The church and the worldly state have allied themselves, in the first place. The one supports the other, and the other directs and aids the one. Where the one goes, the other follows. For the beast carries the woman, which at least also seems to imply that after all the beast employs the woman for his own purpose and carries her whithersoever he will, though in turn he is the strength and support of the woman, and she owes it to the beast that she is decked with jewels and precious stones and arrayed in purple. However this may be, the fact that the woman is riding or sitting upon the beast means to show intimate union between church and worldly government, shows that they have united in character, united in purpose, united in aim and effort, and that together they strive to realize a common aim. The church stands here in an illegal, wrong relation to the power of the world, is employed by the latter, fulfills its purpose, and therefore loses her true character. This idea is emphasized by the fact that the woman is directly called the harlot. She is the harlot in a two-fold sense. In the first place, she is that because she allows herself to be the whore of the kings of the world, with which the great of the world can do as they please, on the which they can satisfy all their desire. But, in the second place, she is also the great whore because she is the mother of abominations, and makes all the inhabitants of the world drunken with the wine of her fornications. And therefore we obtain the two-fold picture, that, on the one hand, the instituted church allows herself to be employed by the world-power, and, on the other hand, that she leads all the individual inhabitants of the earth to follow her in this and to serve the purpose of the beast. But even thus we cannot be satisfied, but we must ask the concrete question: in what does this harlotry of the church consist? What is the illegality of the relation between the two? And then it will be necessary to determine, in the first place, what would be the right relation, and what is the character and purpose of each, the church and the state, in the world? Just as you must determine of literal harlotry by first determining the proper relation of man and woman, so also we must come to a true understanding of the harlotry of the church with the worldly power by ascertaining, first of all, what is the right relation between the two. What is the state? What is instituted government, according to the Word of God? Of this we find a very clear description in Rom. 13:1-14: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the Hence, it is plain that: power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
1. The state is an institution of God. It is. ordained by Him to bear the sword power, to punish evil-doers and to protect the good.
2. The state is a temporal institution, to maintain law and order in the midst of a corrupt world.
3. The God-given instrument it employs is not spiritual but material, the power of the sword, and all this implies. It is not the power of a certain common grace, but the power of ‘the sword. That, in our view, is the purpose of government. And that is the Scriptural conception. To it we are in subjection, of course. And for conscience’s sake the Christian can never become a rebel or even a traitor in time of war or peace, unless that state, that government, should demand of him that he would act contrary to the will of God.
What, however, is the church? It is an entirely different institution. It is the manifestation of the body of Christ on earth, and represents the authority of Christ in the world. It is the result, the product, the manifestation, of the grace of cod through Jesus Christ. Through it it becomes possible for the people of God to manifest themselves as the body of Christ, worship and glorify their God and King, and reveal His glory in the midst of the world. Its purpose is two-fold. In the first place, it is the establishment and upbuilding of the saints in Christ Jesus, so that they may come to a fuller and clearer knowledge and stronger faith of the grace that is in Christ. And, in the second place, it is the propagation of the gospel of the kingdom in every land. And therefore, its task is definitely circumscribed. She does not receive her instructions from the worldly power. The latter cannot tell her what to believe and to confess and how to worship, has no authority to define the contents of the message she must bring in the church and in all the world. In all this she acknowledges no other authority than that of Jesus Christ and the Word of her God. She is different from the state in that she employs no earthly or physical power, but only the spiritual instrument of the Word and the reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit. She is eternal, not destined to disappear, but to exist forever when her King shall come to deliver her. And her task is not to make the world better, but simply to aim at the rooting out of sin and its power through the Word and the Spirit. And the relation between her and the state is essentially such that the worldly power exists for her sake, namely, to make the development of the people of God possible in the world. And therefore, each has its own sphere. The church represents the power of the eternal kingdom, can be satisfied with nothing less than the complete deliverance from sin, and looks for the eternal kingdom of God to come. The instituted government, however, represents a temporal power, is ordained in order to handle the sword power and to punish the evil-doer, to protect the righteous, and to maintain order until God shall have completed His own, eternal kingdom.
