The Apostle John wrote the last canonize book of the New Testament towards the end of the first century, during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian (en.16). Under Emperor Domitian, one of the most severe persecutions of Christians took place. It was during this time that John himself was thrown into a bath of boiling oil, and when that did not kill him, he was banished to the isle of Patmos. It was there that he wrote the book of Revelation (en.17).
John’s revelation begins with this statement; “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, ‘Write on a scroll what you see, and send it to the seven churches; to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea’” (Revelation 1:9-11).
John was tasked by God through the Holy Spirit to make an assessment of the seven most prominent churches of his time. God through John was assessing the quality of His house, it’s parts and systems, and the power behind them. That’s why so much of John’s revelation focuses on the unseen action behind the scenes of human history. Only the first three chapters address those seven churches. The other nineteen chapters deal with the spiritual reality of two kingdoms in conflict over the control of God’s people.
In those first three chapters, John lays out a grim and stark assessment of the Church. Of the seven, only two churches remained completely faithful to Christ. The other five were warned to repent and return or their lampstands would be removed from before God. The main critique of those five wayward churches was that they have compromised their position for the protection and power of the nation-state (en.18). It's no wonder they did so, considering the severity of the persecution Rome was exacting on the Church at that time.
Emperor Domitian was brutal and direct in his persecution of Christians. In his attempt to revive the pagan roots of Roman religion, he deemed any other religion illegal. During this time, if a Christian was caught, they would be brought to court and punished if they did not renounce Christ. Most of the time, that punishment was death (En.17).
It’s easy to understand why churches during this time would seek the favor of local governments and leaders in order to stay out of harm’s way. In the interplay between local and national rule, sometimes individual cities and leaders could protect civilians against laws they deemed unjust. As long as Domitian didn’t know, they didn’t have to follow all his decrees. Maybe the churches in some of those cities didn’t see their desire for political protection as compromising the Gospel of Christ. But Jesus did. It didn’t have to do with the external works of those churches, but the kind of power they were seeking. Even in the first century, much of the Church was flirting with the convenience of Satan’s power structure.
It’s hard to believe that within seventy years of the Church’s beginning, over seventy percent of the main churches were in such dire straits. I don’t think these wayward churches thought what they were doing was wrong. From the outside, they were still doing all the right Christian stuff. But from the inside, behind what was visible, was an infestation of Satan’s weeds among God’s wheat.
It took a person like John to reveal the spiritual health of these seven churches. John was a Prophet. He had the ability to hear what the Spirit wanted him to say. That’s why he began his revelation with, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:9). Through the Spirit, John had the ability to hear what the Spirit wanted to say to the Church about the spiritual reality behind its external works. The reality was an intermingling of the Church with Satan’s form of power. The culminating imagery of that kind of intermingling happened towards the end of the book, in chapter seventeen.
In chapter seventeen of John’s Revelation, he introduced the image of a woman sitting on a scarlet beast. The beast had seven heads and ten horns. Before this image of a woman seated on the beast, John’s revelation is already thick into the imagery of the beast itself.
We’re first introduced to this imagery in Revelation chapter eleven, when the beast comes up out of the abyss, as if emerging from hell itself, to wage war upon God’s two chosen Prophets. The beast kills those two Prophets and leaves them lying on a street of “the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (Revelation 11:7-8 NASB). We’re given more insight into what that “great city” represents as John continues developing the image of the woman on the beast in Revelation chapter eighteen. There he wrote, “’woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come” (Revelation 18:10). Remember, part of Satan’s paradigm isn’t just the Beast of nation-states, but the City/Tower. In the image of the woman on the beast, we see both of those parts of Satan’s kingdom at play.
