The Apostate Church

by Dan Harris


For the past 1970 years since the first Sunday service of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2) the church has been a great institution for the proclamation of the gospel, and for the admonition of the saints. True, not all churches have proclaimed the gospel. Rather, most churches have not proclaimed the true gospel. Yet the church is a God-given institution for that purpose, and thousands of congregations have been faithful in the gospel proclamation.

Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the world and proclaim the gospel, to baptize, and to teach them the commandments of Christ (Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15). Down thru the ages the disciples of Christ have been true to this command.

There have been both high points and low points in the history of the church. Certainly among the high points were the Protestant Reformation, and the Great Awakening. Probably the darkest points in the history of the church was during the centuries prior to the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Church of that age dominated all, and led the masses to the slaughter.

There have always been faithful churches that have held true to the doctrines of Sovereign Grace. At some points in history there have been more of these churches than at other times. From the Protestant Reformation through to the Great Awakening and beyond Sovereign Grace proclaiming congregations were easy to find. However, for the past century more and more churches have fallen away from the true gospel so that today a Sovereign Grace proclaiming church is hard to find.

Today, most denominations and congregations have laid aside the doctrines that their founders proclaimed in exchange for doctrines that are less offensive to the hearers. Leaven has crept into the once faithful churches and is making itself manifest in many forms. Among these forms of leaven are the doctrines of free will, the Charismatic movement, dispensationalism, women in position of authority, the ecumenical movement, and the lack of admonishment to holy living. Though some forms of leaven may seem worse than others, Galatians 5:9 says, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump."

Have the corporate churches fallen to an equal or worse condition than those of the Dark Ages? Percentage-wise, probably not. Though most churches have fallen away, there still are a few that do remain faithful, although this number is becoming fewer as time goes on.

Can the corporate churches see revival? With God, nothing shall be impossible. We do not know for certain if we are in the time of Great Tribulation, or if God has several hundred more years planned. Our duty is to watch. As we see the churches fall away, let us look up.

The Bible teaches that as the age comes close to its end there will be a time of Great Tribulation. Jesus gave his disciples information about the nature of the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:15 - 28). Paul also writes to the church of the Thessalonians about the falling away that must come prior to the return of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

As true believers who seek to remain faithful to the Lord begin to see their own churches turn from the truth, what are they to do? In this article we will seek to answer this question as we observe the nature of Great Tribulation, the apostate church, and the mandate of Biblical separation.

Before we begin this lesson we must define some terms. The word church can refer both to the corporate, external body of believers and unbelievers alike, or the eternal, spiritual congregation made up only of true believers. When Jesus said "upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18), He was speaking specifically of His people, i.e., true believers. The gates of hell shall never prevail against those who are elect. The visible, external, corporate church, however, is not made exclusively of true believers. It contains both believers and unbelievers alike. The external church can fall. Only the external, corporate church can and will become apostate. The eternal, spiritual church, against whom the gates of hell shall never prevail, cannot become apostate. Hence whenever in this article there is reference to the apostate church, or a fallen church, this is in reference to an external, visible congregation or group of congregations.

The Nature of the Great Tribulation.

In Matthew 24:3, the disciples ask Jesus what the sign of his second coming would be. What follows is what is commonly referred to as the Olivet Discourse. The rest of chapter 24 may be divided into three parts, as those parts relate to the time line of this age up until the end.

These three parts are:

1. The Nature of the church age in general, verses 4 - 14.

2. The time of Great Tribulation, verses 15 - 28.

3. The return of Christ, verses 29 - 51.

In verses 4 through 14, Jesus list things that will be apparent throughout the entire church age. False prophets, wars, famines, plagues, and earthquakes will be common throughout the age, but these are not signs of the end. He taught that his followers should expect affliction for the cause of Christ. Such is not the sign of the end. Jesus said that in this world we will have tribulation (John 16:33). Christians down through the ages have been afflicted, tormented and killed for the cause of Christ This is no sign of the end, rather it is to be expected.

This is the error of many who think that because America has so declined morally that the end must be near. The world has always been wicked. Look at the history of the Roman empire. America is no worse than Rome. Wickedness in the world is no sign of the end of the age.

