They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of lords and King or kings—and with Him will be His called, chosen and faithful followers. –Revelation 17:14
Contrary to what you may read in the newspaper and the way everything seems today, the world is not out of control. And, no, it is not the devil that is in control. The fact of the matter is the Lamb is on the throne. To Him alone has all authority been given to open the seven seals that are on the Book of Life.
The world may not acknowledge that to be the case, but it is still true. It is a truth that they, along with the elect, will acknowledge at the end of time when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
So often we visualize the Christ on the cross. We see Him in all the garb of humility and shame. His arms are stretched out. His hands are nailed to the wood. He seems to us the victim of Jewish malice and the scorn of Roman soldiers. We must see there, however, the Lamb of God who is the Son of God making the once-for-all sacrifice for sin. And we must also know that He arose from the dead and ascended into heaven where He is now on the throne, clothed with power and dominion.
Sadly, some people act as if Christianity may as well surrender. They claim that the Islamic faith is rapidly growing and that the church is weak while her foes are great. The days of spiritual conquest are over, and the days of failure and disaster are at hand. Many within the church are filled with fear for the future of the church.
Don’t you believe it for a minute!
Yes, there is a great battle taking place. Yes, that battle will be fought to the end and will increase in magnitude. Never forget, however, who sits on the throne. The Lamb shall overcome and all—even the great beast—shall bow down before Him.
The Horrible Woman
In this chapter of Revelation, John is carried away by the Spirit into a wilderness. In a vision he sees an adulteress sitting on a scarlet-colored beast. The beast was full of names of blasphemy. It had seven heads and ten horns.
As peculiar as these figures may seem to us, they were very familiar to those who first read this book. They should be familiar to readers of the Old Testament, as well. God had punished the ten tribes of Israel with captivity because, as the prophet Jeremiah put it, they played the harlot. Isaiah lamented how the faithful city had become a harlot (Isaiah 1:21). Who could forget the dramatic tale of Hosea who was instructed by God to wed a prostitute as an illustration of what Israel had become? In Leviticus 20 God had warned the people what would happen to them if they would prostitute themselves and run after false gods.
And yet, this woman riding on the beast is no ordinary street-corner prostitute. She appears to have great wealth. And it is not merely her extravagant wealth made by her sin that distinguishes her; her wealth seems to go hand in hand with her cruelty. The woman is drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.
Rev. Vos’s excellent study of the Book of Revelation, which The Outlook has been privileged to publish, has made very clear the contrast that is made in Revelation between the true church and the false church. The true church is the Bride of the Lamb. The false church is the harlot of this chapter—the false wife.
The symbolism of this vision illustrates the great differences between the faithful true bride of Christ and the faithless who profess to be servants of Christ but have sold out to the world. The woman on the beast is not the true church. She is a caricature of the false, counterfeit church who has apostatized herself from her true husband and now consorts with the enemy.
In this context, the harlot is a woman who has sworn faithfulness to her husband but has shamefully and shamelessly forsaken him to pursue other men. Like Gomer of the Old Testament, she is the unfaithful, deceitful woman who breaks the sacred marriage pledge. As I read different commentaries on this passage written in different periods of history, it was interesting to see how each period had its own harlot—its own false church—that the true church was battling.
Throughout history there have always been faithless people who allied themselves with the world while professing to be followers of Christ. In certain periods of history the faithless elements have been very strong. They seemed to dominate the church. Sometimes the organized church allied itself with the world and with worldly powers. It even armed itself with the weapons of the world. At times, the church ruled over kings and nations. She persecuted and killed the faithful followers of the Lord. Indeed, the so-called church became drunk with the blood of the saints.
John’s reaction to the vision is “When I saw her, I was greatly astonished” (v. 6). Notice that John was not astonished by the great beast on which the woman rode. Nor was he astonished by the treatment received by the saints. He fully expected that there would be martyrs. But when John saw the scarlet woman and came to understand all that she stood for, as he saw in her the development of the Christian religion on this earth and all the atrocities done in the name of Christianity, he was filled with amazement.
