The Harlot of Revelation 17 and its Relationship to Old Covenant Israel


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the Book of Revelation”

UPDATE: This post was written when I understood the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 to be the same as the sea beast of Revelation 13:1-10, the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 to be the first seven Roman emperors, and the 10 horns of Revelation 17:12-14 to be the rulers of Rome’s 10 Senatorial Provinces. I now understand the seven kings to Revelation 17:10 to be the family dynasty of Hezekiah the Zealot, and the 10 horns to be 10 Jewish generals (named by Josephus) who were appointed around January 67 AD to oversee specific territories and to prepare for war with Rome. This post will be updated accordingly when time allows.

The following study was published yesterday in The Fulfilled Connection (TFC) Magazine, and is adapted from our study of Revelation 17 (Part 1):

In Revelation 17, John was shown a woman known as “Babylon the Great”, “the mother of harlots,” and “the great city.” This woman/city has been interpreted in various ways, from the Roman Catholic Church, to New York City, to modern Iraq, to the church in America, etc. This article will discuss a number of reasons why “Babylon the Great” was first century Jerusalem and old covenant Judaism. In doing so, we will look at the first six verses of Revelation 17.

The fall of Babylon was first announced in Revelation 14:8, and Revelation 11:8 identified “the great city” as the place “where also our Lord was crucified,” which, of course, was Jerusalem. Revelation 17-19 describes Babylon’s fall in more detail. This is then followed by a description of the bride, the wife of Jesus, who stands in contrast to the harlot. Note how the following passages deliberately contrast each other:

A. Revelation 17:1: “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.’”

A. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”

B. Revelation 17:3: “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.”

B. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

In Revelation 17:2, Babylon is prosecuted for its sexual immorality, by which “the dwellers on earth” and “the kings of the earth” were made guilty. Notice that the reference to “the kings of the earth” here is distinct from the reference to “the kings of the whole world” in Revelation 16:14, where that reference was to the provincial kings of the Roman Empire. In an earlier 3-part series, I discussed 20 instances in Revelation where the phrase “those who dwell on the earth” refers to first century Israel rather than to everyone on the planet (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). 

Verse 3: John then sees a woman sitting on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns. One of my previous articles, “Ten Fulfilled Prophecies Concerning the Beast from the Sea,” makes the case that the beast was Nero in the specific sense and the Roman Empire in the general sense. The fact that the woman is sitting on the beast suggests a very close relationship between the woman and the beast, who are both distinct in their identity. On this topic, I wrote the following elsewhere regarding the woman (Jerusalem) riding the beast (Rome):

In what sense might Jerusalem have sat on the beast that would ultimately turn on her and destroy her (Rev. 17:3, 9, 16-18)? Israel had enjoyed a good relationship with Rome until the Jewish revolt began in 66 AD, and Judaism was recognized as a valid religion within the Roman Empire. Josephus wrote of this relationship, “It seems to me to be necessary here to give an account of all the honors that the Romans and their emperors paid to our nation [Israel], and of the leagues of mutual assistance they have made with it” (Antiquities, 14.10.1-2). The Jews frequently took advantage of this relationship to induce persecution against Jesus and His followers (Luke 23:2; John 18:28-31, 19:15; Acts 4:27, 16:20, 17:7, 18:12, 21:11, 24:1-9, 25:1-2). W.H.C. Frend even writes that “the promptings of orthodox Jews in the capitol had something to do with” Nero’s decision to begin persecuting Christians in 64 AD (The Rise of Christianity [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984], 109; quoted in Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, 2002, p. 63).

Kenneth Gentry suggests that the beast was the color scarlet for any of the following reasons: [1] The robes worn by Roman emperors were red in color [2] Rome, led by Nero, was responsible for shedding much blood among God’s people [3] Nero was famous for his red beard.

Verses 4-5: The woman wore purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls. She had in her hand a golden cup “full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.” Her forehead proclaimed that she was “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” According to Todd Dennis, the founder of the Preterist Archive,

…the description of the harlot’s attire (purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls) was nearly identical to the ephod worn by the high priest (Revelation 17:4; cf. Exodus 28:5-21). The golden cup she held was likely symbolic of the temple vessels, the greatest part of which were gold and silver, according to the Jewish historian Josephus (Wars 5.4.4). On Aaron’s forehead was the inscription “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36). The harlot’s forehead, on the other hand, bore the title “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Rev. 17:5).

