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Author Topic: Mystery Babylon
Carol Swenson
Member # 6929

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 - I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast,
full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, "BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."
Revelation 17:3-5 (NASB)

The Desolation of the Harlot

The true church is a pure virgin (Rev. 19:7-8; see also 2 Cor. 11:2), but the false religious system is a "harlot" who has abandoned the truth and prostituted herself for personal gain. In every age, there has been a "harlot" who has persecuted God's people; and this will culminate in the last days in a worldwide apostate religious system.

The scene begins with an invitation (Rev. 17:1-2). One of the angels asks John to come and see what God will do with "the beast's" worldwide religious system. Four times in this chapter, the woman is called a "harlot" (Rev. 17:1, 5, 15-16); and her sin is called "fornication" (Rev. 17:2, 4). Her evil influence has extended to the whole world, reaching even into high places ("the kings of the earth").

Following the invitation, John was carried away "in the Spirit" into the wilderness. There he saw "the harlot" and wrote down the description of what he saw (Rev. 17:3-6). Genesis 2 speaks of a pure bride in a lovely Garden; but by the Bible's end, civilization has degenerated to an impure harlot in a wilderness! That is what sin does to the world.

The description is very full. The woman is dressed in expensive garments, decorated with gold and precious stones. She is holding a golden cup in her hand and is drunk with the blood of the saints. On her forehead (see Rev. 13:16; 14:1) she wears a special name.

Her posture is important. She is seated upon "many waters" (Rev. 17:1), and upon a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns. No wonder John was "greatly astonished" (NIV) when he beheld the woman and "the beast."

But what did it all mean? Thankfully, the angel gave John (and all believers) the explanation of these symbols (Rev. 17:7-18).

Let's begin with the woman. Revelation 17:18 makes clear that she is identified with a city that existed in John's day ("reigns" is present tense). This city is prosperous and powerful, but also idolatrous ("blasphemy") and dangerous. For one thing, it pollutes the nations with its filth and abomination (pictured by the golden wine cup); for another, it persecutes those who belong to the Lord (Rev. 17:6). Power, wealth, pollution, persecution: these words summarize the "great harlot's" involvement on a worldwide scale.

The woman's name also involves "mystery" (Rev. 17:5). In the New Testament, a "mystery" is a hidden truth that only the spiritually initiated can understand. To grasp one of God's mysteries requires spiritual intelligence and discernment. In this case, the mystery has to do with Babylon.

The city of Babylon was founded by Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-11). The name Babel means "the gate of God." Ironically, the famous tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9) was an idolatrous attempt by man to defy God. When the Lord sent judgment on the builders by making mankind's one language into many, the word babel came to mean "confusion." Later in history, Babylon became a great empire before finally falling to Media-Persia. But from the beginning of Nimrod's city in Genesis 10, an insidious anti-God "Babylonian influence" has been felt throughout history.

The woman is "the great harlot," but she is also "the mother of harlots." The Babylonian system has, in one way or another, given birth to all false religions. She has also seduced men into opposing God and persecuting His servants.

The seven mountains (Rev. 17:9) probably symbolize the city of Rome, built on seven hills. Certainly in John's day, the Roman Empire was living in luxury, spreading false religion, polluting the nations with its idolatry and sin, and persecuting the church.

John's readers would not be surprised when he used an evil harlot to symbolize a wicked city or political system. God even called Jerusalem a harlot (Isa. 1:21). Isaiah said that Tyre was a harlot (Isa. 23:16-17), and Nahum used this same designation for Nineveh (Nahum 3:4). (Read Jer. 50-51 for further historical parallels to John's prophetic message.)

As noted earlier, scarlet is the color of Satan (Rev. 12:3) and of sin (Isa. 1:18). Scarlet was a popular color in Rome, and both scarlet and purple were associated with rank and riches.

