Towards the end of the book of Revelation there are two significant “women”. The first “woman” is discussed in chapters 17-18 and the second in chapter 19 and 21. Both the “women” have glory and splendour, but the one is false glory and the other is true glory. The reader of the book is intended to align themselves with one or the other “woman”, with false glory or true glory.
The woman in chapter 17 and 18 is described as “The great prostitute, who sits on many waters” (17:1) and also as “Babylon the Great” (18:1), “the great city” (18:16). Her splendour is described in several places. She “was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries” (17:4). The colours purple and scarlet are not incidental but have two important biblical associations. The first is that these colours are the colours of the tabernacle (and temple). The curtains of the tabernacle were made with blue, purple and scarlet yarn (Exod 26:1, 36; 27:16). The veil of the Holy of Holies was made from blue, purple and scarlet yarn (Exod 26:31). The priests’ garments were made of gold, blue, purple and scarlet yarn (Exod 28:5, 8, 15, 33). The association with worship is significant in that it is said about the Great Prostitute that “the kings of the earth committed adultery with her and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries” (Rev 17:2). Adultery is a way of referring to idolatry (see e.g. Deut 31:16; Judges 2:17; Hos 1:2). In other words the Great Prostitute is clothed in purple and scarlet as an idolatrous substitute for the worship of the true God.
The second association of purple and scarlet is with wealth and privilege. Daniel is clothed in purple when he is honoured by the king of Babylon (Daniel 5:7, 16, 29). When the plot to kill the Jews is foiled Mordecai is honoured and dressed in a purple robe (Esther 8:15). Jesus told a parable about a rich man who was clothed in purple (Luke 16:19). Before he was crucified the soldiers mocked Jesus by putting a purple robe on him and saying “Hail King of the Jews” (John 19:2-3). In all of these examples purple linen denotes honour and status and privilege.
The gold and precious stones are also clearly associated with royalty and with wealth. Gold and precious stones are found in kings’ crowns (2 Sam 12:30), kings’ palaces (1 Kings 7:9), and presents from royalty (1 Kings 10:2, 10). They are also found in the temple furnishing (1 Chron 29:2, 2 Chron 3:6). Another significant use of precious stones is the garment of the High Priest of Israel. He wore the stones on his shoulders, along with chains of gold, to represent the twelve tribes of Israel as he ministered before the LORD (Exod 28:6-14). Again the association of worship is present because the temple and the High Priest both have gold and precious stones.
Finally the woman wears pearls. Jesus warned: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn and attack you” (Matt 7:6). The great prostitute is not holy nor does she respect what is most precious. Her pearls are something which she has no real right to wear. They are an adornment which covers up something vile and sinful. Genuinely godly women do not need the adornment of pearls and gold, because they have modestly and self-control (1 Tim 2:9). The kingdom of heaven is like a precious pearl (Matt 13:45-46). The prostitute wears pearls as she has a kingdom which stands opposed to the kingdom of God. The great prostitute rules (has kingdom power) over the kings of the earth (17:18). But this is a false kingdom, a kingdom which is opposed to God’s kingdom. The false kingdom is subject to judgement (16:10) and can only be temporary (17:12, 17).
The adornment of the great prostitute is a false glory and a false splendour. But the woman in chapter 19 and 21 is adorned with true glory. She is introduced in Revelation 19:7 as the Wife or Bride of the Lamb.
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev 19: 6-8).
The wife of the Lamb is clothed in fine linen, bright and pure. This garment is outwardly far less showy than what the prostitute wears. There are several differences between the adornments of the two women. Firstly, the prostitute bought her precious stones and gold, purple and scarlet cloth from the merchants of the earth (18:11-12). “The earth” is used in Revelation in contrast to what takes place “in heaven”. Evil people live on the earth and God judges those on the earth (3:10; 6:4, 8; 7:1; 8:5, 7, 13 etc). Those who dwell on the earth spill the blood of the saints who will be avenged by God (6:10; 11:18). Worship takes place in heaven (Chapter 4 etc). Since the prostitute received her glory from the merchants of the earth, it is a false glory, destined to be judged.
