The Reign of the Scarlet Woman
February 17th, 1963 @ 8:15 AM
THE REIGN OF THE SCARLET WOMAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-17-63 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Reign of the Scarlet Woman. After our preaching through the Bible these many, many years, we have come to the Revelation. And in our preaching through the Revelation, we have come to chapter 17. And if you would like to turn in your Bible to the passage, you can easily follow the message of this morning’s hour. Revelation chapter 17:
And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great wonderment.
And the angel said unto me, Wherefore dost thou wonder? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.
Then he describes the beast; and we followed that when he was introduced to us in chapter 13 [Revelation 13:1-10]. Now beginning at verse 15:
And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
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.
For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.
Then there are two identifications of the woman: in verse 9, “And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” [Revelation 17:9]; and then the last verse, “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” [Revelation 17:18].
Just the reading of that passage is interesting beyond compare. And to see how in this book of prophecy our Lord gave to John the outline of the development of religion in the earth is as wonderful as the mind of God itself. “There came to me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials” [Revelation 17:1]. In chapters 15 and 16, John saw a great sign in heaven: seven angels having the seven bowls of the last judgment of God upon the iniquity, and sin, and rebellion, and Christ rejection of this earth [Revelation 15:1, 16:1]. And when those bowls are poured out, all seven of them [Revelation 16:1-21], we would have thought at the end of the seventh that the end of the age had come, and that Christ would appear; we would have thought that chapter 16 would have been followed immediately by chapter 19, which brings to us the appearing of our living Lord [Revelation 19:11-16].
But no, there is an intermission. There is a parenthesis. There is an interlude; and before chapter 19 comes, one of those seven angels having the seven bowls of the last judgments of God, comes to John and says, “The Lord would show thee what is the development of religion in this world, and God would show thee what is the end of the culture of this world” [Revelation 17:1-2]. So, between the pouring out of the seventh bowl [Revelation 16:17], which ushers in the coming of Christ in chapter 19 [Revelation 19:11-16], there is this parenthesis of these two chapters: chapter 17, which is a revelation of spiritual Babylon, Mystery Babylon [Revelation 17:1-18]; and chapter 18, which is a revelation of the city Babylon, the commerce and culture of this world [Revelation 18:1-24].
So this morning we are following the prophecy of the Lord concerning Mystery Babylon [Revelation 17:5]. When the angel took the apostle John, the seer, to look at the bride of Christ, at the New Jerusalem, he carried John to a mountain great and high, and he saw there the city and the people of God [Revelation 21:9-10]. But when he takes John to see this scarlet woman, Mystery Babylon, he takes him into a wilderness [Revelation 17:3]. Wherever there is spiritual harlotry, there is wilderness. There is desolation. There is want and dirt. So John is taken into the wilderness, and there he is shown a vision and then the interpretation of that vision by the angel [Revelation 17:3].
The vision he sees is of a woman, seductive, alluring. She sits upon the waters of the earth [Revelation 17:1]. She sits upon a scarlet-colored beast [Revelation 17:3]. She is decked herself in purple and in scarlet; she is embellished and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls. She has a golden cup in her hand [Revelation 17:4] from which drink the peoples and the rulers and the kings of the earth [Revelation 17:2]. And upon her forehead is her name and designation: “MYSTERY, BABYLON, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” [Revelation 17:5].
Now when John saw that woman, this scarlet whore, and when he was made to know what she represented, there is a strong word here written after the designation. “I saw that woman, drunken,” that’s a present active linear participle, methuousan, “I saw that woman continually drunken through the history of her story with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” [Revelation 17:6]. Then comes this strong expression in this Greek: ethaumasa thauma mega. You have it translated here, “I wondered with great admiration; I wondered with great wonder; I was astonished with great astonishment; I was amazed with indescribable amazement” [Revelation 17:6].
Now there’s a reason for that, and it is very plain and very simple. When he saw these other revelations, the prophecies of God, John didn’t wonder with great wonder; when he saw that scarlet-colored beast [Revelation 17:3], which was an incomparable revelation, you don’t have any such reaction on the part of the apostle as you find here. But when he sees this woman, and when he’s made to understand what she represents, John is overwhelmed. He is amazed. He is filled with indescribable and unspeakable astonishment [Revelation 17:6].
