THE BOOK OF REVELATION
THE CHURCH'S TRIUMPH THROUGH CHRIST
Sermon #55 - The Judgment of Israel the Harlot - Revelation 17
INTRODUCTION - The last two chapters of Revelation, along with the one we will be studying today, have dealt with basically the same theme - the judgment of Israel in the first century. Chapter 15 was a prelude to that judgment as the people of God worshipped while God prepared the bowls of wrath. Chapter 16 described the covenantal curse of the Old Testament poured out on New Testament apostate Israel. Revelation 17 will continue with that theme as Israel is described as a great harlot who will be destroyed by her one-time ally, Rome, the Beast. One of the great themes of Revelation for the church is that their persecutors, Rome and Jerusalem, would not triumph, but that both would be defeated by the Lord Jesus Christ. Covenantal blessings are poured out on the church while apostate Israel reaps covenantal curses. Here in Revelation 17 we are shown two figurative characters - the Harlot and the Beast. The Harlot is Jerusalem in her apostasy, while the Beast, as we have seen already, represents the Roman empire. Here we shall see how the Harlot and Beast are united together against the church, and yet at the end of the chapter the Beast will turn against the Harlot, destroying her. Such is the history of Jerusalem as we study it in the first century. Let us first consider -
1) ISRAEL DESCRIBED AS A HARLOT AND THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS - Revelation 17:3-6, 18 - We shall see later that when Israel turned away from the Lord in the Old Testament, she was likened to a harlot. John simply draws upon this theme showing how first century Israel had become like her predecessors. How can we say that the harlot of Revelation 17 is Jerusalem? First of all, she is called "Babylon" and there has only been one city in Revelation which has been given this name - Jerusalem. First century Israel had become like Sodom, Egypt and Babylon, for she was no longer the City of God. Also, we see that the harlot is drunk with the blood of the saints. This was the crime of first century Israel which both John and Christ condemn her for (Matthew 23:34-38). At the end of the chapter, the harlot is also called "the great city," which has been used to refer to Jerusalem throughout Revelation (Revelation 11:8). There is no question that the harlot represents apostate Jerusalem. She is pictured in royal robes (Revelation 17:4) and reigning over the nations (Revelation 17:15), for this was certainly the position of Israel in the covenant. God had called this nation out of paganism and turned her into His glorious City, adorning her with His jewels. As the City of God, she ruled over the world, yet all that would changed as God takes His kingdom from her and gives it to another. She will be left desolate. John is given this vision of Israel the great harlot for she is now going to be judged for her unfaithfulness to God (Revelation 17:1,2).
2) ROME DESCRIBED AS THE BEAST - Revelation 17:8-14 - We have already dealt with the identity of Rome as the Beast in Revelation 13. In this chapter we see the Beast being called forth to bring the judgment of God against Jerusalem. The Beast is describe as "the beast that was and is not, and yet is," which speaks of Rome's rise and fall during this time period. Under Nero, Rome was nearly destroyed, but she rises from the ashes to destroy Jerusalem. We have a reference to the "seven mountains" of Rome in verse 9, and verse ten describes seven of the emperors - five fallen (Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius), one who is (Nero), and one who will reign for a short time (Galba). Verse 11 shows us that the Beast (the whole empire) will survive the first century civil war in Rome. Finally, we see that the ten imperial provinces of Rome, ruled by its leaders, will be the ones to persecute the church, yet Christ will triumph over them. Rome will bow to the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet it is what happens at the end of the chapter between the Beast and the Harlot that is important. Rome had once been an ally of Jerusalem, but Rome will now turn against Israel, desecrating her and burning her with fire. This was certainly the end which Jerusalem met with. All of this, however, was to be seen as the great overriding purpose of God, who used Rome to pour out His covenantal curses upon apostate Israel of the first century (Revelation 17:17).
3) ISRAEL DESCRIBED AS A HARLOT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT - Jeremiah 3:1-13 - We must realize that this picture of harlotry is not new for Israel. God described Israel as a harlot in the Old Testament when she turned from Him, thus it becomes a fitting description for New Testament apostate Israel. Why does God use this imagery? It is because Israel had enjoyed the supreme position of the Bride of God. She had once been adorned with the glories of the Lord, and God became a Husband to her. She was the nation blessed above all nations. She had been placed under God's Covenant of Grace and found forgiveness, mercy and blessing with the Lord. Yet in Old Testament history, Israel became unfaithful to the Lord. She abandoned Him for idols and trampled His grace. She allied herself with foreign nations and pursued their gods. She was meant to be the Holy Kingdom, but now she had become like the pagan nations around her. God describes this foul behavior as harlotry. They had abandoned their true Husband for other men. The same was true of first century Israel who no longer worshipped the Lord, but rejected His Son and killed His people. This is why John uses the imagery of the harlot.
4) APPLYING ISRAEL'S SIN OF HARLOTRY TO OUR OWN LIVES - In the New Testament, Israel had met the point of no return. God had been supremely patient, but now it was time for judgment to fall. From Israel's example we see that there is nothing to be gained in forsaking the ways of God's Covenant of Grace. We are a people who know the grace and goodness of God. We have seen that the world is vanity. Yet when we sin against that grace, do we understand that we commit harlotry against God? Certainly the judgment of Israel should warn the church that God will not endure a people who continue to rebel against Him. Yet there is also much grace given in the message to Israel in Jeremiah 3. If we have played the harlot like Israel, let us carefully listen to God's message to "Return!" Perhaps, like Israel of old, it has been a long time since we have enjoyed the graces of God. Perhaps the Lord has allowed affliction to distress our souls (Jeremiah 3:3). He calls us to return to Him, and in this call we are reminded of all the graces which we had previously enjoyed under His care. He calls us back to the peace and pardon which only life with Him can provide. Why should we return to Him? It is because He is a merciful God (Jeremiah 3:12), and we are married to Him in Christ (Jeremiah 3:14). If we return to Him, He promises to heal us of our sin (Jeremiah 3:22) and rescue us from our iniquity. Thus, the call to Israel of old is still our call today. Let us acknowledge our sin (Jeremiah 3:13), for then we shall prove that we are His people, and then we shall once against taste the grace and forgiveness of our God. Israel of the first century refused to repent (Matthew 23:37,38), and thus their house was left desolate. Let us prove ourselves to be Christ's holy bride by repenting quickly and finding the grace and mercy of our covenantal God!