An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 14 June 2011; Revised 22 March 2016
Scripture: The Scripture text of Revelation used below is prepared by Blaine Robison with consideration given to the American Standard Version (which is in the public domain) and the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. See my web article The Jewish New Testament. Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found here. Other Bible versions are also quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. For works by early church fathers go to Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the definitions of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. Definitions of Hebrew words are from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981). The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Vocabulary: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Torah (Law), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
The Great Harlot (17:1-6)
1― And one of the seven angels having the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot, the one sitting on many waters,
And oneÖspoke with me: The preposition "with" (Grk. meta) means a close association or accompaniment. John may simply be emphasizing that the following revelation occurred while in the company of his guide, but he could also be alluding to a dialog between himself and the angel. John may have offered questions or responses he deemed too inconsequential to include in his narrative. "With me" may also express his wonder that God would disclose such mysteries to him.
Come: With the conclusion of the vision of the seven bowls of wrath one of the angels who had participated in those judgments comes to John and invites him to depart from the glorious signs of heaven to receive prophetic insight into events taking place on earth and go on a trip of revelation. Indeed, two chapters are devoted to this vision. the judgment: Grk. krima may refer to a judicial decision, decree or verdict, or a sentence of condemnation and the subsequent punishment itself. The angel describes in detail the judgment on Babylon previously announced in 14:8. Since the seven trumpet judgments and the seven bowl judgments are directed at those who serve the beast, the judgment on Babylon may actually occur before those judgments begin, sometime after the beast has completed his war against the holy ones.
of the great harlot: Grk. pornē refers to a woman who is for sale, a prostitute or a courtesan (DNTT 1:497) and is probably derived from pernēmi ("export for sale"). Prostitutes were (and are) mostly unmarried women (Lev 21:14; Deut 22:21; Josh 2:1), but there were male prostitutes (Grk. pornos) in biblical times. A married woman could be accused of being a harlot if she behaved in the customary manner of prostitutes or had many lovers (cf. Gen 38:15-26; Judg 19:2; 2Kgs 9:22; Prov 6:24-32; Prov 7:10, 18-19; Jer 3:1). In ancient Babylon every woman was expected to sacrifice herself in a temple by giving her body to a stranger at least once in her lifetime (Herodotus, I, 178; also Baruch 6:40-43). Throughout the Roman empire thousands of women were devoted to the sale of sex in pagan temples.
This harlot is called "great," not only because of the scope of her own immorality but also her worldwide propagation and management of the vice. People were encouraged to have union with a temple prostitute to achieve oneness with the gods and assure prosperity in the society, and, thus, sacred prostitution, as well as all forms of perversion and promiscuity, became an integral part of the fabric of ancient society (Rom 1:24-27; Eph 2:3; 4:19; Phil 2:15; 1Th 4:5; 1Pet 4:3ff). Of course, prostitution fulfilled an ethic of pleasure, but in reality the goal was to finance religion which in turn enabled religious and political leaders to exercise great power over society.
Jerusalem and Israel were condemned for harlotry (Judg 2:17; 1Chr 5:25; 2Chr 21:11; Ps 106:39; Isa 1:21; Jer 2:9-25; 3:1-8; Ezek 16), as well as certain Gentile cities (Babylon, Ezek 23:17; Nineveh, Nah 3:1-7, and Tyre, Isa 23:14-18). In apostolic times prostitution was big business and culturally acceptable. The early apostles had to confront new disciples to forsake immoral practices (Acts 15:20; Rom 13:13; 1Cor 6:18; 7:2; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5; 1Th 4:3; Heb 12:15-16; 1Pet 1:14; 4:2). In Revelation two congregations are singled out for criticism because of engaging in or tolerating sexual immorality in direct violation of the edict from the Jerusalem Council (cf. 2:14, 20; Acts 15:29).
the one sitting: Grk. kathēmai, pres. mid. part., to sit or sit down. The present participle indicates a continuing reality or activity. Since the participle has the definite article, it could lit. be translated, "the one who sits." There are four references in this chapter to the harlot "sitting" (also verses 3, 9 and 16) and in the apostolic writings the word for "sitting" is most frequently connected with exercising authority, whether that of a king (Acts 12:21), a judge (Acts 6:15) or a teacher (Matt 23:2; 26:55) (DNTT 3:588-589).
on many waters: The first point of reference for where the harlot sits is "many waters," a figurative term for peoples of many nationalities (verse 15). There are three possible sites suggested by commentators for the "waters," depending on how Babylon is interpreted. The city of Babylon is situated on the Euphrates River and in ancient times its waters represented the power and glory of the empire that controlled the territory through which it flowed (Isa 8:7; 17:12ff; 18:2; Jer 2:18; 47:2). Babylonia made the river even greater by constructing numerous canals that distributed the waters of the Euphrates to the surrounding territory (Mounce). In Nebuchadnezzarís time the city of Babylon sat on both sides of the river with gates that stretched across the river at the outskirts of the city for security (Jer 51:13). Ancient Rome was situated upon the Tiber and was known for its advanced system of aqueducts that distributed fresh water throughout the city and surrounding countryside. Similarly, Jerusalem was supplied water by an extensive system of cisterns, reservoirs, and aqueducts (Neil, 59f, 115f).
2― with whom the kings of the earth committed sexual immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her harlotry."
the kings of the earth: The harlot has significant influence on and relationship with world leaders. The phrase "kings of the earth" occurs several times in Revelation (1:5; 6:15; 16:14; 17:18; 18:3, 9; 19:9 and 21:24) and generally refers either to human rulers in general or to the leaders subservient to the beast. The sweeping generalization points to the power she is able to wield in high political circles. committed sexual immorality: Grk. porneuō, aor., to prostitute or practice prostitution (Gen 38:24; Lev 21:9, 14; 1Cor 6:9). In Scripture porneuō is distinguished from moicheuō, "commit adultery," because by cultural definition and Scriptural usage adultery involved a married woman (Lev 20:10; Prov 6:24-32; Jer 29:23; Hos 4:13f) (DNTT 2:582ff). In the apostolic writings porneuō is also associated with unlawful consanguineous marriage (1Cor 5:1; cf. Lev 18:7) and homosexual conduct (Jude 1:7). See 2:14 on "acts of immorality." Given the emphasis on commerce in the next chapter both the verb and noun should probably translated as "prostitution."
and those who dwell on the earth: Not only is the harlot able to manipulate leaders, she has considerable interaction with "those dwell on the earth," a phrase used consistently in Revelation to refer to the Gentile population of the earth and specifically those who take the mark of the beast and oppose the holy ones (3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:8). were made drunk with the wine: The fact that both leaders and citizens of the world become "drunk" indicates the enticing appeal and intoxicating euphoria associated with the immoral relationship. In the ancient Babylonian religion initiates were given a mysterious beverage to drink, actually composed of wine, honey, water and flour, which effectively dimmed sensibilities and excited passions (Hislop 5). "Wine" is used here as a metaphor describing the physical pleasure of immorality (cf. SS 5:1; 7:8-9).
of her harlotry: Grk. porneia. The word-group originally meant to prostitute or practice prostitution. In the LXX porneia translates zanah, which means "harlotry" (BDB 275). The Tanakh usage of harlotry included both the practice of prostitution (Gen 38:24; Lev 21:9, 14; Deut 22:21), but also wives having multiple lovers (Prov 6:24-32). Intertestament Jewish writings also included incest in porneia as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 5:1. Zanah particularly stood for the wicked practices of idolatry, pagan religion, occultism, child sacrifice, and intermarriage with forbidden tribes (Ex 34:15-16; Lev 20:5-6; Num 25:1-2; Deut 31:16). Zanah is rebellion against God.
The word porneia clearly has a metaphorical meaning in this context since Babylon is a city. In Scripture there are three significant symbolic uses of harlotry, one having to do with religious syncretism (Ezek 16), the second concerning political and military power (Ezek 23) and the third, international commerce (Isa 23). The Babel of the post-flood and patriarchal period, the Babylon of Israelís history, the Roman Babylon of Johnís lifetime, the Babylon of the Church age and the Babylon of the last days all manifest the pursuit of these goals.
3― And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, being full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.
And he carried me away: Grk. apopherō, aor. act. ind., to take away or transport. John says that the angel noted in verse 1 carried him away in the Spirit: lit. says, "in spirit" (Marshall), which many commentators assume to be a trance caused by the Holy Spirit. Two previous times in Revelation John describes himself as being "in the Spirit" (1:10; 4:2; also lit. "in spirit"), the first describing his worshipful condition at the beginning of the Revelation narrative and the other serving as the means for being before the exalted Yeshua and the throne of heaven.
