Week - 30 The Destruction of the Mother of Harlots Revelation 17:1-18
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Authored by Jerry Marshall Introduction:
German socialist Karl Marx once said “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feelings of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people,” We must admit that there is an element of truth at least in the last part of this famous quote; Religion...is the opium of the people. People in general are incurably religious. That has a lot to do with the fact that all of us are made with a God-shaped vacuum in our inner being and we are constantly seeking to fill it.
But, because of the fall, our innate longing to know God can easily be twisted and perverted. “Our need for a relationship with God is corrupted by our love for sin.” And in the end, we end up worshipping the creations of God and the blessings of God rather than the one true God.
The fall has left mankind in the unenviable position of being dead in our trespasses and sin with a bent to be religious. Into this spiritual condition steps Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), and his host of demons who are the purveyors of doctrines of demons (1Timothy 4:1), all playing on the bent of fallen people to be religious.
It is no wonder then that religion will play an important role in the end times. During the Tribulation, all the world’s diverse false religions will be united into one great world religion. And this false religious system will play a significant role in the Antichrist’s goal of world domination. This won’t be the first time that a prominent political leader has used religion to solidify his dominion over people. King Nebuchadnezzar used religion as a means for testing the loyalty of his subjects. So did many of the emperors of Rome. During World War 2, the emperor of Japan was considered a God to be worshipped.
The Scriptures describe this one world religion as the Great Prostitute who is the source of spiritual immorality in Revelation 17. Chapters seventeen and eighteen are a digression from the chronological flow of Revelation. Actually, the pouring out of the seventh bowl judgment (16:18) is followed by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (19).
“Chapters seventeen and eighteen digress to look not at God’s specific judgments, but at what is being judged.” The seventeenth chapter focuses in on the judgment of the religious element of the Antichrist’s kingdom, whereas the eighteenth chapter focuses on the judgment of the commercial aspect of the kingdom of the Antichrist.
It is interesting to note, that in the outworking of the sovereign design of God, the Antichrist himself will destroy the religious harlot when he is finished using her for his purposes. The commercial aspect of the kingdom of the Antichrist will be directly destroyed by God.
There are three aspects of John’s vision of this Great Harlot that we will examine today.
I. The Exposure of the Great Harlot (Revelation 17:1-6,15)
A. The Authority of the Harlot (17:1b, 15)
1b 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.
15 Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.”
It is clear from these passages that the scope of the authority of this great prostitute will be universal. She bears this picturesque pejorative, (great prostitute), not because she actually sells sexual favors for profit. Her form of prostitution is of a spiritual nature rather than physical.
In prophetic language, prostitution, fornication, or adultery is equivalent to idolatry or religious apostasy. In Nahum 3:1, 4, the city of Nineveh is described as a harlot in this manner. The Lord called even the city of Jerusalem a harlot (Isaiah 1:21).
What this great prostitute does is cause the people of the world to be unfaithful to the one true God. Through her seductive spiritual devices, she redirects the supreme affection of people from the one true God to other false gods. She misdirects their worship, devotion and adoration from the God of the universe, to the gods of the imaginations of mankind, and ultimately to the Antichrist.
We will see in this chapter that this great prostitute is the epitome of spiritual fornication and the mother of idolatry. She leads the world in the pursuit of false religion whether it is in the form of rank paganism, or whether it is in some perversion of true Biblical faith.
She is the symbol of a system that goes back to the tower of Babel, where man first attempted to reach God and worship God on their own terms, and extends into the future when it will be at its zenith under the regime of the Antichrist.
B. The Alliances of the Harlot (17:2-3)
2 “With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” 3 “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.”
Those aligned with the great prostitute show us the immense scope of her influence, from those at the highest levels of political power and influence, to those who are ruled by them. All will be absorbed into her spiritual adultery. It is the false religious influence of this great prostitute that prompts the inhabitants of the earth during the time of the Great Tribulation, to give their worship to the Antichrist.
8 “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.”
“Those who dwell on the earth” is a descriptive phrase for all committed unbelievers, whose names are absent from God’s registry of His elect. During the Great Tribulation, they will receive the mark of the Beast and worship him (3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10 2xs; 13:8, 12, 14 2xs; 14:6; 17:8).
