This will be a multi-week study on Revelation Chapter 17-18, widely considered to be some of the most difficult chapters in Revelation. I hope that you will make an effort to go through the whole study, which is available in multiple formats, such as video, mp3, or text, all available at the website versebyversebibleteaching.com
Why do such an in depth study on this issue?
In addition to the study of “The Woman that Rides the Beast”, we will also be studying the beast itself in depth, which is widely considered to be the Anti-Christ.
This section of Scripture offers so many opportunities to study other events in prophecy, such as Daniel and the timing of the events in the Book of Revelation. Therefore, it’s a great study of all things prophecy.
There is so much confusion about the identity of Mystery Babylon. Some of these interpretations not only lead to bad doctrine, but put the church in danger of being deceived in the end times.
It’s also important to study prophecy in general, because a major portion of the Bible consists of prophecy. Thus, if we neglect prophecy, we are neglecting a major portion of the Bible. The Scriptures cannot be rightly understood or unfolded if the prophetic sections are neglected.
Even among dedicated Bible scholars and teachers, there is a huge variety of views about the identity of Mystery Babylon, yet the angel in Rev 17:18 actually tells John what it is he has just seen. That angel tells John that it is a city.
Rev 17:18: “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”
It is referred to as a city eight times in Revelation, and all the things that happen to it seem to be talking about a literal city. For instance, the city is burned down, and the smoke can be seen from the nearby sea. This, and many other factors cause most Bible scholars to believe that it is talking about a literal city.
There are many candidates proposed for the identity of the city by Bible scholars, including Rome or Vatican City. Many early reformers saw it as Rome. Somewhat ironically, the Catholic church also teaches that it is Rome in their new American Bible commentary on the Vatican website, though it is referring to ancient pagan Rome, where the protestant reformers would say that it was the Rome of the Catholic church.
Some suggest the actual city of Babylon in Iraq. In this scenario, they say Babylon will be rebuilt in the future. In our study, we will look at this possibility in depth, as well as the other possibilities.
Mecca, or some other Arab cities have been proposed. This view has been especially popular very recently.
Jerusalem is also suggested, and this is one of the oldest viewpoints of Christians, and is held by many different groups. It probably has the widest range of proponents.
There is a long list of other less popular candidates, New York included.
Some other very popular viewpoints assert that the Bible is metaphorical, and say it’s not referring to an actual city, but is symbolic of something else entirely, possibly, a world pagan religious system, and/or a world a world financial system.
There is no reason that there should be this much confusion. I have counted the characteristics given to Mystery Babylon. In the three chapters that deal with her, over ninety characteristics are mentioned. That’s an astonishing amount of detail given for her. In this study, I will show that there is explicit Biblical evidence for most, if not all, of these ninety characteristics. There is no need to guess, because the Bible has made sure we can know for certain, simply by comparing Scripture with Scripture. I’m sure you will agree that the answer to this age-old question of the identity of Mystery Babylon (MB) is found within the pages of Scripture.
Before I go any further, I am going to tell you what I think scripture teaches that Mystery Babylon is. When I first heard this theory proposed, I said it couldn't be. If you give me a few minutes, though, I hope you will see, just as I did, that there is no one else it can be.
It is the eschatological city of Jerusalem. Notice that I chose my words very carefully in my description.
In other words ,it is the future Jerusalem of the end times, where, according to Daniel 11:45,
the Anti-Christ sets up his end-times world government and end-times world religion headquarters .
The city and its habitants will promote the Anti-Christ as the one true God, thereby committing the ultimate abomination, the ultimate harlotry. Not only that, but they will promote him and entice the world to follow them in their worship of the Man of Sin.
We know that the Anti-Christ will choose Jerusalem as the place to declare himself to be god (2Thes. 2:4 , Mat 24:15, Dan 11:31-32) We know that the greatest religious killing of all time will happen in the city of Jerusalem according to Matt. 24:15-21.
So often we look at the “Woman who Rides the Beast” and try to define her in terms of what we have already seen in history, as opposed to what Scripture says we will see in the future. That is the primary reason people miss this. As we will see, it is not because of a lack of explicit Biblical support.
