Roman Catholicism is A Whore. Jerusalem is THE Whore

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is a day when thousands of Roman Catholics will flock to their church buildings to have a priest draw a cross on their heads. And he will use ashes (usually from burnt palm fronds) to do this. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent that ends with Easter. The ashes are supposed to represent repentance toward God. Roman Catholics are not the only ones who practice this. All of this gets me thinking of the Roman Catholic church, and all of her detestable practices. I think of the Roman Catholic professors I had that called the Bible a myth and questioned the existence of Adam, Eve, and Jonah. I think of the Roman Catholic denial of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone as our rule), and how I’ve heard Roman Catholics in the past talk about how faulty sola Scriptura was. I think about how I’ve heard Roman Catholicism affirm they are “saved by grace” and all the while deny sola Fide (justification by faith alone). I think about how the gospel and those who preached it were anathematized at the Council of Trent. I think about the Roman Catholics who have scoffed at the idea that someone can know they have been justified before God. I think about how popes have contradicted themselves throughout history; popes who are supposed to be the infallible voice of God on earth. I think about all of the bloodshed that has been caused at the hands of the Roman Catholic church. I think about the prayer to saints. I think about the virgin Mary, her being the “coredemptrix” (co – redeemer with Jesus), her alleged perpetual virginity, and her “ascension”.  I think of the treasury of merit, a place where the extra holiness and good works “merited” by the early saints were stored up so that those after them could earn these good works for themselves. I think of how this was usually done by purchasing indulgences – certificates that people paid the Roman Catholic church for in order to get their family members out of purgatory. I think of how indignant the Roman Catholic church became when the Bible was translated in a language other than Latin. I think of the relics that the Roman Catholic church has paraded around that people may receive blessing from; things like the breast milk of Mary, skin pieces of saints, the head of John the Baptist and the like. I think of transubstantiation and their infant baptism. I think of the post I put up last year [here] for Ash Wednesday in which John O’brien stated that Jesus submits Himself to the Roman priests. I think of the literature that Roman Catholic apologists love to hammer on in support of their claims, and how their “evidences” are documented to be erroneous. I am reminded of why I find the Roman Catholic church to be, of all the earth’s institutions, arguably the most blasphemous. It’s a lot to think about. It is no wonder that throughout history, some men like Luther and Calvin have identified the Roman Catholic church as the “Whore of Bablyon” mentioned in the book of Revelation.

Despite the Roman Catholic church being riddled with blasphemy, she is not the Whore of Babylon. We read about this particular character in Revelation chapters 17 and 18. For now, I will do a running commentary on chapter 17, contending that the Whore of Babylon is not the Roman Catholic church, but 1st century Israel, namely Jerusalem. I realize there is much more that can be said about this topic. Hopefully, you will at least find this defense for the position to not simply be one wrought out of weird hermeneutical methods like holding a seer stone to the forehead, throwing animal intestines on the wall and reading them, or fogging out a tent and going on a vision quest.

A few things to keep in mind – First, consider the book of Revelation. It has been called the most “Jewish” of the New Testament books by some folks because of the heavy hyperbolic prophetic language used. Descriptions from Revelation like “coming in the clouds”, mountains fleeing, a sword coming from Christ’s mouth, and great beasts are reminiscent of the imagery of the Old Testament prophets (Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Nahum, etc.). We certainly get language like this in other New Testament books, but not like we do in Revelation. This being said – secondly, since I’ve already let you know my position on the identity of the Whore, I’d like to add that this description of Israel isn’t a new concept in the book of Revelation. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people have been described this way.

