I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus. And I was completely amazed when I saw her. Then the angel said to me, “Why are you amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman...” ~REVELATION 17:6-7
Rome was pretty proud of herself. She thought quite highly of the empire she had become. That’s Roma the Roman goddess up there on the right side of a coin from about A.D. 71. She sits atop seven mountains as Rome was known as “the city set on seven hills”, and this was a picture of world domination. Rome was this great world power in the first century. But John depicted Rome as nothing more than a drunken whore.
While many back then called Rome “the mother of all cities”, John calls her the mother of whores and of the vile things of earth (v.5), characterized by conspicuous consumption and violence. Apparently John was not impressed.
Or was he?
It struck me that when he sees her, drunk as she is on martyrs blood, that he is “completely amazed” at the sight of her. The Greek word here is thaumazein, and I’ve also seen it translated as greatly astonished, tremendously impressed, and as literally amazed with great amazement. It’s a little ambiguous just how John was amazed at her. One commentary asks, “Was he perplexed and disturbed? Was he baffled like seeing an unusual work of art? Was he puzzled and astonished? Was he impressed?” Since the angel asks in the next verse, “Why are you amazed?” and then offers interpretive help with the vision, we are led to believe that John had at least a hint of admiration for a moment or so. There was at least a shred of awe for a second. How could one not marvel at a sight such as this? (the sight described in verses 3-5)
Even horrible things can be “impressive”. Evil can dress up for a fancy nite out and look seductively attractive.
Do not be fooled.
Take the time and thoughtful energy to look below the surface of impressive organizations or people. I don’t think John was standing there gawking in wonder for very long, for he knew the wretchedness before him, but it is still very easy to get caught up for a moment with something that is beyond what we have experienced before.
I have been looking at cults a lot this year, which has complemented my studies in Revelation quite nicely. In all of the cults I’ve looked at so far, each one does indeed impress me on some level. It’s truly amazing that they were able to build Jonestown in the middle of thick jungle many miles from civilization. Living communally in an austere compound, studying the Bible for hours a day in Waco for so long, making it work as they did, is somewhat admirable. Hillsong’s music really is wonderfully written and quite moving.
Don’t be fooled.
These imposing feats and displays are built on some pretty sandy foundations.
For some reason, we still look to people to follow. We still get fooled by humans who make themselves out to be more than human, and who accept followers, and sometimes even worship, as if they are deserving of being venerated as demigods. At times we are easily impressed with people who are no greater in God’s eyes than you or me. I tell you who is impressive–the Person who made all persons, our Trinitarian Creator, GOD.
Jesus is the one person worth following. Any other human is merely that–human, and just as imperfect and ready to sin as you and I are. Now I would say there are people who are inspiring, but may it appropriately stop there and serve to simply spur us on toward loving God and others more deeply, pursuing Christlikeness more passionately, caring for those in need more often, and following the Holy Spirit ever more intensely.
Soli Deo Gloria