Worldly Seduction - Revelation 17

 

            I love bacon cheeseburgers. Almost every time I go out to eat and do not order a bacon chesseburger I regret it. The best burgers have the highest quality of meat. Most restaurants try to lure me to their restaurant with the promise of grass-fed, angus beef and they usually win. Scientists and farmers are always working on trying to improve the quality of the meat. Scientist Temple Grandin did research on how to kill cows gently. When animals experience high stress at their death they produce hormones that lower the quality of the meat. In Grandin’s research, she discovered how to eliminate the stress of a cow’s death. Her findings were summarized by Russell Moore in his book, Tempted and Tried,

Workers shouldn't yell at the cows, [Grandin] said, and they should never use cattle prods, because they are counter-productive and unneeded. If you just keep the cows contented and comfortable, they'll go wherever they're led. Don't surprise them, don't unnerve them, and above all, don't hurt them (well, at least until you slit their throats at the end).

Along the way, [Grandin] devised a new technology that has revolutionized the ways of the big slaughter operations. In this system the cows aren't prodded off the truck but are led, in silence, onto a ramp. They go through a "squeeze chute," a gentle pressure device that mimics a mother's nuzzling touch. The cattle continue down the ramp onto a smoothly curving path. There are no sudden turns. The cows experience the sensation of going home, the same kind of way they've traveled many times before.

As they mosey along the path, they don't even notice when their hooves are no longer touching the ground. A conveyor belt slightly lifts them gently upward, and then … a blunt instrument levels a surgical strike right between the eyes. They're transitioned from livestock to meat, and they're never aware enough to be alarmed by any of it. The pioneer of this technology commends it to the slaughterhouses and affectionately gives it a nickname. [Grandin] calls it "the stairway to heaven."

Grandin discovered that novelty de-stresses cows. “The key is to keep everything in their lives feeling and looking as normal and natural as possible.” This is a warning to us of how the world desires to subtly and calmly bring us to a gentle, yet complete destruction. Moore adds,

Forces are afoot right now, negotiating how to get you fat enough for consumption and how to get you calmly and without struggle to the cosmic slaughterhouse floor. The easiest life for you will be one in which you don't question these things, a life in which you simply do what seems natural. The ease of it all will seem to be further confirmation that this is the way things ought to be …. You might feel as though your life situation is like progressing up a stairway so perfect it's as though it was designed just for you. And it is. In many ways the more tranquil you feel, the more endangered you are.[1]

Do not be deceived, the world and its desires will meet a sudden and complete end and they desire to take as many as they can with them.

            It is so easy to be seduces and distracted by the world. John reminds us this morning to fight against seduction of the world, for its end is sure. I pray that God would awaken us from the world’s seductive slumber, so we can live as the called, the chosen, and the faithful of the Lamb.

            John closes the bowl judgment sequence and begins to conclude his letter to the seven churches of Asia. In these last 5 chapters, he shows the end of the city of man and the city of God. When we see the reality of the coming judgment our choice should be easy, but the world is seductive and can catch any of us in her grips. Revelation 17:1, “Then one of the seven angles who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers of the earth have become drunk.” The identity of the prostitute is defined at the of the chapter, “And the woman you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”  (Rev. 17:18) Therefore, the prostitute is a representative or an embodied of the city that stands against God.

In John’s day, it would have been Rome. As John already has warned the churches to stand against Rome’s powerful, seductive influences. John hints that the woman is not only Rome, for in verse 5 the name of the woman is, ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” Babylon, the great evil city that persecuted Israel, and Rome, the great city that persecuted Christians, are representing the city of man that stands against the purposes of God. There are abominations in rural villages and small quaint towns. Sin is rampant everywhere in our world. Even though sin is everywhere, cities flaunt and revel in sin. New York city comes alive at night and it is known as the city that never sleeps. The streets are alive with people soaking up all the world has to offer. From music, to booze, to sex, the city is known for sin. Las Vegas has even adopted the name, “Sin City.” “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” In developed countries, almost 75% of the entire population lives in cities.

John is probably not referring to a literal sexual immorality, but a spiritual infidelity to the Lord. He uses the same language in Revelation 14:8, “Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” Sexual immorality was often a metaphor in the Old Testament to spiritual adultery. Although it often includes literal sexual immorality, it is not limited to it. The city of man represents the desires of man that stand against the Lord. The influence of the city is vast and will lead many to destruction. Revelation 17:1 says that prostitute or city is over many waters later defined as in Revelation 17:15 as the peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. The city wants to pull all she can into her web to slowly be fatten for the slaughter. We must wake up to her ways and stand firm in the Lord. How does this worldly city seduce us?

