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32 - The Destruction of the Final World Religion

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The Destruction of the Final World Religion
(Revelation 17:1–18)

 

Revelation 17:1-18 (KJV)

1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: 2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. 3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and deckeda with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: 5 And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

7 And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns. 8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. 9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. 11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. 12 And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. 13 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.

14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. 15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. 17 For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. 18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.  (17:1–18)

Intro. - There is a certain element of truth in Karl Marx’s oft-quoted statement that religion is “the opium of the people.” People are incurably religious, because God created them to be worshipers.

§       They will inevitably worship someone or something, if not the true God, then false gods of their own making. People are made with a God-shaped vacuum that they are constantly seeking to fill.

§       Since the Fall, man’s innate longing to know God has been twisted and perverted. People still seek something to worship but no longer seek the true God.

§       In fact, “there is none who seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11), because, as Jesus declared, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).

§       Sadly, man’s need for a relationship with God has been corrupted by his love of sin. Paul wrote in Romans 1:21 that “Romans 1:21 (KJV) 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. [i].”

§       Into mankind’s spiritual vacuum step Satan, “the father of lies” (John 8:44) and his demon hosts, disguised as angels of light (2 Cor. 11:14–15) and purveying “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). Playing on people’s religious bent, they energize religious deception.

§       False religion’s powerful appeal comes from its promise to satisfy man’s longing for the spiritual realm without bringing him under God’s authority. In their rebellion against the true God, and because of their love of sin, fallen men willingly turn to these damning satanic religions.

§       But wonderfully, graciously, mercifully, though man no longer seeks God, God still seeks man. Indeed, it was to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) that Jesus came into the world.

§       Because false religion is so much a part of this fallen world, it is no surprise that it will play a major role in the end times. During the Tribulation, all the world’s diverse false religions will be reunited into one great world religion. That ultimate expression of false religion will be an essential element of Antichrist’s final world empire, in holding together his military, economic, and political structure.

§       Only religion can unite the world in the most compelling way. Politics, economics, even military force are unable to overcome the world’s cultural diversity. Only religion, with its appeal to the supernatural, can transcend the physical, geographical, historical, economic, and cultural barriers to world unity.

§       Chapter 17 reveals the spiritual nature of Antichrist’s kingdom; chapter 18 follows with its material aspects. God will destroy both aspects of Antichrist’s kingdom.

·         Chapters 17 and 18 are inserted into the chronological flow of Revelation, which continues in chapter 19.

·         The pouring out of the seventh bowl (16:17) is actually followed immediately in time by the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to end the great world battle (19:11).

·         Chapters 17 and 18 digress to look not at God’s specific judgments, but at what is being judged.

·         Those two chapters go back to describe the world system led by Satan, Antichrist, and the false prophet, before recording its destruction.

·         John had already heard harbingers of Babylon’s destruction (14:8; 16:19); now the details of that destruction will be given in these remarkable visions.

§         During the Tribulation, people will desperately seek religion because of what will be happening in the world. As the hammer blows of God’s judgment (the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments) devastate the earth and terrorize its inhabitants, people will turn in desperation to Antichrist as their savior. Aided by the false prophet and hordes of deceiving demons, Antichrist will establish a worldwide religion, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”

§         How can the future religious Babylon be the mother of all false religion? To comprehend the Babylonian false religion of the future requires an understanding of Babylon’s role in the false religion of the past.

§         The story of Babylon begins with the Tower of Babel, recorded in Genesis 11:1–9: And the whole earth was of one languagea, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they saidb one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babelc; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.  

§         Journeying east after the Flood, Noah’s descendants arrived at the site of Babylon (the “land of Shinar”). In history’s first great humanistic effort, they decided to build a monument to themselves, to “make for [themselves] a name.” But this act of rebellion against God also had religious implications. Brick towers, like the one they built (known as ziggurats), were later used in false religions. Ziggurats had on their tops the sign of the zodiac, which was used by pagan priests to chart the stars. Through their observations of the stars, the priests supposedly gained spiritual insights and knowledge of the future.