So then, what are the signs of the end of the age? Verses 15 speaks of the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet standing in the temple. What is the abomination of desolation? And, is it a sign of the end?

Let's answer the second question first. In Daniel 12, God gives the prophet Daniel a prophetic vision. Verse 1 of this chapter speaks of a time of trouble that is greater than has ever been up to that time. This verse parallels Matthew 24:21 which also speaks of this time of trouble. In verse 2 there are two resurrections, one of everlasting life, and one of everlasting contempt. In verse 4 Daniel is told to shut the book even until the time of the end. This is reconfirmed in verse 8 and verse 9. Then in verse 11 we see reference to the abomination of desolation. This is in the context of the time of the end.

In Daniel 9:24 - 27, Daniel is given a vision concerning 70 weeks (or sevens). Verse 24 says:

Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and the prophesy, and to anoint the most Holy.

Clearly by the language of this verse these seventy weeks go up until the end. In verse 27, in the midst of the seventieth week, we find reference to the abomination of desolation. Another reference showing that the abomination of desolation is an end times event.

What is the abomination of desolation? The abomination of desolation is a time in which the sanctuary is polluted. Daniel 11:31 says "they shall pollute the the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.."

The word abomination in the Bible is used often in relation to times when Israel served false gods: "And when Asa heard these words, and the prophecy of Oded the Prophet, he took courage, and put away the Abominable idols out of the land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of the cities which he had taken from mount Ephraim, and renewed the altar of the Lord, that was before the porch of the Lord." ( 2 Chronicles 15:8). "For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites" ( 1 Kings 11:5 ). "For the children of Judah have done evil in My sight, saith the Lord: they have set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places to Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hunnon, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into My heart." (Jeremiah 7:30-31).

For such abominations, God promised desolation to Israel, "And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you. And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours. And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it " Leviticus 26:30-32.

Thus we can know that the abomination of desolation has to do with the people of God forsaking God to serve a false god. This great abomination will take place, according to Matthew 24:15, in the "holy place."

In the Old Testament the Temple served as the Holy Place, in which was the Holy of Holies. It was veiled off to separate it as a place that is sanctified unto God. When Christ died on the cross, in the instant he died, the veil in the temple which hid the holy of holies was rent from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51). This signified that the holy of holies was no longer at that place in Jerusalem, which was merely a shadow, but was now in the body of Christ, the fulfilment of the shadow. The temple of the Old Testament was a symbol which pointed to the body of Christ. (Hebrews 9:11, 24). In the New Testament we have access to the holy of holies through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:19-20). In the New Testament, the believers (the body of Christ, 2 Corinthians 6:16) are the temple of God. The church is the Holy Place.

A time will come in which the church (not the eternal church, over which the gates of hell shall not prevail, but the external church) will be defiled. "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Remember, in the New Testament, the temple of God is the body of believers, i.e., the church. During this time of Great Tribulation, the man of sin will set himself up in the church, and will be worshiped as God. This is "the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet stand[ing] in the Holy Place." (Matthew 24:15). This agrees with what Daniel, the prophet said concerning the abomination of desolation. Daniel 8:13: "Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot? " The sanctuary is the church, it shall at this time be trodden under foot. "And arms shall stand on His part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of His strength, and shall take away the daily, and they shall place the a bomination that maketh desolate." Daniel 11:31.

A time will come when the church will no longer be a place where the gospel is heard, 2 Timothy 4:3-4: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine but, after their own lusts, shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;"1st Timothy 4:1-2.

The man of sin ( 1 Thessalonians 2:3 ), who is empowered by Satan, who for the most part of the church age has been restrained ( KJV -"letteth" is an archaic word that means "restrain"), will be no longer be restrained. (Since, according to the passage, he has been restrained for most of the church age, at least 1950 years, we must conclude that the man of sin is not just one individual, confer with 1 John 2:18 ). He will be allowed to infiltrate the established churches on a much greater scale than he has ever before throughout the church age. Certainly the man of sin has been at work for the entire church age, leading churches away from the true gospel, yet he has been restrained from taking full control in the external church. But a time will come when he will no longer be restrained. In this time of Great Tribulation, there will be a Great falling away, in which very few churches will hold to the true gospel.

