“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me,…”(cf. Rev. 17:1-6)
This same imagery is used in chapter 21:9, the same angel. Is this after the bowls were poured out of before? Well, I’m not sure because I don’t really believe that Revelation is in chronological order. It’s kind of more in cyclical order, and we’re developing themes in intensity. Now notice as it says, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot…” – down in verse 5, it’s called the “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS…” – I think we’re pulling on the imagery from going back to Nimrod, who is one of the fallen line of Cain who began the city of Babel, which is the first organized rebellion against God that came to be the kingdom of Babylon that stands for all human organization apart from God. Now, “…who sits on many waters,” – now that sounds just like Jeremiah 51:13 but in verse 15 is described as “many peoples”. So here we have an allusion back to the city of Babylon, but it’s interpreted to stand for Empire kingdoms which would fit Rome in whose prostitution the kings of the Earth have joined. Now this seems to refer basically to their idolatry participating in commerce we’re going to find in chapter 18, and this commerce had to do with political alliances. We see it in the city of Tyre (cf. Isa. 23:13-18), and the city of Nineveh (cf. Nahum 3:4). So, it’s caught up in commerce; the lure of this Great Harlot is wealth and luxury, but the commerce also involved the worship of these national gods. And so, we see it’s a pulling away from God to man’s self-sufficiency, and greed, and pride. Now it says, “those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.” – this seems to be a direct allusion to be a direct allusion to Jeremiah 51:7. Now, exactly these inhabitants who dwell on the Earth is always used of unbelievers, which says have been intoxicated. You might want to see chapter 14:8 where this theme is developed.
Verse 3, “And he carried me away in the Spirit…” – this has been one of the keys to the structure of John. We’ve seen it back in chapter 1:10. We saw it back in chapter 4:2 and now we see it here chapter 17. It shows how to break these visions up, that he says he was carried into a desert. There is an obvious impetus between the woman in chapter 12 and the horror in described here. The woman in chapter 12:6-14 is taken to a desert. But why a desert? Maybe out in the desert, you get a clearer picture of what the whore looked like without being caught up in the system itself, or maybe it’s one of those direct allusions back to Isaiah 21:1. However, throughout the book of Revelation, the desert is the place of God’s people over against the great city. It is a stark contrast of all that the city stands for, and in the desert, one is safe from all that the great city can do. Something of that imagery is in this background. “…and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast,…” – back in chapter 12:3 the dragon was also red which is Satan, a different word but same color. The wild beast of course is the 2 beasts – one that comes out of the sea, and one that comes out of the land described in chapter 13; which we believe is the anti-Christ and his false prophet – a mimic or a parody of Christ and the Holy Spirit. “…full of blasphemous names,” – this goes back to chapter 13:1, 5, 6. Now we think this refers to Emperor worship of the first century although it has wider orientation than that. And some of the titles these emperors used for themselves would be divine, Savior and Lord. So, we see they’re claiming the titles of God particularly Messiah for themselves. Then it says, “…having seven heads and ten horns.” – this goes back to the description of the dragon in chapter 12:3, but particularly to the beast in chapter 13:1, and so we see it obviously as a concept of great power.
Now, “The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet,” – purple being royalty, and scarlet being immorality; some see that is the background, but I personally see it just as great wealth and pomp. “…and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup…” – this goes back directly to Jeremiah 51:7. “…full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality,” – here we’re going to find out this basically is a cup full of the blood of the saints whom she has been killing. She’s been killing them because the saints stand against her greed and materialism. Now notice as it says in verse 5, “and on her forehead a name was written,” – we learn from the Roman author Seneca that harlots wore on their brows labels inscribed with their names or the name of their owner. Similarly, names are written on foreheads of God’s servants to signify the fact that they were owned by God. And here it’s the place where the mark of this harlot is on her forehead with a symbolical meaning. “…a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” – i think it’s important to see that this is a concept that started out in 14:8, was developed in 16, and will be fully detailed in 17 and 18. When it says, “MOTHER OF HARLOTS”, that implies to me there’s not just one historical focus, but many. Although Rome is the obvious immediate background, there are other backgrounds.
“And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” – this is present tense, meaning she continued to be drunk with the blood of God’s people and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus – continual persecution of the saints but there are particular times when it gets very bad, and Antiochus IV Epiphanes[ii] is the background to the book of Daniel while Titus is the background to Matthew 24. It is obvious here that the background is Imperial Rome Emperor worship. We see it in Daniel chapter 7; 2 Thess. chapter 2; and 1 John 2:18. It is obvious that an end-time persecution setting will be under the anti-Christ. Now notice as it says, “…When I saw her, I wondered greatly.” – John thought he was going to see the destruction of the harlot. He had been invited to look at the judgment of the city at verse 1, instead he sees the harlot magnificently arrayed in all her splendor. Perhaps, now he sees for the first time the true nature of the Roman Empire, that being the historical symbol of the great city – Babylon.
(TO BE CONTINUED)