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Bible Study: The Book of the Revelation – LESSON 15

Calvary Bible Church Bible Study

The Book of the Revelation


LESSON 15:  JUDGMENT ON BABYLON. 17:1–18:24 (part 1, chapter 17)

That the theme of Babylon is an important one in the Revelation can be seen from the fact that the Spirit of God devotes two chapters in this essential book of prophecy to the subject.  From Genesis 10:10 (Babel is from the Akkadian Bab-ilu, gate of God), which is the first mention, to 18:21, which is the last reference, this subject of biblical city and its impact upon the spiritual realm is given extraordinary coverage.  All the  major prophets (Isaiah-Daniel) have important disclosures concerning Babylon.  Isaiah refers to the city thirteen times, Ezekiel, seventeen times, but Jeremiah most of all with one hundred and sixty-eight references.  In the Revelation, besides chapters 17–18 which are entirely devoted to the subject of Babylon, the first occurrence of the word is in 14:8, the second, in 16:19.  Both passages briefly indicate the fall and doom of Babylon.   In a true sense, chapters 17–18 are an elaboration of 16:19.


Vrs     17:1             John the apostle is invited by one of the seven angels, which had the seven vials (bowl judgments), to witness the judgment of (1) the great whore and (2) her position (that sitteth upon many waters). The reader is not left to his own resources in the interpretation of this important chapter, but he must scrutinize every clue given. Harlotry is amply explained in passages of the Old and New Testaments (see Ezekiel 16:15; Hosea 1–3; James 4:4; 2nd Peter 2:14).  Both adultery and harlotry are sins of physical immorality which are made to represent spiritual defection and apostasy.     Her harlotry is explained in verses 4–6 of this chapter and in 18:3–5, among other passages.  The many waters upon which she sits are interpreted directly (in vrs. 15) as peoples and nations.


Vrs     2                  Some commentators identify her as a corrupted Catholic Church, headquartered in  Rome, with the inclusion under her power of all systems and sects which are basically anti-Christian, including apostate Christianity.   My personal belief is that the harlot is spiritual, but I believe that it will be an ecumenical, New Age corrupt religion that will include Catholicism as well as many others.


Vrs     3                  In verse 1 the position of the harlot was described in its wide scope, all nations and peoples; here she is seen sitting (dominating and domineering) upon a scarlet-colored beast. Is the harlot the same person as this woman? Yes.  The meaning of her riding the scarlet beast, with names of blasphemy, and having seven heads and ten horns, is that the religious system is controlling and subjugating the political power (cf. 13:1 for the connection with the beast from the sea).  The scarlet color indicates the glory and splendor of the political power, but it cannot hinder the suppressive control of the religious leaders.


Vrs     4                  Some six elements are introduced to demonstrate the wealth, luxury, and extravagance of the harlot. But all is utilized toward the one end—her uncleanness and immorality (see 18:19 for a picture of extensive wealth). The golden cup here is related to the enticements spoken of in verse 2.


Vrs     5                  There is no mistaking her identity, for her name is written upon her forehead. Roman harlots in their brazenness wore a label with their names on their foreheads (R. H. Charles).  The name contains a mystery, a disclosed secret for this time.   Her widespread influence is underscored by the repeated references to her greatness.   She is the source of godlessness and idolatrous practices throughout the world.   What is the intended meaning of this verse?  It is stating that literal Babylon of old is a “type”, a symbol of religious Babylon (Jeremiah 50:38; 51:7).   Mystery, Babylon is in fact the mystery of iniquity in its final form (see 2nd Thessalonians 2:7).


Vrs     6                  To this point one may feel that the harlot system is guilty of atrocities in the moral and spiritual realms alone. But she is culpable of much more. The blood of the saints and witnesses for Christ has stained her hands. In 18:24, the climax of the two chapters on Babylon, she is again charged with being drunken with the blood of the saints who have been martyred on earth.   Here is professing Christianity with her many pagan followers persecuting and slaying the saints of God; it is not now simply pagan emperors as in the days of the early Church.  No wonder John was amazed. He was astonished that the professing church of his day could become so degenerate in a coming day.


Vrs     7                  What the Apostle John saw still needed to be explained to him in its details. Since the disclosure was granted him, not to confuse him, but to instruct him, the angel (vrs. 1) promises to explain the mystery of the woman, and of the beast.

Vrs     8                  There is a consensus among interpreters that this beast is a revived form of the Roman Empire: its historic appearance, its long disappearance, and its future reappearance.  The ancient Roman Empire was destroyed in its imperial form in John’s time in AD 476. That political power is not in existence today, except in the form of the European Union.   Notice that, as to his human origin, the beast is from the nations; but as to its supporting power, it is a satanic revival.


Vrs     9                  It is immediately stated that it takes God’s wisdom to understand the disclosure. The seven mountains (or hills) are proof that mystical Babylon cannot be ancient, literal Babylon, which was situated in a plain and not on mountains. However, it is known that Rome is built on seven hills; classical writers familiarly spoke of “the city of seven hills”.


Vrs     10                Who are the seven kings? The text plainly states that five are past, one is present, and the last is future.  This government will have ten kingdoms (see Daniel 2 and 7), never equaled before and all subject to the beast, whose tenure of office will be brief.


Vrs     11                There will be an organic connection between the last two stages of the Roman (styled) Beast in his sovereignty. He will be one of the seven, but distinct enough to be considered the eighth (Daniel 7:7–8, 23–26).


Vrs     12                The ten kings kingdoms (13:1) is the form in which the Roman Empire will be revived.  Verses 10 and 12 both stress the shortness of this rule: a short space and for one hour. The precise time has been given earlier in the book more than once.


Vrs     13                The confederated kings of the revived Roman Empire will have one mind and purpose: total subservience to the Beast.


Vrs     14                What is the goal of the confederated powers? Nothing less than war with the Lamb. Recall the war in heaven between Michael and his angels (12:7) and the dragon and his angels—quite an unequal combat.   But here the balance of power is infinitely against the ungodly armies.   The Lamb shall overcome them … and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.   The issue is never in doubt; it is victory for the Lamb and His redeemed (not angels) in heaven, as can be discerned from the three adjectives that conclude the verse.   Notice the honorific, well-deserved title of the Lamb.   Here, by anticipation, is another preview of Armageddon, yet to be fully set forth in 19:14–21.


Vrs     15                Peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. In an apocalyptic book with rich symbolism and a multiplicity of participants, there is need for occasional explanation; so this verse identifies the waters of verse 1.


Vrs     16                Here illumination is given concerning the beast and his underlings who were dominated by the apostate system (vs. 3).   In some way not stated, the subservient ones turn the tables and vent their hatred against the harlot.   So complete will their judgment on her be, that it must be expressed by four concepts: desolation, nakedness, consumption (cannibalism), and burning (see the fate of Jezebel of old, 2 Kings 9:30–37).


Vrs     17                Overruling all the feelings of the enemies of the harlot, it will ultimately be God who directs them to execute His judgment on her. All He has given in the prophetic word shall be fulfilled.


Vrs     18                The woman of this verse is the same as the one in verse 16, and indeed throughout the chapter. This verse is not an unnecessary addendum to the chapter. It reveals (1) that the woman (harlot), though a colossal system of apostasy and idolatry, is also to be thought of in terms of that great city of her headquarters, most probably, Rome; and (2) that her reign is worldwide (over the kings of the earth).