Revelation 17:4-6 – Babylon the great, the mother of harlots

REVELATION 17:4

The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet,
and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls,
having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations
and of the unclean things of her immorality,

In verse three, John saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast. That verse gave some details of the beast. Revelation 17:4-6 continues the vision but describes the woman.

The woman was clothed – In Revelation, clothes symbolize the character of the person. For example:

God’s people have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). 

The bride is clothed “in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:8).

… in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls – In the ancient world, scarlet clothing was difficult to manufacture and very expensive. It was only be worn by the rich. In the Scriptures, purple and scarlet are symbols of status, wealth and royalty (e.g., Judg 8:26; Matt 27:28-29).

The “gold, precious stones and pearls” also indicate her worldly wealth. The Son of Man had “nowhere to lay His head” (Matt 8:20), but Babylon, in the view of sinful man, seems beautiful. 

… having in her hand a gold cup – In Revelation, a cup and wine symbolize that harm will be done to somebody. For example:

God will give Babylon “the CUP of the wine of His fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19; cf. 14:10).

God’s people will “pay her back … In the CUP which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her” (Rev 18:6).

.. full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality – This refers back to verse 2 “The wine of her immorality” is interpreted as her blasphemous doctrines.

The word translated as “abominations” is translated as “detestable” in the following statement which accurately describes the harlot:

That which is highly esteemed among men is
detestable in the sight of God
” (Luke 16:15).

REVELATION 17:5

and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery,
“BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”

and on her forehead a name was written – The mark of the beast and the seal of God are also names on foreheads. The 144000 have God’s name on their foreheads (Rev 7:3; 14:1; cf. 22:4) while the beast’s followers have his name on their foreheads (Rev 13:16-17). Names on foreheads, therefore, represent character. Babylon claims to sit as queen (Rev 18:7) but the name on her forehead reveals her true character.

… a mystery – Some English translations print the word ‘mystery’ in capital letters, implying that it is part of the woman’s name. But in the NASB, quoted above, the word “mystery” is not part of Babylon’s name. That means that her actual identity is a great “mystery.” In other words, her name is symbolic and requires interpretation. This is also what the term “mystery” means elsewhere in Revelation (Rev 1:20 and 17:7).

… “BABYLON THE GREAT – This woman is the enemy of God’s people; she is “drunk with the blood of the saints” (Rev 17:6). Babylon, therefore, is a fitting name for her because ancient Babylon was the powerful enemy of the people of God in the Old Testament (Isa 13:19; 14:3-6; Jer 50:15, 29, 31-32, 38; 51:5, 13; Dan 4:29-30).

… THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” A separate section below gives ten reasons for identifying Babylon as false Christianity. For example, Revelation symbolizes both the people of God and Babylon as both a woman and as a city, implying that both claim to be God’s people. However, in the Bible, harlotry is a symbol for unfaithfulness to God, indicating that the harlot symbolizes God’s unfaithful people.

REVELATION 17:6

And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints,
and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.
When I saw her, I wondered greatly.

… And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. – Blood is a symbol for death. For example, the innumerable multitude wash their clothes in the Lamb’s blood (7:14), symbolizing Christ’s death.

Babylon is drunk with the blood of God’s people: “In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints” (Rev 18:24). In the plagues, which are God’s revenge for the deaths of His people (Rev 19:2), God gives people blood to drink because they have “poured out the blood of saints” (Rev 16:6). Therefore, becoming drunk from drinking the blood of the saints means that Babylon has persecuted and killed them (cf. Ezek 39:18-19). 

Babylon does not kill God’s people directly; she kills them through the beast. She sits on the beast (Rev 17:3), and the beast overcomes the saints (Rev 13:7) and the beast’s image kills those who refuse to worship (obey) the beast (Rev 13:15). False religion controls the political rulers to force people to accept her doctrines and decrees. In the process, over the centuries, Judaism and the church have caused the deaths of millions of God’s people. Israel even killed the Son of the God.

The martyrdom of God’s people is a main theme in Revelation. Antipas was a faithful martyr (Rev 2:13). John saw “the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held” (Rev 6:9). The people who “came to life” when Christ returns (Rev 20:4) were all martyred. In Revelation’s apocalyptic language, “those who dwell on the earth” (Rev 17:1) are all murderers and all of God’s people are murdered.

The current verse describes God’s people with two phrases (“the saints, and … the witnesses of Jesus” – Rev 17:6) because the number 2 is associated with God’s people. (See the discussion of the number 2 in a separate section below.) 

