“The Whore of Babylon”, a Russian engraving showing the Great Harlot of Babylon, 1800s
I have cleaned up the previous two articles, “The 4 Women of Revelation, Part 1: Who or What Are They, and Who or What Aren’t They?” and “The 4 Women of Revelation, Part 2: Women as Symbols in OT Prophecy“, and I have created a new menu item under Bible Studies for “The 4 Women of Revelation“. In Part 1, I wrote about the brief entry of Jezebel, the first woman mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Part 2 concentrated upon the symbols of women in the OT, since it is important to take the Bible as a whole in context.
In this article, I want to move on to the third woman of the Book of Revelation. You may have noticed that I skipped over the second one, and that is intentional. I have a point to make about assumptions and reading into Scripture. Remember, exegesis, reading to get information out of the Bible, and not eisegesis, reading your own assumptions and ideas into the Bible, is what is required for the valid method of “How to Interpret the Bible“. It is fitting and proper to set aside our own ideas and read what it says.
Since context is important, I am going to examine the immediate Scripture first, but I am going to quote it from the Holman Christian Standard Bible for clarity. There is one particular part where they get it even better than the NKJV, IMO.
17 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the judgment of the notorious prostitute who sits on many waters. 2 The kings of the earth committed sexual immorality with her, and those who live on the earth became drunk on the wine of her sexual immorality.” 3 So he carried me away in the Spirit to a desert. I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and 10 horns. 4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She had a gold cup in her hand filled with everything vile and with the impurities of her prostitution. 5 On her forehead a cryptic name was written:
BABYLON THE GREAT
THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES
AND OF THE VILE THINGS OF THE EARTH.
6 Then I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the saints and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished.
~ Rev 17:1-6 (HCSB)
Now, I will have to admit that I prefer “abominations” over “vile things”, or even “obscenities” as some translations put it. For some reason, though, the NKJV simply starts verse 5 with “And on her forehead a name was written…”. They skip over the “mystery” or the “cryptic” portion being attached to what was written on her forehead.
Think about what that really means, though! The writing is in plain sight yet practically no one understands! They don’t have the means to decode the name even though it is right in front of them!
The way to decode the meaning is through the Bible, yet the Bible itself is a mystery to many! Many have read it cover to cover and not understand it!
7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory,
9 But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
~1 Co 2:7, 9-13 (NKJV)
These words are plain and clear! No one can understand the Bible and the plan of God, let alone prophecy, without God’s Holy Spirit!
Everyone in the COG should be familiar with the often repeated verse of John 6:44 by now. This is nothing hidden in a corner. This is why the very first step in studying the Bible needs to be humility in asking God for help in understanding. Understanding comes from Him through His Spirit.
Even with His Spirit, we can struggle to understand at times! This is where it becomes problematic when we try to present ourselves as having all of the answers! Because we ourselves do not! If we fully and completely understood everything God is doing, then we would be Him! But, we are not, and we are limited in everything including understanding.
Notice what John wrote: “I was greatly astonished.” In the KJV, he “wondered with great admiration.” Literally, he thaumazo megas thauma, which is “marveled with great marvel“. Even John did not understand until it was explained to him! Once it was explained to him, he understood!
The question is: “Do we?” Do we understand or do we take a lot for granted?
Why Is It Important?
Why is it important to understood this beast and this woman, anyhow? Because lack of this knowledge is an indicator! To not understand is a strong signal that something is wrong in our spiritual lives!
7 Then the angel said to me, “Why are you astonished? I will tell you the secret meaning of the woman and of the beast, with the seven heads and the 10 horns, that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss and go to destruction. Those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast that was, and is not, and will be present again.
~ Rev 17:7-8 (HCSB)
Did you catch that? The ones who have not been written in the Book of Life will be astonished! Not understanding, then, is a strong indicator your name isn’t in the Book of Life! While that is not a certainty, the Bible doesn’t just say things so you can blindly go along on the path you’ve always gone. It’s there to make us think.