Paul testified that he didnít know whether he was in or out of the body when he visited heaven (2Cor 12:3). What an extraordinary report! John was apparently more aware of his circumstances and reports that an angel carried him and he was "in spirit." The simplest explanation may be that since angels are spirits (Heb 1:4) and humans are spirits (1Cor 2:11; 14:32; Heb 12:23; 1Jn 4:1), then the angel was empowered to convey Johnís spirit to the destination. However, in Hebrew thought a person is a unity, not just a collection of parts that can be separated. John does not necessarily mean that his body was left behind.
into a wilderness: Grk. erēmos may refer to a place abandoned, empty, desolate, or a desert, grassland or wilderness. The purpose of the escorted trip is to view a notoriously sinful city (17:18), the very antithesis to the second city that John will see in 21:10. In contrast to the high mountain where he sees the New Jerusalem, John views the harlot Babylon from the wilderness, which aptly emphasizes her barrenness (cf. Jude 12). Zechariah had a parallel experience in which he was given a vision of an evil woman in the land of Shinar, the name of the geographical area of Babylon (Zech 5:5-11), and Godís message to Zechariah has relevance to Johnís vision.
and I saw a woman: Grk. gunē. See 12:1 on "woman," which provides a sharp contrast to the woman seen here. When John arrives in the wilderness he is greeted with perhaps the most bizarre sight in his Revelation experience. sitting: Grk. kathēmai, pres. mid. part. See the note on verse 1 above, although in this instance John omits the definite article. on a scarlet: Grk. kokkinos means red or scarlet. Kokkos also referred to a scarlet "berry," which in reality was the female of a scale insect (similar to the cochineal) that clings to the leaves of an oak tree; the dried bodies of these insects, known as kermes, were used by the ancients to prepare a purplish-red dye. The beast is "scarlet," or crimson, an even deeper red than the dragon (12:3). This color was popular in the Roman Empire and indicated luxurious and haughty splendor (Rienecker).
beast: Grk. thērion, a wild animal. full of blasphemous names: Grk. blasphēmia. The names of blasphemy on the beast are perhaps titles which amount to claims of divinity much like ancient Roman emperors who were bestowed divine titles by the Roman Senate at the insistence of the Caesars. In 13:1 the blasphemous names were on the heads, but here the names apparently are all over the beastís body. (See 13:1 on "blasphemous names.")
having seven heads and ten horns: The woman sat on the strangest animal John had ever seen. Who is this woman and what is she doing riding the beast in a wilderness, possibly the Mesopotamian valley of the Euphrates River, the land of Shinar? How has it come to pass that the woman could seat herself on the beast and how is it that the beast tolerates being ridden by the woman? The beast was first introduced in 11:7 and additional information provided in Chapter Thirteen. While sitting can connote authority, she does not completely control the beast, for there are no reins mentioned. Rather, the beast permits her to exercise her authority over her kingdom (verse 18), and in so doing she is a burden on his back. The explanation of the "heads" and the "horns" may be found in vv. 10-12 below.
A portent of the future is the report of Arthur Noble that on the dome of the new £8-million European Union Parliament Building in Strasbourg, Germany, there is a colossal painting of the woman riding the beast. In the parliamentary offices building there is a huge painting of a practically naked woman riding the beast. Outside the new Council of Europe building there is a bronze statue of the woman riding the beast which is riding the waves. On the wall of the Dinersí Club lounge in the EUís administrative capitol Brussels is a picture of the woman and the beast together! This image has appeared on EU postage stamps, including the British one issued in 1984 to commemorate the second election to the European Parliament. (Arthur Noble, The European Union, Part IV, European Institute of Protestant Studies, 13 September 1999).
4― And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup being full of abominations and of the unclean things of her harlotry,
And the woman was clothed in purple: Grk. porphura is a loanword in Jewish rabbinic literature, based on the name of the purple fish (a shell-fish, murex) from which a dye was obtained for use in cloth. Elsewhere in the apostolic writings porphura is used to refer to the clothing of a rich man (Luke 16:19), the robe put on Yeshua at His trial (Mark 15:16; John 19:2) and fabric sold by Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16:14). The harlot dresses as her wealth permits and pride demands. The woman of Chapter Twelve was depicted in an exalted setting with the moon, stars and rainbow, all elements of Godís creation. The harlot is adorned with the treasured things of this world, yet debased by the worst manner of sin.
and scarlet: As the beast is scarlet, the harlot is clothed in purple and scarlet, the most sought-after colors in luxurious clothing. These colors were highly desirous in religious furnishings and priestly garments both in Israel and pagan cultures. In the Torah "purple" and "scarlet" occur in referring to the color of material used in the veil of the Holy of Holies, a screen at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, and the clothing of the High Priest (Ex 26:31, 36; 28:4ff). Scarlet material was also used in atonement ceremonies (Heb 9:19) and it is not surprising to find that the only use of "scarlet" in the Gospels describes the robe briefly put on Yeshua after His trial (Matt 27:28). Historicist and not a few futurist interpreters believe the vision of the clothing must refer to the robes of Roman Catholic clerics. Of course, Scripture does note the preference for scarlet clothing in general by women (2Sam 1:24; Prov 31:21; Jer 4:30) and soldiers (Nah 2:3). Scarlet is also the color of sin (Isa 1:18).
adorned with gold and precious stones: Grk. lithos was a generic word for stone, and used of stones used in buildings, millstones, grave stones or precious stones, i.e., jewels. The noun is actually singular (Marshall). and pearls: Grk. margaritēs, pl. in number. This precious stone was produced in a kind of oyster and in ancient times brought from the Indies and the shores of certain islands in the Red Sea. Hence, it was identical with the pearl of the present day (ISBE). The jewelry adornment indicates extravagant and pretentious wealth. In ancient times Babylonís immense riches came from its far-reaching commercial traffic. Among the Greeks and Romans the word "Babylon" was proverbial for its trade and magnificence (DNTT 1:140).
Historically, the priest caste of Babylon dressed in the finest robes and their temples were some of the most ostentatious of buildings, the cost of this adornment being paid for by revenue from exorbitant taxes imposed on citizens and from goods plundered from conquered nations. The same situation was true for all the great ancient empires, and not much changed in that regard after Christianity became the state religion, consolidated its power in Rome and increasingly associated with the noble houses of Europe. Historicist commentators easily find in this verse a reference to the gilded interiors of Catholic basilicas and accumulation of gold and precious stones by the Vatican that have contributed to its vast wealth.
having in her hand a golden cup: A golden cup was a common vessel used in ancient religious rituals, both pagan and Israelite. The added specification "in her hand" could be an allusion to symbols of idolatry from ancient Babylon that depicted a seated woman with a cup in her hand, offering it to a priest. The Greek goddess Venus was also similarly depicted (Hislop 5f). The contents of the idolatrous cup represents all that is displeasing to God. Paul warned the disciples at Corinth "you cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons" (1Cor 10:21). being full of abominations: Grk. bdelugma means a detestable thing and refers to anything that must not be brought before God because it arouses his wrath. Rienecker says that bdelugma refers to something that stinks in the nostrils. In the LXX bdelugma renders Heb. shiqquts, which means a detested thing, particularly anything associated with idolatrous religion (BDB 1055). See Deuteronomy 29:16; 2 Kings 23:24; Jeremiah 4:1; 16:18; Hosea 9:10; Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11.
and of the unclean things: Grk. akathartos, a condition that would cause isolation from God, impure or unclean. "Unclean" in Scripture has both a moral aspect and a hygienic aspect. While the old clichť of "cleanliness is next to godliness" has been oversimplified, there is still a connection between the two. of her harlotry: Grk. porneia. See the note on verse 2 above. The "unclean things of her immorality" is an image of a prostitute who is entertaining so many customers that there is no time for bathing between sexual sessions or remaking the bed with fresh linens. It is as if all the sweat and body fluids have been poured into the beautiful cup. The word picture is similar to the condemnation Yeshua heaped on His enemies in Jerusalem, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead menís bones and all uncleanness" (Matt 23:27). Appearances, particularly attractive exteriors, can indeed be deceiving.
5― 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 on her forehead a name was written: The harlot is seen with her name boldly displayed on her forehead, reminiscent of the charge against ancient Israel, "You had a harlotís forehead; you refused to be ashamed (Jer 3:3). In fact, wearing a headband imprinted with oneís name was a custom of ancient Roman prostitutes (Mounce). It should not be missed that the harlot has one head in contrast to the beast. One might then conjecture that consistency in symbolic meaning of the contrasting figures would point to Babylon having one ruler or being a single power in contrast to the confederation of the beast.
a mystery: Grk. mustērion, which in common Greek usage meant a secret rite or secret teaching. In Scripture a mystery is a reality or plan that God kept concealed from his people but finally revealed to his apostles (cf. Eph 3:5). The KJV has the word "mystery" as part of the harlotís name by capitalizing it along with the rest of the title. However, all the text in ancient Greek New Testament MSS before the ninth century was written in uncial form or "upper case" (Metzger-TNT 9).
Babylon: Grk. Babulon, which in the Tanakh is uniformly Babel and refers to an ancient city on the eastern bank of the Euphrates about twenty miles south of Baghdad, near the modern village of Hilla in Iraq. Akkadian seems to derive the name from babili(m) or from another earlier Sumerian source. But in both cases it means "Gate of God." Babylon occurs 12 times in the apostolic writings, half of which are in Revelation. the Great: The only mention of Babylon the Great in the Tanakh is Daniel 4:30 on the lips of Nebuchadnezzar who extolled the grandeur of his capitol city. The identification of "Babylon" is the subject of much conjecture due to the fact that there was (and is) an actual city called Babel, translated in Greek and English as Babylon. The adjective "great" describes Babylon in each occurrence of the word in Revelation, perhaps following Nebuchadnezzar's attribution.
One of the oldest cities of antiquity (Gen 10:10) Babel was founded about 2300 BC and situated along the Euphrates River about 300 miles northwest of the Persian Gulf and about 50 miles southwest of modern Baghdad. Nimrod, the grandson of Noah, established Babel as the first kingdom and its famous ziggurat made the city great and the object of Godís judgment (Gen 11:1-9). Babel kept its independence until about 1600 BC when the Hittites conquered it and then the Assyrians began their domination of the city and region in the 12th century BC. In the 6th century BC Nebuchadnezzar wrested power from the Assyrians and the Babylonian empire stretched across the lower Tigris-Euphrates Valley of Mesopotamia and controlled 8,000 square miles with Assyria on the north, Elam on the east, the Arabian desert on the south, and Israel and Egypt on the west.