When I saw her, I wondered greatlyJohn “was completely amazed” (GNB). John’s amazement does not necessarily mean that he understood the prophecy. His amazement is part of the vision. It tells us that we should be amazed. It tells us something about the harlot.

It is hard to understand this amazement if the harlot riding the beast only represented the persecuting Roman Emperors, as some suggest, or the hostile leaders in Jerusalem. Nor would a literal Babylon justify this amazement. However, if the apostolic church of Christ, which has grown into the powerful, dignified, educated and civilized church, is really the intolerant and bloodthirsty enemy of God’s people, that would be truly dumbfounding.

The purpose of the book of Revelation is to reveal that which only God is really able to see (Rev 1:1). It reveals the true nature of the church. It shows that Satan uses the church to destroy God’s true followers. The church “has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit” (Rev 18:2).

THE NUMBER TWO

In Revelation, the number 4 symbolizes the entire world. For that reason, Revelation describes the people of the world using four words where one would have been sufficient, for example, “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Rev 17:15; cf. 10:11; 14:6). 

Similarly, the current verse describes God’s people with two phrases (“the saints, and … the witnesses of Jesus” – Rev 17:6) because the number 2 is associated with God’s people. Consequently, Revelation uses two concepts to describe them and their things. For example:

      • The word of God and …
        the testimony of Jesus Christ
        ” (Rev 1:2);
      • Fellow servants and … brethren” (Rev 6:11);
      • Prophets and … saints” (Rev 18:14; cf. 11:18; 16:6);
      • Commandments of God and …
        the testimony of Jesus
        ” (Rev 12:17; cf. 14:12);
      • The prophets and …
        those who heed the words of this book
        ” (Rev 22:9);
      • Their witness to Jesus and …
        the word of God
        ” (Rev 20:4).

Similarly, God has two witnesses (Rev 11:3). They are “the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (Rev 11:4).

Therefore, when it says that the beast from the earth “had two horns like a lamb” (Rev 13:11), both the number two and the word “lamb” are indications that this beast appears Christ-like.

BABYLON SYMBOLIZES FALSE CHRISTIANITY

For the following reasons, Babylon is a symbol for false Christianity:

(1) Both God’s people and Babylon are both a woman and as a city.

While Revelation describes God’s people as the bride of Christ and as the New Jerusalem (Rev 12:1; 19:7-8; 21:9-11), it explains Babylon as “the woman” and “the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18). This implies that they are similar and that both claim to be God’s people.

(2) Harlotry symbolizes unfaithfulness to God.

In the Old Testament, harlotry is a symbol for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, implying that Babylon symbolizes God’s unfaithful people. For example:

Ezekiel 16 represents Jerusalem as a woman chosen and favored by God (Ezek 16:6-14), who abandoned her faithfulness to God and descended into adultery and prostitution (Ezek 16:15-19).

Isaiah wrote, “See how the faithful city has become a harlot” (Isa 1:21-23). For other examples, see Ezek 16:33-34; 23:37; Jer 2:20-22; 3:1-8; and Hosea 2:1-5; 4:7-15).

Jerusalem, representing Israel, had a harlot’s forehead because she “refused to be ashamed” (Jer 3:3). In contrast, in Revelation, Jerusalem is always pure and Babylon is the one with the harlot’s forehead.

(3) Babylon is dressed as a high priest.

In Revelation, Babylon is dressed in the clothes of the high priest of ancient Israel. For example, the Ephod contained purple, scarlet, and gold (Exo 28:5-6), and both the ephod and breastplate contained precious stones (Exo 28:9-13 and 17-21). And Babylon’s forehead inscription resembles the title HOLY TO THE LORD on the High Priest’s miter (Exo 28:36-38).

But there is a difference. The colors of the robes of Old Testament high priests were made “of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material” (Exo 28:6). The blue was to remind the people of the Commandments of the Lord (Num 15:38-39). The harlot’s adornment lacks the color blue, which implies that she symbolizes the high priest but she no longer complies with God’s commandments.

(4) Babylon suffers the penalty reserved for the daughter of a priest.

Babylon will suffer the penalty reserved for the daughter of a priest who is guilty of fornification, namely, to be burned with fire. She will be burned with fire (Rev 17:16). In the law of Moses, the penalty for fornication was stoning (Deut 22:20-27). But there was one exception to this rule. If the woman involved was the daughter of a priest, she was not to be stoned, but “she shall be burned with fire” (Lev 21:9). Babylon is treated as the daughter of a priest would be treated in similar circumstances.

(5) The beast is a symbol for the church.

