Revelation Session 5
One of the things that we are doing is dealing with Revelation as it was originally delivered but we’re also looking at the implications of it. And we commented about the fact that in the time in which you and I are living the Book of Revelation is actually being lived out all over again. Even humorists are picking it up. In the USA Today, just this last week, was a cartoon. I don’t know if you saw it or not. Some areas can expect up to a foot of frogs followed by lice, locusts, boils, darkness till the end of days. The Weather Channel is getting creepy!
We are living in times that are filled with the Biblical signs that the end could be near. We don’t know if it is or not, we don’t know the timing but it is always helpful and appropriate to be aware of the signs and to be looking for them. And so even a bit of humor in our social life together points the finger at the Book of Revelation.
So here we are studying this magnificent book and we are coming today to a section of the Book of Revelation that I choose to call “setting the stage.”
Setting the stage for the final days. Remember we have been through the cycles of judgment getting stronger and more pervasive each time. Last week at the end of chapter 16 we wrapped up this magnificently horrible picture of God’s judgment in full force. Now the tide is turning. We are going to see a complete change in attitude and message as we go now away from God’s judgment to God’s grace. And it ends with the most incredible vision of them all: the vision of the kingdom of heaven.
But what we are doing now is setting that stage for the final vision and John does it with the inspiration of Christ in a most unusual way. Remember we talked earlier in this series about the fact that Revelation is not a book of prophecy, it is a book of apocalypse. That is, it unveils what is ultimately going to occur. Prophecy speaks very specifically about the future but there are within the Book of Revelation certain pieces of prophecy, and that’s what we find here in chapter 17 today.
We are going to look at this thing verse by verse by verse as we have done in the past. But the fact of the matter is we are going to need to be aware of the context in which this occurs. Remember the people of Asia Minor have been subjugated under the iron fist of the Roman Empire. They are living in horrific times. And so, to begin the stage that moves toward the great hope which is ours as Christians, the Revelation prophesies the end of the Roman Empire. Does it very, very specifically long before that end actually occurred. And so as a result what we have here—and you’re going to see this as we move through the passages tonight. What we have here is a detailed description of precisely what is going to happen to the Roman Empire and then it ends with what I choose to call the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Handel and I agree. The “Hallelujah Chorus” is drawn from the beginning portions of the 19th chapter of Revelation and that’s where we signal the beginning of the final vision. So that’s how we will proceed tonight and we are going to begin at chapter 17 working verse by verse as we go.
“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 on many waters’.” I do note that we have some additions to the crowd tonight because last week I announced that this week we were going to be dealing with sex and we would be dealing with it in an R-rated manner and perhaps even a touch X-rated. Well, that’s what you see beginning here and now.
“I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute.” Some versions of the Bible say harlot. Some versions of the Bible actually say whore.
So it begins with a very graphic description of a woman. Now that leads me to remind you of a great truth that is here in the Book of Revelation. Remember we talked about Revelation being first and second Exodus the message being that God comes to demand that His people be set free. A series of judgments occurs and then His people are set free and ultimately make it to the promised land.
There is another similar image in the Book of Revelation. It has to do with three women. Now they are figurative women. The first of them we saw in the 12th chapter in the section that I choose to call “the Christmas story in Revelation.” There we see the woman dressed in the sun and that woman gives birth to a male child. Well, quite clearly that is the literal Mary and the literal Jesus.
But the woman dressed in the sun is also a figurative expression. That is the symbol for God’s entry into the human scene. God chose to come into our human experience, just as all of us do, through the birth of a woman. And so there is this cataclysmic, in fact, prediction that God is going to enter the world through the woman dressed in the sun. So the woman is the symbol of God’s entry into the world to deal with the evil that has been turned loose in the world that he originally had created good.
The second woman we encounter here: the great prostitute. Now, this is a figurative woman and we are going to see how John uses this picture to describe the political reality of the Roman Empire.
Before it is all said and done in this session we will encounter the third woman, the figurative woman, the bride of Christ. That’s the church. Those of us who are the children of God. So the message is God enters into the human scene just as all of us do, deals with the evil that’s there—figuratively the prostitute—and ultimately leads His people on to the promised land of eternal life. So the same picture is there repeatedly through the Book of Revelation. And what I want you to understand that would’ve been music to the ears of people who are under severe persecution. I submit it ought to be music to our ears as well that we are living under the power of that everlasting hope.