Under Nebuchadnezzar the city of Babel was a legendary showplace with its impressive seven-storied ziggurat called Etemenanki, over 50 temples, and the fabled Hanging Gardens. In 587 B.C. the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem as predicted by Isaiah and Jeremiah. Various Hebrew prophets promised Godís retribution on Babel. The city was considered impregnable because it had high double walls, made of kiln-fired brick, and wide enough to drive a chariot on the top. The gigantic walls also included 250 towers and over 100 gateways with gates of polished brass (Sevener 54). The Greek historian Herodotus said that the wall rose "fifty royal cubits in width, and two hundred in height" (History, I, 178). The Roman geographer Strabo said that the height of the wall between the towers was 50 cubits (Geography, XVI, 1.5). Many modern scholars believe Herodotus exaggerated the size of the wall (Miller 140), but Scripture acknowledges that the wall was of great height (Jer 51:52f; cf. Isa 13:19).
Yet, in 539 B.C. the Persians captured Babel and thereafter Babylonia was a province of a succession of great empires. After World War I the European powers fixed the boundaries of the Middle East so that all the former Babylonian empire is now contained within the borders of Iraq. The city was excavated mostly by Germans under Robert Koldewey, who wrote The Excavations at Babylon (1914). Saddam Hussein, who fancied himself as the second Nebuchadnezzar, spurred on renovation of Babel that had begun in the 1970s and in 1987 built a magnificent palace overlooking the city ("Rebuilding Babylon," Christianity Today, Vol. 32, No. 17, p. 71). Apparently commitment to the reconstruction of Babylon continues in order to restore the glories of the ancient city to make it a tourist attraction. See David Itzkoff, Project Created to Restore Ancient Babylon, New York Times, January 7, 2009.
Most commentators favor treating the six mentions of Babylon in Revelation as a symbolic name for Rome. In biblical times "Babylon" was a common substitute for Rome in Jewish writings that appeared before the first century (e.g., 2Baruch 11:1, 67:7; Sibylline Oracles 5:143, 159), and in rabbinic writings after the apostolic era because caution militated against portraying too directly the evils of Romeís oppressive rule (Stern). The Midrash Rabbah on Song of Songs 1:6.4 states directly, "One calls Rome ĎBabylon.í" Yechiel Lichenstein commenting on 1 Peter 5:13 remarks that "Rome is called ĎBabyloní since it is always described as the worst kingdom" (Stern 831).
After the Reformation many Protestant theologians viewed Babylon in strictly religious terms, a symbol of the unfaithful Church, particularly the Papacy in Rome, as contrasted with the chaste bride of Yeshua depicted in Chapter Twenty-one. Some commentators taking the spiritual approach consider Babylon variously as symbolic of the ungodly or the wicked world system ruled in the spiritual realm by Satan and in the physical world by the Antichrist. Many futurist commentators tend toward a similar interpretation (Gregg), but other futurists have taken the position that Babylon is an apostate church, without specification of Catholic or Protestant.
A few futurists, as Henry Morris, believe that the Babylon of Revelation is the actual city of Babel on the Euphrates and that the Antichrist will make the ancient city of wickedness his capitol (Morris 323, 329). Morris contends that since Paul was not reluctant to speak directly about Rome, Yeshua would not talk about Babel in veiled terms. Also, Joseph Seiss in 1865 and William Newell in 1935 espouse the same viewpoint (Earle 598). David Baron in his commentary on Zechariah published in 1918 interpreted commercial development efforts in the "land of Shinar" then underway in his time as evidence that the prophecies of Babylonís revival in Zechariah and Revelation would be fulfilled (166-170).
A few preterists, such as Philip Carrington, J. Stuart Russell and Milton Terry, have identified Babylon as Jerusalem (Gregg). Sevener, a futurist, believes that the beast will establish his one world government and exercise commercial and economic control from Jerusalem based primarily on Daniel 11:45, "He will pitch the tents of his royal pavilion between the seas and the beautiful Holy Mountain" (cf. Rev 11:8) (Sevener 217, 220). However, Danielís reference more likely refers to the movement of the beastís army into the holy land to prepare for Armageddon (Miller 312).
As for Babylonís identity three important facts need to be noted. First, many since Martin Luther have treated "Babylon" and "beast" as synonymous terms, but there simply is no textual support in Revelation to assume that Babylon is a pseudonym for the beast or the home or headquarters of the beast or the Antichrist. Revelation treats the beast and Babylon as completely different and separate, if not competing, personalities or entities. After all, the woman is riding the beast and is not another symbol for the beast.
Second, the term "Babylon" would convey no comprehension to John of a future development of the Church and none of the descriptions of Babylon in Revelation include any actual mention of the religious doctrines or practices that have been the subject of so much contention between Protestants and Catholics. Congregations are addressed in chapters two and three, but the Lord does not indicate that "Babylon" is a church.
Third, the name Babylon does appear to be intended as a "code word," just as "beast." The entire prophetic narrative of the beast and Babylon is cryptic. The symbolic use of Babylon is emphasized in the harlotís name being represented as a mystery. In Scripture the term "mystery" is used to refer to those purposes of God kept hidden from the world, including His own people, until the advent of His Son who explained Godís workings in history to His apostles (Luke 24:44-45; Eph 3:1-6). The implication is that the Babylon of Revelation may be a mystery to the world, but will be understandable to the holy ones of the last days.
the Mother of Harlots: pl. of Grk. pornē, a female prostitute. This may be an allusion to Ezekiel 23:17, "The Babylonians came to her to the bed of love and defiled her with their harlotry." The use of "mother" probably points to the legacy of ancient Babel as the origin of all the detestable aspects of pagan religion beginning with sacred prostitution. After the global flood described in Genesis 7-8, God gave a mandate to Noah that his descendants were to multiply and fill the earth, exercise stewardship over their environment and establish governments that would assure justice (Gen 9:1-7). Instead, Noahís grandson Cush began a rebellion, which was brought to fruition by his son Nimrod, effectively halting the fulfillment of Godís will for mankind (Gen 10:8-14).
Genesis 11:1-4 records that the people spoke only one language and because of their unity believed they could do anything without God. Nimrod established a military dictatorship and, with the aid of his wife, Semiramus, founded the first priestly oligarchy and a religious system devoted to worship of the heavenly bodies, according to sources in classical history (Hislop 224). The pinnacle of Nimrodís success was manifested in the building of a "tower of power" to heaven, but in sudden judgment God created languages and the population was forced to divide and then disperse "over the face of the whole earth" (Gen 11:9).
and of the Abominations: Grk. bdelugma. See the note on the previous verse. of the Earth: Babylon is described as the "mother" of the abominations of the earth. The false religion that began at Babel was dispersed throughout the earth as the people migrated. The decline of true religion and the rise of pagan religion are chronicled in Romans 1:18-32. These rebels turned aside from the knowledge of the Creator and embraced an evolutionistic view of origins, which provided the "scientific" foundation for pantheism, polytheism, hedonism and idolatry. New names for the deities were given from the new languages, but the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient cultures on every continent remained substantially the same. Babylon was not only a harlot, but she also gave birth to many who would carry on her seductive and worldly ways even down to modern times. As a result Babel became the center and symbol of rebellion against God and an archenemy of Israel (cf. Isa 21:9). Jewish rabbis believed that the successive judgments on Israel manifested in being conquered by the empires that followed Babylonian captivity were merely an extension of Babel (Sevener 80).
6― And I saw the woman being drunk with the blood of the holy ones, and with the blood of the witnesses of Yeshua. And having seen her, I wondered greatly.
And I saw the woman being drunk: The true nature of the harlotís empire is revealed as John sees her "drunk" with the blood of the innocent. Similar metaphors of drunkenness being associated with bloodshed occur in the Tanakh, although with a different emphasis (Deut 32:42; Isa 34:5; 49:26; 63:6). To be "drunk" indicates excess and lack of control and in this case to be drunk "with blood" pictures an insatiable drive to exterminate regardless of what cruelty or lack of due process must be employed to achieve the malevolent goal. The idiom of being drunk with blood was familiar to ancient Roman writers given the popular entertainment of gladiatorial shows in which crowds reveled in seeing much bloodshed (Earle). The phraseology may also allude to the barbarous custom among pagan nations of drinking the blood of enemies as revenge (Lange).
with the blood of the holy ones: Grk. hagioi, pl. of hagios. See 5:8 and 13:7 for this name used of followers of Yeshua. Christian versions have "saints," which can be a misleading term. and with the blood of the witnesses: Babylonís wrath is directed against the "holy ones" and "witnesses of Jesus," for which there are four possible interpretations. First, "witnesses" could be merely a repetitive interpretation of "holy ones" (Mounce). Certainly disciples in the apostolic writings are called both holy ones and witnesses, parallelisms are common in Scripture and the Hebrew prophets were witnesses of the coming Messiah (cf. Matt 13:17; Luke 24:27; John 5:39; 8:56). Second, the fact that the identification is separated by a conjunction probably intends a difference in meaning, perhaps in the same sense as Chapter Twelve, which speaks of the woman and the rest of her children. In other words, "holy ones" may be intended to refer to the faithful Israelites of the Old Covenant period who preceded the Messiah (cf. Dan 7:21) and the "witnesses of Jesus" includes all believing Jews and Gentiles who have lived since the advent of the New Covenant.
Third, the two phrases may only intend a distinction between those who actually proclaim the Gospel (apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers) and those with lesser responsibility. Fourth, the word "witnesses" occurs in the plural only twice in Revelation. The other use of "witnesses" is in 11:3 in reference to the two prophets of Yeshua and the mention of witnesses here could refer to them. Babylon would want as much as the Antichrist for the influence of the two witnesses to be removed.