Such is the nature of the Great Tribulation. The Tribulation will be of a spiritual nature, not a physical nature. If it were of a physical, catastrophic nature, then people would realize that it is the time of the end. Yet for the most part, they will not. They will not be looking for the return of Christ, rather, life will continue as usual right up until the second coming of Christ. Matthew 24:37 - 39 and Luke 17:26 - 29 makes this clear: They ate; they drank; they married; they bought; they sold; they planted; they builded, right up until they were destroyed. "So shall also the coming of the Son of man be."

The Great Tribulation will be a tribulation within the church. Those within the church shall say, "'Peace and safety;' then sudden destruction cometh upon them." (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

The Woman of Revelation 12.

In Revelation chapter 12, the apostle John is given a vision of a woman. This woman was "clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head was a crown of twelve stars." Who is this woman?

First note that she was clothed with the sun: Malachi 4:2, "but unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings". Second note that the moon is under her feet: Psalm 89:37, "It shall be established forever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven." Third note that upon her head is a crown: Revelation 2:10, "...be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life." Fourth note that this crown displays twelve stars: Daniel 12:3, "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever." (See also Revelation 1:20).

She is clothed with the Sun, that is she wears the garments of salvation (Isaiah 61:10, "...He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.") Christ's righteousness covers the spiritual nakedness of the redeemed.

The moon is at her feet. The moon does not give light of itself, but rather reflects the light of the Son. So also the people of God reflect the light of Christ to a world in darkness.

The stars also enlighten the darkness and give direction. So also the people of God give direction in the darkness to show the way to Christ.

This woman represents the people of God.

In verse 2 this woman is almost to bring forth a child. Who was this child to whom she gave birth? This child was one whom the dragon was anxious to destroy as soon as he was born (Matthew 2:13). This child was to rule the nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9). This child was caught up unto God and to His throne (Acts 1:9 - 11). This Child is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are those who say that the woman refers only to the nation of Israel. Yet such an interpretation would require a gap between verses 5 and 6 of 1950+ years. Also, national Israel does not wear the garments of salvation, nor is Israel a faithful witness of the Lord Jesus Christ (nor did she wear the garments of salvation when she brought forth, nor at that time was she a faithful witness). The symbols do not properly fit national Israel. However the symbols clearly fit all of God's elect, both from Israel and from the church.

In verse 6 is a mention of a period of 1260 day in which this woman was fed in the wilderness. Being fed is a picture of salvation. The believers feed upon the bread of life, i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ (John 6:48 - 58). The wilderness reminds us of the wilderness journey of the Hebrews after they departed from Egypt and before they entered into the promised land. During their 40 year sojournment, they had no permanent dwelling place, they were pilgrims. So are all who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ: this world is not our home; we are pilgrims here. The time that the Hebrews spent in the wilderness was an intermediate stage in their history between their salvation from Egypt and their possession of the land of promise. The believers wilderness journey here is but an intermediate stage between their conversion and their resurrection to their eternal inheritance.

What is the 1260 days? 1260 days can be divided into 42 thirty day months (1260 = 42 x 30). Forty-two months is 3 years. Let us now take a look at the 70 weeks of Daniel 9:24 - 27, because this might answer the question before us.

The 70 weeks are divided into three parts: 7 weeks (1 Jubilee), 62 weeks, and the last week. We will not go into detail in this article adding up the calendar years from the beginning of the time frame to the year of the crucifixion. That is not the point of this article (For a good study on the 70 weeks see https://www.mountainretreatorg.net/eschatology/dan9.html by Tony Warren). For this study it is sufficient to know that the crucifixion was at the end of the 69th week, which verses 25 and 26 clearly teach.

There are those who teach that the seventieth week is a future event only to be fulfilled in the Tribulation. This is the teaching primarily held by pre-trib dispensationalist. They believe that the "prince" in verse 26 is the anti-christ, and that the "he" in verse 27 is the anti-christ. Therefore they teach that the tribulation begins when the anti-christ signs a covenant with the nation of Israel, and that in the middle of the week, the anti-christ will break that covenant.

This is a faulty view of these verses. First, there is no mention of anti-christ in these verses (although there is a mention of the abomination of desolation). The "prince"in verse 26 is the same "Prince" found in verse 25. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is the "prince that shall come." Hence the "people of the prince" are Israel. They are the ones who destroyed the city and the sanctuary (John 2:19, i.e., the body of the Lord Jesus).

