saying, “Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls;” Revelation 18:16
Clothed – You’re reading John’s apocalyptic revelation. You know that apocalyptic literature is filled with symbols and literary allusions. You’re Jewish. You know your own Scriptures because you have heard them read to you since you were a child. Then you come across this verse. What do you think about it?
For most of us, this is just a description of the royal clothing, the luxury, of the symbol of idolatry and disobedience – Babylon. We don’t connect this with other passages in Scripture because we don’t have that rich history of the Jewish culture. But John did. He wasn’t writing to Western Europeans or Americans. He was writing to Messianic Jews. When he used the words ‘ei peribebliemenei bussinon kai porphuroun kai kokkinon (clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet), his reading audience would think of Exodus 28:5 (and 15-17), ve-et- hatchelet ve-et-haargaman ve-et-tolaat. Fine linen, purple and scarlet had a very special use in Exodus. These were the material of the robes of the High Priest.
Suddenly we see that John’s revelation connects disobedience and idolatry to an imitation of true worship. Every reader in John’s culture would have recognized that the clothing of Babylon was a mockery of God’s adornment of His priest. The Great Whore mimics God’s anointed. The characteristics of Babylon might appear to be religious, but the truth is quite the opposite.
What do we learn from John’s deliberate connection between God’s adornment and the false counterpart? What we learn is that the other characteristics of Babylon are also imitations of God’s Kingdom. The copy looks right but it is corrupt to the core. And what does that copy look like? Well, we might start with Babylon’s promotion of luxury. In a word, this is the idolatry of greed. Heschel helps us see the compelling power of this god. “Judaism is spiritual effrontery. The tragedy is that there is disease and starvation all over the world, and we are building more luxurious hotels in Las Vegas. Social dynamics are no substitute for moral responsibility. The most urgent task is to destroy the myth that accumulation of wealth and the achievement of comfort are the chief vocations of man.”
Babylon didn’t disappear in the 7th Century BC. Babylon is here today. Greed is the god of this age, and of many ages in the history of Man. Greed isn’t limited to the millionaire who wants “just one more.” Greed is the desire to have according to my expectations, without consideration for God’s purposes.
So the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the LORD. Joshua 9:14
“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” John 6:27
Topical Index: clothed, ‘ei peribebliemenei, greed, idolatry, Revelation 18:16, Exodus 28:5
 Abraham Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, p. 31.