Revelation Chapter Seventeen Part I

whore babylon jpg

Burning of Mystery Babylon


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

This verse hearkens back to Revelation 15:5, where John saw the Heavenly Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony1 was opened in heaven. There he observed the seven angels with the seven golden bows filled with the wrath of God. Since that time, the Apostle has been observing all the things those angels accomplished from that point through the end of chapter sixteen. Thus, he observed the pouring out of the bowls of wrath upon the earth.

While John is still observing those things, one of the angels that carried one of the bowls of wrath comes and speaks with John and bids him to follow. The angel will show John more details about the religion of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False prophet, which is also the religion of the Antichrist.

The Dragon is the Devil (Rev 12:9; 20:2). The beast (Rev 13:1,2) is the “Antichrist that shall come” (1 John 2:18). The second beast, which looks like a lamb but speaks like the dragon (Rev13:11) is the False Prophet (Rev 19:20). These make the unholy trinity, as some describe it. The Great Whore (or “harlot”), as we shall see, is the actual city from which the Antichrist reigns over leaders of earth (Rev 17:18).

This is the Devil’s religion; it is the religion of “do-as-you-will.” Helel Ben Shachar, or Lucifer (Isa 14:12 KJV), the accuser, the Devil, has used the do-as-you-will doctrine throughout history to mislead and steal folks away from the true worship of Almighty God and its inherent Godly living. He will also use his religion to bring accusations against them at judgment.

That religion is one in which everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Pro 12:15)–it gratifies the flesh and rejects God, making gods out of themselves (Deut 12:8, Jdg 21:25, 27:6). Making a god of oneself is a violation of the second and third commandments, “you will have no other gods before me;” and “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;” and “you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” (Exo 20:3,4,5 NKJV).

This religion of the Dragon has been an undercurrent of society throughout history, but at the end of the age it will become the major and only religion allowed throughout the world. Then the true nature of the Devil’s religion will be revealed. It is a religion that will require all to bow down and worship the beast, which is the Antichrist. All the world will willingly ascribe to this religion and those that do not, specifically true Christians and Jews, will be hated outcasts from society. We are in fact, observing this trend in our societies today, especially in the West.

If you remember, John has mentioned Babylon before in Rev 14:8 and Rev 16:19. The first reference tells us that Babylon has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. The second tells us that she has fallen and God gave her the cup of His wrath to drink.

Here in our current verses, John gives quite a bit more detail about this event. In Rev 16:19, Babylon is now remembered by God, though he actually never forgot, and He gives her the cup of His wrath, implying the she must drink that cup. In this context, to be remembered by God simply indicates that the time of God’s judgment has come. In the next verse (verse two), the inhabitants of earth are now drunk with the wine of her fornication, meaning they have participated in her idolatry. The math tells us that one event leads to another— the cup given to her leads to the nations being drunk along with her and to receive the judgment she receives.

This is another example of recapitulation. John gives us some information about Babylon in Rev 14:8, then more in Rev16:19, and now we are about receive a much more detailed account of Babylon.

Revelation 17:2 “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.”

Kings is a word that refers to folks in positions of authority that have some power over others. In this context, the term “kings of earth” specifies men and women in positions of authority on earth. It can refer to royalty, dictators, prime ministers, presidents, governors, legislators, rich merchants, employers, and other powerful and influential people. Also in context, they are of the earth, meaning they are worldly and not godly.

Kings have kingdoms, presidents have countries, governors have states, employers have businesses, merchants have suppliers, etc. Thus the meaning of the kings of earth is individual leaders with power and influence over others. More specifically, in our context, kings indicate powerful individuals with power over nations, countries, states, cities, and counties. In other words the rulers of the world. The inhabitants of the earth are the peoples that make up the kingdoms, states, countries, etc. of the leaders of the earth.

