Is the Papacy the harlot of Revelation?

Summary of this article

Another view is that the harlot Babylon symbolizes Roman Catholicism. This view may be justified as follows:

(1) The Papacy’s blasphemous claims, such as that the pope is the head of all churches, the judge of the living and the dead, the true vicar (substitute) of Christ, and the supreme teacher in the church.

(2) The harlot Babylon is “drunk with the blood of the saints” (Rev 17:6). The Papacy’s history was marked with the shedding of the blood of saints, for example, the slaughter of 20000 citizens of Beziers, France on July 22, 1209, nearly 1 million Waldensian Christians between 1540 – 1570 and tens, even hundreds of thousands of people during the Spanish Inquisition.

(3) The harlot “reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18). During the Middle Ages, “kings had to … be in communion with the Pope, as essential conditions of their reigning lawfully; if these conditions were broken, of which the Pope was the judge, then … he could … declare their ruler unfit to reign” [Cath Dic, 257].

(4) “The woman was … adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls” (Rev 17:4), indicating her wealth. The Catholic Church, similarly, has untold wealth. It is “one of the greatest fiscal powers in the world” [Nino Lo Bello, The Vatican Empire, p.8].

(5) According to Daniel 7, some power emanating from the Roman Empire will become the antichrist and will continue until the return of Christ. Historians inform us that the Roman Catholic Church descended from Rome and inherited its authority from the Roman Empire

However, the Babylon of Revelation has always existed and is worldwide. It is the mother of all harlots and abominations of the earth, including ancient paganism, Chinese Confucianism, Asian Buddhism, Indian Hinduism, Shamanism and all the world’s vast complex of “many gods and many lords” (1 Cor 8:5). Roman Catholicism is not “the mother of the harlots” (Rev 17:5).

We must also distinguish between the church of the Middle Ages and the Papacy. The identifications above describe the church of the Middle Ages. But that church no longer exists. It has broken up into many denominations (daughters?).

The church of the Middle Ages has been identified as the beast. In the end-time, when the image of the beast is formed (Rev 13:14), that spirit will be revived but we will be deceived if we expect the attack to come from the Papacy. We need to recognize that all people and denominations, to some extent, carry within them the Babylonian spirit. Given the right circumstances, cruel men will assume leadership positions in Protestant churches and transform the bride of Christ into the blood-thirsty persecutor of God’s people.

– END OF SUMMARY –


Another view held by some is that the harlot Babylon symbolizes Roman Catholicism. See, for example, Who is the Whore of Babylon in Revelation? This view may be justified as follows:

(1) The Papacy’s blasphemous claims

Firstly, the church claims for mortal man what belongs only to God:

Jesus said, “I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev 1:18), but the pope claims to be “the keeper of the keys” [Catholic Ency. II, p 666].

Christ “is the head of the body” (Col 1:18), but the pope claims to be head of all churches [Catholic Ency. II, p 666].  [Dogmatic Decrees of the Council of Trent, p.159,160; Also in Teachings of the Catholic Church, p. 143,144]

Christ Jesus … will judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim 4:1), but the pope claims to be the Judge of the Living and the Dead (Catholic Ency. II, p 666; XV. p 126).

Christ is the “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev 19:16), but the pope claims authority above all and to be subject to none (Pius VI Ency. 65; II, p 666); “primacy over the whole world;” “the fullest authority … not only the spiritual but also the material sword, and so to transfer sovereignties, break scepters and remove crowns [Catholic Dictionary, p 258].

Jesus promised, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17), but the pope claim to “hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty”. [Pope Leo XIII, Great Encyclical Letters, 304]. “The Roman Pontiff … is true Vicar of Christ.”  The word “vicar” comes from the Latin word “vicarious” which means substitute (Oxford Dictionary).

Jesus said, “do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers” (Matt 23:8), but the church claims that the Roman Pontiff is the supreme teacher in the church [Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, p. 193].

(2) Salvation through the church

Secondly, the Papacy claims that for every human creature it is necessary for salvation to be subject to the authority of the Roman Pontiff.” [Cath. Ency. XV, p 126; Dogmatic Decrees of the Council of Trent, p.159,160; Also in Teachings of the Catholic Church, p. 143,144]

(3) The Papacy changed the law of God.

