Revelation Chapter 17: mystery Babylon - the identity and destiny of spiritual/religious, Babylon - the Whore that Rules over the Nations of the World
Chapters 17 and 18 are parenthetical chapters inserted to give more details about the destruction of modern, prophesied Babylon, the kingdom of Satan on Earth immediately before and during the Final Seven Years of world history (cf. Isaiah 14:4). Chapter 17 focuses on spiritual, religious Babylon and Chapter 18 focuses on material, secular Babylon. But, as we will clearly see, the two are inextricably intertwined in one, great, modern city-state (nation). In the original Greek, there were not two separate chapters describing Babylon; the description was of two different aspects of the same city-state/nation/empire. And understanding the identity and destiny of “Babylon the Great” is a major key to understanding the sequence of events of Revelation. But Chapters 17 and 18 are highly symbolic - in the form of a riddle. Let us see if we, by the grace of Yehovah ("God"), can solve the riddle.
17:1-5 Then (a) one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, "Come, I will show you the judgment of (b) the great harlot (c) who sits on many waters, (d) with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication." So he carried me away in the Spirit into (e) the wilderness. And I saw a woman (f) sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was (g) 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: (h) MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
a. This angel is probably the seventh, as it was during the pouring out of his bowl that “Babylon was remembered before [Yehovah], to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath” (16:19). In this chapter and in Chapter 18, he is giving John more details about the identity, characteristics, and destiny of modern, prophesied, mystery (religious) and secular Babylon.
b. In both Chapters 17 and 18 (18:3), Babylon is described as a harlot - one who gives herself to others, not because she loves them or is interested in their welfare, but to gain their favors, which ultimately results in their destruction as well as hers. In this chapter the emphasis is on her spiritual/religious harlotry; in Chapter 18 the emphasis is on her political/commercial harlotry.
c. She sits on (dominates and controls) the earth dwellers (cf. verse 15).
d. Her seductive enticements entangle all classes of earth dwellers, nobility as well as the masses.
e. The “wilderness” in this verse is a symbol of the unsaved world.
f. The harlot is supported by and empowered by Satan. She is his spiritual kingdom on earth (cf. Isaiah 14:4, 12; Revelation 12:3).
g. Her attractions - riches, beauty, and intoxicating drink - appeal to the flesh, not to the spirit.
h. And, she is Babylon. The fact that, in this chapter, her identification is a mystery, not obvious, and her real power over the earth dwellers is spiritual, not physical, indicates that this is Babylonian spirituality or religion. The religion of ancient Babylon was centered on sex rites involving thousands of temple prostitutes. It was the religious duty of every Babylonian woman to serve as a temple prostitute at least once in her life. The Babylonian goddess Ishtar was called “the mother of [temple] prostitutes.” When Israel was worshiping pagan gods, she was referred to as a harlot (e.g., Hosea 4:15). Some say that the whore of Revelation 17 is the apostate Christian Church, the Roman Catholic Church, or even Israel, but she is much more than that. Babylonian religion was very eclectic, consolidating the worship of many gods not only Babylonian but of the surrounding nations. The religion of modern, prophesied Babylon will be centered in Babylon, the city-state/nation/empire, but it will ultimately consolidate all the religions of the world into a global religion led by the False Prophet (cf. chapter 13). It may resemble Christianity because it will consist of the worship of the false messiah and his “father,” Satan (13:4), but it will also resemble Islam and other religions of the world which anticipate a coming god-man or messiah.
17:6-11 I saw (a) the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of [Yeshua]. And when I saw her, (b) I marveled with great amazement. But (c) 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 (d) 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: (e) The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also (f) seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. (g) And when he comes, he must continue a short time. (h) And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.
a. The religion of Babylon, which is energized and controlled by the spirit of the devil (specifically, Ishtar), is responsible for the death of the saints and martyrs of Yeshua ("Jesus").
b. John is amazed by the incongruity of the religion of Babylon being responsible for the death of members of the true Community of Believers in Yeshua.
c. The angel explains that the religious spirit of Babylon gets her power from Satan and his incarnation, Antimessiah. Notice that both Satan and Antimessiah have seven heads and ten horns, but here they are not distinguished by the crowns being on their heads or their horns as they are in 12:3 and 13:1. So, the scarlet beast, Satan, and the beast that “was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition,” Antimessiah, are spiritually one, just as Yehovah the Father and Yeshuah the Son are One.
