Come Out of Her, My People
This is the Word of the Lord. If you’re not already in Revelation 17, if you will turn there. It’s page 1037 if you use one of the seat Bibles. And if you need an outline, raise your hand. One thing before we jump in. If you are a follower of Jesus who has not been baptized, let me encourage you to pray about taking that big step of obedience. I’ll be teaching the baptism class tonight at 7pm, and anyone is welcome to come, even if you just have questions as to what baptism is for, what salvation is all about, I’d love for you to join us. This is a huge step in our following of Jesus.
Most people who travel around the world and experience many different countries acknowledge that overall America is one of the most free, respectful (as far as civil rights) countries in the world. Obviously, not perfect. We have a long way to go, but relatively speaking. And yet if you follow the news, you would think we live in the most oppressive, victimizing of regimes. You get a glimpse of this in obvious extremes, like Antifa or the Alt Right. But you get a glimpse of this in less obvious manifestations in things like safe spaces, trigger warnings, appropriation violations, and even more generally in the rise in loneliness, depression, suicidality, and even recently, for the first time in our country’s history, a decline in life expectancy. If you’re conservative, you look at some of these indications and you generally might conclude we’re just too soft. We’re a country of crybabies. And if you’re progressive, you might look at these symptoms and conclude our government has failed us. It needs to step up and make our lives livable.
One of the most important books, in my opinion, not a very big book, but a book that came out in 2019 is called “Primal Screams” by Mary Eberstadt. It’s subtitled: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics. And Eberstadt, who is a senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute, acknowledges that there are many contributing factors that breed identity politics, including real injustices. But she argues that none of these factors are as foundational in explaining our current situation that we’re experiencing today than the sexual revolution. She would argue the sexual revolution, which basically, last half a century or so, has untethered sexual intimacy from marriage and from family, has created this culture of victimization.
What is the sexual revolution? It’s when you when you divorce sex from marriage and family. And it promised, the goal of the sexual revolution was a social nirvana — set us free from all these oppressive restrictions from the past. But now if you look around and you listen, there seems to be far more victims today than there were before the very revolution that was supposed to set us free from this victimization. And Eberstadt goes through a myriad of examples, but concludes this:
“Maybe many people today are claiming to be victims because they and their societies are victims — not so much of the ‘isms’ they point to as oppressors, [like sexism, racism, classism] but because the human animal has been selected for familial forms of socialization that for many people no longer exist.”
What does she mean by that? These are not her words, but this is what I believe she means. That as a society … and I would encourage you for a moment to step out of your own experience and look on a macro level. As a society that has for decades brainwashed itself into believing that sex is trivial, that marriage is dispensable, that divorce is easy, that surrogacy is common, that babies are disposable, that gender is fluid, that pornography is ubiquitous (everywhere), that families are undefinable, that fathers are optional. When a society decade after decade tells itself in every form of media that these things, which in the past imperfectly, but vitally provide some stability and definition as to who am I and where do I fit in. When you rip all of those apart, how can you be surprised that there are not psychological and social repercussions? Perhaps the reason people are crying in the dorms and screaming in the streets is not just about politics. You can switch presidents, you can trade members of Congress, but the crying will continue because perhaps the real pain … or the crying is pointing to a real pain, a real social fragmentation. Eberstadt says it this way.
“Identity politics is not so much politics as a primal scream. It’s the result of the Great Scattering — our species’ unprecedented collective retreat from our very selves. Anyone who has ever heard a coyote in the desert, separated at night from its pack, knows the sound. The otherwise unexplained hysteria of today’s identity politics is nothing more, or less, than just that: the collective human howl of our time, sent up by inescapably communal creatures trying desperately to identify their own.”
Again, what marriage and family imperfectly did in the past, helping us understand who we are and where we fit in, has been replaced by a craving to be connected to a clan of kindred casualties. This craving to be connected by a clan, to a clan of kindred casualties. If I can find people online who have experienced the same pain I’ve experienced, that will tell me who I am. That will give me a name. That will legitimize my experience and even deeper, my identity, who I really am.