The church changed the laws respecting the Lord’s supper, set up images, enacted celibacy of the clergy. In 1075 Gregory VII declared all clerical marriages invalid. This was the greatest mass divorce in history.

(4) The Papacy is drunk with blood.

I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints,
the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus

(Rev 17:6).

The Papacy’s long history was marked with the shedding of the blood of saints. To quote a few horrific incidents from a much longer list in The Secret History of the Roman Catholic Church:

“Under the guise of Christianity, the Papal Church committed more enormities than ever disgraced the annals of paganism” (Fox’s Book of Martyrs, Ch. IV).

Roman Catholic crusaders slaughter approximately 20,000 citizens of Beziers, France on July 22, 1209.

Roman Catholic armies butcher at least 900,000 Waldensian Christians of all ages during this 30-year period (1540 – 1570 Source: Halley’s Bible Handbook).

At the direction of the Roman Catholic inquisitors, authorities torture, burn and slaughter tens, even hundreds of thousands of people during the Spanish Inquisition (Jean Antoine Llorentine, History of the Inquisition; as cited in R.W. Thompson, The Papacy and the Civil Power (New York, 1876); as cited in Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast).

Roman Catholic armies butcher at least 900,000 Waldensian Christians of all ages during this 30-year period (1540 – 1570 – source: Halley’s Bible Handbook).

One might consider the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, Martyrdom of John Calas, John Wycliff, John Huss, Jerome of Prague, Tyndale, Luther, Persecutions in Germany, France, Scotland, England, Ireland, persecution of Quakers.

The historian W.E. H. Lecky wrote, “The Church of Rome has shed more innocent blood than any other institution that ever existed among mankind, will be questioned by no Protestant who has a complete knowledge of history.”

I note that attempts are made to dispute the numbers, but the fact remains that the church of the Middle Ages consistently used violence to silence her opponents. That reflects her true character, namely the very opposite of Christ:

Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44).

Babylon reigns over the kings.

The woman … reigns
over the kings
of the earth” (Rev 17:18).

During the long dark period of history known as the Middle Ages, the Papacy dealt with a high hand. She made and unmade kings:

Emperors and kings had to … be in communion with the Pope, as essential conditions of their reigning lawfully; if these conditions were broken, of which the Pope was the judge, then … he could … declare their ruler unfit to reign. [Cath Dic, 257]

Sixtus V (Cath. Ency. I729) excommunicated Protestant Henry of Navarre, and sent an army to unseat him. Sixtus promised the Spanish King a subsidy for the Armada, with which England was to be subjugated.

Let’s take a look at how Pope Gregory compels King Henry to freeze three days before he would receive him:

Striped of his royal robes, and clad as a penitent, Henry had to come barefooted mid ice and snow, and crave for admission to the presence of the pope. All day he remained at the door of the citadel, fasting and exposed to the inclemency of the wintry weather, but was refused admission. A second and third day he thus humiliated and disciplined himself, and finally, on 28 January, l077, he was received by the pontiff and absolved from censure, but on condition that he would appear at the proposed council and submit himself to its decision. Cath. Ency. VI, 794

All of this shows how arrogant the Catholic Church was during the dark ages and how she ruled over the kingdoms of Europe. For a further discussion, see The Little Horn of Daniel 7 grew into the Beast of Revelation.

Her doctrines are not Bible-based.

The doctrines of the Papacy are not based on the Bible, but on traditions. In Chiniquy’s book, Fifty Years in the Roman Catholic Church, he says that a young student priest was question­ing a superior about this doctrine of Rome and received the following reply:

“You have spoken as a true heretic…you speak of the Holy Scriptures just as a Protestant would, do you appeal to them as the only source of Christian truth and knowledge. Have you forgotten that we have the holy traditions to guide us, the authority of which is equal to the Scriptures?”

This nullifies Scripture on the basis of human tradition (Mark 7:13).  Such a position forbids people to carry out their responsibility to func­tion as Berean believers, “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

1 Timothy 4:1‑5 gives us one of the primary doctrines of end-time Babylon, namely celibacy among the priests. That doctrine has led to horrible atro­cities in the Roman Catholic Church.

The wealth of the church

The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet,
and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls
(Rev 17:4).

The Catholic Church has untold wealth. It is “one of the greatest fiscal powers in the world” [Nino Lo Bello, The Vatican Empire, p.8].