The Beast worshippers at the time of the Great Tribulation will become intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries. These people will be so inebriated with the seductive spiritual influence of this great prostitute, that they will lose their inhibitions that might otherwise serve to keep them from entering into such blasphemous activities as worshiping the Antichrist.
The prophet Jeremiah described the Babylonian civilization of his day in like terms.
7 “Babylon was a gold cup in the Lord's hand;
She made the whole earth drunk.
The nations drank her wine;
Therefore they have now gone mad.”
But not only are the kings of the earth and the inhabitants of the earth aligned with the great prostitute, there is yet another very significant ally who is referred to in the vision that John beheld, which is recorded for us in verse three.
3 “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 is the great prostitute described earlier in this passage. This is the women sitting upon a scarlet beast. The fact that the woman is sitting upon this beast indicates that this beast supports her and is in union with her. What we have here is the corrupt combination of religion serving a political purpose. This is the ultimate unholy alliance.
The scarlet beast is the Antichrist. This will become very clear when we study the explanation of this vision given to John by one of the seven angels (17:7-14).
The Blasphemous names born by the beast are the symbols of arrogant self-deification. They are no doubt descriptive of his claim to be the most high God worthy of worship, devotion and love.
This union will exist for a little while but eventually, the beast and his allies will turn against this great prostitute and destroy her.
C. The Apparel of the Harlot (17:4a)
4 “The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls.”
The woman is clothed in the colors of royalty (purple) and luxury and splendor, which are symbolized by the color red. She bears the trappings of wealth and prosperity - glittering gold, precious stones and pearls. This union with the Antichrist has provided this woman with power, influence and prosperity.
D. The Abominations of the Harlot (17:4b-5)
4b “She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.” 5 “This title was written on her forehead:
MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”
An additional trapping of her prosperity is this golden cup in her hand. The content of this cup is abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. “Abominable” is a translation of the New Testament Greek word that refers to that which is very foul and a detestable thing, which is highly offensive to God. This word is frequently used in Scriptures to describe the various forms of idolatry that God finds to be very offensive to Him. All idolatry is abominable to God. The filth of her adulteries is descriptive of the laude and immoral activities that are associated with the false worship that is promoted by this spiritual whore.
She will get all the inhabitants of the earth who are loyal to the antichrist to drink from her cup which will dim their understanding, excite their passions, and lower their inhibitions, so that they might enter fully into their depraved worship.
This harlot bears the unique title on her forehead that reads… MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
This harlot bears the title of MYSTERY BABYLON because John was beholding an undisclosed Babylon, which will be revealed in the end times. This is not referring to a geographical location in particular such as ancient Babylon, or the city of Babylon, which existed in John’s day. Or even a rebuilt city of Babylon in the future. “This Babylon is the symbol of all worldly resistance to God, His Word, His will and those who are his. She is THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH because she is the source of all blasphemous false worship which God would find be disgusting and offensive.
It is appropriate that BABYLON is a part of her title because that is the place were false worship was born when mankind spoke the same language and turned against God in pride (Genesis 11:1-9).
E. The Accusation of the Harlot (17:6)
6 “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.”
This Babylonian whore is the perpetrator of the death of many who make up the bride of Christ during the time of the Great Tribulation. But the truth of the matter is that false religion and apostate Christianity have been responsible for the death of many true believers throughout the centuries.
We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are presently losing their lives at the hands of those who are deeply committed to their false religion. This will be epitomized during the time of the Great Tribulation.
II. The Explanation of the Mystery (Revelation17:7-14, 18)
A. The Beast (17:7-8)
7 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.” 8 “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.”
It had already been revealed to John that the Beast is the Antichrist. He is the coming world ruler who functions under and with the authority of Satan. He will reign over the last and most powerful empire in human history. He will be an instrument in the hand of the Satan to attack Israel, persecute believers, oppose Christ and conquer the world for Satan (Revelation 13).