As concluded in the previous article, Babylon is the power behind the beast of Revelation 13 and a previous article concluded that:

The beast is the 11th horn of Daniel 7 which blasphemes God, persecutes His people and will “intend to make alterations in times and in law” (Dan 7:25). This identifies it as false religion.

The beast is the church of the Middle Ages.

(6) The false prophet has two horns like a lamb.

God has “two witnesses” (Rev 11:3). Revelation 11:7-11 describes their defeats and victories at the end of the world’s history (cf. Rev 11:15). The opposite of the two witnesses is “the false prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20). This false prophet is symbolized as a “beast coming up out of the earth.” (To see this, compare Rev 13:12 and 19:20). This beast convinces the world to create an image of the beast (Rev 13:14) and has two horns like a lamb (Rev 13:11). The number two, in Revelation, symbolizes God’s people and the lamb is a symbol for Christ (e.g., Rev 14:10).

(7) Babylon kills God’s people.

Babylon is guilty of the deaths of all of God’s martyrs (Rev 18:24) and only the church is able to selectively identify and persecute God’s true people.

The church is able to identify God’s true people because they oppose the church’s blasphemous practices and doctrines. In history, God’s true people were never selectively persecuted by people outside the church.

(8) God’s enemy is inside the church.

In the seven letters (Rev 2-3), the powers that oppose God’s true people are inside the Church. 

(9) The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet deceive people by means of signs and wonders (Rev 13:13; 16:13. This is what the end-time false prophets will do (Matt 24:24; 2 Thess 2:9).

(10) The main word in Revelation 13 and 14 is “worship” (13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:7, 9, 11). This final conflict may, therefore, be described as a war over worship, and therefore, a religious war.

BABYLON ALWAYS EXISTED.

That Babylon has a Christian face is one of the most startling messages of Revelation. However, there are a number of indications that Babylon always existed:

She is guilty of the deaths of ALL OF GOD’S PEOPLE who have been killed for their faith: “In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24).

Since she is the “mother of harlots” (Rev 17:5), she is the source of spiritual harlotry.

She sits on all seven heads (Rev 17:9) and the heads include the ancient empires of Babylon, Mede-Persia, Greece and Rome.

The vision of Babylon sitting on the beast, therefore, is a timeless description of how religion has always dominated the civil authorities so that she could force people to accept her doctrines. But in the Christian era, the church took over the role of Babylon because only the church is able to identify and selectively persecute the true people of God. Political authorities are not able to do that. The true people of God are identified by their persistent testimony against the blasphemous doctrines and decrees of the church (Rev 17:6; 12:11):

The beast from the sea, symbolizing the church of the Middle Ages, is one instance of Babylon with a Christian face.

The beast from the earth looks like Christ (Rev 13:15, 11) and symbolizes the end-time church, but speaks like Satan (Rev 13:11; 12:9), and, therefore, is described as the false prophet (Rev 19:20) is another such instance.

TOWER OF BABEL

The apostasy from the true faith goes back to the Tower of Babel where the descendants of Noah were scattered and given different languages (Gen 11:1-9). Just as ancient Babel (the Hebrew name for Babylon) was the place of great opposition to God after the Flood, Babylon is the mother of harlots and the source of everything that opposes God from the time of the tower of Babel to the end of history. Present-day false religions, including false Christianity, are her children (Rev 17:5), for example:

There were two women,
The daughters of one mother.
They committed harlotry in Egypt, …
As for their names, Samaria … and Jerusalem
” (Ezek 23:2-4).

BABYLON IS BOTH AN OPPRESSOR AND A HARLOT.

In the Old Testament, Babylon represents oppression. The Old Testament does not refer to Babylon as a prostitute. But Revelation 17 describes the enemy of God’s people both as a harlot, symbolizing apostasy from the true faith, and as Babylon, symbolizing oppression. 

TRANSVERSAL PRINCIPLES

Babylon symbolizes the enemy of God’s people.

Babylon is a symbol of the Christian church.

The vision of Babylon sitting on the beast symbolizes how false religion has always dominated the civil authorities so that she could force people to accept her doctrines. But in the Christian era, the church took over the role of Babylon.

In Revelation, the number 2 is associated with God’s people.

 

End-time Babylon is false Christianity.

