Revelation 17 - Outline of Revelation (MENU page)
17:1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials,
and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee
the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
17:2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and
the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
one of the seven angels... talked with me... Come hither, I will shew thee...-
In ch. 16, John watched as the wrath of God was poured out (prophetically) upon Babylon at the close of the great Tribulation period. Now, John is shown a wider picture of Babylon: What it is, and Why it is worthy of such severe judgment. The angel takes John back from the close of the Tribulation, to a new view of Babylon which spans the entire seven year Tribulation.
In ch. 17 and 18, Babylon is revealed in several aspects:
  1. Ecclesiastical (religious) Babylon (the apostate church) 17:1-6,18
  2. Political Babylon (the kingdom of the beast, centered around his worship) 17:7-17
  3. Commercial Babylon 18:1-19
(These three aspects are discussed further at the end of the notes on ch. 17.)
whore (harlot)- Scripture uses this term to describe the unfaithfulness of both-
-- Israel to Jehovah (Ezek 16:8-21), and
-- the Church to her Bridegroom (2Cor 11:2-4).
The unfaithfulness may be doctrinal, moral or both. cp. 2Pet 2:1-3; Titus 1:16; Jam 4:4,5
The great harlot (here) is the apostate church (depicted by the church in Thyatira, Rev 2:18f). She consists of those who call themselves christians, but who are not born again, and therefore, have no part in the body of Christ (though they may be members of a church).
The space for her repentance is past. The time for her judgment has come. Rev 2:20-23
sits on many waters- This phrase is explained by v.15.
The false church has worldwide popular support and influence.
kings...committed fornication- There is an unholy alliance between church & state.
Truth is disregarded as leaders use religion & politics to obtain personal power.
inhabitants...drunk with... fornication- Earth's people, caught up in her pernicious errors & idolatry,
are unable to discern the deception. (cp. 14:8)
17:3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness:
carried away in spirit- a state of spiritual ecstasy, a vision. (cp. 1:10; 4:2; 21:10)
into wilderness (no article)- This is not "the wilderness" of 12:6,14.
It may be symbolic of spiritual barrenness & confusion (the meaning of "Babel").
and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast,
full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
a woman- She is the harlot of v.1.
sit upon- GK= kathemai, to sit down, to dwell, to rest comfortably (see this word in v.1,9,15).
The harlot is supported by and exercises influence over the beast.
a scarlet coloured beast- ie., the dragon, Satan (Rev 12:3),
especially as revealed in the antichrist (the final ruler of the gentile world power system, Rev 13:1)
full of names of blasphemy- Satan, the antichrist, and their world system, are characterized
by blasphemy against the true and living God. Blasphemy marks each of the heads of the beast, and permeates the great things which he speaks (Rev 13:1,5). The harlot, the corrupt religious system, is at home in this environment.
scarlet- Was the color of kings.
But also reminds us of the bloodshed under the beast's rule.
17:4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour,
and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup
in her hand full of abominations and
{ie., even the} filthiness of her fornication:
purple & scarlet- The colors of the Roman emperors signifying priesthood & royalty.
gold...pearls- When the church is impoverished of the inner value which
"in the sight of God is of great price," she adorns the external to excess to compensate for her inner lack. cp: Isa 3:16-26; Mat 23:25,27; 1Pet 3:3-4; Rev 3:17
a golden cup- She claims to be Christ's Bride, but the cup she extends
contains a counterfeit gospel, the doctine of demons. 1Cor 10:14,16,21,22
17:5 And upon her forehead [was] a name written, MYSTERY,
mystery- This word is descriptive of her title, not part of it.
As the true Church was a mystery, not revealed by God in the OT (Eph 3:1-9),
so, the "anti-church" was kept secret and would not be fully revealed in John's day.
Babylon- The original Babylon (Babel) was the fountainhead of false religion in the world.
The harlot, the false christian church, embraces false religious systems on a grand scale. Seeking syncretism, she includes something for everyone. Many believe that the Roman Catholic Church either is the harlot, or will provide the framework upon which she is built. (See notes at 2:20-23.)
The mother of harlots- implies that she has daughters which indulge in her errors.