In Jeremiah’s day, Judah (with its capital of Jerusalem) was prosecuted because it had “played the whore with many lovers” and “polluted the land with…vile whoredom” (Jeremiah 3:1-2). Like Israel in John’s day, Judah prior to its fall in 586 BC had “the forehead of a whore” (verse 3).

Duncan McKenzie’s article has helped me to understand that “Babylon the Great” here was more than just a physical city. It was also a religious system full of abominations, old covenant temple-based Judaism. In Revelation 18 God commands His people regarding Babylon, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). We know from Revelation 1 that John’s immediate audience didn’t live in Jerusalem, but in Asia Minor. So this was not a command to flee from the city of Jerusalem.

God’s message was about breaking completely free from old covenant temple-based Judaism. Babylon represented not only Jerusalem, but also the unfaithful community which had rejected Jesus and the new covenant. Both physical Jerusalem and temple-based Judaism were judged and destroyed in 70 AD. In Daniel 9:26-27 we see that it is on “the wing of abominations” that one comes “who makes desolate” (see also Rev. 17:16, Matt. 23:38). This was related to the destruction of “the city and the sanctuary” (Daniel 9:24). The abominations of the earth (land) were the apostate practices of old covenant Judaism.

As mentioned earlier, John was shown a contrasting picture of two women: the harlot of chapters 17 and 18, and the bride in chapter 19 clothed with “fine linen, bright and pure…the righteous deeds of the saints” (see verses 1-8). One (the harlot) persecuted the other (the bride, Christ’s Church). What is most fascinating is Paul’s own contrasting of two women in his epistle to the Galatians:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor. For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? ”Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman (Galatians 4:21-31).

Just as Paul wrote in Galatians 4, we see in Revelation that God casts out and destroys the harlot (Revelation 18:21), but the bride inherits the Lamb as her husband.

Verse 6: The woman is said to be “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” This same charge was laid upon those of “the earth” in the previous chapter (Rev. 16:1), where it was said that “they have shed the blood of saints and prophets (16:4-7).” In chapter 18 we also see that “in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24), and that the “saints and apostles and prophets” were told to rejoice over her destruction (18:20). Who was responsible for shedding all the blood of the prophets, apostles, and the saints, according to Jesus, and who would receive judgment as a result? The answer can be found in Matthew 23:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets’” Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate (Matthew 23:29-38).

The harlot is not a 21st century entity, but was the first century old covenant community. As God’s people, those of us who are in Christ today have the privilege of being part of the pure woman, God’s bride.

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Maurice Perry: The Book of Revelation Is All About Covenant


One of my Facebook friends, Maurice Perry, has also been blogging for the last three months. Maurice believes that the book of Revelation is about the Biblical covenants, and the transition from the old covenant to the new covenant. I believe the same (see “Echoes of Mount Sinai in the Book of Revelation”).

His article on this subject, “The Book of Revelation Is All About Covenant,” makes some great points about the judgments in the book of Revelation being covenantal, and fulfilling Jesus’ words (e.g. Matthew 23:29-38) against the rulers of the old covenant age:

However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothingBut we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Corinthians 2:6-8).

Maurice also makes some great points about the main opposition to the church during the generation (roughly 30 AD – 70 AD) when the covenant periods were in transition. That opposition was the bondage of the old covenant and those who sought to impose it upon the new covenant community (Jesus’ followers). This particular opposing force was dealt a huge blow when the Jerusalem temple, the center of old covenant worship and ceremonies, was taken out of the way. I’ve highlighted some of these points in red, below. I’m still mulling over the topics of Satan and the lake of fire, which Maurice also brought up in this article. As always, your thoughts are welcome on these things:

Revelation is all about covenant. It’s a covenantal book. When you look at it that way, things become more simplistic. There were two covenants. One, old. One, new. One (the old) was preparing to vanish away, or be demolished (Hebrews 8:13), while the other (the new) was already in existence because men and women were pressing into it even during Jesus’ earthly ministry (Matt. 11:12, Luke 16:16)…

Revelation, a letter written to 7 churches to SIGNIFY to them things which would shortly come to pass (Rev. 1:1), is virtually entirely written in signs, symbols, metaphors and figurative language. If you read the book with a literal narrative, you will miss the entire meaning and focus.