This is an article in the series on the identity of “Babylon the Great” (Revelation 17:5). The current article shows that Babylon symbolizes the false Christianity:

SUMMARY

This conclusion is based on the following:

COUNTERFEIT BRIDE

Revelation presents both the bride of Christ (a symbol for God’s people) and Babylon as women but also as cities and both are shown to John by one of the plague angels (Rev 17:1, 3, 18; 19:7-8; 21:9-11). But, while the Lamb’s bride is clothed with “the righteous acts of the saints,” Babylon is “the great harlot” and the mother of “abominations” (Rev 17:1, 5; 19:7-8). The similarities imply that Babylon claims to be the bride of Christ but the differences show that Babylon is the very antithesis of the bride; the counterfeit bride of Christ.

THE HARLOT

This conclusion is supported by the fact that the Old Testament describes the Old Testament people of God, who have become unfaithful to Him, as a harlot (e.g., Exo 34:15; Jer 3:6, 9, 20; Ezek 16:6-19; Isa 1:21-23; Hosea 1:2). Since Revelation focuses on the New Testament people of God, the harlot in Revelation is false Christianity.

THE BEAST FROM THE SEA

A previous article identified the sea beast as the church of the Middle Ages. Since still another article concluded that the beast from the sea (Rev 13:1) is one instance of the timeless principle symbolized by the harlot (Rev 17:3), the church of the Middle Ages was one example of the harlot.

THE BEAST FROM THE EARTH

In Revelation 13, the image of the beast forces people to accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-16). But it is the beast from the earth that convinces the people of the world to make this image (Rev 13:11, 14-15). There are many indications that the beast from the earth is a Christian entity. For example, it:

      • Is “like a lamb” and the lamb is a symbol for Christ (e.g., Rev 14:10).
      • Is also called “the false prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20; compare with Rev 13:12).
      • Deceives” with “signs” (Rev 13:13-14; 16:13; cf. Matt 24:24; 2 Thess 2:9).
      • Exercises all the authority of the first beast” (Rev 13:12), which has been identified as the church of the Middle Ages.

PERSECUTION

Only God’s true people, namely those who refuse to accept the mark of the beast, are persecuted in Revelation 13 (Rev 17:6; cf. 18:24) and only false Christianity is able to identify and selectively persecute God’s true people because they are the people who persistently protest against the church’s blasphemous teachings and practices (Rev 12:11).

THE SEVEN LETTERS

In the letters to the seven churches, the enemy of the church is inside the church. For example, in Ephesus, there were “those who call themselves apostles, and they are not” (Rev 2:2). Since the anti-God forces in the letters are early forms of Babylon, Babylon is inside the church.

BURNED WITH FIRE

Babylon suffers the penalty reserved for the daughter of a priest who has become a harlot, namely “she shall be burned with fire” (Lev 21:9; cf. Rev 17:16; Deut 22:20-27).

OTHER CHARACTERISTICS

Babylon has other characteristics which do not prove that she symbolizes false Christianity, but are consistent with that identification:

Babylon is fallen” (Rev 14:8; 18:2), which means that she was previously something better, but has become corrupted.

John was “greatly astonished” when he saw the harlot (Rev 17:6). That means that what he saw was totally unexpected. If the church of Christ would become the intolerant and bloodthirsty persecutor of God’s people, that would have been truly dumbfounding.

Babylon has a corrupting influence on the people of the world (Rev 17:2; 18:3).

The main word in Revelation 13 and 14 is “worship” (13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:7, 9, 11). This final conflict may, therefore, be described as a war over worship.

The beast dies but is revived (Rev 13:3). This implies a period of temporary incapacity. During the Middle Ages, the church was strong and killed thousands (millions?) of God’s people. At the end of the Middle Ages, the beast was temporarily incapacitated when religious freedom became the norm in the Western world. In the end-time, the beast will be revived.

Babylon will be destroyed by the people who previously supported her when they realize that she has deceived them (Rev 17:12-14, 16). This implies that her deception led them away from God, which implies her nature is religious.

BABYLON ALWAYS EXISTS.

As discussed elsewhere, Babylon is not the same as false Christianity because Babylon exists everywhere and for all human history. For example, she sits on all seven heads, and these heads include the ancient empires of Babylon, Mede-Persia, and Greece.

Consequently, Babylon, sitting on the beast, symbolizes a timeless principle, namely that false religion always dominates world rulers to force people to accept her doctrines. But, in the Christian era, the institutional church has adopted that Babylonian principle and has become Babylon. Just as Israel killed the prophets, so the church, according to historians, has killed millions of God’s people.

CONCLUSIONS

⁠Based on the above, it seems fairly clear that the end-time conflict, as described in Revelation 13, is a Christian civil war. God’s true people are found in all denominations, but Revelation presents the church as the beast to emphasize that false Christianity is the true persecutor of God’s people.

The kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her” (Rev 18:3). Since Babylon represents false Christianity, “acts of immorality” symbolize alliances between church and state or even unity of church and state.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

COUNTERFEIT BRIDE

First, Revelation presents Babylon as the counterfeit bride of Christ.

In Revelation, there are two contrasting women. While Babylon is a harlot (Rev 17:1, 3), the pure woman, representing God’s people (2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-27), is called the bride and wife of Christ (Rev 19:7; 21:9).

SIMILARITIES

There are many similarities between the two women:

Both are introduced by one of the plague angels (Rev 17:1; 21:9). In both introductions, the angel approaches John with the invitation: “Come, I will show you” (Rev 17:1; 21:9) and carries John “in the Spirit” to some other place to observe the woman (Rev 17:3; 21:10). 

Both women are also cities:
– The bride of Christ is also the New Jerusalem (Rev 12:1; 19:7-8; 21:9-11).
– The harlot woman is also “the great city” (Rev 17:18).

Both women are married. The bride is “the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9) and Babylon says “I am not a widow” (Rev 18:7), implying that she is married.

Both are wealthy. The harlot Babylon is arrayed in purple and scarlet, glittering with gold (Rev 17:4; 18:16-17). The New Jerusalem “was pure gold, like clear glass” (Rev 21:18), and decorated with every kind of precious stone and pearls (Rev 21:18-21).

DIFFERENCES

But they are very different:

Babylon is “the great harlot” (Rev 17:1); the immoral mother of “abominations” (Rev 17:2, 5; 18:2), a “dwelling place of demons” (Rev 18:2). 

In contrast, the Lamb’s bride is clothed with “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:7-8). Nothing “unclean” and no “abomination” shall enter into the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:27; 22:3).

The wars in Revelation are essentially between these two women: Babylon attempts to kill the bride (Rev 18:24). The bride is persecuted; Babylon is the persecutor (Rev 17:6).

Consequently, while Babylon will be judged, hated, consumed, and destroyed (Rev 14:8; 16:19; 17:16; 18:17, 19; 19:1, 2), the bride will enter into the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 18:7), and exist for “forever and ever” (Rev 22:5; Heb 13:14).

CONCLUSION

Babylon, therefore, is the very antithesis of the bride. Since God’s people are symbolized as a woman and as a city, the description of Babylon as a woman and as a city implies that she also claims to be God’s people. She is a counterfeit bride of Christ.

THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS

Second, Revelation borrows the concept of a harlot from the Old Testament, where the harlot describes God’s people who have become unfaithful to Him.

The Old Testament uses the concept of harlotry in different ways. For example:

IDOL WORSHIP

For Israel to “play the harlot with the strange gods of the land” is to worship “the strange gods of the land” (Exo 34:15; Deut 31:16; Jer 3:6, 9).

Jer 2:21 … I planted you a choice vine,
A completely faithful seed. …
Jer 3:1 … you are a harlot with many lovers
Jer 3:6 … Have you seen what faithless Israel did?
She went up on every high hill and under every green tree
[this is where the places of idol worship were],
and she was a harlot there
[participated in idol worship].
Jer 3:20 Surely, as a woman treacherously departs from her lover,
So you have dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel.

ALLIANCES WITH WORLD RULERS

Harlotry is also used as a symbol for alliances with world rulers. Ezekiel 16 represents Jerusalem as a woman chosen and favored by God (Ezek 16:6-14), who abandoned her faithfulness to God (Ezek 16:15-19):

Make known to Jerusalem
I also clothed you with embroidered cloth …
I adorned you with ornaments…
But you … played the harlot because of your fame …
You also played the harlot with the Egyptians …
you played the harlot with the Assyrians …
You also multiplied your harlotry with … Chaldea …
You adulteress wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband!

SIN

The Old Testament also uses harlotry as a symbol for sin. For example, Isaiah wrote:

How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice! …
But now murderers … rebels … thieves;
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them
(Isa 1:21-23; cf. Num 15:39; Ezek 23:8, 19, 37; 16:33-34; Jer 2:20-22; 3:1-8; and Hosea 2:1-5; 4:7-15).

DEPARTING FROM THE LORD

Perhaps Hosea included all of the above meanings of harlotry when he uses harlotry generally for departing from the LORD: 

The land has committed great harlotry
by departing from the LORD
” (Hosea 1:2; cf. 4:12; cf. 1:2; 9:1)

Jerusalem, representing Israel, had a harlot’s forehead because she “refused to be ashamed” (Jer 3:3). In contrast, in Revelation, Jerusalem is always pure and Babylon is the one with the harlot’s forehead (Rev 17:5).