Many protestant denominations, originally formed in protest to R.C.C. error, have already fallen into apostasy. While retaining some distinctives of form or ritual, they also have forsaken the truth and are given to another gospel. No longer recognizing the validity of the scriptural issues which once separated them, the thrust of these churches is ecumenicity with Rome.
Note: In Revelation, the term Babylon is applied to two systems -
Religious Babylon (17:1-7) and Political / Commercial Babylon (17:8 - 18:19).
Some see both elements combined in one city.
Others see two separate cities: a religious and a political world capital. (Further discussion follows.)
17:6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints,
and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus:
She made others drunk with her seductive errors.
She is giddy with the persecution of true believers.
(Historically, countless martyrs died at the hands of the R.C.C., countless more will die under the future world religious system.)
and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration {lit., wonder}.
I wondered with...wonder- The same GK word is repeated for emphasis.
(cp. similar emphatic method in Mat 2:10; Eph 2:4)
17:7 And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel?
I will tell thee the mystery of the woman,
and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.
wherefore- GK= dia ti, On account of what?
Was John amazed at her gaudiness, at her filthiness, at the gullibility of the kings she seduced, at the murders that made her giddy? Or, at the prospect that this harlot claims to be the church of Christ?
John was not expected to understand, since the angel offers explanation:
the mystery- There are two mysteries to be explained here:
1. The mystery of the woman (explained second, v.15-18).
2. The mystery of the beast that carries her (explained first, v.8-14).
17:8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not;
and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition:
and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written
in the book of life from the foundation of the world,
when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is
{most MSS, 'yet shall be present'}.
The beast here is the antichrist, as identified by-
-- his ascension out of the abyss (11:7),
-- the worship afforded him for his apparent resurrection (cp. 13:3,8),
-- his final destination (19:20).
But compare the tenses of the verbs here with those of ch. 13.
Here in ch. 17, the beast's ascension from the pit and his 'resurrection' from death is still future (note the double occurrence of 'shall'). Shortly after these events, the beast sets himself as the object of worship, and all competitors, including the false church, must be eliminated (cp. v.16,17; 13:8). Since this occurs at the mid-point of the seven year Tribulation period, apparently, the mutual support and cooperation, of the false church and the beast, occurs during the first half of the Tribulation.
The variant reading "yet is" versus "yet shall be present" consists of
the mislocation of the prefix syllable of the GK sentence's last word, to be the suffix of the prior word. The preferred reading is consistent with the tenses of the first line of the verse. [JBS] (ie., '...shall be present' is the preferred reading.)
"names not written... from the foundation of the world" -
Note that the names of the unsaved were never written in the Book of Life.
(cp. note at 3:5, which some misread as teaching the potential loss of salvation.)
17:9 And here [is] the mind which hath wisdom.
wisdom- Considering many divergent views, the reader needs the wisdom which comes from God, to correctly understand the content of ch. 17 & 18. (cp. Rev 13:18; 1Cor 2:13)
The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.
Various interpreters say:
  1. This identifies Rome as the seat of the woman (perhaps also of the beast).
    From antiquity, Rome has been known as "the city of seven hills."
  2. The 7 mountains are figurative of kings/kingdoms (as shown by v.10).
  3. Both of the above are true. [JBSmith]
    View #2 is most consistent with the immediate context (v.10).
    However, the woman's city is identified, elsewhere, as Rome (v.18) even without the 7 hills argument of view #1.
    (A "mountain" in scripture often signifies a kingdom. cp. Dan 2:34-35)
17:10 And there are seven kings: {lit., and are seven kings}
five are fallen, and one is, [and] the other is not yet come;
and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.
The 7 mountains / heads (v.9) are plainly said to be seven kings.
These are also the 7 heads of the beast which we have identified as the seven successive kingdoms of gentile world power. In John's day, five of these had already passed into history, the Roman empire was in power, and a future kingdom was yet to come. That future kingdom is ruled by the beast (as a false prince of peace). His first 42 months of reign ("a short space", v.10) ends with his assassination. (See notes at 13:1-3.)
