Revelation 17January 9, 2022
Revelation Chapter 17
Chapters 17,18 and 19 are our last interlude. Do you remember what an interlude is?
Revelation Chapters 17 and 18 are an extension of the bowl judgments of Chapter 16. John is told by one of the angels “who had the seven bowls” to “come” that he might see “the judgment of the great harlot,” who is seated on many waters.” We are told in
17:15 the “waters” represent the peoples of the world.
These last chapters of the Book of Revelation have been called “the story of two cities.” One is Babylon that represents this evil world and opposes the things of the one true God. Its character and destiny are described in detail in Chapters 17 and 18. The other city is the New Jerusalem. Its glory and goodness are described in Chapters 21 and 22.
At this point in the book, we are again confronted with an inescapable question: Which God will you worship? Which city will you love and long for?
We all must answer this question. In a real sense, this is where the Book of Revelation has been taking us all along.
> That’s the goal of everything the angels have been revealing.
> That’s what the whole book of Revelation is about.
> That’s the point of all God’s judgments, all God’s dealings with the world.
> All God’s plans from beginning to end have this one goal—WORSHIP GOD!
Don’t worship the wealth of Babylon, don’t worship the power of Babylon, don’t worship the pleasures of Babylon, and don’t even worship the holy messenger who brings you the news
that Babylon has fallen forever. WORSHIP GOD!
Unfortunately, humans are too easily allured and trapped by this world. We do not see it for what it really is and where it ultimately leads. What we need is to have it exposed. We need to have it uncovered and shown to be what it truly is. Babylon and all that it represents will be destroyed. The New Jerusalem and all that it represents will come down from God and will last forever.
Why would any sane person ever choose Babylon over the New Jerusalem?
Chapter 17 answers that question by exposing “worldliness” as ungodliness.
THIS WORLD IS SEDUCTIVE: IT WILL ATTRACT YOU. (17:1-5)
1 Then 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 the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were 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 sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was 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. 5 And on her forehead a name was written:
MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
This harlot is said to have led the kings, the rulers of the world, into sexual immorality. The image is one of spiritual adultery and idolatry. Not only does she seduce the leaders of the world, but common people, “the dwellers of the earth,” are drunk with the wine of her sexual immorality (v.2). The lust for power, material stuff, sex and pleasure has intoxicated the world! No one under the sun has escaped her enticing allurements. The prostitute has captivated their hearts and taken over their lives.
As 1 John 2:16 explains, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”
Once again John is “carried away in the Spirit (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10) into a “wilderness” to see a vision (v.3). He sees the great harlot “sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names with seven heads and ten horns.” This is the beast, the Antichrist, of chapter 13. The woman is beautifully and seductively dressed “in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls” (v.4). She is quite attractive like any beautiful adulteress (Prov. 5:2; 6:20-25; 7:16-27). Yes, she is beautiful and attractive but she bites and brings death. In her hand she holds “a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality” (v.4). The golden cup filled with wine alludes to Jeremiah’s description of Babylon’s world-wide influence in idolatry (Jer. 51:7). Her cup is filled with “abominable things”. The idols of heart and life are filled to the brim as she shares it with a senseless humanity which falls into a drunken stupor, no longer able to see real truth, beauty and goodness found only in God and His salvation through the Lamb.
In v5. the identity of the harlot is revealed. Like the Roman prostitutes of the day, she has a headband that is a “mystery” about to be revealed: ““Babylon the Great”: mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” This is not the literal city of Babylon that was on the Euphrates River, a city of no real significance for centuries. It is better to see it as Rome in that day, BUT IT IS FAR MORE THAN THE CITY OF ROME.
This harlot is “that great system of FALSE RELIGION or godlessness that leads people away from the worship of God and toward their own destruction”.
It is an ever-present presence and seductress that exists and entices in every age and every generation. It is a “this world perspective.” Seduced by the idols of the day, the world runs madly down a
path of spiritual and eternal suicide. Proverbs 6:32-33 rings true for this mad, mad world, “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself. He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away.”
THIS WORLD IS MURDEROUS: IT TAKES INNOCENT LIFE (17:6)
6 I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.
Because worldliness is driven by self-interest, it is willing to sacrifice others to promote its own benefits and prosperity.
We see this all across the globe with abortion, euthanasia, and genocide. Life is increasingly discounted at both its beginning and end. Especially for those who are marginalized economically, ethnically, and socially.
However, in verse 6, it is revealed that the great prostitute has set her sights throughout history on the people of God and the followers of Jesus.
Indeed, this whore is “drunk with the blood of the saints, and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (18:24; cf. Isa. 49:26). In the New Testament alone the seeds of martyrdom were planted by John the Baptist, Stephen, James and Antipas. From those seeds has flowed the blood of saints for 21 centuries. And the more blood this world drinks, the more it wants. Its intoxicating effects consumes it and drives it to want more and more and more.
The 20th century was the bloodiest in Christian history. We should expect the 21st to be worse. “Although the Neronian massacre after the great fire of A.D. 64 may have been in the back of John’s mind, the drunken prostitute pictures the final days of persecution at the end of the age”. As we move toward the end of history, we can expect the blood of martyrs to flow like a river, even a flood, among the nations.
