Revelation 17

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.

When I saw her, I marveled greatly. But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”

Understanding And Applying the Text

This is the penultimate vision. It begins with an angel telling John he is about to witness the judgment of the great prostitute. This angel was one of the angels who emptied the wrath of God on the land of Israel. The next chapter covers three areas in the vision. It tells of the celebration in heaven for God’s judgment of the prostitute. It tells of the marriage supper of the Lamb and the victory of the Christ over the kings of the earth. Following that the dragon is shut up in the bottomless pit for a thousand years. The vision closes the judgment where God judges the dead according to their works.

Who is the prostitute? The angel tells John she is “the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” The next chapter (18) identifies Babylon as the harlot city. Babylon is the city with whom the kings of the earth committed sexual immorality.

Babylon does not refer to the ancient city of Babylon. it is a symbol. It represents sinfulness and wickedness. Babylon had fallen centuries early. It makes no sense to talk about the coming fall of Babylon it had already occurred. The great majority of interpreters believe Babylon symbolizes Rome. In John’s day, it was the center of the most corrupt form of Christianity. It was also the center of the greatest despotism the world had seen.

If you did not take part in pagan rituals you were an outcast. Every thought you strange or weird. Perhaps even seditious. To be a part of society you needed to take part in pagan celebrations feast. If you were not a part of normal society you were not a part of the economy. Taking part in pagan feasts and celebrations was also a showed political allegiance. Pagans called Christians atheists. Christians did not worship the gods of Rome. They called Christians haters of mankind. Christians refused to conform to accepted forms of social life (1 Pet. 2:12; 4:3, 4). Some compromised. They want both. They claimed Christianity. Yet they argued it was alright to take part in the idolatrous feasts and sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:20; 1 Cor. 6:12–20). Jezebel in 2:20–23 was a key seducer. Her work symbolized as the Babylonian prostitute (2:21, 22; cf. 17:2).

A few interpreters identify “the great prostitute” as Jerusalem. Jerusalem refused to accept the Messiah. She became a prostitute in the imagery of the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:21; Ezekiel 16; 23; Hosea 2). We have already seen Jerusalem assume other names, Sodom and Egypt. There is no reason why it may not also assume the name Babylon.

Revelation uses the language Babylon and Tyre in the prophets. (Jeremiah 50-51; Ezekiel 27). Modern cities also fall under this condemnation. Their false religions and sexual exploitation are all forms of Babylon. So, the symbolism of Babylon embodies has many historical events and locals.

If the harlot is Rome and not Jerusalem this raises a question. Up to this point, the focus of God’s wrath and judgment has been Jerusalem. What justifies thinking that focus now turns from Jerusalem to Rome. There are some strong reasons. First, God said so. When the seventh angel poured out his bowl. God said, “It is done!” (Revelation 16:17). God’s judgment on Jerusalem was complete.

The woman was sitting on a scarlet beast. The beast had seven heads and ten horns.

There has been debate over the dating of Revelation. I take the position John wrote Revelation before 70 AD. That is, John wrote it before the fall of Jerusalem. Others have taken the position John wrote it in the 90s.

The major reason for the later dating of Revelation comes from Irenaeus. Irenaeus is one of the most respected early church fathers. Irenaeus refers to Revelation in his book “Against Heresies” book V.

“We will no, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of anti-Christ. For if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no long time since but almost in our day toward the end of Domitian’s reign”

Irenaeus “Against Heresies” Book V

That is the main reason so many believe John wrote Revelation after the fall of Jerusalem. These words give the impression John’s vision took place during Domitian’s reign. And that was after the fall of Jerusalem.

Irenaeus wrote in Greek. We do not have any copies of Irenaeus’ original work in Greek. But we have Latin translations. There is a grammatical and literary question about the translation. The question is this. What is the antecedent of “that” What does “that” refer to? Is Irenaeus saying John’s vision was seen during the reign of Domitian? Or is he saying, John, who received the vision, was seen as late as the reign of Domitian? Technical analysis of the statement reveals the statement could mean either.

Irenaeus refers to the Revelation in other writing. There he refers to Revelation as “Ancient copies of the book of Revelation.” It would be strange to refer to something written in your lifetime as ancient writing. But if it were written 100 years earlier that would justify that reference.

Clement was another respected early church father. He writes that all apostolic revelation ceased during the reign of Nero. All apostolic revelation would include that book of Revelation. That means John wrote Revelation before 68 AD. That is external evidence for an early dating of the book. There is also internal evidence for early dating.

This passage contains one of the most powerful internal evidence.

The angel told John the seven heads are seven mountains and they are also seven kings, “… five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come.” So the seven heads have a dual symbolism. They represent seven mountains. And they represent seven kings.

Of the seven kings, the angel said five were no longer in power. One king was still in power. And one was a future king.

The first question is what is the city of seven hills. The most famous nickname for Rome was the city on the seven hills. So since the angel is referring to Rome and then goes on to describe the kings of Rome. Some have objected to that since the Romans did not call their emperors kings. But when the Jews took Jesus before Pilate. They said, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15) There is evidence the Jews call the Roman ruler’s kings.

Five kings have fallen one is and the other is yet to come. That tells us John wrote Revelation during the sixth king. Who is the sixth king? Well, who was the sixth Roman emperor?

Julius Caesar did not receive the title emperor. The first one to receive that title as Caesar Augustus.
Starting with Augustus we have:

  1. Augustus
  2. Tiberius
  3. Caligula
  4. Claudius
  5. Nero
  6. Galba

Galba died before 70AD. Some argue that Galba, Otho, and Vitellius should not be counted. Their reign was too short to count. That would make Vespasian sixth. But counting Vespasian as sixth still supports an early dating.

But what if we start counting with Julius Caesar. After all, we are talking kings not emperors. Julius Caesar in the ancient list of rulers is the first Roman ruler.

  1. Julius Caesar
  2. Augustus
  3. Tiberius
  4. Caligula
  5. Claudius
  6. Nero

This indicates John wrote Revelation during the reign of Nero. Nero fits into the narrative like a glove.

Some argue against recognizing the five kings as the first five Roman emperors. The argument is number five symbolic. It represents an indefinite number of previous persecuting states. Such as in Daniel 7. The sixth king indicates Christians are near the end. But not quite there. As the number 7 is the number of completion.

The ten horns are ten kings. Daniel saw ten horns that were 10 kings coming from the fourth beast. Calvin saw the fourth beast in Daniel’s vision as Rome. If that is true, the 10 kings come out of Rome.

We have already seen the beast represent Nero. The prostitute represents Rome. At the end of the chapter, we read the beast devours the prostitute’s flesh and burns her up with fire. Again the historical evidence supports the Revelation. Nero burned large portions of the city to make way for his urban renewal program in 64AD. He then blamed the fire on the Christians.

The finality of Babylon’s fall is shown the throwing of a large stone into the sea. The is an irreversible act.

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