§         Such blatant, defiant rebellion against God is incredible on the part of those to whom the Flood was a recent event. In fact Nimrod, the apparent leader of the plot, was Noah’s great-grandson. Genesis describes him as “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (10:9), and notes that “the beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city” (Gen. 10:10–12). This proud, arrogant leader (his name may derive from a Hebrew verb meaning “to rebel”) foreshadowed the final Antichrist.

§         God judgmentally scattered those proud rebels from Babel (Gen. 11:8), and they took their false religion around the world with them. In spite of the scattering, Babylon remained an idolatrous center of false worship. At one point in the city’s sordid history, it contained no less than 180 shrines dedicated to the goddess Ishtar (Charles L. Feinberg, “Jeremiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986], 6:643).

§         Even some of the Israelites were caught up in the idolatrous worship of Ishtar, one of whose titles was “Queen of Heaven.” Jeremiah rebuked the Jewish remnant that had fled to Egypt for the idolatry that had led to their downfall. Instead of repenting, however, they remained defiant: Then all the men who were aware that their wives were burning sacrifices to other gods, along with all the women who were standing by, as a large assembly, including all the people who were living in Pathros in the land of Egypt, responded to Jeremiah, saying, “As for the message that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we are not going to listen to you! But rather we will certainly carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths, by burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, just as we ourselves, our forefathers, our kings and our princes did in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then we had plenty of food and were well off and saw no misfortune. But since we stopped burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have met our end by the sword and by famine.” “And,” said the women, “when we were burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and were pouring out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands that we made for her sacrificial cakes in her image and poured out drink offerings to her?” (Jer. 44:15–19)

§         God, through Jeremiah, pronounced judgment on those Jews for their stubborn, defiant adherence to the Ishtar cult: Then Jeremiah said to all the people, to the men and women—even to all the people who were giving him such an answer—saying, “As for the smoking sacrifices that you burned in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your forefathers, your kings and your princes, and the people of the land, did not the Lord remember them and did not all this come into His mind? So the Lord was no longer able to endure it, because of the evil of your deeds, because of the abominations which you have committed; thus your land has become a ruin, an object of horror and a curse, without an inhabitant, as it is this day. Because you have burned sacrifices and have sinned against the Lord and not obeyed the voice of the Lord or walked in His law, His statutes or His testimonies, therefore this calamity has befallen you, as it has this day.” Then Jeremiah said to all the people, including all the women, “Hear the word of the Lord, all Judah who are in the land of Egypt, thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, as follows: ‘As for you and your wives, you have spoken with your mouths and fulfilled it with your hands, saying, “We will certainly perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her.” Go ahead and confirm your vows, and certainly perform your vows!’ Nevertheless hear the word of the Lord, all Judah who are living in the land of Egypt, ‘Behold, I have sworn by My great name,’ says the Lord, ‘never shall My name be invoked again by the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, “As the Lord God lives.” Behold, I am watching over them for harm and not for good, and all the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt will meet their end by the sword and by famine until they are completely gone.’ ” (Jer. 44:20–27)

§         Ezekiel also refers to the worship of Ishtar and Tammuz: “Then He brought me to the entrance of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north; and behold, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz” (Ezek. 8:14).

§         Throughout history, then, Babylon has been an important center of false religion. In the end times, false religion will come back to where it started. The devil who deceived the people at Babel, and from there launched false religion over the earth, will deceive the world once again.

§         The final world religion, depicted as a harlot, is the theme of this vision, which records the exposure of the harlot, the explanation of the harlot, and the extermination of the harlot.

A.        The Exposure of the Harlot

1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: 2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. 3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and deckeda with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: 5 And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

.…  15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.. (17:1–6, 15)

1.        That it was one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls who came and spoke with John connects the judgment of the harlot with the seven last plagues (16:1–21). As previously noted, chronology halts in chapters 17 and 18 as the scene shifts from God’s judgments to Antichrist’s world empire, the target of those judgments.

2.       The great harlot that will be judged is not an actual prostitute. The term harlot is a metaphor for false religion, spiritual defection, idolatry, and religious apostasy.