Now Eberstadt is arguing from an evolutionary, non-Christian perspective. But the link between sexual revolution, social disintegration and collective scream is significant. What Eberstadt describes on a national, timely level, Revelation 17-19 is describing on a spiritual, timeless level. Now what I mean by timeless is not that it doesn’t happen in time, but you can hear this primal scream back in Babylon. You can hear it in Rome. You can hear it today. And one day in the great tribulation, you will hear this human howl. What I noticed in this section as I was just meditating … This is just a printout of Revelation 17:1-19:5, which is the section we’re looking at, describing … It’s the beginning of God making all things new, but it’s describing the fall and judgment of Babylon. What I noticed as I’m soaking in all of these chapters is this section is teeming with animated language. It is the vocabulary of emotion. You get this in chapter 17 in the form of wondering and amazement and shock. You get it in chapter 18 in weeping and wailing. And you get it in chapter 19 in a different kind of fear, a holy fear, that of worshiping.
Let’s look at those really quickly one at a time to summarize where we’re heading in the next few weeks. Chapter 17 is wondering. The Greek word “thaumazo,” the word for wondering, appears only four times in the whole Book of Revelation. Yet it appears three times here. Thaumazo means to be amazed, to marvel, to wonder, to be astonished. And it can be kind of a repulsive or attractive amazement. Three examples: verse 6, John “marveled greatly” at the woman (Revelation 17:6). Verse 7, the angel asked, “Why do you marvel?” Verse 8, the earth dwellers “marvel” at the beast. There is a shock, a screech of “What is that!?” in chapter 17.
In chapter 18 there is weeping and wailing. Babylon, while promising never to mourn in verse 7, creates an entire context of tears. A couple examples: the kings of the earth are weeping and wailing, 18:9. The merchants are weeping and mourning, verse 11. The shipmasters and sailors are weeping and mourning, verse 19. This is a chapter of primal screams. It starts and ends with weeping.
And then in chapter 19 you see a radical shift in verse 1.
“After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice [there’s still a lot of screaming going on, but it’s a different kind of screaming] … the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just.’”
Verse 3, “Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah!’”
Verse 5, “And from the throne came a voice saying, ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.’”
A very different kind of fear and crying out by the end. The movement of chapter 17-19, which again is recording the judgment of Babylon, moves us from the brothel to the altar, from the brothel to the wedding in 19:6-10. The brothel is characterized by systems of sexual and economic exploitation. The marriage of the Lamb is a picture of the ultimate security and purity of covenant. I wish we could just buy lunch and serve it here and go through all three chapters. But we will have mercy on you. We’re just going to put the emphasis on the first chapter and try to answer two questions briefly and then spend a bit of time beginning to apply, what does all this strange language have to do with us? What does this mean for us today personally and collectively?
First question, why did John marvel? Why was he stunned, mesmerized, shocked, perhaps confused? And if we can answer this question, we’ll begin to understand a couple of things. One, who this woman is and how she relates to us. Notice five aspects of the woman described in chapter 17.
First of all, her identity. This woman shocked John. And we won’t understand why unless we understand her identity. Verse 1,
“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.”
Who is this woman? Verse 1 she is described as a “great prostitute.” Verse 3 she is described as a woman sitting on a beast. Verse 5, a “mother” of prostitutes. Verse 18, if you skip down to the end, she’s described as a “great city.” The woman is the great city. What’s fascinating, if you look at the big picture, is if you jet forward to chapter 21, these same words are used.
“‘Come, [21:9] I will show you [a different woman].’”
“‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”
We know we’re not talking about a literal woman. We’re talking about a system, a woman who represents a spiritual system of idolatry and immorality that is pictured in and manifested in a city, immorally. And then pointing to a different woman, a bride, the wife of the Lamb, who represents a different city, the city of Jerusalem, the holy city. This is her identity.
Secondly, her transportation. She is, according to verse 3, “sitting on a scarlet beast.” Verse 7, the beast carries her. Now, who is the beast? This is where things get really confusing. Verse 7 says the beast is with “seven heads and ten horns.” In verse 8 the beast “was, is not, and is to come.” Three times that same or similar statement is made, which communicates very clearly. Whoever this beast is, whatever this beast is, he is a parody, an imitation of Jesus. The “was, is not, and is to come” — a spoof of Jesus. He is an antichrist. Verse 9,
“This calls for a mind with wisdom.”
