Judgment on the Great Prostitute (Rev 17:1-8)

November 1, 2017 — Leave a comment

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Review

B. Text of Revelation 17:1-8

1Then one of the seven angels holding the seven last plagues came to me and spoke to me saying, ‘Come! I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters, 2with her the kings of the earth have fornicated. The people living on the earth have become drunk from the wine of immorality. 3Then he carried me away in the spirit to the wilderness. Then I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names and who had seven heads and ten horns. 4The woman had been clothed in purple and scarlet clothing, was wearing gold, and precious stones, and pearls. She was holding a gold cup in her hand that was full of loathsome things and her sexual impurities. 5On her forehead was written a name—a mystery—Babylon the great mother of all prostitutes and loathsome things on the earth. 6Then I saw the woman becoming drunk from the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs for Jesus. I was completely amazed when I saw her. 7Then the angel said to me, ‘Why are you surprised?’ I will show to you the mystery of the woman and the beast which carries her and has seven heads and ten horns. 8The beast which you saw was, but is no longer. He is about to come up from the Abyss but will go to destruction. Those who live on the earth will be amazed at this. These are the people whose names are not written in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world. They will see that the beast was, but now is no longer and no longer present.” (Rev 17:1-8)

Judgment on the Great Prostitute (Rev 17:1-8)

Photo Credit: A picture from Martin Luther’s 1534 Translation of the Bible

C. General Remarks

“Chapters 17 and 18 are dedicated to the description of the final destruction of Babylon in both its ecclesiastical and political forms. It is evident from these chapters that the events described precede the events represented in the seven bowls by a considerable period of time. In fact, it is probably that the events of chapter 17 occur at the beginning of the great tribulation.” (Walvoord, Revelation, 253)

II. THE DISPLAY TO THE PROSTITUTE (Rev 17:1-2)

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A. Angelic Revelation (v. 1)

Καὶ ἦλθεν εἷς ἐκ τῶν ἑπτὰ ἀγγέλων τῶν ἐχόντων τὰς ἑπτὰ φιάλας καὶ ἐλάλησεν μετʼ ἐμοῦ λέγων· δεῦρο, δείξω σοι τὸ κρίμα τῆς πόρνης τῆς μεγάλης τῆς καθημένης ἐπὶ ὑδάτων πολλῶν,

“Then one of the seven angels holding the seven last plagues came to me and spoke to me saying, ‘Come! I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters,” (Rev 17:1)

1. One of the Seven Angels

The angel described here likely is one of the angels (Rev 15:1) that had poured out his bowl judgement on the earth in Rev 16:2-21.

2. Prostitute in the Bible

  • Greek Word Background. The Greek word used here is πόρνη, which is used two different ways in the New Testament. One use is to describe someone engaged in sexual relations for hire. It is often translated as “prostitute” or “whore.” This is more of a literally meaning of the word and is used in Matt 21:31f; Luke 15:30; 1 Cor 6:15-16; Heb 11:31; James 2:25. The second use of this word is more of a figurative use of a political entity hostile to God. But it also is translated as “prostitute” or “whore.” This seems to be the word’s use in the book of Revelation as seen in Rev 14:8; 17:1, 5, 15f; 18:23; 19:2.
  • Bible Word Background. The people of Israel who had walked away from God were frequently called “prostitutes” (Ezek 16; 28; Hosea). Other nations are sometimes called a “harlot” or “prostitute.” Nineveh is one example (Nah 3:4) and Tyre is another (Isa 23:16f).

I share these two points because it shows that you—as someone who might not know Greek—can study the Bible as well as someone who does know Greek. I remember when I first started studying the book of Revelation I saw a lot of phrase that read, “Then I saw” and others that said, “And I saw” and others that stated, “After this I saw.” I was thinking, “Yes! Once I learn Greek I will learn how to distinguish the differences and why the timeline of the book of Revelation moves on and why sometimes it does not!”

However, I was very disappointed to learn that the same phrase is used over and over in the book of Revelation. It’s the phrase, Καὶ εἶδον, which means “Then I saw.” However, to figure how the book of Revelation progresses in time and chronological sequence you must read the text! In other words, when you are trying to figure out some of the Greek background in the Bible, there are times when an English reader can interpret the text just as well as a Greek scholar.