God stated He was married to Israel (Isa 54:6, 62:4; Jer 3:14; Hos 2:19,20). Since that is so, when the leaders and peoples of Israel worshipped foreign gods, they were like a wife that committed adultery or fornicated with someone other than her husband; in this case with other gods (Is 1:21; Jer 3:9, 13:27; Eze 16:17,33; 20:30; 23:17,27; 43:7,9; Hos 4:13,14,18, 5:3, 6:10). That was actually idolatry, but it felt to God like his wife, Israel, was committing adultery or fornicating with other gods by worshipping them.

Therefore, in Scripture, God often uses the words fornication, harlotry, whoredom, prostitution, etc., to symbolize idolatry. In other words, the nations and kings have committed idolatry (worshipped things other than Yahweh God) with Babylon, the great whore. That is exactly what is going on here.

In our context where John is seeing the future end-times, the kings and kingdoms of the earth, instead of worshipping God, participate in the great whore’s idolatry in worshipping the Dragon, the Beast, and False Prophet. They are drunk with the wine of her idolatry, that is, they are intoxicated with her wealth, luxuries, and her worship of the beast. They are fully participating with her idolatry to the point of being unable to control it as folks drunk on alcohol or drugs are unable to control themselves. These rulers of the world as well as the inhabitants thereof have joined the great whore, or harlot in idolatry.

This is exactly what is happening in our time. Most folks of the world do not worship Yahweh God. That is not new; it has been going on since the beginning, when sin entered the world through Adam. Those that do not worship God are worshipping something other than God. Many are worshipping false gods and idols through false religions. Others worship gods of their own making like self, money, pleasure, power, etc. All who do not worship God are worshipping something. They too, are drunk with the wine of idolatry.

Since we are God’s creation, He has a right to expect us to be obedient to him and not follow after other gods (e.g. Gen 2:16-17; 3:6, where they followed after the serpent rather than following God). The first man failed to follow God’s simple instructions causing sin and idolatry to enter the world.

This harlotry is not only indicative of worshipping the gods of other nations, but it can also relate to commercial, military, and political alliances with other nations instead of depending on God for his protection and provision. Many kings of earth have merged their forces with the beast even now as they will do in the future, instead of relying on God for His protection.

Revelation 17:3 “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.”

Again, the angel did not physically take John with him on this journey; John’s body was still on Patmos, which is where he was during all his experiences in Revelation so far. John only accompanied the angel in his spirit, not in body.

They went to the wilderness, from a Greek word that also means a wasteland, a desert, or a desolate or solitary place. It can also symbolize a safe place (Rev 12:6), an unsafe place (Luke 8:29), or even a place of evil (Isa 34:14; Jer 9:11; 10:22). The scapegoat is sent out into the wilderness carrying the sins of Israel (Lev 16:21). Israel traveled in the wilderness for forty years (Num 14:22) as a sentence for refusing to enter the Promised Land.

Because this event will take place in the wilderness, or desert, some commentators speculate that this city, the capital city of the beast, will be in the desert somewhere.

The picture is of the woman (identified in the next verse) sitting on this beast. The scarlet colored beast is a composite view of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet of and their kingdom seen in Chapters 12 and 13. Here this scarlet color symbolizes the religion of the Dragon and his beasts. It also represents sinfulness (Isa 1:18). In other contexts it can represent power (Dan 5:7,16), and luxury (2 Sam 1:24), as well as protection (Jos 2:18, 21; 6:25). In Rev 16:4 we read that the color red represents war or deadly conflict and death. To counter the adverse effects of such sinfulness, the shed blood of Jesus, which is also red, represents vicarious atonement, forgiveness, and salvation for those who believe in Christ.

Many commentators have falsely identified the beast as the “revived Roman Empire.” That is just not compatible with what is undeniably a Middle Eastern setting. Israel is in the Middle East and is surrounded by other Middle Eastern countries that hate her.

Europe is not in view here. See Rev 13:2, where the beast, which is the Antichrist, is comprised other nations in Daniel that were represented by the leopard, the bear, and the lion. Those were the civilizations that were the enemies of Israel. the lion is Babylon, the bear is Medo-Persia, the leopard is Alexander’s (and his four Generals’) Greece. We have thoroughly discussed the empires that will be involved in the eschatological occurrences in the Middle East in chapter thirteen.

