We have been studying for some months now the great book of Revelation. Taken together, the book of Genesis and the book of Revelation, having been penned some 1,600 years apart; are like book ends holding the entirety of the Bible together. Correctly understood and interpreted, the Bible is a cohesive document weaving with a crimson thread the story of man’s creation, fall, and redemption. The Bible, God’s very Word, His written revelation given lovingly to the crowning accomplishment of His creative work, mankind; stands alone and above all other works of literature. What is it that causes it to stand out from all books, and certainly all religious books? The answer is, prophecy.
About thirty percent of the Bible is devoted to prophecy, much of which has already been fulfilled making it easily verifiable. In marked contrast, prophecy is utterly absent from the Koran (although Muslims do hold eschatalogical views), the Hindu Vedas, the Baghavad Gita, the Ramayana, the sayings of Buddha or Confucius, the book of Mormon, or any other writings of the world’s religions. This fact alone places a divine stamp of approval on the Judeo-Christian faith, something all other faith systems lack. We should without fear of rebuttal or rebuke, although those things will come; fearlessly proclaim the Truth of scripture. Every minister of the gospel is given the charge to, Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. [2 Timothy 4:1 KJV] Even though this is the case, many ministers are refusing to boldly proclaim, “Thus saith the Lord.” In this connection I am reminded of the words of the Prophet Amos, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it. [Amos 8:11, 12 KJV]
What is the Prophet, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit saying here? Simply that when a people or a Nation are given the Word of God, and they reject it, that Word will be withdrawn. I believe we see this happening in the modern Church, especially the Western Church. Very little of the Word of God is really going out in this land. We hear much of what purports to be the Word of God, but in actuality is not. We see smiling motivational speakers attempting to pass themselves off as shepherds standing behind pulpits preaching a so-called “health and wealth” gospel, that is really no gospel at all; telling a biblically illiterate, unsuspecting church how to have their, “Best Life Now” while giving a token nod to the gospel at the end of their program. Yes, we have a famine of hearing the Word of God in America. We have religious “snake oil” salesmen who will offer to send you images of their hand for you to use as a “point of contact” to receive a miracle, but oh remember to tuck in your best monetary donation to insure a proper connection to the power. Yes, we have a famine of hearing the words of God in America. We have sincere, albeit sincerely wrong pastors, following the Purpose Driven model for church growth removing all crosses and songs about the blood of Christ from their churches in an attempt to make the gospel more palatable to the “unchurched.” Yes, we have a famine of hearing the words of God in America.
You may be asking yourself, “OK, but what does all of this have to do with Revelation 17?” In reality, everything. Why? Because we are on a fast track, and I speak here of the Christian Church at this point, toward that which John saw some nearly two-thousand years ago as coming in the time of the end. I speak specifically of this enigmatic figure, this “woman” sitting on and riding the “Beast” whom we have certainly seen before, twice by John and by Daniel some six hundred years prior to John’s vision. John opens this chapter, described by many Bible expositors as one of the most difficult to understand in all of the book of Revelation, And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. [Revelation 17:1, 2 KJV]
As mentioned above, we really don’t have a problem identifying the Beast upon which this “Woman” rides. This is the same “Beast” that first appears as four great Empires of history in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as interpreted by Daniel in Daniel 2. The final kingdom being a revised Roman Empire. Daniel sees this same system again in chapter 7, this time appearing as four “beasts”; a lion with eagles wings, a bear with three ribs in his mouth, a leopard with wings of a fowl on its back, and a fourth dreadful, nondescript beast, completely different from all of the others. By the time we get to the book of Revelation, John sees this “Beast” first as a dragon in chapter 12. The connection there should be clear to the discerning reader. This “Beast” system will be so utterly evil that it will be seen as Satan himself, as he will be the driving force behind it. Then in chapter 13 John sees this “Beast” rising out of the sea, which describes both the system as well as the Satan indwelt man at the head of it. The Greek word for “Beast”, therion, describes a wild, ferocious beast. It speaks of an extremely dangerous beast. That being the case, who would even dare, even attempt to mount, much less ride this beast? We see this “Woman” here doing just that.
This woman is described in the most dreadful, most deplorable, most degrading of terms. She is described as a whore. I know that is pretty strong, but it is the word used by the King James translators, and I see no sense in sugar-coating it. It is the Greek, porne, and it describes as should be obvious, a woman who sells her body for sexual uses. It describes the person who would would engage in unlawful sexual intercourse, either for profit or for lust. Metaphorically, it is used of an idolater. It becomes clear then this enigmatic “woman” is a religious system. It is, if you will, the apostate Church. It is the religious remnants of all man-made ecclesiastical systems that will remain on the earth following the rapture of the true Church. “Waters” here describe multitudes of people. The “Great Whore” will pretty much control, or at least attempt to, the world. There will be an unholy alliance between Church and State at this time. Thus the, “kings of the earth” committing fornication with her. The whore will be destroyed. How and by whom? We will see she will be destroyed by the Beast and the False Prophet. When they are through with her they will discard her.
