15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” – Revelation 15:15-18
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” – Lord Acton (British historian and moralist)
Babylon is her name and she seduces in leaders, makes them kings, makes them monsters, and then leaves them for another. No, this is not a woman of questionable morals. John spells out this mystery for us quite clearly. It is a city: a culture, a group of people who work and act as one entity. If the Anti-Christ – the great beast from the sea, is the corrupted mirror image of Jesus, then Babylon is the twisted image that stands on the other side of the mirror from the church. Faithless. Dishonest. Greedy. Lusting. Always reaching and never satisfied.
The Roman Empire was the pinnacle of Western Civilization in its day and none could oppose it with its military, civic, and scientific advancements. It sprouted from one of the world’s first democracies and sought to spread its culture across the entire known world, shedding light into “backward” places like Asia Minor, Galilee, Egypt… Any who refused to buy into the Roman way was ruthlessly tortured and put to death. The more the Empire grew, the hungrier its people became for power, blood, immorality. Indeed, most of Rome worshipped the Emperor out of either fear or patronage, fearing his displeasure and profiting from his fancy. They feared and served their emperor, but they used him as well to put away their enemies and competitors and to be entertained at the cost of others they deemed unworthy of counting even as human beings.
We as the church often focus on the Christians that were martyred in horrendous fashion during Rome’s final years, but the truth is, Christians were just a fraction of the people who suffered under Rome’s rule. Prisoners, debtors, foreign captives of war, even servants who simply displeased the Roman leaders with their service… all these were persecuted and often executed in ways that far surpassed anything near justice. Jesus asked his followers to worship Him alone, which made them traitors to the state that worshipped the Emperor above all else, and so they joined the broken ranks of the criminals and captives. They were just like Jesus who, in His time on earth found Himself in the company of thieves, prostitutes, and tax collectors (traitors to the Israelite nation) and ended up on His own Roman cross. When Jesus told them to pick up their crosses and follow Him, he was not speaking in metaphors, He really meant it.
How many converts were made in the dungeons and holding cells of those coliseums? We will not know until we stand with those former prisoners in glory. What we do know is that John was right about Rome. Her hunger and licentiousness proved to be her undoing as she was literally burned from the inside out, supposedly by one of her own Emperors, and she fell from moral decay long before the northern Goths stormed her gates. It was sin that destroyed her. The other nations that took her over only had to scavenge through her broken pieces.
Rome, or Babylon as John called her, shows us both the lure and ultimate fate of sin. It leads us in with promises it cannot keep. Like Babylon, we always pay double for what we get when we make deals with sin. Finally, as Paul wrote to the church in Rome: the ultimate consequence of sin is death. It promises life, but only brings death and sin, even small sins, left unchecked fester and rot until it covers our whole body.
What is the cure? Revelation tells us that the whole of creation was searched in attempts to find a cure and nothing could be found. Nothing, that is, until the Lamb of God laid down his life for us. Nothing but the blood of Jesus, as the song goes. I cannot fix myself or rid myself from sin. Neither can you. Only Jesus can make us whole again. Only Jesus can rescue us from the pit. Only Jesus can raise us from death. Only Jesus can redeem the broken lives we live.
Oh Precious is the flow,
That makes me white as snow,
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.
In Christ alone