Revelation 17 deals with a woman, and the beast she rides. Immediately the question looms -- Who are they? There are two basic interpretations...
Historical First Century Rome and her Empire
Some commentaries suggest that Rome is the woman, riding on top of her brutal, beastly empire. Seneca, the Jewish historian, called Rome a filthy sewer. It is an appropriate hypothesis, as Rome did indeed self-destruct, due to the nature of selfish and sordid leadership.
The End Time Apostate Church and Her Antichrist
This would be something of an alliance between a one-world church and a one-world government.
Of course I am going to throw my hat in the ring here, and suggest that the only valid interpretation is an application of a historical Roman Empire, and the future apostate church. There is no reason to believe that the parallel cannot be applied both to history past, and history yet to come. Isaiah did it when he prophesied concerning an event that happened hundreds of years before Christ, yet became a focal event for Christmas:
All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)
Everyone who has ever attended an Advent service has heard this verse accompanying the birth of Christ. However, these words were spoken to Ahaz, the disobedient King of Samaria, about the fall of the northern kingdom in 732 BC. It had a current historical meaning, and a future fulfillment in the birth of the Lord Jesus.
It was the same in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sinned. In the confrontation between God and those first heathens, a son is promised to crush the serpent's head. It was not their (Adam and Eve's) next son, Seth, who did it, but Jesus; you have historical setting, with prophetic implications.
And, so, as we look at the judgment of Babylon in this chapter, please keep in mind both the historical event of the evil Roman Empire, and its destruction – as well as the apostate or harlot church of the Great Tribulation; they both apply.
With that in place, notice three realities both the historical, and future harlots have in common:
One of the seven angels who had poured out the seven bowls came over and spoke to me. “Come with me,” he said, “and I will show you the judgment that is going to come on the great prostitute, who rules over many waters. The kings of the world have committed adultery with her, and the people who belong to this world have been made drunk by the wine of her immorality.” So the angel took me in the Spirit into the wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns, and blasphemies against God were written all over it. The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and beautiful jewelry made of gold and precious gems and pearls. In her hand she held a gold goblet full of obscenities and the impurities of her immorality. A mysterious name was written on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” Revelation 17:1 - 5 (NLT)
The great whore is an apostate church. She got her example from ancient Babylon, the womb of false religions. There needs to be care exercised by even the Christian today. Apostasy means a pseudo-religion, an imitation Christianity. There is a lot of it going around. Be careful to center on the truth of Jesus Christ, not the trappings of organized religion, or the entertainment of some so-called ministries in the media. When you reject the truth of Christ it means you're open to believing the lie.
When the bride leaves in the rapture of the true believers, the harlot will show up. Rome was like that. William Barclay describes in his commentary how the wife of Emperor Claudius would wait until he was asleep each night. She would then slip out of the palace, make her way to the public brothels, where she would put on the red and purple worn by the other prostitutes, strap a frontlet on her forehead with the name Lycisca, and there serve as a whore through the night.
You say, That's preposterous – the emperor's wife? Exactly!
I believe we’re ripe for such things right now:
· When things get turned upside down – when good is perceived as bad, right as wrong
· when murderers are turned loose because their civil rights have been violated
· when Ten Commandments of virtue and moral uprightness cannot be displayed on a school wall for fear of corrupting children's minds, yet the National Endowment For the Arts will use public funds to purchase paintings of homosexual acts as free expressions of our cultural diversity
· when eagle's eggs are protected by a $10,000 penalty and 5 years in prison, but you can murder a child by partially delivering it, then destroying his or her brain, how is it so hard to believe in religion turned upside down during the Great Tribulation.
We who hold our religious systems close ought to be very careful to not hold them so tightly. Longevity is no indicator of righteousness. If so, the Pope would be sitting at the right hand of God. Pope John XI was the illegitimate son of Pope Sergius. He was given the post by his father when he was only 12, because the boy's mother -- a prostitute who regularly visited Sergius – insisted! Just because the Roman church has wielded a certain amount of power for more than 1,000 years doesn't make it holy. The mother of harlots has had many children.
