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Buist Fanning: The phrase “he carried me away in the Spirit” in 17:3 (cf. 21:10) mirrors the expression “I came to be in the Spirit” (1:10; 4:2) in signaling the third of four high-level transitions between major units in the whole book of Revelation. The intervention of a heavenly mediator who carries John away “in the Spirit” reveals a new phase in the complex of visions that began in 1:9–10 and was extended in 4:1–2. Now in 17:1–3a the vision is extended again (although its content was previewed in 16:19: God’s wrath on Babylon). This third phase of John’s visions, focusing on Babylon’s fall, runs from 17:1 to 19:10. In this section Babylon is portrayed as “a great prostitute” allied to the beast and leading the whole world astray, but devastated in the end by internal strife (17:1–18). Those who benefitted from her rich luxuries and misdeeds bewail her devastation and its effects on the world (18:1–24), but in heaven there is rejoicing over God’s just punishment on the prostitute and an introduction to the Lamb’s pure bride who contrasts with her (19:1–10). . .

In both 17:1–3a and 21:9–10 we find one of the seven-bowl angels transporting John away “in the Spirit” to “show” him a notable woman who represents a city, either Babylon representing human society opposed to God, or the heavenly Jerusalem come to earth. Both sections conclude in remarkably parallel ways as well.

Daniel Akin: This harlot is said to lead the kings, the rulers of the world, into sexual immorality. The image is one of spiritual adultery and idolatry. Not only does she seduce the leaders of the world, but common people, “those who live on the earth,” are drunk with the wine of her sexual immorality (17:2). The lust for power, material possessions, sex, and pleasure has intoxicated the world. No one under the sun (see Ecclesiastes) has escaped her enticing allurements. The prostitute has captivated their hearts and taken over their lives. As 1 John 2:16 explains, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle” have become our gods. This is a description of a world where the American dream is ultimate. And we must be careful because it is not hard to imagine that you and I will wake up on that day and realize that we have all become Babylonians!

Kendell Easley: John has a vision of human civilization, religious but independent of God, blossoming for one last time as a splendid city supported by Antichrist. The city is personified as a gorgeous prostitute drunk on the blood of God’s people yet doomed to be destroyed by Antichrist and his forces.

John MacArthur: Because false religion is so much a part of this fallen world, it is no surprise that it will play a major role in the end times. During the Tribulation, all the world’s diverse false religions will be reunited into one great world religion. That ultimate expression of false religion will be an essential element of Antichrist’s final world empire, in holding together his military, economic, and political structure. Only religion can unite the world in the most compelling way. Politics, economics, even military force are unable to overcome the world’s cultural diversity. Only religion, with its appeal to the supernatural, can transcend the physical, geographical, historical, economic, and cultural barriers to world unity. Chapter 17 reveals the spiritual nature of Antichrist’s kingdom; chapter 18 follows with its material aspects. God will destroy both aspects of Antichrist’s kingdom. . .

The final world religion, depicted as a harlot, is the theme of this vision, which records

  • the exposure of the harlot,
  • the explanation of the harlot,
  • and the extermination of the harlot.

The great harlot that will be judged is not an actual prostitute. The term harlot is a metaphor for false religion, spiritual defection, idolatry, and religious apostasy. Besides Babylon, several cities in Scripture are designated harlot cities because of their idolatry and pursuit of false religion. Nineveh (Nah. 3:1,4),Tyre (Isa. 23:15–17),and, sadly, Jerusalem (Isa. 1:21) are examples of cities that committed spiritual fornication.

John’s vision exposes several aspects of the harlot city of Babylon: her authority, alliances, apparel, abominations, and accusation.

S. Lewis Johnson: We have on the one hand, Babylon, the apostate city, from whence have come all of the evils that have infiltrated true worship down through the centuries. And on the other hand, we have the holy city, the city of the new Jerusalem. So these things are obviously opposed one to another.

J. Hampton Keathley, III: The subject of this section is the judgment of religious Babylon. The judgment describes her condemnation, sentence, and penalty passed. The emphasis is the particular character and nature of the penalty that God has in store for Babylon. . .

Babylon’s description as “the great harlot” refers to the spiritual prostitution and fornication that categorizes the apostate church of the Tribulation which is unfaithful and rejects the Lord Jesus Christ as her husband (2 Pet. 2:1-2).


David Aune: Rev 17:1–3a should be understood as an introduction not to the vision of Rev 17 only (as Charles, 2:55, assumes, but cf. 62) but rather to the entire unit of text from 17:3b to 19:10. When the angel promises in 17:1 to show John the judgment of the great whore, that judgment is summarily predicted in 17:1 but is in fact delayed until Rev 18, where it becomes the focus of attention. In Rev 19:2 there is a retrospective mention of this motif when it is said that “he has judged the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication,” referring to Rev 18 while reflecting the vocabulary of Rev 17:1.

A.  (:1) Mission of the Revealing Angel

  1. Initiation of One of the Seven Bowl Angels

And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls

came and spoke with me, saying,

Sola Scriptura: We are not told which one of the seven bowl-carrying angels is helping John, but one might guess that the angel carrying the bowl interprets that particular bowl.  Since the seventh bowl-carrying angel unleashed the devastation that destroyed the cities of the world, we naturally suspect that this same angel now details the destruction for John of the capital of Antichrist’s satanically empowered city.