The Beast represents the nation-state aspect of Satan’s power, and the City/Tower the system by which he enslaves humanity to that Beast. The second time the Beast is mentioned in John’s Revelation, it’s coming up out of the sea, and Satan directly gives his power, throne and authority to it (Revelation 13:1-3). In scripture, the sea represents chaos. In opposition to God and his Divine order, the chaos of the sea is Satan’s hell. The Beast comes out of the chaos of hell to confront God’s heavenly order with Satan’s City/Tower paradigm. Satan’s City structure, the great city, is represented by many cities in John’s Revelation. It’s represented by Sodom, Egypt, Babylon, and Jerusalem. Satan’s City isn’t a city, it’s The City, the Great City. It’s not a place, but a system of order which organizes humanity in a certain way to achieve a certain result. Satan’s City operates hand in hand with His Beast.
In chapter seventeen, it’s revealed that the beast the woman sits upon has seven heads and ten horns (Revelation 17:7). Those heads represent seven mountains upon which the woman sits, which are seven kings, and the ten horns are ten other kings over kingdoms establish by the Beast (Revelation 17:9-12). This woman on the Beast is positioned on top of the power of nation-states, which are like mountains, but artificial mountains made by Satan. An artificial mountain is a pyramid. A pyramid is a kind of tower. It reaches up to the heavens, like the Tower of Babel, attempting to set up a false system in opposition to God (Genesis 11:4).
Satan’s nation-state system is the power structure of the Pyramid/Tower at the center of his City, the Great City, which is the system by which he organizes and enslaves all of humanity under his control. The woman sits atop of this system because she is not of it, but has positioned herself to draw power from it, like a rider on an animal. It is the means and power by which she operates and moves. Now that it’s more clear what the Beast is, let’s look at the woman who sit’s upon it.
The woman on the Beast is the Church. But not just the Church. The woman is the Church prostituted to the power of Satan. John reveals more about this early in chapter seventeen, at the start of this whole section about the woman on the beast.
He wrote, “on her forehead a name was written, a mystery; ‘BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH’” (Revelation 17:5). Remember, the mark of the beast from John chapter thirteen is on the hand and the forehead (Revelation 13:17). Here the name of this woman on her forehead also represents a way of thinking, of reason and logic which is in opposition to God’s truth and revelation. For the Church, human intellect and reason cannot reveal it’s true standing before God. Only Divide revelation, like John’s, can reveal the heart and perspective of God to His Church. Part of Satan’s design is to lure the Church away from God’s revelation, to settle for the lesser perspective of human minds through human understanding. When we are operating in our own ability to understand, even to understand what we think God wants, we play into Satan’s hands, and end up with his mark on our hands and forehead.
The Church prostituted to the power of Satan bears his mark of human reason and intellect on their forehead. Only the Spirit can reveal the reality of that mark, and a Church prostituted to Satan’s power. Not only does this woman bear the mark of Satan on her forehead, but she is also “drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6).
As we learn in the first appearance of the beast, who comes out of the abyss, the “witnesses of Jesus” are Prophets (Revelation 11:3). The Saints represent those who are reconnected back to God through the Spirit, and of those, the Prophets are the ones who are tasked with assessing the spiritual health of the Church. These are the ones that Satan uses the Prostituted Church to attack, because they are at the center of the true Church, according to God and Jesus. They aren’t just about doing the right Christian works, or knowing the right Christian truths, but about being empowered in those things by the Spirit. These Saints and Witnesses are the Church within the Church, the remnant, the faithful and true Bride.
The tool Satan uses to attack the Church is the Prostituted Church. The Prostituted Church is the Bride on the Beast. It’s still the Church, but operating with a wrong system. That’s why John hears a voice saying, “Come out of her my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive any of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4). God calls His Church out of the Prostituted Church, because they are intermingled.
There is the Church according to Christ. There is the Church according to Satan. These are separate in identity, but not separated in form and function. They are two kinds of Churches occupying the same space. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. It’s also hard to distinguish these two Churches, because God chooses not to separate the weeds and the wheat. God allows both in His Church Garden, for a time, but also wants us to understand the difference, so we can continue being perfected into the Bride of Christ.