He is portrayed in Daniel 7:8 as the epitome of arrogance. In Daniel 7:20 he is described as imposing and boastful. Daniel 7:25 describes him as the ultimate example of blaspheme because he will speak against the Most High and a persecutor of the saints.
His place of origin had already been revealed to John, for he will come out of the Abyss (that subterranean deep dark pit of incarceration for fallen angels
It had also been revealed to John that the inhabitants of the earth, whose names were not in the lamb’s book of life, would give their worship, devotion and adoration to the Beast. In addition, they will willingly receive the mark of the Beast on their right hand or on their forehead, as a symbol of their allegiance to him
(Revelation 13:4, 8, 11-18).
It had also been revealed that what prompted the lost to worship the Antichrist was his apparent resurrection, after receiving a fatal wound to the head. That is the implication of the phrase in this verse; because he once was, now is not, and yet will come (13:3-4, 12 14).
The destruction that awaits the Antichrist is that he along with Satan and the false prophet will suffer eternal damnation in the lake of fire.
10 “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
What perplexed and astonished John was the connection between the two figures of this vision. How does this woman fit into the picture, and why is she riding on the Beast? I have already alluded to the alliance between the Antichrist and this great prostitute earlier. She is the mother of all false religion and she will be used for a time by the Antichrist to achieve world unity and dominance under his control.
We will get back to the identity of the women in just a moment. But for now, let’s continue with the explanation of this mystery - specifically the meaning of the Seven Heads.
B. The Seven Heads (17:9-11)
9 “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 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.”
There has been a great deal of debate and discussion about the identity of the Seven Heads which are described in this passage as the seven hills upon which the women sits, as well as seven kings. Some have identified the seven hills as a reference to the city of Rome, which is famous for being built on seven hills. However, the scope of this interpretation is far too narrow because the empire of the Antichrist is worldwide.
The seven hills are best understood as a figurative reference to the completeness of the worldwide rule and influence of the great prostitute. I believe that understanding is further emphasized by the seven hills also being described as 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.
Since the context is speaking of the rise and fall of the last World Empire, it is best to understand the five fallen kings as the previous world empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece.
The one that is in John’s day would be a reference to the Roman Empire and the one that is yet to come is a reference to the final World Empire under the rule of the Antichrist, which will be short, lived. Three and a half years to be exact.
11 “The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.”
This passage leaves us with a perplexing question. How can the Antichrist be an eighth king who belongs to the seven? Perhaps the answer lays in the first part of verse 11 “The beast who once was, and now is not.” The Antichrist will be one of the seven kings before receiving a fatal wound to his head, and will be supposedly resurrected. Following his fake resurrection, he will enter into the second phase of his rule and will demand that he alone be worshipped. Although that might be hard to comprehend, his ultimate destiny is not; he is going to his destruction.
C. The Ten Horns (17:12-14)
12 “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.” 13 “They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast.”
The ten horns refer to the ten kings who will rule as subordinates to the antichrist. Their reign, along with antichrist will be short lived - “One hour” is metaphorical for a short period of time. They have but one purpose for their existence that is to give whatever regional power they possess to the Antichrist and to carry out his bidding for his empire.
14 “They will make war 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.”
This is a reference to the Battle of Armageddon which we study in the last chapter (Revelation 16:14-16). They will be doomed to defeat because they are going up against the Lord of Lords (the ultimate sovereign one), and the King of Kings (the ultimate majestic one). Although the Lord of Lords and King of kings will need no assistance in winning victory in this final battle, He will be accompanied by His called, chosen and faithful followers.
These three titles capture the essence of what it means to be true believers in Jesus Christ. A believer is called (Klaytos), summoned in time by God in the proclamation of the Gospel to obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom through Christ.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
13 “ But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” 14 “He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
A True believer is chosen (Ek-lek-tos), picked out, chosen by God, to obtain
salvation through Christ before the foundation of the world.
A true believer is a faithful follower in the sense that He will not compromise his
love or loyalty to Christ, no matter the personal cost that he must pay for
his devotion . He is faithful in the sense that he carries out the purposes of the Lord, functioning with the gifts that God has bestowed upon him all for the glory of the Lord.