For instance, Rev. 18:24 says: “And in her was found the blood of prophets…”
Have you ever known any cities to kill the prophets in Scripture or in history? Actually, we don’t even have to speculate, as Jesus says it is impossible for a prophet to be killed anywhere except Jerusalem:
“The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, ‘Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee.’ And he said unto them, ‘Go ye, and tell that fox, behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk today, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!’” Luke 13:31-34
This idea is repeated by the Lord in other places, as well. For instance, he tells them that their fathers killed the prophets and they hypocritically built their tombs. (Luke 11:47) In Matthew 23, He names Zechariah as such an example who he mentions was killed near the temple. He also says that they will be held accountable and judged for this blood on their hands.
If the blood of the prophets is found in the mystery Babylon city, it is strong evidence in favor of it referring to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is specifically called a harlot hundreds of times in Scripture and always in spiritual context – the harlotry of following false gods and killing prophets, etc.
Just a small sampling of this is in Isaiah 1:21: “How is the faithful city become an harlot! It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.”
Ezekiel 16 is entirely about this subject and it starts out: “Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations...”
He spends the whole chapter saying things like: “But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was. And of thy garments thou didst take, and deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and playedst the harlot thereupon: the like things shall not come, neither shall it be so.” Eze 16:15-16
Jerusalem is constantly warned in Scripture that if they do not turn from their harlotries they will be judged. As we go through Revelation 17-18, we will find that the specific judgments Mystery Babylon gets are the exact same as the ones promised to Jerusalem because of her spiritual harlotry.
Here is one example: “They shall also bring up a company against thee, and they shall stone thee with stones, and thrust thee through with their swords. And they shall burn thine houses with fire, and execute judgments upon thee in the sight of many women: and I will cause thee to cease from playing the harlot, and thou also shalt give no hire any more. Therefore, I also will recompense thy way upon thine head, saith the Lord GOD: and thou shalt not commit this lewdness above all thine abominations. Behold, every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying, As is the mother, so is her daughter.” Eze 16:40-43
This idea that Jerusalem is as a harlot, and also has children or inhabitants that are harlots, is what is meant when Revelation says that the “Woman” is the mother of harlots – the harlots are the inhabitants and Jerusalem is the mother.
I think that much of the confusion comes from the fact commentators want to put in the word ALL – “the mother of ALL harlots,” as if it was the source of all bad things from the history of the world. But that’s not what the texts says Mystery Babylon is – it simply says that the city is the mother of harlots, and that those harlots are the inhabitants of the city.
When Jesus reiterates this prophecy he uses the same language: “But Jesus, turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.’ Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us; and to the hills, cover us.’” Luke 23:28-30
This view of a futuristic Jerusalem of the Anti-Christ’s reign, being Mystery Babylon is not mine alone. I am standing firmly on the shoulders of giants. I first heard of this view from a great Bible scholar named Charles Cooper. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this view is the earliest recorded view of the church fathers that I have located. There was a writer name Hippolytus who produced the earliest known commentary on the Book of Revelation. He was probably the most important theologian of the 200's. This was an important time because Revelation was written so late that it took a long time to be circulated. As a result, we don't find many commentaries on it until about this time. However, around this same era, the hermeneutic (the way people interpreted the Bible) of the early church was about to change.
Around the time that the Catholic Church began in the 1300’s, people began interpreting the Bible more allegorically as opposed to looking at it literally or with a face value approach. As a result, there is a very short window of time during which we can hear the views of a premillennial and futurist church father on the book of Revelation. But here is what Hippolytus said about Mystery Babylon:
“By the unrighteous judge, who fears not God, neither regards man, he means without doubt Anti-Christ, as he is a son of the devil and a vessel of Satan. For when he has the power, he will begin to exalt himself against God, neither in truth fearing God, nor regarding the Son of God, who is the Judge of all. And in saying that there was a widow in the city, he refers to Jerusalem itself, which is a widow indeed, forsaken of her perfect, heavenly spouse, God. She calls Him her adversary, and not her Saviour; for she does not understand that which was said by the prophet Jeremiah: "Because they obeyed not the truth, a spirit of error shall speak then to this people and to Jerusalem." TREATISE ON CHRIST AND ANTI-CHRIST.