The beast has seven heads and ten horns. We know from chapter 13, that the kingdom of the beast is a composite of Daniel’s beasts, the leopard, the bear, and the lion (Dan7:4,5,6 & Rev 13:2)2. Those are strictly middle eastern kingdoms.

The beast is red like the Dragon of Rev 12:3, which tells us that the beast is the surrogate of the Dragon in the flesh. The beast of Chapter 13 also spoke blasphemies against God, against His Name, and against those dwelling in Heaven (Rev 13:5,6).

This beast here is the same as the one from Chapter 13 shown in more detail. We understand from 2 Thes 2:4 that the beast “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” In other words he blasphemes God and His Name and His people dwelling with Him in Heaven See (also Rev13:5). Hence, he is the Antichrist of the end times written of by the Apostle John in his First Epistle. This beast and his kingdom are none other than Satan’s end time kingdom with Satan now visibly in control.

Names of blasphemy are names kings gave themselves that represent the character of God. Examples are son of god, Epiphanes (god manifest), thy god, Dominus et Deus (lord and god), pharaoh (the good god), etc. When an entity other than Yahweh God, calls himself god or allows others to worship him as a god, those are names of blasphemy.

Revelation 17:4 “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:”

She is and dressed as a prostitute or whore or harlot, which indicates that she is an idolater and entices others to participate in her idolatry. (Isa 57:3,4,5; Exe 16:28,29,30)

She has wealth, luxury, and vice. The gold and precious stones attest to her wealth. The purple and scarlet clothes symbolize her vice; the golden cup her luxury. Her luxury comes from her abominations and fornication, which, like wine, fill her golden cup. Of course, the fornication symbolizes idolatry.

John also describes her as the “great city, that reigns over the kings of the earth, which was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls” (Rev 17:18; 18:16). This is the capital city from which the beast (Rev 13:2), which is the Antichrist, rules the earth.

The abominations in her cup include breaking God’s commandments, precepts and laws (Lev 28:26); worshipping strange gods, that is, worshipping anything that people worship besides Almighty God, which is idolatry (Deu 32:16; Rev 20:4); killing children as a sacrifice, including abortion (2 Kin 16:3); occultic practices (2 Kin 23:24); murdering the people of God (Rev 20:4). There are other abominations as well. See Prov 1:16,17,18,19.

These things are not new; they have taken place throughout history. Even today, there are Christian denominations/sects in the world today that have their clergy dress in purple, with garments and accouterments bedecked with precious stones, and who use cups of gold in their liturgy. Such sects also have idols that are bowed down to. These are likely precursors of the coming beast.

Revelation 17:5 “And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth3.”

Obviously the seal that was placed on the foreheads of the 144,000 in Rev 7:3, is being copied by the Devil and his beasts with this moniker. This sealing is also seen in Ezekiel’s vision of the abominations in the Temple, when the people of Jerusalem that are the true servants of God were sealed in their foreheads. The remainder of men not sealed were killed (Ezekiel 9:4,6). Those that receive the Mark of the Beast will also be condemned.

Several commentaries, referencing Juvenal’s Satire 6:122-123, tell us that prostitutes in ancient Rome wore a band or “the hood of whore,” as Juvenal puts it, on their foreheads (Satire 6:123). That would certainly be apropos here since the woman’s name is written on her forehead.

Different Bible Versions have subtle variations in their translations of this verse. Yet, the Greek text is identical in the both the older and the later manuscripts used by most translators. The difference in them is how they are punctuated and translated.

For example, the Greek text used to translate the King James Version (KJV), is the 1598 version of the Beza Textus Receptus (TR), which is the manuscript that was used by the King James translators in the 1611 version of the KJV.