In contrast the wife of the Lamb is given fine linen to wear by the Lamb. The source of the garment of the Lamb’s bride is not evil by holy. Those who are obedient to the lamb are given white robes to wear (3:4-5). The church is to buy white clothes from Jesus (3:18) not from the merchants of the earth like the prostitute. The ones clothed in white robes worship the Lamb (7:9) because the Lamb has shed his blood for them and his blood washes her robes (7:14). The fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints (19:8). The garments of the prostitute stand for her self-given glory and her self-imposed worship. She is not righteous but utterly evil. But the wife of the Lamb is holy and righteous.
The false splendour of the prostitute in chapters 17-18 is contrasted with the true splendour of the bride in chapter 21. Chapter 21 describes the New Jerusalem as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (21:2). The Bride the wife of the Lamb is depicted as “the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:9). So there is no doubt that the descriptions of the holy city are descriptions of the bride of Christ. The bride of the Lamb is adorned in a way similar to the great prostitute. But the difference is that her adornment is genuine glory and something which will last forever.
“The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass” (Rev 21:18-21).
The precious stones, gold and pearls that the prostitute had were taken away in judgment because they were a false glory which came from the earth. But the gold, precious stones and pearls that the bride of the Lamb is given will last for eternity because they are true glory given by the Lamb. The church is counselled by Jesus to seek after this true glory whatever the cost. “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Rev 3:18). The gold which will adorn the saints does not come through the merchants of the earth (cf. 18:11) but through being refined by fire, that is, living a life of obedient suffering for Jesus’ sake. The prostitute lived in luxury (18:7, 9), but the saints are persecuted by those who live on the earth (18:24). The result is that the glory of the prostitute will burned up – “She will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judged her” (18:8) – but the glory of saints who purchased gold refined by fire will last forever.
The false worship associated with the prostitute is also contrasted with the true worship which takes place in the holy city. In the midst of his description of the holy city, John writes, “And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls” (21:15). This is no doubt an allusion to the angel with the measuring rod who measures out the visionary Temple in the final chapters of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 40:3 plus the rest of chapters 40-48). The implication is that the New Jerusalem is a city of worship. This impression is reinforced by what is said a few verses later.
“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day- and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:22-27).
The worship which goes on in the city is not restricted in location or by time. Worship continues in every part of the city all day long without end because there is no night. The worship is true worship unmarred by anything false because nothing false or unholy can enter into the city. There is never any hint of the idolatry which is associated with the great prostitute. The nations of the earth will bring their splendour into the holy city in worship of the true God. This contrasts with the false worship of the nations who bring their glory to the prostitute (18:3).
The false glory of the prostitute will be judged, while the true glory of the bride gets better and better as the book progresses. The prostitute has glory which lasts only in the present and which she believes will never fade.
“For her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her” (Rev 18:5-8).
“Her sins are heaped as high as heaven.” Although what occurs in Babylon is on the earth, which is generally contrasted with heaven in Revelation, the sins of Babylon are so many that they reach to heaven where God is aware of them. Therefore they are judged. The saints, on the other hand are adorned in “Righteous deeds” (19:8). Sin is excluded from the holy city (21:8). The cup the prostitute has mixed must refer back to 17:4 in which she holds a golden cup filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The judgement is something which she was not expecting. She says “I will never mourn” (18:7). The great prostitute expects never to mourn, but mourning is exactly what she will see forever. In contrast to this the Bride of the Lamb has experienced great suffering but it will be no more because Jesus “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (21:4).
The people of God are given this book of prophecy so that they might see the contrast between the false glory and the true glory. The glory of the great prostitute appears right now to be quite wonderful. However, hers is a false glory which will not last. Her false glory will be removed so that she has nothing left. The reason that her glory will be judged is that it comes to her because she opposes God and persecutes the saints of God. God will not tolerate this false glory forever. He will destroy that great city of Babylon and expose the false glory, making it nothing. The glory of the Bride of the Lamb is the true glory. This glory is presently hidden, but it will be revealed in all its fullness. The true glory is eternal. It cannot be destroyed because its origin is the work of the Lamb. Only those who are on the side of God and worship him alone will experience the true glory.
The book of Revelation presents us with a decision. We must choose either the false glory or the true glory. The people of God are commanded to “Come out of [Babylon], my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues” (18:4). We must make a choice because it is not possible to have both false glory and true glory. Those who hold on to the false glory will lose it all and be condemned. Those who want the true glory must be prepared to abandon the false glory and to suffer in the present. But the true glory is far better than the false. The true glory is the far better choice, but it involves a cost.