“One of the seven angels who had poured out the seven bowls came over and spoke to me. “Come with me,” he said, “and I will show you the judgment that is going to come on the great prostitute, who rules over many waters. The kings of the world have committed adultery with her, and the people who belong to this world have been made drunk by the wine of her immorality.””
Revelation 17:1-2 NLT
The seal and plague judgements are behind us and a separate scene is playing out in John’s vision. It is almost as though the main plot or narrative has been put on hold while a cameo appearance of the “great prostitute” takes place. Although we can read, and accept, what John saw literally, the only way we can make any sense of it is by interpreting it symbolically. The problem is that there can be several interpretations.
So perhaps one interpretation is that the “great prostitute” is a form of religion. Not Godly in origin of course, but perhaps of a form based on a philosophy or with roots in a mystical or even Eastern religion. In recent times we have seen the emergence of spiritual disciplines such as Yoga or Mindfulness. In the 1960’s Transcendental Meditation was popularised by the Beatles. These are techniques or processes that many have claimed are beneficial for mental health, but they are all human based and exclude any involvement or recognition of God. They encourage us to look inward into ourselves, which may not be the most healthy practice for humans. There is, however, the possibility that John saw graphically, pictorially, a world religious philosophy or cult that had, at its roots, an anti-God, pro-self, pro-beast bias and perspective.
But why did John refer to it as the “great prostitute”? He described something that had become a global, God-substitute phenomenon, global because of the reference to “many waters”. And we see widespread acceptance of this beast-inspired religious cult by the world rulers, who apparently embraced it whole-heartedly. But there’s a problem for those who follow the “great prostitute” instead of God. We read the first commandment given by God to Moses, in Exodus 20:3-5, “You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.” The beast-inspired global cult collides with God’s laws, as we are seeing in this chapter in Revelation. The “great prostitute” epitomises the wickedness and evil involved in the worship of anything except God Himself, and provides a focus point with a parallel to sexual sins.
We pilgrims have to be careful in this life. There is emerging from our academic institutions and politicians, amongst others, a philosophy that will not tolerate dissenters. Those who disagree with their points of view or ideologies are labelled as bigots or worse, and their alternative views, even if established on tradition, are closed down. That will be a sign of the global religion promoted by the followers of the “great prostitute”. And in these days the dissenters, perhaps us pilgrims included, will keep quiet rather than get involved in a public, social-media-fuelled, spat. So we pray.
Dear God. Please grant us the wisdom to speak when there is value and keep quiet when there is not. Please help us to find the words that breathe life, Your life, into those we speak to, and we pray for Your Spirit to lead and guide us as You desire. Amen.