Bible Commentaries
Revelation 17

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-18

Great Babylon Exposed in View of Judgment

The next two chapters (17 and 18) deal with great Babylon, her character, her self-exaltation and her judgment. This emphasizes the solemnity of God's view of the corruption of Christianity. One of the seven angels of Revelation 16:1-21 bids John to come and see the judgment of this great harlot who sits on many waters-who has strong influence over many nations (v. 1). This is the final form of Roman Catholicism, yet then including many others who had professed Christianity while having no knowledge of Christ as Savior. Thus it is more of an apostate "world-church" comprised of all merely professed Christians who were left behind at the Rapture, but organized under the ecumenical umbrella of Rome.

The kings of the earth have had illicit associations with her, indulging in religious hypocrisy for political reasons and for monetary gain (v. 2). Rome of that day will be most cunning, with no regard for faithfulness toward Him whose bride she professes to be. She mixes her pleasurable wine to intoxicate and seduce great numbers of the inhabitants of the world.

John is carried by the angel into the wilderness (v. 3). This is in designed contrast toRevelation 21:10; Revelation 21:10 where he is carried to a high mountain to view the true bride, the great city, the holy Jerusalem. The wilderness reminds us of the moral and spiritual desolation of this vast corrupt future-day religious organization called "great Babylon," its very name meaning "confusion."

She sits on a scarlet coloured Beast, full of names of blasphemy, indicating that she assumes divine rights and titles in defiance of God. The seven heads and ten horns of the Beast refer to Revelation 13:1, for she will have considerable influence over the revived Roman Empire. She is pictured as holding the reins of this bestial empire, but only for a short time before she is thrown off and destroyed by the very empire she sought to control (v. 16).

Being arrayed in purple and scarlet (v. 4) indicates her assuming the place of royalty and of world-wide attraction, in total denial of the present true place of the Church in sharing the sorrow and rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ, her future husband. This adulterous woman seeks the public display of glory and honor (gold, precious stones and pearls) in a world that still rejects the Lord she professes to represent. True faith, on the other hand, refuses to accept the world's honors at a time when that world dishonors our blessed Lord. The golden cup in her hand indicates her claim to be the representative of the glory of Christ on earth, but inside is abomination (idolatry) and the filthiness of her fornication (corruption).

The terrible name written on the woman's forehead for all to see (v. 5) is in contrast to the 144,000 in Revelation 14:1 who have the Father's name in their foreheads, and the saints of the heavenly city in Revelation 22:4 who have the Lamb's name in their foreheads. Great Babylon advertises herself, not the Lord. "Mystery" tells us of her deceitful covering of her character by keeping her victims in ignorance of the Word of God and in bondage to mystical rites and human dogmas. As the mother of harlots she has children who are as guilty as she.

"Drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (v. 6) is a graphic way of describing her insensitivity to the enormous guilt of her persecution of the true saints of God. Like a wild beast that has tasted blood, she has become the more callous and unrelenting. John, in seeing her, wonders with great wonder. Probably it was hard for him to imagine a woman being so exalted and yet so callous. Could one have before thought of the professing "church" developing so grotesque a character?

The Mystery of the Woman and of the Beast Explained

The angel questions John as to why he marvels (v. 7). Is it so hard to understand that when the best thing on earth (the true Church of God) is corrupted, it becomes the worst corruption? The angel then gives a long explanation that is a key to understanding the mystery of the woman and of the Beast on which she rides. The Beast "was and is not" (v. 8). During the Christian dispensation the Beast, the Roman Empire, has ceased to exist. However, it is about to exist again by ascending out of the bottomless pit, or the abyss. NATO and the European Common Market embrace the general area of the Old Roman Empire, and no doubt foreshadow the revival of the Empire to take place soon after the Rapture. Ascending out of the bottomless pit speaks of its revival by means of satanic power. Satan will be allowed to bring the Roman Empire back into existence in order that God may judge that whole system that was in power at the time of the crucifixion of Christ and was guilty of perpetrating history's most enormous miscarriage of justice. The Beast will go to destruction. Its judgment will be swift and sure. These things are true of the Roman Empire as such and true also of the man who will rule it, also called the Beast or the seventh head, who will also become the eighth head (v. 11).

Though this head of the Roman Empire will be at Rome, he is the political head and must not be confused with the head of the Roman Catholic church. The "church" is looked at as a woman, responsible to be in subjection to the Man Christ Jesus. We see her in this case, however, seeking to take the prominent place of holding the reins and directing the Beast as she desires. Though she is a religious entity, she seeks political prominence.

