It is a great temptation in this
chapter to rush on to the interpretation -- we get so little help from the Apostle in this, we cherish all we get --
but we must resist. He is about to interpret a vision;
let’s see the symbolism of that vision before he tells us to whom it applies.
Adultery in the Old Testament is always figurative of
idolatry. See, for example, Hosea 1 or Ezekiel 16.
We must contrast this picture with the later one of the pure Bride of Christ.
What most don’t know (didn’t either, until I found this) is that adultery/idolatry is not an “either/or”
proposition; it’s a “one or many
The Canaanite religions had a creator
God named “El” -- sound familiar? It’s
one of the names of God. They also had many others, including his
consort, Astarte, the fertility
goddess. So the temptation was not
either Jehovah or the other gods; it
was “El” AND the other gods. (Very similar to adultery’s temptation of
“your wife” or “your wife and other
Prosititution is also used as a symbol for idolatry. (See, for example, Jeremiah 3:1-9). It’s
worse; you get paid for it. (What do you think of “evangelists” who get
rich at it?) The name on the forehead was a common Roman
practice; it allowed a prostitute to use a false name (and one Empress, at least, did just
that). Note particularly the charge is the “mother” or prostitutes -- not content
with being one, she raises more.
Note one thing: like all sin, this is attractive! The clothing is royal and rich. Note also:
the view is better from a distance
-- in the wilderness, the desert, where the air is clear. The
church sees her Lord more clearly in the times of suffering, too.
Mystery Babylon takes some explaining.
John would have been familiar with the story. It begins with Nimrod, who,
by rabbinical tradition, was a hunter of souls. He it was
who inspired the tower of Babel (hence the name Babylon) -- the tower of
pride. In doing so, he started a mystery religion. In that religion his consort, Semiramus or Rhea, gave birth -- virgin
birth -- to a son, Tammuz. This son was slain by a boar, but (surprise!) rose again, celebrated by the feast of
Ishtar. His mother was worshiped as the “Queen of Heaven” (see Jer. 44:16-22). The sign of this religion? A cross!
Now, the chief war god of this
religion was Bel. Remember the emperor
Constantine? He claimed to be a Christian -- but on the reverse of
his coins is a temple of Bel. Many feel that at his time Christianity merged with this
Babylonian cult (still very much alive at
the time). This is also the religion
that gave us the “modern” forms of much of astrology,
seances, “black magic” and some of witchcraft.
John knew all this. He would have seen in Babylon all that I
have just described.
Drunkenness, as Jeremiah 51:6-9 and especialliay 25:15-17 would
have it, is God’s way of destroying the
mighty. As the Greeks would have put
it, “He whom the gods would destroy they
first make mad.”
(Footnote: McGee and Smith see two Babylons, religious
and commercial. The interpretation is unique, and emphasizes the perils of