The Focus?

The revealing of Jesus Christ as Messiah – judgment for the ones that had pierced him (Rev. 1:7) – salvation and deliverance for those 1st century saints that were being persecuted. Covenantally, it was judgment being released on those that killed the apostles and prophets (servants of God). This scenario is played out over, and over, and over and over again throughout Revelation using different imagery, symbols and idiomatic language each time the scenario is retold.

That being said, the majority of stuff in the letter cannot be taken literal. This includes hard things to be understood like “1000 years”, Satan being bound, and the Lake of Fire.

Long story short, Satan being bound for a “1000 years” is in reference to the time in which the gospel went forth relatively unhindered. This would be the gospel of the New Covenant. Remember, it’s all about covenant.

Satan was “loosed for a little while”, and this SIGNIFIED the time when the 1st century saints (who were preaching the gospel of the N.C.) were being persecuted, killed, imprisoned, etc – just as Jesus had previously told them (Matt. 24:9, Mark 13:9, Luke 21:12).

Satan’s main objective was to stop the spreading of the N.C by making the Hebrew Christians trip up and fall away and back into bondage, via the old covenant.

Luke 8:13
They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.

Hebrews 3:12
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.

It was Judaism, or the temple worship, and the pressure of the unbelieving Judaizers that caused many to fall away from the faith (in Jesus) and back into Judaism (bondage under the law). Thus, Jesus’ question-

Luke 18:8
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

So, what better way to put an end to [competition against] the New Covenant?

DESTROY the infrastructure of the Old Covenant. That would be the temple!

EVERYTHING in Jerusalem revolved around the temple – worship, politics, economics/commerce (thus, Jesus driving the money changers out!), etc…

When the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the entire economy and way of life for the Jews was destroyed, and when it was destroyed, the main oppressor, or competition [against] the New Covenant was destroyed also (the Old Covenant had then vanished away).

Satan (which means adversary), who opposed God EVERY step of the way, from Genesis to Revelation, could not stop the ultimate plan of redemption for the entire world – the gospel message of faith in Jesus Christ. His last ditch effort to stop the spread of the gospel was with the persecuting of the saints (Rev. 12 – “chasing after the woman”, then “chasing after the woman’s seed”) through the unbelieving Judaizers. He (Satan) failed miserably!

Him (Satan) being thrown into the Lake of Fire is symbolic of his eternal covenantal judgment, and also symbolizes that he can no longer hinder the progression of the gospel of the kingdom, world without end (Eph. 3:21)

New heavens and New earth is spiritual and covenantal. Lake of Fire is spiritual and covenantal. Those that accept Jesus and the New Covenant enter into New heavens and New earth (which 1st century saints began entering – Hebrews 12:22), and those that reject Jesus and the New Covenant enter into the Lake of Fire, which is the 2nd death, which is representative of being cut off from communion with the Father forever.

Satan, being in the Lake of Fire, cannot plead His case with God. Unbelievers who enter the Lake of Fire will not be able to plead their cases. It’s covenantal judgment.

Satan, and demons HAVE NOT been annihilated. They still roam around the world. Thus, the continued need for deliverance ministry and salvation. But they are forever outside of the kingdom, or City of God.

The gates of the city are continuously open for those that are made righteous in Christ, but closed to those that are unbelievers:

Revelation 22:14-15
14Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
15For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

We see in Rev. 21:8 that the same people of Rev. 22:15 are said to experience the 2nd death:

Revelation 21:8
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

So, being in the Lake of Fire, which is the 2nd death, is synonymous with being left outside of the gates of the city, which is a spiritual city, New Jerusalem, heavenly Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the city of God, the general assembly, the CHURCH of the first born! (Hebrews 12:22)

THE CHURCH IS NEW JERUSALEM!!! The kingdom is an everlasting kingdom… the church is an everlasting church!!!

Ephesians 3:21
Unto him be glory IN THE CHURCH by Christ Jesus THROUGHOUT ALL AGES, WORLD WITHOUT END. Amen.

Maurice Perry and his wife, Ericka, live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee with their three daughters. In February 2014, Maurice published his first book, “Restoring Sanity in the Western Church.

