A Study in the Word: Revelation 17:1-18


Chapters 17-19 are scenes of events as the seventh and final bowl of God’s wrath unfolds (16:17-21). Revelation 16:19 foretold Babylon’s destruction. Chapter 17 describes the decadent conditions in Babylon the Great. Chapter 18 contains the destruction of this embodiment of evil. Chapter 19 is the praise song of God’s victory in Christ over Babylon.

Babylon serves as a symbol of huge forces organized against God (Jeremiah 51). She was the depth of paganism, decadence, and self-indulgence. In John’s visions, Babylon refers to Rome and its empire. The civilization of Rome introduced many good things, such as a system of law. Her immorality, however, was legendary. Historians of the period open a window into Roman debauchery. The Roman Empress Messalina served incognito in the public brothels (Juvenal). “All degraded and shameful practices collect and flourish in the capital” (Tacitus). “Every native woman is obliged, once in her life, to sit in the temple of Venus, and have intercourse with some stranger” (Herodotus). And of course, Roman persecution of the church is widely known.

Revelation offers interpretations of these symbols of evil “mystery” (17:6-7). The following numbers are verses in chapter 17. The great prostitute (1) is the great city that rules over evil (18). Many waters (1) are people loyal to her (15). Kings of the earth (2) are followers of the harlot (18; 18:9). The scarlet beast (3) is the sea beast of 13:1 (8) and an eighth king (11). The beast with seven heads (3) rules over seven hills (9) with seven kings (10), and is the beast with seven horns (12) which are ten kings with no kingdoms who war against the Lamb (12-14).

What does this gaggle of corruption do? They unite in hatred for the Lamb (17:13) and wage war against Him (17:14), while turning on themselves to their own destruction – at God’s instigation (17:15-17). Harlot Babylon, the progenitor (“mother,” 17:5) of evil is singled out to face her own destruction (17:18; 18:1-24).

It is fruitless to seek exact identification of the individuals and groups mentioned here. Their defeat is the point, no matter who they are or where they originate. For persevering saints, the end of evil is near. A person known as the Antichrist will arise, but to his destruction (17:8, 11, the eighth king). Nevertheless, the Lamb, who is Lord and King, overcomes every force arrayed against Him and His followers (17:14).

Dr. David Moore is a university online instructor in Bible and theology. Email: dm5867se@outlook.com