No Compromise with Evil – Revelation #7on June 11, 2011
St. Aidan’s Sermons – Winnipeg, Manitoba
The Rev. Dr. Brett Cane, November 23, 2003
The Reign of Christ; 8:00, Holy Communion; 10:15 Adult Christian Education
Series on the Book of Revelation #7:
“No Compromise with Evil”
Revelation 17:1-20, 18:1-5; (Chapters 15:5-8; 16; 18:6-24)
(Jeremiah 51:6-10; Matthew 25:31-46)
Heavenly Father, you call us not to identify with the corrupt world order; help us now, by your Holy Spirit, to see where we have compromised your truth in our lives, to turn away from evil and to be empowered to live fully for Christ and your Kingdom. Amen.
In the “Weekly World News” of August 18, 1998 the headline ran, JESUS WILL RETURN TO EARTH ON NOVEMBER 12, 1999 (about 2 pm), “as agreed to by the world’s greatest prophets”, Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, Sitting Bull and Isaiah (!). As this date has long since come and gone and proved the article wrong it is worth remembering that, in my first sermon in this series, I pointed out that Revelation is not a book of speculation about timetables and dates to do with the end times. To treat it as such is to miss out on its major message which is to affirm the sovereignty of God and the importance of our role in God’s plan to rescue people from destruction.
It is crucial that we maintain an effective witness. Looking around at the technological progress we have achieved in our Western World, we have been lulled into thinking all is well and have become unaware of the more subtle forms of evil within our present society and world order. Thus it has been easier for us to compromise with evil without knowing it. In today’s passage from Revelation and its description of the “Harlot Queen” we hear God’s call to his people not to be seduced by the abusive economic and power structures of the world – there is to be no compromise with evil.
Setting the Scene
Let us first set the scene. Back in chapter 11, we saw the whole story of God’s victory through the witness of his people and final elimination of all who will not repent. Chapter 16, the judgements of the seven bowls, is an expansion of the final judgement of 11:19. However, unlike the earlier judgements of the seals and trumpets, this series of seven bowls is complete and final. The sixth bowl, which describes the judgement against the great evil city of Babylon, is further expanded in chapters 17 and 18. Here the corrupt world order is described in fuller detail as a “Harlot Queen”, seated on a scarlet beast. She is toppled from power by the beast and his cohorts. In chapter 18, we have the fall of Babylon described in further detail, including a call to God’s people to come out of her and not to share in her sins.
Who is the Harlot?1
Who is this “Harlot Queen”, the “great prostitute…with whom the king’s of the earth have committed adultery and by whom the inhabitants of the earth have been intoxicated” (17:2) we must avoid? Like the Refugee Queen we met in chapter 12, she, too, is a mother, but not of the Messiah, but “of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth!” (17:5). She is not the enemy of the beast, but its consort, riding on it (verse 3). Dressed in the finest clothing and jewels (17:4), sitting on seven hills (17:9) and many waters (17:1), she is obviously Rome, the centre of a great military and merchant empire linking together many nations and peoples.
The beleaguered Christians were surrounded by symbols of the glory and power of Rome in temples, economic power and military might. However, by depicting her as a prostitute, John has shown up Rome for what she really is – seductive and corruptive – the name on her forehead, “Mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth” (17:5) revealing her true character. She presents herself as benefiting everyone else – but it is for her own advancement. To those who are associated with her, yes, they can get rich, but John sees the price as too high – economic exploitation – Rome’s subjects give more than they gain. The system is built upon the grossest of evils – human slavery (18:11, 13): “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more – cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls, etc., etc.,… of cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and slaves – human beings!” Her economic and political influence have spread because of the imperial armies, not because the people wanted it. The “Pax Romana” is a peace, but a peace imposed at great cost – through violence. “In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth” (18:24).
By using the vision of an adulteress, John describes humanity which has forsaken her true lover, her true destiny as the Bride of Christ. John weaves Old Testament allusions to proud and idolatrous Babylon and Tyre (e.g. Jeremiah 50:51 against Babylon; Ezekiel 26-28 against Tyre) to demonstrate the logical conclusion that Rome is a combination of all the evil empires of history! We extend the scenario to include any world order based on the same premises of seduction and deceit, which allies itself, like the prostitute, with the scarlet beast: “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” (18:3).
Who is the Beast?
I have said that this week I would reveal the true identity of the beast. Many have expended great effort trying to discover who he is – Hitler, Napoleon, the Pope and dozens of others have all been candidates down through the years. In chapter 13:18, it says, “This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.” In the ancient world, letters were used as numbers, thus it was possible to assign a numerical value to a person’s name. Using the English alphabet as an example, “A” would be “1″, “B”, “2″ and so on. In this way, my name, Brett Cane, would be numerically 88; even using all my names, it only comes to 237, so – phew – I am not the beast! But it all depends upon which alphabet you use. If you use the computer ASCII code, then computer magnate Bill Gates III comes up 666!
