And the Old World Begins to Pass Away, Literally
We have already noted what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:31: “The present form of this world is passing away.” Since the resurrection of our Lord, the world has been living on borrowed time. As the gospel of our Lord and Savior advances, as the kingdom of God fills the world like leaven, the form of the world that is fallen and destined for destruction continues to recede. It doesn’t look that way sometimes, but the present form of this world is passing away, and chapter seventeen paints an awful portrait of this world’s collapse.
The chapter begins by introducing us to the “Great Prostitute,” sumptuously dressed and proudly relishing her abominations. She is the ultimate symbol of infidelity to God, idol worship, and immorality. She is called “Babylon the Great” in 16:19, and chapter eighteen is given to singing praises to her demise. But what is “Babylon?” Scholars disagree among themselves, but I agree with those who see her as any and every city (or world system) that entices people to avarice and immorality, and persecutes God’s people for resisting. She seeks to turn God’s people away from the Lord Jesus Christ. She could be ancient Babylon or Rome, communist nations, or even some contemporary American cities. The many waters upon which she sits are the peoples over which she has dominion, which she oppresses. The beast upon which she rides has been identified previously as some world government or power, which apparently supports her. Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life (that is, those who are perishing) marvel at her, adore her, and worship her. The people of God do not.
What is interesting is the way the prostitute meets her end. Eventually, the beast and the “ten horns,” which probably represent ten smaller kingdoms, attack and ravage the prostitute, Babylon the Great. What we learn from this is the self-destroying way of evil. Evil cannot stand because in the end, it even destroys itself. Evil is by nature self-destructive, which is why those who are in bondage to some sinful lifestyle often destroy themselves. But we are further reminded that this self-destruction of evil is by our Lord’s sovereign will: “For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose.” And this is good news, for by both God’s decree and the nature of the world He has created, we know that evil cannot and will not win. God has declared the winner to be His Son through His resurrection from the dead – which makes us winners as well. So let this old world recede into oblivion; bid it farewell, and let the prostitute die. We have a city that is far better.