d. The earth dwellers marvel at Antimessiah because of his "head" (kingdom) that was destroyed but then revived and the signs and wonders performed in his name (cf. 13:3, 13).
e. Some have reasoned, because of her garments of purple and red (the colors of the Roman Catholic Church) and the seven “mountains” (Rome is the “city of seven hills”), that the woman, Babylon, is the Roman Catholic Church or Rome. However, the Greek word (oros) translated “mountains” here really means, just as it is translated, “mountains” or large land masses, not “hills.” The Greek word (buonos) for “hills” (actually a Latin word, borrowed by the Greeks, which commonly referred to Rome) is not used here. (See Luke 3:5 where both terms are used.) In Scripture, mountains also symbolize large areas of political power and dominion. So, the harlot Babylon holds religious/spiritual sway over large realms of the earth - perhaps continents or large administrative areas. It would seem that Rome and its dominating religion, the Roman Catholic Church, is a prototype of modern Babylon, but Rome does not come close in her religious influence (or, as in Chapter 18, in political or economic influence) to the total global dominance of the eclectic, pseudo-Christian, Babylonian religion described in this chapter.
f. The seven kings that manifest the spirit of Satan and Antimessiah on Earth apparently represent rulers of the seven empires that ruled over and persecuted Yehovah’s people Israel, after the children of Israel were called out of Egypt, and will persecute Yehovah’s people the Followers of Yeshua during the Great Tribulation period of the Final Seven Years. Those seven kingdoms or empires are: Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Medo-Persia, and Greece (the five that “have fallen”), Rome (the one that “is” at the time Revelation was written) and modern, prophesied Babylon (the one that “has not yet come”). Modern religious and secular Babylon (the head of the beast that was slain - 13:3), will be annihilated by fire, as we will see in 17:16 and 18:8, but will then be replaced by the global kingdom of Antimessiah (17:17), the Revived Roman/Ottoman Empire (cf. Daniel 7:7, 23).8
g. The seventh "king" - the ruler or president of modern Babylon - will rule a short time.
h. Antimessiah, the ultimate counterfeit of the true Messiah, “is of the seven” previous kings (embodies the spirit all seven) and is the eighth and final worldly king. An intriguing possible interpretation of this description, when it is combined with the prophecy of 13:3 and the rather curious prophecy that the seventh king will rule a short time, is that, before it is destroyed by fire, the religious and secular kingdom over which he rules (modern Babylon) will be destroyed by war, but will then be “miraculously” revived, and he will become the eighth king after whom the whole world will follow in wonder and awe. (Cf. Footnote 7 Chapter 13)
17:12-15 (a) 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. (b) 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." Then he said to me, (c) "The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.”
a. After Antimessiah takes over, for the short time (signified by “one hour”) that he is in control, the world will be ruled by ten kings under him, who yield their authority and power to rule to him. Verses 3, 7 and 9 indicate that Earth will be divided up into seven “kingdoms” or administrative areas (“heads” or “mountains”) that will be ruled by ten “kings” under the “beast” or Antimessiah. This is exactly the same scenario prophesied by Daniel, except that he provides the additional detail that three of the ten kings will be “subdued” (brought down) by the anti-messiah (Daniel 7:24).
b. This is a reference to 16:14-16 and 19:11-21, when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords returns with the armies of Heaven at "Armageddon" to defeat and destroy “the kings of the earth and of the whole world . . . who are gathered . . . to the battle of that great day of [Yehovah] Almighty.”
c. The waters where Babylon sits (17:1) are explained as “peoples (Greek: laos - tribes or nations), multitudes, nations (Greek: ethnos - ethnic groups), and tongues” (people who speak various languages) - in other words, all the earth dwellers of the world.
