Section: Chapter Sixteen - Bowl Judgments 1-7
SEVENTEEN - THE GREAT HARLOT
this writers opinion, Revelation 17 is the most difficult chapter
in the whole of the Revelation. This, in no sense, is my final word
on this chapter. It, no doubt, will undergo many changes as we prayerfully
reflect and study it in the future. I seek to understand the text in
its most normal, natural and customary sense. Thus, I tend to shy away
from views, which do not have direct textual support. Therefore, views
which do not have explicit biblical support are ignored.
(1) Then one of the seven
angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me saying, (2) "Come
here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot (3) who sits
on many waters, (4) with whom the kings of the earth committed acts
of immorality, and (5) those who dwell on the earth were made drunk
with the wine of her immorality."
1. Then one of the seven
angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me = connects us
back with Revelation 15-16. This interpretive expansion follows the
truncated seventh and final bowl judgment, which devastated Jerusalem
and the Gentiles cities. We are not told which one of the seven bowl-carrying
angels is helping John, but one might guess that the angel carrying
the bowl interprets that particular bowl. Since the seventh bowl-carrying
angel unleashed the devastation that destroyed the cities of the world,
we naturally suspect that this same angel now details the destruction
for John of the capital of Antichrists satanically empowered
2. Come here, I will show
you the judgment of the great harlot = indicates the purpose of the
angels interpretive expansion. This is one of eight occurrences
of the verb "to show" in the Revelation that also involves
an interpreting angel (1:1; 4:1; 17:1; 21:9, 10; 22:1, 6, 8). The
judgment is the issue of chapter 17. The great harlot is
the subject of this judgment. This is "the" judgment of
the harlot. She may have been judged in the past, but this is her
ultimate and final judgment. This exact phrase also occurs in Revelation
19:2. There the great harlot is the object of Gods wrath
for the death of His bondservants.
This ties us back to Revelation
6:10. The fifth seal martyrs requested divine insight concerning Gods
judgment of the living earth-dwellers who were responsible for their
deaths. The same term avenge used in Revelation 6:10 occurs
in Revelation 19:2. The living earth-dwellers are the instrument of
the martyrs death, but the woman is the sponsor. The living
earth-dwellers are drunk with the wine of her fornication. Matthew
23:37 states, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets
and stones those who are sent to her." Notice: the city is called
"her." Notice: the city is responsible for the death of
Gods prophets. Notice: the city is a person.
John indicates that this
is the great harlot. One could say that this is the "mother"
of all harlots. This naturally leads to a question. What entity would
be considered the mother of all harlots in a biblical sense?
Isaiah 1:21 calls Jerusalem
a harlot. Isaiah 23:13-18 depicts Tyre as a harlot. Nahum 3:4 declares
Nineveh a harlot. The nation Israel is repeatedly accused by the prophets
of being a harlot (Jer 3:6-10; Ezek 16:15-22; Hos 4:12-13). It should
not escape the readers attention that these references apply
to cities or nations. It is apparent why Jerusalem and Israel would
be harlots in the biblical sense. They both engaged in conduct contrary
to their vow of commitment to the one true God. In Jerusalem and Israel
could be heard the worship of gods who neither speak, move nor bless.
We also can understand why the prophet Nahum declares Nineveh (a city)
a harlot as well. One hundred years before, the prophet Jonah had
preached and affected repentance on behalf of those living in Nineveh.
Key question: why did God send Jonah to Nineveh in the first place?
Their promise of faithfulness to the God of Israel postponed His wrath.
However, by the time of the prophet Nahum, the people of Nineveh had
returned to their sinful ways. This is the basis of Ninevehs
harlotry and subsequent judgment.
of Tyre as a harlot is bit more difficult to explain in biblical terms.
Did the people of Tyre ever have a faithful relationship to the God
of the Bible? In other words, in what sense is Tyre a harlot in the
biblical sense of violating their vow to God? There is no explicit
statement in Scripture that Tyre was numbered among the people of
God. However, there is evidence that Huram, king of Tyre, and by extension
the people of Tyre, had a deep knowledge of God (II Chr 2:11-16).