The "he" in verse 27 refers to the "prince" of verses 25 and 26, the Messiah. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who has confirmed the covenant (the New Covenant in His blood Hebrew 8:6 - 13; 13:20). This covenant is confirmed with many (i.e., all who will be saved) for one week. This week of the covenant is the entire church age.

This 70th week is divided into two parts. Half of seven is 3 .. The seventieth week, therefore is 3 + 3 .

Let us now take a quick look at Revelation 11, because in this chapter we find both halves of the seventieth week developed.

Revelation 11: The Seventieth Week.

Verses 1 and 2 of this chapter give a picture of the temple being measured. The Temple in the New Testament is not to be confused with the Temple of the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament the Temple served as the Holy Place, in which was the Holy of Holies. It was veiled off to separate it as a place that is sanctified unto God. When Christ died on the cross, in the instant he died, the veil in the temple which hid the holy of holies was rent from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51). This signified that the holy of holies was no longer at that place in Jerusalem, which was merely a shadow, but was now in the body of Christ, the fulfilment of the shadow. The temple of the Old Testament was a symbol which pointed to the body of Christ. (Hebrews 9:11, 24). In the New Testament we have access to the holy of holies through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:19-20). In the New Testament, the believers (the body of Christ, 2 Corinthians 6:16) are the temple of God. The church is the Holy Place.

The holy city is also a picture of the church. The New Jerusalem is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2). The church is the New Testament dwelling place of the bride of Christ, hence the holy city.

Only the temple itself was to be measured, not the outer court. The corporate (visible) church is made up of two parts: those who are truly saved (the true, eternal church) and those who are not saved, but give a false appearance of being saved. The second group is the outer court, for they have no real fellowship with God. The measuring of the temple is a demonstration the God knows His people, and only they will be included in His covenant.

The holy city is to be trampled under the foot of the Gentiles for 42 months. 42 months is 3 years (one half of the 70th week.) In these two verses it is not revealed which half of the 70th week the holy city will be trodden under foot.

Verses 3 through 12 speak of the two witnesses. Who are the two witnesses? There are those who say that they are Moses and Elijah. However, let us let the Bible tell us who they are. They are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks (verse 4). The olive trees represent those who have been anointed (Zechariah 4:11,14). The candlesticks represent church (Revelation 1:20). Jesus sent out His disciples in groups of two (Luke 10:1). Hence the two witnesses represent the true believers, who are the witnesses within the church.

These two witness are given liberty to prophesy for 1260 days. 1260 days is 42 - thirty day months, or 3 years. Here we see of the seventieth week. The witness of the church will last throughout half of the 70th week. In verse 7, at the time appointed the witnesses of the church will have finished their testimony, and they are killed. In verses 8 and9, their bodies lie in the street for 3 days: the second half of the seventieth week.

So after the first 3 the witnesses are killed. Then for the second 3 their bodies lie in the street of the city, which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt. The witness of the true gospel is found within the church during the church age. Then the time comes when this witness is killed, i.e., no more is the gospel heard in the churches. The bodies of these witness lie in the street of Jerusalem which is here called Sodom and Egypt. Jerusalem, the holy city, in these verses is no longer holy. Why? Because it is no longer the abiding place of the truth. The witnesses of Christ are no longer welcome in the city (church). The world rejoices, for the church no longer condemns them.

Then after the end of the second 3 (verses 11 and 12) the witnesses are resurrected, and called up into heaven.

The outline of the seventieth week:

Before(69th week )...................................................... During........................................................... After ................

Messiah cut off. ( First 3 , the witness of the church; Second 3 , the silencing of the witnesses) The rapture.

This fits in well with Daniel 9:27. The covenant (the New Covenant) is confirmed with many for 1 week. In the middle of the week the sacrifice and oblation (which occur within the temple [the New Testament church] ) cease (i.e., the church is no longer the place of the gospel), and the holy place (Matthew 24:15) is made desolate because of the overspreading of abominations (i.e., the church is made desolate because of things within it that God considers abomination).

The Woman of Revelation 12, resumed.