Earthdwellers (whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world) will wonder at the miraculous character of the revival both of the empire and its head. They are ignorant of the fact that Satan can produce miracles and lying wonders that can deceive anyone who does not know the Lord Jesus Christ. There is further explanation for the mind that has wisdom. This explanation establishes the fact that prophecy can have at least a double application. The seven heads speak of seven literal mountains of the city of Rome (v. 9). This clearly settles the issue as to the woman's identity. She is the religious system that holds great influence over the Beast, over political Rome. Also, the heads indicate seven successive kings (or authorities), five having already passed at the time of writing, the sixth being then in power and the seventh still future (v. 10). The sixth was Imperial Rome (Rome under the Caesars) at the time the Apostle John wrote these words. Now the whole present dispensation of the grace of God has intervened before eventually, at the beginning of the seven year Tribulation period, the seventh head will rise.

When he arises he continues a short time. This Beast that was and is not, is said to be the eighth, yet "is of the seven" (v. 11). The only apparent answer to this is that he is the seventh head, but will be revived as the eighth head. He personally will receive a deadly wound, evidently in the great overthrow of government by anarchy under the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12-17). Thus, he falls as the seventh head, but arises by satanic power as the eighth head. However, the glory of his revival is only for a moment: he goes into perdition.

The ten horns are ten (European) kings (v. 12) though not in power at the time John wrote, but who will be identified with the Beast in a future great political-military confederacy. These appear to be Western European nations which were part of the bygone Roman Empire and will at the end willingly join forces with the Beast.

The ten nations are not forced into alliance with the Beast by military conquest. Rather, they have one mind and give their power and strength to the Beast. Of course these nations want the advantage of a strong leader and the protection of one another, as well as economic advantage. This "one mind" therefore is one purpose, not really unity of heart and soul.

"These shall make war with the Lamb" (v. 14). They don't fight against Israel, but against the Lamb. Although they intend to defend Israel when they come to Armageddon, God is punishing Israel for its idolatry, and the Beast interferes by attempting to defend Israel. Thus, he is fighting against God and against the Lamb, who by infinite grace seek only the true good of the idolatrous nation of Israel. "The Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings." This great event is seen accomplished in Revelation 19:11-21. Those with the Lamb have no significance in winning the victory: it is won by His power alone. Yet because they are "called, chosen and faithful," He will honor them by associating them with Himself in His conquest of the nations. All the saints caught up in the Rapture are "the armies in heaven" (Revelation 19:14). They have been there for at least seven years awaiting this great manifestation.

Verse 15 gives us another key to the understanding of prophecy. The waters of the sea on which the woman sits (v. 1) are declared to be "peoples multitudes, nations and tongues." Of course, she sits on the Beast which involves ten nations (v. 3), but her influence is more widespread still. It is over many Gentile nations. The waters symbolize the Gentile nations, just as the land speaks of Israel.

Though the harlot has long enjoyed great prominence and influence, those very nations which have been most forward in giving her this idolatrous adulation will be those who turn in bitter vindictiveness against her. The ten horns and the Beast eventually will be filled with hatred against all that remains of the so-called Christian religion. They will divest her of her luxurious clothing and eat her flesh, evidently appropriating her wealth, and will destroy her by fire. The whole religious world-church will be desolated, and the center of it, Rome, evidently literally burned (Revelation 18:18).

This judgment appears to coincide with the Roman Empire (the Beast and its ten horns) accepting the lie of the Antichrist, the false prophet of Israel. Once he has set up "the abomination of desolation" in Jerusalem at the middle of Daniel's seventieth week and claims to have given it life, it is understandable that all who accept this will then despise the claims of Christianity and reject every vestige of it. How long after the middle of the week this destruction takes place is not told us, but it will be before "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:1-9) and before the Beast and his armies gather at Armageddon with the purpose of defending Israel against the King of the North (Revelation 19:19).

Little do the Beast and his cohorts realize that in all this they are subservient to the God they have refused! It is He who puts in their hearts to destroy the corrupt woman, the false church (v. 17), and He uses them until His judgment is complete. Then they too will suffer the judgment they justly deserve.

Finally, verse 18 gives the clearest testimony as to who this woman is-"that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth." Rome the city stands for the world-church, the woman. Her condition then will have worsened far beyond what it is today because no believers will remain to restrain the growth of corrupting evil.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Revelation 17". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.