Well what is this thing that the prophecy has delineated here that the seer was made to see that caused him such unbelievable and such amazing wonderment? [Revelation 17:6]. Well it is very plain; and we’re going to follow it in the delineation, as the angel interpreted what that scarlet woman represents [Revelation 17:7].
First of all, her name, her designation, the placard on her forehead, describes her background which is the development of the most colossal, wide spread idolatrous system the world has ever known. “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” [Revelation 17:5]. One of the consistent designations of the Word of God is this: that idolatry and the substitutions of administrations, and sacraments, and rites, and ceremonies contrary to the revealed Word of God, these things are called whoredom. They’re called spiritual adultery and fornication. So this woman, “MYSTERY, BABYLON, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS” [Revelation 17:5], this woman represents the development of idolatry, of harlotry, of false religion in the world.
She is the mother of all false religion, false conceptions of God, rites, and ceremonies, and sacraments, and administrations, and worships, and designations that are not according to the will and revelation of God. The use of images, the use of sensualities to approach God in the Bible is called harlotry, whoredom; and this mother harlot represents all of those systems [Revelation 17:5]. And her development in the earth caused John “to wonder with great wonderment” [Revelation 17:6]. Now I say her background can be seen in the title written on her forehead, “MYSTERY, BABYLON” [Revelation 17:5].
One of the most astonishing books that I have ever come across is written by an Englishman named Alexander Hyslop, and it is entitled The Two Babylons. And he follows the development of idolatry in the earth, beginning with Nimrod, who was the founder of Babel and the founder of the Babylonian kingdom, the Babel and its tower, seeking to reach heaven by something man could do [Genesis 10:8-10, 11:1-6]. This man Nimrod had a wife, Semiramis. She was the first high priestess of an idolatrous worship. In Assyria, her name is Ishtar; in Phoenicia her name Astarte, or Ashtaroth; in Greece her name Aphrodite; in Latin her name Venus.
She said she gave birth to a child conceived by a sunbeam. She named him Tammuz. As the child grew to manhood he was slain by a wild boar. But after forty days he was restored back to life. And there began in Babylon, Mystery Babylon, the cult of the worship of mother and child; Semiramis and Tammuz in ancient Babylon; Ishtar and Tammuz in Assyria; Astarte and Baal in Phoenicia; Aphrodite and Eros in Greek; Venus and Cupid in Latin. And the sign of the resurrection of Tammuz was an egg. And at the end of forty days of mourning, during which time Tammuz was slain, it was closed with the feast of Ishtar, and the exchange of Ishtar eggs.
And as the cult grew in the world, it spread to Phoenicia, spread to Pergamos, spread over Greece and finally came to Rome. The cult of the worship of mother and child was attendant with all of those doctrines known to us today, such as the sprinkling of holy water, purgatorial fires, the absolution of sins by the priest, all of the things that we know today in the cult of the mother and the child.
That worship was one of the things against which the prophets inveigh. For example, in the forty-fourth chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah is speaking of the idolatrous practices of this same cult of these Jewish people who burn incense unto the queen of heaven, the mother of the child, and who offer wafers unto her, little wafers, in the forty-fourth chapter of the Book of Jeremiah [Jeremiah 44:17-19, 25]. And in the eighth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, “Then said He unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that these people, God’s people, do, Israel does [Ezekiel 8:13]. Then He brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north; and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz” [Ezekiel 8:14]. Semiramis the mother, and Tammuz the child, and the observation of forty days of Lent in which time Tammuz had been destroyed, had been dead, at which time the women wept for Tammuz [Ezekiel 8:14], and at the end of which they observed the feast of Ishtar and exchanged Ishtar eggs, and rejoiced at the resurrection of Tammuz.
That Babylonian idolatry covered the earth; and finally the Roman emperor was made Pontifex Maximus. He was made the greatest high priest of this idolatrous system. And at the fall of the Roman Empire, the bishop of Rome assumed the title of Pontifex Maximus, the greatest high priest of the cult of the mother and the child.