“I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters.” Remember the many waters, the sea, that’s the symbol of evil. All kinds of uncertainty there, all kinds of terrible things happen on the sea. The enemies have always come across the sea. And so the sea is the symbol of evil. “With her, the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”
An absolutely incredible picture. Once again, R-rated. He in essence is using sexual imagery to describe a political reality. That the kings of the other kingdoms on earth prostituted themselves before the ruler of the Roman Empire in order to “fornicate” with her. And so he gives this image that is so stark and so evil so that the people in Asia Minor will understand the depth of the power of what he is saying. “Then the angel carried me away in the spirit into a desert.” Please go back just a moment in your mind. Earlier we talked about desert of the wilderness being the place where you draw close to God, where you receive special protection from God. And so here, in essence, what’s happening is Christ knows that temptation is alluring. Just as alluring as a prostitute. And Christ knows that if we dabble with that allure we will get into trouble. And so he doesn’t even want John to see this vision without having a special protection. Now isn’t that a wonderful thought? God doesn’t want us to go around and dabble in evil or play games with temptation, but God recognizes that in this evil world sometimes we’re going to encounter that. And God always stands ready when we run slap up against temptation. God always stands ready to protect us, to send us into the desert where he can prepare us and protect us from that temptation, but we have to let him. That’s the critical element for us. But in essence, John is being protected here because he’s seeing a vision that is so real, so life-like that it could actually lure him into evil.
“There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast.” Scarlet, the color of blood. The beast, this is the beast that we dealt with earlier in the Book of Revelation which is the symbol of evil. And so this woman sitting on the beast was covered with blasphemous names.
Remember the Roman emperors demanded that people worship them as God. That’s blasphemy. And so this scarlet woman had on her forehead blasphemous names. Then we read, “Had 7 heads and 10 horns.” Once again you’re going to see this more clearly in just a moment. That’s always the symbol of the Roman emperor. Horns are power and the seven is a critical number because of the geography of Rome as we shall soon see.
“The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet and was glittering with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. This title was written on her forehead, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES, AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints.” Let me pause there just a moment to remind you: In the Roman Empire of that era and in particular, the city of Rome, women of the streets wore bands on their forehead which had their name carved upon it. Why? Advertisement. If you wanted to secure a prostitute for an assignation you hired her by her name which was on the band on her forehead. It was in essence a commercial. Only the women on the street had bands on their foreheads. Even the wealthy women of Rome did not dress with extraordinary ostentation. They dressed with some of that but not extraordinary ostentation. The women of the streets were over the top. They were decked out like nothing you could even imagine. They were, in fact, a walking invitation.
And so that is what he is portraying here. Remember we already learned from Revelation that Babylon is Rome. The first Babylon came and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the country of Israel and carted the people off into slavery. The second Babylon, Rome, has come to the new Israel—the people of the church, has destroyed Christian places and things, and has carted the Christians off into slavery and into evil. That is the message that is being delivered. And so John is portraying this image as a Roman woman of the streets. In essence, he is calling Domitian, the emperor, a floozy. Now he has called Domitian the most uncomplimentary things through the course of Revelation. He’s talked about him being a pip-squeak Apollo. He’s talked about him being a frog. He’s talked about him being like the herd of locusts. He’s talked about him in a variety of ways. But here he’s describing Domitian as a woman of the streets. The mother of all prostitutes. Yikes!