3.        Besides Babylon, several cities in Scripture are designated harlot cities because of their idolatry and pursuit of false religion. Nineveh (Nah. 3:1, 4), Tyre (Isa. 23:15–17), and, sadly, Jerusalem (Isa. 1:21) are examples of cities that committed spiritual fornication.

4.       John’s vision exposes several aspects of the harlot city of Babylon: her authority, alliances, apparel, abominations, and accusation.

A.         the authority of the harlot

1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:  (17:1b, 15)

1.        The harlot in John’s vision sits in a position of authority and sovereignty like a king on his throne on or beside many waters.

2.       Cities in ancient times were usually located near a source of water, either the ocean, a river, lake, or spring. That was true of Babylon, which was located on the Euphrates River.

3.        Jeremiah 51:13 addresses ancient Babylon as “you who dwell by many waters,” the same phrase applied in this passage to her future counterpart. Just as the proud capital of the Babylonian empire took her seat beside “many waters,” so also will the Babylonian harlot city of the future.

4.       The phrase many waters does not, however, refer to the harlot’s geographical location. Instead, as the angel explains to John in verse 15, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.”

5.        The metaphor is an apt one, since a city situated in a commanding position on a great waterway would be highly influential. The harlot will not merely influence, but will dominate all the unredeemed peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues of the earth (cf. the similar phrases in 5:9; 7:9; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6).

6.       The harlot’s authority will be universal; the entire world will be committed to the false worship of the Babylonian system, rather than the true God.

B.         the alliances of the harlot

With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. 3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. (17:2–3)

1.        Her association with the kings of the earth reveals that the scope of the harlot’s influence will be immense. Those at the highest levels of power and influence will commit spiritual fornication with her.

2.       The phrase committed acts of immorality translates a form of the Greek verb porneuō (“to commit sexual immorality”). It aptly describes the harlot’s interaction with the kings of the earth.

3.        The symbolism of spiritual adultery, used in the Old Testament to describe Israel’s apostasy from Jehovah (cf. Ezek. 16, 23) is inappropriate here. The unredeemed rulers and the nations they represent do not know God and are never pictured as His wife.

4.       Rulers from around the world will become obsessed with the Babylonian harlot. Deceived by the false prophet, Antichrist, and Satan and his demon hosts, they will become enamored with the false world religion. “All who dwell on the earth will worship [Antichrist], everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8). But having joined themselves to the harlot, economically, socially, militarily, politically, and religiously, they will share her disastrous fate.

5.        The harlot will not be allied just with the rulers and influential people of the world. All those who dwell on the earth (a technical term for unbelievers; cf. v. 8; 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6) were made drunk with the wine of her immorality. All the unredeemed will be caught up in the final false religion; they will give their hearts and souls to the abominable Babylonian harlot.

6.       The angel is not describing people who are physically drunk with literal wine committing sexual immorality with an actual prostitute, though that may be happening. Instead, he is talking about those who are passionately intoxicated with Antichrist’s illicit false world religion. The imagery derives from Jeremiah 51:7, which says of ancient Babylon, “Babylon has been a golden cup in the hand of the Lord, intoxicating all the earth. The nations have drunk of her wine; therefore the nations are going mad.”

7.        Before the next alliance of the harlot is revealed, the scene of John’s vision changes. The angel with whom John had been speaking carried him away in the Spirit into a wilderness (cf. 1:10; 4:2; 21:10).

a.        Wilderness translates erēmos, which describes a deserted, desolate wasteland like the region where modern Babylon is located.

b.       In that place John saw a woman—the Babylonian harlot whom the angel had just described (vv. 1–2). She was sitting on a scarlet beast, whose description identifies him as Antichrist (cf. 13:1, 4; 14:9; 16:10).

c.        That the woman was sitting on the scarlet beast signifies that he was supporting her. The initial unifying and controlling factor of Antichrist’s kingdom will be religion.

d.       With the heavens and the earth being ravaged by God’s judgments, and the world’s political, economic, and military might crumbling, people will turn in desperation to the supernatural.

e.        The beast and the woman will coexist for a while; that is, the religion will be separate from the kingdom of Antichrist at first. But eventually “the beast … will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire” (v. 16).

f.         It will be at that point that the false prophet will make the whole world worship Antichrist (13:11–14), and everything will be one in the beast’s universal and comprehensive rule.