A puzzling element of this verse is determining the historical context. Under Nebuchadnezzar Babylonia slaughtered tens of thousands of Jews in the invasion of Judah and destruction of Jerusalem (Lam 4:13; Hab 1:13; 3:14ff). The carnage of Jews in Israel continued under the Greek and Roman empires. As for the "witnesses of Jesus" there are no records of Christians being martyred in ancient Babylon, but the apostolic writings mention numerous incidents of severe opposition to the apostolic message and missionary efforts from unbelieving Jews. In the 7th century Christianity gained a new enemy with the rise of Islam and throughout Mesopotamia, the holy land and north Africa Christianity has been continuously attacked and subjugated, and at times has suffered large scale massacres.
However, more germane to this verse is that while imperial Rome martyred thousands of Christians in the first three centuries, the greatest death toll of Christians and Jews, numbering many millions, has come at the instigation or support of people acting with the authority of the Pope (cf. John 16:2). In modern times many Evangelical missionaries in Catholic countries, particularly in Latin America, have recounted severe opposition from Catholic clerics. Anti-Judaism as official Catholic policy was not even renounced until 1965 and yet the Vatican continues to side with the enemies of Israel. History has borne out Paulís dictum, "And indeed, all who want to live a godly life united with the Messiah Yeshua will be persecuted" (2Tim 3:12 CJB).
While the preterist and historicist interpretations make valid points, the reader of Revelation must not lose sight of the fact that this prophecy is of the very last days and points to conditions of that time. In the first century the witnesses of the Jewish Messiah endured opposition and persecution beginning shortly after Pentecost and later suffered unspeakable atrocities sponsored by imperial Rome, largely because evangelism was bad for business. When Paul took the gospel to Ephesus the idol business began to suffer. Merchants were outraged because, as one said, "Our prosperity depends upon this business" (Acts 19:25). Never were truer words spoken.
Today there is a popular saying, "follow the money." Much of the worldís commerce and prosperity is intertwined with and even dependent upon values or practices that God condemns in Scripture. In the final days of the earth the intolerance of Babylon toward any voice opposing greed and corruption will again support the elimination of that voice. While the beast will conduct his own war on the holy ones for personal reasons (13:7, 15), Babylon, as a commercial power, may view dealing harshly with its perceived enemies as just part of protecting business.
And having seen her, I wondered greatly: The incredible spectacle left John totally amazed. The sentence would be literally translated "I wondered seeing her with a great wonder" (Marshall). John no doubt recognized that the vision was miraculous and contained a portent of the future, but he does not put into words why his wonder was "great." He may have been amazed that God allowed such wickedness to exist. He may have been incredulous that such hatred without regard to human life could succeed. His mind may have been filled with incredible theories, or it may be that John was so stunned and puzzled by the vision of a time beyond all his experience that he could not venture any theory about its future application.
Explanation of the Seven Heads (17:7-11)
7― And the angel said to me, "Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast carrying her, having seven heads and ten horns.
Why do you wonder? The angel responds to Johnís puzzled look and asks the rhetorical question as if John should have understood. I will tell you: The angel then announces that he will explain the symbolic meaning of both the woman and the beast, which he does in the rest of this chapter and then dwells on the judgment of the woman in Chapter Eighteen. The fact that the angel mentions them together points to a close relationship between the two. The mystery of the beast and the mystery of Babylon are interrelated, so both will be explained. It should be noted that the angel said he would explain the mystery, not make it more mysterious by interpreting symbolic language with more symbolic language.
the beast carrying her: Grk. bastazō, pres. part., means either (1) to take up, to carry or bear, or (2) to carry away or remove. The participle has the definite article, so the word could be rendered "the one who..." Of its many uses are references to animals being ridden or bearing burdens. A subtle change in perspective is introduced with the mention of the beast carrying the woman instead of the woman "sitting" on the beast. The sense of the verb "carries" is that the woman is burdensome to the beast, that is, the beast puts up with the woman. This is not an amicable relationship. However, the latter meaning of the verb could be intended if the destruction of Babylon by the beast is considered (verse 16).
having seven heads and ten horns: The verse ends with a seemingly unnecessary clarification that the beast has seven heads and ten horns. However, God does not waste words and there are four beasts described in Revelation Ė the beast-confederation, the beast-ruler, the beast-false prophet and the beast from the abyss, a demonic spirit. The reader needs to understand clearly which beast is being seen in association with the woman, and in this verse the emphasis is on the beast-confederation.
8― "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those dwelling on the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder, seeing the beast that he was and is not and will come.
The angel proceeds to explain the vision of the beast. The description of the beast as "was and is not, and is about to come up" constitutes the antithesis of the Messiah "who is and who was and who is to come" (1:4). In this statement of historical sequence there is a vital clue to the identity of the Antichrist.
The beast that you saw was: Grk. eimi, imperf., to be, to exist or to live when used of persons or temporal existence. The imperfect tense, which functions as an auxiliary to the present tense, emphasizes continuous or repeated action in past time. In contrast to its progressive use in reference to God in 1:4, the imperfect tense in this case means that the action occurred at successive intervals in the past.
The straightforward meaning of "was" would be that the "beast" had been present in the world sometime previous to the time when John wrote Revelation. Stern (827) interprets "was" as meaning that the beast once appeared in the form of King Antiochus IV "Epiphanes" (see 13:5). Of course, Antiochus did not perform the last abomination in the temple, since Yeshua prophesied the abomination of desolation as yet to occur (Matt 24:15). Nevertheless, the beast-Antichrist "was" because the next verse indicates that five of the seven heads had "fallen." and is not: The simple declaration "is not" means that neither the seven-head, ten-horn beast-empire nor the human Antichrist were alive or present when Revelation was given to John.
and is about to come up: Grk. anabainō, pres. inf., to go up or to ascend (Rienecker). An infinitive is a verbal noun, so the word not only describes something the beast does, but also something he is. Cf. "comes up" in 11:7. out of the abyss: Grk. abussos refers to an unfathomable depth and the underworld abode of the dead and demons. See 9:1 on "bottomless pit." While the beast "was" and "is not" he will "come up out of the abyss" which means that he was already in the abyss when these words were spoken. So, by the permission of God the beast-spirit will be released from the abyss at the end of the age. The abyss, or bottomless pit, lies deep in the interior of the earth at its center. This is the place to which Yeshua descended after His death (Eph 4:9; cf. 1Pet 3:19). God revealed to Ezekiel that all the unregenerate are imprisoned there (Ezek 31:14-18; 32:18-32; cf. Luke 16:23; Rom 10:7). The many biblical references to the abyss taken together indicate that it is a real place.
Mounce points out that the tense of "come up" in this verse and in 11:7 means that coming up out of the abyss is an essential characteristic of the beast and he has done so repeatedly in history, including as Antiochus Epiphanes and Nero, who set fire to Rome and blamed the Christians. Mounceís suggestion is also supported by the imperfect tense of "was," which indicates repeated appearances in the past. The inference of the historical sequence is that a demonic spirit has indwelt former rulers and will do so again, the last time giving the appearance of a resurrection.
and go to destruction: Grk. apōleia may mean destruction, annihilation, perish or ruin. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3 Paul refers to the coming Antichrist as the "Son of Destruction," a Hebrew idiom meaning one who is destined to be destroyed as stated here. In context the title may derive from the fact that he causes much destruction and will suffer the ultimate destruction of hell (cf. Rev 19:20). To be a "son of" also says something of his character. In the Bible and Judaism a man is normally identified as the son of his father. However, the Hebrew word ben can be used in the broad sense of possessing the characteristics of someone. In the wider context of end time prophecy the title may also allude to Abaddon, the angel of the abyss (Rev 9:11). The Hebrew name Abaddon means destruction and the corresponding Greek title Apollyon means destroyer. Since the Antichrist is actually a demonic spirit that arises from the abyss, calling him the Son of Destruction suggests a link with Abaddon.
and those dwelling on the earth: The idiom referring to those who take the mark of the beast is made again. whose names: Grk. hōn ... to onoma, lit. "of whom [pl.] the name" (Marshall). The noun is singular, but functions as a corporate plural since the following verb is plural. have not been written: Grk. graphō, perf. pass., to write or inscribe and may refer to the mechanical activity of writing, the content of what is written down, or the literary composition of a work. in the book: Grk. biblion means a book, a scroll or a document. In the LXX biblion translates Heb. sēpher, which was used for anything that has been written, such as a scroll, book, writing, letter, diary, or a legal document. In Revelation biblion is used of the book mentioned in 1:11 that John was commanded to write, the book of life (3:5; 13:8; 20:15; 21:27; 22:19) and the books of works opened at the final judgment (20:12), but especially the book containing the divine decrees for the future (DNTT 1:243).
of life: Grk. zōē, the state of being alive in the physical sense in contrast to being dead; life. The Besekh not only uses zōē in its normal meaning of physical existence on planet earth in the presence age, but over forty times for life that continues into the next age and eternity, half of which are in the writings of John. In the LXX zōē renders Heb. chay (SH-2416, alive, living) with both literal and figurative uses. This time the marked earth dwellers are described as not having their names recorded in heaven. The perfect tense of the verb "written" infers a deliberate act and the qualification of "not" certainly argues against universal salvation.
