Two Women of Revelation
A Woman Clothed with the Sun
Revelation 12 tells of a vision John had of a bigger-than-life woman who is about to give birth. A fearful dragon hovers over her ready to devour the child as soon as he's born. "She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne." Jesus' life from birth to ascension, covered in one verse. The dragon's plans are foiled so he goes after the woman who flees to the dessert where she is protected by God.
Clearly this woman represents someone greater than Jesus' earthly mother, Mary. She is the larger covenant community through which the Messiah is delivered into the world. Israel is often portrayed as God's bride in Scripture, albeit adulterous at various points in her history. The dragon, obviously is Satan, who attempted to kill Jesus when still a child through Herod's order to slaughter all boys under the age of two. The woman fleeing into the wilderness continues to represent the covenant community, now in its post-Christ form, the church. The church, though in a hostile environment, prospers as she faithfully witnesses to God's saving grace in Christ.
The Great Prostitute
Now fast forward with me down through our present age to Revelation 17-19. Here we come across another woman. She is a prostitute with whom the "kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality." John spots her in a wilderness sitting on an evil scarlet beast. She is also called "Babylon the Great, mother of prostitutes. Further, she is "drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus."
I suggest (gently, 'cause, frankly, I don't know of a biblical scholar who concurs) that this woman is not really another woman, but the same woman at a different stage of history. She represents the church gone apostate. Apostasy is a pretty serious thing. It describes the condition of one who, having embraced God's truth at one time, rejects it in favor of another belief system or of none at all. It's akin to adultery where a person, having loved a partner, rejects him/her in favor of another.
As mentioned already, the covenant community who delivered the Messiah into the world is presented as a beautiful larger-than-life woman; while now we have a grotesque larger-than-life woman.
The first one flees to the dessert to be protected from the pursuing dragon; this one is seated on a scarlet beast. The beast represents the kingdoms of this world now allied with the apostate church against faithful Christians.
When the OT covenant community went astray the prophets called her adulterous. She wanted to be like the surrounding nations, build idols to heathen gods and trust in horses and chariots. This woman's prostitution consisted of her unholy alliance with the kings of the world.
In Revelation 18:11 we read “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues." The Scriptures never call God's people to opt out of the nations into which they were born. Rather we are to be salt and light in these nations. But when the outward organized church, the Bride of Christ, becomes adulterous, God's people are to withdraw.
Note that three full chapters of Revelation tell of the utter destruction of this woman who symbolizes the apostate church. Her destruction is described in vivid figures. Merchants and kings mourn her demise while the hosts of heaven and the redeemed celebrate it.
Prostitute or city?
It's in the nature of figurative language that different images on the same canvas can represent the same spiritual reality. So just as the true church is represented as a bride when her intimate relationship with her Savior is contemplated; the apostate church becomes a prostitute to represent a break in that relationship. Likewise the true church is called the New Jerusalem when a faithful community-in-action is contemplated. But when the church has lost her way, serving her own purposes instead of its gospel mission, it becomes Babylon the Great.
One's tempted to blow all this off as fanciful interpretation of ancient writings. However, this interpretation resonates with so much else the Scriptures teach about the church. Consider, for instance, the parable of the baby girl abandoned in the desert but rescued and nurtured by a traveling merchant. She grows up to be a beautiful woman only to prostitute herself with the kings of the world. (Ezekiel 16) I have another hub titled Destroyed! The Church as We Know It that draws the same conclusion from Revelation 10 and 11.
What to do?
There's no doubt in my mind that much of what passes for the church in our day looks more like a prostitute than a bride. Liberal churches have abandoned the authority of the Scriptures and adopted moral and social stances that are contrary to God's Word. But many others while supposedly holding to the authority of Scripture have sold out to marketing schemes by which to sell the gospel that are unworthy of the good news. Successful churches are those with mega money and numbers and magnificent buildings and programs. In many parts of the world the organized church is in bed with political powers both on the right and on the left.
While this is sad, the Scriptures seem to indicate that it's part of the plan. For in the end our only hope is not the church but Jesus Christ. What to do? Go where you see Jesus exalted and drawing sinners to himself. Avoid everything else! Cultivate solid relationship with others who share your love for the Savior. Keep your eyes wide open.
© 2011 Frank P. Crane
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