THIS WORLD IS RESILIENT: IT KEEPS COMING BACK. (17:6-8)
6 I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement. 7 But 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. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And 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, is not, and yet is.
The vision of the great prostitute amazed John (v. 6). The angel, however, said he would explain things to him concerning both the woman and the beast who carries her (v. 7). Does the fact that she rides him indicate both her control, for a time and his support? It is certainly a very real possibility. Verse 8 is the beast’s parody on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the description of the Lamb (1:18; 2:8; see also 1:4, 8; 4:8). We see this in 13:3, 14 as well. And yet, there is embedded here a very important truth that Christians of every age must understand. Throughout history antichrists (1 John 2:18) have risen from the abyss in the form of the beast for their reign of terror. They have a time, they die, and then amazingly they appear again only to be destroyed. The pattern repeats itself again and again and will continue until The Antichrist, the beast, brings the cycle to an end. The priorities and values of this world system make themselves felt and known in empires and men consumed with the idols of this world. The beast has been Egypt, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, the Soviet Union, Communist China, and now the western world. It has been Antiochus Epiphanes, Nero, Domitian, Genghis Khan, Shaka Zulu, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Kim Il Sung, Saddam Hussein. Granted, all kingdoms and personalities were not equally evil and wicked. All, however, loved the prostitute more than they loved God. And lest we think we are off the hook, remember verse 3: “the dwellers on earth,” regular ordinary people like you and me, have become drunk with the wine of her seduction. Generation after generation we give life and power to Babylon and the beast as we love the practices, values and ways of this world. Indeed, John informs us that “the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundations of the world will marvel to see the beast because it was and is not and is to come.”
The beast and the things of this world sparkle in our eyes and grip our hearts.
1 John 2:17 sounds an important warning: “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Worldliness will not last. The American Dream is headed for destruction.
THIS WORLD IS ORGANIZED: IT HAS A PLAN. 17:9-10
9 “Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. 10 There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time.
There is a divine rhyme and reason to the ebb and flow of history. Why? Because history is His story, the story of Messiah. The drama of redemption and restoration is unfolding according to God’s sovereign plan. John tells us we need wisdom to unravel the mystery of “Babylon the Great”, the “mother of prostitutes (a whore who gives birth to more whores) and of earth’s abomination” (v.5).
Viewing them as 7 secular empires similar to Daniel 2 and 7 is more promising in my judgment. In Israel’s history, 5 kings or kingdoms had fallen and passed off the scene: 1) Egypt, 2) Assyrian, 3) Babylon, 4) Medo-Persian and 5) Greece. The one who “is” would obviously be Rome. “The other that has not come” is the future kingdom of Antichrist. His kingdom will draw from the characteristics of the previous 6. Once again, the number 7 would communicate completeness or perfection in power. The manifestation of this kingdom “will remain only a little while.” Yes, the beast as a man and kingdom will embody the brutality, greatness, splendor, strength, and wickedness of these great empires. But like all other worldly empires, it will have its day and come to an end. Brilliantly organized and with a plan for world domination, it will be impressive for a time, a very brief time, as it stands in pale comparison to the eternal and everlasting Kingdom of God. The world has a plan, but it is God’s plan that will endure and last forever.
THIS WORLD IS POWER: BUT ITS TIME IS SHORT. 17:11-13
11 The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. 12 “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. 13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.
Verses 11 and 12 extend the explanation of verses 9-10. The beast is said to belong to the 7 kings, particularly the 7th in my view, but he is also an 8th king. But as we are told in verse 8, the beast “goes to destruction” (v.11). Again, his kingdom will not last. It cannot deliver on its false promises. Perhaps it is at the midpoint of the Tribulation, following its apparent death and resurrection, that the beast achieves its lust for worldwide conquest and domination. John MacArthur says, “The Antichrist’s kingdom is said to be both the seventh and eighth kingdoms because of his supposed demise and resurrection. He is the seventh before and the eighth king after his “resurrection”. However, what all interpreters of Revelation can agree on is this: this king and his kingdom is going down. It will be destroyed. The beast will be beaten. Verse 12 adds an additional detail and explanation: the ten horns (v. 3, 7) are ten future kings yet to receive their “royal authority” (ESV). However, when they do, we are again informed it will be for a short duration, described as “one hour, together with the beast.” These ten kings, whoever they are, will serve alongside the beast. Verse 13 informs us they will actually be “of one mind and …hand over their power and authority to the beast.” Later they will be of one mind in carrying out the will of God in the destruction of the prostitute.
Isaiah 40:8 reminds us, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” This world system, Babyloniansim, will come again and again to seduce, attack and destroy the people of God. It is influential and powerful. It is intimidating and prosperous. It is enticing and persuasive. It gives every appearance of the promise of victory, of the winning team. Get on board or get crushed. Join the team or be called a fool. Worship the beast, and whore with her prostitutes, or live a wasted life. “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die” is a satanic lie! Tomorrow, you will stand before the King of kings and Lord of Lords and give an account for the life He gave you and the life you did waste. The world lasts only a little while (v.10), for one hour (v.12), and it is headed for destruction (v. 8, 11). This is not the winning team. It is headed for devastating defeat.
