The Whore of Babylon – Revelation 17

 

The scene in chapters 17 & 18 are shifted from the judgments of God on the antichrist and his followers to the world empire of the antichrist. The target of the seven bowl judgments of chapter 16 is the world empire of the antichrist. The visions that John sees in chapter 17 & 18 gives us an inside look into the antichrist’s empire and also his ultimate demise. Chapter 17 & 18 is sort of a parenthesis. What John sees does not fall into any chronological order. It is simply a description of the rise and fall of Babylon, the empire of the antichrist or Satan.

                Babylon Revealed. In verses 1-6 we see Babylon revealed. There are several things we see here. Notice first of all, the harlot. 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.”[1]Babylon is pictured as a prostitute. The term ‘harlot’ is a metaphor for false religion or religious apostasy. “Genesis 2 speaks of a pure bride in a lovely Garden; but by the Bible’s end, civilization has degenerated to an impure harlot in a wilderness! That is what sin does to the world.”[2]

Secondly, we see the harlot’s allies. In verse two, the harlot’s allies are described as the kings of the earth. “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.” [3] John Macarthur says, “The harlot will not just be allied with the rulers and influential people of the world. All those ‘who dwell on the earth [a technical term for unbelievers] were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.’ All the unredeemed will be caught in the final false religion; they will give their hearts and souls to the abominable Babylonian harlot.”[4]

A third thing that is revealed about Babylon is the appearance of the harlot. This is seen in verses 3-6. “So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 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 filthiness of her fornication: 5 And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.”[5] “Her adornment is similar to that of religious trappings of ritualistic churches today. While purple, scarlet, gold, precious stones, and pearls can all represent beauty and glory in relation to the true faith, here they reveal a false religion that prostitutes the truth.”[6] Babylon appears as being religious, yet it practices a false religion, following after the antichrist. Throughout history Babylon has been synonymous with wickedness and paganism. The Bible Knowledge Commentary shares at length a little bit about this history:

“The Bible is full of information about Babylon as the source of false religion, the record beginning with the building of the tower of Babel (Gen. 10–11). The name “Babel” suggests “confusion” (Gen. 11:9). Later the name was applied to the city of Babylon which itself has a long history dating back to as early as 3,000 years before Christ. One of its famous rulers was Hammurabi (1728–1686 b.c.). After a period of decline Babylon again rose to great heights under Nebuchadnezzar about 600 years before Christ. Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (605–562 b.c.) and the subsequent history of Babylon is the background of the Book of Daniel. Babylon was important not only politically but also religiously. Nimrod, who founded Babylon (Gen. 10:8–12), had a wife known as Semiramis who founded the secret religious rites of the Babylonian mysteries, according to accounts outside the Bible. Semiramis had a son with an alleged miraculous conception who was given the name Tammuz and in effect was a false fulfillment of the promise of the seed of the woman given to Eve (Gen. 3:15).Various religious practices were observed in connection with this false Babylonian religion, including recognition of the mother and child as God and of creating an order of virgins who became religious prostitutes. Tammuz, according to the tradition, was killed by a wild animal and then restored to life, a satanic anticipation and counterfeit of Christ’s resurrection. Scripture condemns this false religion repeatedly (Jer. 7:18; 44:17–19, 25; Ezek. 8:14). The worship of Baal is related to the worship of Tammuz. After the Persians took over Babylon in 539 b.c., they discouraged the continuation of the mystery religions of Babylon. Subsequently the Babylonian cultists moved to Pergamum (or Pergamos) where one of the seven churches of Asia Minor was located (cf. Rev. 2:12–17). Crowns in the shape of a fish head were worn by the chief priests of the Babylonian cult to honor the fish god. The crowns bore the words “Keeper of the Bridge,” symbolic of the “bridge” between man and Satan. This handle was adopted by the Roman emperors, who used the Latin title Pontifex Maximus, which means “Major Keeper of the Bridge.” And the same title was later used by the bishop of Rome. The pope today is often called the pontiff, which comes from pontifex. When the teachers of the Babylonian mystery religions later moved from Pergamum to Rome, they were influential in paganizing Christianity and were the source of many so-called religious rites which have crept into ritualistic churches. Babylon then is the symbol of apostasy and blasphemous substitution of idol-worship for the worship of God in Christ. In this passage Babylon comes to its final judgment.”[7]

Babylon Explained. In verses 7-18 we see the angel explaining to John what his vision of Babylon means. “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. 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. 9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 10 And there 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. 11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. 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. 13 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. 14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. 15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. 17 For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. 18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth. [8] In the explanation of John’s vision of the harlot or Babylon, there are several things that we observe. First of all, notice the history of the beast. The beast that is referred to here is none other than the antichrist. He comes up from the bottomless pit, which is a reference to the home of Satan and demonic beings. The power of Satan and the antichrist are one. The beast is very powerful. “The supernatural survival and revival of both the world ruler and his empire will impress the world as being supernatural and will lead to worship of the beast and Satan.”[9] The beast is so powerful that he makes all those who do not follow Christ to have an awe and wonder concerning the beast. They will fall down and worship him.

