The Judgment Of The Harlot - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
Behold He Cometh - Chapter 42
15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
16 And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.
17 For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.
18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
The harlot and the beast with the seven heads and ten horns we have now discussed. What remains to be considered is the relation between them and the judgment of the harlot as these are pictured in the entire chapter, and more particularly in the words of our present passage.
The woman as such, so we found, is the symbol, first of all, of the church in this dispensation, the wig of Jehovah, the bride of Christ. But the woman pictured in the words of our passage is a harlot, and therefore a woman who has forsaken her rightful husband and who lives in most intimate, but illegal, relationship with strangers, who are not her husband. And as such, the woman is symbolic of the apostate church, which has forsaken her rightful husband, Jesus Christ, has fallen away from the truth, and now surrenders herself as an institution to the service of the world and of Antichrist. But still more, this woman is also the figure of a great city which is to have dominion over the world and over the kings of the earth. And we found that even as the true church is destined to develop into a city, the New Jerusalem, which is to come down from heaven, so also the apostate, or false, church is to develop into a city, a great center, which is representative of her real character and at the same time the embodiment and center of the antichristian kingdom.
The beast, so we found, is the same as the one which was pictured to us in Chapter 13 and which was already mentioned in the eleventh chapter of this book. Plain this was, so we found, from its description as the beast with its seven heads and ten horns, as well as from its origin as the beast that rises up out of the abyss, and finally, too, from his relation to the inhabitants of the world and the saints of Christ. The former admire this beast and wonder after him; the latter stand in opposition to him and refuse to bow before him as their rightful king. It is, therefore, the world-power from its political aspect, as it shall finally give rise to the antichristian kingdom and all that it implies.
Only, we also found that the point of view is different, and that we learn different details of this antichristian kingdom in the words of the passage we were discussing before. And we came to the conclusion that this beast is here pictured both in his historical development and in his final formation. His historical development is evidently pictured to us in the seven heads which represent, according to the interpretation of the angel, seven different manifestations of the antichristian world-power in the history of the world, one of which existed in the time of John, five of which had already risen and vanished before that time, and one of which is still to come. And we found that if we started from the safe assumption, that the one which is was the Roman Empire in all its glory, as it existed in John's time, the five that had already fallen could be none other than the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Grecian empires, which had successively existed before that time, and all of which had already perished. And we found, too, that it is a striking characteristic of the period of this dispensation after the downfall of the Roman Empire in 476 that not one great empire has succeeded in obtaining and holding sway over all the world, something that became well-nigh an impossibility after the discovery and settlement of the new world had become an accomplished fact. The seventh power has not yet revealed itself in its full manifestation, but must still be revealed. And in the ten horns we have the picture of ten minor powers that shall exist simultaneously with the seventh head, exist side by side for a short time, but ultimately shall give their power to the beast. That is, with the seventh head, under its leadership, they shall come to one great confederation of nations, thus realizing the beast that was in Nimrod's time, never was again, but again shall be in the future. That world-power shall stand antithetically against Christ and His people, shall make war against Him, but shall be overcome by Him and by the called and chosen and faithful, who shall reign with Christ in the New Jerusalem.
The Picture Of Her Harlotry
In the present passage we find the judgment of the harlot. I think the general meaning of the words of our passage is so plain that after all we have discussed, it is scarcely necessary to give any direct and special explanation. In brief, they tell us that the ten kings and the beast, who committed fornication with the harlot for a long time and who made the best of her for their own interests and lust, - that these shall finally bitterly hate the harlot and destroy her very appearance, kill her, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. And the text explains that this they do because God has given it in their hearts to do so and to perform His will, come to one mind, the mind of the beast, and destroy the harlot they first loved. And it is only after the angel has spoken of the destruction of the harlot as such that he explains the symbol of the woman once more as the great city, which hath dominion over the kings of the earth. And in the next chapter the destruction of the city is pictured to us.
Just as we have learned to distinguish, therefore, between the woman as the harlot-church and the woman as the mystic city, so we shall also have to distinguish between these two in their end. And the order of events will evidently be thus, that the apostate church as a separate church institution will be done away with first of all, so that the church shall no more exist, and that then exactlyhis destruction of the church apostate shall lead to the final unification of all so-called religion, and culminate in the religion of the beast, without any church as such, but with Babylon, the great city, for its leading center. I think this order of events stands beyond all doubt, and is exactly as the text describes it to us, and therefore as such really needs no explanation. Yet we must make an attempt, in the light of what we see in the history of the world today, somewhat to explain the possibility of this order, and try to picture to ourselves how things are to develop, as far as we are permitted to see. And in order to obtain a clear understanding of these things we must try to explain what is really meant by the harlotry of the church with the beast.