3. Over Many Waters

She rules “over many waters” means she rules over the “masses of people of every nation and language” (see Rev 17:15). This also, could have a literal meaning as well because it’s a literal city of Babylon on the Euphrates River. The city had canals, irrigation trenches, dikes, and marches surrounding the city. These waters provided protection as well as wealth.

B. Kings Follow the Prostitute (v. 2)

μεθʼ ἧς ἐπόρνευσαν οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐμεθύσθησαν οἱ κατοικοῦντες τὴν γῆν ἐκ τοῦ οἴνου τῆς πορνείας αὐτῆς.

“with her the kings of the earth have fornicated. The people living on the earth have become drunk from the wine of immorality” (Rev 17:2)

III. THE DESCRIPTION OF THE PROSTITUTE (Rev 17:3-6)

A. Her Place and Transportation (v. 3)

καὶ ἀπήνεγκέν με εἰς ἔρημον ἐν πνεύματι.
Καὶ εἶδον γυναῖκα καθημένην ἐπὶ θηρίον κόκκινον, γέμον[τα] ὀνόματα βλασφημίας, ἔχων κεφαλὰς ἑπτὰ καὶ κέρατα δέκα

“Then he carried me away in the spirit to the wilderness. Then I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names and who had seven heads and ten horns.” (Rev 17:3)

1. In the “spirit” or “Spirit”

The phrase ἐν πνεύματι could be translated “in the Spirit” or “in the spirit.” Meaning, it could be referring to the Holy “Spirit” or to the human “spirit.” Robertson correctly states that this is John’s human spirit (Robertson, Word Pictures) and as far as I know every English translation follows this interpretation.

2. Different Woman than Revelation 12

This is a different woman than the one John sees in Revelation 12. That woman is likely the nation of Israel.

3. Which Beast?

This is the same beast as the Beast of the Sea in Rev 13:1. More will be described in Rev 17:7.

4. Views on the Seven Heads and Ten Horns

a. Seven Heads

Here’s a couple views on the “seven heads.” 

  • Forms of Government that Are Successive. (Walvoord, Revelation, 255)
  • Seven Consecutive World Empires Throughout History. (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 286)

b. Ten Horns

The ten horns represent the kings who reign simultaneously in the end times (Walvoord, Revelation, 255).

B. Her Clothing and Jewelry (v. 4)

καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἦν περιβεβλημένη πορφυροῦν καὶ κόκκινον καὶ κεχρυσωμένη χρυσίῳ καὶ λίθῳ τιμίῳ καὶ μαργαρίταις, ἔχουσα ποτήριον χρυσοῦν ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτῆς γέμον βδελυγμάτων καὶ τὰ ἀκάθαρτα τῆς πορνείας αὐτῆς

“The woman had been clothed in purple and scarlet clothing, was wearing gold, and precious stones, and pearls. She was holding a gold cup in her hand that was full of loathsome things and her sexual impurities.” (Rev 17:4)

“The woman’s regalia of gold, scarlet, and gems is all too familiar to anyone acquainted with the trappings of ecclesiastical pope today, especially of high officials in certain branches of Christendom” (Walvoord, Revelation, 256).

C. Her Name and Title (v. 5)

καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ μέτωπον αὐτῆς ὄνομα γεγραμμένον, μυστήριον, Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη, ἡ μήτηρ τῶν πορνῶν καὶ τῶν βδελυγμάτων τῆς γῆς.

“On her forehead was written a name—a mystery—Babylon the great mother of all prostitutes and loathsome things on the earth.” (Rev 17:5)

1. Background to a Forehead Name

On Rev 17:5, “Roman harlots wore a label with their names on their brows (Seneca, Rhet. I. 2. 7; Juvenal VI. 122f.), and so here.” (Robertson, Word Pictures)

2. A Mystery?

Why is it a mystery if the name is specifically stated? It says clearly that this is “Babylon.” But, perhaps the best example is that according to John, writing in AD 95, there was no Babylon at that time. Some people might not have known the background or much about the nation of Babylon.