Revelation Chapter 17 (Part 1: Verses 1-6)


REVELATION 17

Adam Maarschalk: December 3, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 17

UPDATE: This post was written when I understood the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 to be the same as the sea beast of Revelation 13:1-10, the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 to be the first seven Roman emperors, and the 10 horns of Revelation 17:12-14 to be the rulers of Rome’s 10 Senatorial Provinces. I now understand the seven kings to Revelation 17:10 to be seven Zealot leaders belonging to the family dynasty of Hezekiah the Zealot, and the 10 horns to be 10 Jewish generals (named by Josephus) who were appointed around January AD 67 to oversee specific territories and to prepare for war with Rome. This post will be updated accordingly when time allows.

A. The Scarlet Woman and the Scarlet Beast (Rev. 17:1-6)

Verse 1: At this point, the seven bowl judgments have been poured out on Babylon the Great (Rev. 16:19) by seven angels. One of these angels now takes John to see her judgment. Babylon, whose identity we will soon discuss, is referred to as “the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.” Steve Gregg, in his book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” reminds us that the fall of Babylon was first announced in Rev. 14:8 (p. 400). He then adds,

Chapters 17-19 reveal the destruction of Babylon in greater detail, the precursor to the marriage of the Lamb to a new bride. Appropriately, the chaste bride is contrasted with the wicked city depicted as a great harlot (v. 1). In order to gain this insight, John is transported in vision into the wilderness (v. 3). David S. Clark points out that “sometimes he was carried away into heaven to see visions; but the thing he was about to see now had no affinity with heaven, and he could not see such a scene as this in heaven, so he was taken to a wilderness as a more appropriate place, and one more in congruity with what he was about to see.”

Verse 2: Babylon is indicted for its sexual immorality, by which “the dwellers on earth” and “the kings of the earth” were made guilty. In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case. Notice that the reference to “the kings of the earth” here is distinct from the reference to “the kings of the whole world” in Revelation 16:14, where that reference was to the provincial kings of the entire Roman Empire.

We have also noted a couple of times that at this point in John’s narrative, there is division in the preterist camp regarding who judgment is being poured out upon. Some say it’s the Roman Empire, and others say it’s Jerusalem (this is my view). Steve Gregg (pp. 402-406) summarizes J. Stuart Russell’s arguments on why Babylon is to be identified with Jerusalem, and not with Rome. He lists 13 such reasons[1], which are reproduced here:

#1: The fall of Rome [in 476 AD] does not fall within the things “which must shortly take place,” which is the stated subject matter of the Apocalypse (cf. 1:1). [The fall of Jerusalem does, as it occurred in 70 AD, in John’s own day];

#2: The Olivet Discourse, which Russell conceives as a shorter treatment of the same subject matter as Revelation, does not include a discussion of the fate of Rome (see Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21);

#3: As Revelation presents a series of contrasts—a Lamb vs. a dragon; the Father’s name vs. the beast’s name on people’s foreheads; the bride vs. the harlot—so also the Apocalypse contrasts two cities, Babylon and the New Jerusalem. The latter is the church. The earthly Jerusalem is clearly in view in earlier chapters. To bring Rome into the picture at this point would introduce a third city and destroy the symmetry of the book;

#4: As a symbolic name for Jerusalem, Babylon would be as fitting as Sodom and Egypt, which were applied to Jerusalem earlier (11:8);

#5: The phrase “that great city” was used of Jerusalem earlier (11:8), as it is used repeatedly in these chapters regarding Babylon;

#6: In chapter 14, the winepress was trodden “outside the city” (14:20), which almost all understand to refer to Jerusalem, yet the only “city” named earlier in that chapter is Babylon (14:8), hence, Babylon equals Jerusalem;

#7: The division of Babylon into “three parts” in 16:19 best fits Jerusalem… (cf. Ezek. 5:1-12). [By this, Steve Gregg is also referring to the historical fact of three warring factions in Jerusalem during the siege leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, which literally carved up the city into three parts. See previous post on chapter 16.];

#8: The appellation “the harlot” is an established label for Jerusalem from the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 1:21; 57:8; Jer. 2:2, 20); it could never be applied to Rome or any Gentile city, since they have never been in a covenant relationship with God. As Chilton writes: “The metaphor of harlotry is exclusively used in the Old Testament for a city or nation that has abandoned the Covenant and turned toward false gods; and with only two exceptions…[2] the term is always used for faithless Israel;