No one is certain why the king of Tyre is personified as Satan in
Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. However, in some sense, the king of Tyre
had dealings with God, which made him liable. Thus, it can be argued
that Tyre had a responsibility to be faithful to the Lord. It is obvious
that a harlot in the biblical sense must at one time been faithful
to the Lord.
Again, the question: what
entity is most befitting the title "the mother of harlots?"
3. Who sits on many waters
= defines the particular harlot. The phrase many waters is
defined in Revelation 17:15 as "peoples and crowds and nations
and languages." The great harlot is seated upon multitudes. To
be seated suggests rule. This harlot rules over multitudes upon
4. With whom the kings
of the earth committed acts of immorality = indicates that John is
fulfilling his commission given in Revelation 10:11 to prophesy against
"kings." "The kings of the earth" are accused
of fornication with the great harlot. Under the metaphor of
sexual immorality, John declares that the kings of the earth and the
great harlot have committed acts, which betray the harlots commitment.
Four times in the Revelation (17:2, 18:3, 18:9, 19:2) the immoral
relations of the harlot are referenced. What is the harlot actually
accused of? Revelation 19:2 states, "the great harlot who was
corrupting the earth with her immorality." To corrupt
(phtheiro) in the Greek in this case means, "to cause the moral
ruin of" someone. It is clear that John is using metaphorical
language. Sex between a man and woman is not the literal referent
here. The great harlot is causing the moral ruin of the kings of the
earth by leading the call for them to commit and follow the beast.
5. Those who dwell on the
earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality = is the second
group greatly influenced by the great harlot. We have seen repeatedly
throughout the Revelation that "those who dwell on the earth"
is a technical phrase that refers to the people on the earth who are
hostile to God and His people. The Greek is not precisely identical
to the other occurrences, but the meaning is the same. The harlot
and the kings fornication intoxicates the living earth-dwellers.
The action of the harlot and the kings is so powerful that the people
are swept away by it. It is important to notice that the kings willingly
join themselves to the harlot, but the people are made drunk by her
actions, which suggests compulsion on the part of the harlot.
(1) And he carried me away
in the Spirit into a wilderness; and (2) I saw a woman sitting on a
scarlet beast, (3) full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and
1. And he carried me away
in the Spirit into a wilderness = indicates that John is continuing
to receive divine revelation by the Spirit of God with angelic agency.
It is not clear if the wilderness opposite Israel is the focus of
the prophecy or not.
2. I saw a woman sitting
on a scarlet beast = begins a description of the woman alluded to
in Revelation 17:1. This time she is seated on "a scarlet beast."
We saw a similar beast come up from the sea in Revelation 13:1the
dragon. This beast, similar to the dragon and the beast from the sea,
is first presented as a composite and then as an individual.
3. Full of blasphemous
names, having seven heads and ten horns = are the first two characteristics
of the scarlet beast, which argue for the conclusion that this beast
is a composite. It has the similar characteristics as the red dragon
and the beast from the sea. Full of blasphemous names is a
description taken from the sea-beast of Revelation 13. Having seven
heads and ten horns is taken verbatim from the description of
the scarlet dragon of Revelation 12:3. That the woman is sitting on
the scarlet beast suggests that she has joined with the beast in his
agenda. This constitutes her harlotry.
(1) The woman was clothed
in purple and scarlet, and (2) adorned with gold and precious stones
and pearls, (3) having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and
of the unclean things of her immorality, and (4) on her forehead a name
was written, a mystery, (5) "Babylon the great, the mother of Harlots
and of the abominations of the earth."