  1. Invitation to Witness the Judgment of the Great Harlot

Come here, I shall show you the judgment of the great harlot

who sits on many waters,

Buist Fanning: More broadly, sexual infidelity appears in the Bible as a metaphor of turning away from the Lord to worship a false god (e.g., 2 Kgs 9:22; 1 Chr 5:25; Ps 73:27; Jer 3:6; Ezek 23:19, 29–30; cf. also Rev 2:14, 20). But the angel calls this one “the great prostitute” (τῆς πόρνης τῆς μεγάλης), the one who above all others is guilty of reprehensible conduct and of influencing others toward it, and he adds the significant description, “who lives beside many waters” (v. 1c). This reflects a conventional description of the city of Babylon, situated on the Euphrates with its tributaries and canals (Jer 51:13; Ps 137:1).

G.K. Beale: Symbolizing Babylon as a harlot connotes her alluring and seductive nature in attempting to draw people away from Christ. . .

Babylon’s “sitting” on many waters speaks of her sovereignty over the nations, for “sitting” in Revelation (3:21; 4:2, 4; 5:1; 14:14; 18:7, etc.) indicates sovereignty, whether used of God, Christ, the angels, or evil beings. 18:7 confirms this, since there Babylon says “I sit as a queen.” At the least, the sitting implies the woman’s alliance with the world and the beast.

J. Hampton Keathley, III: “That sits on many waters” refers to world-wide unification and control. “Waters” refers to the “nations” and the many people of those nations. “Sits on” suggests the concept of control as well as unification. The nations are religiously united and politically affiliated with each other through the power and control of this religious system and its head.

B.  (:2) Metaphorical Characterizations of the Wicked Impact of Babylon the Harlot

  1. Metaphor of Sexual Immorality

with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality,

John MacArthur: The harlot’s alliances will be comprehensive. Her deadly embrace will encompass all the unredeemed, from kings and rulers to common people; all will worship and submit to her religion. Far from being separated, church and state will be united as never before in human history.

  1. Metaphor of Sexual Intoxication

and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk

with the wine of her immorality.

Buist Fanning: The prostitution theme continues in v. 2 with the added explanation of the significant influence she has across the whole world. The earth’s kings “committed sexual immorality” (ἐπόρνευσαν) with her (v. 2a), a figure for drawing other nations into Babylon’s profane behavior (repeated in 18:3, 9; interpreted as political and cultural domination in 17:18). The latter half of the verse rephrases this as drunkenness or moral incapacitation on the part of “those who inhabit the earth” (cf. 18:23, she misled all the nations). The world got drunk “with the wine of her sexual immorality” (v. 2b; ἐκ τοῦ οἴνου τῆς πορνείας αὐτῆς; cf. 14:8; 18:3), and they with her will suffer punishment for it.  In light of the Old Testament background mentioned above, these references to “sexual immorality” promoted by a sensuous “prostitute” should be read as symbolic for spiritual and moral sins: she leads the nations away from the true God into idolatrous worship, and away from what is just and decent into moral failings of various kinds. In the world of John’s readers, this “sexual immorality” took the form of temptations to engage in emperor worship and other idolatrous associations that enticed them on a daily basis in their lives in Roman Asia Minor.

Kendell Easley: This harlot promised her clients the pleasures of the world and the flesh; she delivered the pain of drunken stupor. The prophet Jeremiah described the Babylonian civilization of his day in like terms: “Babylon … made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore they have now gone mad” (Jer. 51:7).

G.K. Beale: The nations’ cooperation with Babylon ensures their material security (see on 2:9; 13:16-17). The intoxicating effect of Babylon’s wine removes all desire to resist Babylon’s destructive influence, blinds them to Babylon’s own ultimate insecurity and to God as the source of real security and numbs them against fear of a coming judgment. For the OT roots, see Hos. 4:11-12: “Harlotry, wine and new wine take away the understanding. My people consult their wooden idol … for a spirit of harlotry has led them astray.” Elsewhere in Revelation idolatry and immorality (Greek porneia) are closely linked (2:14, 20-21; 9:21; 14:8). The economic interpretation of the nations’ intoxicating passion and the kings’ immoral passion for Babylon is clear from 18:3, 9-19, where the same phrases for immorality and intoxication of 17:2 are equated with terms for economic prosperity, and the nations’ loyalty to Babylon lies in her ability to provide economic prosperity for them (see also on 14:8). An economic interpretation of the verse is confirmed by the allusion to Isa. 23:17, where Tyre “will play the harlot with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth.” Tyre is called a harlot because she caused destruction and induced uncleanness among the nations by economically dominating them and influencing them by her idolatry. That idolatry is included together with an economic emphasis is clear from Isa. 23:18, where Tyre’s illicit wages “will be set apart to the Lord” in the future instead of to any other false object of dedication as formerly. That Tyre is in mind at least as an analogy to Babylon is clear from the repeated reference in Revelation 18 to the Ezekiel 26–28 pronouncement of Tyre’s judgment and the specific allusion in v. 23 to Isa. 23:8 (see on 18:23).


And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness;

G.K. Beale: The angel carried John away in the Spirit into a wilderness. “In the Spirit” is a formula of prophetic commissioning, based on the similar formulas expressing Ezekiel’s repeated prophetic commissions, e.g., Ezek. 2:2: “the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet”; Ezek. 3:12: “The Spirit lifted me up” (likewise Ezek. 3:14, 24; 11:1; 43:5). Ezekiel is commissioned with prophetic authority to announce judgment to sinful Israel. Similarly, John’s transport into the realm of the Spirit underscores his prophetic commission and authority (see 1:10; 4:2 and especially 21:10, where allusion to the Ezekiel commissions also occurs in the same manner). And as with Ezekiel, John’s inspired message in 17:3ff. is an announcement of judgment. . .