Our United Methodist church is in the throes of making decisions about whether we will adhere to Scripture concerning issues. Some mainline denominations have already succumbed to popular opinion on this front.
When you give up clear Scriptural truth in order to gain a benefit (the acceptance of the ecumenical crowd) it’s called “prostitution”.
I could see that she was drunk—drunk with the blood of God’s holy people who were witnesses for Jesus. I stared at her in complete amazement. “Why are you so amazed?” the angel asked. “I will tell you the mystery of this woman and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns on which she sits. Revelation 17:6 - 7 (NLT)
Martyrs are generally associated with the early church. One early Roman historian, Tacitus, recorded his views on the burning of Rome, and the ensuing persecution it ignited:
All human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor (Nero), and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius, at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred of mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs, and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burned, to serve as a nightly illumination when daylight had expired.
Babylon has its reputation bronzed for persecution of God's people. Recall it was Babylon that put Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, and Daniel in the lion's den because they wouldn't worship the idol.
Kent Hill, executive director of The Institute on Religion and Democracy, Washington, DC., said, There have been more martyrs produced in the 20th century than in all the other centuries combined since the time of Christ. Many have come out of Russia. In the 1930's and the 1940's tens of thousands of Christians lost their lives to the state authorities. Of the 47,000 Russian Orthodox churches that existed in 1917, there may have been as few as 100 left open by 1939.
Today persecution has not been stamped out – it is on the rise. If it were not so, Jesus would never have warned the churches,
Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10 (NLT)
The beast you saw was once alive but isn’t now. And yet he will soon come up out of the bottomless pit and go to eternal destruction. And the people who belong to this world, whose names were not written in the Book of Life before the world was made, will be amazed at the reappearance of this beast who had died. “This calls for a mind with understanding: The seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills where the woman rules. They also represent seven kings. Five kings have already fallen, the sixth now reigns, and the seventh is yet to come, but his reign will be brief. “The scarlet beast that was, but is no longer, is the eighth king. He is like the other seven, and he, too, is headed for destruction. The ten horns of the beast are ten kings who have not yet risen to power. They will be appointed to their kingdoms for one brief moment to reign with the beast. They will all agree to give him their power and authority. Together they will go to war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will defeat them because he is Lord of all lords and King of all kings. And his called and chosen and faithful ones will be with him.” Then the angel said to me, “The waters where the prostitute is ruling represent masses of people of every nation and language. The scarlet beast and his ten horns all hate the prostitute. They will strip her naked, eat her flesh, and burn her remains with fire. For God has put a plan into their minds, a plan that will carry out his purposes. They will agree to give their authority to the scarlet beast, and so the words of God will be fulfilled. And this woman you saw in your vision represents the great city that rules over the kings of the world.” Revelation 17:8 - 18 (NLT)
When the political beast destroys his mother (the harlot church), by persecution, it will catch the whole world's attention, and turn the world's people against the true Christ. He will lead the greatest force the world has ever seen against the Lord Jesus – and be destroyed. He will be sent into perdition – Hell!
The unique thing here is that John tells us that while the beast will gather his forces, taking credit for the idea of defeating Jesus, it is God who will allow him to be so deluded into thinking he is invincible. As one preacher put it, Even the wrath of men is made to praise God.
There are those who follow the beast into the abyss. These are they whose names are not recorded in the Lamb's Book of Life. A mother and daughter were coming home from Vacation Bible School one summer day. The little one asked Mom if they could stop at the library. The mother asked why, and got this explanation, This morning my teacher told me that the only way we get to heaven is if our name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life. I just want to make sure that my name is there!
We smile at the sayings of little ones – but how appropriate. Don't you want to make certain your name is recorded there? I do!
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
Tacitus (Roman historian), Annals 15, Quoted by William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol 2, (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1976), 146
R. H. Charles, Quoted by William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol 2, (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1976), 149
Nora Newport, Today's Christian Woman, July/August 1992, 19