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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

November 5, 2014

Revelations 17:1-18

  1. Verses 1-2. One of the seven angels who had poured out one of the bowls tells John that he “will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.” In this chapter we will see the some symbols and their meanings. The image of the great prostitute sitting on many waters immediately indicates for us what the great prostitute represents. The harlot/prostitute image is used of wicked cities by the Old Testament prophets. Ninevah (Nahum 3:4), Tyre (Isaiah 23:16-17), and Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16:15) are a few cities that are called harlots because of their great immoralities. This great harlot in Revelation 17:1 is described as “sitting on many waters.” Verse 15 tells us what this image means. “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” The great harlot is the city that is ruling over the peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages of the earth. Therefore, the wicked city in view is Rome. The city of Rome is the heart of the problem and the center of the immorality and idolatry. This is the image of verse 2 concerning the great prostitute. She is the one whom “the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” We have noted throughout this study that sexual immorality is a symbol for the idolatry that is being committed (Hosea 4:11-12; Ezekiel 6:9; Ezekiel 16:15-17; Revelation 2:14, 20). Notice that Revelation 17:2 is the same description that was given in Revelation 14:8. “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality” (Revelation 14:8). Rome has been causing the world to worship the emperor and be involved in idolatry. Therefore, we know the great prostitute is the city of Rome and the beast is the empire that Rome ruled. The rest of this chapter is going to give us the details about these two entities and their coming judgment.

  2. Verses 3-6a. John is carried away in the Spirit. We noted this image back in Revelation 1:10. Being in the Spirit means that John is seeing a vision, an inspired message from God (cf. Ezekiel 2:2). The scarlet beast has the same description as the first beast in Revelation 13. The beast is full of blasphemous names (13:1) and has seven heads and ten horns (13:1). The woman in verse 4 is dressed like a prostitute. This is not the first time this image has been used (See Jeremiah 4:30). The same language used of Babylon of ancient times is applied to Rome. Notice the language that Jeremiah used of Babylon back in his day (Jeremiah 51:7–8). The descriptions emphasize the great immorality generated from this city. It is appropriate to describe Rome with similar language because of its great immoralities and idolatries. The name of the great prostitute is, “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” The word “mystery” in front of this description shows that this name is a symbol for a worldly, wicked city. The great prostitute is drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. This is the same description given in Revelation 16:6 and this is the reason for the judgment against Rome, Babylon the great.

  3. Verses 6b-8. John can’t even believe what he sees. The angel tells John in verse 7 that he will explain the mystery of the woman and the beast. Clarity is being given to the readers and to John. The first explanation about the beast is given in verse 8. The beast “was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction.” This sounds like the description we first noted with the beast in Revelation 13. Remember that we saw this terrifying beast that has a fatal wound to one of its heads. But then the fatal wound heals and the earth marvels at the strength and power of the beast. I believe this fatal wound imagery is the same meaning as “was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit.” Both events result in the people of the earth marveling over the beast (13:4, 17:8). The beast seems to collapse, but it only rises up with greater strength and continues the persecution of God’s people. It continues to be destined for destruction as it persecutes and its emperors call themselves divine, blaspheming the true and living God.

  4. In verses 9-11. John is receiving some details about this. The angel calls for wisdom. The last time we saw this call was in Revelation 13:18. The meaning was for the people to have spiritual perception and insight about the deceptive nature of the beast. The angel begins with the seven heads. Remember that the beast has seven heads and ten horns. The angel is giving us an explanation about these images. When we first read the description of the beast in chapter 13 we noted that the heads, horns, and crowns represented the beast’s great authority, strength, and power. The angel tells us much more about the seven heads and the ten horns now. The seven heads represent the seven mountains on which the woman is seated. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states, “Most scholars have no doubt that the seven hills refer to the seven hills of Rome and the seven kings to seven successive emperors of that nation. History and literature refers to Rome repeatedly as the city on seven mountains. In fact, a Roman coin depicted the goddess Roma sitting on seven mountains. To know that we are right, notice that the end of verse 9 tells us that the woman is seated on the seven mountains. Go back to verse 1 of Revelation 17 and recall that the woman is the great prostitute, representing the city of Rome. Rome and its empire are in view. The seven heads represent Rome. Everything we read in Revelation is a symbol for a historical reality unless the text demands otherwise. In this text we are given the interpretation of the seven. The angel says of the seven kings, “Five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.” Verse 11 tells us more that the eighth king belongs to the seven and goes to destruction. These details do not make any sense in a generic, symbolic way. There is no way to symbolically apply these images. We are forced to understand these kings as literal emperors of the Roman Empire and something about their rule is being told to the people of God. Read (Daniel 7:19–20). Daniel says that one horn uproots the other three horns because he is greater than them. Daniel may be speaking about the rise of emperor Vespasian who established his reign during the year of the four emperors. During this civil war it is his armies that are victorious as he successfully claims the title of emperor. If this is correct, then the counting of the seven emperors works well. Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero are the five who have fallen. The one who is reigning now is Vespasian because Daniel (Daniel 7) told us not to count those three emperors Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, who were of no consequence. Then the one to come who will “remain only a little while” is Titus who ruled only from 79-81 AD. After Titus is Domitian. He is the eighth emperor who is like the beast, belongs to the seven, and goes to destruction. Domitian will begin to carry out these prophecies that we have read about in the previous chapters. He will claim to be God and demand divine honors and sacrifices to be made toward him.

  5. Verses 12-14. The ten horns in verses 12-14 sound like the description to the second beast, also called the false prophet. These ten horns represent the many localities and provinces that ruled within the Roman Empire. Rome had given power to various smaller leaders, like the Herods (during the time of Christ), to rule over the regions and provinces. Yet their power was only from the Roman Empire itself and was not their own. These rulers gave their allegiance to the Roman Empire (the beast) and would make war against God and his people who did not worship the beast. The saints of God will overcome due to the collapse of the Roman Empire.

  6. Verse 15. This verse tells us that the waters the woman sits on are symbolic of many people of many nations that Rome has dominion over.

  7. Verses 16-18 show that the world is going to turn against Rome. The imagery is similar to Ezekiel’s prophecy against Jerusalem (see Ezekiel 16:35–37). The description given is one of the primary reasons for Rome’s fall. The inner decadence and inner strife are a couple reasons why Rome fell. Daniel prophesied that this was the nature of Rome and would lead to its collapse. We read of the fourth kingdom (the Roman Empire) made of iron and clay so that is was partly strong and partly brittle. Notice Daniel 2: 43, “As you saw the iron mixed with clay, so will they mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay.” The Roman Empire would not hold together but fall apart because of the way it was built. One of the greatest strengths of Rome was that it incorporated all the languages and nations of the world under it. However, this also was its weakness, leading to perpetual internal problems until it finally fell. Provinces and nations under the power of Rome will turn and fight against Rome. Verse 17 points out that this is God’s doing. God is the one who brought about the fall of Rome and its empire. The chapter concludes definitely stating who the woman, the great prostitute, is. She is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth. It is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth. The only city that has an empire over the kings of the earth at the time of the writing of Revelation is the city of Rome. Rome is the great prostitute. Her demise will come when those nations and peoples under the empire turn against her and make her desolate.

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