“Who was drunk with the blood of the saints.” The persecution in Rome was frightening and it was a persecution that spread throughout the then-known world. That persecution was directed against Christians. I do not wish to offend your sensitivities too much but let me give you some idea of the kind of persecution the Christians endured under the Roman authorities. They were sometimes tied hand and foot, wrapped about with the coats of wild animals, tossed out into the midst of a whole herd of famished wild dogs who then proceeded to tear them into pieces. They were staked out in the desert. Scorpions were placed all over them to sting them repeatedly until at long last the sun would cook them to death. Sometimes they were staked in the desert and massive boulders were placed upon their chests which then gradually, slowly squeezed the air and the life out of them. They sometimes were tossed into the arena to fight with wild beasts and with one another and always to fight to the death. They sometimes were burned at the stake or were crucified. I will tell you as ridiculous as the statement sounds, that those two forms of persecution were actually relatively merciful compared to the others. For example, one of the things that frequently happened to Christians, they would be seized, their bodies would be coated with tar and oil, they would then be nailed to crosses, the crosses would then be stuck into the ground and the tar and oil would be ignited with a flame. And those flaming Christians would then serve, Heaven help us, as grizzly tiki torches for Roman garden parties. I could go on and on. Some time you might wish to read the historical accounts of Tacitus the Roman secular historian who wrote of the horrendous persecutions the Christians endured. Wrote of it in detail. Talked about the fact that it finally became so repulsive that some non-Christians actually began to rebel against what was going on. They too then suffered the same fate as the Christians. And so you have this phenomenon of the Roman Empire and everybody associated with its power becoming drunk on the blood of the saints. The more blood they saw, the more they needed to see. The more blood they evoked, the more bloodthirsty they became. And that is exactly what was the experience of the people in Asia Minor. Little wonder that the Book of Revelation would’ve come to them as a sterling symbol of hope.
“When I saw her I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me, ‘Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides which has the 7 heads and 10 horns. The beast which you saw once was now is not and will come up out of the abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the Book of Life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast because he once was, now is not yet, and yet will come’.” Hoo! That will twist your brain! This calls for a mind with wisdom. I’ll say. The seven heads are the seven hills. Rome to this day is called the city of seven hills.
“On which the woman sits there are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other is not yet come but when he does come he must remain for a little while. The beast who once was and now is not is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.” Why don’t you try to preach on that sometime? How do we get to the bottom of it?
Let me give you another quick history lesson. I want you to have an understanding of the Roman emperors and how they unfolded through this particular point of the history of the world. We begin by looking at Augustus, Cesar Augustus. You will remember him from the Christmas story—in the days of Cesar Augustus. He reigned from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14. He was the emperor on the throne when Christmas occurred. He was followed by Tiberius who was in power when Jesus was crucified. He is one who set in place all of the political structures that ultimately led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Then there followed Caligula. You remember him from your history. He was horrible. Ah! But Claudius and Nero were worse and worse still. And so you have this amazing descent into evil.
I want you to understand that you will find some historians who try to paint Augustus as being a benign emperor. And I would be willing to concede that for the first two-thirds of his reign that was true but gradually power began to intoxicate him. He came to see himself as a God and he then set in place many of the structures which then were built upon by the others. Structures which ultimately led directly to the persecution of Christians. So he begins fairly well then descends.
And then we go down to Nero who was absolutely horrid each time worse than before. Nero, you remember, committed suicide—sword to the head, and there followed three people who attempted to become emperor: Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. Let me put it this way. They were miserable excuses for human beings and they were totally inept leaders. The longest-serving one of the three lasted only three months. Every one of them were there just for a very short period of time and then they were—how shall I put it? Disposed of. So if you go to any history of Rome you will find them mentioned as a postscript but they are not included in the train of emperors. They are discarded.
Then we come to Vespasian. He was reasonably benign, at least for the Christians in Rome. However, he permitted and encouraged horrific persecution of Christians out on the fringes of the empire, including Asia Minor. And so the people of Asia Minor had been dealing in a heavy way with the kind of persecution we’ve talked about. Titus, he was the general who moved into Jerusalem in 70 AD, destroyed the place, ultimately became a Roman emperor. He was rather bad but fortunately, I guess you could say, he wasn’t on the throne very long. He might’ve become even worse.
And then that leads to number eight, Domitian, the worst of them all. Remember the one who called himself Nero the Second, Nero Redivivus, Nero Reincarnated, Nero come back to life. That’s what he called himself. So there you have the Roman emperors in succession. There are eight but one of them is counted as two. Nero and Domitian because Domitian considered himself just Nero again living at a later time. And so you see that in the Book of Revelation here where it says, “The beast who once was and now is not is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.” Domitian, your days are numbered. And sure enough, you can see the date. So what we have here is this amazing language that captures the history that was actually going on in the world at that point in time and the people of Asia Minor would’ve understood it completely.
