Art used by permission by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992.
Click picture to visit her "Revelation Illustrated" site.
1: 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:
2: 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.
3: 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.
[17:1-3. Chapters 17 and 18 picture the judgment of God on a system, empire, or city called Babylon the Great (17:5); it is a more detailed description of the seventh vial (16:17). The great whore (v. 1) is named "BABYLON THE GREAT" in verse 5. Chapters 17 and 18 show her judgment. The waters represent various peoples and nations of the earth (v. 15). She sitteth upon them in the sense that she has worldwide influence. Her harlotry and fornication refer either to physical immorality or (more likely) spiritual adultery (idolatry and religious apostasy - cf. Is. 1:21; 23:16, 17; Jer. 2:20-37; 13:27; Ezek. 16:15-43; Hos. 2:5; Nah. 3:4). The kings and inhabitants of the earth have opened their arms to her influence. The beast is the first Beast of chapter 13 - the Antichrist and his empire. Her sitting upon the Beast represents the intimate association between the Antichrist and the harlot) an association of support, influence, or control).]
4: 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:
5: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
6: 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.
[17:4-6. The elegant clothing and jewelry of the woman show her wealth and attractiveness, but her activities are filthy and abominable to God. Her mystery name is BABYLON THE GREAT. Ancient Babylon is a type or prefigurement of this future Babylon. The harlot will do what literal Babylon did in the past: (1) oppress God's people, and (2) propagate a false religious system. Much of the world's idolatry can be traced back to historical Babylon (cf. Gen. 11:1-9), including the mother-child cult of Semiramis-Tammuz (cf. Jer. 44:16-19; Ezek. 8:9, 14), which entered other cultures as Ashtaroth-Baal, Aphrodite-Eros, Venus-Cupid, and even Madonna-Child. As the fountainhead of idolatry, Babylon the harlot is the MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. The harlot has killed many of God's saints and Christian martyrs throughout the ages, and will do so again during the Tribulation period. Admiration (Gr. thauma) here means "amazement" (cf. 13:3; 17:7).]
7: 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.
8: 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.
[17:7, 8. Versus 7-18 contain a more detailed explanation of the entities depicted symbolically as a woman and a beast. The Beast as an empire goes through four stages, from the viewpoint of the beginning of the Tribulation period: (1) It was, that is, it existed in the form of the ancient Roman Empire. (2) It is not, that is, it has not existed as an empire since the fifth century and will not exist again until the Antichrist gains worldwide authority during the Tribulation period. (3) It shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, that is, Satan will raise up the Antichrist as his false messiah, and give him worldwide rule (cf. 11:7; 13:3, 4). And (4) the Antichrist will be cast into perdition, the lake of fire (cf. 19:20). Unbelievers will wonder in amazement at this revival of the power and glory of the Roman Empire (cf. 13:3).]
9: And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.
[17:9. The seven heads of the Beast represent seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. The city of Rome was known throughout the ancient world as a city built on seven hills or mountains. John notes that the wise mind will make the proper identification. The woman apparently represents idolatrous, anti-God civilization, centered at Rome but with worldwide influence (cf. v. 15). The identification of the seven heads as Rome shows that the Beast will have his major base of operations at Rome also (cf. Dan. 9:26 - the "people of the prince that shall come" are the Romans in A.D. 70).]
10: 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.
[17:10. The seven kings may represent: (1) seven rulers in the Roman Empire (from Augustus to Domitian to Antichrist); or (2) the seven horns left on the fourth beast of Daniel 7 after three horns are pulled up by the roots (cf. Dan. 7:8, 20); or most likely, (3) the seven kingdoms or empires that throughout history have ruled over Israel and much of the known world: Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and the revived Roman Empire (of the early Tribulation period). Five are fallen (are past); one is the Roman Empire existing at the time of John; and the seventh (revived Rome) is not yet come. This revived Roman Empire is represented in Daniel by the 10 toes in the image of Daniel 2:41-44 and by the 10 horns on the fourth beast of Daniel 7:7, 20, 24, and in Revelation by the 10 horns on the first Beast (13:1; 17:3, 12, 13). It will exist as a major power only a short while, since it will then give its authority to the Beast (vv. 11-13).]
11: And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
[17:11. The beast, the final world kingdom ruled by Antichrist, is the eighth king or kingdom. He is of the seven in that he is the culmination of all the previous, pagan, idolatrous empires. But he will go into perdition, the lake of fire (cf. v. 8; 19:20).]
12: 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.
13: These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.
14: 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.
[17:12-14. The ten horns on the Beast represent ten kings of the future revived Roman Empire (cf. Dan. 2:41-44; 7:24). Their worldwide power will come in association with the beast. One hour indicates a relatively short time (cf. 18:10, 17, 19). These rulers of a 10-nation federation will unitedly give their political authority and military power to the beast to conquer the earth and make war against Christ (cf. 16:14; 19:19). The purpose of Satan through the Beast and fellow kings is to establish an invincible kingdom that Christ cannot overcome when He returns (cf 19:11-21). Those who follow Christ are called and chosen by Him, and faithful to him (cf. 19:7, 8, 14).]
15: And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
16: 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.
17: 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.
18: And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
[17:15-18. The whore has been described as sitting (1) on many waters (v.1), (2) on the Beast (v.3), and on seven mountains (v. 9). Here the waters are identified as peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues, indicating the worldwide influence and authority of the harlot. In verse 18, she is identified as that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth, referring probably to a worldwide, idolatrous, pagan system centered at Rome. Toward the end of the Tribulation period, however, the 10 kings will be God's instrument to destroy the harlot Babylon (cf. 16:19; 18:5, 6; 19:2). The destruction of of the woman or harlot is pictured as the destruction of a great city in chapter 18.]