The 1260 days in which the woman flees into the wilderness for protection from the dragon is the first half of the 70th week. We learned earlier that the wilderness pictures the temporal dwelling place of the people of God. According to verse 6 this dwelling place was prepared for her my God. Oh the grace of our Lord and Saviour, that he has ordained the safekeeping of His people. In the wilderness the woman is fed. We learned earlier that that which she feed upon is the bread of Life, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verses 7 through 11 speak of a great battle between Michael and the dragon (Satan). Michael, the arch-angel (Jude 9), is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. We know this because the word arch-angel means chief messenger. What greater messenger is their than the Lord Jesus Christ? In Daniel 10:21, Michael is referred to as Daniel's prince. Who is Daniel Prince, but the Lord? In Daniel 12:1, Michael is referred to as the "great prince which standeth for the children of thy people." This can be none other than Jesus Christ. It is He who in Revelation 12:7 who battles with the dragon. When did the Lord Jesus Christ fight the battle with Satan? While He was on the cross. The cross is the focal point of history. It was at the cross that Satan suffered his greatest defeat. It was at the cross when the Seed of the woman bruised the serpents head (Genesis 3:15). Verse 11 makes it clear that the battle was won by the blood of the Lamb. Satan was defeated by the blood. Verse 10 teaches that as a result of this battle salvation is come. (From what other source can come salvation than from the blood of Christ?) This verse also teaches that as a result of this battle the Kingdom of God is come. Those who are citizens of the Kingdom of God are citizens because of the blood of Christ.

If the reader has any more doubts that this battle occurred at the cross, let him read John 12:31 - 33, "Now is the judgement of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death He should die."

The accuser of the brethren being cast down (verse 10) shows that he has no more of which he can accuse them. Why? Because their sins were paid for during this battle. The child of God can no longer be held eternally accountable for his sins because of the blood of Christ.

In verse 13 we see the dragon persecuting the woman. Such is the expectation of the child of God to be persecuted by the prince of this world. Satan hates the children of God. Yet the next verse presents a demonstration of the grace of God to his chosen people.

In verse 14, the woman is given two wings of an eagle. This reminds us of Isaiah 40:31, "But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint." God gives the woman renewed strength and removes her into the wilderness where she will be protected from Satan. There He feeds her with the living bread. God is gracious to His people.

In verse 15, the serpent (Satan) spews water from his mouth as the water of a flood to carry the woman away. Water in the scripture pictures the gospel. Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4:14, "whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." And in John 7:37,38, "...If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."

Yet from the serpents mouth comes forth not the water of the true gospel, but of death. Satan's gospel is poison. Mark 16:17, 18 speak concerning signs that shall follow them that believe. These signs are of a spiritual nature rather than a physical nature (which is obvious, none can drink poison and be bit by venomous snakes and be unharmed. In answer to the charismatics, who believe that these signs are physical and could happen, it does not say: "these signs could follow them that believe...", rather: "these signs shall follow them that believe". That is, wherever a believer is found, so are these signs.). "If they drink anything deadly, it shall not hurt them." That is, a true believer cannot be overtaken by a false gospel. The lies of the devil will not deceive them.

Also note in Revelation 12:15, that the water from the serpents mouth is the water of a flood. This reminds us of the Great Flood from which Noah was delivered. That flood was a flood of judgement. Those who were taken by the waters of that flood perished. Satan spews from his mouth the waters of a flood. That is, those who partake of his water, are judged. The gospel of the serpent is a gospel leading to judgement, not to salvation.

But, notice in verse 16, that the water spewed from the serpents mouth has no effect on the woman. Thereby she is a demonstration of Mark 16:18. She is made up of true believers, hence the poison water cannot harm her. Rather, the poison water, the water of the flood is swallowed up by the earth. This demonstrates the condition of those outside of Christ. This world has swallowed the lies of Satan. The world has drunk of his water, and will be brought under judgement.

Verse 17 pictures the ongoing battle between the kingdom of Satan and the true believers. Satan and his messengers hate the true Christians and have sought to destroy them. Remember the words of Martin Luther's hymn, "Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still! His kingdom is forever!"