The 10 horns you saw as we continue the reading are 10 kings who have not yet received a kingdom but who for one hour—we’ll come later one to one hour and one day but right now it’s just one hour. What that means is for a relatively short period of time. Not a long time at all. And what’s fascinating when you go back and look at the history of the Roman Empire there actually were 10 client state or puppet kingdoms all of whom owed their existence to Rome and the rulers of which were puppets of the Roman emperor. There were 10 of those client states in the world at this point in time. And so it is very clear that he is saying that just as Rome is engaged in all this so are the puppet states of Rome engaged in that same kind of persecution and are going to suffer the same fate. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They serve the Roman emperor. “They will make war against the Lamb but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings.” There is that matchless phrase that means so much to all of us and would’ve meant just as much if not more to the Christians in Asia Minor.
“And with him will be his called chosen, faithful followers.” What a glorious picture. “The angels said to me, ‘The water you saw where the prostitute sits are people’s multitudes, nations, and languages. The beast and the 10 horns you saw will hate the prostitute, they will bring her to ruin and leave her naked, they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.’” I said this was going to get graphic. Here is the picture of evil cannibalizing itself. That is the way evil works. Evil always ultimately destroys itself. In a person’s life, in a nation’s life, in the world’s experience whenever evil takes hold gradually it will destroy itself. It will eat itself alive. That’s the way evil is. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish His purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule until God’s words are fulfilled. There’s the permission. This is going to exist until God is ready to bring the final expression of His grace.
The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth. Rome. Prophesying the destruction of Rome. He goes on, “After this, I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. With a mighty voice, he shouted, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon The Great. She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird for all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.'” Picture Rome. “And then I heard another voice, the hour this time points to the church, ‘Come out of her’. That’s Rome. ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins. Come to Jesus Christ.'”
Now a quick parenthesis here. This verse has often been used as a justification historically for Christians to withdraw from the world. To become hermits, and recluses, and monks. The monastic movement of the fourth century in the Roman church, the monastic movement took as its marching order this verse from the Book of Revelation. Come out of the world, get away from the world, don’t be stained by the world. But that’s not really the message here because it says, “Do not share the sins of the world.” That’s the way you come out from the world. You set yourself apart by the way you live not by retreating from the world. You remember how Paul says, “We are to be in but not of the world”? Paul is saying the same thing. Dare to be different in your life. Live in the world, yes, but dare to be different in your moral and spiritual approach to life. That’s what sets you apart. That’s how you come apart from the evil that is in the world.
“So that you will not receive any of her plagues for her sins are piled up to heaven and God has remembered her crimes. Give back to her as she has given.” Rome is going to get it full-bore. “Pay her back double for what she’s done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup. Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart, she boasts. I sit as queen. I am not a widow and I will never mourn.”
In the margin of your Bible, write Isaiah 47. There Isaiah is predicting the ultimate demise of Babylon and he describes Babylon as a queen who sits there in solitary splendor and says, “I will have no—I will not be a widow and I will never have children who die.” That’s Isaiah 47. So he is taking the first Babylon and reporting the word of God now for the second Babylon, Rome.
“She will be consumed by fire for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment they will stand far off and cry.” Now in this next section here we’re going to have three times the same words. “Woe, woe, oh great city. Woe, woe, oh great city. Woe, woe, oh great city.” It’s rather like the tolling of a bell. When a bell tolls that’s the signal of death. This is the tolling of the bell over Rome. Death is on the way. “Woe, woe, oh great city. Oh, Babylon, city of power. In one hour, your doom has come.” We talked about one day, now we’re talking about one hour. One hour’s a very short period of time.
It’s absolutely amazing to watch this unfold in these next verses. “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over here because no one buys their cargos anymore.” Here follows an amazing description of the economic structure of the Roman Empire. It’s uncanny. Rome existed on imports. Rome could not produce anything for herself. That is why the empire had to spread, had to conquer territories over the then known world in order to suck out of those territories the resources they needed and wanted in the capital city and its immediate environs. And so that is what the picture painted here really is.