There is no such thing in the Word of God as the adoration of the worship of the mother of the child. That is Babylonian idolatry. The last time you hear of Mary the mother of Jesus, she is a humble fellow worshipper in a prayer meeting in the first chapter of Acts [Acts 1:14]; and she is never referred to, she is never mentioned again. And the exaltation of the mother and the adoration of the Madonna is Babylonian, pure and plain and simple. It belongs to that fabric of idolatry that covered the ancient world and finally became identified with the church of Christ itself. Her name is Mystery Babylon, the Mother of Harlots, and when John saw that and its development, he was amazed with indescribable amazement [Revelation 17:5-6].
Then it continues, this prophecy, this revelation of the development of religion in the earth: “And the woman, and the woman rides the beast [Revelation 17:3]. The woman is dressed in purple and in scarlet,” the signs and the insignia of wealth and authority, “and she is adorned with stones precious and with pearls. And she rides the scarlet colored beast” [Revelation 17:3, 4]. She is in control. She guides the realm of state.
Can you see why John was amazed with an overwhelming amazement as he looked upon that woman? [Revelation 17:6]. For when John lived, when John wrote, when John was pastor of the church at Ephesus, the church was poor and despised. They were persecuted and outcast, even their preachers were burned at the stake. They were crucified. They were exiled. It was a humble, spiritual, devout, poor community [Revelation 2:2-3].
And when John sees this woman, she is rich, she is adorned in purple and scarlet, and she controls the governments of the world. John is amazed with indescribable amazement that the church in its poor and humble and peasant beginnings should thus rise to such wealth, such pretense, such haughty dignity and self assumed royalty, dressed in scarlet and in purple, decked with precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of the abominations of her idolatry. He is amazed [Revelation 17:3-6]. He can’t believe his eyes.
But that isn’t all. Not only is this woman coming out of those poor and humble beginnings, not only is this woman exalted, sensual, seductive, idolatrous, with images, with the cult of mother and child, not only does she ride the beast [Revelation 17:3], back of so many of the decrees of government lie in her hand, not only, but he’s astonished and amazed at another revelation: this woman is continuously drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus—that woman [Revelation 17:6].
These poor Christians hounded to death, living in catacombs, meeting in dives and in dens and in caves of the earth, these Christians under pagan Rome, hounded to death: the greatest persecutor and the one who has shed more blood of the Christians of God than any other system in the earth is none other than that same so-called church, risen to glory and power in the earth [Revelation 17:3-5], and John is amazed with an overwhelming amazement: “Drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” [Revelation 17:6].
It hasn’t been but a few weeks ago when I went to a prayer meeting in Central America, and one of the missionaries stood up and said, “Pray for us. Seven of our believers have been murdered.” It hasn’t been but those few months ago since I visited a humble Baptist pastor in the interior of Honduras, and when I saw him and his family, they were in tears. His brother had just been murdered in Columbia because he had become a Christian evangelical believer: this woman, drunken with the blood of the saints [Revelation 17:6].
Who invented the inquisition? Who invented the torture chamber and the rack? Who took to the stake uncounted servants of the faithful Lord Jesus and burned them with fire? Who spilled out their blood in the earth? “I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw it, and when I saw it, I ethaumasa thauma mega” [Revelation 17:6].
What is the end of the woman? “And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. For God hath put into their hearts to do His will” [Revelation 17:16-17]. Isn’t this a strange thing? When we come to chapter 18, it is God that destroys the city of Babylon [Revelation 18:20-24]. When you come to the nineteenth chapter, it is God that destroys the beast and the false prophet [Revelation 19:20]. But when you read of the destruction of that woman, it is government that does it. The kings of these kingdoms that are at that end time, they turn to destroy that harlot idolatrous woman [Revelation 17:16].
Now you’ve heard me say world without end, these things are not peculiar here in the Revelation; these things are the things of God, and God lives now, and God lived yesterday as He does tomorrow, and the things you read in the Revelation are the things that are of God all the way through. This isn’t a peculiar something. This is the Lord who does not change [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8]. Now I want us to look at that.
