1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with 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.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” 6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. – Revelation 17:1-6 ESV
In chapters 17 and 18, John is going to be given a detailed description of the destruction of Babylon, but as it represents the religious apostasy of the day (chapter 17) and the political power established by the Antichrist (chapter 18). Much of what John is being shown in these two chapters actually takes place before the events of chapter 16. The content of these two chapters provides us with a more precise understanding of just what will take place for the apostate church to rise to power and prominence during the first half of the tribulation. And chapter 18 will explain how Antichrist rose out of seeming obscurity to a position of global dominance.
An angel, who carried one of the seven bowls of judgment, appears to John and offers to introduce him to “the great prostitute.” As John will discover, this woman is actually the personification of the decadent and immoral religious system set up by the false prophet. We were first introduced to the false prophet in chapter 14, where he was introduced to John in a vision and appeared as the second beast.
12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. – Revelation 14:12-17 ESV
This individual will operate under the direct jurisdiction of Antichrist, and set up a mandatory religious system that worships the image of the Antichrist. Much like emperor worship during the days of the Caesar in Rome, the people living during the tribulation will be forced to bow down to the Antichrist and treat him like a god. And the angel describes this false religious system as a prostitute. This is a common metaphor used in Scripture to describe spiritual adultery and the sin of idolatry.
At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. – Isaiah 23:17 ESV
19 Your evil will chastise you,
and your apostasy will reprove you.
Know and see that it is evil and bitter
for you to forsake the Lord your God;
the fear of me is not in you,
declares the Lord God of hosts.
20 “For long ago I broke your yoke
and burst your bonds;
but you said, ‘I will not serve.’
Yes, on every high hill
and under every green tree
you bowed down like a whore.” – Jeremiah 2:19-20 ESV
4 And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
and peoples with her charms.
5 Behold, I am against you,
declares the Lord of hosts,
and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
and kingdoms at your shame. – Nahum 3:4-5 ESV
This religious system, set up by the false prophet, is guilty of having lured and enticed the kings of the earth. In other words, other world leaders will “get in bed” with this false religion, seeing it to be to their benefit to do so. And the people of the earth will become drunk with the wine of her immorality. They will drink in all the lies associated with this religion and worship an idol in place of the one true God. And John is shown a vision of this woman or false religion “sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns” (Revelation 17:3 ESV). This is an almost word-for-word repeat of the description of the Antichrist, provided in chapter 13.
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. – Revelation 13:1 ESV
This false religious system will have direct ties to the rule and reign of Antichrist. They will have a symbiotic relationship, each benefiting the other. The false prophet will come to power only because the Antichrist has assumed supreme authority over the earth. And the false prophet will cause the people of the earth not only to submit to Antichrist’s leadership, but to worship him as a god. He will delude and deceive the people, performing signs and wonders, much like the Old Testament prophets of God did. But he will speak lies and blaspheme the name of God Almighty. Paul wrote about this coming day in his second letter to the Thessalonians.
9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 ESV
The imagery associated with John’s vision of this false religion conveys the idea of luxury and royalty. She is “arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls” (Revelation 17:4 ESV). This religious system will be marked by wealth. It will have the trappings of financial success and be marked by pomp and circumstance. It is interesting to note that during the Reformation of the 16th-Century, many of the Reformers labeled the Pope as the Antichrist and the Catholic church as the false religion or apostate church. They did this, in part, because of its decadence, obsession with material wealth and for what they believed was false teaching regarding salvation.
Whereof it followeth Rome to be the seat of Antichrist, and the pope to be very antichrist himself. I could prove the same by many other scriptures, old writers, and strong reasons. (Thomas Cramner, Works by Cranmer, vol.1, pp.6-7).
Yea, to speak it in plain words; lest that we submit ourselves to Satan, thinking that we submit ourselves to Jesus Christ, for, as for your Roman kirk, as it is now corrupted, and the authority thereof, whereon stands the hope of your victory, I no more doubt but that it is the synagogue of Satan, and the head thereof, called the pope, to be that man of sin, of whom the apostle speaks. (John Knox, The History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland, p.65).
…nothing else than the kingdom of Babylon and of very Antichrist. For who is the man of sin and the son of perdition, but he who by his teaching and his ordinances increases the sin and perdition of souls in the church; while he yet sits in the church as if he were God? All these conditions have now for many ages been fulfilled by the papal tyranny. (Martin Luther, First Principles, pp. 196-197).
You can see how they could have used the description provided by John in this chapter to reach their conclusions. But what John is seeing is something far greater and more significant than anything the Reformers could have ever imagined. This false church is described as having a name of mystery written on its forehead: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Revelation 17:5 ESV). The name, Babylon, has a long association with false religions and idolatry. Throughout the Scriptures, Babylon is used to refer to the influence of pagan religions upon the people of Israel, but also the New Testament church. It represents any and all counterfeit religions that offer up alternatives to the way of God. Even several of the seven churches to whom Jesus addressed His words in chapters two and three, were guilty of succumbing to the influence of the false teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:14-15). The church in Thyatira was guilty of allowing the influence of a woman “who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20 ESV).
The deadly influence of Babylon, the false religious system that permeate our world, has been around since the beginning. Paul describes how it came to be.
22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. – Romans 1:22-25 ESV
And these individuals who chose to worship the creation rather than the Creator, have never been content to coexist with those who worship the one true God. From day one, they have stood opposed to all those who claim God as the one and only God. And the false prophet and his false religious system will not tolerate the people of God, the Jews, or the followers of Christ, including those who come to faith during the tribulation. John is told that this apostate religious system will be “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6 ESV). One of the greatest acts of rebellion on the part of this false religious system will be its role in the death of both Jews and Christians during the great tribulation. Satan, the power behind Antichrist’s rule, is ultimately opposed to anything and everyone associated with God and His Son. The whole purpose of the Antichrist’s rise to power is to marshal the forces of earth against the people of God. And the false prophet will create the ultimate one-world religion that unites the people of earth under one umbrella of religious expression, making illegal the worship of God or His Son, Jesus Christ. And while all of this is slated to happen during the days of the tribulation, we are already seeing the world’s slow, but steady shift in this direction. While we do not yet see the people of earth united under a single religious system, we do see the increasing hostility toward both Judaism and Christianity. The intolerance and hatred being expressed toward all those who worship the one true God is increasing exponentially. And the great tribulation will bring it all to a head.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.