When now does the wrong relation ensue between the two? And when does the worldly power become the beast, and the church the harlot? This comes about when, in the first place, the state, the power of the world, presumes to represent the development of the kingdom of Christ, and thus claims to be essentially the eternal kingdom itself. In that case it will deny its original character, refuse to be satisfied with being a punishing power upon evil and a maintainer of public order, and strive for worldwide power, in order that through her agency the world may become the kingdom of God. It will conceive of the possibility to root out evil and establish real righteousness and peace by main power, by the power of the law and by the action of the sword. And it will tell you that this is the kingdom of Christ that was to come. Of course you understand that this is not true and that this can never be. The state does not exist on the basis of the atoning blood of Christ directly. It is not destined to be eternal. It is not purposed to become the main and eternal kingdom. Its purpose is temporal, not eternal. Its power is auxiliary, not chief. And therefore, as soon as the state through its power aims at establishing the eternal kingdom, a kingdom of righteousness and peace and justice, without the spiritual means of the Word and the blood of Christ, it becomes the antichristian kingdom. It becomes the beast. Naturally, with that aim the children of God, the true church, will come into conflict. For the latter will deny that it is the purpose of the state to develop into the eternal kingdom of God and will maintain that this can only lead to the establishment of the show-kingdom of Antichrist. But this will only lead to persecution on the part of the world-power. That world power will try to get control of all things of art and science and commerce and industry, but also of religion and worship, and ultimately dictate what God we shall worship and how we must worship Him. There you have the anti-Christian beast. And the church becomes the harlot, the apostate church, when she becomes of one mind with the beast. Negatively, she will begin by admitting that the blood of Christ is not necessary for the establishment of the kingdom of God. She will deny that the Holy Spirit only can truly make children of the kingdom. She will abandon the name of Jesus and the Word of God, and seek her hope in this dispensation and in this world. And positively, she will help in forming that great state for which also the world power strives. She will offer her full services to the state, give her most hearty support to any movement that comes along, and be busy in the things of this world instead of in the things of the eternal kingdom of Christ. Concretely speaking, she will no more preach on sin and total depravity. She will no more teach the necessity of personal regeneration and the atoning blood of Christ, but be full of messages that pertain only to this world. She will preach on the great topics of war and peace, on the betterment of humanity through all kinds of legislation, on prohibition and woman suffrage, on hygiene and health ordinances, on wages and labor, on business and industry. And she will try to picture before the minds of her members how through all these things the great and glorious kingdom of God shall come in the earth. Thus she has abandoned her true, her spiritual, her eternal character, and become the great harlot.
Now then, what shall become of this harlot, in the first place? What shall be the end of her harlotry? Simply this, that she shall ultimately cease to exist as a separate institution. She shall be great and glorious for a time. She shall score great victories evidently. For, in the first place, the text tells us that she is sitting upon many waters. Twice this is mentioned in the text. Already in our passage the angel explains that this symbol refers to peoples and nations and tongues and multitudes. Of course, this is not in conflict with her being seated on the beast. For the beast evidently comprises many peoples. And therefore by sitting on the beast the harlot naturally sits on many peoples. But in this figure, as well as in the statement that she made the inhabitants of the earth drunken with the wine of her fornications, the idea is expressed that she influences and fascinates the minds of many, of a great multitude. She preaches a religion that can be adopted by the world; and therefore her victory is great. And, in the second place, she scores, great victories from the side of the world-power. It is no doubt through the power of the beast that she is decked with pearls and arrayed in purple and that she is great and glorious. For a time she is victorious as an institution, enjoys the favor of the world, and succeeds to persecute the true saints of Christ, that refuse to join her harlotry. It is after all through her influence that the true church is ultimately a castaway, an object of shame and mockery.
But this is not her end. The text plainly tells us that the same kings and the same beast whose favorite pet she was with all her harlotries will hate her and despise her and utterly destroy her, eat her flesh and burn her. Notice, in the first place, that there is something perfectly natural in this. Just as the whoremongers in a natural and literal sense ultimately hate the harlot that has been instrumental in the satisfaction of their lust, so also these kings and these beasts, when the apostate church as an institution shall have fulfilled all their desire, shall hate her and become envious and jealous of her power and glory. After all, what is the use and the place of the church as an institution when the vague and , general religion of Antichrist shall prevail? What is the use of an established form of worship in an established church? Just as the church as an institution shall disappear when the kingdom of glory of our Lord shall have been completed, so also shall the institution of the false church disappear when her work is finished and she has been instrumental in preparing the religion of Antichrist. At any rate, the church shall be abolished. That is clear from the text. Not her apostate spirit shall be destroyed, but her body, her manifestation, shall come to an end. It makes no difference to us now how this shall be realized. Certain it is that the beast shall do away with the institution of the church that has served his purpose. And then shall the kingdom be realized. Then all shall be blended, and the institution even of the church shall be no more. The very shadow of Christ shall have been obliterated from the earth. And all that remains in the world is the world-power, the antichristian kingdom. The woman as to her form shall have disappeared. But essentially her apostate spirit shall be realized in the worship of the image of the beast. And that same woman, spiritually realized in the kingdom of Antichrist from its religious point of view, shall reappear in Babylon, the great center of the world-power that is to come. From there she shall rule over the hearts and minds of great and small and of the inhabitants of the world. The appearance of the harlot has vanished. She now exists centrally as the great city, Babylon, the capital of the kingdom of Antichrist.
