“And on her forehead a name was written: Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the abominations of the earth” Rev. 17:5
During His earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ experienced the greatest opposition from the religious leaders of the time, namely the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were also instrumental in His arrest and crucifixion. Not surprisingly, through His many encounters with these religious leaders, Jesus had strong words for them. He called them blind guides, fools, serpents, whitewashed tombs…full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness, a generation of vipers, of your father the devil and hypocrites. On one occasion, we read that Jesus physically drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, overturning the tables and seats of those who traded there. In light of Jesus’ stern actions and words towards religion and its leaders, we can sense the magnitude of the wickedness of the religious system and how much God detested it.
Religion is a system of bondage. It keeps many captives, enslaving them to its rules, rituals and orders. There is an interesting account during Jesus’ earthly ministry that exemplifies this. In John 12:42-43 we read that “even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43).
It was evident that the Pharisees and Sadducees had power over the laity. The system of the temple had been established over hundreds of years, indeed ordained by God for a specific purpose and time. However, over the centuries, despite the glory cloud no longer descending over the temple and neither the Ark of the Covenant nor the Mercy Seat being in the temple during Jesus’ earthly ministry, the religious leaders and priests had continued business as usual. They loved the power, the position, the associated benefits and the praise and recognition of men. Therefore, they ruled the people, subjecting them to the established system of authority instead of leading them to the submission and obedience of the Lord. The irony of religion is while it professes to serve God it keeps its followers from following and knowing the Lord. It operates as an intermediary between men and God, enforcing its traditions on the saints. Consequently, the religious system separated people from God. That’s why Jesus’ righteous indignation was targeted towards religion. He detested the system.
Like the rulers who refused to confess Jesus and follow Him for fear of the Pharisees, there are many sincere saints today who subordinate themselves to a specific denomination or sect or pastor and who refuse to follow the Lord wherever He goes. Jesus exhorted His disciples on two occasions in Matthew 16:6 & 11 saying: “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees”. The scriptures make clear that Jesus was referring to the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 16:12). The leaven of the Pharisees refers to teachings based on a religious mind-set and which manifested in hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) while the leaven of the Sadducees relates to teachings founded in a legalistic mind-set – in self-imposed religion, following does and don’ts, paying tithes, following ecclesiastical forms and rituals, and submitting to the authority of men instead of God.
One characteristic of religion is its extreme subtlety. The religious mind-set, like leaven gradually disperses and works in many. It deceives and establishes lies in the minds of the saints in a very refined and elusive way. So much so that the person deceived becomes so blind and deaf to the truth that they start walking contrary to the truth while assuming they are actually serving and drawing near to God. This was the condition of the Jews, as God declares: “these people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me” (Matt. 15:8).
Israel “had a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2). Lies and false doctrines had gained acceptance through the lack of spiritual illumination and knowledge. For this reason the people perished (Hosea 4:6). Furthermore, false doctrines gained legitimacy through sheer numbers, becoming so foundational in the minds of religious men and keeping many from hearing or accepting anything contrary. Foreseeing this in the coming days, Jesus said: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord… I profess to them, I never knew you.” (Mat. 7:22-23). Here, Jesus refers to ‘many’ – the larger majority or the greater proportion of those who profess His name. Where could this large majority “who profess His name” be today? Where else but in the contemporary religious church system. Jesus counsels us: “enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). Religion is that wide gate and broad way that leads to destruction and indeed many today go in by it.
There is yet another deception of religion and this is among those who think they are no longer in religion. They think so because they no longer associate with Catholic and Orthodox factions and have experienced the gifts of the spirit, they speak in tongues, walk in the various ministrations of the Spirit, attend an “alive” church, and have a “good” pastor who “doesn’t sugar-coat things”. However, it is precisely to those who did various mighty signs and who were presumably “alive” that Jesus proclaimed “He never knew”. They worshiped Him and served Him and went through all the motions but they had no union with Him. Even many spirit-filled saints today are tainted with the spirit of religious institutions. As I will discuss later, the bible refers to this system, one and all, as a harlot because they share their love, which should only be for the living Christ, with a doctrine, a man, a denomination, a ministry, a program or something else.
You see the contemporary church system, the institution that is man made with its hierarchy, its board and committees, its forms and rituals, its money driven agendas, its temple tax, its celebration of pagan-based holidays, its dominion over the saints, its denominations and countless soulish programs has become a powerful and influential system. At its root, the church system is no different than the Roman Papacy, the Orthodox church or the temple in Jerusalem. All fight tooth and nail and would kill their brother to defend their denomination, their ministry, their building, their doctrines and their beloved pastors and priests. Today, if you challenged the church systems’ vision or doctrines, be assured that they’ll put you out of their synagogues as did the Pharisees.
Consequently, the numerous false doctrines espoused through the erroneous and carnal interpretations of the scripture prevent many in the church system from accepting and receiving Christ as He appears in a greater and more glorious unveiling of Himself. The spiritual stagnation in the house is evident by the many who fail to experience growth and maturity in Christ due to the regurgitation of elementary principles week in and week out. The church system has become a nanny keeping the saints as dependent toddlers, continually spoon-fed, and spiritually underdeveloped.