These verses present us with a nuanced understanding of the significance of the desert. Revelation consistently presents the desert as the place where, in spite of ever-present danger, God provides security for His people. It is in this place of attack upon God’s people that God now declares His judgment of the attackers. John needed to be taken into the desert (understood as the place of God’s security) in order to avoid being mesmerized by the harlot. How easily is it possible for God’s people to be seduced by her attractive appearance and the economic and social advantages she offers to those who cooperate with her?


A.  (:3b) Descriptive Appearance of the Beast

  1. Scarlet in Color

and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast,

Kendell Easley: Although a different Greek word than the one earlier translated “red” is used here, there is no more difference between them than the English words “red” and “scarlet” or “red as fire” and “red as blood.” Earlier John had seen a red horse of war (6:4) and Satan as a giant red dragon. The red dragon had called up a sea monster whose color was not given (13:1). Now that its color is noted, once again it is like its master. Just so that we identify this scarlet beast correctly, it is described in identical terms to the one John saw earlier, having seven heads and ten horns like its master the dragon (13:1).

G.K. Beale: That the woman rides the beast connotes her alliance with it. She represents the ungodly world as it works with the state socially, culturally, and economically to persecute Christians (17:6; 18:24; 19:2). They are also mutually involved in deception of ungodly multitudes throughout the earth (e.g., 14:8; 17:2, 8). . .

John Walvoord: The fact that the woman is riding the beast, and is not the beast itself, signifies that she represents ecclesiastical power as distinct from the beast, which is the political power. Her position as a rider indicates on the one hand that she is supported by the political power of the beast, and on the other that she is in a dominant role and at least outwardly controls and directs the beast.

  1. Sacrilegious in Curses

full of blasphemous names,

Kendell Easley: Earlier, each head had carried a sacrilegious name; now the entire beast is covered with blasphemous names, no doubt claims to divine status that monarchs from Pharaoh onward have loved. The beast’s utter rejection of God is symbolized by the extent of these tattoos. As we saw when this monster first appeared, it represents raw political-military power rampaging through history.

David Thompson: We are not told what the names are, but they are all names that slander God.

  1. Satanic in Composition

having seven heads and ten horns.

John Walvoord: The significance of the seven heads and ten horns is revealed subsequently in this chapter—the seven heads apparently referring to forms of government that are successive, and the ten horns to kings who reign simultaneously in the end time. That the woman, representing the apostate church, is in such close association with the beast, which is guilty of utter blasphemy, indicates the depth to which apostasy will ultimately descend. The only form of a world church recognized in the Bible is this apostate form destined to come into power after the true church has been raptured.

B.  (:4) Defining Seductive and Salacious Imagery

  1. Images of Seductive Beauty

a.  Seductive Clothing

And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet,

G.K. Beale: The parts of her attire are listed as products of trade in 18:12. Therefore the woman, draped with these products, is identified with a prosperous trading system. Her clothing is scarlet, representing her persecution of the saints. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah speak of harlots with red attire symbolizing their spilling of the blood of the righteous (Isa. 1:15-23; Jer. 2:34).

David Thompson: The fact that this woman is clothed in purple and scarlet is no coincidence. This is the very color of the robe that was put on Jesus Christ just before His crucifixion. He was being mocked and mistreated while wearing this color of a robe (Matt. 27:28; Mark 15:17, 20). God has never forgotten about that moment. He never forgot about the history and the source of that evil that brought that moment into existence. God is holding this woman accountable for what happened to His own Son and she will pay the full brunt of His wrath for it.

b.  Seductive Jewelry

and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls,

Kendell Easley: The gold, precious stones and pearls are not inherently evil. Here they show the garish but extravagant splendor of a wealthy whore, but later these same elements will embellish the holy splendor of the heavenly bride (21:18–21).

John MacArthur: Prostitutes usually dress so as to attract attention to themselves, and metaphorically the harlot Babylon will be no different. John saw her clothed in purple and scarlet, the colors of royalty, prosperity, nobility, and wealth (cf. Judg. 8:26; Est. 8:15; Lam. 4:5; Ezek. 23:6; Dan. 5:7, 16, 29). That she is adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls portrays her as a prostitute who is both attractive (cf. Prov. 7:10) and has plied her trade successfully and become extremely wealthy.

  1. Images of Salacious Defilements

a.  Salacious Abominations

having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations

G.K. Beale: The abominations in the woman’s cup are also references to idolatry, for that word is used frequently in the OT to refer to idolatry (Deut. 29:17; 2 Kgs. 23:24; 2 Chron. 34:33; Jer. 16:18, etc.). The unclean things are associated with her immorality. “Immorality” (Greek porneia) and the related verb elsewhere in the book are figurative expressions for idolatry (so 2:14, 20-21; cf. 9:21; see on 14:8; 17:2), as they are here. As we saw in the letters, there is a clear connection in Revelation between illicit forms of economic activity (including simply the worship of money) and idolatrous practices, and the woman represents both.

J. Hampton Keathley, III: “Abominations and unclean things” may refer to the various forms of idolatry involved in the worship of God through images, statues, and medals, etc. “Unclean things” refers not only to the nature of the doctrines taught, but what they lead to in the life, immorality and impurity. Man’s religion offers no solution to the flesh. It’s the flesh seeking to overcome the flesh and it profits nothing (John 6:63; Col. 2:20-23).

