{18}   Babylon the Great and the Beast (Rev 17:1-18)


Part 8. The fall of Babylon (17:1—19:5)

8.1.      The prostitute and the scarlet beast (17:1-18)

        PICTURE: John is led by one of the bowl angels into the desert. There he witnesses a prostitute (Babylon the Great) sitting on the beast (antichrist). She is intoxicated with power and wealth and uses her power to persecute and kill many saints.


17:1     In 16:19, when the 7th bowl was poured, an unprecedented earthquake splits Babylon the Great into 3 parts and the city was destroyed. What happens is described in details in ch.17 (about the sin of Babylon) and ch.18 (about its fall). The identity of Babylon the Great is not clear. It is possibly Rome or Jerusalem. However, it is most likely a representation of the world system, that is, the political, social, economic, and cultural structures of the entire world (see 17:18).

Babylon the Great is described as a prostitute in the sense of: [1] forming alliances for immoral reasons, including the abuse of power, [2] seducing everyone in the whole world to follow its ways, [3] committing immoral acts to gain material wealth (luxury) and political power, [4] acting without loyalty, instead, involving in promiscuous and adulterous relationships.

The prostitute is pictured as sitting upon many waters (similar to Jer 51:13). According to v.15, the waters are people, multitudes, nations, and languages.

17:2     The kings of the earth who have committed adultery with the great prostitute are the nations who have entered into immoral alliance with Babylon. They worship the prostitute and the beast. The intoxication is a description of their indulgence in luxury and their abuse of power.

17:3     The scarlet-coloured beast is the antichrist. The colour is similar to its master, the great red dragon. The blasphemous names refer to his self-deification.

17:4     The woman is clothed in luxurious garments and adorned with gold and costly jewels. Purple and scarlet signify luxury and splendour. Purple was often used for royal garments (Jdg 8:26; Dan 5:7) and scarlet was a colour of magnificence (Nah 2:3). The golden cup represent her moral corruption and ceremonial uncleanness.

17:5     “Mystery” means the name is to be understood in a mystical rather than literal sense. It can mean “a name with a secret meaning.” It is the great system of godlessness. It has gained a worldwide reputation for luxury, corruption, and power.

17:6     Worst of all, she is intoxicated with the blood of righteous martyrs, meaning that she has slaughtered a large number of believers, ignoring her conscience like a drunk person. This is a main reason that rouses the wrath of God (Rev 16:6).

John was astonished as he does not understand what the woman and the beast represent.

17:7     In normal circumstances, the rider is one who is in control and who decides the direction to proceed. However, in this case, the beast is carrying the woman to wherever it decides to go and the beast is in fact the stronger one and is in control (see 17:16-17).

17:8     The phrase “now is not” probably refers to the mortal wound that the antichrist received (13:3) and the phrase “will come” means that he will recover and return to fight against God. The pagan world will be amazed with the apparent resurrection and will submit to his authority.

That the names were written “from the creation of the world” can mean: [1] Based on the teaching of predestination, God in fact knew at the creation of the world who will ultimately be in heaven and who will be in hell. [2] God predestined a plan at the creation of world. The plan involves the salvation of those who will accept Jesus Christ. The phrase “whose names have not been written in the book of life” refers to the group of people who reject the gospel. Not that each individual was predestined but that the whole group was predestined.

17:9     The hill is a symbol of power (like in the OT, Dan 2:35; Jer 51:25) and the hills are the 7 successive kingdoms or empires. This is exactly the explanation in the next verse.

17:10   Five of the 7 kings have fallen and were in the past; one king is still in power; and one has not yet come. There are different interpretations: [1] Some interpret the 5 past kings as the first 5 Roman emperors before John’s time. [2] The 7 kings represent the power of the Roman Empire as a historic whole; the seven is simply a number for completeness. [3] The 7 kings are a succession of secular empires, such as Egypt, Nineveh, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome (still in power at John’s time), the Christian empire beginning with Constantine. It is also possible that the 7th kingdom refers to the empire of 10 kings at the end time (see 17:12).

17:11   The beast is the 8th king. That he belongs to the seven probably means that he is involved in all the secular empires just as 1Jn 2:18 says, “as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” Or it can mean he plays the same sort of role as his earthly predecessors in the 7 empires.

17:12   The 10 horns are either: [1] the people representing the totality of the powers of all nations on the earth, or [2] kingdoms or nations from the region of the ancient Roman Empire, that is, in Europe. The number 10 is symbolic and indicates completeness and does not mean exactly 10 kingdoms or nations. The 10 kings will receive authority for a short time period alongside the beast in the end time.

17:13   The 10 kings will turn the authority over to the beast and join him in a war against the Lamb.

17:14   Here is a promise of victory for the Lamb in the battle of Armageddon. The armies of heaven will share His victory as well.

17:16   This verse exposes the self-destroying power of evil. Different parts of the evil empire give way to jealousy and hatred. They betray and destroy each other. This in-fighting is probably symbolized by the city splitting into 3 parts (16:19). As the result of this internal struggle, the woman loses all her power and wealth. The language used for “eating of her flesh” suggests wild beasts tearing at the body of their prey and portrays the fierceness with which the prostitute is attacked. The “burning by fire” means total destruction with nothing remained.

17:17   The angel explains that it was God who brought about the slaughter of the prostitute by putting it into the hearts of the 10 kings to do His will.

17:18   Babylon the Great is now explained as the great city that possesses all the authorities of the earth. It is a representation of the whole power structure of the world system.


        We can learn from the example of the prostitute. She loves and abuses wealth and power. She abuses wealth by immersing herself in luxury. She abuses power by persecuting the saints. On the other hand, she lacks morality and loyalty. People who follow her example will end up in destruction, often destroyed by their disloyal “allies”. They may think they are in control of their lives but they are in fact controlled by the devil. Christians must live a moral and loyal life and must never abuse the wealth and power that God put into our hands as stewards.