THE GREAT HARLOT
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Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying, [NU omits to me] ’Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
We come now to the fourth and final
interlude in this section of Revelation. It
takes up all of chapter 17. This chapter, like chapter 12, will give us a
history lesson, taking us back in time and then bringing us forward with its
subject to the final days of the Great Tribulation. It will explain to us the
complex history and nature of The Great Whore. The vision began when one of the
angels of the seven Bowl judgments came to John and said, Come, I will
show you the judgment of the great harlot. Quite likely, this angel was the
angel of the Seventh Bowl and had been sent to emphasize the justice behind the pouring out of
his Bowl (16:17-21). We will see its graphic effects in chapter 18.
The angel begins by stating three things about the great harlot. He says:
…She is one who sits on many waters. This symbol will be explained in verse fifteen.
…She is one with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication.
…She is one with whom the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.
Now here is a drunk
indeed, and she is driving! John saw a woman sitting on a scarlet colored
beast and he says the beast upon which she sat, was full of names
of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. Do you recognize her
trusty steed? We have already encountered it back in chapters 12 and 13. There,
we learned that it represented both Antichrist's political system as well as
seven long dead Caesars of the ancient Roman Empire who were types of
Antichrist. Its scarlet colored body spoke of its murderous
The vision begins here with its focus on the woman. Her appearance was mesmerizing. John says that she caused him to marvel with great amazement. Let's examine her characteristics and see if we can discern what she represents.
First, she has a fourfold name emblazoned on her forehead. Let’s break it down. Her name is:
…MYSTERY … she is something that has not been revealed before.
…BABYLON THE GREAT … she is part and parcel of Satan's historic, as well as Antichrist's yet future, system and kingdom. They are two peas in a pod.
…THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS … her “prostitute” image is one that is frequently used in Scripture to depict mankind’s departure from the true and living God as he goes whoring after the false gods of manmade religions. As the mother of harlots, I take it this woman is the epitome of man's false religions. Here are a few examples of this analogy in Scripture:
When the LORD began to speak by Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea: ’Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD.’ Hosea 1:2
They say, 'If a man divorces his wife, and she goes from him and becomes another man's, may he return to her again?' Would not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return to me," says the LORD. Jeremiah 3:1
The LORD said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: ’Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot.’ ... So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Jeremiah 3:6, 9
Ezekiel also used the prostitute analogy when he prophesied against Israel, the Northern Kingdom, which was carried away into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC. He says,
You also played the harlot with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; indeed you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied. Ezekiel 16:28
The word of the LORD came again to me, saying: ‘Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother. They committed harlotry in Egypt, they committed harlotry in their youth; their breasts were there embraced, their virgin bosom was there pressed. Their names: Oholah the elder and Oholibah her sister; they were mine, and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Samaria is Oholah, and Jerusalem is Oholibah. Oholah played the harlotharlotry with them, all of them choice men of Assyria; and with all for whom she lusted, even though she was mine; and she lusted for her lovers, the neighboring Assyrians, who were clothed in purple, captains and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses. Thus she committed her with all their idols, she defiled herself. She has never given up her harlotry brought from Egypt, for in her youth they had lain with her, pressed her virgin bosom, and poured out their immorality upon her. Therefore I have delivered her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, for whom she lusted. They uncovered her nakedness, took away her sons and daughters, and slew her with the sword; she became a byword among women, for they had executed judgment on her. Ezekiel 23:1-10
So, the harlot image is used in the Bible to picture any person or people who leave the true and living God to go after false gods and false religions. As such, all manmade religions are, in reality, spiritual harlotry. They are false and antithetical to the worship of the true and living God who has revealed himself in creation, history and Scripture. Mankind, however, has a long and sordid history of spiritual prostitution. As you have it in Romans 1:21-25,
…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man; and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
So, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS, speaks of the fact that she represents the epitome of man's religious whoring away from the true and living God.
…AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH … she is also the mother of all the abominations that false religions have perpetrated on mankind. There are several things to note about this part of the harlot’s name...
a. First, she will be the epitome of all the abominable things that have been done in the name of religion throughout history. This, still yet future, Mother of Harlots will perpetuate and even exceed all of those religious abominations that have been committed before her.
b. Second, as with most false religions, she will be rich and pleasing to the eye. She is arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls. Purple and scarlet are colors often used in ecclesiastical trappings. She is gilded and beautiful to look upon. She is decked out with all the trappings that man uses to adorn his false religious systems. It is amazing how quickly people will fall for a counterfeit religion when it presents itself so outwardly appealing.