Yeah! Notice it doesn’t say this calls for a code breaker. The point is not if you can figure out who everybody is and perfectly match who everybody is to the time that they’re supposed to be, you cracked the code. No, what we need here is wisdom. Verse 9, there are seven heads that are “seven mountains on which the woman is seated.” What would any original reader think of when they hear seven mountains? Rome, the famous seven hills of Rome. Verse 11, there are
“also, seven kings, five of whom are fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come, he must remain only a little while.”
You’ll see so many of these little breadcrumbs of God’s sovereignty thrown in there. “Only a little while,” “for an hour,” communicating the fact that this beast seems all powerful, able to defy death, disappears, comes back. But God is sovereign, in control. Only for a little while, only for an hour — communicating the limits. Verse 11, the beast “was and is not,” is an eighth of these seven, but belongs to the seven. And it goes to destruction. Verse 12, the “ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.”
Now, what is the interpretation of these things? Some see in these numbers and kings a clear connection to Roman emperors. There are entire books on this. I get really lost in the connections because I feel like you have to eliminate emperors to make it work. But there’s clearly a reference here to the Roman emperors of the time. Others see totalitarian empires like Egypt and Syria and Babylon and Medo-Persia and Greece and Rome. These seem to tie in very tightly to Daniel’s beasts in Daniel 7. But there also seem to be what we call apocalyptic symbolisms, apocalyptic symbolisms. And if you don’t see that, I’d really like to challenge you to try to figure out how can you have the same thing mean multiple things if you don’t believe in apocalyptic literature? The woman is a prostitute who’s a mother who’s a city. The Lion is a Lamb. This is normal in apocalyptic literature. This is not the way we speak in everyday language, right? That’s a contradiction. Are you a lion or are you a lamb? But apocalyptic literature is one of the ways in which things or people can be described in vivid ways through symbolism that our normal language would be limited in describing, like poetry. You can say some things through poetry that are harder in other genres.
What is this pointing to? As Ryan pointed out way back when we were in Revelation 13, one thing we know from this passage is that Satan recruits authoritative rulers to wage war on God’s people. And that’s where this passage is going. It happened in Babylon. It happened in Rome. It’s happening today. And one day the antichrist will gather lesser rulers to, verse 14, “make war on the Lamb.” And in many ways, this is already happening. And that is why this “was, is not, not, come back” language is so powerful. These are powerful nations who will rise and fall, unite and divide, fade away and then return. You think they’re gone, they come back. Because the beast represents political and military rulers who carry the prostitute, which represents these religious and economic systems that control the political and military systems at the beginning for a while. This is her transportation.
Number 3, her appearance. Verse 4, she is arrayed in purple (symbolizing royalty), scarlet (symbolizing wealth). By the way, dyes back then were really expensive. If you wore cool colors like this, it meant you had money to buy those dyes in order to dye your clothes. This is communicating this woman has money. She is adorned with gold. In the Greek it’s literally “golded with gold.” Glittering with gold “and jewels and pearls.” She is holding in her hand, verse 4, “a golden cup.” Again, she looks wealthy, attractive, yet “full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.” John is stunned by her appearance. She could walk a runway, turn heads. Stunning in the way she dresses. Attractive, prosperous, a model of success. But at closer look, her insides are vomitous filth. That’s what he means by “full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.” She’s disgusting. She is a picture of the ultimate Proverbs 11:22 woman. Do you know that verse?
“Like a ring of gold in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.”
Number 4, her authority. Verse 1, she is “seated on many waters.” Verse 15 explains what these waters are. “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” The prostitute is seated on the beast, representing political and military might, and on the waters, representing nations.
Number 5, her destiny. Verse 16, “And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.” The ones who carry her will betray her. This is a vivid picture of how evil turns on itself. Like a bunch of bank robbers who start knocking each other off so they can keep more of the loot.
Now, in light of all this, what does this mean to us? Is the only message of this passage for someone in the future in a time of great tribulation? It really meant nothing to the first readers or the people in the first century or the first millennia? No, I think that the message is clear. If you look at the whole section, 17:1-19:5, there’s a key command right in the middle. That is where we’re going to put our focus as we unpack these two and a half chapters, and it is the command “come out of her.”
“Come out of her, my people,”18:4.
This command would have applied to the first readers in the Roman Empire, to the believers in the 16th century, the 19th century and today, and in the future.
