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The Woman And The Beast (ch. 17:1-18)

Many people would say that the book of Revelation is very hard to figure out, and that it is.  In my thinking, chapters 17 and 18 are the hardest two chapters to figure out.  I know all of Revelation has been interpreted differently by people over the years, but the contents of these two chapters seem to experience the most debate.


The three most important words in these two chapters are, prostitute, Babylon, and beast.  Once we understand these three words, it might help us understand the meaning to these two chapters.       


Chapter 16, verse 19, prepares us for this chapter because it introduces Babylon to us in verse 19.


The text itself tells us who the prostitute is.  She is 
Babylon as we will see.  Babylon is first a city.  Beyond that, there is great speculation that it might mean more than a city here.  Many allegorize, symbolize, and spiritualize, Babylon which gets us into many problems, or so I think.    


The two most mentioned cities in the Bible are Babylon and Jerusalem.  Both were, and are, literal cities, but, both cities are used symbolically in the Bible as well as literally.  Babylon is seen as the city of man.  Jerusalem is seen as the city of God.  Because of this symbolism, there has always been a debate whether Revelation 17 and 18 should be understood literally or symbolically.  I believe Babylon as seen in these two chapters should be understood literally.  That being said, cities have a reputation which is often associated with its name.  This is true with Babylon.  Babylon in Bible terms has a long standing anti-God reputation, thus, when seeing Babylon in this chapter and the next chapter, we have to understand it is a literal city that represents this long standing anti-God  sentiment that affects all the nations of the world.      


Babylon as seen in chapters 17 and 18 take us back right to the beginning of the Bible; back to the origin of idolatry and man made religions that is the foundation for the nations of the world.  We first see Babylon mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 10:8 through12.  In this passage we see mentioned the first military conqueror.  His name was Nimrod and he built an empire known as Babylonia and Babylon was one of its cities.  Babylon was first known as Babel, as in the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.  We learn from the Tower of Babel account that Nimrod and those with him wanted to build cities, live in these cities, and, build a tower that would reach to the heavens.  This shows us the religious nature of man back then.  It also shows us the desire for man to create his own religion, which they did.  Historians have called this the Babylonian Religion, which all other pagan religions have emerged from.   


The foundation of the Babylonian Religion goes back to Nimrod, but especially his wife, Queen Ishtar.  We derive our English word "Easter" from Ishtar.  Historians say that Ishtar deified Nimrod as the sun-god after he died.  The sun-god eventually became known as Baal, Moloch, Bel, and Balaam; depending on the region of the Middle East he was worshipped.  After this deification of Nimrod, Ishtar gave birth to a son out of marriage and named him Tammuz.  She claimed that he was supernaturally born and was Nimrod incarnate.  Ishtar then became known as the moon god.  She claimed the Tammuz was the savior of the world.  Tammuz also became an important god to worship.


We should understand that all the pagan religions of the world find their roots in this Babylonian Religion, and that includes Islam.  Mulhammed's family history was steeped in the old Babylonian religion.  From this base, he created his own monotheistic religion which is in fact a mixture of Babylonian style religion, Judaism, and Christianity.


We should also note that pagan religion is gaining more popularity in the world as I write this commentary here in 2015.  In the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, pagans gather routinely for meetings.     


Another thing to note is that we derive our word Easter from Ishtar.  This, along with other practices associated with western style Easter might suggest that Christians rethink their practices of Easter.  Christians need to know that the Easter they celebrate, even in a Sunday morning meeting of the church, is pagan.           


We should note that in Ezekiel 8:14 Jewish women were worshiping Tammuz in the temple, something that really made God angry, and for good reason.    

Babylon is mentioned 287 times in the Bible. 
It was, and is, located on the Euphrates River.  During the
1990's it began to be rebuilt.  At present it is more of a tourist site than anything else. 


Beyond the words "prostitute" and "Babylon", we see the word beast.  It's not hard to know who the beast represents.  He is the anti-Christ, as we will see later.


So we have the three important words; "prostitute", 
"Babylon", and "beast".  Now let us see what Revelation 17 and 18 says about these words.   