c. Third, the cup she was holding was filled with things that were utterly filthy and disgusting ... a golden cup was full of the abominations and filthiness of her fornication. This symbol portrays how eager she will be to partake of such things. False religions are gateways, by the way, gateways to immorality, theft, murder, slavery, rape, child abuse and countless other abominations. In the Old Testament, when Israel went whoring after the idols of the heathen around them, immediately it led them to become involved in all sorts of gross immorality (Exodus 32:16). They even began to participate in the abominal practice of sacrificing their own children to dumb idols (Second Chronicles 28:13)! The further they got into the surrounding heathen's false religions, the more ungodly they became. Such is the downward spiral that is dogs those who pursue man’s trumped up religions.d. Fourth, John says she was drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. Because of their satanic origin, false religions are often ruthless and murderous. I refer the reader to your morning newspaper and Foxes Book of Martyrs if you would like to read up on the subject. Two groups of the harlot’s victims are mentioned here. The first group, the saints, refer to God’s people prior to the Church Age. The second group, the martyrs of Jesus, refer to believers during the Church Age as well as believers in Christ who will arise during the coming Tribulation period.
But the angel said to me, ‘Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with him are called, chosen, and faithful.’
The angel begins his
explanation of this vision starting with the beast upon which the woman
rode. At first glance, his words are an interpreter’s nightmare, are they not?
But, be patient. It will become manageable if we take his words apart statement
by statement. The beast is a complex symbol. Parts of it represent
two different things at the same time. So, let’s break it apart.
First, the angel emphasizes that the beast upon which the woman
riding alludes to a person.
The angel says:
...The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. This description points us back to the death and miraculous recovery of Antichrist that we studied back in chapter 13. To refresh our thinking, it reads as follows:
And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the World marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, 'Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’ Revelation 13:3-4
Antichrist will be a counterfeit Christ and, apparently, he will seek to even imitate Christ in his resurrection. As we learned from Revelation 13, his miraculous recovery from a mortal head wound will be all that is needed to persuade the world's peoples to grant him their wholehearted allegiance. I believe that the words, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit, point to his return from the other side of the grave. The angel says, however, that he will go to perdition. This word, perdition refers to punishment or judgment. Judas, who was Satan’s instrument, was a type of Antichrist. As you have it in Luke 22:3-4,
Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve. So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him to them.
In John 6:70b, Jesus, referring to Judas, said,
Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?
Jesus also called Judas the son of perdition, a term that means the heir of judgment. As you have it in John 17:12,
While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.
The only other place in the Bible where this term is used is in Second Thessalonians 2:3-4. There, Paul uses it as a name for Antichrist.
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
Antichrist will be the epitome of all that Judas Iscariot was, a man possessed by Satan and diametrically opposed to the Son of God. But, the angel says, he is doomed. He continues, And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. This, again, is a repetition of the point made back in 13:3, where it was said that the world wandered after the beast and worshipped him. To sum up then, the scarlet beast, upon which the woman was riding, represents a person. He is the same beast we saw back in chapter 13. It is Antichrist.
Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.
The angel continued his explanation of the scarlet beast ... saying:
...Here is the mind that has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. In other words, the mind that has wisdom will be able to catch on to the intricacies of the beast's seven heads and its ten horns. As we study this, we will discover that its seven heads actually represent two separate things at the same time. In verse nine, the angel says they are seven mountains. Then, in verse ten, he says they are also seven kings. This is pretty heavy treading, aye? But, hang in there … we are making headway. Let's look closer now at these two separate meanings of the beast's seven heads.
The angel says that the seven heads are:
...seven mountains on which the
woman sits. In ancient times, the city of Rome was referred to
as, the city on seven hills. Roman coins pictured its seven hills.
Victorinus, one of the first commentators on Revelation, says of this verse,
That is the city of Rome. I believe Victorinus was correct. This leads me to
believe that, after the Rapture and early on in the Tribulation, a unified world
religion (the woman), as well as Antichrist (the
will both make their headquarters in Rome. So, the first thing the
beast's seven heads tell us about the beast that is they point to his future
The angel continued:
...There are also seven kings. In addition, the second thing that the seven heads of the scarlet beast represent, are seven kings. The best reading in the Greek here is simply, and seven kings. Now, we already know that Antichrist’s empire will arise out of the ancient Roman Empire, as prophesied in Daniel 7. So, the seven kings, spoken of here, are probably seven specific Roman emperors that typified the Antichrist who is yet to come. We may not be able to name them exactly, but it is clear that the seven heads also represent seven specific Caesars of the ancient Roman Empire. In order to be true types of Antichrist, however, these seven ancient Caesars would have to have at least three things in common with him. I believe they are as follows:
…Each would have to have died by assassination. The angel's statement here that five are fallen indicates that the first five kings (Caesars) suffered violent deaths.