8.       Scarlet is the color associated with luxury (2 Sam. 1:24), splendor, and royalty. It is also the color associated with sin (Isa. 1:18) and the hue of blood.

a.        Antichrist will be a splendorous, royal, sinful, bloody beast, full of blasphemous names (cf. 13:1).

b.       In his arrogant self-deification, Antichrist will take for himself the names and titles that belong to God.

c.        He will not only blaspheme God by what he claims, but also by what he says. Antichrist “will speak out against the Most High.… and will speak monstrous things against the God of gods” (Dan. 7:25; 11:36).

9.       This demonic scarlet beast is further described as having seven heads and ten horns, showing the extent of his alliances.

a.        As will be seen in the discussion of verses 9 and 10 below, the seven heads “are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while” (vv. 9–10).

b.       They represent seven mountains, seven past, present, and future governments. The ten horns represent ten kings (v. 12), who will rule as subordinates to Antichrist (v. 13).

c.        The harlot’s alliances will be comprehensive. Her deadly embrace will encompass all the unredeemed, from kings and rulers to common people; all will worship and submit to her religion.

d.       Far from being separated, church and state will be united as never before in human history.

C.         the apparel of the harlot

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and deckeda with gold and precious stones and pearls (17:4a)

1.        Prostitutes usually dress so as to attract attention to themselves, and metaphorically the harlot Babylon will be no different.

2.       John saw her clothed in purple and scarlet, the colors of royalty, prosperity, nobility, and wealth (cf. Judg. 8:26; Est. 8:15; Lam. 4:5; Ezek. 23:6; Dan. 5:7, 16, 29).

3.        That she is adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls portrays her as a prostitute who is both attractive (cf. Prov. 7:10) and has plied her trade successfully and become extremely wealthy.

D.         the abominations of the harlot

having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: 5 And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH..” (17:4b–5)

1.        As a further indication of her wealth, the harlot had in her hand a gold cup. Like prostitutes who want to take everything their victims have, she will make her victims drunk, as did ancient Babylon: “Babylon has been a golden cup in the hand of the Lord, intoxicating all the earth. The nations have drunk of her wine; therefore the nations are going mad” (Jer. 51:7). The harlot’s gold cup was full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality.

2.       Commenting on that graphic description Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote: It is also highly significant that the abominations and filthiness should be spoken of as coming from a golden cup. “Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad” (Jer. 51:7). To those who are acquainted with the history of ancient religions this significance is heightened by comparisons with the rites of the pagan religious mysteries. A French scholar, Salverte, writing on The Occult Sciences, tells of the drinking in connection with these demon ceremonies. “To drink of mysterious beverages,” he says, “was indispensable on the part of all who sought initiation in these mysteries. These mysterious beverages were composed of wine, honey, water, and flour, with various other ingredients used locally. From the nature of the ingredients avowedly used, and from the nature of others not avowed, but certainly used, there can be no doubt that they were of an intoxicating nature; and till the aspirants had come under their power, till their understandings had been dimmed, and their passions excited by the medicated draught, they were not duly prepared for what they were either to hear or see.” (Revelation: An Expository Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971], 324)

3.        All idolatry is abominable to God (cf. 1 Kings 14:22–24; 2 Kings 21:1–9; Ezek. 20:30–33), and the gross idolatry of Antichrist’s false religion will be the worst ever. No wonder Babylon’s sins will be “piled up as high as heaven” (18:5), bringing her destruction.

4.       As was customary for prostitutes to identify themselves in the Roman world, the harlot Babylon also had a name written on her forehead (cf. Jer. 3:3). The name John saw was “mystery BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (The word mystery should be rendered as part of the title.) The harlot is called mystery BABYLON to indicate that BABYLON in this context does not refer to a geographical location.

5.        This is not ancient Babylon, the Babylon of John’s day, or the rebuilt city of Babylon in the end times. The details of this vision can’t be applied to any actual city.

6.       Here is a previously undisclosed Babylon, a secret reality to be revealed in the end times. This BABYLON is the symbol of all worldly resistance to God; it is described as THE GREAT because of its far-reaching influence. In fact, so great will be its influence that it is called THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.