Unfortunately, many saints have come to define their faith and identity by placing their trust in their church, their denomination, their pastor, their various religious activities, programs, services and works. In doing so and in the midst of all the fanfare, entertainment and distraction, they neglect to cultivate the life and nature of Christ within. Strip them off all these things and they will feel empty, inadequate and in a backslidden condition. Religious folks don’t care about your relationship and union with the Lord. Their primary concern and their main questions centre around church programs and attendance. “Do you attend church” or “which church do you go to” are common questions on which one’s spiritual condition dangle. The church system has become the rock for many. This is not a new phenomenon, Israel’s trust had turned from God to the temple which He had given them. But God in his anger to this condition states: “I will do to the house in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh” (Jer. 7:14).
Babylon – confusion by mixture
Babylon is synonymous with religion in the scripture. In the book of Revelation, there are two women regularly mentioned: the bride of Christ and the harlot. There are also two cities: the New Jerusalem and Babylon. As we read the book it is clear that the bride of Christ represents the true church, for we read in Revelation 21:9-10: “come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.” The bride and the New Jerusalem are synonymous. The bride is the true church – the called out and the holy city is the government of God.
In contrast, John the revelator sees another woman as relayed in Revelation 17:1-5: “come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication…. and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”
The following words by J. Preston Eby give fresh insights to the meaning of mystery Babylon: “the mystical Babylon can be nothing else but a CHURCH which is also a religious GOVERNMENT backed by power and influence. But this “church” is a “harlot” church; corrupt, fallen, with a head other than Christ, taking to herself many “lovers” other than her rightful husband; an apostate church, which is also a great ecclesiastical kingdom, exalted to power and dominion, and backed, to a considerable degree, by the kings of the earth, the civil powers, which are all more or less intoxicated with her spirit and doctrine… Her unfaithfulness to the Spirit of the Lord, whose name she claims, and to her high privilege to be the “chaste virgin” espoused to Christ, is the occasion of the title “harlot”, while her influence as an ecclesiastical empire, full of inconsistency, confusion, idolatry, and spiritual drunkenness, is symbolically represented under the name “Babylon”, which when we compare her with the types of the ancient Babylonian empire, we instantly recognize her and her daughter cohorts to be the recognized and institutionalized Christian churches and nations.”- end quote
The word ‘Babylon’ in the Greek means ‘confusion’. The Hebrew word for ‘Babylon’ also means ‘confusion’ but it also distinguishes the cause of this confusion – as a confusion by mixture. Mixture is synonymous with pollution, contamination and impurity. Such mixture refers to the mingling of the things of God with the things of man. We see an example of this in the church in Laodicea where Jesus Christ instructs those who are lukewarm, an effect of mixture of hot and cold: “I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:16). Religion’s infiltration of the church is evident by the mixture of that which is carnal and spiritual. What happens when you have a mixture of the spiritual and carnal, truth and error, flesh and spirit? You end up with confusion – Babylon.
John also sees the harlot siting on many waters. What these waters signify is clearly relayed in Revelation 17:15: “the waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues”. We see that the warning of Jesus about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees has come to reality here. The infiltration of religion and her doctrines is not only evident in the saints but also nations and their constitutions and laws.
We also read that John “saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev. 17:6). Here, the blood of the saints and martyrs John sees is not a literal murdering or killing of the saints. It has a deeper meaning; a spiritual one. You see religion has made the saints so dull that they have been side-tracked from understanding and pressing into their high calling in Christ. Jesus declares that the traditions of men make the Word of God of no effect (Mark 7:13). By its traditions and false doctrines, religion has diminished the spiritual senses of the saints; their spiritual capacity to perceive, understand and prioritize the Word of God, thereby killing the saints. Blood in the bible relates to life. So Babylon is drunk not by the literally drinking of the blood of the saints but their spiritual life: their spiritual identity and nature.
This is made obvious by numerous in the church system who have grown indifferent to spiritual things, they have become uninterested to listen, understand and press into deeper revelations of God, His Kingdom and His plan. A teaching that does not appease their current circumstances or their daily life and that does not fit their predefined doctrines is suspended as insignificant religious debate or mere heresy. Many have become satisfied with being saved and have no interest in progressing in the Lord. In their spiritual unawareness they crucify again for themselves the Son of God (Heb. 6:6). The religion that holds men in this state causes them to shut their hearts to spiritual truths to which Jesus says: “hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of the people have grown dull.” (Mat. 13:14-15).