…Each one would have had to rule the world by absolute dictatorship.
…Each one would have had to make an open and blasphemous claim to deity.
I am no expert on
Roman history, and perhaps an exact list of just which individual Caesars the
Holy Spirit has in mind here may not be completely knowable. However, I believe
he is definitely thinking of seven historical Roman Caesars who were types of
the Antichrist to come. In my study, I found seven Roman Caesars that seem to
meet the criteria sufficiently to be historic types of Antichrist. They are
Julius Caesar, Gauis, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Domitian and Diocletian. All seven
of these men were assassinated. All seven enjoyed absolute dictatorships
(although Galba’s was an extremely short-lived one). And, all seven
blasphemously declared that they were a god.
So, here is how I would relate them to our text:
…five have fallen. Speaking from the perspective of the time of John's writing (the early AD 90s), the five who were fallen would have been Julius Caesar, Gauis (Caligula), Claudius, Nero and Galba. Out of Rome’s twelve recorded Caesars, only three died natural deaths and refused to be deified. They were Augustus, Vespasian and Titus.
…one is. This would be the one who was reigning at the time when John was writing Revelation. That would be Domitian, AD 81 to 96. This one we can tag down for sure.
…the other has not yet come. Diocletian, I believe, best fits the bill here. He would reign much later from John's day, from AD 284 to 305.
beast … is himself also the eighth and is of the seven.
This is clearly referring to Antichrist who will reign much further down in
history during the last days of the Great Tribulation. He will be the eighth
king (or Caesar) and the arch-type of the seven who were before him, epitomizing
all their Satanic natures and attributes.
To sum up, Antichrist's person and reign will be rooted in the tradition and mold of seven blasphemous Roman Caesars who went before him. By their pride and actions, each of them presented as types of Antichrist, foreshadowing that last great Roman Emperor who is yet to come, the eighth, and could well be alive on Earth right now today.
the scarlet beast symbol is a person ... a person who will be the last Caesar ... a Caesar who is the epitomy of seven of the darkest
Roman Caesars that went before him ... a Caesar whose headquarters will
be in Rome.
The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with him are called, chosen, and faithful [this is talking about you and me, dear saint].
The angel continues his explanation of the complex symbol of the scarlet beast. He will now supply us with additional information on the governmental/political aspects of the Antichrist. He says, The ten horns which you saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. As we have previously discussed, during Antichrist's reign there will be ten kings who will reign under and with him. The angel says they do not exist as yet, but will become kings for one hour (meaning a short time) with Antichrist. Some have speculated that the European Union may be the beginnings of this prophetic ten-king alliance. Whether that is true or not, remains to be seen. However, we know from this prophecy that Antichrist will participate, lead and dominate such a confederation when he has his day on Earth. The ten kings aspect of Antichrist’s reign is not new. It was prophesied way back in the days of the prophet Daniel. Here is that key passage.
After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words. Daniel 7:7-8
The interpretation is given further down in that passage, at verses twenty-four and twenty-five,
The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; he shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time [a Hebrew idiom that means three and a half years. See Daniel 4:32].
The angel continued, These have one
mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. The
ten kings will back Antichrist and will delegate all their power and
authority to him. According to Daniel 7:24, above… during Antichrist's rise to
world domination …he will subdue three of these kings who, logically, he will
The angel concludes, these will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for he is the Lord of lords and King of kings. Antichrist’s ten kings will be archenemies of Christ. The war that the angel refers to here is the battle of Armageddon, which will be fought when Christ returns to Earth (Revelation 19). It is important to remember that that battle begins with the pouring out of the sixth Bowl judgment (16:12-16), which you will remember, precipitated the gathering of the nations to the battle of the great day of God Almighty. Antichrist and his ten kings will pick themselves up from the ravages of the seventh Bowl and hurry their armies on to Palestine where they will ultimately make war with the Lamb. Upon arriving at Megiddo, they will be confronted by the descending Lord of Lords and King of Kings and will raise their weapons against him as he descends to take dominion over the earth. But, the angel says, the Lamb will overcome them. As we will soon see, boy is that an understatement! That brief conflict will be the most lopsided battle of all time.
Then he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw [Nu omits on] and the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill his purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.