The Greek text used to translate the English Standard Version (ESV) is the Nestle Aland Greek New Testament 28th Edition. This is an eclectic text reviewing manuscripts dating from as early as, c. AD 400 and later. This is the same Greek text used by many other contemporary translations.

The Greek in the Nestle Aland Greek New Testament in this verse (Rev 17:5) is word for word identical to the Greek in the Textus Receptus in this same verse:

Rev 17:5  και επι το μετωπον αυτης ονομα γεγραμμενον μυστηριον βαβυλων η μεγαλη η μητηρ των πορνων και των βδελυγματων της γης (Beza 1598 Textus Receptus)

Rev 17:5 καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ μέτωπον αὐτῆς ὄνομα γεγραμμένον, μυστήριον, Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη, ἡ μήτηρ τῶν πορνῶν καὶ τῶν βδελυγμάτων τῆς γῆς. (Nestle-Aland 26th/27th edition Greek New Testament)

However, here in the KJV, It appears that John named the entity using all seven words. Many assume that those words are emblazoned her forehead as one name: “Mystery Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth”. But, there is actually a comma between the words Mystery, and Babylon.

The ESV translates the verse thus: “And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”

The term “the Mother of Harlots” tells us that there is no greater, more powerful, more well-known idolater than this any time in history. She is the absolute worst. Examples: World War II was the mother of all wars, Andrew was the mother of all hurricanes, Mt. Saint Helens was the mother of all volcanoes, etc., meaning the worst ever.

Though the text is the same in both Greek manuscripts, the English in the two versions is different. In the KJV, the name of the woman is often understood as Mystery Babylon. However, the KJV actually punctuates it this way, Mystery, Babylon (note the comma). According to the English in the ESV and other translations, the name of the woman is a mystery, and that mystery is that she is “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” not that she is named Mystery Babylon.

So we must decide whether the woman’s name is Mystery Babylon, or that it is a mystery that she is Babylon.

It makes better sense to the whole passage that it is the latter. The actual mystery is why is she called “Babylon the Great, Mother of Prostitutes and of Earth’s Abominations.”

What is a mystery. The Greek word in our passage, μυστήριον, musterion, is defined by Thayer as a hidden thing or a secret or a mystery.

Thayer offers several other definitions of the word: “religious secrets, confided only to the initiated and not to ordinary mortals.” Thus, with this definition mysteries can be the secrets known only to adepts in a religious organization. Other definitions are “a hidden or secret thing, not obvious to the understanding” and “a hidden purpose or counsel.” As usual, context determines meaning.

Another Greek word, not used here, is κρυπτός, kruptos, which is defined as a “hidden, concealed, secret.” In the New Testament it is translated hidden, secret, and inward.

The Hebrew word for mystery is רז, rawz, which is noun meaning a secret or a mystery. In the Old Testament we find that the word is only used in the Book of Daniel.

The verses in Daniel may help us to gain understanding of this mystery. Those verses are about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue, that Daniel interpreted. The verses show us:

  1. That the mystery of the King’s dream was revealed to Daniel, a godly man (Dan 2:19)
  2. God reveals mysteries (Dan 2:19)
  3. God knows all mysteries (Dan 2:22)
  4. God does not reveal mysteries to everyone (Dan 2:27)
  5. God does not reveal mysteries to people for their benefit (Dan 2:30)
  6. God reveals Mysteries to those that believe and trust him (Dan 2:30; 4:9)

John’s mystery was that the term Babylon was used in the place of the real entity John understood. Thus John was not writing about the actual Babylon, because it lay mostly in ruins in John’s day4. However, John was writing of an entity that had conquered, persecuted, and ruled Israel. In John’s day that place was Rome. Babylon was a secret word that was used when folks were speaking of or writing about Rome. It was designed prevent the Roman authorities from arresting, detaining, and physically harming them.