The question naturally arises as to whether this phrase describes some sort of divine determinism that might invalidate the "whoever will" of the gospel (Rom 10:13). The text seems to assert states that the names of the beastís followers were never entered into the Book of Life (as one would expect). It may be that the description of Judas as the "son of perdition" pertains to this subject (John 17:12), but there is no inference there that Judas was born without the ability to choose. The caveat to this verse is the statement in Revelation 3:5 that names that are written in the Book of Life may be blotted out for rebellion. However uncomfortable these statements about the Book of Life may make one feel with pat theological positions, it is best to allow Godís words to mean what they say.
since the foundation: Grk. katabolē means "foundation" or "beginning." of the world: or creation. See 13:8 on this expression. There is an alternative interpretation for the lit. Greek, "the ones dwelling on the earth of whom the Name has not been written on the scroll of life from the foundation of the world." The words "the name" (Heb. HaShem) could be a circumlocution for Yeshua. From the beginning God's plan was to include in the book of life all those who receive the benefit of the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua, and reject those who commit idolatry and blaspheme God (cf. Lev 24:11-16).
will wonder: Grk. thaumazō, fut. pass., to be extraordinarily impressed. Rienecker clarifies the Greek word as to "wonder with the amazement of a horrible surprise." This is the same expression used of John when he saw the woman sitting on the beast. The cause of the peopleís amazement is not clearly stated, but it may result from the beastís resurrection or from a noticeable change in his appearance, personality, or power. Nevertheless, the people may well recognize that the appearance of the beast is a portent of dramatic changes in the world and their lives.
when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come: Grk. parestai is the future tense of pareimi, which means to be present (Rienecker). Pareimi, found in the earliest MSS, is closely related to the noun parousia, which is regularly used in the rest of the apostolic writings to describe the Second Coming of the Messiah (e.g., 1Cor 15:23; 1Th 2:19; 1Jn 2:28; etc.) (Mounce). The KJV ends the verse with "and yet is." The Latin Vulgate, which Erasmus used in preparing the TR book of Revelation (Metzger-TNT 99), ends the verse at "is not," but the KJV translators may have been swayed by their antipathy for the Pope whom they viewed as the Beast. The WNT, prepared in the next century after the KJV was initially published, ends this verse with "and yet will be." The DRA and NLT are the only Bible versions that end the verse with "is not." The point of the clause is to give a simple chronological story of the beast. He once was, probably multiple times as Mounce indicated. He was not present when John was on Patmos, but there can be no doubt that he will come onto the world stage.
9― "Here is the mind having wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains where the woman sits on them,
Here is the mind having wisdom: Grk. sophia. See 5:12 on "wisdom." Before going further with the identification of the woman and the beast the angel points out that wisdom is needed to comprehend and accept the divine explanation (cf. 13:18). Matthew provides a similar statement, "let the reader understand" (Matt 24:15), in reference to knowing what the Lord meant by the abomination of desolation. The expression seems to mean that the holy ones may understand because they accept Godís Word. God does not hide the truth from His disciples, but openly declares it. The Greeks sought wisdom and the unbelieving Jews sought signs (1Cor 1:22), yet neither attained their goal because they rejected the true Wisdom and power of God. Nevertheless, what may seem simple can be incredibly difficult to understand and the same may be said for the explanation of the "heads" in this verse. There are three basic approaches to interpretation, - spiritual, historical and literal - but only two in my view have compelling points.
The seven heads are seven mountains: pl. of Grk. oros means "mountain," "hill," or "hill-country." In Greek literature oros was also used to denote a desert and a place to bury a corpse. The AMP, CEV, CJB, NLT, TEV, TM and NIV render oros as "hills." The ASV, KJV, DRA, LTB, NCV, NKJV, NET and RSV have "mountains." Interestingly, the NASB translates oros in Luke 1:39, 65 as "hill country." The corresponding Heb. word, har, is given in Scripture to a comparatively large ridge, a collection of small hills and to many hogbacks as Mount Olivet (Neil 294). where: Grk. opou is a particle denoting a place, usually translated as "where." the woman sits: Grk. kathēmai, pres. mid. ind., to sit or sit down. See the note on 17:1. on them: pl. of Grk. autos, pers. pron. This is the third reference in the chapter to the woman sitting. Unlike the participle forms of the word in verses one and three that emphasize authority, the verb here indicates physical location as well as authority.
The first part of the divine explanation is that the seven heads of the beast represent seven mountains "on which the woman sits." Some commentators asserting a spiritual interpretation believe that the seven heads represent the fullness of the beastís blasphemy and evil, since the woman was seen sitting on a seven-headed beast. For some the woman represents apostate or pagan religion and the beast represents all the worldly powers opposed to God. The combination of these two societal conditions has existed since the first empire was established.
The historical interpretation is that the "seven mountains" function as a parallel symbol of the seven kings and refer to seven historical kingdoms. These are the reasons offered for this view. First, "mountain" is used in a figurative sense in Scripture to refer to a kingdom. In Psalm 30:7 David likens the establishment of his throne as a mountain. In Jeremiah 51:25 Babel is described as a "destroying mountain" even though the city was situated on a plain. In Daniel 2:35 Nebuchadnezzarís dream depicted a stone that became a great mountain, which is explained as a kingdom that would endure forever (the Kingdom of God). Second, the next verse identifies the seven heads as also being seven kings and the present tense "are" in both phrases ties the two together. Since there is a historical sequence to the kings, then the same could be true of the mountains.
Third, the description would represent Hebrew parallelism with a metaphorical reference to the kingdoms first and followed by the mention of specific kings. Otherwise, the next explanation of seven kings would be an unnecessary redundancy. Fourth, the usage of typology or symbolism everywhere else in the Scriptures does not assign two totally different meanings to the same vision. Fifth, it is the beast that has seven heads, not the woman, and, thus, the seven mountains must be interpreted in light of explaining the beast. Sixth, the selection of Rome by literalists as the site of the woman fails to recognize that Rome was built on hills and not mountains.
While the seven heads obviously tells the reader something of the beast, the figure serves a dual role and clearly provides information about the harlot. We must continue to remind ourselves that the harlot and the beast are not synonymous terms. The beast is not sitting on itself. The literal interpretation accepts the straightforward explanation of the angel that the heads represent mountains. If the seven heads do not represent seven physical mountains (or hills) there would be no point in saying so. The word "kingdom" does occur nine times in Revelation and if the Lord meant "kingdom" why not say so? Following this logic would require taking all the divine and angelic explanations in Revelation as just more mystery to fog the mind of the reader. The word "mountain" is given to explain a symbol, not merely serve as a symbol. A symbol must have its substantive basis or language becomes meaningless.
The objection that a "hill" is not a "mountain" overlooks the fact that while there is a Greek word that means only "hill" (boumos, Luke 3:5; 23:30), the word translated here as "mountain" was used in secular Greek and in Scripture to identify places that varied widely in topographical features and elevation. Modern science distinguishes hills from mountains by classifying a hill as being less than 1,000 feet above its surroundings, but admits that the distinction may depend upon local interpretation. Modern English translations of the Bible no doubt reflect the arbitrary standard of modern science, rather than recognizing that a single Hebrew and Greek word was used to refer to any natural topographical feature that rose above a valley, plain or other surroundings regardless of height.
The Greek word oros is translated "Mount" in the Mount of Olives (Matt 21:1), which is 2,676 feet above sea level, but only about 175 feet higher than Jerusalem (NIBD 554, 731), and Mount Sinai (Acts 7:30), which is well over 6,700 feet above sea level (NIBD 995). Mount Tabor (traditionally the mountain of the transfiguration, Matt 17:1) is only 1800 feet above sea level (NETN). Scripture simply does not employ a rigid definition of "mountain" based on elevation and Bible versions are clearly split, some translating the word as "hill." Anyone who has seen the Rockies or the Alps probably would not call the hills around Jerusalem "mountains," but Scripture does. Zion itself is called both a hill and a mountain in the same verse (Isa 31:4), and is referred to as "Mount" Zion in Revelation.
Another factor that influences accepting the angelís explanation of seven mountains or hills is the present tense of "sits," possibly inferring Johnís present, and verse 18 defines the "woman" as the "great city." Therefore, a municipality featuring seven mountains or hills in its topography when John was on Patmos would seem to be an appropriate candidate. Rome was originally built on the Palatine and Capitoline hills on the west bank of the Tiber River. The city quickly expanded over the years to include the Caelian, Esquiline, Viminal, Quirinal, and Aventine hills and in Johnís day there was an imperial palace on each of these hills (Wesley). As a result the city has always been known among the Romans themselves as the city of seven hills and the most favored choice of commentators. The coinage of Vespasian depicts the goddess of the city, Roma, enthroned on the seven hills (Johnson). Today the hills are hardly recognizable due to erosion and centuries of construction.
A few preterists, such as J. Stuart Russell and David Chilton, have identified Jerusalem as the city on seven hills (Gregg). Although Hunt categorically denies that Jerusalem was built on seven hills (Hunt 69) and modern commentators generally relegate the suggestion to legend, Jerusalem is reputed in Jewish circles to have been built on seven hills (cf. Ps 125:1f) (Yuval Shomron, Hebrew Highlights 36: As the Mountains, Voice From Jerusalem: 2004). In the eighth century midrash Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer (section 10), the writer mentioned without commentary that "Jerusalem is situated on seven hills" (Hayyim Nahman Bialik, The Book of Legends, p. 371). Rev. James Neil, formerly incumbent of Christ Church in Jerusalem (1871-1874), enumerated on a map the seven hills on which the city was built as Mount Zion, Mount Ophel, Mount Moriah, Mount Bezetha, Mount Acra, Mount Gareb, and Mount Goath (Neil 289).