It is also worth noting that HIPPOLYTUS was a student of Irenaus who was a student of Polycarp who was a student of John, the original author of the Book of Revelation.
I used to think the “Woman” was Rome or the Vatican, but when we get to the verses about the seven mountains you will see why I see this interpretation, held by so many, is grammatically and contextually impossible.
I also used to believe that it was referring to an allegorical kind of amalgamation of the worlds occult religion or financial evil. You will see that that view requires a deliberate departure from the plain and simple meaning of the text. It also goes against the angel’s own interpretation of this, the “Woman”. It also tries to force that word ALL into phrases like, ”Mother of Abominations” and “Mother of Harlots.” I’ve actually seen commentaries that DO insert the word ALL into the text, saying instead: “Mother of ALL harlots” or “mother of ALL abominations,” but it’s just not there.
This imaginary “ALL” makes people think that they have to have Mystery Babylon account for all the worlds evil, past, present, and future. So, they go looking, in the past or in the present, for the most evil thing they can think of. And that’s pretty much how they come up with their interpretation – whatever the most evil thing is in their paradigm, is what MB will be to them. It’s not a coincidence that all the books about Mystery Babylon being Islam showed up after 911.
The strength of verse by verse is in its thoroughness. However, it will take several weeks to go through this study. I hope you will stay with me. This study will give me an opportunity to teach some of the most complicated aspects of the Anti-Christ, as well as the city in which he chooses to set up shop.
After this study, I think you will understand the Book of Revelation better than you ever have.
Rev 17:1 “And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, ‘Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:’”
(1) This first line connects us back to the previous chapter, (chapter 16), where the seven bowls were being poured out. The seventh bowl is the judgment of Mystery Babylon, the very thing we will be studying. So, let’s go back and read that passage first:
“And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done.’ And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.” Rev. 16:17-21
As is so often the case in the Book of Revelation, it will now, in chapter 17, zoom in to take a closer look at this great city that has just been judged. This is a pattern seen very often in the Book of Revelation and Scripture in general. For instance, in Revelation 13, it breaks from a chronological narrative to zoom in on the character of the Anti-Christ and false prophet. This same thing happens in chapter 7 where the chronology of the seals breaks to tell us more about the 144,000 and the “great multitude”, or in chapter 11 about the two witnesses.
Here, it’s no different. After telling us of the destruction of the great city, it will now zoom in to give us more details about its character. Those details will go on for two chapters, and will be the focus of our study.
“And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me “
This is one of the seven angels in charge of the seven vials/bowls. We are not told which angel specifically it is, but, in any case, the angel takes John aside and will begin to show him more details about the judgment of the “Great Whore”.
It says here that she “sitteth on many waters.”
This is not left for us to guess its meaning, as the angel will later tell us what this phrase means:
“And he saith unto me, ‘The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.’” Rev 17:15
When we combine this with verse 18 which says:
“And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” Rev 17:18
We see that this is a city that might be the center of a world empire of some kind. It will be the chief city in that empire or system. It is the seat of authority that the world government and world religious system comes from.
We will also see later on that John, specifically identifies the term “great city,” as Jerusalem.
This would be consistent with Daniel 11:45 where speaking of the Anti-Christ is says:
“And he shall plant the tents of his palace between the seas and the glorious holy mountain…” Daniel 11:45a
“…with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication…” Revelation 17:2
“With whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality,” indicates that John is fulfilling his commission given in Revelation 10:11 to prophesy against "kings." – revelationcommentary.org (RC)
So what is this fornication?
Revelation 19:2 states, "…the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication….” To corrupt (phtheiro, in the Greek) in this case means, "to cause the moral ruin of" someone.” – RC
The terms “harlot”, “whore” and “fornication”, are used very frequently in the Old Testament (OT), and only in a minority of the cases is it referring to actual sexual harlotry. In a vast majority of the cases, it is used to describe the worshipping of false Gods, especially in reference to Israel.