And listen to this, it’s absolutely amazing. “Cargos of gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls.” Gold and silver. Gold and silver came both from the Middle East and from farther east, in what we know today as Iraq. Part of Iraq today was a part of the Roman Empire. Pearls came from Asia Minor. That’s where these Christians were located. Fine linen, purple silk and scarlet cloth. You remember the story of Lydia in the New Testament who came from Thyatira. A city in Asia Minor. That’s where they had these exquisite dyes and all of the great clothing materials that the Roman people wore came directly from Asia Minor. Asia Minor was a textile state as South Carolina once upon a time was. Every sort of citron wood. Citron wood is native to Africa. It is used in making exquisite furniture. The northern portion of the African continent fell under the rule of the Roman Empire. “Articles of every kind made of Ivory.” Also from Africa. “Costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble. Cargos of cinnamon and spice, incense, myrrh, and frankincense.” All of those things you know came right from what we call today the Holy Land. “Wine and olive oil, fine flour and wheat.” There are massive wheat-growing areas to this day in Eastern Europe. Part of that was conquered by the Roman Empire because of the breadbasket effect that was desired. “Cattle and sheep, horses, and carriages.” Cattle and sheep and horses came from what you will remember from your history books as Gaul. G-A-U-L. That’s France. The Romans conquered present-day France in order to secure the livestock they needed.
And then worst of all, bodies and souls of men. In essence, what he’s saying here is all of the things that you’ve depended on are going to be gone. And the worst thing that you’ve done is not only to suck commodities out of the territories you conquered but you sucked people out of them as well. Please, please, please don’t let anybody tell you that the Bible does not come down full-bore against slavery. I could point you to any number of places, but this is one of them. In essence, he is saying here one of the things that the Romans have done is to enslave other people. Conquer territory, cart them off as slaves, use their bodies, use their souls. You see they not only were servants they were also entertainment. That’s where so many of the persecutions came from. Hideous entertainment. The lowest form of human subjugation was visited upon them and most of the slaves in Rome were Christians. That’s where they became slaves. They were labeled as Christians, carted off into slavery. In fact, at the point in time where the Revelation was written, the city of Rome was more than one half—more than one half of its population was slave, and the vast majority of those were Christians. And so in essence he is condemning Rome. Not only for taking commodities which did not belong to them but worst of all sucking the life out of human beings whom God has made many of whom wore the sign of the cross.
“They will say the fruit you long for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered. The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand afar off terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn and cry out, ‘Woe, woe, oh great city.'” The bell continues to toll. “Every sea captain and all who travel by ship, the sailors and all who earn their living from the city will stand far off. When they see the smoke of her burning they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ They will throw dust on their heads and with weeping and mourning cry out, ‘Woe, woe, oh great city.’ Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea and said, ‘With such violence, the great city of Babylon will be thrown down never to be found again.'”
The Roman Empire once destroyed never returned. Hasn’t returned till yet. Mussolini in modern times called himself the new Roman emperor. There has been no resurgence of the Roman emperor or empire. Listen to how this is so poetic describing how Rome ends. “The music of harpists and musicians, and flute players, and trumpeters will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again. The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world’s greatest men. By your magic spell, all the nations were led astray. In her was found the blood of the prophets and of the saints and of all who have been killed on the earth.” The end. The end of Rome.
Here’s the point. This is so critical. I want to take you back to the tail end of verse 20. God has judged Rome for the way she treated you. He is speaking to the Christians. God will always judge any entity on this earth which seeks to stop, malign, mistreat, abuse, persecute His people, sooner or later. And I would ask you simply to walk through human history and watch it unfold. Wherever there have been entities set on destroying the Church, eventually they have fallen. “Fallen, fallen is Babylon The Great. Woe, woe to the great city.” The hope is unmistakeably clear.
