The Study of Last Things
Making sense out of prophecies in the Old and New Testaments that predict "End-Time" events
"1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality." Revelation 17:1-2
The opening verse of Revelation 17:1-18 speaks of the judgment of a "Great Prostitute." In various versions she is identified as a harlot (NASB, NKJV), a prostitute (NIV, ESV), and as a whore (KJV, New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition). Obviously, the woman John sees is a symbol of something. (1) She is identified first of all as a prostitute (porne) (Rev. 17:1, 15, 16; 19:2), with whom all the nations and kings of the earth and those who dwell on the earth "commit acts of immorality" (literally, with whom they "prostitute themselves" - porneu˘) (Rev. 17:2; 18:3, 9). Thus, they commit porneia with her, which is immorality (NASB) or fornication (KJV) (Rev. 14:8; 17:2, 4; 18:3; 19:2). It is impossible that this prostitution is primarily physical, for it is global in scope. It must, therefore, be a spiritual prostitution, which means it is a religious prostitution. Since it is labeled a prostitute with whom nations and kings commit immorality, it is a false religion which prostitutes the true worship of the true God. (2) The woman is identified, second, as a city, Babylon (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). This means that the woman represents not only a religion, but a political entity tied to a specific city.
Who or what is the Great Prostitute, Babylon the Great (Rev. 17:1, 5)? To answer that question, I ask two more: (1) How near are we to the time when these events will be fulfilled? (2) If we are very near that time, what entity is present here on earth today which will most likely be able to fulfill the following criteria when the events of Revelation 17:1-18:24 actually unfold?
1. It will be headquartered in Babylon, located in modern Iraq (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21), ancient site of rebellion against God (Genesis 11:1-9). Both Isaiah (Isa. 13:19-22) and Jeremiah (Jer. 51:24-26, 62-64) predicted the city, at some point, would never be rebuilt. Today it lies in ruins. Either the city will be rebuilt, yet to fall into eternal ruin (Rev. 19:3), or else Babylon refers to an empire with both religious and political overtones. My belief is that Babylon denotes a literal city, just as New Jerusalem denotes a literal city. If this view is correct, the city of Babylon, of necessity, will be rebuilt. Both cities, incidentally, represent a literal city, a religion, people who adhere to that religion, and a powerful political force.
2. It will be the antithesis of New Jerusalem. (Compare Rev. 17:1-18:24 with Rev. 21:1-22:5.) (New Jerusalem is so named in Rev. 3:12; 21:2.)
3. It will be both a religion (it is called a prostitute – Rev. 17:1, 2, 15, 16; 19:2; compare Jeremiah 2:20-31; 13:25-27; Ezekiel 16:14-42; Hosea 1:2; 2:1-13) and an empire (it has enormous political and economic influence (Rev. 14:8; 17:2-3, 9-10, 15; 18:3; 9-23).
4. It will be a false religion, for it will oppose God by collaborating with the Antichrist (Rev. 17:3, 7), by espousing all sorts of abominations (Rev. 17:4-5), by fornicating with the people and nations and kings of the earth (Rev. 14:8; 17:2, 4; 18:3, 9; 19:2), and by opposing the followers of God (Rev. 17:6; 18:24; 19:2), and because heaven will announce and rejoice over its destruction (Rev. 14:8; 18:2, 20-21; 19:1-3).
5. It will be capable of being drunk with the blood of saints, the followers of Jesus (Rev. 17:6; 18:24; 19:2), evidently employing the method of beheading (Rev. 20:4).
6. It will, when a world-wide moral, theological and philosophical vacuum has been created by the removal of the Church from the earth (the Rapture), have the capacity for a time to dictate political and religious terms to a revived Roman Empire and ultimately to all the peoples and nations of the world (Rev. 14:8; 17:2, 15; 18:3, 9; 19:2).
7. It will have the capacity to be the source and conduit of incredible wealth worldwide (Rev. 17:4; 18:3, 11-14, 15-17, 19).
8. Its capacity to dictate religion and commerce world-wide will be capable of being destroyed / neutered by fire by a world ruler and his ten kings who will have a change of heart concerning it (Rev. 17:16). Its destruction by fire in a brief time will result in financial and merchandising losses to, and thus mourning by, the kings of the earth, the merchants of the earth, and the mariners of the earth (Rev. 18:8-19).
9. Its destruction by fire will prevent the earth's merchants and merchant marine from moving their cargoes (Rev. 18:11-19).
10. Its fiery demise will be a judgment from God that causes heaven to rejoice (Rev. 14:8; 17:16-17; 18:1-2, 4-8, 20, 21; 19:1-3).
So what is the false religion of Babylon that will have enormous religious, economic, and political influence? No one can state with certainty precisely what the political and religious milieu will be when these events are actually fulfilled. Whatever the religion, in the future it will be headquartered in Babylon, in modern day Iraq. I leave the reader to his own conclusions. But my best guess, at least if we are as close to the end as I think we are, is that the religion of Babylon is none other than Islam, regardless of the form it takes, whether Sunni or Shiite, or some other variant.
The greatest obstacle to this view is that sequentially, in the book of Revelation, the events of Rev. 17:1-18:24 (the ascendance and demise of the religion of Babylon) take place after the events of Rev. 13:1-18 (the world-wide worship of the beast and his image). It should be pointed out that those who hold that the religion of Bablyon is merely a syncretistic religion, but one without political power, must overcome the same obstacle. In my view, the events of Revelation 17:1-18:24 fall chronologically before the events of Revelation 13:1-18. They are placed here in the book of Revelation, in my judgment, in order to juxtapose defiled Babylon (Rev. 17:1-18:24) with pure New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1-22:5), separated thematically only by the return of Christ to establish his kingdom and the final judgment of the present universe and all unbelievers (Rev. 19:11-20:15).
To my friends who are worshiping within the false religion of Babylon, I urge you in the words of the voice from heaven, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities” (Rev. 18:4-5). I urge you to place your faith in Jesus, the Messiah. As the Apostle Peter informed his listeners after having healed a man with congenital lameness, 10“let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead——by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12).
(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB.)
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Updated December 8, 2019