But the woman must not be separated from "the beast" that carries her. "The beast" has seven heads and ten horns. The seven heads symbolize seven mountains (Rev. 17:9) and also seven kings or kingdoms (Rev. 17:10), in keeping with Old Testament imagery (Ps. 30:7; Dan. 2:35). I have already suggested that the seven mountains can be interpreted geographically as the seven hills of Rome, but they may also be interpreted historically as seven kingdoms.

According to Revelation 17:10, five of these kings (or kingdoms) had passed off the scene, one was present in John's day, and one was yet to come. If so, then the five past kingdoms would be Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The present kingdom would be Rome, and the future kingdom would be that of "the beast." In order to understand Revelation 17:10-11, we must consider Revelation 17:12.

"The beast" not only has seven heads, but also ten horns, which represent ten kings. But these are very special kings: they enable "the beast" to rise to power and are even willing to yield their authority to him. Recall that at the opening of the first seal (Rev. 6:1-2), Antichrist began his "peaceful" conquest of the nations. He organized a "United States of Europe," brought peace to the Middle East, and appeared to be the great leader the troubled world was seeking.

But in the midst of the seven-year period, this ruler broke his covenant with Israel (Dan. 9:27) and began to persecute the people of God as well as the nation Israel. Energized by Satan and assisted by the false prophet, "the beast" became the world's dictator and its god. In this way, "the beast" was both "one of the seven [kings, kingdoms]" but also "the eighth." His kingdom was nothing but a revival of the Roman Empire ("one of the seven"), but it was a new kingdom ("the eighth").

But how does all this relate to Babylon? The "Babylonian system" of false religion has been a part of history since Nimrod founded his empire. Scholars have discovered it is amazingly like the true Christian faith! Alas, it is Satan's counterfeit of God's truth. Babylonians practiced the worship of mother and child, and even believed in the death and resurrection of the son.

Readers in John's day would identify "the harlot" with the Roman Empire. Readers in the Middle Ages might identify it as the Roman ecclesiastical system. Today, some believers see "the harlot" and the Babylonian system in an apostate "world church" that minimizes doctrinal truth, rejects the authority of the Word, and tries to unite professed believers on some other basis than faith in Jesus Christ However, in the days when John's prophecy will be fulfilled, an amazing thing will happen: "the harlot" will be made desolate by the very system that carried her! It is important to note that "the beast carries "the harlot." Satan (and Antichrist) will use the apostate religious system to accomplish his own ends (i.e., attain world power); but then he will do away with "the harlot" and establish his own religious system. And all of this will be the fulfillment of God's Word (Rev. 17:17).

Since "the beast" sets up his image in the temple about the middle of the Tribulation, we can assume that "the harlot" and "the beast" work together during those first three-and-a-half years. This is corroborated by the fact that the ten kings assist him in desolating "the harlot" (Rev. 17:16). These are the same ten kings associated with "the beast" when he sets up the "United States of Europe" during the first half of the Tribulation.

Throughout history, political systems have "used" religious bodies to further their political causes. At the same time, church history reveals that religious groups have used politics to achieve their purposes. The marriage of church and state is not a happy one, and has often spawned children that have created serious problems. When dictators are friendly with religion, it is usually a sign that they want to make use of religion's influence and then destroy it. The church of Jesus Christ has been most influential in the world when it has maintained a separated position.

Compare the description of "the harlot's" desolation with that of the death of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:30-37).

Finally, note that those who trust the Lord are not influenced by "the harlot" or defeated by the kings (Rev. 17:14). Once again, John points out that the true believers are the "overcomers."

Satan's counterfeit religion is subtle, requiring spiritual discernment to recognize. It was Paul's great concern that the local churches he founded not be seduced away from their sincere devotion to Christ (2 Cor. 11:1-4). In every age, there is the tremendous pressure to conform to "popular religion" and to abandon the fundamentals of the faith. In these last days, we all need to heed the admonitions in 1 Timothy 4 and 2 Timothy 3 and remain true to our Lord.


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