The overall context of Revelation 17 & 18 is judgment. One of the angels that had the seven last plagues, comes to John (in vision), and says to him: “Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters” (Rev. 17:1). John is also told that, her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her” (Rev. 18:8). As already emphasised the scenes in Revelation are the antitypes of events that have types that have occurred in the past. This principle also applies to judgment. God has judged Babylon in the past, this type serves as the antitype for the future judgment of Babylon.
The Typical Judgment of Babylon
The scenes of Revelation 17 & 18, take place after the seven last plagues and the end of the world. Revelation 17 & 18 are an interregnum in the chronological order. The two chapters are a parenthesis in the flow of time, in order to inform us about the reasons for the seven last plagues and the end of the world. The plagues are Babylon’s plagues just as much as they are the worlds. The plagues are not just poured out against the world, they are poured out as a consequence and a response to the iniquities of Babylon:
And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double. How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. Rev. 18:4-8.
God has told us that He is gracious and long suffering, full of compassion and mercy, but He will not acquit the guilty. Judgement is a theme that pervades and permeates the Bible. The consequences for sin and iniquity are constantly upheld before humanity. God wants us to know about why He does what He does. He wants us to know what Babylon is, He wants us to know what Babylon does and then He wants us to know why and how he judges her – “for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her” (Rev. 18:8). This is why Revelation 17 & 18 are a parenthesis in the chronological time line. God wants us to know who has been the “mother of the abominations of the earth” (Rev. 17:5). And He wants us to know His judgments against her.
In the Wilderness
The connection between the seven last plagues and the judgement is seen when one of the angels with the seven last plagues, comes to John and says, “Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters… Rev. 17:1. The angel then carries John away (in the spirit) and he sees the woman on the beast in the wilderness. One of the things we are told about her judgment is that, she is going to be rewarded “even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double” (Rev. 18:6). In other words, Babylon is going to experience one of God’s universal laws, which is: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Babylon is going to reap what she has sown. But her sins and iniquities have been so grievous that she is going to receive a double portion of God’s wrath, “according to her works” (Rev. 18:6).
This is why, in the first instance, she is depicted as being in the wilderness. She is in the wilderness because she drove God’s people into the wilderness (see Rev. 12:6, 14). In his prophetic word, God said that any unfaithful woman, who indulges in whoredom (idolatry etc.) would be made into a wilderness:
Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts; Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst. Hosea 2:2, 3.
Being in the ‘wilderness’ means losing everything. Losing everything includes losing God and eternal life. The judgment against the women begins with announcing she and her followers are eternally lost. By contrast God promised to sustain his people when the woman drove them into the wilderness.
Babylon is not just called Babylon the Great; her title begins with ‘Mystery Babylon the Great’. There are four mysteries in the Bible; the mystery of godliness (see 1 Tim. 3:16). The mystery of the Kingdom of God (see Mk. 4:11). The mystery of the Gospel (see Eph. 6:19; 1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 5:32; Col. 1:26, 27). And the mystery of iniquity (see 2 Thess. 2:7; 1 Jn. 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 1:7). The mystery of Babylon the Great, belongs to the later – the iniquity and the antichrist. The mystery of iniquity began in heaven when, Lucifer (the anointed cherub) exalted himself and wanted to be like God himself:
Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. Eze. 28:14, 15; cf. Isa. 14:12-21: Jn. 8:44).
The same self-exaltation and manifestation of pride and extravagant display of wealth and riches, is prominently a part of the woman and the beast. This is one of the many reason why the people of the earth worship her and will worship her:
And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls… Rev. 17:4.
How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Rev. 18:7.
Just as Lucifer/Satan aspired to take the place of God, and have the people of the earth worship him (see Isa. 14:12-14; Lu. 4:6, 7). So too, does the woman riding the beast aspire to godhead and the power to command the worship of the world:
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thess. 2:3-12; cf. Rev. 13:3, 4, 8, 12, 15).
