“So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns…And on her forehead a name was written: Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev. 17:3, 5).
Having seen the two beasts, John is then taken to the heights of Mount Zion where he witnesses the Lamb and with Him 144,000; a company who have His Father’s name written on their foreheads. He is informed that these are virgins who were not defiled with women. They are the manchild company who have been caught up to the throne of God, who have been sealed on their foreheads and who have been raised above the sea and earth realm. They have overcome the beast. Its power and authority no longer has dominion over their thinking and actions. “And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God” (Rev. 15:2). Indeed the sea has become glass in this elect people, no longer allowing the beast to rise up out of the sea in their lives.
However, this victory is not all inclusive since the rest of humanity, including those who dwell on the earth, still wallow under the influence of the beast. Notice that the 144,000 are identified as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb (Rev. 14:4). The power and dominion of the Kingdom flows out from the heights of Zion (elect sons), to Jerusalem (the virgin church), then to Israel (nominal Christians) and ultimately to the all nations (the unsaved).
Thus the scene in John’s vision quickly changes as John is led to witness the condition of the earth and God’s dealings there. It’s there that Babylon is first mentioned in the book of Revelation. The beast, the woman, the great harlot, and mystery Babylon are all synonymous. They are different expressions and manifestations of the false religious system that emanate out of the deception of the carnal man. The power and authority of Satan (dragon) lies in religion in the wilderness of spiritual corruption.
The wilderness is a dry and exposed place where death is prominent. Just as the gold calf was raised up in the wilderness, John was carried away in the Spirit into the wilderness to see the symbol of a woman given the name “Mystery Babylon”. That gold calf which Moses had burned, ground in a powder, scattered in water and had made the children of Israel drink would eventually become a “great harlot” that sat on many waters (peoples) and with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication (Rev. 17:1-2). Religion is typified here as a great harlot that refuses to be espoused and submitted to a husband.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day exemplified the harlotry of Mystery Babylon. 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, calling them blind guides, fools, serpents, whitewashed tombs…full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness, a generation of vipers, hypocrites, and of your father the devil. On one occasion, 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. Behind the temple, the priestly garments and the titles, He saw a great harlot who corrupted the earth.
Religion is a system of bondage. It keeps many captives, enslaving them under its rules, rituals and order. 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”.
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 the saints from following and knowing the Lord. It operates as an intermediary between men and God, enforcing its traditions and creeds on the saints, consequently separating the 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 or ministry 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 self-imposed religion which manifested in hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) while the Sadducees held strongly to the written letter of the Law Moses and had political aspirations. The leaven of the Sadducees relates to teachings founded in a legalistic mind-set. Despite their doctrinal differences, both groups imposed a mind-set of dos 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 elusiveness and precision of her deception enables the woman to take many captivates. Thus she is called MYSTERY Babylon. Mystery is something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain. It is hidden, much like leaven is hid in flour. The religious mind-set is similar to leaven which gradually disperses and works to influence men. It deceives by establishing 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). Thus religion is not merely an outward manifestation of forms and teachings but a spirit and condition hidden in the heart.
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 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 of 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 boards 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 system. In doing do 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 of their congregation, their pastor, and their Sunday service and they will feel empty, inadequate and in a backslidden condition.
Notice how religious folks don’t care about your relationship and union with the Lord. Their primary concern and their main questions centre around church 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).
I tell you with a sorrowful heart that this is the betrayal of the ages. Indeed, “the roads to Zion mourn because no one comes to the set feasts” (Lam. 1:4). The Lord has prepared a banqueting table for those who will hear the call and receive the invitation by His Spirit into His glorious Kingdom. May the Lord help us to heed His call.