The Catholic Church makes most of its money through the doctrine of Purgatory. Many wealthy people over the centuries have bequeathed their estates to the Pope in order to be released from Purgatory sooner, and many over the centuries made large contributions to release their loved ones from Purgatory.

This wealth is reflected in the magnificent churches, golden altars, jeweled shrines, choice paintings, and exquisite sculptures that appeal to the love of beauty. The ear also is captivated. The music is unsurpassed. The rich notes of the deep-toned organ, blending with the melody of many voices as it swells through the lofty domes and pillared aisles of her grand cathedrals, cannot fail to impress the mind with awe and reverence.

This outward splendor and ceremony mock the longings of the sin-sick soul and are evidence of inward corruption. The religion of Christ needs not such attractions to recommend it. In the light shining from the cross, true Christianity appears so pure and lovely that no external decorations can enhance its true worth. It is the beauty of holiness, a meek and quiet spirit, which is of value with God.

The horn of Daniel 7

According to Daniel 7, some power emanating from the Roman Empire will become the antichrist and will continue until the return of Christ. Historicists inform us that the Roman Catholic Church descended from Rome and inherited its authority from the Roman Empire

A daughter of Babylon

The problem with taking Babylon to be Roman Catholicism is her relatively late appearance. The Babylon of Revelation has always existed and is worldwide. (See, General characteristics of Babylon.) The Catholic Church is neither. Have the kings of Asia and Africa committed fornication with the Papacy? The Italian pontiffs have ruled over a wide territory but there are many lands that have remained untouched by their religious influence.

Babylon the great long antedates the rise of the Papacy and has exerted a far wider influence. The Catholic Church may be the prime example of Babylon in our time, but Babylon itself is much bigger and older and is the mother of all harlots and abominations of the earth. From her have come ancient paganism, Chinese Confucianism, Asian Buddhism, Indian Hinduism, Shamanism, Taoism, Shintoism, animism, astrology, witchcraft, spiritism, Sikhism, New Age Movement, and all the world’s vast complex of “gods many, and lords many” (1 Cor 8:5).

Texe Marrs in his book Dark Secrets of the New Age lists nearly 30 rituals and beliefs found in ancient Babylon that are practiced today in the New Age Movement! Everything from reincarnation to occult meditation was commonplace 3,000 years ago.

Roman Catholicism is not “the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev 17:5), i.e., the mother, or fountainhead of all the systems of idolatry which have since flooded “the earth” from that one great source. Romanism is only a daughter.

Articles in this Series

Other articles series:

For further reading, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

Babylon the great strives to unite the world against God.

Summary

Babylon the great” is briefly mentioned in Revelation 14:8 and 16:19 but Revelation 17 and 18 explains her in much more detail. The purpose of the current article series is to identify her. This first article discusses some general characteristics. Subsequent articles will propose an identification and evaluate alternative theories of her identity.

Babylon unites the world against God.

Babylon is first found in Genesis where the people built a city and a tower, “otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4). But God scattered them by giving them different languages (Gen 11:7), causing great confusion. Therefore, the city was called Babel, which means confusion.

Later, Babel became Babylon, located in current Iraq. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel, destroyed Jerusalem, and exiled the nation to Babylon (Jer 29:1). Babylon was the main enemy of God’s people Israel in the Old Testament.

Babel was the first recorded attempt to unite the world against God. Nebuchadnezzar attempted to reverse God’s action and unite the people by exiling nations to Babylon. Babylon, therefore, symbolizes the attempt to unite the world against God. The world’s final attempt to unite against God will be when they gather the rulers and their armies at Armageddon (Rev 16:14, 16; 19:19) “for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14).

Babylon corrupts the people.

Babylon “sits on many waters” (Rev 17:1). The “many waters” are “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev 17:15). That she sits on the people means that she exerts a corrupting and intoxicating influence on them (Rev 17:2; cf. 14:8; 18:3, 23).

Babylon is not another mighty world ruler.

She symbolizes something substantially different from the world rulers because:

She is a woman and the kings are men (Rev 17:18).

Her relationship with these men is described as immoral (Rev 17:2). The implication is that the expectation is that her relationship with the rulers would not be immoral, while relationships between the kings of this world is expected to be immoral. 

Babylon is worldwide.