Again, in John’s day, when he wrote this, Rome was the conquering, persecuting, and taxing, empire that ruled over Israel. That is not so today. The Roman empire, both the eastern and western portions, no longer exists. The Roman Catholic Church is not mystery Babylon because she has no control over Israel. After Rome fell, the Islamic Caliphate assumed power over and conquered, persecuted, and ruled Israel. In 1924, the Ottoman or Islamic Empire ceased to exist. That tells us that there is another entity coming in the future that will assume the role that Babylon has played in the past (Rev 13:3,12).

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I will be referring often to the date, 1924, since it is important to the context of several verses.

There were five such empires that came before Rome that met the same criteria, i.e. kingdoms that had conquered, persecuted, and ruled Israel. They are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia (later, simply Persia) and Greece under Alexander. Rome was the sixth such kingdom of eight total (Rev 17:9,10). The seventh was the Islamic Caliphate/Ottoman Empire that ruled from 632 AD to 1924 AD. The empire or caliphate suffered a deadly wound 1n 1924, described below (Rev 13:3). The eighth will be the revived Caliphate, that is, the eighth empire will be the seventh that is revived. (See notes at verse 9).

The Sultanate (leadership of the Ottoman Empire) was abolished on November 1, 1922 by The Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the last Ottoman sultan, Mehmed VI, had to leave the country. A year later in October of 1923, the Republic of Turkey was established. Then the Caliphate itself was abolished by Turkish law, ending the Ottoman Empire. The Deadly wound occurred on March 3,1924 when the Caliphate was abolished and the sultan (the head of the Empire) and his family were exiled and declared personae non gratae5. In other words the Ottoman Empire suffered a deadly wound when the last of its heads (sultans) was exiled (Rev 13:3).

At the time of the writing of this commentary, we see reports of the Republic of Turkey making moves to revive the Ottoman Empire. The empire suffered a deadly wound in 1924, and according to several sources it is now seemingly moving toward revival6. If that revival turns out to be so, then it will fulfill the prophecy that occurs in Revelation 13:3,12.

Thus the seven heads/mountains/kings and kingdoms are:
1. Egypt
2. Assyria
3. Babylon
4. Medo-Persia
5. Greece
6. Rome
7. Islamic Caliphate/Ottoman Empire

Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior? He is going to return to the world soon. Are you ready? When He does if you do not know Him as your Savior, you will join all those who do not know Him in “Outer Darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 22:13-14).

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Mark Oaks,  March 11, 2021
Updated 9/8/2022

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  1. In other words, the Ark of the Covenant with its Mercy Seat, the resting place, or heavenly Throne of Yahweh (Ex 25:22; 2 Chr 6:41) and the entire Heavenly Temple was opened. Rev 15:5.
  2. The lion represents the Babylon Empire, the Bear, Persian Empire, and the Leopard, Grecian Empire under Alexander the Great; these were all empires in the Middle East. See notes at Revelation 13:2. 
  3. I have deliberately not capitalized “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth.” Many translations do. I have an image of the Scrivener Textus Receptus manuscript that does not capitalize the phrase. Only the words, mystery and Babylon are capitalized. Therefore I have followed Vicar Scrivener’s convention here.
  4. “Seleucia at the present time has become larger than Babylon, whereas the greater part of Babylon is so deserted that one would not hesitate to say…’The Great City is a desert'” (c. 20 AD, Strabo, Geography, 16.1.5, Loeb Classical Library).
  5. The Turkish personae non gratae, was a list of high ranking people of the Ottoman Empire that were exiled out of the newly established Republic of Turkey in 1922, (personae non gratae, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, eDiplomat, Article 9, Retrieved 14 February 2022)
  6. Some examples:
    Erdogan is openly calling for re-establishment of caliphate in Turkey, Tel Aviv [Israel], ANI, August 3, 2020
    Erdogan’s Love for Ottoman Empire Should Worry The World, Time, September 3, 2020
    Return of the Empire: Why Erdogan Wants to Resurrect the Ottoman State, The National Interest, August 22, 2020
    Turkey’s New Maps Are Reclaiming the Ottoman Empire, Yahoo News, October 23, 2016
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