Babylon the Great, the Beast, the Seven Kings, and the Eighth King of Revelation: Revelation 17:1-18 (the Last Days)

Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 120 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Revelation 17:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
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 harlot who is seated on many waters, 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.”

Who is this “great harlot”? We need to note that this harlot is ‘committing acts of immorality with the kings of the earth, meaning she is not another governmental power. “And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and mourn wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning” (Rev. 18:9-10), also suggesting she is not a political power of any sort. Additionally, “the merchants, who became rich from her, will stand far off in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning,” mean that she is not big business either. However, we see that the ‘nations were deceived by great harlot’s sorcery.’ This suggests some religious aspect, namely, all false religions, with the apostate churches of Christendom taking the lead in the time of the end. Adding support to this is the fact that “Prostitution frequently symbolizes idolatry or religious apostasy (cf. Jer. 3:6–9; Ezek. 16:30ff.; 20:30; Hos. 4:15; 5:3; 6:10; 9:1). Nineveh (Nah. 3:1, 4), Tyre (Is. 23:17), and even Jerusalem (Is. 1:21).”[1] “With the information that this harlot sits on many waters, John may begin to think that she is, in fact, another symbolic figure. The original Babylon lay on the Euphrates River and had devised an elaborate system of irrigation canals (Jer. 51:13). Later in the chapter, these waters are interpreted globally—they are all the peoples and nations of the whole world (v. 15).”[2] “John mentioned Babylon already in 14:8, where he wrote that an angel cried, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the wrathful wine of her fornication.’ Worldly Babylon should be seen as a universal force of evil that influences the multitudes of humanity to such an extent that the people are desensitized. Babylon is “the archetypal source of every idolatrous manifestation in time and space.’”[3]

Revelation 17:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
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.

There was an earlier pronouncement of judgment against ancient Babylon that was described as being “against the wilderness of the sea.” (Isaiah 21:1, 9) The city of ancient Babylon lay on both sides of the Euphrates River. It had a double system of walls, which surrounded Babylon, making it seemingly making it invincible. So, the warning to ancient Babylon was that regardless of its walls and it watery defenses, it was going to become lifeless and desolate. Here in Revelation, John is being carried away in his vision to a wilderness to see Babylon the Great and the fate she too was to suffer. She too was going to become desolate and a waste regardless of her being “seated on many waters (all the peoples and nations of the whole world).” (Rev. 18:19, 22, 23) The great harlot is not alone!

The great harlot’s “position atop the beast is quite fitting to picture the influence of the religious power over the secular leader. The scarlet beast is the same one who emerged out of the sea in 13:1. The earlier passage does not give his color, but it does note his seven heads and ten horns and names of blasphemy.”[4] The antichrist(s) (13:1, 4; 14:9; 16:10) is made up of false religion (apostate churches of Christendom) and governments, political powers, which control the world. (v. 16) In Scripture, scarlet is often the color of luxury, splendor, and royalty. Rather than having blasphemous names, like the beast of Revelation 13, on its seven heads only, it is “full of blasphemous names,” because of seeing itself as being divine (cf. 13:1; Dan. 7:25; 11:36; 2 Thess. 2:4). The seven heads and ten horns picture the level of the political Antichrist’s control. “The relationship between the harlot and the beast has existed throughout human history but will reach its ultimate closeness in the days just before Christ returns. She controls him, but she also is dependent on him as the friction between the two later in chapter 17 will show (17:16).”[5]

How to Interpret the Bible-1

Revelation 17:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and she was adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, and she had in her hand a golden cup that was full of detestable things and the unclean things of her sexual immorality.[6]

If someone in the days of the apostle John were wearing both purple and scarlet at the same time, this would suggest great wealth, which can be contrasted with the white garments of moral purity that are worn by the followers of the Lamb. (Rev. 7:9; 19:14; See 1 Tim. 2:9-10) The gold, precious stones and pearls show the brash but wasteful and excessive grandeur of a wealthy whore. Just consider all of the magnificent buildings, rare statues and priceless paintings, incalculable icons, and other religious things, as well as infinite amounts of property and cash, that the apostate churches of Christendom have amassed. The “golden cup that was full of detestable things” may appear splendid on the outside, but its contents are detestable, unclean. (Compare Matt. 23:25-26.) This symbolic golden cup contains all the filthy practices and lies that this great harlot uses in her seduction of the nations, as she brings them under her spell. Then, there is “he unclean things of her sexual immorality,” which is pictorial of her sick adulterous relationship with the political leaders and businesses of the world.

Revelation 17:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
And on her forehead a name was written, a mystery: “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the detestable things of the earth.”

Robert L. Thomas writes,

Mystērion in the NT is usually a mystery to be revealed. So here the true character and identity of the woman, previously kept concealed, are now objects of clear revelation (Hailey). The word implies a new revelation, not something to be kept hidden. In this case it is the exposing of what is evil about Babylon (Lenski). Subsequent revelation will show her to be a great city (17:18), but also a vast system of idolatry through the centuries that the great city represents (Bullinger). The system had its beginning on the plains of Shinar through the work of Nimrod and will reach its pinnacle there just before the second advent (Bullinger, Seiss). Reports of Babylon’s present utter desolation and impossible restoration are radically overstated.