If the seven mountains should be taken literally, an objection may be raised against two of the suggested locations, Rome and Babel. Rome might be excluded because the Vatican is not situated on any of the seven hills of Rome and Babel (recommended by Morris) may be disqualified because it occupies a plain next to the Euphrates River. Yet, one last factor needs to be considered. The Greek particle translated "on which" should be translated "where" to denote a simple reference of the location (Marshall). In other words, the woman is located where there are seven hills or mountains; the particle does not necessarily connote a physical placement on those mountains. In the case of Rome the city was divided into seven ecclesiastical districts in the 4th Century, each one in the charge of a Vatican official and the Vaticanís political and financial power over Rome is still intact to this day.
As for Babel, the center of the city was dominated by the massive seven-level ziggurat Etemenanki, which measured 300 feet by 300 feet at its base and rose to a height of 300 feet. Etemenanki is now in ruins (Ancient Babylonia Ė The Ziggurats, Bible History Online: 2004). Ancient religions often erected worship sites on tops of hills or mountains to be closer to heaven and ziggurats were constructed in plains and deserts to replicate the experience. An allusion to the ziggurat can be assumed in Jeremiah 51:25, which refers to Babel as a "destroying mountain." There are also a few usages of "mountain" in connection with the city of Jerusalem and its temple (cf. Ps 48:1; Isa 2:2; Jer 26:18; Mic 3:12). The arguments for Babel and Jerusalem seem to be more rationalizations than genuine conclusions based on the complete evidence, which favors Rome as the location of the harlot over the other two choices.
In addition to the familiar choices of commentators for the site of the city of seven hills, there are over 50 major cities reputed to be built on seven hills, including Amman (Jordan), Athens (Greece), Istanbul (Turkey), Mecca (Saudi Arabia), Moscow (Russia) and Staten Island, New York (USA). The argument might be made that if the Antichrist were Muslim, and the corporate beast an Islamic empire, then either Istanbul or Mecca would be viable alternatives for the beast's headquarters. However, whether the headquarters of the beast is co-located with seven mountains is not the point here. Of this list New York City could rival Rome as headquarters of the harlot.
10― "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.
and they are seven kings: This clause actually comes at the end of verse 9 in the Greek text. The present tense "they are" is used first, even though the text goes on to assert that five of the seven are in the past, because in prophetic vision everything appears as present to the prophet (Baron 47). The angel further indicates the "seven heads" have a second symbolic meaning. five have fallen: Grk. piptō. See 14:8 on "fallen." The verb here is the same tense as in 14:8. The seven heads in the vision represent seven kings, five of whom have "fallen." Hippolytus (A.D. 170-236) interpreted the "five have fallen" as referring to millenniums. He says,
"And 6,000 years must needs be accomplished, in order that the Sabbath may comeÖwhen they 'shall reign with Christ,' when He comes from heaven, as John says in his Apocalypse: for 'a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.' Since, then, in six days God made all things, it follows that 6,000 years must be fulfilled. And they are not yet fulfilled, as John says: Ďfive are fallen; one is,í that is, the sixth; Ďthe other is not yet come.í" (On Daniel 1:4)
Taking the passage literally requires the "kings" be actual kings, most of whom were not alive when John received the vision. Every ancient government, from city to region, was headed by a "king," but since the beast (the anti-messiah) comes from this group, the seven must be empire rulers, and not just rulers of individual cities or countries. Dispensational commentators interpret the seven kings as representing seven kingdoms of ancient history, with the five fallen being Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. Rome would be the one that "is" and the seventh to come for a "little while" would be the beast empire at the end of the age (Sevener 80). Joel Richardson suggests that the seventh kingdom is an Islamic Caliphate. While the sequence of past ("fallen"), present ("is"), and future ("not yet come") tense verbs employed together point to members of a constituent group, the angel uses the word for "king" and not "kingdom." At the end of this chapter the harlot is said to have a "kingdom," so the angel was being precise in his explanation. The beast-spirit can possess only one individual at a time, not an entire kingdom.
Preterist commentators generally view the seven kings as seven of the eleven Roman emperors in the first century. Some may wonder why, if "king" refers to a Roman emperor, the title Caesar is not used. "Caesar" was originally a proper name, the family name of the Julian family, especially of Julius Caesar, but also of Augustus (so Luke 2:1). Later it developed a titular usage and became equivalent to "Emperor." This usage appears in all the other references in the apostolic writings. There are no titular usages of Caesar in Jewish literature up to and including the first century (DNTT 1:269), probably owing to hatred of the enemy who had enslaved their country. Of significance is the pronouncement of the unbelieving Jewish leaders at the trial of Yeshua found only in John, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15).
In considering the list of Roman emperors the question is, which seven? Roman emperors of Johnís lifetime were Augustus (27 B.C.ĖA.D. 14), Tiberius (14Ė37), Caligula (37Ė41), Claudius (41Ė54), Nero (54Ė68), Galba (68), Otho (68), Vitellius (69), Vespasian (70Ė79), Titus (79Ė81), Domitian (81Ė96), Nerva (96Ė98) and Trajan (98Ė117). Victorinus (fourth century) believed the simple answer was that since Domitian was the one who "is," then the five "fallen" were the five emperors who immediately preceded Ė Titus, Vespasian, Otho, Vitellius, and Galba Ė and the one to come would be Nerva, who reigned not quite two years, a "little while."
Another suggestion is that the five be taken as those who were deified officially by the Roman Senate, which would be Julius Caesar, Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian, and Titus (Earle). Interestingly, the first five kings are not described with the simple past tense verb, as is the beast. The five kings were not merely alive previously, but they have "fallen." The word "fallen" is often used in the apostolic writings as a reference to a loss of position by deliberate removal, a falling which results in harm, or a loss of life by divine judgment (Matt 7:27; 24:29; Luke 10:18; 13:4; 21:24; 23:40; Acts 15:16; 1Cor 10:8, 12; Heb 3:17; 11:30; Jas 5:12; Rev 2:5; 6:13, 16; 14:8; 16:9; 18:2).
Of the emperors prior to Domitian, seven died a violent death Ė Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba and Vitellius. Caesar was stabbed, Tiberius was smothered (by Caligula), Caligula was stabbed, Claudius was poisoned, Nero committed suicide with a knife (to avoid execution by Galba), Galba was beheaded, and Vitellius was tortured to death. Of course, Julius Caesar was not alive in the first century and it is a point of debate among modern scholars whether Galba should be included in the list since he and his successor Otho only held power for a few months. The period of 68-69 was marked by anarchy and a struggle for power until Vespasian stabilized the Roman government in 70. Yet, Victorinus, who lived only a couple of centuries from the event, regarded Galba and Otho as true emperors.
Another approach based on the concept of the beast-spirit making repeated appearances is that six of the seven kings may well come from the ancient kingdoms, and, of course, speculation would then abound on selecting candidates. However, the list could be shortened if consideration is given to the distinguishing characteristic of the beast in Scripture: he makes war on Godís people, whether Jews or disciples of Yeshua. By this criteria the five "fallen" could include the Pharaoh of Exodus, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus Epiphanes, and Nero. The one who "is" would be Domitian (cf. 1Jn 4:3), and the one "not yet come" would be Trajan, a type of the Antichrist, because Trajan declared Christianity to be an illegal religion and sanctioned prosecution of Christians who refused to recant.
The big question is why do these kings matter anyway? What relevance could these kings have in identifying the Antichrist? The answer may lie in the character (or lack of it) of these kings. The Antichrist will have the same boldness for wickedness with no moral or ethical restraint on his conduct, as well as manifesting the infamous "Caesar" characteristic of delusions of divinity. He will enact laws that defy rationality (cf. Ex 5:6-8; Dan 7:25) and serve as Satanís instrument to persecute and make war against Godís people.
11― "And the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is of the seven, and he goes into destruction.
And the beastÖan eighth: The angel then repeats the description of verse 8 with one addition. Just when you think the seven heads of the beast are explained, the angel says that the beast is also an "eighth." This is a strange way of putting it. He is not merely "the" eighth, because he was of the seven. Identifying the Antichrist as "an eighth" is probably intended in a superlative sense. For example, Ignatius referred to the first day of the week as the "eighth day" as a way of emphasizing how much more important he believed the Lord's Day to be over the Sabbath, because the Lord's Day celebrated the resurrection of Yeshua (Epistle to the Magnesians IX).
Stern in commenting on the number of the beast says that "the name of Messiah in Greek, Iēsous, equals 888; seven is regarded as the perfect number; and triple repetition symbolizes absolute ultimacyÖTherefore 888 means that Yeshua is absolutely beyond perfection (829). Thus, to say that the Antichrist is "an eighth" means that he will have far greater power and be even more ruthless than any previous empire ruler in history. When compared to Yeshua the Messiah, the true King of the age to come, the Antichrist is evil personified whose legacy will be the great tribulation, which eclipses any previous tribulation (Matt 24:21).
and is of the seven: The angel may be making a connection between the past-oriented explanation of kings and the future-oriented prophecy of kings in the beast-confederation in the next verse. In other words, the beast-Antichrist was one of the seven historical kings, but he is the eighth member of a group of kings that exist at the end of history, parallel to the "little horn" of Daniel 7:8. The Antichrist is also of the seven in that he will have the same bent toward wickedness and hatred of God and his people. and he goes into destruction: The clarification is ended with a reminder that no matter how many times the beast has appeared he will be destroyed in the end by the Almighty God.
Explanation of the Ten Horns (17:12-14)
12― "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.