How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers.
Isaiah 1:21

God says, “If a husband divorces his wife And she goes from him And belongs to another man, Will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted? But you are a harlot with many lovers; Yet you turn to Me,” declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 3:1

“Moreover, you played the harlot with the Assyrians because you were not satisfied; you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied.
Ezekiel 16:28

They will deal with you in hatred, take all your property, and leave you naked and bare. And the nakedness of your harlotries will be uncovered, both your lewdness and your harlotries. 30 ‘These things will be done to you because you have played the harlot with the nations, because you have defiled yourself with their idols.
Ezekiel 23:29-30

Though you, Israel, play the harlot, Do not let Judah become guilty; Also do not go to Gilgal, Or go up to Beth-aven And take the oath: “As the LORD lives!”
Hosea 4:15

Do not rejoice, O Israel, with exultation like the nations! For you have played the harlot, forsaking your God. You have loved harlots’ earnings on every threshing floor.
Hosea 9:1

God described his relationship with Israel like a marriage. If you are familiar with the Old Testament, then you know that the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms. The kingdom to the North was the kingdom of Israel, and the kingdom to the south was the kingdom of Judah. Both kingdoms comprised the nation of Israel. Israel continuously “committed adultery” by following false gods. God had taken her back time and time again. But in Jeremiah 3:8,  God issues a writ of divorce against the Northern Kingdom. “And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. 9 “Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. 10 “Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the LORD.  It’s important to note that the penalty for adultery was death. This sentence will be carried out in Revelation. God will then take a new bride, “the bride of Christ” and have the “marriage supper of the lamb.” This is a theme in the book of Revelation – the old harlotrous wife vs. the new spotless wife… the old earthly Jerusalem versus the new heavenly Jerusalem.

The apostle Paul tells us in the book of Romans (chapter 11) that God has not forsaken his people, and that he (Paul) too is an Israelite. There is no contradiction here because God didn’t divorce Jewish people as a whole. What do I mean? He had chosen national Israel to be a nation He’d reveal Himself to. It didn’t mean that every citizen of the nation was counted as sinless before God. Rather, just that His word was given exclusively to them. Justification through faith has always been a gift of God. Always. Men have always been dead in sin. Always. So, being part of the nation didn’t save you anymore than being in the ocean makes you a fish. God revealed himself to national Israel through His word. He did this through the prophets, and lastly Jesus Christ. It was the place where the temple was and where the Israelites went to make sacrifices to God. It was a nation God chose to give a specific law and rule of life to. They constantly broke His law, but He constantly took them back. This was because God had promised a Messiah through the Israelites who would forgive men of their sin. He was in the loins of the Israelites. And finally, that Messiah was born. National Israel would no longer be the place where people go to worship God. Now that the messiah had come, there was no need for the temple or sacrifices because they were shadows whose substance was Christ. And though I will reference the nation of Israel, it is important to note that Jerusalem is also pointed to as the “capital” of Israel. It was where the temple sat. It was the religious center of Israel.

In the beginning of Revelation, we are told that what is written is soon to take place (Revelation 1:1). Christ is said to be coming in the clouds (Old Testament language used for judgment – ie Isaiah 19:1). We are introduced to various churches who are told to repent and some are also commended. Then we are introduced to an image of an amazing throne room in which is seated the Almighty Judge of the universe (Revelation 4-5). It is from this throne room that various sentences/judgments are passed – ie 7 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 bowls. We’ve also been introduced to 7 personages. At this point, the book of Revelation comes to a type of conclusion in chapters 17-18 with Christ coming from heaven on a white horse to bring judgment in chapter 19. It isn’t a final conclusion, but a conclusion in some sense nonetheless with the destruction of the harlot, beast, and false prophet. Afterward we see a  thrones set up and Christ reigning for a thousand years, Satan being bound, a New Jerusalem, etc. Anyhow, we will start in chapter 17. The verses will be in red, and the commentary in blue.

Revelation 17

1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,

Here, an angel asks John to follow and witness the judgment on the great harlot who sits on many waters. Remember the Old Testament language used time and time again for adulterous Israel as they went after other gods. The meaning of the “waters” that she sits upon is disclosed to us in verse 15: “And he said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.”

This is an image of the harlot sitting on these other nations, signifying a relationship with these Gentile (non Jewish). Check out Acts 2:8-11 shows us that Jerusalem was a hot spot for people from every nation: “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” There were also hundreds of thousands of Jews living throughout the Mediterranian lands as not every Jew returned to the nation of Israel after previously being taken out by other nations. Despite not living in the land of Israel, they were still citizens who were under her authority.

