The seventeenth chapter of Revelation is especially enigmatic to many, but when its mysteries are unlocked, it provides some of the best keys into unlocking the mysteries of the book of Revelation. To understand this chapter, and the supporting chapters immediately following, place yourself in John's shoes for a moment. See events through his eyes as the angel attempts to explain to him the symbolism used in this chapter.
This chapter is primarily symbolic, that is, symbolic in its characterizations, but literal in the actions of the entities that the symbols represent. There are 2 main characters in this chapter, the woman called Babylon and the Beast from the Abyss, with a number of characters offering lesser supporting roles.
Rev. 17:1 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. 2With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries."
3Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. 5This title was written on her forehead:
6I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.
When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. 7Then the angel said to me: "Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. 8The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.
9"This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. 11The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.
12"The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. 13They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. 14They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings --and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers."
15Then the angel said to me, "The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. 16The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled. 18The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth."
Rev. 18:1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. 2With a mighty voice he shouted:
4Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
9"When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:
11"The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more-- 12cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men.
14"They will say, `The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.' 15The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16and cry out:
"Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. 18When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, `Was there ever a city like this great city?' 19They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out:
21Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said:
Rev. 19:1 After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:
3And again they shouted:
4The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried:
5Then a voice came from the throne, saying:
6Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
9Then the angel said to me, "Write: `Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God."
10At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
First, let's identify the characters. The angel makes identification of the woman relatively easy. He said,
At the time that John saw the vision, the city that ruled over the nations was without a doubt, Rome. Rome sits on seven hills (verses 18, 9). The angel describes the prostitute as sitting on many waters even though John sees her in a desert setting.
and then in verse 15, the angel explains the following:
The Roman empire was certainly made up of multitudes, nations and languages.
But yet there is much more to the woman than meets the eye. In explaining the beast on which the woman rode, the angel makes this statement.
The woman is riding on a scarlet beast. It is helpful at this time to separate the scarlet beast into three sections, the seven heads, the body or torso of the beast and the ten horns. As mentioned earlier, the seven heads represent the seven hills of Rome. However, the angel states that they are also seven kings (or empires). He explains to John that five of these are fallen (are already past), one is (the present empire) and the other is yet to come (a future empire).
A look at the prophetic book of Daniel helps us to define these empires. These are in order of succession:
Past or fallen empires:
Present empire (to John):
Future empire to remain for a longer period of time than the others:
After these seven comes an eighth king. He also is permitted to set up an empire, but he will only last a short time before his destruction.
However, this eighth king is permitted to materialize for a special purpose. He is instrumental in destroying Babylon.
The ten horns are nations, countries or rulers that support the eighth king in its destruction of the previous empire. While these countries, in all probability, are currently in existence, I have not been able to conclusively identify these.
Do these pieces seem rather confusing? Rome is the prostitute. However, it is also the sixth of the empires which is superseded by a seventh empire. However, the prostitute lasts until the end of time when it is destroyed by an eighth empire.
But wait a minute! Is there a better explanation? I believe so. Let's try this one.
Soon after the flood, beginning with Noah's son Ham's lineage, a counterfeit religion sprung up. This was Satan's counterfeit to the worship of God the Father. It commenced with Cush, Ham's son, but more forcefully grew during the reign of Nimrod, Cush's son. In this religion, Nimrod attempted to turn men away from God through worship of the sun. After creating an empire and attempting the ill fated building of the tower of Babel, Nimrod died. His wife, Semiramis, told the people that Nimrod had gone to the sun, and that he now watched over the people as the sun god.
She also had a son, Tammuz, whom she claimed was the reincarnation of Nimrod, the sun god. He was the one who had come to save the world. (This was Satan's counterfeit to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ). Thus was started what became known as the Babylonian mystery religion with its myriad of usages of the number 666, a number associated with Satan (Rev. 13:18).
There are a number of excellent books available on the subject complete with photographs and archaeological evidence so I won't go into detail here. However the following should be enlightening.
Tammuz (the counterfeit "Christ") was born on Dec. 25th. Tammuz was killed by a boar in the spring while out hunting. Prior to the vernal equinox, women mourned for forty days for Tammuz to attempt to resurrect him (the forty days of Lent). He was claimed to have been "resurrected" as the "spring" on a day which we now call Easter, named after the goddess of fertility, Ishtar (pronounced "eas-tar"). Interestingly enough, attendance at the winter and spring festivals celebrating Tammuz's birth and "resurrection" was virtually mandatory, as attendance at the Christmas and Easter masses is virtually mandatory for "good" Catholics.
Many Christians today keep these pagan holidays which have been veiled over with a thin cloak of Christianity.
In this Babylonian religion, the pagan Trinity consisted of Father, Mother and Son (Nimrod, Semiramis, and Tammuz or by many other names). After Semiramis died, it was claimed that she flew to the moon or Venus, where she became known as the goddess of fertility. She was also worshipped above the sun, being considered the Queen of Heaven, since she had given birth to a reincarnation of the sun. Mother and child worship became popular. And naturally, this "highest god" was referred to as a "she." Even today, many religions worship a Madonna and child, with the most prevalent being the veneration or worship of "Mary" with infant or Mary holding a dead Jesus (similarly as Semiramis holding a dead Tammuz).
We find in the Old Testament that God was always warning the Israelites away from involvement in the worship of these pagan deities. And indeed sandwiched in between the two chapters in Ezekiel that marked the prophecies of doom and the sealing of God's people we find that the detestable acts that God was referring to were acts engaging in the worship of pagan deities or paganism.
Babylon, the prostitute in Revelation thus is much more likely the Babylonian mystery religion or simply, paganism in its many variant forms with its many false teachings. The wine of her adulteries, the attractiveness of Babylon's false teachings has caused most, all over world to embrace some, if not many of those teachings. And it is of those teachings that God's people must be cleansed of. We will look at a number of these false teachings in a later chapter comparing them to the genuine Truth.
However, it is fair to say that paganism or sun worship had its headquarters and drew its power from the empires in which it flourished. If we trace the movements of the Babylonish priests and the tools with which they conducted their services, we find that indeed, it follows closely the progression of the empires mentioned above. From Babylon to Medo-Persia to Greece to Rome. And finally to the Holy Roman Empire. One trained in recognizing pagan symbols will readily note them sprinkled liberally and obviously throughout the Vatican and St. Petersburg Cathedral.
At the time John had the vision, paganism and sun worship were flourishing throughout the Roman Empire. The main priests of sun worship were headquartered in Rome, thus certainly qualifying for the identifying characteristics listed above.
Additionally, paganism draws its power from Satan even as the first beast of Revelation 13 draws its power from the dragon, a symbol of Satan. Paganism is not dependent upon a specific empire, but survives in spite of its respective rise and fall.
Who then is the beast from the Abyss which arises to destroy paganism, and the last of the seven empires holding onto the Babylonish mysteries? First we need to address the question, "what is the abyss?"