And the ten horns: Now the angel explains that the ten horns of the beast symbolize ten kings. While the "seven kings" have a connection with the past, the ten kings will be in the future for they "have not yet" received a kingdom. The use of the term "king" may not be merely a reference to first century political terminology, but a forecast that the Antichrist will restore the monarchical title to his ruling organization. not yet received a kingdom: The use of "not yet" is significant. It would not be in John's lifetime or during the centuries of history ahead of John, but it will be at the very end of the age when the beast-Antichrist reigns. This explanation coincides with the vision given to Daniel, because the beast of the last days he saw had only one head with ten horns. Since these "kings" do not obtain power until the beast-Antichrist comes, speculations regarding present world leaders are not really profitable.
they receive authority Ö for one hour: When the ten kings come, they reign only "one hour." There is no indication from the context that the duration is symbolic. Marshall translates the Greek as "authority as kings one hour receive with the beast". Instead of saying the reign of the kings lasts one hour the angel is more likely saying that in one hour the political structure of the world changes, totally eliminating the rights of people to elect their governments. In one hour all the independence of nation states and the current United Nations will be replaced with an oligarchy and totalitarian rule of one man.
The ten kings will likely serve as territorial regents for the Antichrist, since a global empire will require loyal regional leadership to enforce the decrees of the beast. A similar political structure was employed by Emperor Diocletian (284-305). Diocletian was the last and worst of the Roman Emperors to persecute Christians. Of him Schaff says, "He converted the Roman republican empire into an Oriental despotism, and prepared the way for Constantine and Constantinople. He associated with himself three subordinate co-regents, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius Chlorus (the father of Constantine the Great), and divided with them the government of the immense empire; thereby quadrupling the personality of the sovereign. (Schaff, II, 2, ß24).
13― "These have one purpose, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.
These have one purpose: Just as the dragon gave both power and authority to the beast (13:2), these newly crowned kings vest their power and authority in the beast. They are of one mind with the beast, so there will be no more independence of national rule and no more protection from the extreme whims of the despot. All those who have advocated and worked so hard for a world government will see their dream come to pass, but it will become a horrifying nightmare.
14― "These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful."
These will wage war: Grk. polemeō, fut., to wage war. See the note on 2:16. At Satanís behest the beastly confederation will "wage war against the Lamb." The war envisioned here has two aspects to it. The first is the beastís war will be directed against the followers of the Lamb in order to accomplish Satanís goal (11:7; 12:17; 13:7). Just as Saulís persecution of the disciples was regarded as a personal assault on the Yeshua (Acts 9:4), so the war against the holy ones in the very last days (12:17; 13:7) may be considered a war against Yeshua. The second aspect of the war is the great eschatological battle at Armageddon.
and the Lamb will overcome them: In both aspects of the war the Lamb will overcome the enemy. The holy ones overcome by their loyalty to Yeshua and martyrdom by which they gain the resurrection. The Lamb will also overcome when he descends from the heavens over Jerusalem (16:15; 19:11-21). The great battle of Armageddon (16:13) is only the finale of the war where the Lamb will overcome the beast and all his allies.
because He is Lord of lords and King of kings: The angel reports the simple conclusion to the contest that the beast will lose because of who the Lamb is. The first use of "king of kings" in Scripture was actually applied by the Lord to two earthly rulers, first to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Ezek 26:7; Dan 2:37), and then to Artaxerxes, king of Persia (Ezra 7:12). Nebuchadnezzar wisely responded to Danielís announcement, "Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings" (Dan 2:47). Stern points out that the double superlative title is equivalent to "King of kings of kings" which the Siddur (Jewish Prayer book) applies to YHVH in a song that introduces the Sabbath in many Jewish homes (Stern 840). The extra "of kings" was necessary due to the title "king of kings" being attributed to earthy rulers. In contrast the appellation of "Lord of Lords" (Heb. Adonai Adon) is attributed only to the God of Israel in Scripture (Deut 10:17, Ps 136:3; 1Tim 6:15).
The fact that these royal offices are attributed to the Lamb indicates that He possesses such awesome power that commencing a war against Him is folly of the highest order and that upon the defeat of the beast the Lamb will establish His kingdom. Moreover, the beast that insanely claims divinity is warned of his folly (cf. Acts 13:21-23). The titles particularly attest the divine nature of the Lamb, declaring that He is none other than the Creator and Ruler of the universe who will not abide any pretender to His throne. The Antichristís resurrection deceives him into thinking he has succeeded in his self-glorification, but the illusion of deity will disappear when he faces the judgment of the King to whom all earthly rulers must give account.
the called and chosen and faithful: Three characteristics are mentioned of the ones coming with the Lamb when He defeats the beast. They are the ones "called" to partake in the wedding feast (Matt 22:9, 14). They are the ones "chosen" to receive the kingdom (Luke 12:32) and for whom the great tribulation was cut short (Matt 24:22). They are the ones "faithful" in stewardship while awaiting their Lordís coming (Matt 24:45-46) and steadfast in loyalty even to death (Rev 2:10-13). The very ones the beast sought to eliminate share in the Lambís victory and return with the conquering Lamb as testimony to the beast of his impotence and the Lambís supremacy.
The grammar of "those who are with Him" is significant and pertinent to the debate concerning when Yeshua gathers the holy ones. Certainly the holy ones are "with Him" in the sense that Yeshua has chosen to share the benefits and glories of the Kingdom with all who trust in Him for salvation (3:20; 20:6; cf. Rom 8:32; Col 2:12f; 1Th 5:10). However, there are only four other verses in the apostolic writings that speak of a group accompanying Yeshua when He returns. Two references mention the angels: "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne" (Matt 25:31; also Rev 19:14). The other two references mention the holy ones: "When Messiah, who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:4 CJB). And, an important verse that places this event in conjunction with the gathering and resurrection of believers is 1 Thessalonians 4:14f,
"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep."
The consistent testimony of the apostles is that when Yeshua returns He will be accompanied by the angels and the holy ones who have overcome the dragon and the beast. There is no reason to assume that these verses speak of separate events seven or three and a half years apart. Yeshua will come one time and with Him will be the "called and chosen and faithful."
Explanation of Babylon (17:15-18)
15― And he said to me, "The waters that you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.
The waters that you saw: The angel now turns his attention back to the woman in the vision and offers a symbolic meaning to the "waters" mentioned in verse 1, reversing the pattern of using visionary heads to symbolize actual mountains. Besides being a geographical landmark, the "waters" represent an international constituency with whom the harlot has a close association. The ancient empire of Babylonia subjugated disparate nations and peoples, and for centuries after Babylonia ceased to be a political force in the world, her evolutionistic and idolatrous legacy continued to have strong influence on cultures in surrounding and successive empires.
where the harlot sits: The word "sits" is most frequently connected in the apostolic writings with exercising authority and the diversity of the groups symbolized by the waters implies an international organization, which could be religious, political or commercial. are peoples: The four census categories listed here occur several times in Revelation, although not always in the same word order, and sometimes with a one-word difference (cf. 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6). (See 5:9 on these categories.) The word translated "peoples" (Grk. laos) refers to the general population in contrast to the ruling class. and multitudes: pl. of Grk. ochlos simply refers to people who live in a particular geographical area and does not connote any certain number of people. and nations: pl. of Grk. ethnos refers to a grouping based on common culture, which accounts for the differences between people groups. In the apostolic writings "nation" is frequently used to designate Gentiles in contrast to Jews. and languages: pl. of Grk. glossa refers to many different languages or dialects.
16― "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 with fire.
these will hate the harlot: There is no love relationship between Babylon and the beastís government. Babylon survives through political favors and the influence of commercial holdings and great wealth. But, at some point after the death of the two witnesses (11:18) and perhaps preparatory to the trumpet and bowl judgments, God will permit the beast and the ten kings to vent their hatred by destroying her. Four word pictures are used to characterize the destruction, all of which taken together signify a complete devastation.
and will make her desolate: Grk. erēmoō, perf. pass. part., to make into a desert or a desolate place (Rienecker). The perfect participle emphasizes the continuing result from the time of being attacked. The desolation of the Babylon mentioned here might be parallel to the desolation prophesied of Babylon in Jeremiahís day (Jer 51:26, 29, 43, 62; cf. Isa 13:9) that neither man nor beast would (or could) dwell in it.
and naked: Grk. gumnos means naked, stripped or bare, referring to a nude human body. The noun can refer to lacking an outer garment without which a decent person did not appear in public (John 21:7). Gumnos can also have the figurative meaning of the soul, whose covering is the body (2Cor 5:3). The harlot who had been dressed in the finest of clothing and jewels is also left "naked," a judgment especially meted out for harlotry (cf. Ezek 23:29). In ancient times conquering armies often stripped captured enemies and subjected them to public scorn and shame (Isa 20:3f). "Naked" may simply be an allusion to death that leaves the soul naked (cf. 2Cor 5:3).
and will eat: Grk. esthiō means to eat food. The verb is also used figuratively in the apostolic writings to mean to consume or devour as fire (Heb 10:27; James 5:3). her flesh: Grk. sarkas is actually plural, meaning "fleshes" or "portions of flesh" (Robertson). To "eat her flesh" may be an allusion to Jezebel whose lust for power was repaid with assassination and being eaten by dogs (2Kgs 9:30-37; cf. Jer 10:25; Mic 3:3; Zeph 3:3), but certainly depicts the human toll from the attack. In this case the metaphor may refer to corpses left for scavenger birds (cf. Gen 40:19; Rev 19:18), or to the manner in which an attack consumes the flesh of the inhabitants (cf. Isa 26:11; Zech 14:12; Heb 10:27; James 5:3).
and will burn her with fire: Grk. katakaiō, to burn down or to completely destroy by fire (Rienecker). The final word picture depicts an inferno so intense and so thorough that no vestige of the harlotís presence is left (cf. Jer 50:32; 51:30, 58). The phrase may function as an explanation of how the flesh may be eaten. The judgment of fire is in accord with Godís law for a priestís daughter who plays the harlot (Lev 21:9) and parallel to the total destruction of Sodom by fire that rained out of heaven (Gen 19:24). Such total annihilation means that Mystery Babylon cannot be Jerusalem as Sevener supposes even though savagely attacked by the beast. Yeshua the Messiah will come to the rescue of His beloved city and people (Zech 12:7ff; 14:1ff).