The identity of the great harlot is disclosed to us at the end of the chapter, so lets move on til then.

2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”

This harlot committed acts of immorality with the kings of the earth, and made those who dwell on the earth drunk with her immorality. This is another description of how the nation had really gone after pleasing other nations, and became a stumbling block to others as a result of their idolatry. We can really see this in the trial of Jesus before Pilate, and what the Jews had said. Pilate, who was hesitant to sentence Jesus, asked the Jews why they wanted to kill Him. He explained to them that Jesus said He was their king. As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.” John 19:11 and in verse 15: So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” John 19:15

Just as Jesus accused Jerusalem (Matthew 23) of being like their fathers before them, they only continue to give credence to His words. Remember in 1 Samuel when the Jews asked for an earthly king? What had God said? The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:7. Being the harlot with other nations was nothing new for them either. “Moreover, you played the harlot with the Assyrians because you were not satisfied; you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied. 29 “You also multiplied your harlotry with the land of merchants, Chaldea, yet even with this you were not satisfied.”’” Ezekiel 16:28-29

3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.

Two Beasts are presented in Revelation who both have 7 heads and ten horns. One of them is the red dragon, representative of Satan. The other is the beast from the sea, representative of Rome. Although this beast in verse three is described as being scarlet, the fact that it is described as “full of blasphemous names” leads us to the beast of the sea described in Revelation 13:1, “And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.”

Evidence that this beast represents Rome will be provided in just a few verses. She is riding this beast. Remember that the Romans allowed the Jews to exist as a religious people, and even allowed them to have a ruler appointed by Rome – Herod (for instance). They would even appoint and remove the high priests. Aside from just receiving this type of support from Rome, they had even used Rome to kill the Messiah. Again, remember they said they had “no king but Caesar”, and had used that against Pilate to kill Jesus.

4 The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality,

Does her outfit remind you of anything in particular?

1 Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material,they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 2 He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen. 3 Then they hammered out gold sheets and cut them into threads to be woven in with the blue and the purple and the scarlet material, and the fine linen, the work of a skillful workman.

Her outfit is clearly identified with the vesture of the high priest. The cup full of abominations is an allusion to something Jeremiah had said about literal Babylon in his day. John apparently borrows this to further expand the sinfulness of the nation of Israel. Babylon has been a golden cup in the hand of the LORD, Intoxicating all the earth. The nations have drunk of her wine; Therefore the nations are going mad.” Jeremiah 51:7

Babylon had corrupted the known world with its wickedness, and the nation of Israel, namely Jerusalem, was no different.

5 and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”

6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly.

She was drunk with the blood of the saints, and the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. Although rome certainly had its share of Christian persecution, the Jews were the first ones to persecute Christians. For one, they were the ones who killed the prophets. They were also the ones who killed Jesus. And they were the ones whose hands were stained with the blood of the first martyr, Stephen. Not convinced? Check out what Jesus says in His condemnation to the Jewish leaders in Matthew 23:

 34 “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Matthew 23:34-36

He placed the bloodguilt of ALL the righteous blood shed on earth (verse 35).

7 And the angel said to me, “Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.

Here the angel will explain some of the vision John just saw.

8 “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.

Here we see that this beast has its origin in the abyss, just like the locusts (Revelation 9) that were commanded to destroy. The end of the beast will be destruction. The language of “was, is not, and is about to come” is similar to the description of God in Revelation chapter 4:8, And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” It is as though this beast is a counterfeit god. The Roman emperors were certainly regarded as gods too. Those not written in the book of life will wonder when they see this beast. It’s not as though they will wonder in the sense of, “Gee, I wonder what is happenening.” Rather, they will be in awe of the beast.

9 “Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits,

Here, the angel tells John that the interpretation takes some wisdom. In other words, you can figure it out, it just takes some work. We are told the seven heads of the beast are seven mountains. This automatically points us to Rome, which was known as the city that sat on seven hills. It is an old name attributed to Rome. This is something that even many futurists will agree with. Unfortunately, they think that the beast here depicts a future resurrected Roman empire. This reference would not be lost on those who read John’s letter for the first time.