7.        Babylon will be the source of all the false, idolatrous, blasphemous worship in the end times. Her designation as the MOTHER OF HARLOTS is appropriate, since harlotry in Scripture often symbolizes idolatry (cf. Judg. 2:17; 8:27, 33; 1 Chron. 5:25; 2 Chron. 21:11; Jer. 3:6, 8–9; Ezek. 16:30–31, 36).

8.       So Babylon, the city that spawned the system that corrupted the world with false religion, will do so again.

E.          the accusation of the harlot

6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration. (17:6)

1.        Like many harlots, this woman was drunk, but not from drinking alcoholic beverages. In a graphic indictment of her for her murderous persecution of God’s people, the Babylonian harlot is pictured as drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.

2.       That vivid expression was commonly used in the ancient world to depict a murderous lust for violence. Some commentators see the saints and the witnesses of Jesus as two distinct groups, the former being the Old Testament saints and the latter the New Testament saints.

3.        More likely, however, the two descriptions refer to the same group and describe God’s people throughout history.

4.       The important point is that false religion, represented here by the harlot, is a murderer. It has killed millions of believers over the centuries.

5.        The history of the church has demonstrated that apostate Christianity is relentless in its persecution of those who hold to true faith in Jesus Christ. While the world becomes drunk with lust for her, the harlot becomes drunk with the blood of God’s people.

6.       The vision was so appalling that when John saw her, he wondered greatly; expressing that he was confused, shocked, astonished, and frightened by the ghastly vision of such a contrastingly magnificent figure of the woman and such a deadly intent.

F.          The Explanation of the Harlot

7 And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns. 8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. 9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. 11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. 12 And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. 13 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.

14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. … “The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.” (17:7–14, 18)

1.        In response to John’s confusion and amazement, the angel said to him rhetorically, “Why do you wonder?”

2.       There was no need for John to remain puzzled by the relation of the beast to this beautiful yet bloody woman in the vision; the angel was about to explain to him the mystery of the woman (vv. 18) and of the beast that carries her (vv. 8–17).

3.        The apostle understood that the woman represented a false religious system, and that the beast was the Antichrist, as the reference to his seven heads and … ten horns indicates (cf. v. 3; 13:1).

4.       What he did not understand was the connection between the two figures. It had been revealed to John in a previous vision that the whole world would worship Antichrist (13:4, 8, 12). That may have been what raised the question in John’s mind as to how the woman fits into the picture, particularly how it is that the beast … carries her.

5.        Skipping for the moment the angel’s digression in verses 8–14 describing the beast, verse 18 identifies the woman whom John saw as the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth. Some commentators deny that the great city is a literal city, preferring to see it as a symbol of the religious aspect of Antichrist’s empire. Some of those who view the great city as an actual city identify it as Rome, others as Jerusalem. But the angel quite clearly and repeatedly refers to Babylon on the Euphrates throughout chapters 17–18. Those allusions can be seen by comparing 17:1 with Jeremiah 51:13; 17:2, 4 with Jeremiah 51:7; 18:7 with Isaiah 47:5; 18:2 with Isaiah 13:21 and Jeremiah 51:8; 18:4 with Jeremiah 50:8 and 51:6, 45; 18:5 with Jeremiah 51:9; 18:6 with Jeremiah 50:15 and 51:24; 18:21 with Jeremiah 51:63–64.

6.       The description of Babylon’s destruction (cf. 18:10, 18, 21) also suggests that an actual city is in view. Thus, a rebuilt city of  Babylon will be closely identified with Antichrist’s world empire, perhaps as its capital city. That city will be the center of his kingdom, the extent of which will be the whole earth.

7.        The Old Testament predictions of Babylon’s total destruction (e.g., Isa. 13:1–14:27; Jer. 50–51) also favor identifying the great city with Babylon on the Euphrates. The detailed description those passages give of Babylon’s destruction was only partially fulfilled when the Medes and Persians sacked the ancient city of Babylon.

