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Revelation Chapter 17

Revelation chapter 17 describes a religious system in the figure of a woman, a harlot, that is in opposition to God's true people who were described in chapter 12 as a pure woman. This description is given just after the account of the plagues of chapter 16 but is a different scene and not in chronological order.

"And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:" (Rev 17:1)

"One of the seven angels which had the seven vials" suggests that this must be closely related to the seven last plagues.

The judgment of the great whore is described in detail in Jeremiah chapters 50 and 51. Here is an example:

"O thou that dwellest upon many waters, abundant in treasures, thine end is come, and the measure of thy covetousness. The LORD of hosts hath sworn by himself, saying, Surely I will fill thee with men, as with caterpillers; and they shall lift up a shout against thee." (Jer 51:13-14)

"Whore" is from the Greek word "porne" obviously related to such words as pornography. The waters, we will see, are defined in Rev 17:15 as "peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues."

"With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication." (Rev 17:2)

Wine can be understood in scripture to be a symbol for a doctrine or belief.

"And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better." (Luke 5:37-39)

This was a parable in which Jesus was illustrating that people are more comfortable with what they are used to, that change in habit or belief is difficult. Another interesting use of the term "wine" in connection with this was on the day of Pentecost:

"Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine." (Acts 2:13)

The irony is that they were, in fact, full of new wine (or doctrine). They had the truth about God which was new compared to what was traditionally believed; new wine that the old wine skins (those mocking) were incapable of comprehending.

"So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns." (Rev 17:3)

It is interesting that this woman is in the wilderness where, it seems, God's people have fled to. Perhaps, in light of other verses, she is there for the purpose of persecuting God's people.

"And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days." (Rev 12:6)

We saw this beast that the woman is riding on in chapter 13:

"And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy." (Rev 13:1)

It is also described as having 7 heads and 10 horns. It is the same beast but now, in chapter 17, the beast is ridden by the woman.

The scarlet (or red) color can be connected with the dragon (Satan), with sin and, of course, with persecution:

"And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads." (Rev 12:3)
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isa 1:18)
"And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:" (Rev 17:4)

Purple and scarlet are colors of the sanctuary as shown by many verses including this one:

"And thou shalt make a vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work: with cherubims shall it be made:" (Exo 26:31)

The sanctuary includes the color blue which can be understood as indicating faith. This is lacking in the garments of the woman on the beast - there is no faith involved. That blue is connected to faith is shown by a woman who exercised her faith (and was healed) by touching the hem of Jesus' garments:

"And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole." (Matt 9:20-21)

This hem very likely had a blue color in accordance with this instruction in Numbers:

"Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:" (Num 15:38)

The color is also seen in the foundation of God's throne:

"And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness." (Exo 24:10)

A cup in scripture seems to indicate things partaken of. For example, cups, vials and bowls "containing" suffering, plagues and prayers.

"And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." (Rev 17:5)

A name is closely related to a person's character, especially in scripture and the forehead, anatomically, is the location of the forebrain and can be identified with a person's character. The 144,000 will have characters like their heavenly Father.

"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads." (Rev 14:1)

That she is "the mother of harlots" suggests that she has daughters of the same character. She is also the mother or source of many abominations.

"And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration." (Rev 17:6)

She is "drunken with the blood of the saints" because she has been involved in persecuting and martyring God's true people. Certainly, she was involved in much of that (in the person of the Roman Catholic Church) in the Dark Ages, especially during the time of the inquisitions.

John wondered with "admiration" translated from the Greek word "thauma" (Strong's G2295) and also translated as "wondered" in Rev 13:3. It is very close to "thaumazo" (Strong's G2296) translated "wondered" in this verse and usually translated as "marvel" or "wonder." So it could be translated like "wondered with great wonder." It doesn't say "I admired with great admiration." - John is not thinking how good this woman is.

An Angel Explains to John

"And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns." (Rev 17:7)

The woman sitting on the beast can have the meaning of the woman controlling the beast as in a person riding a horse or it can mean that the woman is supported by the beast as in a horse carrying a person. The phrase "that carrieth her" seems to suggest the latter meaning but it may be some of each.

"The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is." (Rev 17:8)

There is a seeming contradiction here in the statements at the start and end of this verse:

The beast that John saw:

was and is not and shall ascend (start of v8)
was and is not and yet is (end of v8)
(Past) (Present) (Future)  

The words "yet is" are a little confusing because "yet" is often used in reference to the future while "is" refers to the present. There are a few clues that "yet is" also refers to the future:

  1. If it was in the present tense it would contradict the first part of the verse.
  2. Nothing can be ("yet is") and not be ("shall ascend") at the same time.
  3. Textual evidence favors the reading "is to be" or "is to come." (SDA Bible Commentary, vol 6, p854)
  4. Many other translations render it in the future sense as in these examples:
"The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and is about to come up out of the abyss, and to go into perdition. And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, they whose name hath not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast, how that he was, and is not, and shall come." (Rev 17:8, ASV)
"The beast which you saw was, and is not; and is about to come up out of the great deep, and to go into destruction. And those who are on the earth, whose names have not been put in the book of life from the first, will be full of wonder when they see the beast, that he was, and is not, and still will be." (Rev 17:8, BBE)
"The beast you saw is one that used to be and no longer is. It will come back from the deep pit, but only to be destroyed. Everyone on earth whose names were not written in the book of life before the time of creation will be amazed. They will see this beast that used to be and no longer is, but will be once more." (Rev 17:8, CEV)

"Ascend out of the bottomless pit"? - the origin of the beast was the devil himself. (I do need to research and understand the term "bottomless pit" better.)

"The book of life from the foundation of the world" - may be saying that the book itself was in existence form the beginning of the world not that names have been there from that time.

Consider this verse:

"And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (Rev 13:8)

It sounds like the Lamb was slain at the foundation of the world even though the Lamb was actually not slain until much later.

"And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth." (Rev 17:9)

The woman is said to sit on each of:

  1. many waters (v 1)
  2. a scarlet-colored beast (v 3)
  3. seven heads which are seven mountains (v 9)

Can we then say that:

many waters = the beast = 7 heads = 7 mountains?

Not necessarily. The woman can be sitting on more than one thing or sitting on them at different times. Also, remember that this is symbolic language. As mentioned above, to sit on may mean to control or to have the sense of being supported by something.

There are many ideas in regard to this. One is based on the fact that the city of Rome is built on seven hills:

Rome's Seven Hills

Others ideas include that the seven mountains are the seven continents (North America, South America, Africa, Australia, Europe, Asia and Antarctica) and is then a way of indicating the whole world but as the seven continents were unknown at that time, this seems unlikely.

We need to look for the meaning in scripture where there are some clues about the meaning of a mountain:

"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem." (Isa 2:2-3)
"Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people." (Isa 56:6-7)

God's "house of prayer" is his holy "mountain." Could mountains mean houses of prayer or churches or denominations? It seems possible. These have been compared to seven major belief systems such as Roman Catholic, Protestant, Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist and Pagan. There may even be a connection to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3.

Perhaps Babylon will sit on (to control or subjugate) all seven churches (or major worldwide religions) and thus have a worldwide religious confederacy. Her sitting on many waters, illustrates that she will rule the people and her sitting on the beast is her act of controlling both churches (heads) and nations (horns) in one. The world, in the last days, will be ruled by a single church-state system which, it seems, will also support the harlot.

God's kingdom is also related to a mountain by Daniel's prophecies:

"Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth." (Dan 2:34-35)
"And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever." (Dan 2:44)

This is not a reference to the Second Coming as many believe as Jesus does not set up a kingdom at that time but takes the saved to heaven for the millennium.

"And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition." (Rev 17:10-11)

Seven Kings

This can be understood in at least three different ways.

1. That the seven kings represent seven world empires throughout history:

  1. Egypt
  2. Assyria
  3. Babylon
  4. Medo-Persia
  5. Greece
  6. pagan Rome
  7. papal Rome

Of these, in John's time, it could be said that "five are fallen" (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece), "one is" (Pagan Rome) and one is "not yet come" (papal Rome). However, papal Rome has now been in power for 16 or 17 centuries which is hardly a short time.

2. There is the idea that the seven kings represent seven popes. There was speculation recently that since 1929 (which marked the modern reestablishment of the papacy by the Lateran Treaty) there have been 7 popes:

Order Name Dates of Reign Time Span
Pius XI Feb. 11,1929 - Feb. 10, 1939 10 years
Pius XII Mar. 2, 1939 - Oct. 9, 1958 19 years
John XXIII Oct. 28, 1958 - Jun. 3, 1963 5 years
Paul VI Jun. 21, 1963 - Aug. 6, 1978 15 years
John Paul I Aug. 26, 1978 - Sep. 28, 1978 33 days
John Paul II Oct. 16, 1978 - Apr. 2, 2005 27 years
Benedict XVI Apr. 19, 2005 - Feb. 18, 2013 8 years

However, again there are problems. The seventh (Benedict XVI) did not "continue a short space" relative to the average. His papacy lasted about 8 years while the average was 12 years. Two were shorter and one was much shorter (John Paul I was pope for only 33 days). Also, recently, an eighth was added: Francis I became pope on Mar. 13, 2013.

3. Here is yet another understanding that I recently came across of the statue of Daniel 2:

"Based on Hebrew anatomical understanding, the right foot and lower leg is the first branch, symbolizing the first evil empire, Babylon." (The Book of Revelation: Two Brides, Two Destinies p75, John Klein and Adam Spears with Michael Christopher)
  1. Babylon, (Nimrod's)
  2. Egypt
  3. Assyria
  4. Babylon, (Nebuchadnezzar's)
  5. Medo-Persia
  6. Greece
  7. Rome
  8. Rome/Babylon

In this line-up, five are fallen: Babylon (mentioned twice but only counted once), Egypt, Assyria, Medo-Persia and Greece; one is (pagan Rome) and one is yet to come (papal Rome). This will then be followed by an end-time manifestation of Babylon which relates to the following verse.

Revelation chapter 17 also speaks of 10 kings which seem to be placed all in the future:

"And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast." (Rev 17:12)

They have received no kingdom as yet - in John's time, so they can't include ancient Babylon, Egypt, Assyria or even Greece. They must be kings future to John's time. They receive power one hour with the beast which strongly indicates they are all in power at the same time.

Some reckon the one hour to be a period of approximately two weeks. (Using a prophetic day equals one year, then a prophetic hour - 1/24th of a day - would approximate 2 weeks of literal time.) However, Revelation uses the same word in ways that don't seem to indicate a literal, 60-minute hour:

"... the hour of his judgment is come ..." (Rev 14:7)
"... the ten horns ...receive power as kings one hour with the beast." (Rev 17:12)
"... that great city Babylon ... in one hour is thy judgment come." (Rev 18:10)
"... in one hour so great riches is come to nought ..." (Rev 18:17)
"... that great city ... in one hour is she made desolate." (Rev 18:19)

The hour may just represent a point in time.

Some have speculated that the ten kings are related to the concept of a One World Order with the world divided into 10 regions.

Ten World Regions
"These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful." (Rev 17:13-14)

It seems that the kings (civil/military power) will support the beast (a religious power). Once again, the word "war" is translated from the Greek word "polemeo" from which we get the English world "polemic" which has more the meaning of a controversial discussion or debate.

It is not primarily a physical battle talked about here. What would that look like - the Lamb physically warring against the 10 kings? Does that make sense? Would the Lamb fighting in some physical way be consistent with the His character? Then what will the war involve or look like? The main struggle could well be a war of ideologies. However, there will also be literal warfare in the last days with much bloodshed and martyrdom.

But even in the well-known sign given by Jesus "... wars and rumours of wars" (Matt 24:6) the word "wars" is translated from "polemos." Surely there will be much debate of spiritual matters.

"They that are with Him are called, and chosen, and faithful" - "called" (Strong's #2822) and "chosen" (Strong's #1588) are very similar words and are often used together in similar fashion as in:

"For many are called <2822>, but few are chosen <1588>. (Matt 22:14)

The wedding garments in the parable of Matthew 22 were provided freely. The man without the wedding garment did not choose to wear it. It really can mean many are called (in fact, all are - God is not willing that any should perish.) but few make the choice to heed the invitation.

"And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left." (Isa 30:21)
"Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." (Luke 13:24)
"And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." (Rev 17:15)

There is a Biblical definition of waters so often used in understanding the symbol of waters, seas etc. The whore sitting on waters may indicate her control over them.

"And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire." (Rev 17:16)

That the ten horns together turn against the whore indicates that they are all present at the same time. This, in context, is at the end of time and certainly not a succession of world empires over even millennia.

Revelation 18 also mentions this destruction by fire:

"And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning," (Rev 18:9)

"The kings of the earth" are probably the same 10 kings as in chapter 17, all there at the same time to see the destruction of the whore.

"For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled." (Rev 17:17)

This may be a case of God's permissive will rather than His express will. The giving of their kingdom unto the beast may be allowing the beast to control or direct them.

"And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth." (Rev 17:18)

"That great city," in this case, would be Babylon symbolizing Rome. However, there is another city - Jerusalem - that is often referred to in Revelation. There is an interesting parallel between chapters 17 and 21 which are describing the two cities:

Babylon - Revelation 17
New Jerusalem - Revelation 21
one of the seven angels (v 1) one of the seven angels (v9)
which had the seven vials (v1) which had the seven vials (v9)
came, and talked with me, saying (v1) came unto me, and talked with me, saying (v9)
Come hither; I will shew unto thee (v1) Come hither, I will shew thee (v9)
the great whore (v1) the bride (v9)
With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication (v2) the Lamb's wife (v9)
he carried me away in the spirit (v3) he carried me away in the spirit (v10)
into the wilderness (v3) to a great and high mountain (v10)
and I saw (v3) and shewed me (v10)
the woman is that great city (v18) the Lamb's wife ... that great city (v9-10)
on her forehead Babylon (v5) the holy Jerusalem (v10)

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The Greek has multiple words for forgiveness? God forgives (charizomai) whether we ask or not. Receiving forgiveness (apheimi) is by our choice.
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