And as a result, the heavens resound with a “Hallelujah Chorus.” Before I start this, hallelujah is a great word for us. It’s a great word and we use it a lot. Do you know how many times the word hallelujah appears in the Bible? Four. Count them. Four. They are right here in this very passage. The only four times in the Bible the word hallelujah occurs. Hallelujah literally means—hallelu is praise. Jah is the shortened form of Jahweh—God. That’s the Hebrew God. Jahweh. Hallelu-jahweh, praise the Lord. So when you said “hallelujah” you’re saying praise the Lord. And that’s exactly what’s happening here. The judgment has been portrayed. Rome’s prophecy is there before them and what I want you to do is now to grasp how this has been fulfilled so that the angles indeed can sing “hallelujah.” Remember the prediction of the fall of Rome in 17 and 18. Piece by piece by piece. It says it’s going to happen slowly over a period of time. The sexual mores of Rome are going to disintegrate. People are going to give themselves to the destruction of marriage and to the practice of homosexuality and all kinds of other things. Corruption will mark the political authorities. There will be acquisition at the cost of human lives. Everything that you can think of is going to happen. gradually that’s going to happen in Rome. But then that’s the one day that’s coming. But then one hour suddenly it’s all going to end.
Go back and read your history book. I know I keep telling you to do that. In the year 410 A.D. in the month of August, in one week, suddenly Alaric the Goth with his massive hordes of followers swarmed down from the north and leveled the city of Rome. The Book of Revelation written at the end of the first century predicts almost exactly the fall of Rome that would occur in 410 A.D. Little wonder that the angels start to sing hallelujah. Salvation and glory and power belong to our God for true and just are His judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of His servants. He is going to take vengeance for all of the persecution of His people throughout human history. That’s the reason for judgment. That’s the reason for God’s judgment.
“And again they shouted, ‘Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.’ The smoke from her goes up forever and ever. The 24 elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God who was seated on the throne and they cried, ‘Amen.’ This is true.” Remember we learned that earlier. “‘Amen.’ This is true.” Hallelujah, praise the Lord.
“Then a voice came from the throne saying, ‘Praise our God, all you His servants. You who fear Him both great and small.’” You and I fall into the category of small. There are some others who fall into the category of great but the good news is that before the throne of God we shall all be the same, great and small. “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters, like the loud peels of thunder shouting, ‘Hallelujah.’” And here is the great Hallelujah Chorus: “‘For the Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him the glory for the wedding of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.’”
Here’s the third woman. The woman clothed with the sun: Figurative God’s entry into the world through Mary. The prostitute, the garish prostitute, the symbol of evil. The bride of Christ, His people, resplendent now by the grace of our Lord.
“Fine linen, bright and clean was given her to wear.” Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints. “The angel said to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.”’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.’” I want to pause just a moment and I want you to look at what I choose to call the beatitudes of Revelation. I said earlier that there are seven of those beatitudes in Revelation. They are sprinkled throughout the book of Revelation. There are seven beatitudes in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. So Jesus delivers seven beatitudes in His earthly ministry. And then in His resurrected ministry, He delivers seven more beatitudes. And what I want you to do as you look at them—you see one in Revelation 1:14, 16, 19, then 20, and then the 2 and 22. But in any case, all of these begin with the word blessed. So it’s a great thing to go to your bible and just underscore the word blessed. Blessed, happy, that’s the way it begins. This is a genuine call to the blessed life of true joy in Christ. And each one of these has a significant message for us as Christians today. One of the things I’d actually encourage you to do is to sit down and take one of the seven beatitudes of Matthew and one of the seven beatitudes of Revelation each day. One week, seven days. Take one each day. Read them together. They’re not tied together in terms of content. But what you do is you get the impact of all 14 and there is a very powerful message contained therein. So I would encourage you to become familiar with the beatitudes of Revelation and I would encourage you to build those into your own devotional life.
“At this, I fell at His feet to worship Him but he said to me, ‘Do not do it. I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus.’” Now he’s beginning to come out with Jesus. He is saying the name of Jesus. This is an angel. The angel is saying to John, “Don’t worship me.” He was tempted just to fall down and worship the angel. Well, I would be too. But the angel says, “No, no, no, no. The focus of your worship is God. The focus of your worship is God.” And so that is what ends this particular section and we then move to the ultimate picture of God’s grace.