Down through the centuries there have remained faithful churches who have not been carried away by the flood waters of false gospels, but have remained a wellspring of the pure water of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet there will come a time when the water of the pure gospel will be hard to find, even in churches that once had an abundance thereof. There will come a time of spiritual drought when the rivers of life will be dried up. A time of famine, not of bread but of the word of God (Amos 8:11).

In this time of famine, those who call themselves the churches of Jesus Christ will not be storehouses of the unleaven bread of life, but rather of the leaven of false religion (Galatians 5:9). They will not be the wellspring of the pure water of the gospel, but full of the poison of a false gospel.

There are several passages in the scriptures that speak of this coming apostasy. Among the clearest is 2 Thessalonians 2:1 -12. Paul makes it clear to the church there that before the day of Christ there must first come a falling away (apostasia). Jesus spoke of it as the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15). Another passage that talks about the coming apostasy of the church is Revelation chapters 17 and 18.

The Woman called Babylon.

In the previous section of this article we learned of the woman of Revelation 12 and how this woman pictures the saints of God. In this section we will look at another woman, a woman called Babylon, and see how this woman pictures the apostate church of the end times.

It is interesting to note as we went through Revelation 12, that the woman was nourished in the wilderness for 1260 days. We discussed earlier in this study how that this 1260 days (3 years) pictures the first half of the seventieth week. Reading how that the woman was nourished for 1260 days (the first half of the seventieth week) brings us to the question, what about the second half of the week? To this question, no answer is given in chapter 12. Chapter 13 starts a new vision, and no more is said of this woman of chapter 12. What happened to her? Why is there no mention of this faithful woman enduring through the second half of the week?

In chapter 17, we are introduced to another woman. This woman is unlike the woman of chapter 12, for she is not one who is faithful to Christ, picturing the true believers through all ages. Rather, she is called a "great whore" who has committed fornication with the kings of the earth.

But note from where we find this woman. Verse 3, "So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast". This woman is from the wilderness. The woman of Revelation 12 was led into the wilderness to be nourished for 1260 days, and here we read that out of the wilderness came a whore. Coincidence?

There is no coincidence. The woman of chapter 12 is a picture of the church that follows the true gospel of Christ. At the time of the end, there will come a "falling away" (apostasia, 2 Thessalonians 2:3). The church, which was once pictured by the faithful woman of Revelation 12, is now pictured as the "whore" of Revelation 17. (We must keep in mind that this is not the eternal, spiritual church, against whom the gates of hell shall not prevail; but of the external, corporate church.)

But, some might say, what evidence is there that this woman, Babylon, pictures the church? This is a good question. Many believe that this whore represents the kingdom of Satan down through the ages (not the church). There are others who claim that this represents the Roman Catholic church. We will attempt to answer this question in this section of the article.

The first part of chapter 17 introduces the woman to us while the second part speaks of the great beast upon which she rides. Chapter 18 describes this woman in much more detail. 17:5 identifies the woman as "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." 17:18 reconfirms that the woman is that great city. So in 18:2, when the angel cries, "Babylon the great is fallen," we can be certain is speaking of the whore of chapter 17.

The first evidence that this is not referring to the kingdom of Satan is in the announcement (18:2), "Babylon the great is fallen." For Babylon to be fallen, it must have, previous to this announcement, not been fallen. Now one will say, fallen here means "come to its time of destruction." That could be a possible definition of the word fallen, yet this verse is more specifically referring to a spiritual fall. If fallen here mens, "come to its time of destruction", then it would not be immediately followed by the next phrase, "and is become the habitation of devils." If it had reached its final end, then this phrase immediately following would not make logical sense.

The next evidence is in the phrase, "and is become the habitation of devils." To have become the habitation of devils means that before it was not the habitation of devils. Habitation means dwelling place or home. What a dreadful fall for a church to be called the home of devils. The job of the church is to cast out devils. Devils should flee from the church in fear. Yet no longer are they anxious to be there. Rather, they like the church so much, they now live there!

The next evidence is in "and the hold of every foul spirit and the cage of every unclean and hateful bird." Hold and cage in this verse are the same word, which means a prison. Babylon has become a place of bondage for evil doers. Before this time it was not.

