Babylon Revealed

Babylon is unveiled, a bejeweled and seductive harlot dripping with the shed blood of martyred saints – Revelation 17:1-6. Next, Revelation presents an impressive female figure, “Babylon.” She is called the “harlot” and the “great city,” and linked to the violent deaths of the “witnesses” of Jesus, and to the efforts of the “Dragon” against the “saints” who have the “testimony of Jesus.”

This vision is the start of the third major division of the book, as once more, John finds himself transported “in the spirit” to another vantage point to see the next vision.

NY Stock Exchange - Photo by tommao wang on Unsplash
[Photo by tommao wang on Unsplash]

This next section is connected to the “seven bowls of wrath” by literary links. For example, the angel who explains the image of “Babylon” is one of the seven angels “who had the seven bowls of wrath.”
Her punishment, which is detailed in chapter 18, elaborates on the judgment unveiled in the “seventh bowl of wrath.”

At the end of the “seventh bowl,” the judgments of God were declared “finished.” That means the events described in chapters 17-21 do not follow the “bowls of wrath” chronologically.
  • (Revelation 17:1-3) – “And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came, and spoke with me, Hither, I will point out to you the judgment of the great harlot, who sits upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication. And he carried me away into the wilderness in spirit. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.”
The literary unit that begins here presents the outworking of the “seven last plagues,” the “seven bowls of wrath,” against the men who had the “mark of the beast,” the kingdom of the “beast,” and the “great city, Babylon.”

Who sits upon many waters.” The “waters” are identified a few verses later as “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues,” the mass of fallen humanity from which the “beast” ascended, and represented previously as the “Abyss,” the “sea,” and the “earth.” Her position as seated pictures her influence over the nations. The description echoes a judicial pronouncement against Ancient Babylon:
  • (Jeremiah 51:7-13) – “Babylon has been a golden cup in Yahweh's hand, that made all the earth drunk. the nations have drunk of her wine; therefore, the nations are mad. Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed: wail for her; take balm for her pain, if so be she may be healed… Yahweh has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes; because his purpose is against Babylon, to destroy it: for it is the vengeance of Yahweh… O thou that dwellest upon many waters, abundant in treasures, thine end is come, and the measure of thy covetousness.”
And the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” This same judgment was pronounced previously in chapter 14. Here, it is actualized. The description also echoes that of the “prophetess, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and seduces my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” The allusion is deliberate. In Thyatira, “Jezebel” represented the seductive activity of “Babylon” active already within the “seven churches,” having caused some believers to commit idolatry - (Revelation 2:20, 14:6-8).

She was sitting on a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” This sentence connects “Babylon” to the “beast from the sea” that had “ten horns and seven heads, and upon his heads names of blasphemy,” and to the “Great Red Dragon,” which also had “seven heads and ten horns.That she “sits on the beast” indicates her sway over it. She is closely allied with the “beast” and with the “Dragon” against their common enemy, the “Lamb” and his “saints” - (Revelation 12:3, 13:1).

Here, “blasphemy” or blasphémia more accurately denotes “slander.” Previously, the Jews from the “synagogue of Satan” engaged in “slander” by leveling false charges against the church at Smyrna. Likewise, the mouth given to the “beast from the sea” hurled “slander” against “those who tabernacle in heaven” - (Revelation 2:9, 13:5).

The “blasphemy” of the Harlot refers to her slanderous charges made against the “saints”; most likely, a reference to legal charges made against Christians before civil magistrates.
  • (Revelation 17:3-6) – “And the woman was arrayed with purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stone and pearls, having a cup of gold in her hand, full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; and upon her forehead a name written, a mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth. And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. And I was astonished when I beheld her, with great astonishment.”

Revelation is beginning to contrast the “Harlot” with the “Bride of Christ,” described later in chapter 21. Unlike the bejeweled “Harlot,” the “wife of the Lamb” is adorned with the glory of God, and “her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” The “bride of the Lamb” is also identified as the “city,” New Jerusalem, which is made of pure gold with walls adorned with “precious stones,” and in which no “unclean or abominable thing” may enter. But “Babylon” is “full of abominations and the unclean things of her fornication.”

Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” In the Greek sentence, “mystery” is in apposition to “name.” It is not part of the “name” inscribed on her forehead. The clause more accurately reads, “a name, a mystery, Babylon the Great.” The Greek term for “mystery” refers to something that is hidden or secret. The angel now unveils this “mystery.”

On her forehead a name written.” Now, the “harlot” is contrasted with the “saints,” those who have the “name of his Father written on their foreheads. They are the “servants of God” and follow Jesus. But the “Babylon” is the servant of the “Dragon.” On some level, she also is a counterfeit to the true church, just as “Jezebel” was active seducing the congregation in Thyatira.

Babylon the Great.” In the seventh “bowl of wrath,” she was also called Babylon the Great,” the one to whom God gave “the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.” Elsewhere, she is called the “great city.” For example, in chapter 14, the angel declared, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city” - (Revelation 11:8, 14:8, 16:19).

Having a cup of gold full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication.” In the book, fornication” refers metaphorically to the sins of idolatry and compromise. Her “golden cup” filled with “abominations” connects her to the efforts of the “Dragon” to deceive the nations - (Revelation 2:21, 9:21).

She is the “great city” responsible for the “blood of martyrs” (martur). Likewise, in the vision of the “two witnesses (martur), the “great city” was responsible for their deaths, and previously, that of Jesus - (“Where their Lord was crucified”).

The blood of saints.” The “beast from the sea” was authorized to wage war against the “saints and to overcome them,” and the “saints” were identified as “they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” And the first four “bowls of wrath were poured out on the men who had the “mark,” because “they had shed the blood of saints and prophets.” The “Harlot” is linked inextricably to the violent deaths of the “saints” on account of their testimony. That she is “drunk” with their blood indicates the great pleasure she takes in their deaths, going all the way back to the death of the first “faithful witness,” Jesus Christ - (Revelation 13:7-10, 14:12, 16:6).

I was astonished with great astonishment.” There is a wordplay between the verb “astonished” (thaumazo) and the noun “astonishment” (thauma). The same verb was used earlier when “the whole earth wondered after the beast from the sea.” “Babylon” has the same effect on humanity, and even on some believers - (Revelation 13:3, 17:8).

John found her appearance “astonishing.” Her outward beauty and grandeur were so impressive that he was taken aback. Outwardly, at least, the “Great Harlot” was not repulsive,” but instead, attractive, even momentarily so to John. There are reasons why she was so successful at deceiving humanity in general, and some, at least, of the “saints.”

The goal of “Babylon the Great” is to deceive and to destroy the saints. The “inhabitants of the earth” are in wonder of her already. And she rides the “beast” to whom they “render homage.” And she is the ally and the vassal of the “Dragon.”  The “Great Harlot” is out for the “blood of the saints.” If she cannot seduce the saints, she will slay them on behalf of the “Dragon.”

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