The mystery of the gospel even though it was “the hidden wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:7) and “hid from ages” (Col. 1:26), it did not stay a mystery for ever. With the coming of Christ the mystery has been revealed. The mystery was revealed to Paul, and he preached it to the world (see Eph. 3:3, 4; Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; 15:51; Eph. 1:9). The same applies to the mystery of iniquity, it too is a mystery to many, because it grows in the shadows and operates in secret:
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Eph. 6:11, 12.
But just as the gospel mystery was revealed, so too, is the mystery of iniquity revealed. The angel said to John, “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. In other words, like John we need not be overawed by the scale and grandeur of “the spiritual wickedness in high places” that Babylon the Great is. We can follow the angel’s revelation and understand the woman and the beast and the heads and the horns. And it is necessary that we do so, because we have been commanded to “prophesy again” (Rev. 10:11). Our duty to prophesy again includes many things, but perhaps the most crucial is the duty to call Gpd’s people out of Babylon:
And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. Rev. 18:4, 5.
And how can we call God’s people out of Babylon, unless we understand what Babylon is? We can understand because heaven has told us, “I will tell you the mystery of the woman…”
The Golden Cup
We have already noted that God has a cup that contains His wrath. The woman also has a cup, that contains her fornication:
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.
Biblically, the cup is often used symbolically to indicate the reaping what we sow principle. God’s cup is full of His indignation against sin and iniquity and at certain appointed times the people of the world have to drink from this cup. Because their sins are so great the cup cannot contain anymore and it overflows. In this manner the people reap what they have sown:
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them. Ps.75:8; cf. 11:6; 73:10; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15-28
But God has more than one cup. He has another cup from which the righteous can drink, and they are sustained and quickened thereby:
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Ps. 23:5, 6; cf. 16:5, 6.
In the same manner the enemies of God also have cups, from which the people of the world drink, but they do not drink blessings, they drink ‘spiritual intoxication:’
Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad. Jer. 51:7.
Even in ancient times Babylon “made all the nations” drunken. ‘Spiritually intoxicated’ so that they could not think straight. This is yet another reason why the woman riding the beast is called Babylon the Great, because her lineage, her DNA, her ancestry goes all the why back to Babylon on the Euphrates and the Tower of Babel. These are the types and the woman riding the beast is the antitype. She continues serving the same ‘wine’ from the same ‘cup’ and the result is the same ‘the nations mad’ – because they are spiritually intoxicated and they cannot think straight.
The Mother of Harlots
Babylon is a composite beast. She is made up of many components, another prominent component of the woman is that she has wanton daughters. These are ‘daughters’ that follow their mother’s example. They commit fornication with the kings of the earth, they spew the wine of their fornication, they sit on the waters of the world, and they ride the beast. They are ‘mummy’s little helpers’ – they are the institutions, churches and organisations that have given their allegiance, their wealth and their influence into the service of the woman riding the beast. They constitute a major part of that which the angel describes:
Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. Rev. 18:2.
Abominations of the Earth
The connection between Babylon the Great and the Tower of Babel is important to recognise, because the prophecy tells us that the woman riding the beast is responsible for all the sin and iniquity on the earth, especially the atrocities committed against God’s people:
…having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication. Rev. 17:4.
Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth. Rev. 17:5.
And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: Rev. 17:6.
…all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication… Rev. 18:3.
Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her. Rev. 18;20.
And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth. Rev. 18:24.
This Babylonian entity is not only “exceeding great” (see Dan. 8:9-12). But one gains the impression that Babylon the Great has existed since the fall in the Garden of Eden. If one recognises that it was the dragon who tempted Eve and it is the dragon who is the woman riding the beast (in disguised form), then it is possible to see that the Babylonian system began with the fall in Eden, and has been growing and developing ever since. It is perhaps easier to understand if we think of Babylon the Great as simply a metaphor for the kingdom of Satan – if we think of it in these terms if is not so difficult to trace its origins back to Eden. After all how do we explain the accusation that Babylon the Great is responsible for “all that were slain upon the earth” – all must include Abel, slain by Cain, would it not!
