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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

John and Isaiah: Wondering at The Harlot.

Anyone who has read the book of Revelation has met the woman sitting on a scarlet beast, in chapter 17. She is dressed in purple and scarlet, is adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls, has a cup and something written on her forehead. Right after this John says, “And when I saw her, I wondered greatly.” (17:3-6) The woman is, for the sake of explanation, like a “cartoon” version of something else—she is explained to be “the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth” (17:18). Much like Daniel saw a “cartoon” of the empires of the world in the statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, John saw this woman as a representation.

John was astonished by what he saw, and when I saw through John’s eyes, please know that I was astonished, too. I’ve been studying the Bible for years and this passage is one that has been a matter of discussion for centuries. Many, many interpretations and explanations have been offered. Please understand that I am making no claim at “new understanding;” rather, I am just an observation. Try looking through the eyes of the writer sometime, instead of allowing our perspective or technology to interpret for us. What did John see that disturbed him? What do we discover if we let scripture explain itself?

There is another place in scripture that describes someone clothed in purple linens, adorned in gold, precious stones and pearls with something written on the forehead. Exodus 28 describes the garments of the priests as violet, purple and scarlet interwoven with gold, with clasps of precious stones. The priest also wears an ephod and a pouch of gold covered with precious stones, all set in gold. On his head is a turban with a plate of gold with the words, “Holy to the LORD” engraved on it.

When John saw the woman sitting on the beast, he saw the ruler of the earth dressed as a priest of God. No wonder John wondered at what he saw. What is most amazing to me is that the image John saw is nothing new—the world wants nothing to do with God. The woman of Revelation 17 has been around for a very, very long time.

Consider how Isaiah was caused to see the people of his own time, through God’s eyes—they were very, very religious. The people were constantly sacrificing, giving offerings and burning incense. Every time the temple doors were open they were there, celebrating and observing feasts, constantly praying. Here’s what God saw: evil people committing evil acts (Isaiah 1:16). “I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly” (1:13). It must be one or the other—it cannot be both. Sin does not mix with true worship. What kind of sin are we talking about here?

Specifically, God is offended by the filth of sin (1:16-17). Man must be clean and must stop doing evil. Will man be clean if he stops doing evil? If my son plays in the mud and I tell him to stop, will he be clean the moment he stops? The evil that God sees must be removed and the areas of offense include injustice and oppression; in other words, wickedness must be punished and righteousness must be accomplished. This is seen in how people interact with one another.

The religious system of the world today is of no surprise to God. This is why the world system is described to be a harlot and those who follow after the world are called adulterers. Remember that James was writing to a church, addressing them with, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

I wonder what God would say to The Church today?

Revelation 2-4 gives us an idea of God’s message of the church today: we are either sinful and He hold things against us (Ephesus, Thyatira, Sardis, Laodicea); or, we are faithful (Smyrna, Philadelphia) and are His witnesses (Rev. 11:1-13).

Each local church where the Christ identifies sin has the opportunity to repent and be separate from the world. Isaiah 1:18-20 says that God wants to reason about sin and cleansing. God wants us to respond to what He identifies as sinful by allowing Him to clean up and lead us in obedience; otherwise, “if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:20; Revelation 1:16; 19:15)

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