I’m not going to go into the Beast itself here. That topic is at least one article on its own! However, HWA identified it in “Who Is the Beast?” as the Holy Roman Empire, whose seventh head died and will soon be resurrected! I disagree with some of the things he wrote there, however, for I do not believe the woman in any way represents the “little horn” of Daniel, nor is there any reason to think she does for the horns are symbols of “rulers”, that is people who rule, not a large religious organization.
In fact, the question should be asked whether or not the Great Harlot is the Catholic Church or not. Well, let’s read on, shall we?
9 “Here is the mind with wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated. 10 They are also seven kings: Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes, he must remain for a little while. 11 The beast that was and is not, is himself an eighth king, yet he belongs to the seven and is going to destruction. 12 The 10 horns you saw are 10 kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they will receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. 14 These will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”
15 He also said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute was seated, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages. 16 The 10 horns you saw, and the beast, will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, devour her flesh, and burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to carry out His plan by having one purpose and to give their kingdom to the beast until God’s words are accomplished. 18 And the woman you saw is the great city that has an empire over the kings of the earth.”
~ Rev 17:9-18 (HCSB)
The “seven mountains” are pretty self-explanatory if you’ve ever read anything about Daniel’s interpretation of the dream of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had. A mountain is a sovereign nation. The larger the mountain, the larger the nation. In this case, it is represented as seven heads of the Beast, which means a series of seven empires that have a common body. The angel describes seven kings, but notice the seventh head has 10 kings or rulers who will give “power and authority to the beast” for “one hour”! This is obviously talking about the short time just before Christ’s return.
However, the woman rides the entire Beast! She has been there from the beginning of the existence of the Beast. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Babylon was the first empire, symbolized by the head of gold. The woman is called “Babylon the Great” (v 5) and “the great city that has an empire over the kings of the earth”!
They both have their origins in Babylon! In fact, the Great Whore is Babylon! Read it yourself! She is “Babylon the Great”!
How can Babylon rule throughout all of history like that? How can she exert such power over all of the “kings of the earth”? Because there is a religious element to her!
Let me state it clearly: The Great Whore is not a church! We often equate the Catholic Church with the Great Whore, but in reality she existed before anything known as “the Catholic Church” existed! When John saw these visions, there was no “Catholic Church”!
When you think about it, in fact, the Catholic Church is not a church! It owns lands, has its own laws, has its own ruler and even has ambassadors to other nations! What other “church” does that? And, what other “church” has a capital city? Think about it! Babylon was a city that ruled a worldwide empire. The Vatican is a city that rules a worldwide empire.
Each succeeding empire of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream absorbed much of the culture and religion of the previous cultures! Why is the Roman pantheon of gods simply the Greek pantheon renamed? It is the continuation of the same culture that can be traced back to Babylon!
Last time, we saw that a woman can sometimes symbolize a city, very often a capital city of a nation, and sometimes a nation. What is the commonality between these? Culture, for one thing. The main difference is that a capital is the “head”, interesting given the woman rides the seven heads, of a nation, whereas a nation is the overall culture. However, a culture has to do with laws, religious rites, language, customs and mores.
When Israel, often symbolized by a woman in Scripture, came out of Egypt, God gave them almost all of these things. He gave them religious rites, dress codes, laws, holidays (which came from “holy days”) and even rules of war. Just about the only things He did not give them were language, which they already had, and a human king, which came much later. He gave them a culture.
When Christ died for the forgiveness of sins, many have been taught that He also did away with the culture. Nothing could be further from the truth! Instead, God promises to write His Laws upon our hearts and minds!
15 But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us [not just Israel!]; for after He had said before,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” 17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
~ Heb 10:15-17 (NKJV)
We are to learn God’s culture right now! We are called out of this world’s culture to learn a new “way” (another word for “culture”).
The Great Harlot is the emodiment of the culture, which includes the religion, of Babylon! She, as the ruling “city” of Babylon, embodies not just the culture but the power to enforce it. The Roman Catholic Church is only the latest (and perhaps worst and most powerful) incarnation of that city!
It that is the case then, what of the other city mentioned in Revelation? Is that not the counter to the Great Whore? Who or what is this 4th woman? Who or what is her culture and over whom does she rule?
That is the question for Part 4.