1. The woman was clothed
in purple and scarlet = begins a general description of the great
harlot alluded to in Revelation 17:1. Purple has a rich history
in the Scriptures as a symbol of status. It was often worn by royalty
(Esth 8:15; Lam 4:5; Dan 5:7). Scarlet suggests wealth (1 Sam
1:24; Prov 31:21; Jer 4:30). This description suggests that the great
harlot has attained wealth and status, which is reflected, in her
unique position with the composite scarlet beast.
2. Adorned with gold and
precious stones and pearls = reflects the wealth of the great harlot.
3. Having in her hand a
gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality
= continues the description of the great harlot. The gold cup
symbolizes her wealth. The woman engages in disgusting acts. What
exactly the woman does is not explicitly stated, but is represented
by the metaphorical language employed in this verse. In context, since
commitment and personal worship is the desire of both the dragon and
the sea-beast, the woman must encourage the kings of the earth to
follow the composite scarlet beast and worship it. Her involvement
in leading the world to worship and support the composite scarlet
beast is what makes her a harlot.
4. On her forehead a name
was written, a mystery = indicates that the woman (the great harlot)
has submitted to the desire of the composite scarlet beast. As God
marked the 144,000 with His name and the sea-beast marked his followers
with his name, so this woman is marked. Who marked the great harlot
is not indicated. However, it is unlikely that she marked herself.
The name is derogatory and unflattering. The woman certainly does
not see herself as a whore. This is Johns depiction of the woman.
Perhaps John sees the name super imposed on the woman.
The fact that the name
is a mystery supports this conclusion. This implies that the
name is symbolical and will need interpretation. This is how the term
has previously been used in the Revelation (1:20; 16:7; and 17:7).
The name is not literal.
5. Babylon the great, the
mother of Harlots and of the abominations of the earth = indicates
the key to understanding this extended metaphor. Who or what is Babylon?
Historically, there have been three possibilities: Rome, Jerusalem
or the ancient city of Babylon. This harlot is tagged the mother
of harlots. The idea suggested by this phrase is that this harlot
is the worst the world has ever seen. This argues strongly that harlot
here is used in a biblical sense. That is, this harlot had a right
relationship to God, which she has violated. This is the only way
the superlative idea can be maintained here.
The fact that the term
Babylon is a part of the phrase that includes the term mystery
argues against a literal interpretation at this point. The ancient
city of Babylon is not the authors intended meaning at this
point. To say that Babylon refers to the ancient city of Babylon completely
ignores the context and the nature of apocalyptic literature. To explicitly
name this ancient city as the future recipient of Gods wrath
because of its dealings with Gods holy people contradicts the
nature of apocalyptic literature. The city would know of its future
judgment and attempt to punish the people of God prematurely.
There is no biblical evidence
that ancient Babylon had a right relationship with the true God of
heaven. There is no sense in which ancient Babylon is a "harlot"
with respect to the true God in heaven. Moral, political or religious
harlotry demands a previous right relationship with the one true God.
(1) And I saw the woman drunk
(2) with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses
of Jesus. (3) When I saw her, I wondered greatly.
1. And I saw the woman
drunk = continues the metaphor. This is not literal drunkenness, but
figurative. The motif of "drunk with blood" occurred in
Ezekiel 39:18-19. There, God indicates that the birds will "drink
blood until you are drunk." The idea seems to be that the birds
will eat and drink to satisfaction. Thus, the slaughter will be great.
2. With the blood of the
saints and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus = lists the objects
of the womans wrath. It is not altogether clear whether John
intends one group or two. At first glance, it appears that two groups
are intended. Regardless, the great harlot is responsible for the
murder of those committed to Jesus Christ, which means NT type believers.
The woman is drunk with the blood (life) of the saints. The world
is drunk with the wine of the womans fornication.
3. When I saw her, I wondered
greatly = indicates that the sight of the woman perplexed John. This
indicates that John saw a woman, but that the woman was not the literal
referent. At this point, John does not know what the woman represents.
This argues against the identification of the woman as that of Babylon.
(1) And the angel said to
me, "Why do you wonder? (2) 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.