8.       As is the case with many Old Testament prophecies, those predictions had both a near and a far fulfillment. Henry Morris noted that Babylon, indeed, will be permanently destroyed, as recorded in the very next chapter (18:21), but this has not happened yet. The prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah also refer to this future destruction, not merely to Babylon’s present-day condition, as is evident from the following considerations, among others:

a.        (1) The destruction will take place in the time that the stars and sun are darkened (Isaiah 13:1, 9, 10).

b.       (2) The city will become as desolate as Sodom and Gomorrah, burned completely, with no remains whatever (Isaiah 13:19; Jeremiah 50:40).

c.        (3) It shall become desolate forever, with neither man nor beast entering it any more (Isaiah 13:20; Jeremiah 51:62).

d.        (4) It will be a time of judgment not only for Babylon, but for all nations (Isaiah 13:11–13; Jeremiah 51:49).

e.        (5) Its destruction will be followed by universal rest and peace (Isaiah 14:7, 8).

f.         (6) Its destruction is directly associated also with the casting of Lucifer into Sheol (Isaiah 14:12–15).

g.        (7) Babylon’s stones will never be used in future construction elsewhere, whereas the present-day ruins of Babylon have been frequently plundered and reused in later constructions (Jeremiah 51:26). (The Revelation Record [Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1983], 348)

h.       The site of modern Babylon is strategically located at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa and is not far from the Persian Gulf. It is also near the world’s richest oil fields and has a virtually unlimited water supply from the Euphrates. Those considerations led the famed historian Arnold Toynbee to proclaim that Babylon would be an ideal site for an important political and cultural center (Morris, Revelation Record, 349).

9.       In verses 8–14 the angel gives John a lengthy description of the beast. He is explaining to John the relationship between the harlot and the beast, which had mystified the apostle (vv. 6–7). But for John to grasp that connection, the angel needed first to give him further details about the beast. This further describes the nature of the beast and his kingdom, enhancing the description of him in chapter 13.

a.        As previously noted, the beast that John saw is Antichrist, the satanic ruler of the last and most powerful empire in human history, who will serve as Satan’s instrument to attack Israel, persecute believers, conquer the world for Satan, and oppose Christ.

                                                               i.      Scripture portrays him as an intellectual genius (Dan. 7:8);

                                                              ii.      an outstanding orator (Dan. 7:20);

                                                            iii.      a military leader without parallel in human history (Dan. 7:23);

                                                            iv.      a shrewd, calculating, manipulating politician (Dan. 8:25; 11:21);

                                                              v.      and the ultimate religious charlatan (2 Thess. 2:4).

                                                            vi.      The angel briefly reviews the detailed description of him given in 13:1–10.

b.       The beast is described as one who was, and is not, and is about to come again.

                                                               i.      As noted in the discussion of 13:3 and 12 in chapters four and five of this volume, that phrase refers to Antichrist’s faked death and resurrection.

                                                              ii.      The false prophet will use that alleged miracle to deceive the entire world into worshiping Antichrist (13:14).

                                                            iii.      Up till that point, Antichrist’s political and economic empire will coexist with the false religious system headed by the false prophet.

                                                            iv.      But after his staged “resurrection,” Antichrist, then indwelt by a powerful demon out of the abyss (the place where certain demons are will turn on the false religious system and destroy it. He will tolerate only one religion—the worship of himself.

                                                              v.      Antichrist’s faked resurrection and his destruction of the false religious system will take place approximately halfway through the Tribulation period.

                                                            vi.      At that point, he will be the undisputed ruler of the world, with unilateral power. He will appear to have reached the apex of his sovereignty, and be ready to thwart the coming of Christ and His kingdom.

                                                           vii.      Yet in reality, Antichrist will be about to be crushed and sent to destruction—eternal damnation in the lake of fire (19:20; 20:10).

                                                         viii.      That will be the appropriate punishment for the “son of destruction” (2 Thess. 2:3), who dared in his insolent pride to copy the sin of Lucifer (cf. Isa. 14:12–14) and challenge the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

c.        Antichrist’s phony resurrection and swift destruction of the false religious system will shock the world.

                                                               i.      As it does throughout Revelation, the phrase those who dwell on the earth describes unbelievers (cf. v. 2; 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6).