Some say that “mystery” should be part of the name of Babylon such as “Mystery Babylon the Great” (KJV 1900, former NIV translations, NKJV, AV). Yet, ὀνομα and μυστηριον are both neuter and Babylon is feminine, which suggests that μυστηριον should be appositive. According to Mathewson, “The Mystery concerns the eschatological plan of God for the consummation of all things” (Mathewson, Revelation, 226).

I think the correct rendering of this is not a “mystery” in being able to decipher. Instead, I think it is better to understand this as a mystery to be revealed. John wasn’t sure how this could be Babylon when Babylon had been wiped off the map long before his lifetime. The mystery is how Babylon would be back on the world empire scene.

3. Mother of All Things Unholy

There are two ideas here that could be communicated with the idea of Babylon being the “mother” of all prostitutes. One is that Babylon could be the biggest prostitute in the world. Or, another view is that Babylon is the “source” of all other prostitutes.

D. Her Drink and Drunk (v. 6)

καὶ εἶδον τὴν γυναῖκα μεθύουσαν ἐκ τοῦ αἵματος τῶν ἁγίων καὶ ἐκ τοῦ αἵματος τῶν μαρτύρων Ἰησοῦ. Καὶ ἐθαύμασα ἰδὼν αὐτὴν θαῦμα μέγα.

“Then I saw the woman becoming drunk from the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs for Jesus. I was completely amazed when I saw her.” (Rev 17:6)

1. The Church’s Persecution

Sadly, the church has been responsible for persecution and deaths of many people. According to Walvoord, “The history of the church has demonstrated that apostate Christendom is unsparing in its persecution of those who attempt to maintain a true faith in Jesus Christ. What has been true in the past will be brought to its climax in this future time when the martyrs will be beyond number from every nation and language” (Walvoord, Revelation, 259).

IV. THE DESTINY OF THE PROSTITUTE (Rev 17:7-8)

A. Angelic Interpretation (v. 7)

Καὶ εἶπέν μοι ὁ ἄγγελος· διὰ τί ἐθαύμασας; ἐγὼ ἐρῶ σοι τὸ μυστήριον τῆς γυναικὸς καὶ τοῦ θηρίου τοῦ βαστάζοντος αὐτὴν τοῦ ἔχοντος τὰς ἑπτὰ κεφαλὰς καὶ τὰ δέκα κέρατα.

“Then the angel said to me, ‘Why are you surprised?’ I will show to you the mystery of the woman and the beast which carries her and has seven heads and ten horns.” (Rev 17:7)

This appears to be the same beast which was described as the Beast of the Sea in Rev 13:1-10). The Beast of the Sea also had seven heads and ten horns (Rev 13:1). Except, the beast of the sea had ten crowns on its horns. This is similar to the description of Satan in Rev 12 which says that the dragon (which is Satan) has seven heads and ten horns (Rev 12:3). The difference is that Satan’s has seven crowns on his heads (Rev 12:3).

B. Interpretation of the Beast (v. 8)

Τὸ θηρίον ὃ εἶδες ἦν καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν καὶ μέλλει ἀναβαίνειν ἐκ τῆς ἀβύσσου καὶ εἰς ἀπώλειαν ὑπάγει, καὶ θαυμασθήσονται οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, ὧν οὐ γέγραπται τὸ ὄνομα ἐπὶ τὸ βιβλίον τῆς ζωῆς ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, βλεπόντων τὸ θηρίον ὅτι ἦν καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν καὶ παρέσται.

“The beast which you saw was, but is no longer. He is about to come up from the Abyss but will go to destruction. Those who live on the earth will be amazed at this. These are the people whose names are not written in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world. They will see that the beast was, but now is no longer and no longer present.” (Rev 17:8)

Some have tried to say that this beast is someone that is resurrected and brought back to life. Such as Judas Iscariot, Nero, or a recent world ruler. However, the best way to take this verse is to see the “eighth” beast as a political power, not a “ruler” (Walvoord, Revelation, 216).

V. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

Power now means nothing.

This passage seems to be something that indicates that the beast is so wonder and so powerful. The people marveled and were amazed at him. They saw the beasts amazing power and marveled at him.

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Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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