And then it will be necessary, first of all, that we obtain a clear picture of the realities that are symbolized by the woman, as well as by the beast.
The woman, we must remember, in her outward appearance is the instituted church of Christ on earth. Outwardly she is nothing but the church in her entire appearance in the world. In every respect she looks like the true church externally. She calls herself church of Christ. She has her church edifices, just as the true church. In those sanctuaries the congregation gathers, at least on every sabbath, for worship. As you enter, you find that on the pulpit lies the Word of God, the Scriptures, just as it is in the true church. There is no difference. Behind the pulpit stands the regularly ordained minister of the Word. Regardless now of what use there is made of that Bible on the pulpit, regardless too of how the minister accomplishes his task of administering the Word, fact is that outwardly there is no difference. The Bible on the pulpit and the minister of that Bible behind it, pretending to administer the Word of God to the congregation, and that congregation too, in outward appearance took like the true church. They sing and pray, confess, and listen to the preaching of the Word. And as they go, they receive the benediction in the name of God. Regardless, again, of the nature of their worship, they evidently gather for the worship of God in their sanctuary. Yea, you will find that not only the Word but also the sacraments are administered. The members of the church are baptized; and occasionally they gather around the table of communion solemnly to celebrate the supper of the Lord. We may have our scruples as to the significance attached to these things. Fact is, nevertheless, that the sacraments as well as the Word are administered, just as well as in the true church of Christ. In a word, the harlot woman represents the church, the church of Christ, with the Word and the sacraments, as she comes to manifestation here upon earth. The woman is the church as we know her. Just as well as any real harlot outwardly looks just like any other woman, so also does the harlot-church look like the true church of Christ on earth in her entire appearance.
The same we must remember of the beast. In itself, the beast as pictured in the words of our passage is nothing wrong. It is simply the regular state with its regular, instituted government, as we all believe in the legality and necessity of its existence in this dispensation. This is very plain from the heads. They are seven kings, and they constitute seven manifestations of different states and governments. As such there was nothing wrong with them. God wills that they shall be there. God has Himself instituted government for this dispensation, just as well as He has established and instituted the church. It makes no difference now what form of government is meant. It does not make a particle of difference for our purpose whether the governments referred to were empires or monarchies or republics. Fact is that they are regularly instituted governments, with their heads and officers, with their power and authority, with their laws and maintenance of these laws, with their armies and navies. So also the ten horns inform us: they shall be ten kings, or ten governments, in the world. And therefore, also these represent nothing but regularly instituted, orderly, God-willed governments, institutions of God in the world.
Outwardly, therefore, as to the form of this woman and of this beast there is nothing wrong. The woman represents the church as an institution of God; and the beast with all his heads and horns represents worldly government as God has willed that it should exist. Regardless now of their degenerate character, there is as such nothing wrong in either of them. They are both institutions of God. They both have their work and their purpose in the world. And without neither could this dispensation continue.
But the purpose of our chapter is undoubtedly to picture these two in a most wonderful combination, in a most intimate union. And it is exactly the nature of this union, or confederacy, between the instituted church and the instituted government which makes of the woman the harlot and of the beast the antichristian kingdom.
This is symbolically portrayed in the fact that the woman is sitting on the beast, - a most intimate relation and combination of the two. The church and the worldly state have allied themselves, in the first place. The one supports The other, and the other directs and aids the one. Where the one goes, the other follows. For the beast carries the woman, which at least also seems to imply that after all the beast employs the woman for his own purpose and carries her whithersoever he will, though, in turn, he is the strength and support of the woman, and she owes it to the beast that she is decked with jewels and precious stones and arrayed in purple. However this may be, the fact that the woman is riding or sitting upon the beast means to show intimate union between church and worldly government, shows that they have united in character, united in purpose, united in aim and effort, and that together they strive to realize a common aim. The church stands here in an illegal, wrong relation to the power of the world, is employed by the latter, fulfills its purpose, and therefore loses her true character.
This idea is emphasized by the fact that the woman is directly called the harlot. She is the harlot in a two-fold sense. In the first place, she is that because she allows herself to be the whore of the kings of the world, with which the great of the world can do as they please, on the which they can satisfy all their desire. But, in the second place, she is also the great whore because she is the mother of abominations, and makes all the inhabitants of the world drunken with the wine of her fornications. And therefore we obtain the two-fold picture that, on the one hand, the instituted church allows herself to be employed by the world-power, and, on the other hand, she leads all the individual inhabitants of the earth to follow her in this and to serve the purpose of the beast.