David Thompson: God holds Babylon accountable for causing His people to worship something other than Him. Babylon introduced horrible idolatry into religion and the world. She pulled Israel away from the true God of the Bible. Some of the idols she introduced went by various names:

1)  Bel – Jer. 51:44

2)  Marduk – Jer. 50:2

3)  Nebo – Is. 46:1

4)  Succoth – benoth- II Kings 17:29-30

5)  Tammuz – Ex. 8:14

b.  Salacious Immorality

and of the unclean things of her immorality,

Buist Fanning: The woman for her part is described in powerful images of both royal beauty and revolting abomination (v. 4). She appears in regal robes of “purple and scarlet” and jewelry of “gold, precious stones, and pearls,” and she carries a fine “golden cup” in her hand.  But the cup is brimming over with “abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality,” a reference to the defilements and idolatries that she leads the nations into (vv. 2, 4; cf. Deut 12:31; 2 Chr 28:3; Isa 2:8; Jer 13:27; Matt 24:15; Mark 13:14).

C.  (:5) Declared Identity

and upon her forehead a name was written, a mystery, ‘BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.’

J. Hampton Keathley, III: The practice of harlots in ancient times was to write their names on their foreheads for easy recognition, which showed the shamelessness of their character. It revealed a seared conscience from continual rejection of God’s truth.

John Walvoord: Nimrod was the founder of Babel, later called Babylon, and leader of the rebellion against God in attempting to make a city and a tower that would reach to heaven (Genesis 10–11). In the ancient world it was a common practice to build huge mounds (ziggurats) of sun-dried bricks, of which the most ancient illustration was discovered at Erech, a place mentioned in Genesis 10:10 and dated more than 3,000 years before Christ. The tower of Babel was apparently a forerunner of later towers dedicated to various heathen deities. This tower was a monument to human pride and an express act of rebellion against the true God.

Charles Swindoll: Origin of man-made religion at Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9)

Here we see the three foundations of man-made religion:

  1. rejection of God’s promises —faithlessness
  2. rebellion against God’s commands —disobedience
  3. refusal of God’s grace —legalism

J. Hampton Keathley, III. Take a close look at the text [Isa. 47:8-11]. Ancient Babylon had a spiritual religion built upon blasphemous premises:

(1)  The deity of man — “I am. And there is no one besides me.”

(2)  A false belief in triumph over death — “I shall not sit as a widow, nor shall I know the loss of children.

(3)  Moral relativism — “Hear this, you sensual one.”

(4)  Esotericism, or private enlightenment through mystical spiritual experiences – “Your many sorceries . . the great power of your spells.”

G.K. Beale: The notion of “mystery” . . . refers to the ironic, mysterious way in which God will fulfill His prophetic words concerning Babylon’s destruction — that kingdom will turn against itself (as the next verses will reveal) and begin to self-destruct even before the return of Christ, who will finally demolish Babylon. This was indeed a mystery not as clearly seen by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel, but is now made clearer to John. Fulfillment of prophecy always fleshes out details that were not contained in broadly-given OT prophecies.

Buist Fanning: Her primary name then is given as “Babylon the great” (v. 5b). Additional phrases describe her as “the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth,” representing the widespread effect that her influence exerts. She is “the mother” in the sense that she produces others who engage in “prostitution” (i.e., misusing valuable or sacred things for personal gain; violating what is right and good for evil or self-centered purposes) as she herself does.  So also she is the origin above all others of detestable, repulsive deeds—especially idolatrous acts. None of these names are likely to be what she would call herself (much like Jezebel in 2:20), especially not the additional phrases. These constitute the Spirit’s characterization of her as given in John’s vision.

Daniel Akin: Like the Roman prostitutes of the day, she has a headband, and here that headband is a mystery about to be revealed: “Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and of the vile things of the earth.” . . . This prostitute is “that great system of godlessness that leads people away from the worship of God and to their own destruction” (Mounce, Revelation, 311). It is an ever-present reality, a seductress that exists and entices in every age and every generation. It is a this-world perspective. Seduced by the sirens and idols of the day, we run madly down a path of spiritual and eternal suicide. Proverbs 6:32-33 rings true for this mad, mad world:

The one who commits adultery lacks sense; whoever does so destroys himself. He will get a beating and dishonor, and his disgrace will never be removed.

Kendell Easley: The Mother of Prostitutes means “source of idolatry and evil.” If this woman is indeed “Dame Civilization,” then from God’s point of view much of the achievement of humanity through the millennia has amounted to evil. If John’s original readers thought immediately of the city of Rome, they would have recognized the luxury and corruption rampant in the great mistress of the world.

The Mother … of the Abominations of the Earth finishes the secret name of the harlot. This confirms and expands the second part of the title. Whatever was detestable around the world issued from the great city. Again, Dame Civilization, especially as she is revealed in the world’s great cities, has proven to be the source of every conceivable human atrocity.

John MacArthur: The harlot is called mystery BABYLON to indicate that BABYLON in this context does not refer to a geographical location. This is not ancient Babylon, the Babylon of John’s day, or the rebuilt city of Babylon in the end times. The details of this vision can’t be applied to any actual city. Here is a previously undisclosed Babylon, a secret reality to be revealed in the end times. This BABYLON is the symbol of all worldly resistance to God; it is described as THE GREAT because of its far-reaching influence. In fact, so great will be its influence that it is called THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. Babylon will be the source of all the false, idolatrous, blasphemous worship in the end times. Her designation as the MOTHER OF HARLOTS is appropriate, since harlotry in Scripture often symbolizes idolatry (cf. Judg. 2:17; 8:27, 33; 1 Chron. 5:25; 2 Chron. 21:11; Jer. 3:6, 8–9; Ezek. 16:30–31, 36). So Babylon, the city that spawned the system that corrupted the world with false religion, will do so again.