C. The Woman (17:18)
18 “The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
In John’s day (the time of the sixth king), the capitol city from which the entire world was ruled was Rome. But in the days of the seventh king who is also the eighth, there will be a central capitol city as well. From all scriptural indications, this city will be the city of Babylon by the Euphrates River.
“The site of modern Babylon is strategically located at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa and is not far from the Persian Gulf. It is also near the world’s richest oil fields and has a virtually unlimited water supply from the Euphrates. Those considerations led the famed historian Arnold Toynbee to proclaim that Babylon would be an ideal site for an important political and cultural center.” (Henry M Morris, Revelation Record, 349)
This chapter stresses the religious influence of this city. The woman represents the empire religion, which is supported by the political power of the Antichrist for a short time. Chapter eighteen will stress the political and economic influence of this city of the future, which will be destroyed by the Lord in an instant.
III. The Extermination of the Great Harlot (Revelation 17:16-17)
A. By the Antichrist and His Henchmen (17:16)
16 “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.”
Obviously, the alliance between the Antichrist and the false religious system will not last long. Having used this system for world domination and worldwide worship, the Antichrist will no longer see the value of this unholy union.
He will plunder the great prostitute leaving her naked. That is to say, he will destroy her and take the vast wealth of the false religious system for himself. This will be done with the help of the ten kings who live to serve him.
B. By God’s Sovereign Purpose (17:17)
17 “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.”
“God’s power is behind the destruction and consolidation of the evil empire; as always, Satan is the instrument of God’s purposes. The one world unification government, so long sought by the humanist, will have finally arrived only to be destroyed in one great act of divine judgment.”
All of God’s prophetic words about the destruction of the great prostitute will be completely fulfilled, which is a testimony of the divine origin of those Scriptural prophecies.
1. People can be deeply religious and at the same time thoroughly lost.
That is why one’s sincere devotion to a false religious system does not open the doors to God’s kingdom. It’s not the rituals, observances or the rites of some religious system that save the soul. It is being in a life transforming relationship with the true and living God through repentance and faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes, doing the external activities of a particular religious system gives a person a temporary sense of being right with God, or appeasing God by your observance of certain rituals, rites, or the practices of that particular religious system. But that is all a poor substitute for a relationship with the true and living Lord, which prompts you to follow the requirements of your faith based upon your love for the Lord.
The question for you is, are you in a religion, or do you have a relationship with the Lord?
2. There is a spiritual vacuum in the hearts of people that causes many to attempt to fill it with religion, while missing out on a life changing relationship with the living Lord.
Nothing can fill the God shaped vacuum in the heart of a person but God himself. And the exclusive way is only through Christ. Have you filled that vacuum with the only one who can fill it?
3. There are only two religions in the world.
There are only two religions the world has ever known or will ever know; the religion of divine accomplishment, which is biblical Christianity, and the religion of human achievement, which includes all other kinds of religion, by whatever names they may go under.
All the other religious systems require that those who are devoted to them must do certain things in order to gain the approval of their god or gods. Biblical Christianity stands alone in the promotion of the acceptance of God on the basis of His grace alone by faith alone, through the redemptive work of Christ alone. One word characterizes all the other religious systems of this world. It is the word “Do!” Biblical Christianity is characterized by the word “Done!”
Christianity is not a mystical religion, but is based in objective, historical, revealed, rational truth from God and intended to be understood and believed
What religion do you belong to?
4. Religion has the power to transcend the barriers to world unity such as, language, cultural, economic and ethnic barriers. This is why religion will be a very important tool in the hand of the Antichrist.
5. Revelation 17:17 denies the existence of any ultimate dualism in the world. In the final analysis, the powers of evil serve the purposes of God.
This is illustrated for us time and time again in the scriptures. You see it when Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him. He was able latter to say to them - you meant it for evil but God meant it for God. This is best illustrated by the death of Christ on the cross (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).
No matter the intensity of the evil we encounter in this fallen place, we can find comfort in the truth that in the end, good purposes of God for us will be realized. No matter the intensity of evil, it will never impede the purposes of a Sovereign God.
(Portions of this outline have been adapted from John MacArthur’s Commentary of Revelation)