1. And the angel said to
me, "Why do you wonder?" = points to the significance of
this vision. Having already seen the composite dragon and the composite
sea-beast, John is perplexed by the woman. This indicates that the
sight of the composite scarlet beast is not significantly distinct
from the two previous composite images. However, the woman demands
2. 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 = echoes our previous thought. The
angel begins an explanation concerning the identity of the woman.
Notice that the beast is carrying the woman. The relationship between
the woman and beast is mutually beneficial.
(1) The beast that you saw
was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to
destruction. (2) And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not
been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, (3)
will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will
1. The beast that you saw
was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to
destruction = begins an identification of the composite scarlet beast.
The clause that you saw (past tense) indicates that John is
no longer looking at the woman and the beast. First, he saw them and
now he will receive understanding. The beast was and is not.
This is another way of speaking of the death of the beast. The beast
is about to come up out of the abyss. This clause echoes Revelation
11:7 and suggests restoration to life after death. The beast go[es]
to destruction. The ultimate destiny of the composite scarlet
beast is destructionthe lake of fire (Rev 19:20).
The obvious question is
whether the composite scarlet beast is an individual or group. Since
the scarlet beast dies and is resurrected, it is highly unlikely that
a person is intended. No one other than God has the power to raise
the dead. There is no evidence that God is going to give Satan this
power. There is no evidence in Daniel 2 or 7 that an eschatological
person will rise from the dead and lead mankind in revolt against
God. The ten-toed kingdoms/kings arise out of the Roman Empire. These
facts taken together make a compelling case that the scarlet beast
is a kingdom and not an individual. Daniel predicated that Rome would
be the final kingdom, which would eventuate into a ten-king/kingdom
federation that One like a Son of Man will destroy. Johns vision
harmonizes with such a conclusion.
2. And those who dwell
on the earth = is a technical term (means the same thing each time
it is used) that occurs nine times in the Revelation and refers to
the living earth-dwellers who are hostile to God and His people. The
"living earth-dwellers" is defined as those "whose
name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation
of the world." The book of life contains the names of those whose
name was written from the foundation of the world. This is another
way of referring to the elect. Notice Ephesians 1:4, "He (God
the Father) chose us (believers) in Him (Jesus Christ) before the
foundation of the world." The point here is this: God chose none
of the living earth-dwellers. This argues compellingly that none of
those written in the book, wonders, worships or receives the mark
of the beast.
3. Will wonder when they
see the beast, that he was and is not and will come = states the response
of the living earth-dwellers to the restoration of the composite scarlet
beast. They wonder or better, they worship (Rev 13:3) the scarlet
(1) Here is the mind which
has wisdom. (2) The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman
sits, and they are seven kings; (3) five have fallen, one is, the other
has not yet come; and (4) when he comes, he must remain a little while.
1. Here is the mind which
has wisdom = signals the need to see beyond the words (i.e., the black
and white) concerning the declaration given in Revelation 17:8d. The
particular clause that must be looked at beyond the simple sense is
"that he was and is not and will come." In what sense can
it be said that the scarlet beast "was and is not and will come."
This signals that a bodily restoration is an idea that is not ordinary.
It requires added comment.
2. The seven heads are
seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings
= is the first attempt by the author to explain how the scarlet beast
"was and is not and will come." First, the author explains
the meaning of the seven heads. The seven heads are seven
mountains. Seven hills as a designation for Rome is substantially
verified in ancient literature. That Daniel 2 and 7 depicted Rome
as the eschatological antagonist cannot be debated. These two facts
have led many to conclude that Rome is the object of Johns vision
with seven of her kings. However, this is not the case. Mountains
are used here to speak of strength. For the woman to be seated, she
needs a place of strength. A persons head is not normally associated
During the eschatological
end, John depicts the woman sitting on a composite scarlet beast that
is composed of seven kings. John indicates that the seven mountains
are seven kings. Now, Daniel depicts kings and their kingdoms as interchangeable.
To speak of one is to speak of the other. However, it is not clear
that John does the same thing here.