D.  (:6a) Drunk with Blood

  1. With the Blood of the Saints

And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints,

John MacArthur: Some commentators see the saints and the witnesses of Jesus as two distinct groups, the former being the Old Testament saints and the latter the New Testament saints. More likely, however, the two descriptions refer to the same group and describe God’s people throughout history. The important point is that false religion, represented here by the harlot, is a murderer.

  1. With the Blood of the Witnesses to Jesus

and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.

Daniel Akin: The notorious prostitute has set her sights throughout history on the people of God and the followers of Jesus. Indeed, this whore is “drunk on the blood of the saints and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus” (18:24; see Isa 49:26). In the New Testament alone the seeds of martyrdom were planted by John the Baptist, Stephen, James, and Antipas. From those seeds has flowed the blood of saints for 20 centuries. And the more blood this world drinks, the more it wants. Its intoxicating effects consume it and drive it to want more and more and more. The twentieth century was the bloodiest in Christian history. We should expect the twenty-first to be worse. Mounce again is helpful: “Although the Neronian massacre after the great fire of AD 64 may have been in the back of John’s mind, the drunken prostitute pictures the final days of persecution at the end of the age” (Revelation, 312). As we move toward the end of history, we can expect the blood of martyrs to flow like a river, even a flood, among the nations. It may be your calling and my calling. Are we willing to embrace it? Philippians 1:21 is a wonderful reminder that it is worth it to die for Christ!


And when I saw her, I wondered greatly.

Buist Fanning: The final part of v. 6 begins the transition from the vision of the woman that John has been shown (vv. 1–6; reinforced here by the phrase, “when I saw her”; ἰδὼν αὐτήν) to the angelic explanation of the vision (vv. 7–18). The verb “to be astonished” (θαυμάζω) occurs in v. 6b and v. 7b to signal the change. The sense of “astonished” here is a mix of “appalled by fear and dismay” and “confused, perplexed.”  This reaction is found frequently in apocalyptic texts at the literary seam where a symbolic visionary experience is followed by a heavenly interpretation. The response of “perplexed fear” (sometimes expressed by θαυμάζω or ἀποθαυμάζω, sometimes by their synonyms) is what typically characterizes the human recipient of the vision (e.g., Dan 4:19; 7:15; 8:27; cf. 4 Ezra 10:27–37; 12:4–9; 13:14–20).

Kendell Easley: John knew that what he was seeing must point beyond anything happening in his own time. Further, he had been promised a vision of the prostitute’s punishment (v. 1). So far, he had only seen her power and prestige. Thus he needed help from the angel who had initiated the vision.

John MacArthur: expressing that he was confused, shocked, astonished, and frightened by the ghastly vision of such a contrastingly magnificent figure of the woman and such a deadly intent.

J. Hampton Keathley, III: We should never be deceived by outward form or religiosity no matter how outwardly attractive or influential or powerful as is the case with this ecumenical and godless system.


Kendell Easley: Final Antichrist, an eighth and final head of the seven-headed (seven-kingdom) sea monster, will bring about the destruction of his own great city and will, in turn, go to destruction.

(:7)  Introduction to the Angel’s Interpretation

  1. Inappropriateness of John’s Response

And the angel said to me, ‘Why do you wonder?’

G.K. Beale: The angel is really asking why John should be afraid and troubled by the vision, as he was by earlier visions (e.g., cf. 1:17). It is best taken as a rhetorical question whose implied answer is a rebuke: John should not be fearful and perplexed.

  1. Interpretation Offered of the Harlot and the Beast

I shall tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.

John MacArthur: The beast that John saw is Antichrist, the satanic ruler of the last and most powerful empire in human history, who will serve as Satan’s instrument to attack Israel, persecute believers, conquer the world for Satan, and oppose Christ. Scripture portrays him as an intellectual genius (Dan. 7:8); an outstanding orator (Dan. 7:20); a military leader without parallel in human history (Dan. 7:23); a shrewd, calculating, manipulating politician (Dan. 8:25; 11:21); and the ultimate religious charlatan (2 Thess. 2:4).

A.  (:8-14) The Significance of the Beast

  1. (:8)   Its Origin and Destiny

a.  Ambiguity of the Beast

The beast that you saw was and is not,

and is about to come up out of the abyss and to go to destruction.

Kendell Easley: These descriptions obviously mock and mimic God, the one “who is, and who was, and who is to come”.

Buist Fanning: The beast “was” (ἦν; i.e., “existed in the past”) and “is not” (οὐκ ἔστιν; i.e., does not at the time John is writing exist in the world of the living) and “is about to come up out of the bottomless pit” (v. 8a; cf. 11:7, he will arise from the realm of the dead). All this is true because he had been put to death but was expected to return to life soon. He appears in 13:3 as one with a mortal wound (“as though slain unto death”), whose deathblow had been “healed” (13:3, 12), that is, he had “the wound of the sword but came to life” (13:14). The response of the non-Christian world (those not recorded in “the book of life,” v. 8c; 13:8; cf. 3:5) to this remarkable recovery is worshipful amazement (they “will marvel,” v. 8d; 13:3) at what appears to be a supernatural recovery. Verse 8d–e repeats 13:3, 12 in different words when it says they will worship “when they see” that the beast “was and is not and will be present” (ἦν καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν καὶ παρέσται; the first two verbs repeated from v. 8a). The only negative thing said about the beast here is the final clause in v. 8a, that he goes “to destruction” (repeated in v. 11b as an inclusio bracketing off vv. 8–11 as a unit). The career of the beast will seem wildly successful until he turns his satanic-inspired hostility against the returning Christ. His defeat at that point will be swift and overwhelming (19:19–21; cf. 2 Thess 2:8).