#9: Jerusalem sat upon seven hills as truly as did Rome [SEE FINAL NOTE at the end of this post];

#10: If “the kings of the earth” [verse 2] be understood to mean “the rulers of the land (Israel),” then Jerusalem, as appropriately as Rome, could be said to be “that great city” in 17:18 [more on this later];

#11: The expression “that great city which reigns over the rulers of the land” (v. 18) is fully equivalent to that which is said of Jerusalem in Lamentations 1:1—“Who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces”;

#12: The Jews of Jerusalem were idolatrous, as was Rome;

#13: No city other than Jerusalem could be charged with the blood of the prophets and saints and apostles (see 17:6; 18:20, 24).

Verse 3: John then sees a woman sitting on a scarlet (red) beast with seven heads and ten horns. We already discussed the identity of this beast at length in Revelation 13 (See Post #1 here and Post #5 here), seeing a compelling case for its identity as Nero in the specific sense and the Roman Empire in the general sense. The woman here in verse 3 is seen as a prostitute (verse 1), and the fact that she is sitting on the beast does not mean that she is one and the same with the beast. Rather it suggests a very close relationship between the woman and the beast, who are both distinct in their identity. In my term paper on the events of 70 AD, I wrote the following regarding the significance of the woman (Jerusalem, as representing Israel) riding the beast (Rome):

In what sense might Jerusalem have sat on the beast with seven heads (mountains), the beast that would ultimately turn on her and destroy her (Rev. 17:3, 9, 16-18)? Israel had enjoyed a good relationship with Rome until the Jewish revolt began in 66 AD, and Judaism was recognized as a valid religion within the Roman Empire. Josephus wrote of this relationship, “It seems to me to be necessary here to give an account of all the honors that the Romans and their emperors paid to our nation [Israel], and of the leagues of mutual assistance they have made with it” (Antiquities, 14.10.1-2). The Jews frequently took advantage of this relationship to induce persecution against Jesus and His followers (Luke 23:2; John 18:28-31, 19:15; Acts 4:27, 16:20, 17:7, 18:12, 21:11, 24:1-9, 25:1-2). W.H.C. Frend even writes that “the promptings of orthodox Jews in the capitol had something to do with” Nero’s decision to begin persecuting Christians in 64 AD (The Rise of Christianity [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984], 109; quoted in Kenneth Gentry, 2002, p. 63).

Kenneth Gentry suggests that the beast is seen as scarlet for any (or all) of the following reasons: [1] The robes worn by Roman emperors were red in color [2] Rome, led by Nero, was responsible for shedding much blood among God’s people [3] Nero was famous for his red beard. Regarding this last point, Gentry says, “It would seem most appropriate to expect the red color of the beast to also correspond to the person designated as the beast whose number is 666” (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 217). In other words, this is likely one more means by which John made known to his first-century readers exactly who the beast was (in the singular sense) without saying so explicitly.

Verses 4-5: The woman is seen to be wearing purple and scarlet, and gold, jewels, and pearls. She has in her hand a golden cup “full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.” Her forehead proclaimed that she was “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” In my term paper on the events of 70 AD, I noted some observations made by Todd Dennis, the founder of the Preterist Archive:

…the description of the harlot’s attire (purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls) was nearly identical to the ephod worn by the high priest (Revelation 17:4; cf. Exodus 28:5-21). The golden cup she held was likely symbolic of the temple vessels, the greatest part of which were gold and silver, according to the Jewish historian Josephus (Wars 5.4.4). On Aaron’s forehead was the inscription “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36). The harlot’s forehead, on the other hand, bore the title “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Rev. 17:5).

The attire of the harlot was also similar to what Josephus said was discovered “in the midst [of the inmost court], that most sacred part of the temple” when Jerusalem was captured by the Romans in 70 AD:

“The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls” (Revelation 17:4).

“But then this house, as it was divided into two parts, the inner part was lower than the appearance of the outer, and had golden doors of fifty-five cubits altitude, and sixteen in breadth; but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful” (Wars 5.5.4).

In Jeremiah’s day, Judah (with its capital of Jerusalem) was indicted because it had “played the whore with many lovers” and “polluted the land with…vile whoredom” (Jeremiah 3:1-2). Like Israel in John’s day, Judah prior to its fall in 586 BC had “the forehead of a whore” (verse 3).