Another evidence is in what merchandise was sold in her. Verse 12, "the merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen," etc... Gold, silver, precious stones, these are symbolic of that which is pure: Zachariah 13:9, "And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call upon My Name, and I will hear them: I will say, it is My people: and they shall say, the LORD is my God." Precious stones are what is found in the foundations of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19). Pearls represent the word of God: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine..." (Matthew 7:6). Fine linen reminds us of the robe of Christ's righteousness: Isaiah 61:10, "He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness,..." However no longer shall she sell these things for they have departed from her (verse 14). She does not have them any more. This is a representation of the apostate church, which once had within it gold and silver, and precious stones (i.e., true believers), yet they are no longer to be found in the church.

The merchants (true believers) are those who bought from her (the church). The gold and silver and precious stones are the things of eternal value that they have bought from her, even as God counseled those in the church of Laodecia to by such things from Him (Revelation 3:18). These merchants were made rich from that which they have bought from her. In verse 11 these merchants (the true believers) weep and mourn because no longer can one buy the things of eternal value from her. Again in verse 15, we find reference to these merchants who have been made rich through her (not the temporal riches that pass away, but the eternal riches tried by fire: gold, silver, precious stone, that shall not pass away). These merchants "shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment." That is, they have separated themselves from her. They have removed themselves a great distance, for fear of her judgement. They weep when they see her riches taken from her. In this time of great apostasy, the true believers will have left the corporate church, and they will be outside of it weeping over its fall.

Again, in verse 16 we find what was previously her clothing: "fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold and and precious stones, and pearls." But no more. Now she has been made desolate (verse 19).

Another evidence is in verse 22. The musicians represent those who sing praise to God (Psalm 150). No more are they to be heard in her. Though at one time within her was heard the instruments of praise, this shall be true no longer.

Verse 23 holds the most apparent evidence that Babylon pictures the fallen church: "And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee..." This reminds us of the seven candlesticks which represent the seven churches (Revelation 1:20). In Revelation 2:5, Jesus warned the church of Ephesus that if it does not change, that He will remove its candlestick from its place (i.e. it will no longer be His church). So here in 18:23 we find that Babylon has had its candle removed. Previous to this prophesy the light of a candle was found in it: but no more.

Also in verse 23 it says, "the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee." The bridegroom is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, and His bride are the true believers (Revelation 21:2). Previous to this prophesy the voices of the bridegroom and the bride had been heard in her, that is, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed within her, yet no longer.

Why is the woman called a "whore"? She, the church, has been unfaithful to her corporate Head (Husband). She has forsaken her Husband for another christ. Just as the nation of Israel committed spiritual adultery against God (Hosea chapter 1) in lusting after the gods of Canaan, so also the corporate church has done to Christ.

Now let us look at 18:4, "And I heard another voice from heaven saying, Come out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." This is a Biblical mandate to God's elect to depart from Babylon, the apostate church. This command we must obey as we see the corporate churches fall away from the truth and follow after false gospels. Those who are redeemed are not to be associated with those who teach and adhere to heresy.


The time will come when the overwhelming majority of churches will have neglected the true gospel and will have turned to one form of false gospel or another. Today it appears that the churches for the most part are headed that direction. Although this appears to be the case, we cannot say with great certainty that we are living in or living near to that "time of Great Tribulation", and the "falling away" prophesied in the scriptures. Neither the author of this article, or any man can know this. If anyone says he does know that we are living in that day, then such an one should be avoided, because he treads where he ought not.

Certainly Martin Luther, when he nailed his 95 thesis on the door of the Wittenberg chapel, and others who lived in that time frame, may have thought they could have been living in that prophesied time. In that day the vast majority of churches were apostate, yet it was not the time of the end: five centuries have past since.

Although Jesus said that the true believers will see these things (the Great Tribulation) come to pass, He does not say we will know the times or the seasons of His return. Although Matthew 24:15 refers primarily to the end time abomination of desolation, it may also be applied to several occurrences. That is to say, "When you see the abomination which causes desolation stand in the holy place (in your own congregation)...flee to the mountains." The abomination of desolation occurs individually in each congregation as that congregation falls. God removes candlesticks throughout time. When one's church's candlestick has been removed, he is to depart from that congregation, lest he be a partaker of their abominations.

