Revelation Chapter 17: mystery Babylon - the identity and destiny of spiritual/religious Babylon - the whore that rules over the religions of the world
Chapters 17 and 18 are parenthetical chapters inserted to give more details about the identity and destruction of modern, prophesied Babylon the Great - the kingdom of Satan on Earth (cf. Isaiah 14:4) - before and during the Final Seven Years of world history. Chapter 17 focuses on spiritual, religious Babylon and Chapter 18 focuses on material, secular Babylon. However, 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 Chapter 17 is highly symbolic - in the form of a riddle. Let us see if we, by the grace of Yehovah (the "LORD"), 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, the angel 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 unsaved earth dwellers whose names are not written in the Book of Life (cf. verses 8 & 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 (spiritually desolate) world.
f. The harlot is supported by and empowered by Satan. She is his spiritual, religious 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 Great. 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 and idolatry. 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, even that nation 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 is centered in that city-state/nation/empire, but ultimately consolidates 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, in ancient Babylon, in the goddess Ishtar), is responsible for the death of the saints and martyrs of the followers 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 - religious people murdering religious people.
c. The angel explains that the religious spirit of Babylon gets its power from Satan, which will ultimately be manifested in his incarnation, the beast or Antimessiah. Again, notice that both the red dragon of 12:3 and the scarlet beast of this chapter have seven heads and ten crowns. So, they are the same figure (Satan) seen in different situations - as the red dragon before he was cast out of heaven in 12:3 and as scarlet beast supporting and empowering false religion in this chapter. The statement that this is "the beast that was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition" confirms that this is Satan. From John's point of view in the Spirit (v. 3) - outside of time where he could view the whole timeline - he could see that this is exactly what is going to happen to Satan (20:1-3, 10).
d. Those who are on the earth during the Millennium will marvel at Satan when he is released from the bottomless pit where he has been bound for 1,000 years. And many will be deceived by him and follow him to their destruction. (20:7-9)
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 (cf. Daniel 2:14). 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 its religious influence (or, as in Chapter 18, in political or economic influence) to the total global dominance of the eclectic, pseudo-messianic, Babylonian religion described in this chapter.
f. The seven kings that manifest the spirit of Satan and Antimessiah on Earth represent rulers of the seven empires that will have ruled over and persecuted Yehovah’s people Israel before the false messiah (the "beast") arises to take control over his global kingdom. 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 a future, prophesied empire (the one that “has not yet come”). Because the Romans dispersed the Jews of Judea throughout the world and renamed Judea Syria Palaestinia, it would not seem possible for a seventh kingdom to arise that would dominate that part of the world, including Israel, until after the nation was reestablished in 1948.
g. Therefore, there is much conjecture among Bible commentators as to who the seventh king, who was prophesied to rule over and oppress Israel for a short period of time (v. 10), was or will be. Some have postulated that it was Adolf Hitler. Others that it will be the leader of a revived Islamic caliphate (the Ottoman Empire controlled that part of the world for about 600 years). This commentator is not sure, but will revise this commentary when he is certain.
h. In verse 11, the scarlet beast (Satan) is manifested as his incarnation the beast king who “is of the seven” previous kings (embodies the spirit of all seven) and is the eighth and final worldly king who will replace Babylon the Great with his kingdom (17:17), the revived, unified, globally-expanded, eastern and western Roman Empire (cf. Daniel 2:31-35; 7:7, 23).8 This is the ultimate false messiah ("Antichrist") who, after Babylon the Great is destroyed, will establish his global kingdom on Earth (vv. 16-17).9
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 the beast takes over, the world will be ruled by ten kings under him who yield their authority and power to rule to him. This is exactly the same scenario prophesied by Daniel (2:41-44), 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. The false messiah's kingdom will be global.
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. In other words, it is the fire that does the burning of Babylon, not the ten kings, who are apparently hate-filled but passive onlookers. That they "hate" the harlot does not necessarily mean that they are actively involved in her destruction. 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, both Old Covenant and New Covenant Scriptures indicate 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 both Old Covenant Scriptures prophecies and 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 antimessiah 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 Yehovah rather than by her human enemies: The reason for the burning of Babylon is because Yehovah 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 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 Yehovah inintervenes and destroys her by fire.
c. 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 describing what will happen to "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, but 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 Messiah 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, unified, global Roman 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 when Constantinople was conquered in 1453. The Ottoman Empire had a long history, finally falling in 1922. 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 nation out of which the false Messiah will rise. 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 ruled by Gyges. Some commentators therefore believe that that area is the land called in the Bible Magog, ruled by Gog, the "chief prince" of the Ezekiel 38 nations that will invade Israel from the north, contrary to the interpretation of most commentators who believe that Gog and Magog refer to Russia. Is it not also interesting that Turkey has, more and more, sided with other Arabic nations, especially Iran, in their determination to destroy Israel?
9Although 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 he 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 (Jacob's brother and 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 BBM (Before the Birth of the Messiah). And, in 130 BBM, 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 ABM, exactly as prophesied (Jeremiah 49:10 and numerous other passages), the Edomites ceased to exist as a distinct people. But they were apparently dispersed into the surrounding nations, including 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 may make up at least part of the 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 is conjecture and, again, 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).
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Common English translations of Hebrew and Messianic terms used in this commentary:
Yehovah - the LORD or GOD
Yah - I Am (the short form of Yehovah)
Elohim - God
El - God (the short form of Elohim)
Adonai - my Lord or Master
Yeshua - Jesus
Followers of Yeshua -
Messiah - Christ
Assembly of Followers of
Yeshua - the Church
Antimessiah - Antichrist
BBM - Before the Birth of
the Messiah (rather than
BC or BCE)
ABM - After the Birth of the Messiah (rather than AD
For a complete explanation of Hebrew terms used, go to Important Terms and Concepts.
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