Was, and is not, and yet is
When John was gazing in awe and wonder at the vision of the woman riding the beast, the angel is equally amazed at John’s reaction. Therefore, the angel says to him, “Wherefore didst thou marvel?” (Rev. 17:7). In other words, the angel is saying, you do not need to be confused, rest assured, “I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her…” (Rev. 17:7). This means that we are supposed to know, all we need to know, including the identity of the woman and the beast from what the angel proceeds to say. The angel begins his explanation of the mystery of the woman and the beast, by saying:
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.
We need to be cognizant of the fact that all of this information is being disclosed whilst in the midst of a war (see Rev. 12:17). Therefore, we need to recognise that the angel is revealing top secret intelligence about the enemy to God’s people. Therefore, the angel does not speak ‘plainly’ (neither did Jesus see Matt. 13:3, 10, 34; Jn. 10:24; 16:25, 29). Jesus almost always spoke in parables. The purpose of which was to allow those who had ‘ears to hear’ (led by the Holy Spirit) to understand and to those who had not ‘ears to hear’ His words remained a mystery. The angel speaks in the same manner and for the same purpose. Therefore, his words explaining the mystery sound like a mystery and/or a riddle. But they are designed that way for those who have ‘ears to hear.’
Past, Present Future
The angel begins by telling John that the woman and the beast has had a past when it was in existence (was). Then it would have a present, when it would not exist. But then it would have a resurrection, come back to life, and have a future. The angel tells John that the woman and the beast existed in the past (was not). This period of existence would come to an end (and is not). But then mysteriously it comes back to life (and yet is).
This corresponds accurately to the history of the beast, as described as the sea beast in chapter 13. The sea beast (the Roman Catholic Church – which has a history going all the way back to Babylon), but in recent history had a period of 1260 years of supremacy. This is the period of ‘was.’ Then it received a deadly wound inflicted by the French Revolution, and the papacy was abolished. This is the beginning of the period (was not). However, after an period of ‘was not’ the papacy comes back to life and resumes its power and influence in the world. This is the period of (and yet is).
The Bottomless Pit
When it comes back to life, it comes back with renewed strength and vigour, because it comes it is resurrected straight up out of the bottomless pit. The bottomless pit is the place of confusion and chaos associated with Satan:
That the expression “bottomless pit” represents the earth in a state of confusion and darkness is evident from other scriptures. Concerning the condition of the earth “in the beginning,” the Bible record says that it “was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” [The Hebrew word here translated “deep” is rendered in the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Hebrew Old Testament by the same word rendered “bottomless pit” In Revelation 20:1-3.] Genesis 1:2. Prophecy teaches that it will be brought back, partially at least, to this condition. Looking forward to the great day of God, the prophet Jeremiah declares: “I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down.” Jeremiah 4:23-26. Here is to be the home of Satan, with his evil angels for a thousand years. Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p. 658.
Perhaps we could understand the bottomless pit in terms of being the devil’s workshop. Where schemes of evil and sorcery are ‘cooked up’ (see Rev. 18:23). Nevertheless, it is a pit, indicating downward direction. It is in counterpoint to heaven which is of upward direction. Heaven is the abode of God therefore the bottomless pit is the abode of Satan. It is from this downward origin that the woman and the beast ascend. Therefore, the woman and the beast are the revived and resurrected power of the past – the Roman Catholic Church – the modern-day resurrection of Babylon.
We are told that after the beast, was, and was not, yet is, in other words after the lifetime of its existence it would go into perdition. Twice we are told that the beast will go into perdition (see Rev. 17:8, 11) What is perdition? The following definition is from Dictionary.com:
- a state of final spiritual ruin; lossof the soul; damnation.
- the future state of the wicked.
Synonyms for perdition, provided by Merriman Webster are:
- Eternal damnation
The origin of this beast and its rider are the bottomless pit, and after it creates havoc in the world and wages war upon God’s Kingdom, its final destination is destruction and eternal extermination. The process whereby the beast and its entourage get there, is the subject matter of Revelation chapters, 19-21.
The Seven Mountains
The angel continues the explanation of the ‘mystery’ by “The seven heads are seven mountains…” (Rev. 17: Historically, traditionally and spiritually, height has always been associated with God and divinity (e.g. The Tower of Babel). This is why most churches and cathedrals were built with spires and steeples.
And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. Rev. 17:9.