Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying the Book of Revelation chapter by chapter in our small group. Today, we come to a chapter that is rather strange. The chapter begins with one of the angels who had one of the seven bowls (17:1) taking John the Apostle out in the wilderness to see a prostitute.
It is a chapter that is very difficult to understand. The main character in the chapter is called a “mystery” (17:5, 7). Without any question, this is the hardest chapter in the whole book. Why is it hard to understand?
1. It contains a riddle.
The chapter contains a riddle for people to solve. We already saw a riddle in Revelation 13 regarding the mark of the beast, the 666 (13:18). Revelation 17 also contains a riddle regarding the seven heads of the beast (17:9-10).
2. It is an allegory.
The whole chapter is an allegory. Everything in the story means something else. It mentions a woman riding a beast but it is not a literal beast. It mentions a woman sitting on many waters (17:1) but and these are not literal waters. The woman is called a harlot but she is not a literal harlot. In fact, she is not a literal woman. Kings of the earth commit fornication with her but it is not literal fornication. It involves something else. This woman is also said to be drunk but she is not drunk from alcohol.
Revelation 17 brings us to a new character in Revelation. If you remember, there were five characters in Revelation 12 – a pregnant woman, her baby boy, a dragon, Michael and the woman’s other children. Revelation 13 mentioned two characters – the Antichrist and the false prophet (the beast from the land and the beast from the sea).
Revelation 17 describes three characters – a great prostitute and a scarlet covered beast, the Antichrist and a group of kings. It describes a prostitute riding a seven headed beast and this beast is given power by ten kings. The beast we have seen before in chapter 13. We learn what his seven heads and ten horns represents in this chapter (17:9-14). The kings are just a group of rulers aligned with the Antichrist.
The real question is, Who is the woman? We will answer that question today. Revelation 17 & 18 both describe the destruction of Babylon but the two chapters are very different. Revelation 17 describes the destruction of religious Babylon and Revelation 18 describes the destruction of economic Babylon.
The Two Babylons
Babylon in Revelation 17
Babylon in Revelation 18
|Destroyed by the Antichrist and ten kings (destroyed providentially by political powers)||Destroyed by God (destroyed supernaturally by an act of God)|
|Destroyed at the middle of the Tribulation Period||Destroyed at the end of the Tribulation Period|
|Religious and Moral Babylon||Economic and Commercial Babylon|
How do we know they are talking about two different things? While both are called cities (17:18; 18:10), one is described primarily in economic and commercial terms (commerce, businessmen, trade) and one is primarily described in religious and moral terms (adultery, drunkenness, blasphemous names, cup full of abominations, prostitution , Babylon ). One is material and one is spiritual.
Revelation 17 is talking about a religious system. It describes what MacArthur calls “the final form of world religion” We do not know exactly what form the final world religion will look like but we know that it will be liberal. It will be apostate. It will be unbiblical. It will be idolatrous. We also know that in the first half of the Tribulation the Antichrist will support this false religious system. He allows the woman to ride her. She is on top and he is not trying to knock her off, at least not at first.
He allows her to ride him for three and a half years. In the middle of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will demand that everyone worship him. He will demand universal worship and will destroy this religious system because that system would compete with the worship of the beast (17:16-18). A power shift takes place.
She was ruling the kings of the earth until the ten kings give their authority to the beast and then he is on top and he is in charge. Some believe that the whole world will be divided into ten regions (a ten kingdom empire that would cover the whole earth). Some of those regions are made up of different countries. We do not know if these ten rulers will be in charge of one of these ten world districts or whether they will be just ten rulers.
 Region 1-NAU (North American Union) made up of Canada, United States of America, and Mexico. Region 2-EU (European Union) made up of Western Europe, British Isles, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Turkey. Region 3 – Japan, Pacific Islands. Region 4- Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. Region 5 – Eastern Europe, Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, Korea. Region 6 – Central America, South America, Caribbean Islands. Region 7 – Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Peninsula, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Region 8-AU (African Union) made up of Africa (without the above North African countries and South Africa) and Madagascar. Region 9- India, S. E. Asia. Region 10 – China.