Seduction of Power

            Power is intoxicating. Power is dangerous. It is unlikely (albeit possible) that any of us will have the kind of positions that are national or international positions of power. Although we may not possess high levels of power, we are still in danger of being seduces by it. The prostitute led many in her path. Notice verse 6, “When I saw her, I marveled greatly.” The woman was impressive and powerful. Power has a way of impressing people. It is one of the reasons why when people meet a celebrity or a politician, people often do not know what to say. They become silent in their presence. The city of man is powerful and wants all to follow it. Listen to the angel’s response to John, Revelation 17:7–14

But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

I love that question from the angel, “Why do you marvel?” The world, those who dwell on the earth or those names are not written in the book of life, marvel at the power of the world. We are called to be in the world and not of the world. We marvel at the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and his victory over sin and death. He has the true power. Why would we marvel at those who hate the Lamb and the followers of the Lamb? You can respond to power as a believer or an unbeliever; in faith or in sin.

            The is much debate on who are the seven kings, the five who have fallen and the two more, the one who is and the other who is yet to come. Some believe these represent actual kings and/or empires. It is hard to decipher with any accuracy who they are referring to. The seven heads referring to the seven mountains is most likely a reference to Rome which was a city built on seven hills. It was a common description of ancient Rome that the 1st century audience would have identified. I see the numbers of the seven kings and the ten kings as symbolic representing all the cities of man that stand against the Lord which will culminate with the Anti-Christ and his reign. He is one who is and is not and is to come an imitation of the Lord Jesus. Jesus said in Revelation 1:18, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.[2]” The Anti-Christ will appear mortally wounded and come back “seemingly” from the dead cultivating a worldwide following. The angel warns John that there are future evil reigns coming after Rome. Powerful leaders will continue to encourage rebellion against God and rejoicing in sinful, spiritual adultery.

America loves power. We do not rejoice in weakness but marvel power. Whether it is in politics, sports, movies, or even the church, America loves celebrity. The power of celebrity drives sales and votes in America. As I heard earlier this week, America loves to back a winner. It is true. Our culture loves power. We may hate those in power, but the extreme emotions towards those in power reveals our love of that power. The woman, the city of man, has power of many waters, peoples, nations and languages. Are you being seduced by that power? Do you long for recognition by the world?

            Power is seductive. Are you being seduced to put longer hours in at work to gain approval by those in power? Are you being seduced to agree with certain false ideologies of your boss or maybe the leader in your friend group? Or maybe another way to discover who has power over you is who are you trying to please? Pleasing others is not inherently sinful, but it may reveal the influence others have over you.

              The prostitute in Revelation 17 will garner a world wide following only to meet a sudden end. Revelation 17:16-17, “And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” Evil will turn against evil. Power is intoxicating, and it is short-lived. Do not desire power or seek approval by those in power but honor the Lord whose power is supreme and eternal.

Seduction of Popularity

            The seduction of popularity is slightly different than power, because it appeals to our desire for affirmation. No one likes to be the odd man out. It is a lonely place to stand for truth. I often find myself defending biblical ideals that make me unpopular in certain circles. It is tiring. The reason I do not want to speak is not wholesome, but selfish. I want to be liked. And because I want to be liked, I must fight for the desire to speak the truth even if it makes me unpopular. And most of my settings where I have to speak up and defend biblical truth are around fellow pastors and Christian brothers and sisters. Many of you have will face unpopularity at work or in your home. Will you choose to be unpopular for Christ? Will you choose to the truth over applause? I am not talking about speaking in a way that will make you not liked on purpose. Of course, speak with grace and sincerity, compassion and love, but do not be afraid to be unpopular for the sake of Christ.

Seduction of Peace

            One of the subtle seductions of the world is to keep the peace in social settings. We do not want to ruffle any feathers or upset anyone, so we may not say something that needs to be said. Jesus did not come to bring peace, but division. All of Revelation speaks to God dividing the world into the followers of the Lamb and the followers of the beast; those who dwell on earth and those whose names are written in the book of life. Are we willing to intentionally upset the peace in our families or among our friends for the sake of the gospel and morality?

            Many of us will not speak up against abortion because people may disagree with us and may create tension. Abortion is murdering children. Break the peace for the sake of boys and girls made in the image of God. Many of us will not speak up against homosexuality because we may offend someone. Those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God. Break the peace for the sake of men and women who will stand before God in judgment. Many of us will not speak up against cohabitation or drunkenness. Will not speak up against view immoral tv shows or listening to immoral music. We want peace in our relationships, but if your keeping the peace hurts someone else, then you do not have a good relationship. Speak up.