For example, she sits on the “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev 17:1, 15), “ALL the nations have drunk of the wine … of her immorality” (Rev 18:3; cf. 14:8), and she is guilty of ALL deaths of God’s people who died for their faith (Rev 18:24 cf. Rev 17:6).

Babylon always exists.

For example, she guilty of the deaths of all of God’s people who died for their faith (Rev 18:24; cf. 17:6; 19:2), she is the “mother of harlots … of the earth” (Rev 17:5), and she sits on all seven heads of the beast (Rev 17:9), representing seven empires or ages from the time of the ancient prophet Daniel to the return of Christ.

The kings will consume her with fire.

The beast on which she sits “will burn her up with fire” (Rev 17:16-17). The same world rulers with whom she committed “acts of immorality” will turn on her and “burn her up with fire” (Rev 17:16). Babylon, therefore, is not some amorphous entity such as the power of money but symbolizes something specific that can be destroyed.

– END OF SUMMARY –


Purpose of this article

In Revelation, the name “Babylon the great” appears for the first time in Revelation 14:8, where the second angel declares:

Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,
she who has made all the nations drink
of the wine of the passion of her immorality
.”

Because she was not mentioned earlier in the book, this is a surprise mention. The second time that she is mentioned is in the seventh and final plague:

Babylon the great was remembered before God,
to give her
the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19).

This is also a surprise because she has not been mentioned at all in the previous plagues.

While Babylon the great is barely visible in the background of the previous chapters, the entire purpose of Revelation 17 and 18 is to explain her. Revelation 17 begins with the promise: “I will show you the judgment of the great harlot” (Rev 17:1) and then we are told that the name of this harlot is “BABYLON THE GREAT” (Rev 17:5).

The purpose of the current article series is to identify her. This first article discusses her general characteristics. Subsequent articles will propose an identification and evaluate various alternative theories of her identity.

To some extent, this article series assumes that the reader has already read the series of articles on Revelation 17.

Alternative Interpretations

Babylon the great, symbolized as a harlot woman (Rev 17:1) sitting on a scarlet beast (Rev 17:3) is variously interpreted:

    • Many Dispensationalists believe that Babylon is a LITERAL CITY that will dominate the nations of the world in the end-time. 
    • Others propose that Babylon is THE WORLD with its allure and resistance to God. 
    • In academic circles, where Revelation, generally, is not understood to be a prophecy of the future, Babylon is seen as a code name for the ancient ROMAN EMPIRE. 
    • Others interpret Babylon as RELIGION, or APOSTATE CHRISTIANITY, or ROMAN CATHOLICISM.

Babel – City of Confusion

Where does the name Babylon come from? Babylon is first found in Genesis 10. When Moses traces the descendants of Ham, he wrote:

Nimrod … became a mighty one on the earth …
the beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech …
in the land of Shinar” (Gen 10:8-10).

Genesis 11:3-4 records the rebellion of the people of Shinar against God. God commanded them to populate the whole world. He said to them:

Be fruitful and multiply,
and fill the earth‘” (Gen 9:1).

But the rulers desired control over the people. They defied God’s command and said:

Come, let us build for ourselves a city,
and a tower whose top will reach into heaven …
otherwise we will be scattered abroad
over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4).

In the time of Nimrod, to scatter the people around the world, God gave them different languages so that they would not be able to communicate with one another (Gen 11:7). That caused great confusion. Therefore, the city was called Babel, which means confusion.

The ancient city of Babylon

Babel later became Babylon, located in current Iraq, about 50 miles south of Baghdad on the Euphrates River.

Babylon’s greatest glory was during the time of the Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar; 600 years before Christ. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel, destroyed their city Jerusalem and its temple, and exiled the nation to Babylon (Jer 29:1). After this point in history, there has not been a king from the line of David on the throne of David in Jerusalem.

Babylon was the main enemy of God’s people Israel in the Old Testament. It is mentioned 260 times in Scripture; second only to Jerusalem and always in opposition to Jerusalem.  

Babylon unites the world against God.

Babel was the first recorded attempt to unite the world against God but God dispersed the people. However, strong-willed people always desire to control other people. Consistent with this principle, Nebuchadnezzar attempted to reverse God’s action and to again gather the people by exiling nations, including Israel, to Babylon (Jer 29:1). Babylon, therefore, symbolizes an attempt to unite the world against God.