THIS WORLD IS FOOLISH: IT OPPOSES THE LORD OF LORDS AND KING OF KINGS. (17:14)
14 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.”
This world chooses the wrong opponent! It takes on the wrong adversary. Verse 14 is an interjection that anticipates the 2nd Coming of Jesus described in 19:11-21 (see 19:16). It is also a simple summary of Armageddon (16:16) and the final battle. The beast and his kingdom, in a spiritual suicide mission, attack the Warrior Lamb, the Lamb who is also a Lion (chapter 5)! It is no contest! The Lamb will conquer them! Why? Because “He is Lord of Lords and King of kings.” The title is well known looking back to Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalm 136:2-3; Daniel 2:47. It is a title reserved only for God. There is no God like our god, and this world has played the fool in opposing Him and His kingdom.
We are told He brings with Him “those who are called and chosen and faithful.” This is the army of 19:14. I love the divine sovereignty/human responsibility balance. “Called and chosen” is God’s part. “Faithful” is our part. Thankfully, even our faith and faithfulness are kept by the power of God (Jude 24-25). Interestingly, we are not designated a role or assignment. I suspect it is because we are only spectators in the final conflict. Our Lord and King won the battle without our help in His First Coming. I believe it will be the same at His 2nd!
THE WORLD IS SELF-DESTRUCTIVE: IT WILL NOT LAST. (17:15-18)
15 Then he said to me, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. 16 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. 17 For God 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 God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.”
The transitory nature of this world system, Babylon, has been alluded to several times in Chapter 17. Now the truth is driven home in graphic finality. When a man is finished with a whore, a prostitute, he does not marry her or take her home to mother. The prostitute has had massive influence that covers the earth as verse 15 makes clear. THEN SUDDENLY IT’S OVER. SHE IS FINISHED. An abrupt turnabout will be made by the “ten horns” (v. 16). The language recalls the words of Ezekiel 23:11-35. They will awaken from their drunken stupor with the woman, whose charm and seduction will have lost its lure. They have a new love in the Antichrist. Love for the woman will turn to “hate” from the ten kings and the beast. (v. 16.) They will strip her of all the wealth she has confiscated throughout the world. They will make her “desolate and naked” (v. 16). The beast and his kings will turn on her, EVIL WILL ATTACK EVIL ONCE MORE but with the greatest ferocity the world will ever see. They tear away her personal support, position, power, and prestige, and expose her moral corruption. They “shall devour her flesh” (v. 16) like dogs devoured the corpse of Jezebel (cf. 1 Kings 21:23, 2 Kings 9:30-37). They will “burn her up with fire.” In a moment she is old news never to be seen again. Her demise will be greatly lamented by those who have loved and whored with her as chapter 18 plainly teaches. This hostile action of her destruction, will be initiated by God: “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will” (v. 17); that is, to rid the world of “the world.” The kings believe that they are carrying out their own program for conquest, but actually they will accomplish God’s providential program. Having destroyed the woman, the Antichrist will unite the world’s religious, economic and political systems under his control. The 10 kings will agree to “give their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled” (v. 17). God’s prophetic program will reach its intended goal as He sovereignly allows the kingdoms of this world to come under the beast’s control until the end of the Tribulation. The angel concludes his revelation to John by identifying the woman simply as “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (v. 18). The early church believed the verse was speaking of Rome.
A great anti-God system will continue, both as power (economic and political) and cult (religion), united in one figure – ANTICHRIST. The woman is the “great city” Babylon in its religious, political, economic and social significance. Again, “BABYLON THE GREAT” is not referring to the literal city of ancient Babylon. It is referring to a diabolical worldly system. Babylon cannot be confined to a city in the past or future, such as Rome or Babylon, Washington or London, Moscow or Beijing. It is a trans-historical system of satanic evil, an extension of ancient Babylon, forming an evil world system throughout history and during the Tribulation. After the destruction of the woman, all its power will reside in the Antichrist, who will manifest all of its satanic evils in its fullness. Evil devouring evil. It is evitable.
Today, the greatest challenge facing evangelical, Bible-believing American Christians
is not persecution from the world, but seduction by the world (Worldliness).
C. S. Lewis would add, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who goes on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are too easily pleased” (The Weight of Glory, 25-26).
Babylon offers mud pies in the slum.
The New Jerusalem ruled by the King of kings and the Lord of lords offers a glorious holiday at a crystal sea that will last forever. Do not be too easily pleased. Do not be seduced by a world that can never deliver what is truly lasting and ultimately satisfying.
What can you and I take away from this message concerning the great harlot Babylon? In the end times it is clear that her false religion and apostasy, a turning away from the truth will increase, but her influence is still with us today and is more subtle. Satan even today is trying to draw you away from following Jesus and he uses people and sources that we would never suspect to be used in our lives to draw us away.