                                                              ii.      They are the ones whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (see the discussion of 13:8 in chapter 4 of this volume), since the names of the elect are recorded in the book of life (3:5; 20:15; 21:27; Phil. 4:3).

                                                            iii.      Amazed and deceived by Antichrist (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9–10), his followers will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.

                                                            iv.      The specific cause for their amazement will be Antichrist’s seemingly miraculous return to life after receiving an apparently fatal wound (cf. 13:3–4).

                                                              v.      Only the elect will not fall for Antichrist’s deception (Matt. 24:24).

                                                            vi.      The angel’s statement here is the mind which has wisdom invites John and his readers to pay close attention to what follows. This unusual expression introduces a difficult and complex aspect of this vision. It will take much wisdom and spiritual insight to understand it, and perhaps only those alive at the time will fully comprehend it.

d.       The first aspect of the vision that needs to be understood is that the seven heads of the beast (v. 3) are seven mountains or hills on which the woman sits.

                                                               i.      Some commentators associate the seven mountains with Rome, famous for being built on seven hills, and identify the woman as the Roman Catholic Church.

                                                              ii.      But such an interpretation is too narrow; something more than just Rome must be in view, because Antichrist’s empire is worldwide. Nor can the woman be the Roman Catholic Church, since, as noted above, verse 18 identifies her as the city of Babylon.

                                                            iii.      Also “when the woman sits on the ‘many waters’ (v. 1) this must be taken as metaphorical since it is interpreted in v. 15; when the woman sits upon ‘a scarlet coloured beast’ this again is symbolic; thus when she sits upon the ‘seven mountains’ this too must be figurative” (James Allen, What the Bible Teaches: Revelation [Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Ritchie Ltd., 1997], 424).

                                                            iv.      Finally, the angel’s call for spiritual discernment would have been pointless if the seven mountains were an obvious geographical reference to Rome.

                                                              v.      All such speculation is unnecessary, because the text plainly identifies the mountains as seven kings. Mountains are sometimes used metaphorically in the Old Testament to represent rule, or power (e.g., Ps. 30:7; Isa. 2:2; Jer. 51:25; Dan. 2:35).

1.        Here they represent seven world empires embodied in their rulers.

2.       The angel tells John that five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come.

3.        The five Gentile world empires that had fallen by the time of John’s vision are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece.

4.       The one that existed at that time was obviously Rome.

5.        The other one that has not yet come is Antichrist’s final world empire.

6.       Commenting on the significance of the first six empires, Henry Morris writes, Though none of these empires ever actually ruled the whole world, each was the greatest kingdom of its own time, particularly in reference to the land and people of Israel and these kingdoms’ opposition to the proclamation of God’s Word and the accomplishment of His purposes in the world.… These, of course, have not been the only kingdoms that have been at enmity with God and His purposes. In this category could also be placed such kingdoms as Syria, Edom, Moab, Midian, and many others, but none of these were empires of great size and influence. On the other hand, there were other great and powerful empires in the ancient world—China, India, and the Incas, for example—but these had only peripheral contact with the Word of God and the chosen people. There were only six kingdoms that met both criteria up to the time of Christ and the apostles. Furthermore, all six of these were not only legitimate heirs of political Babel but also of religious Babel as well. Babylonia, Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome were all strongholds of the world religion of evolutionary pantheism and idolatrous polytheism. Thus, they appropriately are represented as six heads on the great beast that supports the harlot. (Morris, Revelation Record, 337. )

e.        The angel further explains that when Antichrist comes, he must remain a little while (cf. 12:12). His empire will be short-lived; he will be given “authority to act for forty-two months” (13:5; the second half of the Tribulation).

                                                               i.      Then the angel offered the enigmatic comment that the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.

                                                              ii.      How can the beast (Antichrist) be an eighth king and also one of the seven? The answer lies in the phrase the beast … was and is not.

                                                            iii.      Antichrist will be one of the seven kings before his supposed demise and resurrection and an eighth king afterwards during the second phase of his rule.