The other question about the syntactical role of mystērion, whether it is in apposition to ὄνομα (onoma, “name”) or part of the inscription on the woman’s head is resolvable through a comparison with 14:8 and 18:2. The woman’s name is “Babylon the Great,” not “Mystery Babylon the Great” (Smith, Walvoord). This along with the fact that mystērion seems to have a parenthetical independence here brings a decision favoring the appositional relationship. This gives the sense, “a name written, which is a mystery” (Johnson).

“Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη, ἡ μήτηρ τῶν πορνῶν καὶ τῶν βδελυγμάτων τῆς γῆς [Babylōn hē megalē, hē mētēr tōn pornōn kai tōn bdelygmatōn tēs gēs]) is the name that constitutes the mystery. Babylon is a theme in Scripture beginning in Gen. 10:9–10 with its first mention and continuing into these closing chapters of the last book of the Bible. It was a city where false religion began (Gen. 11:1–9) that has continually plagued Israel, the church, and the world (Walvoord). It will once again become the world’s leading city religiously as well as commercially and politically as the end draws near. Her role as “the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” makes her the progenitress of everything anti-Christian. This includes all false religions, not just those that are Christian in name only, but also everything that is pagan and idolatrous under Satan’s control (Seiss). The Genesis 11 passage tells where it all began, with the building of a tower that became a forerunner of the world’s idolatrous practices throughout history (Seiss, Walvoord). So the metropolis that functions as headquarters for the beast’s empire has a long reputation for its anti-God stance. It is a city, but it is also a vast religious system that stands for everything God does not tolerate.[7]

Revelation 17:6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the holy ones and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. Well, on seeing her I was greatly amazed. And the angel said to me: “Why is it that you were amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the wild beast that is carrying her and that has the seven heads and the ten horns.

The woman is the great harlot of false religion headed by the apostate churches of Christendom, who has long been “drunk with the blood [persecution] of the holy ones [true genuine Christians] and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” The history of the abuses of the apostate churches of Christendom in spilling the blood of true Christians who attempt to maintain a true faith in Jesus Christ is there for all to see, and will only worsen as we close out “the last days” in “the time of the end.” The antichrist apostate churches will spill an innumerable amount of blood of Christian martyrs as will also be true of the martyrs who refuse to worship the beast during the great tribulation.

Why was the apostle John “greatly amazed”? “It may have been the sight of such unrestrained wickedness in the true nature of the woman and God’s permitting her to exist (Kiddle). It may have been his inability to grasp the symbolic meaning of what he saw. It may have been the contrast between the splendidly attired woman and beast on the one hand and a city in ruins that he had expected to see (Swete, Ladd). It could have been some combination of these, but whatever it was, it was different from the marveling of the earth-dwellers over the beast in 13:3, because he was not about to become a follower of the beast.”[8]

Revelation 17:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
“The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose names have not been written in the scroll of life from the founding of the world, will be amazed when they see how the wild beast that was, and is not, and is to come.

Abyss: (Gr. abussos) It is a very deep place, which is rendered “the bottomless pit” in some versions (KJV). This is found the NT and refers to a place or condition, where Satan and his demons will be confined for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:1-3) Abaddon rules over the abyss (Rev. 9:11) The beast is of Satan’s design and will rise from the abyss in the last days. (Rev. 11:7) The beast will go off into destruction. (Rev 17:8) It is used at times to refer to the grave as well. – Lu 8:31; Rom. 10:7; Rev. 20:3.

Book of Life: (Gr. biblos tēs zōēs) In biblical times, cities had a register of names for the citizens living there. (See Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3) God, figuratively speaking, has been writing names in the “book of life” “from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 17:8) Jesus Christ talked about Abel as living “from the foundation of the world,” this would suggest that we are talking about the world of ransomable humankind after the fall. (Lu 11:48-51) Clearly, Abel was the first person to have his name written in the “book of life.” The individuals who have their names written in the “book of Life” do not mean they are predestined to eternal life. This is evident from the fact that they can be ‘blotted out’ of the “book of life.” (Ex 32:32-33; Rev. 3:5) Jesus’ ransom sacrifice alone gets one written in the “book of life,” if they accept the Son of God. However, it is remaining faithful to God that keeps them from being ‘blotted’ out of the “book of life.” (Phil. 2:12; Heb. 10:26-27; Jam. 2:14-26) It is only by remaining faithful until the end that one can be retained permanently in the “book of life.”–Matt. 214:13; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 20:15.

Revelation 17:9-11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

9 Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10 and they are seven kings; five have fallen [Egypt, Assyrian, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece], one is [Rome], the other has not yet come [United States]; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. 11 And the beast that was, and is not, is also himself an eighth, and is of the seven, and he is going to destruction.