Many Prophetic Futurists understand Revelation 17 to speak of what they call "religious Babylon".  They also understand Revelation 18 to concern "Secular or Political Babylon".  Some people view Babylon in these two separate and distinct ways while others view Babylon as one identity but with two aspects to it.  


If you understand the roots of Babylon from its origin in Genesis, I think you'll agree that its roots are found in pagan worship that was implemented into the national consensus.  In short, Babylon is first a religious movement and then once it catches on, it affects the nation and the nations of the world.    


I'm jumping ahead a bit, but verse 18 tells us that the prostitute is the city of Babylon.  So, first and foremost we need to view the prostitute as a city.  It's interesting to note that the city of Hillah, adjacent to present day Babylon as of 1998 has a population close to 65,000 people.  Hillah could possibly incorporate present day Babylon as it grows into its territory and be renamed as Babylon at some point.  On the other hand, Babylon doesn't have to be a big city to be the capital of an end time pagan movement.    


There is one last thing to note about Babylon as seen in Revelation 17 and 18.  Many people feel that these two chapters happen at the same time, but I don't think they do.  We will see that the anti-Christ destroys the prostitute, that is, the religion that has permeated the world at the end of this age and replaces it with worship of himself. 


With this brief introduction, now let's see what these two chapters have to say.   

In verse 1 John is invited to see the “punishment of the great prostitute”.  Part of this chapter thus deals with the punishment of this prostitute.   


The references to sitting on many waters suggest that her influence goes far and wide around the world.  Verse 15 states that the many waters are the nations of the world.  So, there should be no confusion about that, but there is.  


It's clear that John saw a prostitute.  It's also clear that this
 prostitute points to a literal city that is the capital, I believe, of the last great anti-Christ empire.  Since the prostitute is a symbol, the waters seen must be a symbol as well.  I say this because many try to suggest that the city of Babylon must be situated by the water.  Some have even suggested that New York is Babylon because it is situated by water.  This does not have to be the case because the word "water" in this verse should be understood, not in a literal sense, but in a figurative sense.  Again, the simple fact is that verse 15 tells us that the many waters are the nations of the world.  That should end the debate, but it hasn't. 

In verse 2 we note that this prostitute has committed adultery with the kings of the earth.  Not only the kings of the earth have committed immoral acts with this prostitute, but most all the residence of the earth have been intoxicated with her immoral sexuality.  


As I've said, Revelation 17:18 tells us specifically who this prostitute is.  So, there is no guessing here.  It states that the woman John saw was the great city that rules over the kings of the world, and in context, that is Babylon.  We need not allegorize, symbolize, or spiritualize, Babylon to be anything different than the capital city of the world.    


Verse 2 tells us that the kings of the earth have committed adultery with this prostitute.  That means the kings of the earth have committed adultery with the city of Babylon.  How can a city commit adultery with the kings of the world?  How can a city intoxicate all the inhabitant of the earth with sexual immorality?  This is an important question to ask. 


If I mention the city New Orleans to you, what is the first thing that comes into your mind?  It's the Mardi Gras celebration that is held every February, that finds it's roots in religion, that is, the days leading up to the Catholic time of lent.  The whole point to Mardi Gras in New Orleans is one huge sex party before people have to deprave themselves in lent.  The fact of the matter is that New Orleans is associated with sexual promiscuity with a religious bent to it.  Its reputation goes far and wide.  The same is true with the end time city of Babylon, which like New Orleans, is a literal city.  This end time Babylon will mix immoral sexuality and religion like all the religions of old; like the Babylonian religion that began in the days of Nimrod and Ishtar. 


When the Apostle Paul walked the roads of the Roman Empire he continually encountered such a pagan, immoral religion.  Temple prostitutes, both men and women, were common place.  They were just a part of the worship tradition.  You'd go and worship at the temple dedicated to a particular god and part of your worship would be to have sex with a temple prostitute or two.  This is what I believe we are talking about here in Revelation 17 with this prostitute.  John would have known only too well what this part of the vision was all about.      


Like the Babylonian religion of old, the worship of gods apart from the only true God was what religion was all about.  The text clearly states that the worship of this end time religion will find its way around the world.  As a matter of fact, people will be so taken with this new religion, that they will be intoxicated with it.  I dare say that here in 2014 the beginnings of this religion is beginning to sweep around the world.  It's a mixture of new age, paganism, and demonic spiritualism.  It's the combination, or at least the attempt, of uniting all the religions of the world under one banner.  Again, we are seeing this beginning to take place right now as I write these words.        