What Her Harlotry Consists
But even thus we cannot be satisfied, but must ask the concrete question: in what does this harlotry of the church consist? What is the illegality of the relation between the two? And then it will be necessary to determine, in the first place, what would be the right relation and what is the character and purpose of each, the church and the state, in the world? Just as you must determine the nature of literal harlotry by first determining the proper relation of man and woman, so also we must come to a true understanding of the harlotry of the church with the worldly power by ascertaining, first of all, what is the right relation between the two.
What is the state? What is instituted government, according to the Word of God? Of this we find a very clear description in Romans 13:1-4: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." Hence, it is plain that:
1) The state is an institution of God. It is ordained by Him to bear the sword power, to punish evil-doers and to protect the good.
2) The state is a temporal institution, to maintain law and order in the midst of a corrupt world.
3) The God-given instrument it employs is not spiritual but material: the power of the sword and all that this implies. It is not the power of a certain common grace, but the power of the sword. That, in our view, is the purpose of government. And that is the Scriptural conception. To it we are in subjection, of course. And for conscience' sake the Christian can never become a rebel or even a traitor in time of war or of peace, unless that state, that government, should demand of him that he would act contrary to the will of God.
What, however, is the church?
It is an entirely different institution. It is the manifestation of the body of Christ on earth and represents the authority of Christ in the world. It is the result, the product, the manifestation of the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Through the church it becomes possible for the people of God to manifest themselves as the body of Christ, worship and glorify their God and King, and reveal His glory in the midst of the world. Its purpose is two-fold. In the first place, it is the establishment and upbuilding of the saints in Christ Jesus, so that they may come to a fuller and clearer knowledge and stronger faith concerning the grace that is in Christ. And, in the second place, it is the propagation of the gospel of the kingdom in every land. Its task, therefore, is definitely circumscribed. She does not receive her instructions from the worldly power. The latter cannot tell her what to believe and to confess and how to worship. It has no authority to define the contents of the message which she must bring in the church and in all the world. In all this she acknowledges no other authority than that of Jesus Christ and the Word of her God. She is different from the state in that she employs no earthly or physical power, but only the spiritual instrument of the Word and the reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, she is eternal, not destined to disappear, but to exist forever when her King shall come to deliver her. And her task is not to make the world better, but simply to aim at the rooting out of sin and its power through the Word and the Spirit. And the relation between her and the state is essentially such that the worldly power exists for her sake, namely, to make the development of the people of God possible in the world.
Each, therefore, has its own sphere. The church represents the power of the eternal kingdom, can be satisfied with nothing less than the complete deliverance from sin, and looks for the eternal kingdom of God to come. The instituted government, however, represents a temporal power, is ordained in order to handle the sword and to punish the evil-doer, to protect the righteous, and to maintain order until God shall have completed His own, eternal kingdom.
Now when does the wrong relation ensue between the two? And when does the worldly power become the beast, and the church the harlot?
This comes about when, in the first place, the state, the power of the world, presumes to represent the development of the kingdom of Christ, and thus claims to be essentially the eternal kingdom itself. In that case it will deny its original character, refuse to be satisfied with being a punishing power upon evil and a maintainer of public order, and will strive for world-wide power, in order that through her agency the world may become the kingdom of God. It will conceive of the possibility of rooting out evil and establishing real righteousness and peace by main power, by the power of the law and by the action of the sword. And it will tell you that this is the kingdom of Christ which was to come. Of course, you understand that this is not true and that this never can be. The state does not exist on the basis of the atoning blood of Christ directly. It is not destined to be eternal. It is not purposed to become the main and eternal kingdom. Its purpose is temporal, not eternal. Its power is auxiliary, not chief. And therefore, as soon as the state through its power aims at establishing the eternal kingdom, a kingdom of righteousness and peace and justice, without the spiritual means of the Word and the blood of Christ, it becomes the antichristian kingdom. It becomes the beast.
Naturally, with that aim the children of God, the true church, will come into conflict. For the latter will deny that it is the purpose of the state to develop into the eternal kingdom of God and will maintain that this can only lead to the establishment of the show-kingdom of Antichrist. But this will only lead to persecution on the part of the world-power. That world-power will try to get control of all things, of art and science and commerce and industry, but also of religion and worship, and ultimately dictate what god we shall worship and how we must worship him. There you have the antichristian beast.