The sad truth is that most will not see the abomination of desolation coming. They will not be watching diligently for it, and it will take them unaware. Satan comes as an angel of light. If he came with a pointy tail and a pitchfork, he would be easily identified. Sadly, that is what many expect (not the pointy tail and pitchfork, but the world leader who will sign a covenant with Israel, and will cause all to receive a mark, 666, in their foreheads). If he came straight out with a gospel that is clearly opposed to the truth, then men would see the error, but if he were to make progressive, slight alterations here and there over time, few would notice that he has changed the truth into a lie. Satan is the master deceiver. If he is the master deceiver, would he make his deception obvious?

Progressive, slight alterations of the truth - that is to say, one cancer cell becomes two cancer cells, becomes four cancer cells....becomes millions of cancer cells, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (Galatians 5:9). Toleration is the father of much leaven. We tolerate certain false doctrines because we deem them "unimportant". Yet false doctrines don't come singularly. They bring a string behind them. As "unimportant" false doctrines add up, soon there become many false doctrines, till finally the false doctrines outnumber the true doctrines.

Consider dispensationalism as an example. 150 years ago dispensationalism was unheard of. 100 years ago it was a minority teaching mostly ignored by the churches. Fifty years ago it was taking root in fundamentalist churches. Today, it is one of the most popular doctrines of the church. Why? Because the churches of the late 19th and early 20th centuries would not take a stand against it.

One might ask, what is wrong with dispensationalism? The author is not saying that one cannot agree with the teachings of dispensationist and also be committed to the Lord. However, dispensationalism is a doctrine that churches should take a stand against. This author believes that dispensationalism is one of the tools that Satan will use to keep the church from seeing its downfall. Dispensationism teaches that the Great Tribulation will be marked by a visible anti-christ who will sign a peace treaty with national Israel. Hereby those who have succumbed to this teaching are looking for the wrong end-time events, and therefore are missing what is really happening. Most, but not all, dispensationalist adhere to a pre-tribulation rapture. So the followers of this teach are looking for the rapture before the great falling away, and thereby the falling away will take them unaware.

Also consider Arminianism (the doctrines of free will). Arminianism to its fullest extent is a false gospel. Yet there is a wide spectrum between the Biblical doctrines of Sovereign Grace and full blown Arminianism. The authors of the Canon of Dort stood squarely against the Arminian doctrines. 150 years ago, Arminianism was still considered heretical by most denominations. Progressively the churches have succumbed to various Arminian teachings. Today many church leaders consider the debate between Calvinists and Arminians an "unimportant" issue. Yet this issue is far from unimportant. Now many so-called Calvinistic churches speak of the "human choice" of salvation. Arminianism has take hold in most Baptist churches. Historically all Baptist churches (17th century) were Calvinists. Today, most Baptist churches teach free will. These same churches will quote Spurgeon, yet Spurgeon stood opposed to Arminianism. He saw it as the heretical teaching that it is. Today many church leaders will not stand against the doctrine that one can lose his salvation (full blown Arminianism). They consider it an "unimportant" doctrine. The teaching that one can lose his salvation is not an unimportant doctrine, but is doctrinal heresy. It is a false gospel. But the church has become "sensitive" to such teachings.

As churches give room to "unimportant issues" these "unimportant issues" will become the doctrines of the church. As this happens churches move further and further from the truth, and soon the abomination of desolation will be in place, and the church will never know it.

When should a believer leave his church? If his church has given way to Arminianism, he should leave. If his church holds to dispensationalism, he should begin searching around for a more faithful congregation. If the church has compromised its music standards, or is giving room to the ecumenical movement, he should seek another church. If his church has unqualified leadership, he should also depart from it. There are many forms of leaven. Some forms are worse than others, but all forms can become a stumbling block to a church. A believer should pray for wisdom as he considers the issue of breaking fellowship with his church.

What if a believer cannot find a faithful congregation? Then it is better to not attend than to attend an unfaithful congregation. One who cannot find a good church might seek out a like-minded group of believers and possibly start a more faithful church. Keep looking, maybe one will find a church that he may be able to attend.

No matter what, take a stand for the truth.

Any questions or comments about this article? Feel free to contact the author at harriswebpage@yahoo.com


[ Top | Eschatology | Theology | Bible Studies | Classics | Articles | Sermons | Apologetics | F.A.Q. | Forum ]