Two remarks we wish to make in application. In the first place, notice that God controls all these developments through Jesus Christ. It is God, so we read, that gives it into the heart of these kings and of the beast to hate the harlot and to come to oneness of mind. God, then, controls all things. Christ reigns. There is nothing to fear. When the institution of the apostate church shall be abolished, the same shall be true of the true church. Public worship then for us belongs to the past. It shall be the reign of the man of sin. But never fear. God reigns! He has given it in the heart of the kings to hate the harlot. His will must be done; and all things work together for good to them that love Him. In the second place, the repetition of the practical admonition is also now in order: “Go ye out from her, my people, and have no fellowship with her sins, that ye may not partake of her judgment.” Even as the institution of the harlot church, so shall Babylon also fall. And only the New Jerusalem shall ultimately prevail. Watch, therefore, that ye fall not into temptation.
The Fall of Babylon
Revelation 18 (See your Bible)
We devoted some time to the discussion of Babylon the Great, the Mystery, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth. First we discussed Babylon as such. We found that she is both a woman-harlot and a city. As woman she is no doubt a symbol of the church on earth as an institution for the building up of the saints and for the propagation of the gospel of the kingdom. As harlot, however, she is the apostate church, who has denied her true character, forsaken her rightful husband, Jesus Christ, and surrendered herself to be employed as an instrument of the world-power and of Antichrist. And as a city her essential character is revealed. For even as the true church of Christ shall ultimately reveal itself as the New Jerusalem, so the counterfeit church shall reveal itself as the counterfeit Jerusalem, that is, Babylon.
Secondly, we also discussed the beast on whom the woman-harlot was found sitting. And we found that in it a picture is presented to our view of the world-power in its historical development, as well as in its ultimate formation. Seven kingdoms shall come before the world-power, as the eighth, shall be able to come to its realization and consummation. With the seventh all the then-existing kings shall combined their power; and they all shall give it to the beast, that is, the kingdom of Antichrist.
That beast shall make war with the Christ and His saints, but shall be overthrown by them; and Christ shall have the victory.
In the third place, we discussed the judgment of the great whore, the harlot-woman. We found that her harlotry consisted in an illegal relation in which she, as church, stands to the world-power. She is called to be the manifestation of the body of Christ in the world, and she gives herself to be the body of the beast. She is called to build the saints in the most holy faith, and she makes all the inhabitants of the earth drunk with the wine of her fornications. She is called to be the army of an eternal kingdom, based on the atoning blood of the Savior; and she labors for the establishment of a temporal kingdom of Antichrist that has no part with the blood of Christ Jesus and is doomed to destruction. She is called to employ the spiritual means of the Word and of the sacraments; and instead she abandons the truth of the Word of God and seeks refuge in outward means and external instruments to establish the promised kingdom. She is the harlot, the apostate woman, that labors for the beast instead of for the kingdom of Christ. And we found also that her judgment as harlot is certain: she will ultimately disappear as an institution, because her very lovers shall hate her. The kings that committed fornication with her shall aim at her destruction. The very appearance of the church in this dispensation shall be annoying, nauseating, to them: and therefore they shall obliterate her from the face of the earth. Then the woman as harlot shall exist no more. The instituted church has come to the end of her existence. But she shall reappear as a city whose mystical name is Babylon. For in Babylon, the center and heart of the anti-Christian kingdom, the spirit of that same woman that once appeared as the apostate church shall reign supreme.
In the chapter we are now approaching, chapter 18, however, the destruction of that great city is portrayed in highly descriptive and symbolic language. It is impossible to divide the chapter, for evidently all the material found here belongs together, elaborates upon one and the same theme, concentrates itself around the same central thought. And that central thought of the chapter is the fall of Babylon. And therefore this we must now discuss.