17:16-18 (a) "And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. (b) For [Yehovah] 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 [Yehovah] are fulfilled. (c) And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth." (d)
a. Verse 16 may be one of the most poorly translated and misleading verses in the Bible. Virtually every translation, following the lead of the KJV, states that the ten kings are the ones who burn Babylon. But the structure of the Greek is somewhat ambiguous. When correctly translated, it indicates that “fire” is the subject of the sentence rather than the ten kings, who may be passive. In other words, it is the fire that does the burning of Babylon, not the ten kings, who may be just passive onlookers. That they "hate" the harlot does not necessarily mean that they are actively involved in her destruction.9 To this commentator, that makes more sense than the way this verse is commonly translated, because it is difficult to conceptualize how the ten kings, who will not even receive their kingdoms until after Babylon is destroyed, could destroy in “one hour” (cf. 18:10, 17, 19) the most powerful, world-dominating kingdom (nation or empire) in the history of the world. Also, Old Covenant Scriptures prophecy indicates that Babylon will be destroyed in the same way that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed - by fire from Heaven - after which no human will dwell there, only demons and unclean spirits, which seems to fit the scenario of Chapters 17 and 18 (cf. Jeremiah 50:32, 39, 40; 51:25, 30, 58; Revelation 18:2, 8). Most Bible expositors, because of the confusion caused by the mistranslation of this verse, state that the harlot of Chapter 17 (religious Babylon) is destroyed at a different point in time than secular Babylon of Chapter 18 is destroyed. But that is a false distinction and a forced interpretation that over-allegorizes and mutilates the meaning of the text. It is impossible to conceive how spiritual, religious Babylon could be separated from the secular state and destroyed without destroying the government with whom she is inextricably intertwined and supports (cf. 13:11-18). Yes, the spirit of Babylon the Great is global, but Scripture clearly indicates that, at the "end of the age" (Matthew 24:3), there will be a specific city-state/nation/empire - Satan's global headquarters, so to speak (cf. Isaiah 14:4) - in which the anti-Yahuah spirit and religion of Lucifer will find their culmination.
b. And here is another indication that the annihilation of all natural life in Babylon will be caused by the Lord rather than by her human enemies: The reason for the burning of Babylon is because Yahuah has put it in the hearts of the ten kings to give their global kingdom (singular), which they have not yet received (verse 12), to Antimessiah. The ten kings may indeed hate Babylon because she, under her present ruler (the seventh king) and system of government, is dominating the world, making it impossible for them to receive and consolidate their domains into the global kingdom of Antimessiah. But they are powerless to do anything about it until the Lord intervenes and destroys her by fire.
c. So, the woman who rides the beast is “that great city” which reigns over the kings of the earth. This “great city” is Babylon, because the “great city” Jerusalem (11:8) has never reigned over the kings of the earth. Notice that here she is not just the harlot - religious, spiritual Babylon - but a physical place - a “city” - the same Babylon as in Chapter 18 which continues speaking of "that great city" (18:10, 18, 19, 21).
d. Again, notice that the ten kings and Antimessiah will not receive their kingdom until after all natural life in Babylon is destroyed by fire. That means that, although Babylon is the spiritual "headquarters" of Satan, she is not the ultimate global kingdom ruled by Antimessiah - the "Revived Roman Empire." It also means that Babylon must be burned before the midpoint of the Final Seven Years because that is when Antimessiah takes over as world ruler. But that presents a problem because the details of Babylon’s destruction are placed here in Chapter 17, and in 18 just before the celebration of her destruction in Chapter 19, which appears to be at the end of the seven years, just before the Lord returns with the armies of Heaven to defeat and destroy His enemies at "Armageddon." However, as will be seen as we continue through Chapter 18, that apparent dilemma is easily and clearly resolved. Remember that the details of Chapters 17 and 18 are parenthetical - not in strict chronological sequence.
8Current events are rapidly confirming the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the rise of the revived Roman/Ottoman Empire and its ruler, the anti-messiah.
The capital of the ancient Roman Empire under Constantine (a type of the anti-messiah) was Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). The Roman Empire was then divided into the Western Empire with Rome as its capital and the Eastern Empire with its capital still Constantinople. After the destruction of the Western Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire became the Byzantine Empire, which later became the Islamic Ottoman Empire in 1453 CE. The Ottoman Empire had a long history, finally falling in 1923 CE. However, Islam, with its goal of establishing a new Caliphate (empire ruled by Sharia - Islamic - law) is, by far, the world’s fastest-growing religion and Muslims are, by far, the fastest-growing religious population group world-wide, literally invading the nations of the world, particularly the Western nations. And Turkey, a Muslim-dominated nation, is considered a “Eurasian” nation because of its location as a land bridge between Europe and Asia and its strong economic and political ties with both Eastern and Western nations. So, it is not too difficult to see that Turkey, which is also the primary location of the peoples who will come against Israel in the Last Days (cf. Ezekiel 38), may very well be the location of the capital of the Revived Roman Empire just as it was the location of the capital of the ancient Roman Empire. Interestingly, Constantinople/Istanbul, the capital of the ancient Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, now one of the largest cities in the world (population 13.5 million), is located on the narrow land bridge between the northwestern corner of Turkey and eastern Europe. It is also located in the area of Turkey that was the ancient kingdom of Lydia - called in the Bible Magog, ruled by Gog, the "chief prince" of the Ezekiel 38 nations that will invade Israel from the north. Is it not also interesting that Turkey recently cut off diplomatic ties with Israel and sided with other Arabic nations in their determination to destroy Israel?
Also, although we cannot be dogmatic from which ethnic group or part of the world the anti-messiah will arise, it seems possible if not probable from Obadiah’s prophecies (e.g., Obadiah 1:1, 4) vis-à-vis other Bible prophecies (e.g., Isaiah 14:13; Daniel 8:10; 11:37) that the anti-messiah will be a Middle Eastern Muslim - specifically a descendant of Jacob’s twin brother Esau. The descendants of Abraham’s son and Isaac’s outcast half-brother Ishmael (the Arabs) mirror Israel in many ways, including being descendants of twelve patriarchs (the sons of Ishmael), their belief in one god (Allah), and looking forward to a messiah (the Mahdi). And they have always been the rivals of Israel, coveting Israel’s inheritance from Yehovah through Abraham (the Promised Land, its capital Jerusalem, and dominion over the world).
When Edom, the nation formed by the descendants of Esau (Ishmael’s nephew) - Judea’s treacherous kinsman-neighbor to the south - was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, although she remained an identifiable province of Babylon, many of her inhabitants migrated into the surrounding areas, including what is now Saudi Arabia and Israel. In the absence of the Judeans, who had been carried away into captivity into Babylon, the Edomites were permitted to occupy Jerusalem. But then, the Jews were permitted to return to their homeland by Cyrus, King of Persia, in 536 BCE. And, in 130 BCE, when Jerusalem and Judea were again occupied and controlled by the Jews, the ruler of Judea at that time, John Hyrcanus, forced the Edomites to convert to Judaism. Nominally, they complied, but maintained a treacherous presence in Jerusalem and Judea. The Jews remained suspicious of them, calling them “half-Jews.” Then, when the Romans subjugated Judea, they made Herod I (“the Great”), an Edomite (Latin: Idumean) “Jew,” King of Judea. And it was Herod the Great who, in his maniacal determination to get rid of the newborn Messiah Yeshua, had all baby boys under the age of two in and around Bethlehem killed.
Get the picture: the “King of the Jews,” a descendant of Israel’s displaced twin brother Esau, in a diabolical frenzy trying to kill the true King of the Jews. What clearer type of the false messiah could there be?
Then, after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, exactly as prophesied (Jeremiah 49:10 and numerous other passages), most of the Edomites dispersed into the surrounding nations, especially into what is now Turkey. Although the Edomites, being descendants of Esau rather than Ishmael, are not technically Arabs, they are Muslims closely related to the Arabic Muslims, and make up the main, foundational population of Turkey.
So, at the End of the Age, it it may be one of their descendants who will again ascend to the throne of David, claiming to be not only King of the Jews, but Lord of the World.
Nevertheless, this watchman will not be dogmatic about the exact ethnicity of the soon-coming anti-messiah or out of which part of the world he will arise, because Scripture makes it clear that, whoever he is, he will be so supernaturally deceitful and compelling, that the “whole world” will drop all preconceived ideas of who he will be and will follow and worship him (cf. Revelation 13:3, 4).
9For an excellent technical analysis of 17:16 (which is beyond the competency of this commentator), please see the book America the Babylon: America’s Destiny Foretold in Biblical Prophecy, available through Amazon.
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