We can conclude that the first wild beast from the sea (vss. 1-10) and the second wild beast from the earth (vss. 11-18) of Revelation 13 represent two governmental powers. The first wild beast “the dragon [Satan, Rev. 12:3, 9] gave it his power and his throne and great authority.” The second wild beast “exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast.” Therefore, these beasts or governmental powers are against Christ. Consequently, they are antichrists.

We must not overreact to this, believing that everyone within the government is somehow a tool, being possessed and used by Satan or his demons. We must realize that God uses the human governments for his own purposes as well. We have seen in the United States of late, what other countries have long known, without the law enforcement, a part of the government, there would be anarchy. Moreover, without the military might of the United States government, the world would be overrun by evil, such as Islam. If there were not legislatures, we would have no laws, which give structure to our human society. Some leaders and governments throughout human history have been used by Satan to try to stop pure worship, but others have protected the rights of its citizens, which include the freedom of worship. (Romans 13:3, 4; Ezra 7:11-27; Acts 13:7) Nevertheless, because of satanic influence and human imperfection, no human society has ever, nor will they ever bring true peace and security.

Because of Satan’s influence over human governments, while Christians are to be in subjection to superior authorities (Rom 13:1), this is only as long as they do not ask anything that is in opposition to God’s will and purpose. For example, if the government said, “no more evangelizing about the Bible,” we would obey God rather than man. – Acts 5:29.

Thomas writes, “The best solution is that the seven kings represent seven literal Gentile kingdoms that follow one another in succession (Walvoord). In Dan. 7:17, 23 kings and kingdoms are interchangeable, showing that a king can stand for the kingdom ruled by that king (Swete, Lee). The seven kingdoms are the seven that dominate world scene throughout human history: Egypt (or Neo-Babylonia, Gen. 10:8–11), Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and the future kingdom of the beast (Seiss, Hailey).”[9]

REASONING WITH OTHER RELIGIONS

Revelation 17:12-14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These are of one mind,[10] and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 14 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.”

The ten horns represent all the political powers that presently hold power on the world scene, which also support the image of the beast. Walvoord writes, “The final stage of this world empire has a nucleus of ten kings apparently joined in a confederacy represented by the ten horns. In contrast to the seven heads of the beast, these kings do not rule in succession but simultaneously at the end time.” He goes on to say, “The ten horns’ rule as kings is subject to the beast, and their time in power is brief. They are a phase of the transmission of power from the various kingdoms to that of the beast itself.”[11]

Revelation 17:15-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
15 And he said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the harlot is seated, are peoples and crowds and nations and tongues.[12] 16 And the ten horns that you saw and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and they will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. 17 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.

Ancient Babylon heavily relied on her watery defenses, Babylon the Great today also heavily relies on her many “peoples and crowds and nations and tongues.” Kendell H. Easley says, “Surprise. We expected the final Antichrist and his federated powers to hate the Lamb, but we could not anticipate that the beast and the ten horns will hate the harlot [world religions with apostate Christendom taking the lead]. This reflects, however, an observation readily verified from history: evil often turns on itself, carrying the seeds of its own defeat. The twentieth century witnessed a striking example: Russian communism, which arose with such promise at the beginning of the century, caved in on itself by the end of the century. Treachery and treason seem always to find a place in world power politics. Whether the three actions are sequential or simultaneous descriptions of the seventh bowl judgment hardly matters. First, they will bring her to ruin and leave the woman once decked out in scarlet and rich apparel naked, an ironic punishment for a wealthy harlot. Second, they will eat her flesh—just as the wicked Jezebel, queen in Samaria, was literally devoured by dogs (1 Kgs. 21:23), a fitting fate for someone who trusted a seven-headed beast. Third, they will burn her with fire. This describes suitably the destruction of a wicked city, but was also the punishment of certain whores in the Old Testament (Lev. 21:9).”[13]

Revelation 17:18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
18 And the woman whom you saw means the great city that has a kingdom over the kings of the earth.”

In short, the antichrist(s) that Satan used to influence the world, the false religions of every sort, especially the apostate churches of Christendom will have control over the earth in the latter part of the last days, the time of the end.

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[1] MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Kindle Locations 67538-67539). Thomas Nelson.

[2] Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 305.

[3] Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Book of Revelation, vol. 20, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 463.

[4] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 285.

[5] IBID., 286.

[6] Sexual Immorality: (Heb. zanah; Gr. porneia) A general term for immoral sexual acts of any kind: such as adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between people not married to each other, homosexuality, and bestiality. – Num. 25:1; Deut. 22:21; Matt. 5:32; 1 Cor. 5:1.

[7] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 289–290.

[8] IBID, 291.

[9] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 297.

[10] Or purpose

[11] Walvoord, John. Revelation (The John Walvoord Prophecy Commentaries) (Kindle Locations 4227-4228). Moody Publishers.

[12] Or languages

[13] Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 313–314.

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