This is even the case in the famous story of Hosea the prophet. Hosea was told to marry an actual prostitute, but this was intended to be a symbol of God’s relationship with Israel who committed spiritual prostitution by worshipping other gods.
Hosea 3:1 explains: “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the LORD for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.’”
Spiritual harlotry is one of the most attested to symbols in Scripture. When God refers to harlotry or fornication and it is obviously symbolic, he makes it clear that it is spiritual harlotry achieved by the worshipping of false Gods.
One example that illustrates this well is here: “Wherefore, O harlot, hear the word of the LORD: Thus saith the Lord GOD; ‘Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness discovered through thy whoredoms with thy lovers, and with all the idols of thy abominations, and by the blood of thy children, which thou didst give unto them….’” - Eze 16:35-36
Here it is speaking of the practice of Israel sacrificing their children to the god Moloch, as well as the worship of idols of false gods.
We find another good example in Jeremiah 3:6: “The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, ‘Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? She is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot.’”
Here again we see harlotry made synonymous with the worship of false gods. The term “high places” is referring to the altars that would be made to false gods, and “under the green tree” was also a common place of false worship. This combination of terms is actually referring back to Deuteronomy 12:2:
“Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree…”
So, if this is the correct view of this fornication, and I think we will see that it is as we progress, then the kings of the earth are both committing fornication with her, and drunk off of her fornications. They are drawn in by her own infatuation and worship of the beast.
I believe this is best understood as the city of Jerusalem promoting the Anti-Christ not just as their messiah, but also as God himself. They will be instrumental in the promotion of the worship of Anti-Christ to the world. We see that the world during the reign of Anti-Christ will do religious service to him, bringing gifts from every nation to worship him. The world will be enticed into fully worshipping the Anti-Christ by the great city and its inhabitants. So, you can see what it means here – she herself is committing this fornication, and the world is made drunk by it, and they themselves also commit the same fornication.
Rev 17:3 – “So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.”
John is carried away by the spirit, so he is still being divinely directed in this vision.
The wilderness mentioned here does not have the definite article THE in the Greek, so it is actually better rendered A wilderness.
So, here we are introduced to another crucial character in this unholy drama – the scarlet colored beast full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
This is the exact same beast we saw in Revelation 13, which is almost universally agreed to be a description of the Anti-Christ.
Rev 13:1 – “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.”
It’s important to understand the basic symbolism – here the great city is riding the Anti-Christ.
This does not mean she is in any way in control of the Anti-Christ. We know this because later on, in Rev 17:16, the Anti-Christ actually turns on her and destroys her, and, in fact, hates her.
She, however, believes she has found a true husband and her king in the beast.
Rev 18:7b – “for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.”
Sadly, she is mistaken, and it says she will be utterly destroyed by the one she calls her king and her husband.
Being “full of names of blasphemy” is an important description of the Anti-Christ and is used in various places: Rev 13:1-6; Dan 7:8, Dan 7:20, Dan 7:25, Dan 11:36; 2Th 2:4
And notably in this passage:
“And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done. Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all. - Dan 11:36-37
And here: “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” – 2Th 2:4
We will speak more in depth of the seven heads and ten horns when we discuss verses 9 & 10, but they are speaking of the different occasions in history in which the spirit of Anti-Christ has manifested itself in the form of kings.
As we will see, John says of these heads:
“…they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.” – Rev 17:10
One of the heads, I believe the seventh one, which is the one John says is yet to come, will be the Anti-Christ who will receive a mortal wound and yet live.
Back in Revelation 13, when John is talking about this seven-headed beast he says the following:
“And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.” – Rev 13:3
The beast that she rides is the spirit of Anti-Christ that in the time of the writing of this book had already manifested itself in the form of kings six times in history, but one of them, the last head was still to come in the future. We are also told in Rev. 13 that one of these heads, which I believe to be the one yet to come for reasons I will explain later, will be mortally wounded and will seem to come back to life.
This is the beast that she worships instead of the true God.