“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” Revelation 17:1-5
In part 1 of this series we discovered that a woman in Bible prophecy represents a church, and a pure, virtuous woman in particular denotes God’s true church or the saints of the Most High. As we get to chapter 17 of Revelation John is shown another woman; however this time it’s a harlot or an adulterous woman. The woman in this scene is decked with much jewelry made of gold and other expensive gems; in addition she is also clothed in garments of purple and scarlet and in her hand is a golden cup. We are further told that the woman is sitting on a scarlet beast which has seven heads and ten horns. Let’s break this down.
As you skim through this whole chapter, it becomes plain that the scene is symbolic. In real life, at least up to now, there’s no animal known that has seven heads and ten horns. So this must be representing some other entity. As we have noted earlier, a woman in prophecy represents a church and in particular a harlot or adulterous woman denotes a fallen or false church. We can see this for example from the Old Testament. When the Israelites, God’s chosen people, forsook the Lord and worshiped idols and false gods, the Bible portrayed that as adultery and likened them to a harlot (see Ezekiel 16). So the woman here in Revelation 17 is representing a fallen and false church or religious system, apparently beyond restitution. Another detail we notice is that the woman is sitting on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns. So we need to know what the beast symbolizes.
In the book of Daniel chapter 7, as the angel was explaining the vision to Daniel, it states that “these great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.” Daniel 7:17. It goes on to say “the fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth” v 23. So a beast in Bible prophecy represents an earthly kingdom. In the same chapter in Revelation 17 it says “the ten horns which you saw are ten kings” v 12. The fact that the woman sits on the beast signifies that she has control or dominion over the beast, which is representing, the earthly kingdoms. Again we are told that the kings of the earth have committed fornication with the woman; this points to the existence of illicit relationship between this fallen religious system and earthly kingdoms.
It is also important to notice that the influence of this woman is global and worldwide, since we are told that she sits on many waters and verse 15 of the same chapter explains that “the waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” Revelation 17:15. To summarize what we have looked at so far, we have seen a worldwide fallen religious system which has illicit union with the rulers on earth. Let’s continue unpacking the chapter.
“And the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication” verse 2. What does the wine represent? In Isaiah 55, God makes the invitation “Come, buy and eat. Yes come, buy wine…” Isaiah 55:1. The next verse then explains “Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good” verse 2. So here partaking of the wine is depicted as listening carefully to the Lord or in other words receiving His teaching. So wine represents teachings or doctrines. Fresh wine represents true doctrine and old wine represents false doctrine. Jesus makes this distinction when He says “no man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” Luke 5:39. Thus the wine with which harlot in Revelation 17 intoxicates the inhabitants of the earth is her false teachings or doctrines.
So which religious system in particular does this harlot woman represent? Note here that the Bible is referring to a religious system not individuals per se. A brief examination of world history will show that the only system in the world that fits these characteristics is the medieval papal Roman church. It is a fallen religious system and it is through her false teachings which have no foundation in God’s Word (e.g purgatory, veneration of saints, immortality of the soul, penance…etc) that the inhabitants of earth have been made drunk. The system is on record of asserting her power to install and depose earthly rulers. She is also called “the mother of harlots” meaning she has harlot daughters which represents other religious bodies that follow her example and teachings.
Verse 6 then says “I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” This is a reference to the millions of Christians persecuted and slain for not accepting her faith, a fact well documented in history books.
In chapter 18 of Revelation, God has a special call to the inhabitants of earth, and in unmistakable tones it tells us that “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit,… Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” Revelation 18:2-4. God invites us today back to His Word, to the Truth and Life. You can choose today to be part of His true church, depicted by the remnant of the seed of the woman of Revelation 12, “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17