In chapter twelve we were introduced to the beast with the seven heads and ten horns, a manifestation of the dragon, the devil himself. In chapter thirteen, a beast comes out of the sea and also has seven heads and ten horns. One of its heads received a deadly wound and was brought back to life. Very likely, it was the sixth head that received the fatal blow. It came back to life, making it the seventh head, out of which will come a world dictator. Chapter seventeen introduces us to a woman who sits on the beast with the seven heads and ten horns. She is called “Mystery Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.”
The Definition of the Woman
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries. Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hands, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUES. I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished.
When John is invited to see this great prostitute who sits on many waters, he is told he will view her judgement. The description of her as the “great prostitute” emphasizes the all-persuasive influence of this woman throughout history and the seriousness of that influence in the eyes of God. This is not to be taken lightly.
In Revelation 19:2 we have the response of a great multitude in heaven over the fall of the “great prostitute.” Their praise honours God because He “has condemned the great prostitute”, avenging the blood of his servants which the “prostitute” has shed throughout history. This “great prostitute” has extensive influence, for she sits on many waters representing peoples, multitudes, nations and languages according to Revelation 17:15. Her influence has invaded all nations of the world.The leaders of the world and the inhabitants of the world have been deceived, manipulated and seduced by her. This story has been repeated throughout history. John sees this woman in a desert, meaning the environment she thrives in seems to be a place of death, not of life.
This woman sits on a beast, with blasphemous names, seven heads and ten horns. This reminds us of the beast in Revelation 13:1. We have already learned that these heads represent empires throughout history so this, very likely, means that the woman has dominated all the great empires of the world and will be prominent in the tribulation period as well. She may well represent a false religious system that has permeated all the cultures of the world and has produced a variety of beliefs and practices with are incompatible with true Christianity. Those involved in her system are really only concerned with power and wealth rather than with true devotion to God as we can notice from her appearance which is very lavish.
As for her appearance, we notice three things: She is dressed in purple and scarlet, which shows us that her clothing is very luxurious and is in stark contrast to the outfits of the believers in heaven who are wearing “fine linen, white and clean.”
The fact that she is glittering with gold and pearls shows us that this religious system has accumulated much wealth over time. For instance, it is a fact that the Roman Catholic Church is one of the richest institutions in the world. As for the golden cup she has in her hand, this cup is filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. She is ripe for the judgement of God according to Revelation 17:16. Jeremiah described her destruction in Jeremiah 51:7-8. False religion and its methods and practices are abominations to God. Israel’s abomination usually consisted of immorality and idolatry according to I Kings 14:22-24 and II kings 21. God confronted Israel during the Babylonian captivity about her abominations according to Ezekiel 20:30-31. Her name reveals who she is. She is “Mystery Babylon, the Great.” John is not talking here about the literal city of Babylon. He means for us to understand it in a figurative sense. A mystery is something which was previously unknown but is being revealed to those who have been given understanding. Her being “the mother” refers to the fact that she represents that which began in Babylon and has continued throughout history. Being the mother of “prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth” speaks of the fact that she is the source from which much evil and spiritual adultery has come. Her practices have infiltrated all history from the time of Babylon until the present day. Satan’s counterfeits have appeared in many countries and cultures, and they will reach its peak in methods, practices and teaching during the tribulation period. John sees the woman as drunk with the blood of the saints, meaning that this false religious system had systematically killed off true believers throughout history according to Revelation 6:10; Revelation 16:5-6, Revelation 18:24.
The Description of the Beast
(When I saw her I was greatly astonished.) Then the angel said to me: ”Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come. This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and he is going to his destruction. The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make was against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings – and with Him will be His called, chosen and faithful followers.”
John is amazed at what he sees. Very likely he is perplexed at what he sees. He was a victim of political persecution and now he sees a vision that shows Christianity will become corrupt and the persecutor of the faithful and true believers. To some extent, not only is the woman a mystery to John but the beast as well of which we are about to learn some more details not previously given. This beast will come out of the Abyss, which is the place of demonic spirits. The beast is of satanic origin and, as we learned in Revelation 13:1-2, it is the “dragon” who gave him his power, his throne and his great authority. Also see Daniel 7:7-8 and Daniel 7:19-20.
Eventually, this beast is destined to be destroyed. The beast will have enormous impact. The unbelievers in the tribulation period will be impressed with the restoration of the world government which appeared to have ended with the fall of Rome. However, it will come back to life as a ten-nation confederacy as predicted by Daniel in Daniel 7:7-8 and Daniel 7:19-20. John compares the seven heads with seven hills on which the woman sits. He continues by saying that these seven heads are also seven kings, of which five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come. This very likely refers to the beast representing world government at seven moments in history.
The five empires that have controlled the world before John’s time are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. The world government existing in John’s time is the Roman Empire, and there has not been a true world empire since. This sixth head or empire is the one that receives the fatal wound, but it will be brought back to life as the seventh empire of the world. That is beginning to happen today.
This seventh empire will not last long and will consist of a ten-nation confederacy. It will be a Revived Roman empire. Out of the seven empires will arise a world leader who will be the leader of an eighth empire. He is the beast that “once was, now is not” as we read in verse 8 and verse 11. The only empire that once was and is no longer in existence is the Assyrian empire, so it is possible that the final world leader will emerge from what was previously Assyria. John then mentions ten kings or nations who are not yet in existence in his time. The prophet Daniel mentions them in Daniel 7:7-8 and Daniel 7:19-20. Their confederacy will not last long before they surrender their power and authority to the coming world leader who comes into their midst and who quickly assumes control by taking over three of them according to Daniel 7:8 and Daniel 7:20. These nations under the leadership of the world ruler will go to war against the Lamb of God, the Messiah. But He will overcome them because He is King of kings and Lord of lords. We read of this coming conflict in Psalm 2. His called, chosen and faithful followers will be with him. They are described in:
Revelation 19:14 as
“The armies of heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.”
Believers are the “called” in Romans 1:6-7; Romans 8:28; I Corinthians 1:2, the “chosen” in Ephesians 1:4; I Peter 2:9, and the “faithful” in Colossians 1:2 and Revelation 2:10.
The Destruction of the Woman
Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked, they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish His purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
The ten nations under the leadership of the “beast” the world ruler will destroy the woman who represents false religion. The world government of the future will use religion to promote its goals and achieve its purposes. When religion is no longer useful it will be destroyed. The world government will do this by stripping this false religious system of her wealth and by completely eliminating all forms and institutions of religion throughout the world.This may happen during the second half of the tribulation period, which would explain the terrible persecution by the Anti Christ at that time.
During the first half, religious freedom will exist, allowing for the preaching of the gospel by the two witnesses. This also explains the Jewish temple sacrifices being restored. A measure of freedom will exist for all religions during the first half of the tribulation. However, the coming world leader will break his covenant with Israel and begin to persecute believers during the second half of the tribulation. The real reason the ten nations will destroy the religious system is because God will cause them to do so. John names the woman as the “great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” This may possibly be figurative language and may refer to the religious system “Mystery Babylon the Great.” This mystical religion, which was developed in Babylon, was eventually transported to Rome and became part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Religious system. Today evangelical churches are being influenced by Roman Catholic mysticism and as such these churches also are becoming part of “Mystical Babylon the Great.”