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Revelation 17:1-18 – Babylon the Great Whore

Summary

An angel shows John the judgment of a whore named Babylon, who represents the violence and destruction that nations inflict. In the end, the beast with whom she is associated destroys her.

Analysis

The whore personifies the city that exerts an oppressive yet seductive power over the earth. As a prostitute, she reduces intimate relationships to a commercial transaction and relates to anyone who is willing to pay. Enamored with luxury, she wears opulent clothing and jewels, yet she is drunk with the blood of the saints. Revelation recognizes that many people find the pursuit of wealth to be intoxicating and that violence can be seductive.

The name of the city is Babylon, which recalls that in the Old Testament Babylon conquered Jerusalem and destroyed its temple. The fact that John pictures Babylon sitting on seven hills also draws on the idea that Rome--the power that conquered Jerusalem again in John's day--was situated on seven hills (17:9). Both ancient Babylon and Rome were commercial powers, and both used violence to achieve their purposes. The city represents a form of influence that has existed in various times and places. Eventually, however, the whore is destroyed by the beast that had been its ally (17:16). The powers of evil are self-destructive. This gives readers good reason to distance themselves from the tendencies that Babylon represents.

Revelation 17:1-18

The Great Whore and the Beast

17Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgement of the great whore who is seated on many waters, 2with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk.’ 3So 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. 4The woman was clothed 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 fornication; 5and on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations.’ 6And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.

When I saw her, I was greatly amazed. 7But the angel said to me, ‘Why are you so amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. 8The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the inhabitants of the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.

9 ‘This calls for a mind that has wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; also, they are seven kings, 10of whom five have fallen, one is living, and the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain for only a little while. 11As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13These are united in yielding their power and authority to the beast; 14they 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.’

15 And he said to me, ‘The waters that you saw, where the whore is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the whore; they will make her desolate and naked; they will devour her flesh and burn her up with fire. 17For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by agreeing to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. 18The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.’

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10 February 2011

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