Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Revelation 17: Is the Harlot of Babylon the Catholic Church?

My Sunday school class has been reading through the book of Revelation. I was recently asked to teach a lesson and it happened to fall on Revelation 17 which introduces the Harlot of Babylon. I prepared for the lesson by reading through several commentaries on the subject and noticed something they all have in common: they all claim the Harlot is the Roman Catholic Church. Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible says, for example, “The image here is that of papal Rome, represented as an abandoned woman in gorgeous attire, alluring by her arts the nations of the earth, and seducing them into all kinds of pollution and abomination.”

Of those commentaries that hold this opinion, I notice that they become fixated on Catholic Church and see that Church in every detail:

The purple and scarlet... it's the Catholic Church

The pearls and precious stones... it's the Catholic Church.

The golden cup full of abominations... it's the Catholic Church.

There's an old saying that when you're a hammer, everything else looks like a nail. When you allow yourself to become locked into one way of thinking, you suddenly have the same solution for everything. In this case, as these commentaries try to interpret the details of the rest of the chapter, all they can see is the Catholic Church.

Now I concede that a lot of the details seem to fit the Catholic Church but it would be rather pragmatic to insist that it is the Catholic Church just because it fits some of the details. When the Bible is ambiguous, it means to be ambiguous and I think there is great danger in advancing one interpretation of an ambiguous passage as though it is doctrine.

There are a lot of things I disagree with Catholics about but I am not a person who believes that no Catholic is saved. Concerning this passage, I must say one thing in defense of the Catholics. There is a very significant event that will happen between now and the time of Revelation that will fundamentally change the complexion of the Catholic Church. No commentary that I've read has factored this event into their theory. That event is the Rapture!

Think about this for a moment: Presently, in the Catholic Church, we have a world-wide, very affluent, religious organization seated in Rome. After the Rapture, we will have a world-wide, very affluent, religious organization seated in Rome – entirely comprised of people who aren't Christians! The Catholic Church at that time is not the same Catholic Church that exists now. It can't be. So even if the Catholic Church turns out to be the harlot in question, it's not the Catholic Church that the commentaries are attacking now.

Could the Catholic Church be the harlot of Revelation 17? Maybe. It fits the description. But the Bible isn't absolutely clear about it so therefore, I have to remain open minded. Maybe it is or maybe it isn't.

There are some things the Bible is absolutely clear about. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). That's very clear. If someone ever asked me if Muslims can go to heaven, I can say with certainty they cannot. If someone asks me if the Catholic Church is the Harlot of Babylon, I have to answer, “I don't know.”

As you do your own study on the subject, no doubt you will come across the same opinions that I've heard expressed. When you do, ask yourself if they are taking the Rapture into consideration as they point a finger at the Catholic Church. If they don't at least mention that there will be no Christians among the Catholics at that time, they are painting an unfair picture of the Catholic Church.

Remember, only the Bible is infallible. All other opinions are suspect.

Further reading

Revelation 13:18: What is the Number of the Beast?

Revelation 3:11: Taking Our Crown

11 comments:

Steven J. said...

I think that the Great Prostitute depicts Jews (in the first century) who rejected Jesus as the Messiah. This interpretation fits several features of Revelation: its tendency to erect pairs of concepts (e.g. the seven-horned lamb representing Christ vs. the two-horned lamb representing the anti-christ or false prophet, the Great Prostitute vs. the Woman Clothed in the Sun, representing the true people of God), the condemnation at the start of the book of "those who say they are Jews, but are not," etc.

It also fits the prediction in chapter 17 that the beast and the ten horns will hate the prostitute and bring her to ruin, burn her and eat her flesh. Assuming that "eat her flesh" is figurative for "loot her" or "sell her people into slavery," this pretty well describes what the Romans did to Jerusalem and Judea in 70 AD.

Note that comparisons of Israel or Judah to a prostitute when they turn away from God is a staple of Old Testament prophetic literature, and certainly John would have seen rejecting Jesus as the Messiah as a turning away from God.

As for my belief that this passage refers to the first century rather than later Jews, or to past rather than future times, Revelation opens with the statement that it concerns things that are soon to come. Lest this be misunderstood, it ends with a command not to seal up the prophecy, a clear allusion to the command to "seal up" the book of Daniel. The implication is that the predictions of the book concern the generation that first received it, and are not supposed to wait several centuries to see fulfillment.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Thanks for your comment. I've read other commentaries that identify the Harlot as Jews (not necessarily 1st century) and you've summed up the details nicely.

I am reminded of Isaiah 1:21 which says of Jerusalem, "How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers" (KJV).

It's a theory that certainly has merit but, as I said, where the Bible is ambiguous, we need to remain open minded.

You raise good points in all of your comments. You should have your own blog.

God bless!!
RKBentley

Anonymous said...

really an eye opener for me.

- Robson

RKBentley said...

Robson,

Thanks for visiting my blog. I have to say my eyes were opened as well. I had heard people for years claiming the harlot is the Catholic church but it wasn't until I began studying for the lesson that I considered the relevance of the Rapture on the matter. No when I think about it, I can't see how I've missed it for so long. It seems a few other have missed it as well.

Keep visiting.