It cannot escape our attention that purposely the text gives us once more a description of Babylon, this time of her existence as a city. Even as in the end we are presented with an elaborate description of the New Jerusalem, its beauty and glory and blessedness, so we are also given a picture of the highest attainment of the world-power and of the apostate church as it is pictured in the city of Babylon. But the difference is that while Jerusalem’s description is connected with her final and absolute glory and victory over all enemies, the elaborate description of Babylon is connected with its ultimate destruction. But in order to understand the significance of the downfall of Babylon, it will be necessary that we obtain a glimpse of her real importance, of her greatness and riches, of her influence and control of all the matters of the world. It makes no difference whether we accept the view that Babylon shall be a real city, or whether we are inclined to believe that this element belongs to the symbolism of the picture, certain it remains that in the fall of Babylon we meet with the fall of all human labor and attainment, the fall of the entire structure of the antichristian kingdom.
In the first place, then, Babylon is plainly pictured as the center of the antichristian kingdom from a royal and legislative point of view. In the pride of her heart she exclaims herself: “I sit a queen, and shall see no mourning!” She sits, therefore, upon many waters as a queen. Babylon is the royal city. From Babylon goes forth the law over many nations and tongues and tribes and multitudes. There is the judicial wisdom of the kingdom. From there the laws are issued. There resides the executive power. If I may for a moment accept that the head of that kingdom shall be a person, the very culmination of antichristian principle, he lives in Babylon, and from Babylon he reigns. There is the power that controls all things, that keeps order, that regulates commerce and industry, that regulates science and art and religion, that establishes the form of worship for the beast. This is also plain from the repeated expression that “the kings of the earth committed fornication with her and lived deliciously with her.” Babylon was the glory of the kings of the earth, their stronghold and center. In Babylon the ten kings of the earth, of the great alliance with the beast, came together to make their plans for the advancement of their cause and kingdom and for their war against the Christ and against His saints. In a word, Babylon appears as the royal center, as the throne of Antichrist. She is the center of all law and rule for the entire world; and all the world obeys her will. Without Babylon the antichristian kingdom is inconceivable even as Germany is inconceivable without Berlin, France without Paris, England without London. She is of central significance for all the kingdom.
In the second place, we may also notice that Babylon is pictured in the text as being the heart and center of all the commerce in the world, the home of industry and art. Not merely a city among others is Babylon, but the city, the only city that is a center of business and industry and art and science, from whence these are controlled over the entire world and without which the life of industry and commerce is gone. Such a city is Babylon, according to the chapter we are now discussing. Plain this is from the description of the weeping and wailing merchants, who stand afar off and are pictured as beholding her destruction with fear and anguish. Babylon is the merchant of this world. She sells every conceivable article; and if she cannot sell, all the commerce and business of the world is at a standstill. Babylon sells gold and silver and precious stones and pearls. She is the only money-market in the world. Babylon sells fine linen and purple and scarlet, matters of necessity and luxury. Babylon controls the sale of all the products of industry. She it is who sells vessels of thine wood, of ivory, and most precious wood, of brass and iron, and marble. On her market we find the products of all parts of the world: the spices of tropical zones, the wine and the oil of more moderate climate, cinnamon and incense and ointment and frankincense—these all must be bought within her walls. Babylon controls all the necessities of life. For they are her merchants that have a monopoly of fine flour and wheat, of cattle and sheep and horses and chariots. Yea, Babylon controls the power of universal labor. For her merchants sell the bodies and souls of men. Babylon controls the luxuries of the world. For she is decked with purple and gold; and the luscious fruits and dainty things are found within her borders. Still more, Babylon also controls every craft. For the angel that symbolizes the fall of Babylon by casting a large stone into the sea announces that no craftsman, of whatsoever craft, shall be found any more in her, and that the sound of the millstone is silenced within her walls forever. She is the mother of music and fine arts, of pipers and trumpeters, of the invention of many a thing of convenience and luxury. She is the center of joy, the mistress of life, in the kingdom of Antichrist. Without her there is no commerce: for the merchants shall wail because no one can buy their merchandise any more after the destruction of Babylon. Without her there is neither art nor science nor industry conceivable. She is, in one word, the heart and center of the business and life of all the world.
In the third place, she is pictured as a luxurious and wicked city. The kings of the earth commit fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth wax rich by the power of her wantonness, vs. 3. Luscious fruits and dainty things, whatever is nice and pleasant to the taste, are found in her, vs. 14. She is arrayed in fine linen and purple and scarlet and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, vs. 16. Within her walls is heard the voice of harpers and minstrels, of flute players and trumpeters the joyful voice of the bridegroom and the bride, vss. 22, 23. She is, therefore, a city filled to overflowing with joy and abundance, There is the culmination of all that human ingenuity could possibly invent for the joy and bliss and ease and comfort of man.