This is one of the most discussed chapters in the entire Bible. It speaks of Babylon the great, the great whore. But who is she? What does the great whore in fact symbolise?
In the language of futurist view of Bible prophecy this chapter describes some future world kingdom and its leader, the AntiChrist. For much of my Christian life I was sold that interpretation, and I believed it for a long time. But the interpretation itself was developed and promoted by agents of the real great whore, the Papacy, and the beast, the Roman Catholic Church, which is the false church that has at all times opposed true believers. Do not be deceived and open your mind to the simple straightforward interpretation, which is that the book of the Revelation describes the history of the Church since Jesus Christ formed it and it ends with His second coming.
The preceding chapters have described a series of historical events that led to the overthrow of spiritual Babylon, which is described here as the great whore or harlot. Up to this point in history the interpretation of the revelation has been largely achieved by looking in history for events that have already happened.
With the sixth vial we saw opening of the way for missionary activities spreading the gospel, from the 18th century up to the present time. The following seventh vial brings on events that are yet in our future so we cannot be too dogmatic about them. But one thing we can be certain of is that the seventh vial brings on the final overthrow of the Anti-Christ power of spiritual Babylon. This is described in the last verses of chapter 16. Now in chapters 17, 18 and 19 her downfall, the overthrow of the apostate church, the triumph of the Word of God, and the victory of Armageddon, are described in great detail.
This chapter opens (v.1) declaring that it is about the judgment of the great whore. The word ‘whore’ symbolises the false church as a whore is not the true bride (of Christ), but an imposter.
The kings and nations of the world have committed fornication with her (v.2), symbolic of their alliances, made for their own profits. The Papacy has always operated through stealthy methods and formed alliances at many levels with the nations of the world.
The woman in the wilderness is the whore (v.3) riding on the scarlet coloured beast. This woman is the Papacy, and the Church of Rome is the beast. Surprisingly even the robes worn by the cardinals and priests in the Romish church are purple and scarlet. Reddish, purple colours were much prized in clothing in early times as symbolic of authority. Just do a Google search here. It is quite amazing, but I think it is one more clue to her identity.
We also see in this verse (v.3) that the beast has 7 heads and 10 horns (v.13:1), and thus is the same beast that came out of the collapse of pagan Rome. The 7 heads are the 7 kingdoms that led to papal Rome’s establishment, and the 10 horns are those 10 kingdoms from which she initially gained power after the collapse of pagan Rome.
Verse 4 describes what the Papacy and the Romish church is truly about, wealth and abominations, which God hates. The leading abomination is the worship of the Papacy as Christ on Earth. But many other pagan doctrines, abominations, far from the truth of Christ are part of her dogmas. So far from our God are they that God calls her “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.” (v.5) The word ‘mystery’ might be read as ‘blank’, a name not filled in at the time of John the Apostle. But now you can fill in that name = The Papacy.
We can learn more about who this ‘mystery’ is from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. Quoting here from KJ3 because the ancient meaning of the word ‘let’ (meaning ‘hold back’) used in the KJV has changed in modern English language.
2 Thessalonians 6-10 And now you know the thing holding back, for him to be revealed in his time.
7 For the mystery of lawlessness already is working, only the One is restraining now, until He comes out of the midst.
8 And then “the lawless one” will be revealed, “whom” “the Lord” “will consume” “by the spirit of His mouth,” and will bring to naught by the appearance of His presence.
9 His coming is according to the working of Satan in all power and miraculous signs and lying wonders,
10 and in all deception of unrighteousness in the ones perishing, because they did not receive the love of the truth in order for them to be saved.
The entity described as “Mystery, Babylon the great” seems to be the same entity foretold by the Lord through the Apostle Paul as the “mystery of iniquity” (KJV) or “mystery of lawlessness” (KJ3). This fits perfectly the AntiChrist Papacy who was held back (2 Thessalonians 2:6) by the pagan Roman rule until pagan Rome was taken out of the way, which allowed the Satan inspired false Christ to assume power. The false Christ has and will deceive many, but those who are lost in unrighteousness, even using lying wonders (bleeding idols made in the image of Christ and his earthly mother, Mary; apparitions of so-called dead saints etc). Most in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are lost in this sort of idolatry. They have fallen victim to this false Christ.
The Lord will eventually destroy this satanic force (2 Thessalonians 2:8). Note the connection back to the first kingdom of Daniel 2, Babylon. It is like this AntiChrist is the embodiment of all that Babylon was and more; taking from all the prior pagan kingdoms of man.
The Apostle John then sees the woman, the Papacy, drunken with the blood of the saints (v.6) because it has been she who has been the biggest persecutor of the true believers. The AntiChrist, the Papacy rides the beast (v.7) which spiritually is manifest in the powers that control the Roman Catholic Church Empire today.
Verse 8 clearly tells us this beast, the Roman Church Empire, including all its secret and open controls over and in other nations, comes out of the bottomless pit of Hell. Those who are part of that beast, the leaders and followers of the Papacy, will go into perdition, meaning eternal destruction in Hell. Their names are not written in the Book of Life. The beast “was” meaning it started with the pagan Roman Empire, which collapsed, and that is implied by it being described as “is not” and then the rise of the papal Roman Empire is implied by “yet is.”
The symbolism of 7 mountains (v.9) is the same as the 7 heads representing the 7 world kingdoms of man. They are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, the confederacy of Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and the final papal Roman Empire. But 5 are fallen (v.10), which, at the time of the Revelation, are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. “One is,” that is pagan Rome (at the time John got the Revelation), and one “is not yet come” i.e. the papal Roman Empire (which arose long after John’s time). But the “beast” in verse 11, “that was, and is not, even he is the eight” is from the 7th kingdom and goes into perdition, which is Hell. Therefore the “beast” here symbolises Satan himself. Satan occupies the Papacy through control of the popes and hence the papal kingdom. But the papal Empire has absorbed elements from all seven kingdoms of man. Hence the expression “is of the seven” (v.11).
The ten horns (v.12) are those 10 kingdoms that initially overcame pagan Rome, which, at the time the prophecy was received, had not yet received power. The “beast” or Satan is ruling the world from the spiritual realm. (This is all within the latitude he has been given by our sovereign God.) Thus with the rise of the final kingdom in the false Christ of the Papacy, Satan is the possessing spirit.
The pagan nations (10 kings of which 3 are broken) joined with the Papacy, as the Latin Church opened its doors for the pagans to belong, by subsuming all their pagan practices. Thus the Papacy gained their support (v.13), and those pagan nations became “Christianised”.
From that time on (about the 4th century A.D.) the paganised Latin Church makes war with Christ by persecuting any who are true believers (v.14). Verse 15 describes the power of the whore (false bride = Papacy) over peoples of different nations and languages. But all does not go well for papal Rome as these 10 nations made war with her (v.16) even causing her territorial losses, but eventually, through crafty agreements and peace treaties etc, Rome gained the upper hand, taking control for a time (v.17). We know from history that this did happen. The woman in verse 18, is the whore, which is called the Vatican city today, and she continues to rule over the governments and kings of the earth.