In the religious church system of our day, we see at work the commandments of men being taught as doctrines; we see those who present to God ‘will worship’ (Col. 2:23) – worship in vain out of the soulical realm; we see the world with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life not only being espoused but delicately promoted from the pulpit. Humanism is rife and we notice at large soul development in the church, a by-product of a self-centred gospel. Religion has not only distorted the plan of God but also the nature of God in the saints. The babylonish system has espoused doctrines that elevate the will of man over God’s. It unashamedly and adamantly opposes the very agenda of God for creation – the restitution of all things in Christ. The warning of Paul to Timothy is a reality among us today: “for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
Moreover, the schisms of religious systems into hundreds of denominations, even to the point of competition, are common to us today. Paul says: “for where there are envy, strife, and division among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (I Cor. 3:3). For those who would perceive, this division is a plain indication that carnality is rife in the church system. “Is Christ divided” (1 Cor. 1:13)? Would not a church solely established in Christ be united? Is it not because ‘I’ is prevalent that ‘we’ cannot be apprehended? I tell you with an earnest heart, Christ no longer reigns supreme in that house. To this many will say, the church is not made up of perfect people. This has become a boast of many. But it’s one thing to be imperfect and another to wallow in imperfection while ignoring and refusing the remedy for that imperfection. Imperfection is not something to be proud of. The Lord wants for Himself “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).
Religion, just like the ancient Babylon, is also driven by money and greed. The tables and seats of the money changers and traders that Jesus overturned in the temple have been reinstituted in the modern church system. Everything is for sale; sermons, books, songs, ministry appearances, healings, and blessings which have made the church system and her merchants wealthy. We read regarding the Babylonish religious system that “the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury” (Rev. 18:3). In the accounts of the fall of Babylon we read: “the merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing” (Rev. 18:15-17). Indeed she is rich, yet not with revelation but with impressive buildings and extravagant stages, musical instruments and auditoriums.
It’s plain that what is preached from pulpits around most churches is seemingly positive, well intentioned, encouraging, and uplifting. However, to the discerning ear, at the root of many teachings is soul development, which is in stark contrast to teachings which cultivate the life of Christ in the saint. The façade is merely a disguise that makes the church system seemingly genuine to the undiscerning. We see this in the woman’s adornment. She was “arrayed in purple and scarlet and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls” (Rev. 17:4). Paradoxically her beautification resembles the veil of the tabernacle which was “woven of a blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen” (Exd. 27:16). Similarly, the Levitical priesthood were also arrayed in a holy garment including the ephod and breastplate “made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen” (Exd. 28:8,15). The breastplate the priest wore was also arrayed in: “four rows of stones: The first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; this shall be the first row; the second row shall be a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper” (Exd. 28:17-20). Together, the apparel signified their special dignity, election and authority which gave a kingly character to the high priest.
However, we also see the harlot arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls. At first glance it seems that mystery Babylon resembles the elect priesthood. On the contrary, it is a deception, an imitation and a forgery of the glory and beauty of holiness which the priests’ rob typified. Just like counterfeit money which resembles real money but has missing elements, so is mystery Babylon. Unlike the priesthood, she is missing the blue thread, the fine woven linen, the four rows of 12 precious stones found on the breastplate and the various other details found on the holy garment of the priesthood from their head covering to their belt. The pearl is also added although it is not found on the garment of the priests nor the tabernacle.
This disguise has caused many to be deceived by the external attractions of the babylonish church system, mesmerized by her purple and scarlet adornment and the glitter of her precious stones. Religion is a counterfeit and it has designated to itself a special dignity, election and office, and kingly character that is neither real nor God ordained. However, through its disguise, the babylonish church system has gained legitimacy and has positioned itself in the heart of many saints leading them astray.
The root of religion
In light of all that I have shared, I do want to make one thing certain that the blame for religion cannot be placed on any specific saint or pastor. Very few pastors and teachers in the church system deliberately intend to deceive the saints. On the contrary, they themselves are deceived and the teachings they propagate are founded on falsehood and erroneous interpretations of the Word. Therefore, the origin of religion and the blame for its woes lies squarely on the religious nature of the carnal man which resides in all men. That’s why the subtlety of religion easily works in many for “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts” (Mark 7:21). That’s why in Revelation 17:3, we read of the woman sitting on a “scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy” indicating the carnal mind from which religion finds its source and power.
Therefore, in separating one’s self from religion, it will not suffice to merely sever ties from the church system. This further requires submitting to the deep working of the Spirit to mortify the carnal mind within each of us. For though Israel had physically left Egypt, it took 40 years of God’s dealing in the wilderness to purge them from the Egypt established within. Jesus said: “If anyone desires to come after me let him deny himself…” (Mark 8:34). Denying one’s self includes being ready to let go of our carnal mind and everything that comes with it – all our preconceived knowledge we have accumulated and all religious foundations we have established within. Self and the carnal mind cannot exalt God. On the contrary, it will keep us from expressing a greater measure of Christ in our life.
Where is your allegiance today? Who do you identify with and most trust? Is it your church and your pastor? Their role and influence should have no greater place than the Spirit of truth guiding you through the indwelling Christ. If this is not the case, they have become an idol to you. Paul, the wise master builder exhorts us to build on the one and only foundation – Jesus Christ.
As in the days of Moses, the time for the Lord to proclaim to the religious system: “let My people go, that they may serve Me” is at hand. The good news as you read in Revelation chapters 18 and 19 is that Babylon will be destroyed. Rest assured the fall of religious Babylon is certain for “the sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore…the light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore” (Rev. 18:22-23). And to those who would listen with spiritual ears to the voice of the Shepherd and follow Him, there is a call to “come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins” (Rev. 18:4).