The vision that the angel presents to John begins in verse 3. 


In verse 3 John was carried away in the Spirit to a desert.  Here he saw this prostitute.  When understanding Babylon as a literal city, it is in somewhat of a desert location, as is Iraq today.  It is in this literal city of Babylon where we see this last one world religion emanating from. Since this prostitute is situated in the desert, it is clear that it can't be New York City .  It's also clear that the word "waters" that we've just seen cannot be understood literally.  You can't have a city in the desert and by all sorts of water at the same time.    


In verse 3 we also see that this woman is sitting on a scarlet beast whic
h had seven heads and ten horns.  We’ve seen this beast before in Revelation 13:1.  Most Prophetic Futurists see this beast as the anti-Christ.  It may be hard to understand how a city can sit on a man known as the anti-Christ.  How I view this at present is that the paganism that is Babylon has captivated the anti-Christ and his empire.  


In verse 4 we see this woman is dressed very eloquently and appears very wealthy.  This is the nature of this last great world religion.  Many Prophetic Futurists view this woman as the apostate church.  Others view her as a world religion. I view it more as a pagan world religion that the apostate church becomes a part of.  Because this woman commits spiritual adultery with all the nations of the world, it seems like what she represents is a combination of all religions, not just apostate or false Christianity. 


The move today in the twenty first century to unite all world religions is unprecedented.  I believe the mentality for this one world religion is with us right now.  Before the reality of such a religion can come about, the idea of such a religion must first be conceived an accepted in the minds of the majority of people in the world.  This is taking place right now.  The secular doctrine of tolerance has moved this thinking along very rapidly in recent years.  The move towards uniting world religions into one super-religion is well underway.   The anti-Christ will adopt this super-religion that has already been in existence, but, as we will see, and, most likely at the mid way point of the tribulation, he'll replace it with the religion of himself.    


In verse 4 the clothes this woman is wearing and the words that are associated with her shows us that this is one very hedonistic, that is, self pleasing and self centered, religious society.  This was the nature of all of the old pagan religions. They all had immoral sexual practices associated with them.  Both male and female temple prostitutes were just part of pagan worship.  So, when it comes right down to it, the old will become new.  


Along with her immorality, she is bent on prosperity, as is much of western world today, and that includes the church.  We'll see the excess of hedonistic riches later, but, suffice to say now, this prostitute, this end time corrupt religious city, will be all about self gratification.  It's clear to me as I write in 2015 the foundation for this last world religion is now being laid, both in the church and in the culture around us.       


In verse 5 we see the title of this woman written on her forehead, much like Roman prostitutes in John’s day who wore a head band with their names on it.  The title given in most English versions to this woman is, “Mystery, Babylon the Great, The Mother Of All Prostitute And The Abomination Of  The Earth”.  We should remember that the Greek text does not have capital letters or punctuation.  I see the title of this woman simply as being " Babylon the Great" who is a "secret symbol".  The Greek word "mysterion" is translated here and elsewhere in the New Testament as "mystery".  It simply means "a secret", but, during the time of John's writing it was often used to mean "a secret symbol", thus the reason why I use the term "secret symbol" here.  So, I personally don't see this very long title as being the title of the prostitutes, and, I derived this thinking from those who know and understand Biblical Greek better than I.  The simple name to this prostitute is "Babylon The Great".       


The term "mother of all prostitutes" is a throw back to the days of the old Babylonian religion that began in the days of Genesis 10.  Ishtar is the mother of the first Babylonia religion and thus she is the mother of all subsequent pagan religions that have emerged from her religion.  


When thinking of this prostitute as being a secret symbol, we should know the Babylon was often used by the first century Christians as a code name for Rome and the Roman Empire.  When it comes right down to it, the mystery of Babylon is a mystery to the world, and, sad to say, many Christians don't seem to understand this mystery either.  