But this is the question I’ve been wrestling with. Okay, come out of her. But if “her” is not an individual, and as the symbolism clearly communicates, we’re not just talking about Babylon, we’re not just talking about Rome. We’re talking about the city of man, apart from God — a system of idolatry and immorality that we, if you are God’s people, are called to be out of. The reason this gets so difficult is because we have been sent to the very place we are called to come out of. Have you felt that tension? Jesus says, “I send you, so go make disciples” in the very place that he says come out of. Whatever it means to come out of, it’s not a geographical statement. How can I be in (as Jesus prayed) but not of? How can I be in Greenville, but not of Greenville? In Rome, but not of Rome? In Babylon, but not of Babylon? What does that mean?
This passage, I believe, gives us some vital clues that were true, are true, will be true. Let me mention four of them. We’ll only get to look at two today. The first is, you will see your addiction. Secondly, you will hear your calling. Third, you will feel the tension — the tension of the weeping and the rejoicing. What it means to be in a society where you weep with those who weep, you rejoice in what Christ is doing. That’s huge. That’s what we’ll look at next week. And then the final one, in chapter 19, you give God glory.
First one, you see your addiction. These chapters are describing the judgment of a great prostitute who has provided wine, the wine of sexual immorality on which [17:2] “the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” What does it mean to be drunk? It means to lose control of your mind and body on some level, right? Your awareness and your abilities are impaired.
In Dr. Abraham Twerski’s classic book on addiction (he worked with addicts for many, many decades) called “Addictive Thinking,” he has a chapter on self-deception and addictive thinking. He writes this.
“Ironically, another characteristic of addictive thinking is that while it distorts the thinking of addicts about themselves, it may not affect their attitudes toward others. Thus, an actively-drinking alcoholic parent may be thoroughly frustrated by a son or daughter who cannot understand the destructive effects of drugs. Likewise, a cocaine-using son or daughter cannot understand how a parent could turn to drinking after a close brush with death due to the effects of alcohol. Remember this, for it is important: Identification of addictive thinking must come from outside the addict.”
Just leave that up there for a bit. “Identification of addictive thinking must come from outside the addict.” In Revelation 17:2 John is saying that this woman has led, through the wine of her sexual immorality, the dwellers on earth to become drunk, intoxicated — to lose their awareness or ability to respond, to be addicted to things that are not true. And yet, by definition, addictive thinking has supporting it this self-deception that blinds us to the addictive thinking so we have no way of seeing that addictive thing, even though we have an ability to see it in other people. This is why addicts tend to have to come to rock bottom, where something hits us so hard and is so painful, or a voice from outside says it so loud that we finally realize “I’m in trouble, I need help.” Because left to ourselves, we would never see it. We, like all earth dwellers, have been intoxicated, mesmerized, by the false teaching and the empty promises of Babylon.
And they come in so many different forms. You’ll see them in these chapters. There’s the high kind of intoxication that comes with luxury and power. There is a low kind of intoxication that comes with oppression and bondage. But all of it is linked by idolatry and immorality as the enemy fuels this system of spiritual, immoral, economic bondage. Whatever it means to “come out of her,” it means we see it. Our eyes have been opened to the fact that I cannot continue to march according to party lines, according to my own cravings, according to my own culture. I need to wake up. I need help.
That’s why the second indication is so significant that goes along with this. You not only see your addiction; you hear your calling. Because down in verse 14 you’ll notice,
“They will make war on the Lamb, [They, meaning the satanically-driven political powers, will make war on the Lamb.] and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called [Those with him are called] and chosen and faithful.”
In these chapters you’ll notice there is no middle ground. There’s no fence to sit on. You are with him or you are against him. And those with him are characterized by hearing a call. A voice from outside of our self-deceived addiction says, “You’re mine! Come, follow me. I am making all things new.” I don’t understand how Jesus does this, but he does it. For me, when he called me, I wanted nothing to do with him. My life was mapped out. I knew what I wanted and where I was going to go and what I was going to do next. And I wanted nothing to do with him and didn’t think I needed him. And then this lightning bolt of conviction, it exposes me in all my self-deception, consumed with myself. And suddenly, “Lord. I need you. And you are calling to me.” 2 Timothy 1:9 (my life verse),
“Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, [And it has nothing to do with our ability to do anything. A drunk man can’t save himself. An addict can’t fix himself. He calls us.] not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
Has he called you? And I know his calling is different for all of us. Some people experience these spectacular “Saul on the road to Damascus” calls. Others, it’s a very quiet, progressive, grow up in a Christian home, for some of you. And Jesus kindly turns your heart to him. Others of us, he has to take us to the edge of death to wake us up. Some of you are here today because he’s calling you today. But if we’re going to come out of her, it doesn’t come just through some educational reformation plan. It comes because we can see our addiction and the only way we can see our addiction is we hear his call, that external voice. And then our calling ends up shaping our living — our view of sex, friendship, singleness, marriage, sports, work — everything is seen through our call. And other voices can’t keep us from hearing his call.