CONCLUSION

In all the instances above, the harlot refers to the Old Testament people of God. Since Revelation focuses on the New Testament people of God, the harlot in Revelation is false Christianity.

As shown above, the Old Testament uses the concept of harlotry for different concepts, including idol worship, alliances with world rulers and sin. But, in Revelation 17, Babylon is represented as sitting on the beast, which symbolizes the world rulers (Rev 17:9-10, 12). The main meaning of harlotry in Revelation, therefore, is that God’s people set up alliances with world rulers.

THE BEAST IS THE CHURCH.

Third, a previous article identified the sea beast as the church of the Middle Ages. Since still another article concluded that the sea beast (Rev 13:1) is one instance of the timeless principle symbolized by the harlot (Rev 17:3), the church of the Middle Ages was one example of the harlot. To explain in a bit more detail:

As explained in another article, the scarlet beast, on which the harlot sits (Rev 17:3), is not the same as the beast from the sea (Rev 13:1). The beast from the sea has been identified as the prominent horn of Daniel 7 and as the church of the Middle Ages. The sea beast is one instance of the timeless and worldwide principle symbolized by the harlot sitting on the scarlet beast, namely that religion reigns over the rulers of the world. This principle explains that the beast from the sea, which is the church of the Middle Ages, actually consists of two parts:

      • The beast part symbolizes the rulers of nations.
      • Since the church ruled over the kings of Europe during the (High) Middle Ages, the Babylon part of the sea beast is false Christianity.

THE EARTH BEAST IS CHRISTIAN.

Fourth, there are a number of indications that the beast that comes out of the earth, which plays a key role in the end-time crisis, is a Christian entity.

It is the image of the sea beast which forces people, by threats of death and sanctions, to accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-16). But it is the beast from the earth that convinces the people of the world to make the image of the beast (Rev 13:11, 14-15). For the following reasons, the beast from the earth is also Christian:

(1) It “had two horns like a lamb” (Rev 13:11). Both the number two and the lamb indicate the Christian nature of this beast. The number two, in Revelation, symbolizes God’s people (e.g., Rev 14:12; 12:17; 11:3) and the lamb is a symbol for Christ (e.g., Rev 14:10).

(2) The beast from the earth is also called “the false prophet” (Rev 13:12; 16:13; 19:20) and, in the Bible, a prophet is somebody who speaks for God.

(3) The beast from the earth, “deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform” (Rev 13:13-14; 16:13). This is what the end-time false prophets will do (Matt 24:24; 2 Thess 2:9).

(4) The beast from the earth “exercises all the authority of the first beast” (Rev 13:12). Since “the first beast” is the church of the Middle Ages:
(a) The authority of the land beast is Christian in nature and
(b) The image of the beast is Christian, which the beast from the earth establishes, is also Christian.

(5) In Revelation, the earth and the sea represent the peoples of the world (e.g., Rev 12:12). While the waters symbolize the peoples of the world that are dominated by the harlot (Rev 17:15), but the earth seems to be a positive or at least a neutral force because it protects the woman against the persecuting waters (Rev 12:16). Therefore, the “earth,” out of which the earth beast comes, therefore represents either Christian nations or religious freedom.

SELECTIVE PERSECUTION

Fifth, only God’s true people are persecuted in Revelation 13 and only false Christianity is able to identify and selectively persecute God’s true people.

Babylon is not some general malignant force that accidentally also persecutes God’s people. She is exclusively in opposition to God’s people; she drunk with the blood of God’s people (Rev 17:6; cf. 18:24).

In history, God’s true people were never selectively persecuted by people outside the church. A nation or another religion is not able to identify God’s true people. Only the false Christianity is able to identify and selectively persecute God’s people because they are the people who persistently protest against the church’s blasphemous teachings and practices (Rev 12:11). In the context of Revelation 13, God’s true people refuse to accept the mark of the beast, which is some blasphemous practice or teaching for which the church of the Middle Ages (the beast) was particularly known.

THE ENEMY IS WITHIN.

Sixth, in the letters to the seven churches, the enemy of the church is inside the church.

These letters contain many references to things that are mentioned later in Revelation, such as the tree of life, the second death, Satan’s throne, great tribulation, and the morning star (Rev 2:7, 11, 13, 22 and 28). Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that the anti-God forces in the letters are early forms of Babylon. In these letters, the forces opposing God are inside the church, not outside. For example:

In Ephesus, there were “those who call themselves apostles, and they are not” (Rev 2:2).

