Babylon Exposed

Babylon is unveiled as a bejeweled and seductive harlot dripping with the shed blood of martyred saintsIn Chapter 17, the Book of Revelation presents an impressive female figure, “Babylon.” She is called the “Whore” and the “Great City,” and she is linked to the violent deaths of the “witnesses” of Jesus and the efforts of the “Dragon” to destroy the “saints” who have the “Testimony of Jesus.” The Book’s first audience would have identified this figure with the Roman Empire.

This vision in Chapter 17 marks the start of the third major division of the Book since John once more finds himself transported “in the Spirit” to another vantage point where he receives this next vision. The true nature of Babylon as a seductress and persecutor of the followers of Jesus is only made clear by the intervention of the interpreting angel, otherwise, she would remain an attractive figure to saints and sinners alike.

Federal Reserve - Photo by Etienne Martin on Unsplash
[Photo by Etienne Martin on Unsplash]

This vision is connected to the “
Seven Bowls of Wrath” by literary links. For example, the angel who explains the image of “Babylon” to John is one of the seven angels “who had the Seven Bowls of Wrath.”

Babylon’s punishment, which is detailed in Chapter 18, elaborates on the judgment unveiled with the outpouring of the “Seventh Bowl of Wrath” – (Revelation 16:17-21).

At the end of the “Seventh Bowl,” the judgments of God were declared “finished.” This means the events described in Chapters 17-21 do not follow the “Seven 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.”

This vision presents the outworking of the “Seven Last Plagues” - the “Seven Bowls of Wrath” - against the men who took the “Mark of the Beast,” the kingdom of the “Beast from the Abyss/Sea,” and the “Great City, Babylon.”


The woman “sits upon many waters.” The “waters” are identified as “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues,” that is, the mass of fallen humanity from which the “Beast” ascended represented previously as the “Sea.” 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 woman’s description 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” already at work within the “Seven Assemblies of Asia.” She caused at least some believers in the Assembly to commit idolatry by compromising with the demands of the surrounding pagan society - (Revelation 2:20, 14:6-8).

Babylon was “sitting on a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” This connects the woman to the “Beast from the Sea” who had “ten horns and seven heads, and upon his heads names of blasphemy,” and to the “Great Red Dragon” who also had “seven heads and ten horns.

That the woman “sits on the Beast” indicates her sway over the Empire. She is closely allied with the “Beast from the Sea” and the “Dragon” against their common enemy, the “Lamb” and his “saints” - (Revelation 12:3, 13:1).


The English term “blasphemy” or blasphémia in the Greek text more accurately denotes “slander.” Previously, the Jews from the “Synagogue of Satan” had engaged in “slander” by leveling false charges against the Assembly at Smyrna. Likewise, the mouth that was given to the “Beast from the sea” hurled “slander” against “those who tabernacled in heaven” - (Revelation 2:9, 13:5).

The “blasphemy” of the woman refers to her slanderous charges made against the “saints”; most likely, a reference to legal charges made against believers from the congregations of Asia 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 now begins contrasting the “Great Whore” with the “Bride of Christ” described in Chapter 21. Unlike the bejeweled “Whore,” 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 “Holy City, New Jerusalem,” which is made of pure gold and with walls adorned with “precious stones.” In the city, no “unclean or abominable thing” may enter. But “Babylon” is “full of abominations and the unclean things of her fornication.”

The woman is “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” In the Greek sentence, “mystery” is in apposition to the word rendered “name.” It is not part of the “name” that is 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 interpreting angel now unveils what this “mystery” is.

On her forehead, a name was written.” The “Great Whore” is being contrasted with the “saints” who have the “name of his Father written on their foreheads.” They are the “servants of God” and they follow the “Lamb wherever he goes.” But “Babylon” is the servant of the “Dragon.” On some level, she also is a counterfeit to the true church, just as “Jezebel” was actively seducing the congregation in Thyatira.

She is “Babylon the Great.” In the seventh “Bowl of Wrath,” this woman 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 labeled the “Great City” - (Revelation 11:8, 14:8, 16:19).

She holds “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” full of “abominations” connects her to the efforts of the “Dragon” to deceive the nations - (Revelation 2:21, 9:21).


She is the “Great City” that is 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, for the crucifixion of Jesus - (“Where their Lord was crucified”).

She is stained with the “blood of the saints.” In Chapter 13, the “Beast from the Sea” was authorized to wage war against the “saints and to overcome them,” and the “saints” were identified as “they who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” The first four “Bowls of Wrath” were poured out on the men who had the Beast’s “Mark” since “they had shed the blood of saints and prophets.”

Thus, Babylon 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 took in their deaths, going all the way back to the death of the first “Faithful Witness,” namely, Jesus Christ - (Revelation 13:7-10, 14:12, 16:6).

John found himself “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.” The Great City, “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, the “Great Whore” was not repulsive” but attractive, and even momentarily so to John. There were 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 destroy the saints, the Assembly of God. The “Inhabitants of the Earth” are in wonder of her already, and she rides the “Beast from the Sea” to whom they “pay homage.” She is the ally and vassal of the “Great Red Dragon,” and thus she is assigned to shed the “blood of the saints.” If she cannot seduce the saints, she will slay them on behalf of the Devil.