It appears strange for
John to explain, but not really explain what he means. Seven heads
equal seven mountains, which equal seven kings. Taking Scripture at
face value, John has defined the seven heads. However, most interpreters
want to add another step to Johns equation.
Seven heads = seven mountains
= seven kings = seven kingdoms. Their basis for this conclusion is
based on Daniels interchangeable reference to kings and kingdoms.
I think seven kings is seven kings just as John said.
3. Five have fallen, one
is, the other has not yet come = explains the seven kings. John indicates
that five kings have fallen. "Have fallen" is a figure
of speech that refers to a persons death. Exodus 32:28 states,
"So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three
fell that day." Like wise, I Samuel 4:10 states,
"So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated
slaughter was very great, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand
foot soldiers." Equally, 2 Samuel 1:19 and 1 Chronicles 5:10
also speak of men falling (dying). In each case, death occurred by
violent means. The phrase one is indicates that one of the
seven kings that the eschatological harlot will ride was contemporaneous
with John. The other has not yet come is a prophetic prediction
by John concerning the seventh and final king. This kings duration
will be short.
(1) The beast which was and
is not, (2) is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he
goes to destruction.
1. The beast which was
and is not = continues the angels explanation of the restored
beast. A critical question at this point concerns the time referent.
That is, is John describing the past or the future? Some have taken
the phrase which was and is not to refer to the future. However,
if this line of reasoning is correct, then one should have expected
John to say, "the beast which will be and will not be and will
come." John wrote, "the beast which was and is not."
This must mean that the beast was not at the time John was
Where was the beast at
the time of Johns writing? He must have been in the abyss!
2. Is himself also an eighth
and is one of the seven = is very important. This explains the mystery
concerning the "was, and is not and will come" composite
scarlet-beast. The composite scarlet beast is a king. He eventuates
from the seven. Johns point is this: there will be seven beast/kings
and one of them will service twice upon the face of the earth.
(1) The ten horns which you
saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, (2) but they
receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour.
1. The ten horns which
you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom = begins
the angels explanation of the "horns." In the tradition
of Daniel 7:7-8. Horns represent kings/kingdoms. Daniel indicated
that ten kings would eventuate from the fourth beast kingdom/Rome.
During the time of those kings another king would arise and subdue
three of the ten. The ten kings rule concurrently. In the Revelation,
John saw ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom. The ten kings
of Revelation 17 are not the same as the ten kings of Daniel 7.
2. But they receive authority
as kings with the beast for one hour = makes a distinction between
the ten kings. They do not have kingdoms, but they have authority
to be kings. These kings will rule with the composite beast for
one hour. One hour refers to a specific time appointed
by God (Matt 24:36, 44, 50; and 25:13) and is not to be taken as a
60-minute time period.
(1) These have one purpose,
and (2) they give their power and authority to the beast.
1. These have one purpose
= indicates unity among the ten kings.
2. They give their power
and authority to the beast = signals the intent of the kings. All
that they represent is given to the beast. They do not have kingdoms,
but they must have assets that the beast can utilize for his goal.
(1) These will wage war against
the Lamb, and (2) the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of
lords and King of kings, and (3) those who are with Him are the called
and chosen and faithful.
1. These will wage war
against the Lamb = indicates the purpose or mind of the ten kings.
They are united in their attitudes toward the Lamb. The attack of
the ten kings against the Lamb is not specially detailed, but they
must gather with the nations to Armageddon.
2. The Lamb will overcome
them = signals defeat for the ten kings and the beast. The title "Lord
of lords and King of kings" is applied to the Lamb here and the
rider on the white horse in Revelation 19:16.
3. Those who are with Him
are the called and chosen and faithful = is an unusual occurrences
in the Revelation. Called (klatos) and chosen (eklektos)
occur only here in the Revelation. Both words occur together in Matthew
22:14. These are clearly the saints of the ages. It is not explicitly
stated what the role of the Lambs accomplices is.