                                                            iv.      As noted earlier in verse 8, Antichrist will go to destruction—eternal damnation in the lake of fire (19:20; 20:10). Unlike the first six empires, his empire will be destroyed by a direct act of God.

f.         The angel further explained that the ten horns which John saw are ten kings. They cannot be known to any earlier generation because they have not yet received a kingdom, since they are part of Antichrist’s future empire.

                                                               i.      They will receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour.

                                                              ii.      Perhaps Antichrist’s empire will be divided into ten administrative regions, which these ten kings will rule under him.

                                                            iii.      The reference to one hour is a figure of speech that emphasizes the brevity of their rule; their reign will be short-lived because their master’s empire itself will be short-lived.

                                                            iv.      During their brief reign, they will be unanimously devoted to Antichrist; they will have one purpose, and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will do his will, and his will alone.

g.       The agenda of the ten kings, like that of Satan and Antichrist, will be to wage war against the Lamb at the Battle of Armageddon.

                                                               i.      Three exceptionally deceitful and powerful demons will be the agents to gather them for that battle: And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.… And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. (16:13–14, 16)

                                                              ii.      John will describe this ill-fated battle in detail in chapter 19, so here he merely notes that the Lamb will overcome them. The battle will in reality be a slaughter; the Lord Jesus Christ will utterly destroy the forces gathered against Him at His second coming.

                                                            iii.      The reason all the forces of hell cannot defeat the Lamb is because He is Lord of lords and King of kings (cf. 19:16; Deut. 10:17; 1 Tim. 6:15).

                                                            iv.      With Christ when He returns will be the called and chosen and faithful—a reference that can only apply to believers (cf. 19:14; Matt. 22:14).

                                                              v.      The terms are rich in their definition of believers as the eternally elect, chosen in the Son before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4); the called, summoned in time by the Father to repentance and faith that saves (John 6:44); and faithful, demonstrating the true saving faith, the genuine eternal life that endures by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9).

                                                            vi.      The Lord Jesus Christ will effortlessly crush the greatest armed force ever assembled when He returns with His elect and the holy angels (Matt. 24:30–31; 2 Thess. 1:7).

                                                           vii.      Verse 15 was discussed earlier in connection with verse 1, since that is what it explains.

G.         The Extermination of the Harlot

16 And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. 17 For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.. (17:16–17)

  1. Antichrist’s alliance with the false religious system will not last. Eventually the ten horns (the ten kings who rule under Antichrist) and the beast (Antichrist himself) will come to hate the harlot.
  2. Having used the false religious system to help him gain control of the world, Antichrist will discard it. In his rampant megalomania, he will want the world to worship only him. He will also no doubt covet the vast wealth of the false religious system.
  3. Thus, he will turn on the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. That graphic language of extreme violence is used to make clear that Antichrist and his henchmen will utterly and completely obliterate all vestiges of the false religious system.
  4. Antichrist’s self-serving, satanically inspired actions are, however, precisely in the scope of God’s sovereign plan. In fact, it is God who will put it in the hearts of Antichrist’s followers to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast.
  5. God’s power is behind the destruction and consolidation of the evil empire; as always, Satan is the instrument of God’s purposes.
  6. The one-world unification government so long sought by the humanists will have finally arrived, only to be destroyed in one great act of divine judgment. All the words of God—every prophecy of Christ’s return and the setting up of His kingdom—will be fulfilled completely.
  7. God hates every form of false religion and will not tolerate those who seek to rob Him of His glory (Isa. 42:8). Antichrist’s religious empire will be judged and destroyed. So also, as chapter 18 of Revelation reveals, will be the political and economic aspects of that evil world empire.

[1]


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c Babel: that is, Confusion

cf. confer (Lat.), compare

v. verse

vv. verses

[1]MacArthur, J. (2000). Revelation 12-22 (154). Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press.


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a  decked: Gr. gilded

†  A Greek word occurs that is not directly translated in the King James Version.

Greek Strongs: 1106

[i]  The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version.). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

a language: Heb. lip.

b they said...: Heb. a man said to his neighbour

a  decked: Gr. gilded

a  decked: Gr. gilded

†  A Greek word occurs that is not directly translated in the King James Version.

Greek Strongs: 1106

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