The text mentions that those who have wonder concerning the beast are those ‘whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.’ In other words, those who are truly born-again will not be deceived by the beast. However, the rest of the world will be deceived. The idea here concerning the book of life is one that is difficult to grasp. There are several record books that are mentioned in scripture. Those record books include: the book of works or deeds, the book of life, and also the Lamb’s book of life. The book of life is the record of every single person ever born. Psalm 139:16 is a good reference to the book of life. “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in Thy book all my members were written….” The basic idea here is the God knows you before you are even born. Everyone who lives is written in the book of life. It is possible to have your name taken out of the book of life. Revelation 3:5 says, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot his name out of the book of life….” He that overcometh refers to those who have been born-again. Those who do not come to faith in Jesus will have their name blotted out of the book of life. The record of their life will be completely erased. Those whose names are erased will experience the second death. There are basically three types of death in scripture. There is spiritual death which is the state of everyone who has yet to come to faith in Christ. There is physical death which everyone saved or unsaved will experience, except the believers who live in the time of the rapture. Then there is the second death, which is eternal death or eternal separation from God experienced by those who fail to trust in Christ for salvation. Those who experience the second death will be wiped out of the book of life. The Lamb’s book of life, however, is different than the book of life. Revelation 13:8 mentions the Lamb’s book of life. “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” The Lamb’s book of life is a list of all those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for Salvation. Your name is not written in that book until you are saved. In our text in Revelation 17:8 we see the Lamb’s book of life. It is mentioned, ‘whose names were not in the book of life from the foundation of the world.’ Basically, this is the same book of life seen in Revelation 13:8. It is not suggesting that those who are saved were written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. This is a reference to the Lamb’s book of life (the Lamb which was slain from the foundation of the world). It should more clearly read, ‘whose names were not in the book of life [of the Lamb which was slain] from the foundation of the world.’ Therefore, in the context of our passage, the scripture is teaching that those who are deceived by the beast or the antichrist are those who have never been born-again. Their names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life. Unless they repent of their sin and turn to Jesus, their names will eventually be blotted of the book of life as they experience the second death and will forever be separated from God and the record of their life will no longer exist.

The second thing we observe in the explanation of John’s vision of Babylon is the last days of the beast.  The last days of the beast are explained in verse 9 through the close of the chapter. In verse 9 he mentions: “And here is the mind which hath wisdom.” In other words, it takes a lot of spiritual wisdom to understand fully this harlot we know as Babylon. There are several parts that we see to this explanation. First of all notice, the seven heads. It mentions that the seven heads represent the seven mountains on which the women sits. Some suggest that the seven mountains refer to the seven hills of Rome, thus, making Rome the capital of Satan’s empire. This may or may not be the case. I believe a more accurate interpretation would be that these are seven rulers or kings. If you notice verses 10-11 we see seven kings. Five of those kings are no more. “John was writing from his point of view in which five prominent kings of the Roman Empire had already come and gone, and one was then on the throne (probably Domitian, who caused the persecution which put John on the island of Patmos). The identity of the seventh king, the one to come after John’s time, is unknown.”[10] In verse 11 we find that the final world empire will be ruled by an eighth king who is of the seven. “The eighth king is obviously identical to the final world ruler, the man who heads up the final world empire destroyed by Christ at His second coming. One possible explanation of the difference between the seventh and eighth beast is that the seventh beast itself is the Roman Empire marvelously revived in the end time, and the eighth beast is its final ruler. These verses show that in the end time, particularly during the first half of the last seven years, there will be an alliance between the Middle East ruler (the Antichrist) and the apostate world church of that time. This will come to a head, however, at the midpoint of the seven years, when that political power becomes worldwide.”[11] Notice also the ten horns. The ten horns are described in verses 12-18. These are ten leaders who will form an alliance at the beginning of the tribulation. These ten rulers will unite their power with the beast, the antichrist. During this time, there will be a one world religion as indicated in verse 15. All peoples, nations, and tongues will be united under one religious umbrella. During this time (the first 3 ½ years of tribulation) the alliance of nations and the antichrist will make a peace treaty with Israel. At the mid-point of the tribulation period the political power of the world empire will rise above the religious power. They will break their peace treaty with Israel and they will hate the harlot of Babylon. In other words, the ten nation alliance will come against the religious sect of the empire. “When the ruler in the Middle East takes on worldwide political power, he will also assume the place of God and demand that everyone worship him or else be killed (cf. Dan. 11:36–38; 2 Thes. 2:4; Rev. 13:8, 15). The world church movement, which characterizes the first half of the seven years leading up to the Second Coming, is thus brought to an abrupt end. It will be replaced by the final form of world religion which will be the worship of the world ruler, Satan’s substitute for Christ.”[12] The sovereignty of God is seen in verse 17 as He puts into the hearts of these unbelieving rulers to follow after the antichrist. God is working to bring the nations of the world to judgment. In verse 18 we find that the woman in John’s vision is in fact that great city of Babylon. This, I believe, is both symbolic of the one world religion as well as a literal city or capital from which the empire is ruled.

As we examine this chapter, in light of current events, we find that such a scenario as described in this chapter is not so far-fetched. We are certainly living the final hours of this age. Such a reminder should compel us to be greater servants of Christ, carrying the Gospel to the far reaches of the world.

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 17:1–2). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 612). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 17:2). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[4] MacArthur, John. Because the time is near. p. 263

[5] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 17:3–6). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[6] Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 970). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[7] Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 970–971). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[8] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 17:7–18). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[9] Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 971). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[10] Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 971). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[11] Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 971–972). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[12] Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 972). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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