It seems that the Apostles were acutely afraid of false teaching getting a foothold in the church; and so, they often wrote about it, warning believers to be on the alert. Satan’s tried and true method of attempting to thwart God’s work in this world is through the introduction of distorted doctrines. He has been quite successful at it, and seems to be getting even better.
The Apostle Paul informed believers, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, that at the end of this age there would be a monumental, deliberate defection from the truth of God (“apostasy”). “Apostasy” carries with it the idea of “rebellion.” And today, most of the “Christian” world, including so-called evangelicals, can be found denying or casting doubt on the fundamental truths of the faith. What Paul warned about, later on the Apostle John gave additional details, in his prophetic revelation concerning the “great harlot” found in Revelation 17.
There are several insights from John that we can glean from his exposure of the coming “great harlot.” We need to remember that the imagery found in Revelation comes almost exclusively from the Old Testament. A “harlot”, as used by Jeremiah, Hosea and other prophets, was not a common prostitute. Rather when the prophets said that Judah and Israel were “harlots”, they were focused on the idea that Israel was the wife of Jehovah, and that instead of being faithful to her marital vows, she was unfaithful to her husband (e.g., Jer. 3:6-10). Israel and Judah went after other gods, and were, therefore, guilty of spiritual adultery. John is using “harlot” in the same way, which tells us that the “harlot” he is speaking about claims a relationship with the true God and Jesus Christ. The “harlot” of Revelation 17 would be “Christian”. But she is terribly unfaithful to Him.
The Composition of the Harlot. It is helpful to note that John says that the “great harlot” is the “mother of harlots” (plural) in Revelation 17:5. This would point to the reality that there are numerous “Christian” religious systems that make up the totality of the harlot. In the world today there are many religious systems that lay claim to Jesus Christ, but have long departed from the Truth (which is Jesus Himself in John 14:6). One cannot legitimately claim a relationship with Jesus Christ while, at the same time, be denying His truth. It could well be that some or all of the following would compose the harlot system: Roman Catholicism, apostate Protestantism, Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, various “Christian” cults and numerous other “Christian” systems.
The Influence and Power of the Harlot. It is clear from John’s discussion in Revelation 17 that the Harlot wields tremendous power. First, in general it is seen that she has influence over the kings of the earth (17:1-2). There is an intimate and powerful connection between these political leaders and this religious system. And clearly, this indicates that she is a factor in the world order at that time and is deeply involved in the political realm. Second, and more specifically, the Harlot is seen as riding (controlling) the scarlet beast (17:1-7), which has earlier been identified as the Antichrist. Apparently, she will provide some cohesion which will help hold together Antichrist’s new empire. It is fascinating to learn that she actually has a control over this man who would initially rule in Europe (in the first half of the Tribulation) and then rule the world (in the second half of the Tribulation). Such a situation reminds us of the relationship that existed between the Pope and the kings of Europe during the middle ages. The Harlot is clearly one with significant influence.
The Great Wealth of the Harlot. Great wealth often brings with it great power and influence. Money does talk, in fact, it yells. And the Harlot is seen as being incredibly rich (17:4). It is extremely rare when great wealth does not bring with it great corruption and/or great authoritarianism. The Harlot is noted for being rich and we can only imagine what that will look like during these days of rampant evil. Her wealth will impact her influence in the world order.
The Killing of Believers by the Harlot. Remember that apostasy is a willful rebellion against the truth of God. Apostates deliberately, and knowingly, depart from God’s truth. It is not a mistake on their part or a matter of ignorance. And this deliberate departure from God’s truth is usually evidenced by their intense hatred of those who hold tenaciously to the truth of God. During the first half of the Tribulation period, she is the one who purposely and energetically murders God’s children. She is said to be “drunk” with the “blood of the saints” (17:6). She hates believers who adhere to the Word of God. It would hardly be the first time in human history that religion tries to eliminate God’s people from the earth. Religious leaders put the Lord Jesus to death and religious leaders will be putting Jesus’ people to death in the Tribulation.
The End of the Harlot. About the mid-point of the Tribulation period, she will be totally eliminated from the earth. All her wealth and power will be no more. At that time, there will be only one accepted religion in the world, and that is the worship of Satan and the Antichrist. All religions will be brought to an end. They were put in place by the Evil One until his great goal of being worshipped is brought to fruition. The Harlot will be destroyed by the Antichrist and his 10 subservient kings who have a deep and abiding hatred for her (17:16-17). These will actually be carrying out God’s will in the matter. And, in heaven, there is great rejoicing over the fact that the Harlot is no more (19:1-3) and that God has avenged the blood of His people.
Our Response to the Coming Apostasy
As believers in Jesus, we will not be here when the Harlot appears. We will have been removed by the Lord Jesus and taken to the Father’s house. But this does not mean that we are not seeing significant defection from the truth of God in our own day, which may be preparing the way for the emergence of the Harlot.
Our task is to “hold fast” to the Word of God and not compromise it. As stewards, we all are accountable to One on what we do with His truth. The storm clouds are on the horizon and are likely coming our way. Too many churches are already compromising with the culture and, in so doing, are denying the authority of God’s Truth in doctrine and in life. Those who defect from the truth do and will pay a high price for that. The Scriptures tell us to “be faithful” and to “hang in there”. God can and does use His faithful men and women. It is important that we (like Daniel in Daniel 1:8) make up our minds that we will not defile ourselves with this culture. We need to make up our minds that we will be even better students of the Word, that we can give an answer for our hope and faith to anyone who should inquire. These are great days to be bearers of the Truth.