And he said to me, (1) "The
waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes
and nations and tongues.
1. The waters which you
saw where the harlot sits = continues the angelic interpretation of
the harlots judgment. The waters are people, multitudes, nations
and tongues. Revelation 17:9 declares that the harlot sits on seven
king/kingdoms. Thus, we can say that the harlot is carried by a universal
segment of the population of the earth.
(1) And the ten horns which
you saw, and the beast, (2) these will hate the harlot and will make
her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up
1. And the ten horns (kings)
which you saw, and the beast = have the same agenda.
2. These = will do four
things to the harlot:
a. Will hate the harlot
= is the first. Revelation 17:7 and 9 indicates that the harlots
relationship to the beast is mutual. She wants to be with the beast
and the beast wants her. Therefore, Revelation 17:16 must be taken
in an ingressive sense. That is, the ten horns and the beast "will
begin to hate the harlot." Something will happen that will
change the relationship between the harlot, the beast, and his confederate
b. Will make here desolate
and naked = signals both depopulation and shame.
c. Will eat here flesh
= is clearly a figure of speech. As an animal, the beast is able
to devour flesh. However, the point is that the beast and the ten
horns will destroy the harlot.
d. Will burn here with
fire = is the fourth and final acts against the harlot by the ten
horns and beast. She will be burned with fire.
(1) For God has (2) put it
in their hearts to execute His purpose, and by having a common purpose,
and by giving their kingdom to the beast, (3) until the words of God
will be fulfilled.
1. For God has = signals
that an explanation follows concerning why the ten kings will act
as they do.
2. Put it in their hearts
= comes from the Old Testament. To put in the heart occurs
in the OT. Exodus 35:34 states that God put the ability to teach in
the heart of Bezalel. Twice in the book of Nehemiah, we are told that
God put in the heart of Nehemiah actions to be undertaken (2:12; 7:5).
Ezra 7:27 indicates God did a special work in the heart of king Artaxerxes.
In each case, Gods perfect will was accomplished as a result
of Gods work in mens hearts. Three infinitive phrases
express Gods will worked out through the ten horns and the beast:
a. To execute His purpose
(mind) = is a general statement that indicates that God has a purpose
in allowing the deeds of the ten kings and the beast. The sovereign
plan of God is worked out through the deeds of the kings and the
beast. In context, it is the judgment of God that the ten horns
and the beast executes for God upon the harlot.
b. By having a common
purpose (mind) = indicates that the reason the ten kings are united
in purpose is that God put the desire in their hearts. The unity
is supernatural in origin. Political harmony is no easy feat to
achieve. Gods help is needed.
c. By giving their kingdom
to the beast = indicates that the goal of the kings is the defeat
of the Lamb. The avenue they think will accomplish their objective
is to give their assets to the beast in hope that it will be enough
to defeat the Lamb.
3. Until the words of God
will be fulfilled = indicates that the destruction of the harlot is
a fulfillment of prophecy.
(1) The woman whom you saw
is the great city, (2) which reigns over the kings of the earth.
1. The woman whom you saw
is the great city = begins the final explanatory item of the bowl-carrying
angel. The identity of the woman is given. She is the great city.
Most commentaries in their attempt to force Revelation 17 to refer
to the ancient city of Rome ignore, diminish, or generalize the textual
details to support their conclusion.
Revelation 11:8 clearly
identifies "the great city" as Jerusalem. The fact that
the great harlot is called a city argues strongly for this conclusion.
Revelation 17:5 clearly shows that Babylon is not referring
to the literal city of ancient Babylon. Therefore, there is nothing
in Revelation 17 that disqualifies Jerusalem as a solution for this
2. Which reigns (literally,
has a kingdom) over the kings of the earth = is the final defining
strait for the woman. The way the woman rules over the kings of the
earth is through the Antichrist. This makes her a harlot. She prostitutes
herself with Antichrist when she rightly belongs to God.
Section: Chapter Eighteen - The Great City