The world’s final attempt to reverse the dispersion at Babel and to unite against God will be when they gather the rulers and their armies at Armageddon (Rev 16:14, 16; 19:19) “for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14).

Babylon corrupts the people.

Revelation 17 begins by saying that Babylon “sits on many waters” (Rev 17:1). Later, the angel explains the “many waters” as “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev 17:15). That means that Babylon is distinct from the peoples of the world.

Revelation 17:2 explains “sits on” as that “those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality” (Rev 17:2; cf. 14:8; 18:3, 23). In other words, she exerts a corrupting and intoxicating influence on the people of the world. She teaches them corrupting delusions. They are drunk, meaning unable to distinguish right from wrong.

Babylon is not another mighty world ruler.

Babylon the great makes the people “drunk with the wine of her immorality.” This is a one-way relationship: The people receive something from her but she receives nothing from them.

Compare this to her relationship with the kings:

John saw that she sits “on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns” (Rev 17:3). The angel explains this image as that “the woman … reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18). Consequently, the scarlet beast represents “the kings of the earth” (cf. Rev 17:9-10, 12) and Babylon reigns over them.

She commits “acts of immorality” with the world rulers (Rev 17:2), which implies a two-way relationship: She receives something from the kings and the kings receive something from her. This is like a partnership and is consistent with her description as a harlot (Rev 17:1)

Babylon is not just not another powerful world ruler. As indicated by the following, she symbolizes something substantially different from the world rulers

She reigns over the world rulers.

She is presented as a woman and the kings of the world as men (Rev 17:18).

Her relationship with these men is said to be immoral. Because the relationships between worldly kings are expected to be immoral, the implication is that the expectation is that her relationship with the rulers would not be immoral.

Babylon is worldwide.

The following indicates that Babylon’s corrupting influence is worldwide:

(1) Revelation uses four-fold phrases, similar to the “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev 17:15), several times (e.g. Rev 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6). These phrases consist of four words that essentially have the same meaning to signify that something is worldwide. This is based on the principle that, in Revelation, the number four symbolizes the whole world (e.g. Rev 7:1). In other words, Babylon’s corrupting influence and immoral acts are worldwide.

(2) ALL the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality” (Rev 18:3; cf. 14:8).

(3) The kings of the earth have committed fornication” with her (Rev 17:2). None seems excluded.

(4) She is guilty of ALL deaths of God’s people who died for their faith (Rev 18:24 cf. Rev 17:6).

Babylon always exists.

There are a number of indications that Babylon always exists:

She guilty of the deaths of all of God’s people who died for their faith; from Abel onwards: “In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24; cf. 17:6; 19:2).

She is the “mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev 17:5). As such, she has daughters who also are harlots. Babylon, therefore, is the source of all the evil in the world today, which she passed on to her daughters. 

Babylon sits on the beast (Rev 17:3) but she also sits on all seven heads of the beast, which are seven consecutive “kings” (Rev 17:9-10). That means that Babylon exists during all seven heads. The article on the seven heads identifies them as seven empires or ages from the time of the prophet Daniel in the 6th century BC to the return of Christ. If Babylon exists from the time of ancient Babylon to the end of the world, she cannot be limited to the Roman Church or even to the Christian church in general.

Destroyed by kings

In the seventh plague, Babylon the great receives “the cup of the wine of His (God’s) fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19). Revelation 17 explains HOW God will pour out His wrath on the harlot:

The ten horns … and the beast,
these will hate the harlot and …
and will burn her up with fire.
For God has put it in their hearts
to execute His purpose
” (Rev 17:16-17).

In other words, God destroys Babylon during the seventh plague through the beast. The same world rulers with whom she committed “acts of immorality” will turn on her and “burn her up with fire” (Rev 17:16).

This implies that Babylon is something specific that can be destroyed. Some, for example, have proposed that Babylon symbolizes an amorphous entity such as the power of money or the world, but it is difficult to see how the people of the world could destroy such amorphous entities.

Final Conclusions

Babylon:

      • Symbolizes the attempt to unite the world against God.
      • Has a corrupting and intoxicating influence on the people of the world.
      • Is not another mighty world ruler.
      • Is worldwide.
      • Is not some amorphous entity such as the power of money but symbolizes something specific that can be destroyed.
      • Always exists.

Articles in this Series

Other articles series: