It’s as if Satan and all his minions were a speck of dust and G-d were an ocean of universes, keeping in mind that a speck of dust is reliant on the universe for its very existence.
17:1 Then one of the seven messengers who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I’ll show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,
Any attempt to identify which messenger is responsible for this dialogue is pure conjecture. Even if one chooses to believe that this is the final messenger of the seven, it remains impossible to determine the specific identities of the seven, with the exception perhaps of the messenger who is over the waters. If the messenger speaking to Yochanan here is the messenger of the waters, then there is a tenuous connection to the city of Babylon as the city that sits, “on many waters”. The fact that the messenger says, “come here” could denote that the messenger is over Babylon, the harlot.
The judgement spoken of, with the exception of verse 16, is detailed in Chapter 18 of the Revelation.
The harlot is literally titled, “Babylon the Great” (v5). Add to this the description of, “sitting on many waters” and we have a clear indication of who the harlot represents. Remembering that the phrase, “sitting on many waters” is poetic language associated with the ancient city of Babylon.
“For HaShem has both purposed and performed
What He spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon.
O you who dwell on many waters,” –Jeremiah 51:12-13
The waters are given an added allegorical interpretation by the messenger in verse 15. Notice that they are part of the allegorical description of the harlot and beast, and are therefore part of the symbolism of the allegory, i.e. the harlot is the allegory for Babylon and the many waters are the allegory for Babylon’s subjects (v 15). It’s interesting to note that the Canaanite gods were also said to have been enthroned upon many waters.
As the book of Revelation continues it becomes more and more difficult to advocate for an allegorical interpretation of Babylon the city, because Babylon is itself the literal city represented by the allegory of the harlot. In fact, the primary suppositions behind the idea of a Roman Babylon are deeply rooted in the bigoted views of the protestant Church fathers and their hatred for the Roman Catholic Church.
The Scriptural evidence for a Roman Babylon is circumstantial at best, whereas the overwhelming Scriptural evidence for a literal Babylon is extremely convincing. This is not to say that the text is without allegory, however the allegory, like all good mashlim (parables), is clarified by the explanations given regarding who the allegorical characters and symbols represent.
The rhythm of allegory, like the rhythm of mashlim (parables), as testified to by the custom and practise of our Messiah Yeshua, is:
- Parable (allegory) + explanation (description of characters) ÷ Holy Spirit = understanding
- Harlot + The explanation of who she is (Babylon) ÷ Holy Spirit = understanding (Revelation)
For example, Yeshua told the parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:36-44) concerning the end of days and explained that the sower is The Son of Man (Yeshua), the seed are the sons of righteousness and the tares are the sons of evil sown by Satan. However, the disciples didn’t fully understand the parable until they had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), it was following this that they eventually recorded their recollections of the life of Yeshua.
Here we are told the parable of the harlot and the beast followed by an explanation of who they are and must rely on the Holy Spirit to unveil any further meaning. Contrary to majority interpretation there is no further step required, therefore the harlot is Babylon and the explanation concerning the horns as rulers is intended to be mysterious in the sense that they are related to an ancient kingdom (Babylon) that, at the time of Yochanan’s writing, no longer existed. With the words of the prophets concerning Babylon in mind, Yochanan records the revelation of Yeshua as if outside of time, understanding that a resurrection of this ancient city and empire were more than possible in the plans of G-d.
If, as some say, the harlot is Rome, what is the mystery? Rome would be the first choice of any reader of Yochanan’s time, making it too obvious to be considered a mystery. The real mystery is how it could ever be possible for Babylon to rise again.
Throughout Scripture the harlot or whore is seen as a metaphor for those who are unfaithful to G-d (Nahum 3:4; Isaiah 23:17). In this instance the harlot is Babylon, the ancient Mesopotamian city, located fifty-five miles south of modern-day Baghdad, Iraq. It was located by the river Euphrates, which flows through modern Iraq.
At the time of Yochanan’s writing the Babylonian Empire had long since collapsed and had several successors leading to the Parthians, who posed the greatest threat to the Roman Empire.
The harlot is a counterpoint to the woman (ethnic Israel) of chapter 12. The imagery of the harlot reminds the Jewish reader of the too lustful sisters Ohilah (Samaria) and Ohobilah (Jerusalem) Ezekiel 23, who prostituted themselves.
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.”
The wine of her immorality is more than simple sexual sin, it is a metaphor for a consciousness of complete rejection of G-d’s Instruction and the enticing of others to do the same. Harlotry is first and foremost a sin against love itself. Here it is a sin against G-d, Who is Love Himself.
Drunkenness is a celebrated process that first delights, then confuses and finally results in illness, vomiting and weakness. This is exactly what will happen to the nations that buy into the Babylonian religion/ideology.
While Islam may not turn out to be the final manifestation of a Babylonian centric consciousness, it is worth noting that Islam fits the description. The religious ideology of Islam is an affront to the G-d of Israel, it is anti-Messiah and advocates for gross sexual immorality (multiple wives and sex with minors). It is a religion that has enticed and manipulated the Western world, using the West’s own drunken ideologies to further its goals. If I were to choose between the two interpretive possibilities of a Roman Babylon and a literal Babylon within the present world climate, I would choose the literal Babylon as a representation of the centre of the kingdom of Islam.
3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.
The phrase, “carried away in the Spirit” doesn’t necessarily indicate physical travel. In fact it is the least likely explanation. The key is, “in the Spirit” meaning that this experience happens both within and without of the normal understanding of time and space. It is a spiritual experience that happens to us in a corporal state within time resulting in us viewing through a glass darkly, that which is beyond time and space. Yochanan is not alone among the prophets regarding this experience, Ezekiel describes his experience in the following passages:
“The Spirit lifted me up and took me away; and I went embittered in the rage of my spirit, and the hand of HaShem was strong on me.” –Ezekiel 3:14
Notice that while Ezekiel had been lifted up in the Spirit, he remained embittered within his own spirit (ruach).
“And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of G-d to the exiles in Babylon.” –Ezekiel 11:24
The qualifying term here is, “vision”.
The woman is the harlot Babylon and the beast described here has been presented to us previously as a scarlet dragon (Rev 12:3) and as the beast rising from the ocean (13:1).
”Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great scarlet dragon (Taniym/devourer, tormentor) having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven crowns.“ –Revelation 12:3
“And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.” –Revelation 13:1
This beast is a composite of Satan (The Adversary) and the beast that rose from the ocean. The scarlet colour symbolizes torment and intent to destroy and torture. The colour scarlet is representative of sin (Isaiah 1:18) and is associated with the Hebrew name, “Edom” which literally means, “Red” and is born of the root Adamah (earth). Esau, who is called Edom because of his sin in despising his birth rite (Genesis 25:30), is known for his rebellion against G-d and his offspring become the objects of G-d’s judgement (Isaiah 34:5-6), thus the Dragon is seen as one who resists the purposes of G-d.
The seven heads and ten horns symbolize authority and established rule (temporary). This corresponds to the beast with ten horns in Daniel 7:7, 23-24.
We should note here that the beast carrying the harlot is a world empire that is a composite of satanic power and earthly idolatry, and is temporarily ruled by a central city of power (the harlot/Babylon). The seven heads and ten horns are therefore not part of a single city or location, rather they are representative of rulers and cities throughout the world. This fact alone negates the possibility that Rome is intended.
4 The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, 5 and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”
“Babylon has been a golden cup in the hand of HaShem,
Intoxicating all the earth.
The nations have drunk of her wine;
Therefore the nations are going mad.” –Jeremiah 51:7
It’s important to remind ourselves that the harlot is being used by G-d to fulfil His purposes. Babylon holds a gold cup of her abominations and Babylon herself is held as a gold cup in the hands of Hashem.
As stated previously, the nations are going mad after having purchased the lies born of the city of Babylon.
The name written on the harlot’s forehead is an anti-type for the name of the Messiah which is written on the foreheads of His elect (14:1). Her title pertains to her fate as well as her identity (Rev. 9:9; 14:11).
For the readers of Yochanan’s time the harlot imagery would have had a twofold meaning. First, those familiar with the Tanakh (OT) would see the relationship to texts speaking of those that resist G-d; and second, the pagan temple prostitutes of Yochanan’s time were often dressed in finery and displayed for all to see, they were priestesses who often wore decorative bejewelled plates across their foreheads with their specialties engraved on them.
The woman who rides the scarlet beast is also an anti-type for the priesthood of Israel. The High Priest of Israel wears the humble linen garment of a servant, whereas she wears the prideful purple garment of a ruler. The High Priest wears a breastplate over his heart that holds the precious stones of Israel’s tribes, whereas the harlot wears the stolen jewellery of the nations whom she has made drunk. The High Priest has a golden plate across his forehead with the words, “Kadosh HaShem” (Holy unto Adonai) written on it, whereas the whore wears a sign proclaiming her sinful acts and abominations, it might as well say, “Unholy and against G-d”. The High Priest offers a libation of living water from his cup, pouring it out as a prayer of supplication to G-d, whereas the prostitute of Babylon offers the wine of her anti-Messiah ideologies and immoralities to the nations, pouring it out in excess until no one can stand. She is also a symbol of royalty, the purple and scarlet robes are the robes of the rich and a common representation of royal garments at the time of Yochanan’s writing.
The mystery of her name is revealed by the messenger beginning with verse 7 and is attached to the beast she rides, a beast that is conceived of Satan himself. It is because of her connection to the inception of sin through the ancient snake that she is the greatest of harlots, the mother who birthed them all. She is the one from whose womb Satan has seeded abomination. She was inseminated at the tower of Babel and has been birthing prostitution ever since.
The word, “mystery” does not mean that Babylon is an allegorical name, to the contrary, it would have been a mysterious idea for anyone of Yochanan’s day to consider the ridiculous possibility that Babylon could ever rise again. As stated previously, Babylon can’t be the mystery because it is the literal entity that the allegorical harlot represents.
The phrase, “abominations and unclean things” is specifically used to describe idolatry in the Tanakh (OT). Therefore the gold cup in the woman’s hand is a symbol of idolatry. Idolatry is the root of all sin, it’s the sin that caused Satan’s fall. Therefore there is no mystery for the believer here. We recognise that idolatry is the mother of all sin.
Unlike the shameful nakedness of Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel 23), the expensive garments and jewellery adorning the harlot suggest great success in seduction.
6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the set apart ones, and with the blood of the witnesses of Yeshua (Jesus).
To the Jewish reader the drinking of human blood is the ultimate affront to Kashrut (Gen 9:4-6; Lev 7:26-27; 17:10-14).
The woman has enjoyed the process of drinking the blood of the set apart ones to excess. One only needs to look at the current world events and the beheading of Christians throughout the Middle East, with a concentration of bloodshed stemming from the centre of Iraq and working its way out under the title of militant Islam. The correlation is hard to miss. However, many are missing it. One only has to read the Jerusalem post or Hayom newspapers and the many articles from around the world concerning anti-Semitic attacks and murders and the correlation becomes clearer still. And yet, many, Christians included, are drunk on the deceptive rhetoric of world leaders enamoured by Islam.
When I saw her, I admired her (beauty) but greatly wondered. 7 And the messenger said to me, “Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.
As with the rhythm of the parables, the messenger explains the allegory to Yochanan so as to be clear. This is the unveiling of Messiah, it is meant to be understood.
Yochanan admired the beauty of this woman but wondered what the plan of G-d was in all of this given that her actions were evil. On the other hand those who dwell on the earth (v8) simply admire the beast/Satan without even considering G-d’s purpose.
8 “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction.
The beast is explained as an anti-type for G-d, with one profound difference. Where G-d is outside time and space and is now understood by the text to be present, described as the One, “Who was and is” eternally alive; the beast/Satan (evil world empire) is seen as one who was and is not and is about to return with the sole purpose of being destroyed, that is, eternally dead.
The beast is an empire seeded by Satan himself, an empire that once ruled the earth (who was), was unheard of at the time of Yochanan’s writing (now is not), and will rise again in the latter days for the sole purpose of being destroyed by G-d. Sounds like Babylon to me.
This beast will be released for a short time (Rev. 20:2-8) but he is on his way to eternal destruction in, “the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:9-10).
And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will have (great) admiration when they see the beast, because he was and is not and will come.