In verse 6 we see that the woman, that is, the false paganized city, “was drunk with the blood of the saints”.  In the name of God, many followers of Jesus will be killed because of this paganized city.  Throughout pagan history, God’s people have been persecuted and executed.  Even in the name of Christianity the true believers in Jesus have been killed.  The apostate Catholicism killed many during what has been called the dark ages.  There is nothing new about true disciples of Jesus being executed for their faith.  This will take place right up until the end of this age.  The time of the tribulation will see more Christians killed for their association with Jesus than in any other time period.  This is why this woman is drunk with the blood of the saints.  Like a drunken sailor, she has gone on one huge drunk during the first half of the tribulation.  I say the first half of the tribulation because we will see that her spiritual empire will fall and give way to worship of the anti-Christ.


Note in verse 6 that those who are executed are executed because of the testimony of Jesus that they bore.  The word "bore" suggests that this was not just a belief system for these people.  The testimony was lived out in their lives and they bore it openly.  It is no secret that these people belong to Jesus. 


John was astonished by what he saw, but in verse 7 the angel questioned why he would be so astonished.  What is astonishing to man is not astonishing to angels.  They have lived in the spiritual world and know it much better than we know it.  So the angel begins to explain to John this mystery. 


John lived in the city of Ephesus for much of his life as it neared its end.  Ephesus was just as immoral as any other pagan Roman city.  It had its temples, temple prostitutes, and the worship of multiple gods.  You think that John would not be astonished by such a world religion as he saw in Babylon the prostitute, but he was.  This tells me that this last paganized culutre eclipses all other world religions in human history.  In all respects, it really is the mother of all pagan religions.   


Note that the prostitute rides the beast.  To me this suggests that the prostitute's influence in the world grows with the support of the beast, which we know is the anti-Christ.    


Since this mysterious prostitute is now going to be explained, we cannot symbolize her or allegorize her.  The angel will tell us exactly who she is, and, along the way tell us who the beast is.  Actually, the angel goes into more detail about the beast than the prostitute.  Only verse 18 is dedicated to the prostitute, and, as mentioned before, verse 18 tells us that the prostitute is the city of Babylon and all that city represents. 


In verse 8 the angel says that this beast, who was, and now isn’t, but will be, will come up out of the Abyss.  This is the beast we saw back in chapter 13.  You might want to reread chapter 13 to refresh your memory.  You will remember that this beast had a fatal wound.  The fact that at this precise moment the angel says that he is no longer, tells us that the beast actually did die, but, the angel also says that he will be.  We do know that in chapter 13 this beast is resurrected from the dead.  This is clearly satan attempting to duplicate the resurrection of Jesus. 


There are two ways of looking at the time line to verse 8.  One way of viewing the time line is to understand it in John's day.  That is to say, the beast existed before John's day, but during that exact moment in John's day he was dead.  At some later date than the exact moment the angel spoke these things to John the beast would come alive. 


The other way of viewing the time line is in relation to the vision itself and not during John's day in age.  During the period of time in the future, the beast would be alive, yet, at this exact moment in the future this vision is referring to, he is dead.  Then, at some point beyond the future death of the beast, he would come alive. 


At the moment I tend to accept the second way of viewing this beast in relation to time.  How you view this time line will determine exactly who you think the beast refers to.  


Those who believe the time line refers back to when John saw these visions believe the seven heads are seven world empires before John's day, during John's day, and after John's day.  Those who believe that all of this is future believe the seven heads are  kings yet to come.  I'll come back to this later. 


At this point I'll tell you that most Prophetic Futurists view this as the anti-Christ who had received a deadly wound.  Others see it as the revived Roman Empire that had been temporarily disabled.  They say this because they believe the anti-Christ is not a human but an empire that they understand to be the revived Roman Empire.  I believe the angel is talking about the anti-Christ as a person.  He may possess an empire, but the empire is not the anti-Christ.   


The angel also says that the emergence of this beast, or, the anti-Christ, astonishes those whose names were not written in the book of life since creation.  We’ve seen this before.  Jesus was crucified before the foundations of the world.  The point is that all things that happen in history are no surprise to God.  At creation, He knew man would fall, Jesus would go to the cross, the anti-Christ would appear at the end of the age, and, that Jesus would return victoriously.  He also knew whose names would be written in the book of life, and whose names wouldn’t be found in that book.  This is the traditional thinking among those who don't believe in predestination.