However, all this misses the point. As seen in our numbering system,2 as 7 is a perfect number and 3 the superlative, then 777 is the greatest perfection – a good number to represent God. That means that 666 stands for anyone who sets himself (or herself) up in the place of God, falling short in every way: i.e. “The Ultimate Big Loser”!
But who was in the mind of John as he wrote chapters 13 and 17? We are given a clue by the reference to the beast as he who “once was, now is not, and yet will come” (verse 8). Not only is this a parody on God “Who is, and was, and is to come” (e.g. 1:8), it is also a parody on Jesus, who died and was resurrected. In 17:11, it says, “The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven.” This is an allusion to the story of the mad Roman emperor Nero who made the Christians scapegoats in the fire of Rome that he himself is reputed to have set. He committed suicide but the rumour went around that he was not really dead and would appear again at the head of enemy armies from the east. Thus the reference to the “eighth king who belongs to the seven” is to Nero, come back. And what happens when you add up the numbers of Nero Caesar in Hebrew – it comes up 666!
So the beast, the leader of the world’s great evil is depicted as a super-Nero (not a super-hero”), a return of the worst you ever had! He is someone who sets himself up as God, abuses power, and persecutes God’s people. Now, the beast is referred to elsewhere as the antichrist, as John says in his first letter, “This is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18; cf. 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 7). In this way, we can see that many leaders in history such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and so on, whose personality and word have dominated society in a demonic way, claiming adulation only due to God himself, are examples of the spirit of antichrist and thus manifestations of the beast in the world.
It is the composite picture of the Harlot and the Beast that John uses to describe the world order that stands against God and his truth and goodness and which must be destroyed. This happens at the end of chapter 17 when a short-lived (1 hour – verse 12) coalition of smaller kings unites with the beast against the lamb but are soundly defeated. They then turn upon the Harlot Queen to destroy her: “The beast and the ten 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” (verse 16). This demonstrates that evil has within itself the seeds of its own destruction. The harlot’s fall is described in full in chapter 18, recalling Jeremiah’s prophecy against Babylon, “You who live by many waters and are rich in treasures, your end has come, the time for you to be cut off” (Jeremiah 51:13).
The Danger of Compromise
“Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4). This exhortation to us is not a call to leave the world, but to sit loose with worldly success and prosperity. By calling us out of “Babylon”, it recognizes that we are part of the present world order and so in danger of falling for its allurements. We are in danger of compromise.
This is why Jesus speaks so strongly to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 – five are warned of compromise with evil and only two escape criticism. “Ephesus has forsaken her first love (2: 4); Pergamum tolerates those who are immoral and who teach false doctrine (2:14-15); Thyatira has been seduced by a false prophetess (2:20); Sardis is almost dead, and has soiled its clothes (3:1, 4); Laodicea is proud, and blind to its sin (3:17). Over and over, the churches hear the risen Jesus command, ‘Repent!’”3
What would Jesus write to us as a church or as individuals today? Are we zealous for the Gospel or have we settled in to a comfortable faith that doesn’t demand too much of us? Do we close our eyes to blatant immorality or false doctrine by shrugging our shoulders and saying that’s what everyone is doing these days or that’s what others in the church are saying? Are we being seduced by voices that call us to adopt the world’s way of thinking and not seeing economic and political situations from God’s perspective? Are we in denial about sin in our lives, refusing to hear what God is saying about our conduct or attitudes? To us, Jesus says the same thing he said to the seven churches, “Repent!” “You were born to glory. So come out of the one pretending to glory. You are my people, not the children of Babylon – come out of her.”4 Babylon is “the reality on earth which tries to seduce us away from our royal destiny.”5 If we compromise with evil then we lose the cutting edge of our witness through which we are to lead the world out of darkness and into light.
As the Refugee Queen we heard about in chapter 12, we are now in the desert; it is hard, but we are there for a reason – to be of use to others and for ourselves to be prepared. We must ensure that our use and preparation are not compromised by our collaboration with the seductive and tempting Harlot Queen of this present world order. During the early 20th century, the great Indian Christian Sadhu Sundar Singh said, “The world is like an ocean. In the world we are boats. A boat is only useful in the water: if the boat is in the water, it is useful. If the water is in the boat, it will sink beneath the waves. Therefore, bale out the water.”6 Do not compromise with evil in any form.