This woman is not destroyed by the direct intervention of God. He lets her continue. God destroys Babylon in the eighteenth chapter [Revelation 18:1-24]. God destroys the false prophet, God destroys the beast [Revelation 19:20], but He doesn’t destroy this woman. The governments of the earth do it [Revelation 17:12]. Is that also to be seen in the development of this woman in history? I see it everywhere. And it shall finally come to an ultimate conclusion and catastrophic consummation [Revelation 17:16].
For example, the fierce onslaught and the terrible depredations of the Muslim movement in the seventh century was directed against idolatry. And in the fierce overrunning of those caliphs, the followers of Mohammed, in the years and the century that followed, there came under their scimitar—wherever they found idolatry—there came awful bloodshed, and destruction, and death. And as the onslaught of that Mohammedan continued, how helpless you were in the face of that fierce caliph, destroying idolatry.
To say to the caliph, “Oh, but sir! This is Mary, not Minerva”; “Oh, sir! This is Joseph, not Jove”; “Oh, sir! This is, this is Christ, not Krishna!”—to a man looking at idolatry, whether the worshipper bowed down before an image whose name was Jove or Joseph, whether that worshipper bowed down before an image named Minerva or Mary, to the fierce onslaught of that terrible Mohammedan, it was all the same. It was idolatry, which is correct. Idolatry is the bowing down before graven images [Leviticus 26:1]. Idolatry is the use of sensual creations to approach the great God. And when the Mohammedan onslaught came directed against idolatry, they destroyed the churches of Africa, of Palestine, of Asia Minor, of Istanbul, of Constantinople; you see, it is destroyed by man God says.
Another thing, destroyed by the governments of the world [Revelation 17:12]: you know it’s a strange thing how history and the prophecy of God can be illustrated in a thousand instances. A government, a government, for a while, will sort of be dictated to by the prelate, by the nuncio, by the legate. After all, she receives wealth and numbers, the woman; and the people in return receive the promise of heaven to all who will pay well. And the marriage of the two sort of is mutually complacently felicitous for a while; but there always comes a time when religion depends on government, there always comes a reckoning.
You found it in Russia: the turn viciously against the dominating church, even Stalin was educated to be a priest in the Orthodox Church. And a thousand other instances, the worst thing that can ever happen to religion is for it to come to depend upon government. And that’s what God and His prophecy said should happen to this church who depends for her wealth, and her increase, and her power upon the governments of the world [Revelation 17:16].
There is coming a time, says God, when the beast shall hate the whore, tired of her, weary of her, shall make her desolate, shall rob her of all her possessions, shall make her naked, shall strip her of her scarlet and her purple garments, shall eat her flesh, shall confiscate all of her vast illimitable wealth, and shall burn her with fire [Revelation 17:16], shall socially and politically cast her out. And lest you might mistake who the woman is, she is the woman that sits as a queen upon the city that is known as the city of the seven mountains [Revelation 17:9, 18]. Oh, the truth of the revelation of God!
And isn’t it a strange thing? I want us all to turn to this passage and read it together, and the sermon is concluded. Turn to 1 John, almost at the end of your Bible, turn to 1 John, 1 John. Let’s all turn to 1 John, the last chapter; 1 John, the last chapter. Do we have it? Almost at the end of your Bible, 1, 2, 3 John, Jude, and the Revelation. First John, chapter 5, the last chapter, the last verse, Do we have it? First John chapter 5, verse 21. Do we have it? Let’s all read it together, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” [1 John 5:21].
Why, he never said a word about idols in all of that book, hasn’t mentioned it. But before he closes his epistle, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” [1 John 5:21]. The worship of God is in spirit and in truth [John 4:24]; in the soul, in the heart: no priest, no intermediary, just our coming to God for ourselves, talking to the Lord for ourselves, asking God’s forgiveness for ourselves, loving Jesus for ourselves, committing our souls to Him for ourselves, and walking in the pilgrim way, in the fellowship of our blessed Lord and in the wonderful fellowship of our fellow Christians. This is the mind and the will of God.
Now we sing one stanza of a hymn, and while we sing it, one somebody you this day, publicly, to give his self in faith [Ephesians 2:8], and trust to Jesus [Romans 10:9-13], a couple you, or a family, coming into the fellowship of the church, as God shall say the word, shall lead the way, in this first stanza, you come and stand by me, while all of us stand and sing our hymn together.