God bless!!
RKBentley

Josh said...

The purple and scarlet... it's Jerry Falwell (He runs Liberty University, who's colors are white, purple, and scarlet)

The pearls and precious stones... it's Jerry Falwell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Falwell#SEC_and_bonds)

The golden cup full of abominations... it's Jerry Falwell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Falwell#Falwell_versus_Penthouse)

+---------------------------------+

The purple and scarlet... it's Pat Robertson (Washington and Lee University Alum... same colors as LU)

The pearls and precious stones... it's Pat Robertson (He used logistics resources meant for charity work to haul mining equipment to his diamond mines in Liberia)

The golden cup full of abominations... it's Pat Robertson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Robertson#Controversies_and_criticisms The guy's too big of an ass to list all the reasons why)

The point of all this is: Given a vague enough prophesy, you can correlate it to almost anything or anyone. I'm not defending the Catholic church, as I regard it as one of the worlds biggest forces of oppression. However, whether you like it or not, the book you read that prophecy in exists only because of the Catholic church. You can pretend to be different from them, but your differences are minor, superficial, and inconsequential.

Josh said...

By the way, I'm interested to see if you are secure enough in your beliefs to approve my criticisms, or if you will hide your head in the sand like the rest of 'em.

RKBentley said...

Josh,

I'm not sure of your point. Actually, I'm not entirely sure that you even read my post. Do you understand that I'm NOT saying that the Catholic church is the Harlot of Babylon?

As you have pointed out, the Bible is not absolutely clear who or what the Harlot of Babylon is. I believe that when the Harlot is revealed, we will recognize her from this prophecy. Until then, we must remain open minded. When the Bible is ambiguous, it means to be ambiguous. We should avoid putting forth interpretations and theories as though they are doctrine.

Thanks for visiting and for leaving comments. BTW, I only moderate to avoid spam and foul language. If you are able to convey your thoughts in a civil manner, I will publish them regardless of whether or not I agree with them.

I hope you continue to visit and leave more comments!

God bless!
RKBentley

Anonymous said...

Rapture comes after the tribulation. There's going to be a time when it's a war for souls to Christ and antichrist. How can that happen if there aren't any Christians here t to preach the gospel?

RKBentley said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. The timing of the Rapture is one of those things that I don't like to argue with other Christians about. If someone is saved, then he is saved. All Christians will be caught up together – whenever it may be. However, I'm happy to give my opinion.

Let's refer to 1 Thessalonians 5:

v. 1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
v. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
v. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.

So, this passage is certainly talking about the return of Christ. It starts by saying how everything will seem to be peaceful and safe as normal but then He will return “as a thief in the night” and “sudden destruction” will come upon the wicked. Are we agreed so far? Now, let's continue the passage:

v. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
v. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

These verses seem to be reassuring the saved that they are not like the wicked. That day will not “overtake us.” Let skip forward a few verses:

v. 9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.

If the “travail” and “wrath” discussed in this passage is a reference to the Tribulation (which I believe it is), then I believe it's clear that we who are in Christ are not “appointed” to suffer it.

There are other passages I could cite but I think this is reasonably clear that the saved will be delivered and so will not partake in the wrath that follows Christ's return. If you disagree, then we'll have to disagree in love. Some things are not negotiable (such as salvation by grace obtained by faith). Understanding the correct time of the Rapture is not a prerequisite to salvation. Why argue about it?

Please keep visiting. God bless!!

RKBentley

Anonymous said...

Hi great article, but his is what my understanding is so far. Haven't delved too deep into this as many others as of yet.

In Revelation 6 it speaks about how all the dead in Christ are taken up and ask how long must we wait, and it says a while longer until the fullness of all those who died like them come to pass.

So I don't see any rapture happening other than those who actually died for Christ, but all those who remain alive will *see* tribulation including the righteous and unrighteous.

If you study Exodus, which is a mini version of what is to come, you will see that houses were sealed and protected along with all those inside with the blood. (This seems to be kind of like what is mentioned for the 144,000 in chapter 7) but those who were sealed remained while all was happening around them. And a mixed multitude of Gentiles who *survived* went out with them when the tribulation was over.

The parable of whoever is first is last and last is first figures into this also I think. All those who are the righteous dead get to be with Jesus early, but the 144,000 remain on earth through out the times of wrath and all those who survive will remain with them.

Just my understanding so far...

RKBentley said...

Thank you for visiting and for your comments. I encourage you as you study the promises of Christ's return. I have just a couple of points for you to consider.

First, I believe the Bible is clear that the rapture will include both the living and dead – though it does say the dead will rise first and the living afterward.

I direct you to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

Now, I had never considered the possibility of a long gap between the resurrection of the dead and the rapture of the living until reading your comment. However, I believe the Bible is equally clear that the gap between the two is not one of significance.

1 Corinthians 15:51 says, “we will not all sleep” but that at the last trumpet, when the dead are raised, we who are living will be changed in a moment – “in the twinkling of an eye.” In other words, those fortunate people who are alive during the rapture will never die physically but will be immediately transformed into their eternal bodies.

Thank you again for visiting. I invite you keep visiting and share your comments as you continue studying. I really need to post more Bible study on my blog.

God bless!!

RKBentley