So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. [Revelation 17:3 – 5 KJV] John is “carried away”, apophero in the Greek, literally or relatively to be carried off or away, and this occurs again while he is “in the Spirit”. This revelation was received and seen from the perspective of the spirit realm. Again, it is important to remember that this entire book was written from the perspective of the spirit realm. Is the “wilderness” here literal or figurative? Remember that this is a chapter replete with symbols. It is a recorded fact that surrounding both Babylon and Rome there is a literal wilderness. According to both Isaiah and Jeremiah Babylon was to become a wilderness. [See Isaiah 47, 48; Jeremiah 50, 51] Outside of Rome the wilderness is called the campagna. I personally believe that the wilderness here is both literal as well as figurative, symbolizing the chaotic condition of the world brought about by the religious confusion of Babylon.
The “Beast” this “woman” rides is the same “Beast” we saw rising up from the “sea” of people in 13:1. We saw there it is the revised Roman Empire, which will be the seat of world political power at that time. We see the “woman” riding the “beast”, which indicates that the woman is a separate entity from the beast. The “Beast” will be the political system, while the “Woman” is the ecclesiastical or religious system controlling, or at least exercising very strong influence over the political system. The “Woman” riding the “Beast” lets us know that the political system will support the religious, and the religious will exercise control over the political.
Admittedly, the chronology is interesting here. It would appear that the events described here in chapter 17 occur before those in chapter 13. Why do I say that? Because by the time we get to chapter 13, the “Beast” has already assumed full power and demands that the world worship its ruler. This would seem to indicate that here we are in the first half of Daniel’s seventieth week before the time of the Great Tribulation, which is the second half. The relationship we see here, between the “Woman” and the “Beast” has many parallels in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in relation to political power, but this scene will occur yet in the future. That which the “Woman” is clothed in, the scarlet color, which symbolizes the blood of martyrs, and the gold, and precious stones; speak of the great wealth of this religious system. The scarlet color of the “Beast” speaks of the blood of martyrs as well.
The most striking aspect of that which John sees here is the “golden cup” in her hand full of the filth of her immorality. God’s Word certainly does not mince words in describing the utter debauchery of this adulterous relationship in the sight of God. Few crimes in scripture are spoken of in more unsparing terms than that of spiritual adultery, of which this woman is the epitome. As we see alliance with the world and showy religious pomp increase, so spiritual truth and purity decrease. The description of this “Woman” doesn’t get anymore flattering as we come to verse 5 and learn her name.
And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. [Rev. 17:5 KJV] Lets consider the word, mystery. It is the Greek, musterion, and speaks of that which is veiled or hidden until such a time that it is revealed. The Church, for example, is referred to as a, “mystery” because it was not revealed in the Old Testament [See Ephesians 3:1 – 9]. This ecclesiastical Babylon is a “mystery” because it was not revealed prior to the vision John received while exiled one the isle of Patmos, recorded for us in this seventeenth chapter of Revelation. This one word, “mystery” also separates spiritual Babylon from literal Babylon, which will be discussed in the next chapter. Interestingly, almost all religions, with the exception of biblical Christianity; have their secret rites. It is part of their persona or mystique. There are no secret rites to biblical Christianity, and anyone or any group who attempts to add them are perverting the “simplicity that is in Christ.” [See 2 Cor. 11:3]
When the true Church leaves this earth at the rapture, only the religious pretenders, the phonies, those who were religious but lost will be left. The apostate system will continue without missing a beat, however it will not really be a Church, but will be absorbed into that which John refers to here as a “harlot”, that I firmly believe will be a perverted amalgamation between Islam and Roman Catholicism. This bond between Islam and Rome has been forming for some time, and the Holy Spirit lets us see here the depth to which apostasy will descend in the end. From the world system’s perspective this blended system will be “Great”, to God it is obviously something quite different. The apostate Church, as well as all other world religions will be absorbed into this world religious system. Babylon in scripture is the fountainhead for all false religion, therefore it is, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
This woman’s title does not refer to Babylon as a city, or to Babylonia as a nation, but rather to a religious designation implying that the woman corresponds religiously to what Babylon was religiously. The pagan rites of Babylon crept into the Early Church and were largely responsible for the corruptions incorporated into Roman Catholicism, leading to Protestantism separating itself in the Middle Ages. Sadly, in the name of Ecumenicism, many Christian groups in recent years have partnered with the Roman Catholic Church, attempting to find common ground in the name of “Evangelism.” To this end, on March 29th, 1994, several leading American Evangelicals and Catholics signed a document entitled, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in The 3rd Millennium.” This document essentially overturned the Reformation, and has had ramifications affecting the Christian Church even now. Among the signers of this document, probably the most significant in 500 years of Church history, were Pat Robertson and Chuck Colson. Other Evangelical endorsers were the late Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, Mark Noll of Wheaton University, Os Guinness, Jesse Miranda (Assemblies of God), Richard Mouw (President, Fuller Theological Seminary), J.I. Packer, and Herbert Schlossberg.