What does that look like? Let me just tell you two stories from this week just to get a glimpse of this. And I thank God there are hundreds of these here today. One of them was a man I talked to (and these guys aren’t in our church, so don’t try to figure out who this is), a man I was talking to you this week who is in the ministry. And almost 20 years ago, well for the last almost 20 years he has been addicted to pornography. He has broken free for a time, then fallen back, on and off again, constantly, but all in bondage. No real freedom. He had been molested as a child, and these patterns have tentacles that have held onto him and will not let go. And he had never told his wife. Ministering in a church but covered with shame and feeling hopeless. Just recently, the Spirit spoke through all of that bondage and said, “It is time.” And it doesn’t matter. When you hear his voice, it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks about you. It doesn’t matter. The facade falls away. He went to his wife. He told his wife. He went to his church, resigned. He’s jobless, and it doesn’t matter. Meeting with a counselor. And this is key, because all of our addictions that we tend to focus on the addiction have deceptions that are reinforcing those addictions. And if you try to address the addiction without addressing the deception that feeds the addiction, you tend to keep going back into bondage or you go from addiction to addiction. But you never get freedom because you won’t address the root deceptions. And those are those tentacles of this drunkenness, this intoxication that the enemy tries to bring upon us. But he opened it all up and with help is going back and addressing those deceptions. And he was describing to me what it was like. He said, “I feel like a dead body is sliding off my back. I have been carrying around a carcass with maggots and flies, and the weight and the stench and the shame, and all of that slid off. And it puts everything into perspective, because now I’ve got to get a job, I’ve got to find a new way to provide for my family. But I’ve heard the call of Christ, and that changes everything.”
Second story. Yesterday, I was doing training down in Columbia for volunteers ministering in prisons in South Carolina, and I got to pray with this young man who had been tangled up in a horrible way in the LGBTQ community in prison. And it led him to attempt suicide. And because he was such a danger to himself, they put him in isolation. But not just isolation, they stripped him of clothes, bedding, everything that he could possibly harm himself with. So, he’s in an empty room with nothing but a slab to sleep on. Nothing! And he said, “You talk about rock bottom.” No hope, no friends, nothing. And he said that was what Jesus used to get his attention. Because when they brought him out, he got connected to a prison ministry and heard about Jesus. He heard the call of Christ, and he gave his life to Christ and with help began to see the deceptions that were feeding this bondage. And just imagine, he’s now out (just got out) and he’s at training so that he can mentor other prisoners in the way of Christ. This is what Jesus does. When you hear the call of Christ, yes, he sets us free, and we’re all in that process. It’s an ongoing process. But then he turns to us and shows us, yes, there are other people in bondage. And he calls us back to reach out to those who are still held in that bondage. This is what the King of kings, the Lord of lords does as he is even now beginning to make all things new. Let’s pray.
Jesus, some of us came into church today looking fine on the outside but being in bondage to fear and shame, in bondage to a variety of addictions, consumed by greed or even apathy or doubt. Whatever it is, Lord, may we not be like Lot’s wife, who you called “Come out of her,” and she turned back. Please, God, let us hear your call, see our addiction, know what it means not to trust you so that we can know what it means to trust you. Be able to see the lies that we have believed so that we can see the truth. Please, God, I pray that today some would say, like my friend, “It doesn’t matter what I lose, I want to be free” — free from the deceptions, free from the addictions, free from the need to impress others or play a role or go through the motions. To truly hear your voice and know your call. Spirit, please draw many to yourself now. Let us be a people who know what it means to be right on the frontlines, right where the screaming is, but not bound by the deceptions and addictions, but free to love as we have been loved. We thank you. Our eyes are on you, King of kings and Lord of lords, in Jesus’ name, amen.