The Cosmic Cathedral

Understanding God in the Word and the World

Favors From a Prostitute Pt 4: The New Jerusalem vs The Harlot

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The Harlot Babylon Sitting on the Beast

Click to view "All Essay" postsOur discussion of Babylon and the Harlot in Revelation 17-18 has thus far has centered around:  1) John’s intertextual dependence upon various OT oracles linking the Harlot with similar corrupt economic practices to that of Tyre, 2) the function of the pax romana as the “sexual fantasy” for which the kings of the earth have fallen, and 3) how imperial religion and economics functioned together within the Empire to form a socio-economic culture which made fidelity to Christ a difficult task.  In this post I will be discussing heaven’s response to the Harlot Babylon, namely, the Bride of the Messiah, the New Jerusalem.  However, before jumping into our main topic, we will discuss the opposites of good and evil that John uses in Revelation.

Within Revelation, John shows what God, the Lamb, the people of God, and the city of God all look like.  In his apocalyptic fashion, he both compares and contrasts the forces of good with the forces of evil.  The chart below highlights only a few of those themes:

GoodvEvil in Rev

Though it would be interesting to go in depth to each of these occurrences, time and space limit me to only speak the last on this list.  In 17:1 and 21:9 John purposely compares both the harlotry of Babylon and the chastity of the New Jerusalem.

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you… the great prostitute” (17:1).

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls… spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9).

It is unmistakably clear that John is setting up a comparison between the harlot and the bride.  The imitation of the things of God was a theme in 2nd Temple Judaism.  In Odes of Solomon 38, within 20 years of John’s Revelation[1], there is an interesting thematic parallel using the same opposites.

And the corruptor of corruption

I saw while the bride who is corrupted was adorning herself,

Even the bridegroom who corrupts and is corrupted

And I asked Truth, “Who are these?”

And he said to me, “This is the Deceiver, and that is Error.

And they imitate the Beloved One and his bride,

And couse the world to err, and corrupt it;

And they invite many to a banquet,

And give them to drink of the wine of their intoxication,

And they cause them to vomit their wisdom and understanding,

And they render them irrational;

And then they abandon them,

But they go about raving and corrupting,

Because they are without understanding,

For neither do they seek it.

In the Odes of Solomon, Error and Deceit are personified as impersonators dressing themselves like “the Beloved One and His Bride.”  As we have seen, Revelation links the actions of the Beast, “who was, and is not, and is” (17:11), with that of Jesus, “who was, and is, and is to come” (1:8).  In the same way, John compares and contrasts the Harlot and the Bride.  Both the New Jerusalem and Babylon represent cities that rule over the earth.  Both are ascribed evocative relational titles, namely, Harlot and Bride.  The Harlot, defined in terms of promiscuity through economic exploitation and religious corruption, adorns herself as a prostitute would, with luxurious garments.  But the New Jerusalem is shown in modest attire and “prepared like a Bride adorned for her husband” (21:2).[2]

As I recently addressed, the critique of the Harlot was highly political and economic in nature.  Thus, within the praise of Bride, the geo-political dealings with “the kings of the earth” are not ignored.  Rather than getting the nations drunk from the wine of her idolatries, as the Harlot does (17:2), the New Jerusalem offers the waters of life to any who are thirsty yet “have no money” (22:17).  Babylon is depicted as having all the merchandise from the earth brought to its markets, making few rich (18:12-13), but the New Jerusalem is shown as bringing “healing to the nations” that were once defiled by the atrocities of Babylon (22:2).[3]  Drunkenness, darkness, and death encapsulate Babylon, while healing, life, and light symbolize the New Jerusalem.

John’s message to his churches was that, though living in a system of exploitation for personal gain, fidelity to Christ was to live as a citizen of the New Jerusalem.  But this is all very broad in nature.  In our next post, we will discuss what exactly John was calling these seven churches to.  How did he expect them to function within their small cities in Asia Minor in light of his denunciation of the practices of the Empire?  Stay tuned!

[1] Evans, Craig A., and Stanley E. Porter. Dictionary of New Testament Background. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000.

[2] Lynn R. Huber, “Like a Bride Adorned: Reading Metaphor in John’s Apocalypse,” Emory Studies in Early Christianity.  New York: T&T Clark, 2007. Pg. 130-33

[3] Carey, Greg, “In the Shadows of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance.” Ed. Richard Horsley. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2008. Pg. 170.

Author: Gary Wallin

My name is Gary Wallin and I am studying Ancient History in pursuit of one day teaching Biblical Theology at the Seminary Level. I currently live in Kansas City, MO with my self and my roommates.

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