Lest you think I am just engaging in “Catholic bashing”, I assure you I am not. However, there are very legitimate concerns with this that every Bible believing Christian needs to understand. Even though I am well aware that many thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Catholics have been truly born-again, and that there are many dear sweet, sincere Catholic people. That which we are sharing here is not intended as any kind of indictment against them. Within the Catholic system however, we see virtually all of the elements of the ancient Babylon cult retained and practiced.
The subject of Babylon is one of the prominent themes of scripture, first mentioned in Genesis 10, where the city of Babylon is first mentioned, with continued references throughout scripture climaxing here in the book of Revelation. From these various passages, it becomes clear that Babylon in Scripture is the name for a great system of religious error. Babylon is a counterfeit religion that plagued Israel in the Old Testament as well as the church in the New Testament, and which, after the apostolic days, has had a tremendous influence in moving the church from biblical simplicity to apostate confusion. In keeping with the satanic principle of offering a poor substitute for God’s perfect plan, Babylon is the source of counterfeit religion sometimes in the form of false Christianity, and sometimes in the form of pagan religion.
A bit of history would be in order here. Nimrod was the founder of Babel, later called Babylon, and the leader of a rebellion against God to build a city and a tower that would reach to heaven [Gen. 10, 11] Some have seen this act as an attempt to re-connect with the fallen angels who descended to the earth in Genesis 6 and cohabited with human women, thus producing a giant race. That is very possibly the case. At any rate, the Tower of Babel was apparently a forerunner of later towers dedicated to various heathen deities. The monument was a monument to human pride and an express act of rebellion against the one true God. In judging this act, God confounded the language of the people and the city was named “Babel,” meaning “confusion” (Gen. 11:9). The city, later named Babylon, had a long history. It became prominent under Hammurabi (1728–1686 B.C.) who was the guiding light to the empire during the Old Babylonian period. Babylon’s greatest glory was achieved under Nebuchadnezzar, who lived during the Neo-Babylonian period about six hundred years before Christ. Daniel the prophet wrote his book at that time. The story of the city and empire has been deciphered from thousands of cuneiform tablets unearthed by archaeologists.
Our primary interest in Babylon is its relation to religion as depicted here in Revelation 17. In addition to the Bible itself, ancient accounts indicate that the wife of Nimrod, the founder of the city of Babylon, became the head of the so-called Babylonian mysteries that consisted of secret religious rites developed as a part of idol worship. She was known by the name of Semiramis and was a high priestess of idol worship. According to extra-biblical records, Semiramis gave birth to a son, whom she claimed was conceived miraculously. This son, named Tammuz, was considered a savior of his people and was, in effect, a false messiah, purported to be the fulfillment of the promise given to Eve.
This gave birth to the legend of the mother and child and was incorporated into the religious rites and is repeated in various pagan religions. Idols picturing the mother as the queen of heaven with the baby in her arms are found throughout the ancient world, and countless religious rites were introduced promising supposed cleansing from sin. Though the rites observed in Babylonian false religion differed greatly in various localities, there usually was a priestly order that furthered the worship of the mother and child cult, practiced the sprinkling of holy water, and established an order of virgins dedicated to religious prostitution. Tammuz, the son, was said to have been killed by a wild animal and then brought back to life, apparently a satanic anticipation of the resurrection of Christ.
In the Scriptures themselves, though many of these facts are not mentioned, there are a number of allusions to the conflict of the true faith with this pseudoreligion. Ezekiel protests against the ceremony of weeping for Tammuz (8:14). Jeremiah mentions the heathen practices of making cakes for the queen of heaven (Jer. 7:18) and offering incense to the queen of heaven (44:17–19, 25). Baal worship, characteristic of pagan religion in Canaan, was another form of this same mystery religion originating in Babylon. Baal is considered identical to Tammuz. The doctrines of the mystery religions of Babylon seem to have permeated the ancient world, giving rise to countless offshoots, each with its cult and individual beliefs offering a counterfeit religion and a counterfeit god in opposition to the true God. Babylon as an evil woman is portrayed in the prophecy of Zechariah 5:1–11, where the woman of verse 7 is described as personifying evil in verse 8.
The Babylonian cult eventually made its way to other cities, including Pergamum, the site of one of the seven churches of Asia. The chief priests of the Babylonian cult wore crowns in the form of the head of a fish, in recognition of Dagon the fish god, with the title “Keeper of the Bridge”—that is, the “bridge” between man and Satan, imprinted on the crowns. The Roman equivalent of the title, PontifexMaximus, was used by the Caesars and later Roman emperors, and was also adopted as the title for the bishop of Rome. In the early centuries of the church in Rome, incredible confusion arose. Attempts were made to combine some features of the mystery religion of Babylon with the Christian faith—the results of which are still present in the Roman Catholic Church today. In Revelation 17, the last stage of counterfeit religion is revealed as it will be in existence in the period before Christ’s return to earth.
Spiritual apostasy, which is seen in its latent form today, will flower in its ultimate form in this future “superchurch” that will apparently engulf all Christendom in the period after the rapture of the church.
We didn’t get through the entirety of the chapter. We will pick up next time with verses 6, 7.