Duncan McKenzie’s article has helped me to understand that “Babylon the Great” here was more than just a physical city in its identity. It was also a religious system full of abominations. That system, I believe, was Old Covenant temple-based Judaism. In the next chapter, we will see a command from God regarding Babylon, saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). We know from chapter 1 that John’s immediate audience did not live in Jerusalem (or Rome), but in Asia Minor. The believers in Jerusalem did flee, as we noted in chapter 7, but what did this message mean to believers already living outside of Jerusalem and Judea?

God’s message was about breaking completely free from Old Covenant temple-based Judaism. Babylon represented not only Jerusalem, but also the unfaithful community which had rejected Jesus in order to maintain corrupted Old Covenant practices. Both physical Jerusalem and temple-based Judaism were judged and destroyed in 70 AD. In Daniel 9:26-27 we see that it is on “the wing of abominations” that one comes “who makes desolate” (cf. Rev. 17:16, Matt. 23:38). This is in reference to the destruction of “the city and the sanctuary” (as related to Daniel’s own people and his holy city—Dan. 9:24). What are the abominations spoken of in both Daniel and Revelation? Regarding Daniel 9, John Calvin several centuries ago remarked:

I have no hesitation in referring this language of the angel to that profanation of the Temple which happened after the manifestation of Christ, when sacrifices ceased, and the shadows of the law were abolished. From the time, therefore, at which the sacrifice really ceased to be offered; this refers to the period at which Christ by his advent should abolish the shadows of the law, thus making all offering of sacrifices to God totally valueless… God’s wrath followed the profanation of the Temple. The Jews never anticipated the final cessation of their ceremonies, and always boasted in their peculiar external worship, and unless God had openly demonstrated it before their eyes, they would never have renounced their sacrifices and rites as mere shadowy representations. Hence Jerusalem and their Temple were exposed to the vengeance of the Gentiles.

As Russell pointed out earlier, John is being shown a contrasting picture of two women: the harlot of chapters 17 and 18, and the bride in chapter 19 clothed with “fine linen, bright and pure…the righteous deeds of the saints” (see verses 1-8). One (the harlot, representing Judaism) persecuted the other (the bride, Christ’s Church), as we will see again in the next verse. What is most fascinating is Paul’s own contrasting of two women in his epistle to the Galatians:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons,one by a slave woman andone by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, whilethe son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are twocovenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor. For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers,like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say?”Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave butof the free woman (Galatians 4:21-31, emphasis added).

Note how the following passages contrast each other:

A. Revelation 17:1: “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.’”

A. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”

B. Revelation 17:3: “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.”

B. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

On these matters, Duncan McKenzie concludes:

Revelation is talking about the same subject as Galatians; both books are contrasting two “cities” (physical Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem in Galatians, Babylon and the New or heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation) that are two “wives” (Hagar and Sarah in Galatians, the widowed harlot and the bride in Revelation).  These two women of Galatians and Revelation represent two communities, those of the old and new covenants…  In the book of Revelation, as in Galatians (4:29), one woman persecutes the other (i.e. the harlot persecutes the bride, Rev. 17:6).  Similarly in Revelation, as in Galatians, one of the two women is cast out (and destroyed—Rev. 18:21) while the other woman receives her inheritance (i.e. the Lord takes her as His bride).  This explains why the very next subject in Revelation after Babylon is destroyed is the wedding of the bride (Rev. 19:1-10).  God deposes of His unfaithful old covenant wife (who irrevocably broke her covenant of marriage with God and became a widow when she had Jesus killed) and then marries His faithful new covenant bride…

Just as the New Jerusalem is not a literal city but a community of people (the bride, the new covenant community) so Babylon was not a literal city but a community of people (the harlot, the unfaithful old covenant community)… While Babylon was centered in Jerusalem, its citizens were all those of unfaithful Israel that were rejecting Jesus for the temple system.

When the earthly Jerusalem fell, God’s true people were in possession of “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:18-28). Upon the removal of that which could be shaken (vs. 27; cf. Hebrews 9:8-10), there remained “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (vs. 28; cf. Daniel 7:21-22, Matthew 21:43).