David Thompson: The emphasis of this statement is twofold:

1)  When the beast surfaces out of the abyss he will be totally and completely demonic and Satanic because that is the place where demons are.

2)  When he receives a mortal wound he will apparently go to this abyss until he is raised back out of it which will cause the world to marvel (Rev. 13:1-3).

b.  Amazement of the Earth Dwellers

And those who dwell on the earth will wonder,

whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.

Kendell Easley: The Book of Life is a roster of heaven’s citizens; otherwise, by default people are on the membership roll of Babylon. In Revelation 13:8, the Book of Life belonged to the “Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world,” emphasizing God’s plan to redeem humanity. Here, the emphasis shifts slightly. Not only did God plan to redeem from the beginning, he planned who would be redeemed from the beginning. No stronger statement of the sovereignty of God in things pertaining to salvation is found in all the Bible.

  1. (:9-11) Its Heads = Mountains / Kings

(:9a)  Need for Discernment

Here is the mind which has wisdom.

G.K. Beale: The beast’s imitation of Christ will be shown as a sham in the end. Whereas Christ’s resurrection results in Him living for evermore (1:18), the beast’s resurrection results in his destruction. It takes divine wisdom to discern the difference in the destinies of the Lamb and the beast (so v. 9a).

a.  (:9b)  Defined as Mountains in Terms of Location

The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits,

Buist Fanning: Part of the enigma is that the beast’s “seven heads” are said to represent “seven mountains” (v. 9b) as well as “seven kings” (v. 9d/10a).  The details added with each phrase help to differentiate their meanings. The beast’s heads are “mountains” in that they show the woman’s location (v. 9b–c), but they are “kings” in that they characterize his role and that of others associated with him in that role (vv. 9d/10a–11). . .  What sitting on “seven mountains” indicates is that the woman is associated with Rome, widely known in the ancient world as “the city of seven hills.”

b.  (:10)  Defined as Kings in Terms of Empires

1)  Summary Definition of Seven Kings

and they are seven kings;

2)  Specific Definition of the Seven Kings

five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come;

and when he comes, he must remain a little while.

Daniel Akin: Efforts to identify these seven kings with seven Roman emperors have not worked. Viewing them as seven secular empires similar to Daniel 2 and 7 is more promising in my judgment, though I hold my view with great tentativeness. In Israel’s history five kings or kingdoms had fallen and passed off the scene: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. The one who “is” would obviously be Rome. And the one that “has not yet come” is the future kingdom of the antichrist. His kingdom will draw from the characteristics of the previous six. Once again the number seven would communicate completeness or perfection in power. The manifestation of this kingdom “will remain only a little while.” Yes, the beast as a man and kingdom will embody the brutality, greatness, splendor, strength, and wickedness of these great empires. But like all other worldly empires, it will have its day and come to an end. Brilliantly organized and with a plan for world domination, it will be impressive for a time, a very brief time, as it stands in pale comparison to the eternal and everlasting kingdom of God. The world has a plan, but God’s plan will endure forever.

Marvin Rosenthal: The Antichrist is a man who lived before.  He ruled one of the previous seven great empires which directly impacted Israel.  The first six were (1) Egypt, (2) Assyria, (3) Babylon, (4) Medo-Persia, (5) Greece, and (6) Rome (Rev. 17:10).  The clear identification of the seventh nation awaits further enlightenment.  Not only has the Antichrist lived and ruled before, but he will live and rule again.  He will literally be raised from the dead.  Concerning this raised ruler and his kingdom the Word of God has much to say.  “And I saw one of his heads as though it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed, and all the world wondered after the beast” (Rev. 13:3; cf. 17:9). . .  He apparently actually dies, descends to the abyss and returns to life.  The world understandably wonders after him.

Kendell Easley: A review of Scripture indicates that, in fact, five great empires threatened the survival of God’s Old Testament people Israel.

  1. Egypt during the days of Israelite slavery tried to destroy the chosen people by ordering all male babies killed (Exod. 1). The prostitute city at that time, probably the sixteenth century B.C., was Memphis.
  2. Assyria during the days of the prophets Hosea and Isaiah destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C. (2 Kgs. 15). The prostitute city of that time was Nineveh, the original “great city” of the Old Testament (see the Book of Jonah).
  3. Babylon during the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel destroyed the two southern tribes (the kingdom of Judah) and burned Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (2 Kgs. 25). The prostitute city was Babylon on the Euphrates.
  4. Persia during the days of Esther the queen (about 460 B.C.) came very close to destroying every Jew because of the plotting of Haman, a true monster (see the Book of Esther). Modern Jews still remember this event with the annual Feast of Purim. The prostitute city was Persepolis.
  5. The Seleucid Empire was successor to part of Alexander the Great’s realm. Under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the “abomination of desolation” in 168 B.C. desecrated the temple of Jerusalem and outlawed the practice of Judaism (see Dan. 8–12 and 1 Maccabees in the Apocrypha). The Maccabean Revolt spared the Jews and was remembered with the annual celebration of Hanukkah. Antiochus was a monstrosity (Dan. 8:23–25; 11:21–35). The prostitute city was Antioch.

These, then, are the five fallen kingdoms.