The only church John knew was the poor church, the persecuted church. It was despised, hunted, and hated. For a person even to mention the name of Jesus was cause to be brought before the Roman provincial judge and then to be burned at the stake, decapitated, or crucified.
The organized church that John saw in his vision was rich. It controlled governments. It was dressed in purple and flaunted her precious stones. She crowned and uncrowned kings. No wonder John was astonished! Such a church could change the world. It could put an end to persecution. Christianity could grow as it did at the time of Pentecost. What John saw instead was a return to martyrdom more cruel and terrible than it had been—and, horror of horrors, it was the church that was doing the killing.
The Great Beast
The harlot—that is, the false church—will ally herself with the beast—worldly power and the anti-Christ—and they will make unrelenting war against the Lamb and His flock. The false church and the beast on which she rides have been seen in the syncretism of the Old Testament Israel with her temple prostitutes and sacrifices to Molech, in the Jezebel found in the New Testament Church of Thyatira, in the organized church that nailed the Savior to the cross, in the church that persecuted Luther and killed Wycliffe, in Islam, and in the religion of tolerance that is being proclaimed by many churches today.
Through it all, the true church can be comforted in this: that the beast and the harlot who rides on it will be defeated and will return to the abyss from which they came. The true Bride of the Lamb need not fear! Even thought the enemy may appear strong, and even at times on the brink of triumph, their doom is certain.
The faithful may have to suffer at their hands, but so did our Savior. The enemy nailed the Lamb to the cross. He did not stay there! He arose victorious from the grave. As His faithful followers, we can expect to suffer with Him, but we, too, shall be raised victorious. Just as death could not contain Jesus, so it is unable to contain those who trust in Him.
The world hates the true followers of Christ. The false church will hate us, as well, because she loves the world. Jesus told us as much. Throughout the history of the church, faithful Christianity has always faced conflict with the world. We may live in a country where we do not face open hostility, but we are constantly pressured, even seduced, by a seemingly friendly society that wants to drag us down into the same abyss in which she will find herself.
With great fury the beast fights against the Lamb. He kills holy habits like Bible reading, devotions, prayer, and theological discussions. He offers us all kinds of legitimate excuses for skipping any real opportunities for spiritual growth. He wounds our consciences so that we can justify our sinful behavior. He convinces us that we are not born in sin, nor are we guilty of sin, so we do not need a Savior. He stuns our religious sensibilities so that we no longer care about the true church. He mocks our religious earnestness until our friends refer to us as holy rollers or the frozen chosen.
And all of this the beast does without so much as breaking out into a sweat. His influence on us is often unseen, intangible, and indescribable, but it is just as deadly to the soul as were the bloody executions of the first martyrs in Rome. What kind of worthless things do you set before your eyes? How often have you caught yourself using the language of the world? What part of your life have you claimed for yourself and closed off to God? Do not kid yourself—the beast is alive and well. He and the false church wage war against the Lamb, and their desire is to drag you right along with them.
This vision was given to John to show him and the true church that however fearful the warfare may become, the Lamb has overcome the beast and the harlot. “But the beast was captured” (Revelation 19:20a). Christ has won the victory, and the gates of hell will not prevail against His church.
Revelation 17 tells us that the power of the false church will be broken. The beast on which she rides devours her. That is what is in store for the faithless part of the church. The world to which she clings, from which she seeks her amusements, to which she seeks to draw nearer and nearer—the world she brought into the church turns on her and rends her asunder.
The beast will have no trouble devouring the false church until she is consumed by the world. No longer will you be able to tell the difference between her and the amusement and entertainment of the world. You will not, however, be able to find Christ in her, because He has removed His candlestick from her midst.
The beast cannot do that with the true church. It cannot consume her. It cannot even touch her. Try as they might, the false church and the beast on which she rides will fail. The Lamb will come again, and they will be consumed by the breath of His mouth. At that time, no one will doubt His kingship or question His authority.
Those who are faithful shall overcome by the power of the Lamb who sits on the throne. May we be counted among those from every tribe and nation, every people and language, who have been found faithful to our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Rev. Wybren H. Oord is the co-pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and the editor of The Outlook.