And the church becomes the harlot, the apostate church, when she becomes of one mind with the beast. Negatively, she will begin by admitting that the blood of Christ is not necessary for the establishment of the kingdom of God. She will deny that the Holy Spirit only can truly make children of the kingdom. She will abandon the name of Jesus and the Word of God, and seek her hope in this dispensation and in this world. Positively, she will help in forming that great state for which also the world-power strives. She will offer her full services to the state, give her most hearty support to any movement that comes along, and be busy in the things of this world instead of in the things of the eternal kingdom of Christ. Concretely speaking, she will no more preach on sin and total depravity. She will no more teach the necessity of personal regeneration and the atoning blood of Christ, but be full of messages which pertain only to this world. She will preach on the great topics of war and peace, on the betterment of humanity through all kinds of legislation, on prohibition and woman suffrage, on hygiene and health ordinances, on wages and labor, on business arid industry. And she will try to picture before the minds of her members how through all these things the great and glorious kingdom of God shall come in the earth. Thus she has abandoned her true, her spiritual, her eternal character, and become the great harlot.
Utter Destruction Of The Harlot
Now then, what shall become of this harlot, in the first place? What shall be the end of her harlotry? Simply this, that she shall ultimately cease to exist as a separate institution.
She shall be great and glorious for a time. She shall score great victories evidently. For, in the first place, the text tells us that she is sitting upon many waters. Twice this is mentioned in the text. Already in our passage the angel explains that this symbol refers to peoples and nations and tongues and multitudes. Of course, this is not in conflict with her being seated on the beast. For the beast evidently comprises many peoples. And therefore by' sitting on the beast the harlot naturally sits on many peoples. But in this figure, as well as in the statement that she has made the inhabitants of the earth drunken with the wine of her fornications, the idea is expressed that she influences and fascinates the minds of many, of a great multitude. She preaches a religion that can be adopted by the world; and therefore her victory is great. And, in the second place, she scores great victories from the side of the world-power. It is no doubt through the power of the beast that she is decked with pearls and arrayed in purple and that she is great and glorious. For a time she is victorious as an institution, enjoys the favor of the world, and succeeds in persecuting the true saints of Christ, who refuse the join her harlotry. It is after all through her influence that the true church is ultimately a castaway, an object of shame and mockery.
But this is not her end. The text plainly tells us that the same kings and the same beast whose favorite pet she was with all her harlotries will hate her and despise her and utterly destroy her, eat her flesh and burn her. Notice, in the first place, that there is something perfectly natural in this. Just as the whoremongers in a natural and literal sense ultimately hate the harlot who has been instrumental in the satisfaction of their lust, so also these kings and these beasts, when the apostate church as an institution shall have fulfilled all their desire, shall hate her and become envious and jealous of her power and glory. After all, what is the use and the place of the church as an institution when the vague and general religion of Antichrist shall prevail? What is the use of an established form of worship in an established church? Just as the church as an institution shall disappear when the kingdom of glory of our Lord shall have been completed, so also shall the institution of the false church disappear when her work is finished and she has been instrumental in preparing the religion of Antichrist. At any rate, the church shall be abolished. That is clear from the text. Not her apostate spirit shall be destroyed, but her body, her manifestation, shall come to an end. It makes no difference to us now how this shall be realized. Certain it is that the beast shall do away with the institution of the church that has served his purpose. And then shall the kingdom be realized. Then all shall be blended, and the institution even of the church shall be no more. The very shadow of Christ shall have been obliterated from the earth. And all that remains in the world is the world-power, the antichristian kingdom. The woman as to her form shall have disappeared. But essentially her apostate spirit shall be realized in the worship of the image of the beast. And that same woman, spiritually realized in the kingdom of Antichrist from its religious point of view, shall reappear in Babylon, the great center of the world-power that is to come. From there she shall rule over the hearts and minds of great and small and of the inhabitants of the world. The appearance of the harlot has vanished. She now exists centrally as the great city, Babylon, the capital of the kingdom of Antichrist.
Two remarks we wish to make in application. In the first place, notice that God controls all these developments through Jesus Christ. It is God, so we read, Who gives it into the heart of these kings and of the beast to hate the harlot and to come to oneness of mind. God, then, controls all things. Christ reigns! There is nothing to fear! When the institution of the apostate church shall be abolished, the same shall be true of the true church. Public worship then for us belongs to the past. It shall be the reign
of the Man of Sin. But never fear: God reigns! He has given it in the heart of the kings to hate the harlot. His will must be done; and all things work together for good to them that love Him. In the second place, the repetition of the practical admonition is also now in order: "Go ye out of her, my people, and have no fellowship with her sins, that ye may not partake of her judgment." Even as the institution of the harlot church, so shall Babylon also fall. And only the New Jerusalem shall ultimately prevail. Watch, therefore, that ye fall not into temptation.