Those who do believe in predestination understand this to mean that only those names that God placed in the book of life prior to creation will be saved.  I won't get involved in the discussion of predestination here.  I've done that elsewhere.


Some believe that the book of life originally had all names of all humans written in it prior to creation.  When a human rejects Jesus for good, his name is blotted out of the book of life.  Those who believe this also believe there is a book called "the Lamb's book of life".  In this book are the names of those who have given themselves to Jesus.  They are written in the book once they give their lives to Jesus. Once there names are in this book they cannot be blotted out of this book.    


I believe verse 8 is telling us that because those whose names were not written in the book of life were astonished, they give themselves to the anti-Christ just as Christians give themselves to Jesus.  Paul speaks of such deceiving miracles by the anti-Christ in 2 Thessalonians 2:9.    


Verse 8 says that the beast, or, the anti-Christ will come up out of the Abyss.  We saw this back in chapter 13 as well.  Back then I noted that the seven year tribulation, according to Prophetic Futurists, is divided into two three and a half year parts.  The first part in where the anti-Christ comes to world domination as a charismatic human.  The second half of the tribulation is where he rules the world empowered by satan.  Many believe he is satan incarnate.  They believe that just as God and Jesus are one, so is satan and the anti-Christ are one.  Verse 8 then tells us that the beast will be destroyed.  We will see this take place later.    


From verse 9 onward the angel begins his explanation. He says that this requires wisdom.  I'd say that is an understatement.  First he says what the seven heads mean.  They mean two things.  First, he says that the seven heads are seven hills.  Secondly, he says that they are seven kings.  Five of these kings were; the sixth king is, and the seventh is still to come.  This seventh king reigns only for a short time and then another king will appear which is the beast, or the anti-Christ.


In the NIV verse 9 and 10 states that the seven heads are seven hills and seven kings.  There are some Greek scholars that suggest the wording in the NIV and similar versions is not a good rendering of the Greek.  The NIV suggests that the seven heads are two things.  They are hills and they are kings.  These scholars suggest that there are not two things, but one thing, that is, the seven heads are hills which are kings. 


Now, since I understand the time line here to be that of the narrative of the vision and not the days in which John received the vision, I believe we must view these kings to be in the future, not in the past, as many Prophetic Futurists view them.  Most Prophetic Futurists would say that there have been five great empires throughout human history.  The five kings that have fallen are kings of Egypt, Asyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece.   The sixth, or present kingdom in John's day, would be the Roman Empire.  The seventh king is another empire, possibly the Roman Empire ruled by the popes that will be transformed into the empire of the anti-Christ which is the eight king.


Many Prophetic Futurists view the seven hills, as if they are really meant to be hills, as the seven hills of Rome. Therefore they associate the Catholic Church with much of this prophecy, which in my opinion is very speculative.  If this were so, that would mean Babylon would actually be Rome.  I think those who are alive at the time will know what the reference to these seven hills are.   


Mountains or hills in a Biblical setting are often associated with nations and therefore some don’t view these hills as seven hills but seven nations.  The difficulty here is that the angel is trying to explain what the seven heads are, so, why would he explain one symbol by another symbol?


Whatever the case to all of the above, the word "hills' is used in the text.  These seven hills might well be seven capital cities of the world that are located on a hill where kings rule.  As an aside, and it may mean nothing at all, the headquarters of the United States government is said to be on "Capital Hill".  Could this be one of the hills, or kings, this prostitute deceives?      


Verses 10 and 11 goes into more detail about these kings.
Remember, I'm thinking in terms of the time line here being in the narrative of the vision, not in John's day.  The text says that at this stage in the narrative five kings have fallen.  You might consider prime ministers and presidents to be kings at this point. The text also states that at this point the sixth king is, that is, alive and ruling.  Then it says there is another king, that is, a seventh king that will only rule for a short while.  After he rules an eighth king will rule who is the beast. 