3)  (:11)  Supplemental Focus on the Beast

And the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth,

and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.

Buist Fanning: This beast who had been killed but was expected to come back to life (cf. 13:3, 12, 14) would be the successor to the seventh emperor (the beast is “eighth”), a king in the same line (“of the seven”). As discussed at 13:18, this beast pictures Nero as a type of the future antichrist. Here his apparent revival to life is associated with a return to Rome/Babylon accompanied by allies who will help him briefly gain power again, but at the cost of devastating results for the empire itself (v. 16; 18:17, 19). To be clear, John’s typology does not picture Nero himself returning but one in the end times who will be like Nero, characterized by even greater savagery and madness. But his terrible reign is destined not to last long. He “goes to destruction” (v. 11b), as v. 8a also declared, summarily defeated by the returning Christ (19:19–21). The victory that Christ will gain over the beast leads to the angel’s explanation of the beast’s ten horns that follows (vv. 12–14).

  1. (:12-14) Its Horns = Ten Kings

a.  (:12)  Future Kings

And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings,

who have not yet received a kingdom,

but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour.

Buist Fanning: They symbolize “ten kings” (v. 12a), but not kings that rule one after another and stretch from the past into the future as represented by the heads (vv. 9–11). Instead, these ten exercise authority simultaneouslywith the beast” for a short period of time, for “one hour,” and their rule has not yet begun: they “have not yet received ruling authority” (v. 12b–c; cf. “ruling authority” or “kingdom rule,” βασιλεία, in vv. 17, 18).

J. Hampton Keathley, III: Now remember, in prophecy we sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between the kingdom (governmental system) and the king. One verse will speak of the kingdom and the very next verse switches to the king. Such is the case here. The beast is sometimes the empire and sometimes the Satan-controlled man.

b.  (:13)  Faithful to the Beast

These have one purpose

and they give their power and authority to the beast.

c.  (:14)  Failing in Their Warfare against the Lamb

1)  Opposing the Lamb

These will wage war against the Lamb,

Kendell Easley: Verse 14 focuses attention not on the entire period of the monster’s reign, but on the very end. This develops further Revelation 16:14, in which the beast gathered the “kings of the whole world … for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.” Already the seven bowl plagues have been unfolding even as worldwide military forces make war against the Lamb.

2)  Overcome by the Lamb

and the Lamb will overcome them,

because He is Lord of lords and King of kings,

3)  Observed by the Lord’s Army

and those who are with Him

are the called and chosen and faithful.

David Thompson: The Lamb has a victorious army with Him. When Jesus Christ returns, He is not coming alone. He will have His army with Him. Really, He doesn’t need them to win this thing, but He has decided to share this moment with His family. He promised the Church that they would participate in coming back to reign with Him (Rev. 2:26-27).

Daniel Akin: This description highlights the biblical balance of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Called and chosen is God’s part; faithful is our part. Thankfully, even our faith and faithfulness are kept by the power of God (Jude 24-25).

Kendell Easley: They were chosen before they were born when the Lamb had written their names in his Book of Life (17:8). They were called to be his disciples at the point of their conversion (Rom. 8:30). Then they demonstrated the genuineness of their commitment by living as faithful followers of the Lamb (14:12). For this reason they have the privilege of following the Lamb in his victorious war.

John MacArthur: The terms are rich in their definition of believers as the eternally elect, chosen in the Son before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4); the called, summoned in time by the Father to repentance and faith that saves (John 6:44); and faithful, demonstrating the true saving faith, the genuine eternal life that endures by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9).

B.  (:15-18) The Significance of the Great Harlot

  1. (:15) Worldwide Coalition Dominated by the Harlot

And he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw where the harlot sits,

are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.’

Buist Fanning: This multinational character for the prostitute is not at odds with her identification as Babylon the great, since Babylon is typological of future world powers allied against God, but it more clearly identifies her as the center of a worldwide coalition or empire that she dominates (cf. v. 18).

Charles Swindoll: The Beast’s empire will be supported by an alliance of nations from around the globe, from “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (17:15). All of the world powers will surrender their sovereignty to the Antichrist (17:13), who will reign over all the kings of the earth from his great capital city (17:18). That is, the original tower-of-Babel dream of a worldwide government with one ruler, one language, one religion, and one economy will finally be realized for a brief season —figuratively speaking, “for one hour” (17:10, 12).

  1. (:16-17) Devastation of the Harlot by the Beast and His Allies

a.  (:16)  Reflects Hostility Towards the Harlot

And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast,

these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked,

and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire.

Kendell Easley: Main Idea Review: The final product of civilization will be a great wicked city, capital of Antichrist, persecutor of God’s people, destined for the wrath of God.

J. Hampton Keathley, III: For centuries the kings and the harlot have appeared as lovers, butthere has been no real love between them. They each simply used the other to further their own ends. But now the religious system will have served its purpose, so the ten kings banish and completely destroy the harlot (the religious system). Her wealth, buildings, property will be confiscated, her leaders killed, and everything else destroyed.

G.K. Beale: The Babylonian harlot is also modeled on Jezebel, who represents the spirit of idolatry, a spirit still active in the churches (2:20-24). The object of this destruction includes the apostate church, which has “committed acts of immorality” by cooperating with the idolatrous economic system (see on 2:14, 20-22). Their leader has even been referred to under the image of a harlot (2:20-22). Her followers will have the shame of their nakedness revealed (16:15; the reference to “the shame of your nakedness” in 3:17-18 may indicate the presence of Jezebelic activity in Laodicea). Strikingly, the phrase (they) will eat her flesh is reminiscent of Jezebel’s destiny: “the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel” (2 Kgs. 9:36). Jezebel’s destruction, according to the same verse, likewise happened according to the word of the Lord, just as is the case here.

