THE WOMAN SITTING ON A SCARLET BEAST (17:3-5) is the Great Prostitute dressed in queenly attire (cf. Ezekiel 16:13). Purple and scarlet are the colors of royalty and flagrant sinfulness. Glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls denote the wealth under her control. The golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries is false religion. The beauty and gross wickedness of this woman compares to Jesus’ description of the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean (Matthew 23:27).
She is outwardly attractive but the cup she holds is obnoxious, repellent, repulsive, contemptible, and filled with idolatry and error. Those attracted to her are the simple (undiscerning fools) and the mockers on their way to Hell (cf. Proverbs 9).
THE SCARLET BEAST is the Antichrist (Revelation 13:1-4), who for a time will support and use the false religious system to affect world unity. The Beast is covered with blasphemous names because of his self-deification. The seven heads and ten horns symbolize the extent of his economic-political kingdom.
DRUNK WITH THE BLOOD OF THE SAINTS (17:6-7) indicates that Ecclesiastical Babylon will advance the murder of the martyred Tribulation saints. False religion has killed millions of believers over the centuries, and the final false system will be far more deadly than any that preceded it. John is astonished at the sight of this vision; the angel questioned his astonishment as though what he saw should be expected and understood. So the angel explains to him the mystery of the woman and the Beast she rides.
THE MYSTERY (17:8-14). The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. This teaches neither reincarnation nor resurrection of an individual. There is no Scripture to prove that Antichrist will be different from any other natural man in his lifetime as to his birth, death, etc. He will merely be used by satanic powers in the last days. The Beast (the Antichrist) will come out of the Abyss (demonic empowered) and goes to his destruction (the Lake of Fire).
Keep in mind that the Beast symbolizes two things:
1. The Antichrist, who is a man possessed by demonic power (17:8)
2. An eighth kingdom, of which he is the king (17:11)
Some passages apply to Beast in both ways, while others apply to the man, or his kingdom alone. Some interpret the Beast as Satan and place him in the Abyss, where he will be absolutely out of the picture for one thousand years (“now is not, and yet will come”). A major problem with this interpretation comes when Satan is thrown into the Lake of Fire, for the Beast and the False Prophet are already there (Revelation 19:20; 20:10). There are three beings, not one or two in the Lake of Fire!
In Revelation 12:3, Satan is seen not as the head of the ten-nation kingdom of the Revived Roman Empire, but as a persecutor of the child Christ and the woman Israel. His seven heads, with their seven crowns, showed that he had been the controlling factor in the agenda of the five fallen kings (Egypt, Assyria, Medo-Persia, Babylon, and Greece). Satan was the main broker in the “one who is” (the Roman Empire of John’s day) and would exercise the same power in the agenda of the one who “now is not, and yet will come” (the Revived Roman Empire of the end times).
THIS CALLS FOR WISDOM (17:9): ai epta kefalai orh. Modern translations tend to translate orh as “hills” instead of “mountains.” Since Rome is known as “the city of seven hills,” Ecclesiastical Babylon is often linked to Rome. However, the Aramaic word rwj (tuwr) for mountain is symbolically used in Daniel 2:35 for Christ’s kingdom that fills the whole earth. Here the seven mountains are empires or kingdoms, not the city of Rome. See Explanation of The Ten Heads, the Ten Horns and Seven Crowns at 12:3-4. From the Book of Daniel, it seems clear that other descriptions apply to the Revived Roman Empire of the last days.
THE ONE PURPOSE of this confederacy of kings is to give power and authority to the Antichrist, who will lead them in war against the Lamb. However, the Lamb will overcome them because He is the Lord of lords and King of kings. Those who come with Christ are His called, chosen and faithful—the threefold description of all overcomers:
1. They are called by the Father through the Spirit to Christ.
2. They are chosen because they confess with their mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead.
3. They remain faithful until called to heaven.
THE BOOK OF LIFE. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written (unbelievers) in the book of life (the roll of the saved) from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come. They will believe his lies and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:7-10). When one refuses to believe the truth, just about any convincing or startling lie will do!
THE TURNCOATS (17:15-16). Ecclesiastical Babylon will be deserted and destroyed by Political-Commercial Babylon of the Beast; for they will hate the Prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. After using the false religious system to unify his kingdom and gain control, the Antichrist will turn against the religious system, plunder and destroy it, and seize all power and worship for himself.
Satan always destroys what he uses. For instance, Judas Iscariot hung himself after Satan used him to betray Christ. Alexander the Great died in a drunken stupor in Babylon, Antiochus IV Epiphanes died there in a state of depression and Adolph Hitler committed suicide after killing six million Jews.
The angel assures John that God is still in control. God will influence their hearts to accomplish His purpose, and thereby fulfill His prophetic Word. In its own peculiar way, evil only cooperates to accomplish God’s good and perfect will.
Historicists approach the fall of Babylon as the overthrow of the papal system of religion and government in the yet future. This will be accomplished by the rider on the white horse as He continually conquers His enemies through His Word. “Drunk with the blood of saints” refers to bloody persecutions perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church. Others think the Roman Empire was the Beast. The seven heads or hills are Christian emperors from Constantine to Augustulus and the eighth is Diocletian, who received a death wound from the Christian emperor Theodosius. Others identify the eighth as the papacy, beginning with Gregory.
Preterists identify Babylon with either the fall of Rome or Jerusalem in the past. Some hold that the Beast is Rome; while others believe the Great Prostitute is Rome or Jerusalem. Various schemes are used to apply the heads and hills to Roman emperors or seven procurators of Judea under Claudius and Nero.
Idealists believe Babylon represents the world system, as the seducer of the godly throughout the ages, and it is manifested as Rome in John’s time. Others take Babylon to represent the world viewed as the embodiment of “the lust of the flesh.” Idealists are divided as to whether ultimate judgment on the world system will occur at Christ’s Second Coming or if it will come about by more gradual conquests with the preaching of the Gospel. Some identify the ten horns as future coalition of ten European kingdoms that will grow out of the fourth beast of Daniel 7:23. Many take the number ten as symbolic, representing all the anti-Christian powers on earth after the breakup of the Roman Empire.
Futurists say Babylon represents the Roman Catholic Church or some great apostate religious entity formed under the Antichrist in the end times. Some hold the seven hills are seven kings, not literal mountains, but empires, which have risen in succession in history. Others identify the seven hills as Rome.
Dispensationalists equate the ten horns to the ten toes of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2).