17― "For God has put in their hearts to do His purpose and to do one purpose, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.
For God has put in their hearts: What was true about Godís attitude toward ancient Babylon will be true of the future Babylon. to do His purpose: Grk. gnomē basically means purpose, intention, or mind, but in this case a decision or declaration of specific intent. "His purpose is against Babylon to destroy it; for it is the vengeance of the Lord, vengeance for His temple" (Jer 51:11). Without knowing it the ten kings serve Godís purposes and plans by surrendering their authority to the beast and then conspiring to rid themselves of an annoying competitor. God is in control of history and even powerful men will do His bidding (Prov 21:1; cf. Rom 9:17-23). Some, of course, recoil at such a sovereign God, wanting to make manís "free" will equal to God. God is the only person with a will that is truly free of outside influence and He has the requisite power to ensure fulfillment of His Word. As Ralph Earle points out, "Divine sovereignty will see to it that the purposes of divine love are carried out for the ultimate good of mankind."
18― "And the woman whom you saw is the great city, having kingship over the kings of the earth."
And the woman whom you saw is the great city: Grk. polis refers to a city or city-state, a capitol city or the main city. The angel further provides two simple, yet profound, points of identification of the woman riding on the beast. First, the woman symbolizes a city, an actual city, just as the seven heads represent seven mountains. Scripture contains other instances of a city being represented as a woman (Isa 1:8, 21; 23:15ff; 29:2; 52:1; Lam 1:1; 2:15; Ezek 23:17; 26:17; Nah 3:1-7; Zeph 2:15; 3:1). The city is not just any city, but "the great city." (See 11:8 on "great city.") Before considering possible candidates the characteristics of greatness needs to be defined. In biblical times cities were considered great first because of being the seat of power in the empire or world, such as Nineveh, Babel, Athens, or Rome. Cities also may be considered great because of their wealth represented in building projects and market places. The great cities also attracted fortune hunters and the unemployed seeking opportunity and, thus, swelling the population over towns and villages. By these simple categories many modern cities in the world would be considered great.
having: Grk. echō , pres. part., to have, hold, keep, preserve, or possess. kingship: Grk. basileia means kingship, royal power, royal rule or territory ruled over by a king. The noun could also be translated as "a kingdom." over: The preposition epi when used in relation to persons means to have power, authority, or control over. the kings of the earth: The angel's second point is that the harlot is a city that has a kingdom, not vice versa. Four nominations have been made by modern commentators for the great city of Mystery Babylon.
Some popular writers on prophecy have nominated New York City, euphemistically called "Babylon," in part because there is a suburb of New York City actually named Babylon and because New York City possesses the moral decadence of a liberal society, the commercial power of Wall Street, and the political influence (and corruption) of the United Nations. However, the area in which New York City is situated was not settled until 1626, well after Johnís lifetime. Intending a city with which John could not possibly be acquainted seems extremely remote. On specific details of Babylonís identification New York City does not qualify. For example, New York City would not qualify as the woman "drunk with the blood of the holy ones" (verse 6 above), since the city has served as the immigration gateway to America and welcomed the persecuted. New York City also does not reign over the United Nations.
The interpretation of the ancient city of Babel on the Euphrates is Mystery Babylon of Revelation is just as problematic as New York City. Babel was not a great city in Johnís day, since the area was largely in ruins and mostly deserted. While Saddam Hussein promoted restoration of the city of Babel and fancied himself as the second Nebuchadnezzar ("Rebuilding Babylon," Christianity Today (Vol. 32, No. 17), 71), his personal ambitions came to an end with the invasion of the American-led coalition in 2003. The transformation of Babel into a tourist attraction continues unabated, but the city has no current kingdom. Though Iraqís greatest commodity is oil, OPEC is not likely to move its headquarters from Vienna to Babel.
The concept of a rebuilt Babel being a center for controlling, coordinating or financing international commerce as envisioned in the next chapter seems unlikely in the extreme, since the only current attraction is for archaeologists and tourists. However, the Iraqi government has had a long-standing interest in developing the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers into major arteries for commercial transport to connect inland cities with Persian Gulf ports. Dredging and the establishment of navigation channels have been completed on several stretches of these rivers. So, the potential may exist for Babel to fulfill biblical prophecy, but not without dramatic changes in events. The potential of Iraqís rise to preeminence may be realized after the power of Iran (Persia) and the other Islamic nations is crushed when they invade Israel (Ezek 38).
Jerusalem is almost certainly "the great city" in 11:8 and most likely also in 16:19, and was "great" prior to the year A.D. 70 in terms of prestige and commercial activity. And, Jerusalem would be considered a great city today on the same basis. However, Jerusalem has never had a kingdom over the kings of the earth, but has been hated and subjugated by foreign powers since the invasion of the ancient Assyrians. Modern Israel has lived with terrorism and survived wars with its neighbors since its inception and is manipulated far too much by the whims of the Western powers. While world attention will be focused on Jerusalem at the end of the age due to the idolatry of the beast in the abomination of desolation, the anti-Jew sentiment in the world will preclude Jerusalem from ever having a true kingdom until the Messiah comes and establishes this holy city as His capitol.
Most historic and modern commentators, whether from the preterist, historicist, futurist or spiritual schools of thought, believe that "Babylon" can only refer to Rome. The interpretation of the spiritual school that Babylon represents the materialism of the world fails to recognize that the angel described a substantive reality at a precise geographical location. Of course, historicist and some futurist commentators have interpreted Babylon in Revelation as a metaphor of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly its ruling structure. John Wesley, an historicist, in commenting on Revelation 17:3 asserts that based on the declaration of the angel the city could only identify "the city of Rome, with its buildings and inhabitants; especially the nobles." Perhaps the most comprehensive and well-documented treatise by a historicist identifying the Roman Catholic Church with Babylon due to adopting pagan beliefs and practices is Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, originally published in 1916. A significant and recent work by a futurist is Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast, 1994. Huntís book covers a broad range of issues and is likewise fully researched. Both books present compelling and justifiable critiques of the Roman Catholic Church that should be studied by all Christians.
The association between ancient pagan religious practices and certain practices and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church has been ably documented, but the fact that the angel says "city" and not "church" is significant. The Lord certainly knows the difference between a city and a church. The reader should note that the Lord never refers to any of the backslidden congregations in Revelation as "Babylon." Since the angel uses the present tense, then John would naturally (and correctly) conclude that Rome is "the great city," which ruled the largest kingdom that had ever existed to that time. Yet, the identification of Rome must satisfy all the descriptive elements of the last days Babylon, because the vision is also of the end of this present age to which John was taken in the Spirit. However, many people make the mistake of only thinking of the Vatican in religious terms and do not adequately consider its vast political and financial power in the world.
It is important to note that neither this verse, nor any passage, describes the harlot as a monarch nor does she rule over the entire earth as the beast and the ten kings, yet she has a kingdom with authority over kings, contrasting with 1:5 where Yeshua is declared to be the ruler over the kings of the earth. The metaphor of waters in 17:1 as explained in verse 15 indicates a corporate entity with an international constituency or association. The mention of "kings" emphasizes global influence with the power brokers of the world. However, the fact that the great city is seen as a "woman" emphasizes her weakness and vulnerability and may explain why the ten kings are able to destroy her. The nature of her kingdom is not such as to possess the military capability for defense or retaliation (cf. 13:4). In the context of the last days, then, could any other city than Rome have a kingdom over kings, consist of diverse peoples and satisfy all the descriptive criteria of this chapter and the next?
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Baron: David Baron, Zechariah: A Commentary on His Vision and Prophecies. Kregel Publications, 1918.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online.
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Earle: Ralph Earle, The Book of The Revelation. Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. X. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967.
Gregg: Steve Gregg, ed., Revelation, Four Views: A Parallel Commentary. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.
Hislop: Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons. Loizeaux Brothers, 1959.
Hunt: Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast. Harvest House Pub., 1994.
ISBE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Ed. James Orr. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939. Website 2011. Online.
Johnson: Alan F. Johnson, Revelation. Expositorís Bible Commentary. Zondervan Publishing House, 1983. (Zondervan CD-ROM Version 2.6, 1989-1998)
Juster: Daniel Juster, Revelation: The Passover Key. Destiny Image Publishers, 1991.
Lange: John Peter Lange, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation. (1871) trans. Evelina Moore. Zondervan Publishing House, nd.
Marshall: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.
Metzger-TNT: Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament. 2nd ed. United Bible Societies, 1994.
Miller: Stephen R. Miller, Daniel. Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994.
Morris: Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Record. Tyndale House Publishers, 1987.
Mounce: Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation. rev. ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.
Neil: James Neil, Palestine Explored. James Nisbet & Co., 1882.
NETN: Footnotes in the Internet version of the NET Bible at bible.org
Richardson: Joel Richardson, The Islamic Antichrist. WND Books, 2009.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 Vols. The Zondervan Corporation, 1980.
Schaff: Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church. 8 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910. Online.
Sevener: Harold A. Sevener, Godís Man in Babylon. Chosen People Ministries, 1994.
Stern: David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 5th ed. Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1996.
Victorinus: Victorinus, Bishop of Pettau (d. 303 A.D.), Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John.
Wesley: John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament: Revelation. 2 Vols. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1981. Online.
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