John has a vision of human civilization, religious but independent of God, blossoming for one last time as a splendid city supported by Antichrist. The city is personified as a gorgeous prostitute drunk on the blood of God’s people yet doomed to be destroyed by Antichrist and his forces. – Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 302.
- Chapters 17-21 feature the personification of two systems, worldview, and allegiances. The first, here, described as a prostitute, the other, later, described as a virtuous bride.
17 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters,
- “angels who had the seven bowls” – closely ties this “woman” in with the judgments of chapter 16.
- John opens this chapter without describing or identifying this woman, but he does let us know that her judgment is coming and certain. He describes this later in 16.
- “many waters” – lets us know that John understands this woman to be symbolic of something else. Later, in 15, John identifies these many waters as various people from all around the globe.
2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”
- “with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality” – sexual immorality has often been used throughout scripture in reference to spiritual adultery and various acts of immorality. (Isa. 23:15-17)
- This harlot is the last manifestation of human culture as it exists apart from God, arrogant and independent. She is Dame Civilization. As such she represents all that is corrupt in civilization, especially the corrupt combination of politics and religion that flaunts justice and oppresses the majority of citizens. – Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 305.
- Notice how the idolatry filtered down from leadership to those under their circles of influence. The kings of Israel were often judged for similar activity.
- The people of the earth have become intoxicated by the humanism and rebellion against the things of God.
3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.
- “a woman” – the same mentioned above.
- This is quite possible the same beast mentioned in chapter 13, thus the rebellion of humanity is resting confidently in it’s own military power.
- The shifting scene can be summarized by saying that this anti-God rebellion has seduced civilization and continues her spread through military power.
4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.
- For a prostitute to be clothed in such fancy attire suggests that she is good at her work.
- Anti-God thought is often clothed in such a way that it is to be desired.
- “a golden cup full of abominations” – the exterior looks good, but the inside is filthy.
5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”
- John will explain more of this mystery in 7.
- We can note once again, that this woman is understood in a figurative sense. She is the root cause of spiritual infidelity and immorality.
- “Babylon” – perhaps a synonym for Rome or another influential city yet to be known. This may also be understood, not as a literal city, but a worldview which permeates many influential cities throughout history.
6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly.
- Not only does she promote immorality, but she also incites violence against the people of God.
- What packaged itself as beautiful is now seen as disgusting.
- “drunk with the blood of martyrs” – suggests that this may not be understood as Rome, wide-spread persecution of Christians had not occurred at this time. Thus a better understanding of the Great Babylon may be better understood as a general principle or future city of some sort.
7 But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.
- A plea for patience from the angel.
8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.
- John provides a strange description of the beast, it “was, and is not, and is about to rise…it was and is not and is to come.” It seems to be an Antichrist mimic of God “who is, and who was, and who is to come” (1.4). A similar description is mentioned of the Antichrist earlier in 13.3. Unlike God, who is essentially described as eternal, the beast is described with impending destruction.
9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated;
- “a mind of wisdom” – John understands the complexity the following description and the confusion or lack of understanding which may result. There is no sure understanding of what follows.
- “seven heads…seven mountains” – Rome was known as the seven hill city in it’s day.
10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.
- Many attempts have been made to make this description fit nicely into the line of Roman emperors, but there is no full-proof way of accomplishing this.
- Others attempt to make the kings representative of kingdoms and suggest the five kings mentioned here are five of the kingdoms which plagued God’s people in the OT: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, The Seleucid Empire. Thus the kingdom that is is the Roman Empire. And the seventh kingdom is that of the Antichrist.
11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.
12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.
- “ten” – may be literal or understood more symbolically. There have been a variety of suggestions for this verse.
13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast.
- Those opposed to God unite with one purpose against him – war.
14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”
- Hatred for God’s people are symptoms of the main problem. Hatred for his rival Jesus.
- John doesn’t provide specifics, but he tells us the result. The one true God will be victorious.
- “called and chosen and faithful” – “They were chosen before they were born when the Lamb had written their names in his Book of Life (17:8). They were called to be his disciples at the point of their conversion (Rom. 8:30). Then they demonstrated the genuineness of their commitment by living as faithful followers of the Lamb (14:12). For this reason they have the privilege of following the Lamb in his victorious war.” – Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 313.
15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.
16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire,
- “hate the prostitute” – In great irony, the beast now hates those who have so faithfully championed his anti-God cause. Evil often eats it’s own.
17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.
- Perhaps the beasts hatred is due to the fact that God uses these very same people to accomplish his will and purpose – the destruction of the beast
18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”