10 and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.

These seven heads are also seven kings. Here we have a transition from the geographic identification of Rome to a political identification of Rome. Five of these kings have fallen. One is currently in power. One hasn’t come in power yet, but when he does, it won’t be for long.

The first five emperors of Rome were Julius, Augustus, Tiberias, Caligula, Claudius. The “one that is” would be Nero (54-68 AD). And the emperor that succeeded Nero was Galba, after Nero had committed suicide. Galba ruled for only 6 months until he was murdered.

11 “The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.

This eighth is Vespasian, who ruled between (69-79 AD). This poses what seems like a problem. After the seven emperors mentioned above came Otho (69 AD) and Vitellius (69 AD) who ruled for a short period of time too, then came Vespasian (69-79 AD). These two men had questionable authenticity and were usurpers who were just killed off.

Notice though that the text in verse 10 uses the definite article “the” to describe the emperors whereas verse 11 uses the indefinite article “an”. The text does not say that the very next one in power after the seventh is this eight one, but the beast that was and is and is not is “an” eighth one. He is a qualitative succesor to the seventh, belonging to them.

Vespasian had been told by Flavius Josephus years before that he would be the next emperor of Rome. At the time, Josephus was a general who was captured by Vespasian. He would have been killed, but Josephus’ prophecy intrigued him, and Vespasian decided to imprison him. Josephus’ words had stuck in the back of his mind. When Nero killed himself, Rome crumbled and split into 10 states across the Mediterranean. There was conflict and civil war across the empire. Vespasian saw his opportunity. After the Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, Vespasian just assumed the role of emperor and was succesful in doing so – ie he wasn’t killed.

12 “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour.

13 “These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast.

14 “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”

These were the regions that were created during the split due to the hostility after Nero died. An army would later come together against Israel comprised of all the allied troupes of these various regions. Though I have made the point that Revelation is about the fall of Jerusalem, don’t let the fact that these armies “wage war against the Lamb” trip you up. Yes, the Lamb is Christ, and yes, the Lamb didn’t stand for the prostitute. But at this point, the Romans assumed that Christianity was just another sect of Judaism. And so they did purpose to wipe out Christians too. Rome started persecuting Christians about the time that Nero blamed the burning of Rome on them (64 AD). To them, they were all Jews. They had no idea that it was something different altogether. Rome really realized this after the destruction of Jerusalem, when the Christians that listened to Christ’s words about fleeing the city, came back and began to grow. And so this beast sought to fight the Lamb. Little did they know, the Lamb was a lion. 

15 And he said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.

We discussed this earlier.

16 “And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire.

17 “For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.

More destruction language concerning the harlot, Jerusalem. It’s interesting that this punishment mirrors the punishment fit for a daughter of a priest who defiles herself with harlotry. ‘Also the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by harlotry, she profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.” Leviticus 21:9. And we see that it is God who put it in their hearts to destroy them. And this should remind you of when God used Assyria to destroy Israel in the past, 5 Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hands is My indignation, 6 I send it against a godless nation And commission it against the people of My fury To capture booty and to seize plunder, And to trample them down like mud in the streets. 7 Yet it does not so intend, Nor does it plan so in its heart, But rather it is its purpose to destroy And to cut off many nations. Isaiah 10:5-7. Here God speaks of this task not being in their hearts, but it is their purpose to do so.

18 “The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”

Here we get further insight into who the harlot is. She is the “great city.” This term is used elsewhere in the book of Revelation. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. Revelation 11:8. The great city here is “mystically” called Sodom and Egypt, aside from being associated with Babylon in chapter 17. Each of these names are names of nations that were detestable, pagan enemies of God. So, whoever the great city is, the imagery used of it is not favorable. But if we look at the last part of Revelation 11:8, we see that this place is where “their Lord was crucified.” This is a reference to Jesus Christ. And we know where He was crucified. It was a place called Golgotha, and it was just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Not crucified in Rome. Not crucified in the USA.

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