Note the many other parallels between the OT Jezebel and the Babylonian harlot, which further link the latter to the false prophetess Jezebel active in at least one of the seven churches:

  • Both were heavily adorned or made up (2 Kgs. 9:30; Rev. 17:4).
  • Both were queens (1 Kgs. 16:31; Rev. 17:18; 18:7).
  • Both controlled seductively (1 Kgs. 21:25; Rev. 17:2).
  • Both were guilty of spiritual fornication or immorality (2 Kgs. 9:22; Rev. 17:1-2).
  • Both engaged in witchcraft (2 Kgs. 9:22; Rev. 18:23).
  • Both were greedy for wealth (1 Kgs. 21:7; Rev. 18:11-19).
  • Both persecuted the saints (1 Kgs. 18:4; Rev. 17:6).
  • In both cases a righteous remnant opposed her sinful ways (1 Kgs. 19:18; Rev. 17:14).
  • God avenged on both the blood of His servants (2 Kgs. 9:7; Rev. 19:2).
  • The destruction of both occurs quickly (2 Kgs. 9:33-37; Rev. 18:10, 17, 19).
  • God judges the followers of both (1 Kgs. 18:40; 2 Kgs. 10:19; Rev. 2:23; 18:9-10; 20:15).

John MacArthur: Antichrist’s alliance with the false religious system will not last. Eventually the ten horns (the ten kings who rule under Antichrist) and the beast (Antichrist himself) will come to hate the harlot. Having used the false religious system to help him gain control of the world, Antichrist will discard it. In his rampant megalomania, he will want the world to worship only him. He will also no doubt covet the vast wealth of the false religious system. Thus, he will turn on the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. That graphic language of extreme violence is used to make clear that Antichrist and his henchmen will utterly and completely obliterate all vestiges of the false religious system.

Antichrist’s self-serving, satanically inspired actions are, however, precisely in the scope of God’s sovereign plan. In fact, it is God who will put it in the hearts of Antichrist’s followers to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast. God’s power is behind the destruction and consolidation of the evil empire; as always, Satan is the instrument of God’s purposes. The one-world unification government so long sought by the humanists will have finally arrived, only to be destroyed in one great act of divine judgment. All the words of God—every prophecy of Christ’s return and the setting up of His kingdom—will be fulfilled completely.

b.  (:17)  Reflects Harmony with God’s Sovereign Plan

For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose

by having a common purpose,

and by giving their kingdom to the beast,

until the words of God should be fulfilled.

Daniel Akin: The kings believe they are carrying out their own program for conquest, but actually they will accomplish God’s providential program. Having destroyed the woman, the antichrist will unite the world’s religious, economic, and political systems under his control. The 10 kings will agree to “give their kingdom to the beast until God’s words are accomplished” (17:17). God’s prophetic program will reach its intended goal as He sovereignly allows the kingdoms of this world to come under the beast’s control until the end of the tribulation.

J. Hampton Keathley, III: Verse 17 states the principle that God uses the blasphemous actions of world religions and governments to fulfill His own purposes. The plan of the ages unfolds majestically and Scripture shows that God permits the increasing increments of wickedness until the cup of iniquity overflows, then judgment comes.

In the declaration “God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose,” there is another indication of God’s use of the forces of evil as instruments of his own purposes of judgment (Jer 25:9-14; cf. Lk 20:18). Nothing will distract them from their united effort to destroy the prostitute until God’s purposes given through the prophets are fulfilled (cf. 10:7; 11:18).

  1. (:18) Summary Explanation

And the woman whom you saw is the great city,

which reigns over the kings of the earth.

Seems to refer to the anti-God, man-made religious system as John MacArthur argued up in verse 5.

Alternate Views:

Sola Scriptura: Revelation 11:8 clearly identifies “the great city” as Jerusalem.  The fact that the great harlot is called a city argues strongly for this conclusion.  Revelation 17:5 shows that Babylon is not referring to the literal city of ancient Babylon.  Therefore, there is nothing in Revelation 17 that disqualifies Jerusalem as a solution for this text.

The way the woman rules over the kings of the earth is through the Antichrist.  This makes her a harlot.  She prostitutes herself with Antichrist when she rightly belongs to God.

Tony Garland: Although this phrase is also used of Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8+) and of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10+), here it is to be identified with Babylon (Rev. 14:8+; Rev 17:18+; Rev 18:10+, Rev 18:16+, Rev 18:18+, Rev 18:21+). This is evident from numerous close parallels between what is said of the Harlot in this chapter and the city Babylon in the next chapter. The primary piece of evidence that “the great city,” in this instance, is to be taken to describe Babylon is the earlier name which was seen written upon the Harlot and clearly associates her with Babylon (Rev. 17:5+)

David Thompson: There have been all kinds of views concerning the identity of Babylon. All throughout history many have read this and have concluded it was some type of secret code for some other power other than Babylon.

It refers to Babylon that is Iraq. This view says that this location, modern day Iraq, is the place that is responsible for all things that pulled people away from God into immorality and idolatry. This part of the world will be revived and will take front and center stage until God wipes her out. She will be rebuilt. It is said that right now there are 250,000 people living in Babylon. This allows for a literal interpretation and not figurative or symbolic interpretation. We think that just as Jerusalem means Jerusalem, so Babylon means Babylon.