Those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9; 3:9). In this verse, “Jews” should not be read literally, for why would a person who falsely claims to be a literal Jew be a particular danger for the church? Rather, “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly … But he is a Jew who is one inwardly” (Rom 2:28-29). Understood in this way, the person who calls himself a Jew is the person who calls himself a true Christian. Therefore, this “synagogue of Satan” symbolizes people inside the Church.

“You have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam” (Rev 2:14). 

In the church in Thyatira, “the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess … leads My bond-servants astray” (Rev 2:20). In the history of Israel, Jezebel influenced her husband King Ahab to use civil force to promote the worship of Baal and to persecute Elijah and other followers of Yahweh. Jezebel, therefore, is an instance of the harlot Babylon, who uses political rulers to persecute the followers of Christ. 

DRESSED LIKE A HIGH PRIEST

Seventh, Babylon is dressed in the clothes of the high priest of ancient Israel.

For example, similar to her clothes, the Ephod contained purple, scarlet, and gold (Exo 28:5-6), and both the ephod and breastplate contained precious stones (Exo 28:9-13 and 17-21). And Babylon’s forehead inscription may be compared to the title HOLY TO THE LORD on the High Priest’s miter (Exo 28:36-38).

However, there is a difference. The colors of the robes of Old Testament high priests were “gold … blue and purple and scarlet” (Exo 28:6). The blue was to remind the people of the Commandments of the Lord (Num 15:38-39). The harlot’s adornment lacks the color blue, implying that she resembles the high priest but does not comply with God’s commandments.

A PRIEST’S DAUGHTER

Eighth, Babylon suffers the penalty reserved for the daughter of a priest.

In the law of Moses, the penalty for fornication was stoning (Deut 22:20-27). But there was one exception to this rule, namely if the woman was the daughter of a priest, she was not to be stoned, but “she shall be burned with fire” (Lev 21:9). Since Babylon will be burned with fire (Rev 17:16), she will suffer the penalty reserved for the daughter of a priest.

OTHER CHARACTERISTICS

The following are other characteristics of the harlot. These do not prove that Babylon symbolizes false Christianity, but they are listed here to show that this identification is consistent with these characteristics:

BABYLON IS FALLEN.

The angel announces, “Babylon is fallen” (Rev 14:8; 18:2). This is often understood as that she will one day fall, similar to how this term is used in the Old Testament (Isa 21:9-10), but Revelation explains: “She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird” (Rev 18:2). This means that she was previously something better, but has become corrupted.

GREATLY ASTONISHED

John was “greatly astonished” when he saw the harlot (Rev 17:6). What he saw, therefore, was totally unexpected. His astonishment is part of the vision. It means that we should be astonished. This is hard to explain if Babylon only represents the persecuting Roman Emperors or hostile leaders in Jerusalem or a literal end-time city. However, if the church of Christ would become the intolerant and bloodthirsty persecutor of God’s people, that would have been truly dumbfounding.

A CORRUPTING INFLUENCE

Babylon has a corrupting influence on the people of the world (Rev 17:2; 18:3). Identifying her as false Christianity is consistent with this characteristic.

WAR OVER WORSHIP

The main word in Revelation 13 and 14 is “worship” (13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:7, 9, 11). This final conflict may, therefore, be described as a war over worship, and therefore, a religious war.

PERIOD OF INCAPACITY

The beast dies but comes back to life again (Rev 13:3). This implies a period of temporary incapacity. Since Babylon sits on the beast (Rev 17:3), she goes through the same period of incapacity.

This is consistent with the interpretation of Babylon as false Christianity. During the Middle Ages, the church was strong and killed thousands (millions?) of God’s people. At the end of the Middle Ages, the beast was temporarily incapacitated when religious freedom became the norm in the Western world, and the church, today, in most countries, became unable to kill. In the end-time, the beast will be revived. For a further discussion of this, see The Seven Heads.

THE PEOPLE DESTROY BABYLON.

In Revelation, the end-time confederation of the nations of the world (symbolized as the ten horns of the beast – Rev 17:12-13), “will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them” (Rev 17:14). Then “the ten horns … will burn her up with fire” (Rev 17:16). The fact that Babylon will be destroyed by the people who previously supported her, when they realize that she has deceived them, implies that her deception led them away from God, which implies her nature is religious.

That the people destroy Babylon also means that she is something specific which the people of the world are able to destroy. Revelation predicts a resurgence of the power of false Christianity in the end-time (Rev 13) in one final attempt by the false church to silence her opponents. But God’s people will not be silent.