This is how I see this at the moment.  During the time of the end there will be five kings that rule.  Whether they rule consecutively or all at the same time might be debatable, but since the beast has seven heads and is always seen with seven heads, that might well suggest that these kings rule at the same time.  If the rule of these first five kings is consecutive, then some of these kings might well rule prior to the seven year tribulation.  Anyway, there will be a sixth king.  He must be somewhat different than the first five to be so distinguished.  This might well be the case because in the time line of the narrative the sixth king is ruling.  Once his rule is over a seventh king will rule for a short time, which I believe is the first three and a half years of the tribulation, who I believe at the moment, is the anti-Christ prior to satan taking over him.  The eighth king is the anti-Christ, in the last three and a half years, after satan has taken control of him.  The eighth king is the anti-Christ because verse 10 tells us that he is the beast. 


The first five kings that rule might well be some kind of coalition of kings or heads of state.  I can certainly see that taking place.  The sixth king might well be a king that rises up as the leader among the coalition.  I can see that taking place as well.  From this union the anti-Christ will emerge onto the world scene.   I say this because verse 11 says that the eighth king, that is, the anti-Christ belongs to the first seven.  He is a part of the first seven and emerges as the eighth king.       


In verse 12 we see the ten horns of the beast who are actually ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom.  It is thus clear that we have ten men here who are not kings or leaders of any nation.  They will receive their authority as kings along with the beast.  If we stay consistent with the time line here, the anti-Christ receives his satanic power after he rises from the dead at the mid way point of the seven year tribulation.  At the same time, these ten men become ten kings for one hour.  To maintain my consistency concerning dates and times in Revelation, I believe one hour means one literal our.  


So this is the picture according to verse 12.  We're at the mid way point of the seven years.  Satan gives the anti-Christ his authority.  At the same time ten men are given authority by satan.  These men rule for one hour and then submit to the anti-Christ as seen in verse 13.  


Note in verse 14 that Jesus returns with His chosen ones.  The chosen ones spoken of here are redeemed men and woman who will return with Him to rule on the earth for one thousand years.


Verse 14 is actually a prediction of the last great battle that will take place at the end of the tribulation between Jesus and the kingdom of the anti-Christ.  It is at this time the beast and his supporters fall in God's judgment.     


Verse 15 says that the waters that John saw the prostitute on are the nations of the world who she has lured into committing spiritual adultery with her.  Here's the picture as I presently see it.  Babylon is a literal city that influences the whole world in every aspect which includes a false religious system.   During the first half of the seven year tribulation, the anti-Christ's kingdom rules the world from Babylon, but this is the anti-Christ before being empowered by satan.     


In verses 16 and 17 we see the destruction of the prostitute, the city of Babylon that was established by the pre-satan empowered anti-Christ.  The anti-Christ, as seen after empowered by satan, with his ten kings, actually cause Babylon's destruction.  It is interesting that God put this into the heart of the anti-Christ.  God, therefore, is actually using the anti-Christ to destroy what the pre-satan empowered anti-Christ built to accomplish His will on earth.  Of course, the anti-Christ thinks he is doing it for himself, because he demands worship as if he were God.  At this point in the last seven years of this age it is understood that satan gives the anti-Christ his power.  Therefore the anti-Christ can not tolerate the worship on any other gods.  He must receive the worship, not the generic god that existed in the first half of the tribulation.  In other words, satan must be the one who is worshipped through the person of the anti-Christ, just as God is worshipped through the person of Jesus.    


Verse 17 says that God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose.  The pronoun "their" is in reference to the ten kings who support the anti-Christ.  They stay committed to the anti-Christ until God's will is done.  This suggests to me that God is the one in control here.  As has been throughout history, he sets up kings and He takes down kings.  Here we see him installing the anti-Christ and his administration to do His will.   The anti-Christ is actually a tool in the hand of God, and really, so is satan.   


I also believe that the pronoun "their" implies that the beast, although being the anti-Christ, also represents the anti-Christ empire.  Many have suggested over the centuries that the beast is merely a world empire, a system of rule, but I believe it is both.  


Verse 18 ends this chapter. It says that the prostitute is the great city who rules the kings of the earth.  It's pretty clear that according to the context, this great city is Babylon, as I stated earlier.  Also as I stated earlier' all cities have a reputation that goes beyond its borders and Babylon is no exception to this. It influences all aspects of humanity. Its pagan, immoral religion will be accepted by all whose names are not written in the book of life.    


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