The stage is set for the last days. The picture we have here is an incredible one. It’s the picture of the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Some of you have heard of, or know, I have been blessed in my life to know her, a woman named Joni Eareckson Tada. She is a magnificent heroine of the Christian faith in our time. When she was 17 years of age she suffered a diving accident, broke her neck, and left her as a quadriplegic. She has lived the succeeding forty-plus years totally confined and useless physically up to a point. She is in a wheelchair constantly. Her disability has not kept her from writing nor from painting. She paints with the brush in her teeth and does her painting in that manner. Hasn’t kept her from speaking for her Savior which she does magnificently. Hasn’t kept her from praising the Lord. Hallelujah.
In a circumstance like that where everything is wrong and she praises the Lord. Her disability also did not keep her from getting married. She married Ken. Ken Tada. I’d love to share with you now the description that Joni Eareckson Tada gives of her wedding. She recognized that the circumstances of the wedding were going to be very difficult. And so a ramp was constructed in the church all the way from the foyer all the way up the steps onto the chancel platform. It was her intent to drive her motorized wheelchair down that aisle and up onto the altar. All she can do—her arms are useless. All she can do with two fingers is punch the power stick on her wheelchair. But she was determined to “walk herself down the aisle.”
She had in her mind that she wanted this to be an ideal wedding day. She actually wanted it to be “something that might appear as a picture in Brides Magazine,” she said. And so what did she do? Well, the wheelchair. And ugly, awkward, clunky thing. She had fine wire mesh placed over the wheels. And then she got a magnificent white wedding gown. And it was cut in such a way that it fit her trunk of the body and then it flowed out over the wheels of the chair. The mesh kept the dress from getting cranked up in the wheels. She wanted to glide down the aisle looking like a bride in the magazine. She recognized this was going to be difficult. She also wanted a bouquet. Her hands do not really work. Her arms don’t work. And so she had a bouquet made and she placed it in her lap. She felt that she was ready. And so she moved her chair out just to where she could sort of see up the ramp to the chancel and there she saw Ken standing straight, tall, dressed in his formal attire. She felt overwhelmed at that point. She actually said, “I have to tell you I felt like a float in the Rose Parade .” And then she looked down and in the movement, a horrible, ugly, black smear of oil and grease from the wheelchair now covered the front of her wedding gown. She was so disconsolate that she slumped. The bouquet of flowers slipped out of her lap. One flower managed to snag on the little lever brake on the wheelchair and the rest of it was just dangling there in the air.
She felt heartsick and the tears began to come to her eyes. And then she said—let me read you what she said, “When I saw Ken standing there looking to me like a Greek God or a Hollywood movie star my face grew hot, my heart began to pound, our eyes met and amazingly from that point everything changed. How I looked no longer mattered. I forgot all about my wheelchair. Grease stains, flowers out of place. Who cares? No longer did I feel ugly or unworthy. The love in Ken’s eyes washed all of that away. Suddenly I was the pure and perfect bride. That’s what Ken saw. And when I saw the love in Ken’s eyes that’s what changed me. I tell you it took great restraint from me not to jam my power stick into high gear and race down the aisle to be with my groom.”
She said, “When I saw him I forgot about myself.” You and I are the bride of Christ. Oh, we don’t look like Brides Magazine, do we? We’re all stained and painted with sin. We’re messed up. We all carry a bucket load of stuff: guilt, sin remorse, regret. The list goes on. We don’t look like very much but we are the bride of Christ. And one day at the wedding feast of the Lamb we’ll look down the aisle and there we shall see the valiant son of God standing straight and tall and true and we will see His hand come up and He will motion to us and he will say, “Come to me, my bride.” And then suddenly when we see Him we forget about ourselves. It won’t matter what we look like or who we are or how we failed or where we’ve gone astray. The only thing that will matter is the call of the Bridegroom. “Come to me, my beloved.”
Dear friends, you may think that the only things that really matter in this world are social power, or political power, or economic power, or military power. You may think that the only things that really count are education and culture, and wealth, and possessions but the Book of Revelations says no. No. A thousand times no. Ten thousand times ten thousand times no. The Book of Revelation says, “The day will come when all of those things are gone. Gone as the excesses of Babylon the mother of all prostitutes. Gone. There’s only one thing left. Only one thing that really matters. Only one thing that lasts. Only one thing that is permanent. It is the Lamb and those who belong to the Lamb.” So I ask you, do you belong to the Lamb?
God bless you. Go in peace.