            These is why God has given us each other. God gives us the church to refine us and mold more into his image. It is to have friends and brothers and sisters who love us and whose words can be trusted. God wants to speak truth to us to remove our wrinkles and blemishes, so we can better reflect Christ. When was the last time you asked a close friend if there was any bad habits or sinful practices in your life? And if a friend came to you out of concern, would you have the humility to listen?

            The message of Christianity is not “be moral.” The message of Christianity is that we are all immoral and need a Savior. We are sinners who have wronged a holy God and will face certain punishment if we do not repent of our sins and trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf. He was the only moral person. He was good in the biblical sense, meaning perfect. He who knew no sin, became sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. We become righteous through faith in Christ. It is an alien righteous given to us by faith. We inherit Christ’s righteousness, but by the power of the Holy Spirit we are called to live as the called, the chosen and the faithful of the Lamb. Our salvation is grace. Our changed morality is grace. We were sinners but have been sanctified. We are called to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. This is the Lord’s will for us: our sanctification. Resist the world’s seduction and live for the Lord.

Seduction of Prosperity

            The woman is clothed in purple and scarlet and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls. (Rev. 17:4) Money will not last. No hearse pulls a U-Haul. We come into this world naked and we leave naked. And yet so much of life in the city of man is the accumulation of wealth. Friend, do not be deceived, you cannot serve both God and money. Money can control whether you have a lot or little. Our culture values wealth. Be aware of the subtle pull for wealth. One of the ways God protects you from your love of money is by asking you to give it away. When we give to the Lord and his church, we are showing we value the gospel and eternity more than comfort and earthly prosperity.

            The great heresy of the modern American church is the prosperity gospel. It is a wretched evil and damnable heresy. It is a false gospel that gives people false hope and false assurance. Friends, if you know someone caught in this heresy, do not just tell them it’s wrong, sit down with them and walk through the Bible. Show them Christ. Show them that true prosperity is not in earthly wealth but knowing Christ through repentance and faith. Show them how our light and momentary struggles pale in comparison to the glory that will be revealed.

            Friends, money is a terrible savior. Flee the love of money and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love and steadfastness. Fight the good fight of faith. Hold on to grace.

Seduction of Pleasure

            The woman is holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. (Revelation 17:4) The city of man offers all sorts of pleasures, but they will not last. Sex, drugs, pornography, and gluttony will not give you fulfillment. They are terrible gods and awful saviors. Hear the words of famous playwright Oscar Wilde,

The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease...Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the house-top…I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace.[3]

Pleasure often leads to emptiness then a quest for new and better pleasure. As drug and sex addicts search new highs and sensations, it further takes them down a path of destruction. Wilde let pleasure dominate him and it ended in horrible disgrace.

            Friend, do not believe pleasure’ promise. It will leave you empty and longing for more. The joy of following God far exceeds any earthly pleasure. Do not drink of the cup of the city of man. Drink the cup of fellowship of our Lord whose blood was spilled, and body was broken for us.

Seduction of Promise

            We have already seen that the promise of the world will fail. Remember how this chapter begins, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.” Judgment is coming on the city of man. The world will not be able to fulfill her promises. It will lead people into all sorts of immorality and abominations. Those abominations will become normal to world. Sex before marriage is normal in America. Homosexuality is celebrated. Abortion is used as birth control. Pornography is at our fingers. The more at home you are in this world, the greater danger there is for your soul. We are called to be in this world, but never of it. We have been separated from the city of man and now our citizenship is in heaven. The only one who can keep his promise is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. This world will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer. There is only one sovereign. There is only one whose word is true. He calls us. He chose us. And now commands and strengthens us to be faithful to him.

            The world wants to lull us to sleep. It wants us to calmly go through life and pursue wealth and pleasure. To eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. The world is full of false promises. It cannot fulfill on what it offers. It offers power, but the meek will inherit the earth. It offers peace, but there is only peace in the blood of the cross. It offers prosperity, but the riches of grace are only lavished blood-bought believers. It offers pleasure, but there is only eternal pleasure at the Lord’s right hand. Friend, do not be lulled to sleep by the false promises of the world. Let us heed the words of the great John Owen,

“If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation. Let this be one aspect of our daily intercession: ‘God, preserve my soul, and keep my heart and all its ways so that I will not be entangled.’ When this is true in our lives, a passing temptation will not overcome us. We will remain free while others lie in bondage.”

Beloved, abide with God. Please with him to keep your heart in him. Let us lay aside the sin that so easily entangles and let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We will not be lulled by the world, if we are loving our Lord.

 

[1] Russell D. Moore, Tempted and Tried (Crossway, 2011), pp. 25-26

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Re 1:17–18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/5910/i-allowed-pleasure-to-dominate-me/ accessed 3.18.2018