The security of the believer is again affirmed here with the knowledge that our names have been written for life in the Lamb’s book from before the creation of the world. Yeshua is our assurance that we will not be deceived by the beast. While those upon the earth who resist G-d will be in awe of this resurrected empire of Satan, we will see it for what it really is.
9 Here is the understanding that holds wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10 and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.
The phrase, “understanding that holds wisdom” infers that this is something that the human mind, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, can come to understand; and that the evidence of these things can be seen in the physical reality of the real world (not just in the vision).
The seven heads are both physical locations and the rulers of those locations. At the time of the writing of Revelation five of those rulers have died and there is a current ruler in Yochanan’s time, if Yochanan intends a ruler of Rome then the ruler is probably Vespasian. However there is no certainty that the rulers are Roman. The fact that they could be rulers from any number of nations within the empire of the beast and that the Harlot is probably intended to represent the city of Babylon, makes the Roman theory very unlikely. The one who is to come remains unknown in spite of much conjecture.
Another view proposes that the hills and kings are empires, the five dead being, Old Babylon, Assyrian, New Babylon, Medo-Persian and the Graeco-Macedonian. The one that is would be Rome and the one to come could be any number of empires that have arisen since the fall of Rome.
11 The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.
The beast is one of the previously mentioned kingdoms resurrected in the last days. The most likely candidate is the resurrected Babylon Empire (not to be confused with Babylon the city).
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 have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast.
The ten kings are yet to receive kingdoms as of the time of Yochanan’s writing. They receive their authority from the beast and reign for one hour, which is probably a metaphor for a time span rather than a literal hour. These rulers are given power for one reason, in order to submit that power to the beast (It’s interesting to note that Islam is an Arabic word meaning submission). If these kings are to reign just prior to the beast’s final destruction then they are yet future. Alternatively they may be rulers that have come to power since the writing of Revelation.
14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is L-rd of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”
The reason that the Lamb will overcome is that He is G-d with us. This is seen in the title given Him by G-d the Father which finds its origin in Deut. 10:17. Those with Him will enjoy His victory but He doesn’t require their help. In fact their very identity is reliant on His authority over all things as given to Him by the Father. They are called (at their conception) and chosen (before the creation of the world) by Him and are faithful (eternally) as a result. Notice that the fidelity of the set apart ones is in direct conflict with the infidelity of unredeemed humanity.
15 And it was said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.
The harlot Babylon (City) has power over many peoples and nations.
16 And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire.
The children of hatred beget hatred even against those who are like minded. Hence in modern times Islamic extremists fight one another for the ultimate position of power i.e. ISIS the Islamic state are fighting IR the Islamic Republic of Iran. Here the ten rulers who have been set up for the purpose of submitting their power to the beast are used by the beast to defeat the harlot Babylon (The City) whom he also had empowered (given that she rides upon him). In other words, the Babylonian empire states stage a military coup against Babylon the city and her ruler/rulers.
Satan hates his own children. Yeshua reminds us that a kingdom divided against itself will not stand, He said this so as to make clear the unity and all surpassing power of G-d’s kingdom and so as to expose the self-defeating nature of evil.
It’s interesting to note that the punishment of burning by fire is commanded in the Torah for the wayward daughter of a Cohen (Priest) who profanes her father (Gen. 38:24; Lev. 21:9).
Though the harlot was once gloriously clothed, in contradiction to Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel 23), she is now, like them, left naked; and is burned as an unfaithful daughter (Unfaithful to G-d).
17 For G-d has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdoms to the beast, until the words of G-d will be fulfilled.18 The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”
It is G-d Who is in control of all this. The Scriptures show that G-d often uses the wicked to accomplish His purposes (Exodus 10:1; Habakkuk 1:5-11). Although the power of Satan and of evil is spoken of often in Revelation, it is not an expression of dualism (the idea that good and evil are in balance), to the contrary, the Revelation shows just how ineffective and miniscule the power of Satan is and in contrast how incomparably awesome, immutable and overwhelming the power and person of G-d are. As I’ve said many times, it’s as if Satan and all his minions were a speck of dust and G-d were an ocean of universes, keeping in mind that a speck of dust is reliant on the universe for its very existence.
© Alastair Brown 2015