woman being destroyed would show them that the seeds of Rome or Babylon’s destruction were already at hand. Most importantly, they should continue to stand firm because in the end Lamb wins! (19:1-3)
One of the boldest claims that early Christians made was that Jesus Christ is Lord, not Caesar! If Jesus Christ is Lord, then no one else is, including Caesar. I guess the closest analogy we have in our day of political systems exerting power over what people believe and think would be some Islamic Countries and Communist states such as Saudi Arabia, Somalia or North Korea. These counties have systems that ban freedom of religion and demand and enforce some form of state sponsored faith whether it be Islam, atheism, or bowing down to a particular leader. Andrew Wilson writes,
“In our lifetime, numerous Russian and Chinese Christians have died and been imprisoned because of this obvious truth: If Jesus Christ is Lord, then the Communist Party is not. In 1972, twenty-year-old Ivan Moiseyev joined those who, by their lives and deaths, showed that the lordship of Jesus could not be shared: “‘I will never agree to remain silent about God.’ … His guards continued to interrogate him, trying to get him to deny Jesus. They put him in refrigerated cells. They clothed him in a special rubber suit, into which they pumped air until his chest was so compressed he could hardly breathe.… A few days later, his body was returned to his family. It showed that he had been stabbed six times around the heart. He had wounds on his head and around the mouth. There were signs of beatings on the whole body. Then he had been drowned.” Ivan Moiseyev, like thousands of others from Stephen onward, was killed because of four words: Jesus Christ is Lord. We can believe those words, but it is only when we are prepared to die for them that we really know what they mean. If Jesus is Lord, then no one else is.” (Incomparable p.180)
Is Jesus Christ your Lord?
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego said,
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Father, today I bow down before you and no other. Forgive me that often things get in my way and I fail to see you rightly. Please Lord, let me worship you wholeheartedly as you have revealed yourself. Remove from me any trace of false religion and idolatry. Please, by your Spirit may I have strength to overcome just as Shadrac, Meshach and Abednego and follow you alone with great faith and resolve. In Jesus name. Amen.
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