Revelation 17:1–6 (NKJV)
After the initial appearance of the Woman and the Beast in the last chapter, John records the judgment of the woman and the beast, identifying them with the conceptual city of Babylon.
1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”Revelation 17:1-2
One of the seven angels who poured out the seven bowls invited John to come and observe the judgment of the “great harlot who sits on many waters.” The “many waters” is thought to be the myriad people groups over whom the woman rules. The kings of the earth have committed harlotry or adultery with her, and their nations have become drunk with her philosophies and organizational structures. Rather than actually being physical Babylon, this appearance of the woman is more closely related to Rome, the political and governmental center of the world at this time. All the world has followed in behind Rome and the antichrist’s one-world government. This system has fouled the earth and hardened it against the true Christ, convincing many to take the mark of the beast, and make alliances with kings and leaders from around the world.
3 So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. 5 And on her forehead a name was written:
BABYLON THE GREAT,
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH
6 I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.Revelation 17:3-6
This stark picture shows the woman sitting on a scarlet beast. Scarlet is often associated with the color of blood. The beast upon which she sat was somehow associated with the red dragon, thus the scarlet color. The beast had seven heads and ten horns. These heads and horns “symbolize the power of the empire which supports the harlot.”* Some felt at one time that this ten-horn reference referred to a ten-member multi-national alliance that would support the harlot Babylon, and pointed to the European Union as a possibility. Once that organization grew far beyond ten members, however, that theory lost some credibility. These numbers (seven and ten) are commonly-used numbers to describe the complete number or the perfect number. Perhaps the reference here is not to actually seven or ten, but rather that the exact number foreknown to follow the woman was now in place, and the time for their demise was at hand. The blasphemous names all over the beast most likely represents the ungodly claims of the woman and the beast, and the vitriol which was poured out against God, His church, and His people.
The woman is portrayed here as having an opulent appearance, with purple and scarlet clothing, adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls, and holding a golden cup. In the golden cup was the wine of her abominations and fornication. Her filthiness is apparent to all, and she is allied with lovers from everywhere in the world. Her name is “Mystery, Babylon the Great,” and she is further identified as the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth. The final piece of the picture of her brazen image is the fact that she was drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus. Her appearance was puzzling, shocking, even amazing. John marveled at the depth of her sin and the flagrancy of her fornication. She epitomized the rebellious kingdom that had been crafted together over a seven-year period of godlessness. She led a people that were once divided and diverse into a united kingdom of sin. Babylon the Great was the personification of the human deception by the antichrist that led the peoples of the world to stand together, intoxicated by the fleshly nature of this new kingdom, appealing to their baser urges and promising them freedom from guilt and the pursuit of their sinful desires. This woman symbolizes the hedonism of a godless society that will be judged by God.
Reference – Jack W. Hayford et al., eds., New Spirit-Filled Life Bible: Notes (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Bibles, 2002), 1839.