Tuesday, November 9, 2021

60. The Revelation: The Exposure of the Harlot (Revelation 16:1-6,15)


Throughout history Babylon has been an important center of false religion. In the end times, false religion will come back to where it started. The Devil who deceived the people at Babel, and from there launched false religion over the earth, will deceive the world once again. The final world religion, depicted as a harlot, is the theme of this vision.


"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly.…

And he said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues." (Rev. 17:1–6, 15)

That it was one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls who came and spoke with John connects the judgment of the harlot with the seven last plagues (16:1–21). Chronology halts in chapters 17 and 18 as the scene shifts from God’s judgments to Antichrist’s world empire, the target of those judgments. 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. John’s vision exposes several aspects of the harlot city of Babylon.

Her Authority (Rev. 17:1b, 15)

The harlot in John’s vision sits in a position of authority and sovereignty like a king on his throne on or beside “many waters.” Cities in ancient times were usually located near a source of water, either the ocean, a river, lake, or spring. That was true of Babylon, which was located on the Euphrates River. Jeremiah 51:13 addresses ancient Babylon as “you who dwell by many waters,” the same phrase applied in this passage to her future counterpart. Just as the proud capital of the Babylonian Empire took her seat beside many waters, so also will the Babylonian harlot city of the future.

The phrase “many waters” does not, however, refer to the harlot’s geographical location. Instead, as the angel explains to John in verse 15, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.” The metaphor is an apt one, since a city situated in a commanding position on a great waterway would be highly influential. The harlot will not merely influence, but will dominate all the unredeemed “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” of the earth. The harlot’s authority will be universal; the entire world will be committed to the false worship of the Babylonian system.

Her Alliances (Rev. 17:2–3)

Her association with the kings of the earth reveals that the scope of the harlot’s influence will be immense. The phrase “committed acts of immorality” translates a form of the Greek verb for committing sexual immorality. It aptly describes the harlot’s interaction with the kings of the earth.

The harlot will not be allied just with the rulers and influential people of the world. All those “who dwell on the earth [a technical term for unbelievers] were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.” All the unredeemed will be caught up in the final false religion; they will give their hearts and souls to the abominable Babylonian harlot. The angel is not describing people who are physically drunk with literal wine committing sexual immorality with an actual prostitute (though that may be happening). Instead, he is talking about those who are intoxicated with Antichrist’s false world religion.

Next, the angel with whom John had been speaking “carried [him] away in the Spirit into a wilderness” (cf. 1:10; 4:2; 21:10). “Wilderness” describes a deserted, desolate wasteland like the region where modern Babylon is located. There John saw “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast,” whose description identifies him as Antichrist (13:1, 4; 14:9; 16:10). That the woman was sitting on the scarlet beast signifies that he was supporting her. The initial unifying and controlling factor of Antichrist’s kingdom will be religion. With the heavens and the earth being ravaged by God’s judgments, and the world’s political, economic, and military might crumbling, people will turn in desperation to the supernatural. The beast and the woman will coexist for a while. Religion will be separate from the kingdom of Antichrist at first. But eventually “the beast … will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire” (verse 16). It will be at that point that the false prophet will make the whole world worship Antichrist (13:11–14), and everything will be unified in the beast’s comprehensive rule.

Scarlet is the color associated with luxury (2 Samuel 1:24), splendor, and royalty. It is also the color associated with sin (Isaiah 1:18) and the hue of blood. Antichrist will be a splendorous, royal, sinful, bloody beast, full of blasphemous names. In his arrogant self-deification, Antichrist will take for himself the names and titles that belong to God.

This demonic scarlet beast is further described as having seven heads and ten horns, showing the extent of his alliances. The seven heads “are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while” (verses 9–10). They represent seven mountains, seven past, present, and future governments. The ten horns represent ten kings (verse 12), who will rule as subordinates to Antichrist (verse 13).

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.

Her Apparel (Rev. 17:4a)

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, nobility, and wealth. That she is adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls portrays her as a prostitute who is both attractive (Proverbs 7:10) and has become extremely wealthy.

Her Abominations (Rev. 17:4b–5)

As a further indication of her wealth, the harlot had in her hand a gold cup. Like prostitutes who want to take everything their victims have, she will make her victims drunk (Jeremiah 51:7). The harlot’s gold cup is “full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality.”

As was customary for prostitutes to identify themselves in the Roman world, the harlot Babylon also had a name written on her forehead. 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 cannot be applied to any actual city. Here is a previously undisclosed Babylon, a secret reality to be revealed in the end times. Babylon will be the source of all the false, blasphemous worship in the end times. Her designation as “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS” is appropriate, since harlotry in Scripture often symbolizes idolatry (e.g., Judges 2:17; 8:27, 33; Ezekiel 16:30–31, 36).

Her Accusation (Rev. 17:6)

Like many harlots, this woman was drunk, but not from drinking alcohol. The Babylonian harlot is pictured as “drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” That vivid expression was commonly used in the ancient world to depict a murderous lust for violence. Some 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. While the world becomes drunk with lust for her, the harlot becomes drunk with the blood of God’s people. The vision was so appalling that when John saw her, he “wondered greatly,” expressing that he was confused, shocked, astonished, and frightened by the ghastly vision of such a magnificent figure of a woman with such a deadly intent.