Characteristics of The Woman in Revelation 17
What are some characteristics of this woman in Revelation 17? What type of person is she?
1. She is a Prostitute
She is called a prostitute four times in the chapter (17:1, 5, 15, 16). The Greek word for “whore” is πορνή (from which we get the word “pornography”). This is an immoral woman. She will affect “all nations” and not just some of them (18:3). She will affect the kings of the earth (17:2; 18:3). She will affect merchants (18:3). She will also affect the inhabitants of the earth (17:2).
2. She is a Mother
She is not just a prostitute, she is also a mother. Babylon is called “the mother of prostitutes” (17:5). It is right on her forehead. She is also “the mother of abominations in the earth”. GNT reads, “Great Babylon, the mother of all prostitutes and perverts in the world”. The NLT reads, “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.”
2. She is Wealthy
This is a high class hooker. She is extremely wealthy. She is the woman with the golden cup (17:4). She is wearing fancy clothes. She was dressed in fine linen (19:19). She wore purple and scarlet (17:4; 18:16), which was extremely rare in the ancient world. She has tons of jewelry (17:4; 18:16). She is extremely wealthy and lived in luxury (18:3, 7, 14, 19).
3. She is a Murderer
She does not just kill God’s people. She loves to kill believers. She is DRUNK with the blood of the martyrs. This woman is said to be drunk but she is not drunk with wine. She is drunk with blood. Red wine looks a little like blood. She is said to be “drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus” (17:6). This woman even killed some of the apostles. Revelation 18:24 says, “In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people, of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.”
4. She is Powerful
Her influence will be worldwide. She is said to sit on many waters (17:1) and will have international connections. She has political power and it is not limited to one country. She is said to rule over the kings of the earth (17:18). She is said to be a great and mighty city (18:10).
5. She is Demonic
She will have a demon living in her. She is not just depraved, she is demonic. She will be the home for demons and every foul spirit (18:2).
Speculation About Mystery Babylon
Who is Mystery Babylon? Many of the Reformers believed that Mystery Babylon refers to the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox all believed that the Catholic Church was the Whore of Babylon. Some still believe that today.
Is the Catholic Church the Whore of Babylon?
In 1994, Dave Hunt wrote a book called A Woman Rides the Beast. In that book, Hunt gives many arguments to try to prove that the Roman Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon. One, it is the city built on seven hills, which clearly ties it to Rome. Two, it is seated on many waters. It has an international reach. There are Catholics in just about every country of the world.
Three, the name Babylon ties it to Rome. Babylon was the code name for Rome in the NT and Pseudepigripha. Four, she commits fornication. Many of her popes were immoral. Many Catholic priests are guilty of homosexuality and child abuse. Five, she is clothed in purple and red (the colors of the Catholic clergy).
Six, she possesses great wealth. The global net worth of the Catholic Church is in the millions or billions. Seven, she has a golden cup and the Catholic Church uses a golden chalice in the mass. Eight, she is the mother of harlots and abominations. The Catholic Church is full of abominations (salvation by works, the worship of Mary, prayer to saints, purgatory, transubstantiation, belief that the pope is the vicar of Christ). Nine, she is drunk with the blood of the saints.
The Catholic Church is responsible for burning people at the stake and murdering millions of people throughout history (the Inquisition). Ten, she rules over the kings of the earth. Catholicism is the largest branch of Christianity in the world today. Many countries of the world are Catholic (Argentina – 92%, Venezuela – 96%, France – 85%, Chile – 70%, Columbia – 90%. Cuba – 85%, Dominican Republic – 95%, Honduras– 97%). The Catholic Church has all kinds of political power throughout history and Rome is the capital of Italy today.