Here, we come to the angel's final explanations of these complex symbols. At the beginning of the vision, John saw the woman seated upon many waters. The angel explains that this means she will dominate peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues (languages). This will be the powerful position of the worldwide false religion that will exist throughout the Tribulation. Her first manifestation will come immediately after the Rapture of the Church in the form of a confederation of the world’s religions. This vision of the Mother of Harlots confirms the view that the world's religions will one day unite into one. The World Council of Churches would probably applaud this, even today. This imminent religion of the first three and a half years of the Tribulation, will no doubt be the fulfilled dream of many. The fact that she is riding upon the scarlet beast, which is the symbol of Antichrist, his empire, his capital and his 10 king confederation, suggests that she will be supported by him and will dominate him during the first half of the Tribulation. But, that first manifestation of false religion during the Tribulation will be short lived, indeed, as we will see.
The angel says the ten kings will, hate the harlot for God has put it into their hearts to fulfill his purpose. This is important information concerning the relationship between the political realm, (Antichrist and his confederation of ten kings) of that future day and the ecclesiastical realm (the one-world religion that will dominate during the first half of the Tribulation). This age old clash between church and state will come to a head when Antichrist and his ten kings rise up and destroy the harlot. That is what the angel means when he says they are going to:
…make her desolate and naked … they will seize her headquarters
…eat her flesh … they will confiscate her assets
…burn her with fire … they will burn her houses of worship
Apparently, at first, Antichrist and his 10 kings will use this post-rapture, great unifying world religion for their own political gain but, subsequently, they will get rid of her when God puts it into their hearts to do so. This will bring the first phase of the harlot to an end. No doubt, its demise will be coordinated with Antichrist's seizing of the Jew's temple at Jerusalem. Then, the second phase of the harlot ... the worship of Antichrist himself, will begin. That will be the final and ultimate manifestation of Satan's false religions on Earth.
In the midst of all of this, verse seventeen brings out a wonderful truth concerning the true and living God. The angel says that the destruction of the harlot and the desire of the ten kings to give their kingdom to the beast will all come to pass because God has put it into their hearts to fulfill his purpose. Although all these political and ecclesiastical intrigues will be going on during those last dark days of Earth's history, ultimately it is God who will be directing it all according to his own will and purpose. Make no mistake about it, history unfolds according to his sovereign plan and purpose and no one else’s. The one true and living God is sovereign over all. He directs kings, kingdoms and everything else according to his own inscrutable and irresistible will … including Antichrist and his future Babylon system. As you have it in Proverbs 21:1,
The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; he turns it wherever he wishes.
And again, as you have it in Ephesians 1:11,
In him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.
In conclusion, the angel says, And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth. Returning to the woman, he says there is yet another meaning to her symbol as well. Although she represents the worldwide religion of the first half of the Tribulation ... as well as Antichrist worship during the second half … she is also symbolic of an ecclesiastical city that, according to the angel, reigns over the kings of the earth. This tells us that the ecclesiastical center for the whole world will change locations after the first half of the Tribulation. Whereas it was at Rome during the first half, its new location, during the second half, will be at Jerusalem. Therefore, at that time, the ancient harlot will also be a city during the closing days of the Tribulation. She has often sat there in the past, by the way … in one form or another ... even as she does today. Jerusalem has a history of fostering false religions and rebellion against God. As Jesus put it in Matthew 23:37-39,
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see me no more till you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!'
During the days of the early Church, it was from Jerusalem (primarily through the Jews) that the persecution of God's people was directed. Ultimately, it will become the seat of Satan and Antichrist worship, as we learned from chapter 13. In that context, Jerusalem, prior to our Lord’s intervention, will continue to be the stronghold of man’s false religions and the bastian of the enemies of God. We saw that expressed back in 11:8, when Christ’s two witnesses were killed there. We read,
And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
So, the grotesque symbol of the harlot has yet another meaning as well. She also represents Jerusalem, as it will exist as the center of Satan and Antichrist worship one future day during the Great Tribulation.
Here in chapter 17, we have been given a great deal of information about the past and future of that old, hellish harlot … false religion. We have been told about her two manifestations that will prevail on the earth during the Tribulation. We have also been given a good deal of information about the political intrigues that will swirl around her during those days. We have concluded that the initial manifestation of the harlot will come in the form of a one world religion that will dominate the whole world, as well as Antichrist and his ten kings, during the first half of the Tribulation. At that time, it will be centered at Rome where it will thrive with Antichrist and his ten kings' support and blessing. However, they will hate her and the ten kings will violently eliminate her at the middle of the Tribulation ... when Antichrist makes his move to set up his own blasphemous worship at Jerusalem. Then, the great harlot's second and final manifestation will emerge. MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS, AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH ... will be resurrected one more time ... and flourish at Jerusalem in the form of undisguised Satan and Antichrist worship. That is why she is said to represent a city … because her final manifestation will be at Jerusalem, during the dark days of the last three and a half years of Antichrist's Satanic Gentile reign on planet Earth.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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