In this end-time war, Babylon will be the institutional church and God’s people will be a large number of individuals who do not belong to a particular formal organization, but who are trained to “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Rev 14:4). They are “those who are with Him” (Rev 17:14). Following Christ, they will refuse to accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-16). When the world witnesses the courage of God’s people, it will rid itself of the domination of false Christianity.

OBJECTIONS

BABYLON ALWAYS EXISTS.

As discussed elsewhere, Babylon is not the same as false Christianity because Babylon always exists. For example:

She sits on all seven heads (Rev 17:9), including the ancient empires of Babylon, Mede-Persia, and Greece.

She is guilty of the deaths of ALL of God’s people who have been martyred for their faith in all ages (Rev 18:24).

She is the “mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev 17:5), which means that she is the origin of these things.

In other words, Babylon exists everywhere and for all human history. Consequently, Babylon, sitting on the beast, symbolizes a timeless principle, namely that false religion always dominates world rulers to force people to accept her doctrines.

But, in the Christian era, the institutional church has adopted that Babylonian principle and has become Babylon. Just as Israel killed the prophets and also Jesus Christ, so the church, according to historians, has killed millions of God’s people. The beast from the sea, symbolizing the church of the Middle Ages, is one instance of the Babylonian principle and has instigated the massacres of the Waldensians.

Please note that I am not saying that the Catholic church is Babylon or the beast. The beast is the church of the Middle Ages. But that church has broken up into many denominations. The Babylonian principle is present in all people and denominations. It is the challenge of every denomination to remain free from the Babylonian spirit.

WORLD-WIDE

It has also been argued before that Babylon is worldwide. It is possible to argue that Christianity is not entirely worldwide. However, “worldwide” in Revelation is perhaps not literally worldwide.

For example, the fourth beast of Daniel 7 is the Roman Empire, and the horns on the fourth beast are the nations that were formed in Europe when that empire dissolved in the centuries after Christ. (See, The Fall of Rome shows the Book of Daniel to be true prophecy.) These nations then proceeded to occupy territory in many parts of the world, including the current USA. The focus of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, therefore, is the nations that eventually became the Western World. Since Revelation is built on Daniel, it is possible that the “whole world” in Revelation may be limited to the Western World, which once confessed to Christianity.

CONCLUSIONS

Based on the above, it seems fairly clear that the end-time conflict, as described in Revelation 13, is a Christian civil war. The modern ecumenical movement, active first among Protestant churches in the first half of the twentieth century, then essentially combining (or at least fellowshipping) with the Catholic and Orthodox churches in the second half of the twentieth century, is also forming alliances with all other world religions. This may result in one great world religion, but then it will still be dominated by the Christian entities—the sea beast, the false prophet, and the image of the beast.

God’s true people are found in all denominations, but Revelation presents the church as the beast to emphasize that false Christianity is the true persecutor of God’s people. Whenever one finds a church or person who does not love his enemies but physically or mentally persecutes those who disagree with him, one sees the spirit of the beast at work.

RICK JOYNER

In his book The Quest, Rick describes “The Prisoners.” They are a vast multitude of Christians. They were all wounded, and were guarded by Fear and Depression. The only food they received was Condemnation. When Condemnation hits a prisoner, he would stand up and march a little straighter for a while, and then slump over, even weaker than before.

Occasionally, a weak prisoner would stumble and fall. As soon as he or she hit the ground, the other prisoners would begin stabbing them with their swords (meaning, quoting Bible verses), scorning them as they did so. Their depression would then become even worse.

These prisoners thought that the vomit of condemnation was truth from God. These prisoners actually thought they were marching in the army of God! They naively accepted everything that happened to them as being from the Lord.

Then the voice of the Lord came to me saying, “This is the beginning of the enemy’s last day army. This is Satan’s ultimate deception, and his ultimate power of destruction is released when he uses Christians to attack other Christians. Throughout the ages he has used this army, but never has he been able to capture so many to be used for his evil purposes.

ACTS OF IMMORALITY

The kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her” (Rev 18:3). Since Babylon represents false Christianity, “acts of immorality” symbolize alliances between church and state or even unity of church and state.

Religion has tremendous power over the minds of men. Therefore, religion and state often establish some kind of union in which the government supports the widely accepted religion, and this religion, in turn, would lend its influence to the state. Such unity strengthens both. An alliance with religion strengthens the control of the state over the people. And religion enjoys the protection of the state, using the strong arm of government to persecute those who oppose her.

Revelation refers to the unity of state and religion as immoral because true religion has a relationship with God only. True religion does not allow itself to be used for political gain.

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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.