Is the Roman Catholic Church the Whore of Babylon? If you lived during the Middle Ages, you would have good reason to believe this. It was powerful. It owned land. The Catholic Church had a standing army during the Middle Ages and had power over the king. They had courts that could punish people for sins against religion.
However, the Catholic Church today is very different. It doesn’t have that kind of power. The Roman Catholic Church does not rules over the US. A majority of the US is not even Catholic. Furthermore, Catholicism is not even a city. The whore in Revelation is described as a city. There is a city in Rome called Vatican City. Vatican City is a separate sovereign country but this city CANNOT be the whore of Babylon. It does not have seven hills. It also is not “a great city”. It was not even established until 1929 and does not “rule the kings of the earth”.
In fact, it is the smallest country in the world. It is the complete opposite of a great city. It has a population of about eight hundred, although it does have religious power but the Catholic Church right now is on the decline worldwide because of the recent sex-abuse scandals. The bottom line is that Catholicism may play a role in the final world religion but it will not be limited to Catholicism. It will most likely include many Protestant Churches as well. We really do not know what religious system it will be. It could be Islam. Mecca is also a city built on seven hills.
 Some picture this as one global, interfaith, ecumenical world religion. It is possible but ecumenical interfaith organizations tend to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. They tend not to be great persecutors of other religions.
That raises another question. If the woman represents a literal city and the city is called Babylon, does this refer to the OT city of Babylon?
Will Babylon Be Rebuilt?
Many, though not all dispensationalists, assume that Babylon in Revelation must mean literal Babylon. The old city of Babylon is located in Iraq. It is fifty-five miles south of Baghdad. Some believe that this Iraqi city will be rebuilt (Thomas, Walvoord, Fruchtenbaum, Missler) and will become the world headquarters of the Antichrist, the economic and religious center of the world.
Some have even said that Revelation 18:2 reads, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen” because Babylon fell twice. It fell once, will be rebuilt and fall again. If that is the case, the verse would read, “Babylon has fallen (in the past) and will fall (in the future).” The angel here does not have a stuttering problem. He uses repetition because it was a common way that is used to show emphasis in the Bible. When the Jews wanted to emphasize something, they said it more than once (Jeremiah 7:4).
Revelation 17 is NOT talking about literal Babylon but Mystery Babylon. It is not taking about geographical Babylon for several reasons.
1) This city is said to be built on seven hills.
Ancient Babylon was NOT built on seven hills, so this would not fit literal Babylon.
2) The OT prophets said that it will NEVER be rebuilt (Isaiah 13:17, 19-22; Jeremiah 51: 11, 24-26, 37).
Both passages say that Babylon will be conquered by the Medes. Cyrus captured the city in 539 BC. Daniel 5 explains it. The Babylonians were throwing a big party, started drinking with silver and gold cups taken from the temple ad praising the pagan gods made of wood and stone.
The king saw a hand come out of the wall and write “mene mene tekel uparsin” and he was terrified. What would we think if we saw a hand come out of a wall and write some words? No one knew what the words meant, except Daniel. Daniel told the king that his kingdom was over and that it was going to be given the Medes and the Persians (Iranians descend from the Persians).
That night, they took over and the king was killed. Babylon eventually became a heap of ruins, like Sodom and Gomorrah. The prophet Isaiah predicted that Babylon “will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations” (13:20). Jeremiah predicted that it would “be desolate forever” (51:26). It would become a ghost town.
Another very popular viewpoint on the Internet is that Mystery Babylon refers to the US. There are many websites which promote this view and some of their arguments seem convincing.
Is the USA Mystery Babylon?
The US is a country, not a city but the Greek word for city (πόλις) can mean “city-state” as well as “city”. Some would say that it is the only country that fits the description. It is a superpower. Ancient Babylon was called “the hammer of the whole earth” (Jeremiah 50:23).
The USA is the greatest nation in the world, the richest nation on earth. It is the center of commerce (the Stock Market). It is the world banking center and merchandising capital of the world. It is where the United Nations is located.
It does sit on many waters (Atlantic, Pacific, Mississippi River, Great Lakes). There is no doubt that morally America would be on par with Babylon. It is an extremely wicked country, full of violence, sexual immorality and greed. Babylon was symbolized as a woman. The symbol of our country is a woman. The Statue of Liberty (Lady Liberty) is a symbol of America.
While many of the similarities are striking, there are some very important differences. This woman was known for her religious intolerance. This city is said to be drunk with the blood of the saints. America is a country known for its religious tolerance, not for its intolerance. Other countries in the world today are know for religious persecution but the US is not one of them. That is part of our Constitution (First Amendment).
I would also add that the export list does not completely fit the US. The US exports a lot of goods. In fact, no country on the planet imports as many goods as the US. In 2011, the US imported 2.3 trillion dollars worth of goods. It imports many of the items listed in 18:12-13. It imports wine. It imports marble and olive oil. It imports cattle (beef). It imports spices (like cinnamon and incense) but these are not top US imports, like crude oil and there are some things on the list which the US does not import, like carriages and slaves (18:13).
Who or what is Mystery Babylon? Mystery Babylon in Revelation 17 refers to an end-time false religious system that will ride the beast in the first half of the tribulation period. It will be a worldwide religious system centered in a city which will imitate ancient Babylon. It will most likely not be limited to the Catholic Church but we do not know what form it will take. It cannot refer to ancient Babylon, because that city was not built on seven hills. That city was also destroyed and God said that it would never be rebuilt. It is not dealing with literal Babylon but spiritual Babylon.
It cannot refer to the US, although the US has some similarities to ancient Babylon. Many who are full or partial preterists believe that Babylon is the city of Jerusalem (so Ford, Chilton), which was destroyed around 70 AD. The city of Jerusalem was described in the OT as a harlot city (Isaiah 1:21; Ezekiel 23:30) and also has seven hills but this cannot refer Jerusalem, but Jerusalem never ruled over all the kings of the earth and was described spiritually in Revelation as Sodom and Egypt (11:8), not as Babylon.
Lessons from Revelation 17
This chapter is divided into two parts. There is the vision in 17:1-6 and the interpretation of the vision in 17:7-18. The Book of Revelation is a symbolic book but it interprets many of its symbols. John tells us what the seven heads stand for (17:9-11). He tells us what the ten horns stand for (17:12-14). He tells us what the waters represent (17:15). He tells us what the woman stands for (17:18).
2. The Nature of Evil
Here you have evil destroying evil. The wicked whore of Babylon is destroyed by someone more evil than her, the beast himself. It is poetic justice. The lesson is that evil is self destructive. It kills its own. We saw the same thing with the fifth trumpet. The demonic locusts only harmed those who had the mark of the beast (9:4). They did not harm any of God’s people. They only harmed the devil’s children. They only hurt their own kind.
3. The Sovereignty of God
This is something that we see repeatedly in Scripture. God puts his purpose in the heart of people (17:17) who do exactly what they want to do. No one forced the beast to destroy the prostitute. He did it voluntarily but in so doing he was accomplishing God’s will. There are so many other examples of this in Scripture.
This woman has really bad company. She has no problem associating with the beast. Here she rides the beast (17:3). The beast is the one who comes out of the pit (17:8). He is covered with blasphemous names (17:3). This is the one who eventually kills her.
Many have no discernment when it comes to choosing friends. Proverbs 12:26 says, The righteous should choose his friends carefully, For the way of the wicked leads them astray (NKJV). Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm (NIV). One clear lesson from this is that church and state should never be connected in an imperfect world. This woman is supported by the state.
There is a lesson here on hypocrisy. She looks great on the outside. She wears fancy clothes and expensive jewelry. She is decked out with gold. He drinks out of a gold cup but the cup is full of all kinds of abominations and uncleanness. She is like the Pharisees. Jesus said that they looked great on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean (Matthew 23:25-28).