Note: Holders of view #1 (note at v.9) emphasize the beast's Roman character and identify these 7 kings as either:
  1. Roman emperors who suffered violent deaths ("are fallen") -
    [Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius were assassinated, Nero committed suicide], or
  2. seven successive forms of Roman government -
    [kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs, military tribunes, emperial, and satanic].
However, note that Daniel's prophecies require the 7 heads to be successive empires, not 7 kings within one empire.
17:11 And the beast that was, and is not,
even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
{cp. 19:20}
even he- ie., he himself. This refers to a person, not a kingdom.
After the ruler of the seventh kingdom is assassinated, he appears to be resurrected when a demon ascends out of the abyss and indwells his body. This is the beast (antichrist), who is "of the seven" in that he is the final ruler of the seven successive gentile kingdoms. Yet, he is called the eighth in that "he is diverse from the first" because of his satanic nature (Rev 11:7; 13:3).
     As we saw previously, the seventh kingdom (in John's vision), corresponds to Daniel's fourth kingdom, out of which a little horn (the antichrist) would arise in close association with ten other horns (Dan 7:7,8,24). (See notes and chart at 13:1-3.)
Note: Some who hold view #1 (note at v.9) believe that the eighth king (antichrist)
is actually one of the seven Roman emperors (listed in note 'A.' at v.10) who is resurrected by Satan for this role (perhaps Nero, since his name can be calculated as 666). Contradicting this view are the facts that (a) Satan has not been given power to raise the dead (cf. Joh 5:21,25-27), and (b) the wicked dead are not raised until the Great White Throne Judgment (20:11-15).
17:12 And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings,
which have received no kingdom as yet;
but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
The 7 heads/mountains represent seven successive empires. The ruler of the last of these empires (the beast, antichrist) will be supported by ten contemporary (but lesser) kings, who may govern 10 administrative regions (see notes at 13:1-3). Since they receive their power after the beast rises, attempts to identify these kings or their regions are speculative, until the time. Some suggestions: Ten member nations in the European Economic Community, Ten primary nations of the United Nations, Ten regions into which the whole world will be divided under the beast, etc.
17:13 These have one mind,
and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.
Perhaps unity of leadership will be considered necessary for the crisis of the hour. Even today, the U.N. member nations yield national sovereignty to the greater good of the world body. Apparently, the beast will find it necessary to force three of these kings to give their power to him (Dan 7:7,8).
What is the crisis of that hour? . . .
17:14 These shall make war with the Lamb,
and the Lamb shall overcome them:
for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: {19:16}
and they that are with him [are] called, and chosen, and faithful. {19:14}
'these'- ie., the beast and the kings of the earth (19:19).
The beast & company were allowed to make war with the saints and to prevail against them, during the last 42 months of the Tribulation (eg., 13:7). But their true objective is to break free of the Lord and His Anointed (ie., His Messiah). Psa 2:1-9
the Lamb- His title expresses the price of redemption,
which is rejected by men as unnecessary and offensive.
War with Him is the logical outcome of "denying the Lord that bought them." 2Pet 2:1
they that are with Him- The saints of all ages, present with the Lord. 2Cor 5:8
The adjectives describing this group are applied elsewhere to the Church:
called (1Cor 1:24), chosen (1Pet 2:9; 1Cor 1:27), faithful (ie., dependable) (Eph 1:1, Rev 2:10).
The angel's explanation of the "mystery of the woman" (cp. v.7) follows:
17:15 And he saith unto me,
The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth,
are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
This speaks of the worldwide influence of the apostate church.
17:16 And the ten horns which thou sawest upon {some MSS, 'and', cp. v.13} the beast,
these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked,
and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.
The timing of the harlot's destruction is not indicated here.
However, it seems to fit at mid-tribulation (see note at v.8). She is tolerated as a means to power, but when the antichrist sets himself up as god, he not only breaks his covenant with Israel, but also breaks his relationship to the apostate church.
desolate and naked- Her rich covering is removed revealing her true condition.
cp. Rev 17:4; 3:17,18; 18:17
eat her flesh- Speaks of total destruction. cp. the fate of historical Jezebel:
1Kin 21:23; 2Kin 9:30-37; Rev 2:23; Jam 5:3
burn her with fire- Sin must be purged away.
In the OT, extreme sin was purged with fire. Lev 20:14; 21:9; Josh 7:15,25; Jam 4:4
17:17 For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will {lit., to do his mind},
and to agree
{lit., to come to one mind}, and give their kingdom unto the beast,
until the words of God shall be fulfilled
{or, shall be finished}.
The destruction of the apostate church is accomplished at the hands of her lovers.
But it is initiated by God. cp. Israel's judgment for her whoredoms. Lam 1:1-3; Eze 23:5,9,10,22
(God has frequently used the heathen to accomplish His purposes. cp. Pharaoh, Ex 9:16; Nebuchadnezzar, Dan 4:17; Cyrus, Isa 44:28; Ezra 1:1; 7:27; also Psa 76:10)
The absence of the apostate church does not improve the religious atmosphere.
It merely gives the religion of antichrist full freedom. [McGee]
17:18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city,
which reigneth
{lit., hath a kingdom} over the kings of the earth.
The great city "which reigns" (present tense), in John's day, was Rome.
After the fall of the Roman empire, Rome continued to exercise varying degrees
of power over earth's kings through the Roman Catholic Church. Examples:
  • In January 1077, King Henry IV of Germany stood barefoot in snow outside the papal palace for 2 days attempting to regain favor with the pope.
  • More recently, Fidel Castro made overtures to the R.C.C. by hosting a papal visit to Cuba.
  • Today, numerous nations maintain embassies at the Vatican.
So, the mystery of the location of religious Babylon has been uncovered.
The counterfeit church of the Tribulation, which prostitutes biblical teaching in the name of unity, is headquartered in Rome.
Babylon the Great - A Summary
     Regarding Babylon as presented in Revelation, sound bible scholars, who agree in substance, differ as to the details. This is because, God, who provided us an adequately full picture of prophetic events, has determined that the picture will grow increasingly clear as the time draws near. (This is true of all prophecy. eg. 1Pet 1:10-12) Those who are watching for Christ's return will naturally seek to know the "what or what manner of time" of endtime events. But we will not understand fully, until the time.
Here are some questions and suggested answers:
  1. Who or What is Babylon the Great?
  2. Where is Babylon the Great located?
  3. When will Babylon be destroyed?
  4. How (by whom) will Babylon be destroyed?
A. Who or What is Babylon the Great? (See also notes at 2:20-23.)
Babylonianism began at Babel.
Man attempted to establish himself in the earth (as one world, one city) with the goal of self-determination. Man sought to exalt himself to the exclusion of the true God. But God pronounced man's purpose "confusion" ("Babel"), confounded the languages, and divided the earth into many nations. (Gen 10:25; 11:1-9)
However, one nation, Israel, was "not to be counted among the nations"
(cp. Num 23:9; Deu 14:2; 32:8).
Through this nation, the Anointed One (Messiah) would come to establish God's uncontested dominion in the earth. (Num 24:17-19)
God's promises to Israel were set aside temporarily,
when, at the height of their national glory, they turned from Him to serve the gods of the nations (following the philosophy of Babel). Fittingly, they were taken captive by Babylon (approx. 600 BC). This marked the beginning of the "times of the gentiles" (or, "times of the nations"). Nebuchadnezzar was the first of the line of gentile rulers in this period. He was a king of kings (Dan 2:37). Many succeeding rulers have considered themselves as such. But the times of the nations will end with the coming of the King of kings (Rev 19:16).
In Revelation, the story of man's attempt at self-determination is in its final chapter.
Babylon is seen in its final state: Man has become Great, rich, well established, and united in the earth. But still he pursues the confused desire to discard God's dominion over him.
This confusion is seen in all areas of life & society.
Some areas stand out boldly in Revelation.
However, interpreters differ as to their relative importance. For example, in ch. 17 & 18 some see only Religious Babylon, others see only Religious & Political Babylon, others observe:
Three aspects of Babylon (as outlined in ch. 17 & 18) --
  1. Ecclesiastical (religious) Babylon 17:1-7,15-18
  2. Political Babylon 17:7-17
  3. Commercial Babylon 18:1-19
B. Where is Babylon the Great located?
If Babylon the Great has divisions (as noted above), are they all co-located?
Note: Most interpreters hold one of the following views tentatively, while continually comparing scripture with scripture and with current events.
  1. Babylon (ancient, geographic) - Combined capital of Religious & Political Babylon.
    The geographic location is suggested by historic names (eg., Babylon and the Euphrates River), and by judgments that will fulfil the total destruction prophesied upon this city (Isa 13:19-22).
  2. Rome - City of Religious Babylon (17:18)
    Rome - City of Political Babylon
    Some interpret the seven heads of 17:9 as literal mountains, rather than, or in addition to as kings (v.10).
    This places the beast in the City of Seven Hills. Since the final gentile world empire is a revived form of the Roman empire, it seems appropriate that the capital be Rome.
    The term "Babylon" refers to the system, not the site.
    In this view, ch. 17 & 18 describe a single event: the destruction of Rome. The parallel descriptions of Religious & Political Babylon are cited as evidence of their co-location. (cp. 17:4; 18:16)
    [This view is held by JBSmith]
  3. Rome - City of Religious Babylon (17:18)
    Babylon (ancient, geographic) - City of Political / Commercial Babylon
    Some object that ancient Babylon could hardly be called a seaport (18:17-19),
    since the Euphrates will be dried up then, and has not been navigable for centuries.
    However, increasing Arab/Islamic power makes a restoration of Babylon plausible.
    [This view is held by JFWalvoord]
  4. Rome - Combined capital of Religious & Political Babylon for the first 3.5 yrs of the Tribulation,
    is destroyed at approx. mid-Trib.
    Jerusalem - Becomes the Religious capital (as the beast establishes his godhood).
    Babylon (ancient, geographic) - Under construction up until mid-Trib.,
    becomes capital of Political / Commercial Babylon.
    [This view is held by McGee]
  5. Rome - City of Religious Babylon (17:18), is destroyed at approx. mid-Trib.
  6. Jerusalem - Becomes the Religious capital (as the beast establishes his godhood).
    Jerusalem is called the Great City (Jer 22:8; Rev 11:8,13; 16:18,19) because it is "the city of the Great King" (ie., of God, cp. Psa 48:1,2; Mat 5:34,35). By establishing himself in this place (2The 2:3,4), Satan (indwelling the antichrist) reaches his goal of displacing the Lord from His rightful place (cp. Isa 14:13 with Psa 48:2).
    An unnamed city - becomes the center of Political Babylon.
    (The name "Babylon" is primarily symbolic of the system.)
    Babylonianism has already had several distinct capitals
    (eg., few of the first 6 heads ruled from the same capital city, see 13:1-3).
    The final empire (7th head) could well be centered at a new location. Of necessity, the hub of the world's political and commercial enterprise would be a great city (GK, megapolis).
    However, Commercial Babylon (ch. 18), which fuels the world's economy,
    appears to involve more than a city. It's destruction may include a region over which the city is capital. (eg., Consider the relative impact on the world economy of the loss of New York City or London compared to the loss of the United States or Europe. cp. Rev 18:10,16-19) In Rev 14:8 and 18:20,21, the fall of "that great city," seems to refer to the collapse of the entire system.
    Here it is interesting to note that the antichrist may arise as king of the West.
    Antichrist is described in Dan 11:36-39. He does battle with the kings of the North, South and East in Dan 11:40-45. Since he "shall enter also into the glorious land" (ie., Israel), that is not his origin. Therefore, he must come from the remaining direction (west). He is allied with ten contemporary kings who give their power to him (Rev 17:12,13). Some speculate that he is head of the European Community (with capital in Brussels or some other prominent city). Others suggest that he may be head of the United Nations, or even of the United States (with capitals in New York or Washington).
    Babylon (ancient, geographic) may be rebuilt and destroyed
    during the Tribulation period to bring completion to prophecy. It probably will not be a real world center. The city's final destruction will be fittingly linked to the destruction of the system which began there.
    [This view is favored by the editor.]
C. When will Babylon be destroyed?
If Babylon the Great has divisions (as noted above) will all perish at the same time?
D. How will Babylon be destroyed?
If Babylon the Great has divisions (as noted above) will all perish at the same hand?

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