Verse 6: The woman is said to be “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” This same charge was laid upon those of “the earth” (Rev. 16:1) in the previous chapter, where it was said that “they have shed the blood of saints and prophets (16:4-7).” In chapter 18 we will see that “in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24), and that the “saints and apostles and prophets” were told to rejoice over her destruction (18:20). Who was responsible for shedding all the blood of the prophets and the saints, according to Jesus, and who would receive judgment as a result? David Lowman, a Presbyterian pastor, aptly points out that the answer can be found in Matthew 23:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets’” Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate (Matthew 23:29-38, emphasis added).

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In Part 2 of our study on Revelation 17 we will see how the angel unveils to John the meaning of the prostitute (Babylon) and the beast…

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] Kenneth Gentry, in his book Before Jerusalem Fell, lists his own set of reasons (pp. 240-241): “Briefly, the evidence for the identifying of Jerusalem as the Harlot is based on the following: (1) Both are called ‘the great city’ (Rev. 14:8; 11:8). (2) The Harlot is filled with the blood of the saints (cp. Rev. 16:6; 17:6, 18:21, 24; with Matt. 23:34-38; Luke 13:33; Acts 7:51-52). Jerusalem had previously been called by pagan names quite compatible with the designation ‘Babylon’ (cp. Rev. 14:8 and 17:5 with 11:8). (4) Rome could not fornicate against God, for only Jerusalem was God’s wife (Rev. 17:2-5, cp. Isa. 1:20; Jer. 31:31). (5) There is an obvious contrast between the Harlot and the chaste bride (cp. Rev. 17:2-5 with Rev. 21:1ff.) that suggests a contrast with the Jerusalem below and the Jerusalem above (Rev. 21:2; cp. Gal. 4:24ff.; Heb. 12:18ff.). The fact that the Harlot is seated on the seven-headed Beast (obviously representative of Rome) indicates not identity with Rome, but alliance with Rome against Christianity (cp. Matt. 23:37ff.; John 19:6-16; Acts 17:7).” SEE ALSO QUESTION #9 HERE: http://www.forerunner.com/beast/beastfaq.html.

[2] Note from Steve Gregg: “The two exceptions are Tyre (Isaiah 23:15-17) and Nineveh (Nahum 3:4). It is notable that both of these pagan cities, Tyre (See I Kings 5:1-12; 9:13; Amos 1:9) and Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-10), had at one time been in covenant with God.”

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FINAL NOTE: Regarding J. Stuart Russell’s 13 arguments for identifying Babylon with Jerusalem, there was one that I wasn’t quite on board with earlier (i.e. I thought it shouldn’t belong to his list). That was #9, which stated, “Jerusalem sat upon seven hills as truly as did Rome.” Then today I came across this information at the site of Australian Pastor Andrew Corbett:

The City of Jerusalem as it existed in the time of Christ Jesus was widely reckoned to be the “City of Seven Hills.” This fact was well recognized in Jewish circles. In the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer, an eighth century midrashic narrative (section 10), the writer mentioned without commentary (showing that the understanding was well known and required no defense) that “Jerusalem is situated on seven hills” (recorded in The Book of Legends, edited by Bialik and Ravnitzky, p. 371, paragraph 111). And, so it was. Those “seven hills” are easy to identify. If one starts with the Mount of Olives just to the east of the main City of Jerusalem (but still reckoned to be located within the environs of Jerusalem), there are three summits to that Mount of Olives. The northern summit (hill) is called Scopus [Hill One], the middle summit (hill) was called Nob [Hill Two], the highest point of Olivet itself, and the southern summit (hill) was called in the Holy Scriptures the “Mount of Corruption” or “Mount of Offence” [Hill Three] (II Kings 23:13). On the middle ridge between the Kedron and the Tyropoeon Valleys there was (formerly) in the south “Mount Zion” [Hill Four] (the original “Mount Zion” and not the later southwest hill that was later called by that name), then the “Ophel Mount” [Hill Five] and then to the north of that the “Rock” around which “Fort Antonia” was built [Hill Six]. And finally, there was thesouthwest hill itself [Hill Seven] that finally became known in the time of Simon the Hasmonean as the new “Mount Zion.” This makes “Seven Hills” in all.

So, indeed, J. Stuart Russell was correct. Still, as we will see in the following post, there is another sense also in which the woman (apostate Israel) can be seen as seated on the seven mountains of Rome (if Rome is in view in Revelation 17:9).