Revelation has now granted us a look at the very nature of evil itself, as well as the means by which it exercises power in creation – namely violence and deception. The question that remains is: Why does humanity so willingly (and repeatedly) ally itself with such powers of destruction? Why do the false promises of war and power hold such sway?
Revelation’s answer – in short – is: seduction. We return to false gods because, while they cannot deliver true shalom (peace, rest, sufficiency…), they can – at least on the short term – provide creature comforts (luxury) that serve to anesthetize us from the pain of a broken world. There are times, indeed many of them, when the restoration of creation feels like a pipe dream – a fool’s hope. And when the struggles of existence become too much to bear, we turn towards momentary gratifications.
Here in Revelation 17-19, the seductive power of luxury is portrayed as the great whore of Babylon (always the symbol of the enemy of the faithful). She rides the back of the beast – a clear allusion to the Pax Romana (Roman peace secured by military violence) forming the necessary foundation for Rome’s economic expansion (much of Rome’s wealth was acquired by conquest and taxation). Humanity is willing to accept the beast (army) for what it provides (the harlot). And for a while, it seems the party will never end.
But it is always the nature of evil to turn even upon itself. And thus the, by means of John’s vision, the church is reminded that the only way to true joy is by means of the coming justice of God.
This is a sermon that was originally presented at Canvas (a Presbyterian church in Irvine, CA), September 21, 2014. To learn more about Canvas, click here!
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