Revelation Chapter 17

Go to Verse 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Verse 1

And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:

"Which had the seven vials"

The word "had" in this case is actually a present tense participle in the Greek, literally reading, "Of those having the seven bowls." Therefore it is not necessary to conclude that the scene here introduced happens after the outpouring of the plagues. We are beginning a new section of Revelation. See the chiasm.

"Come hither"

In Revelation 4:1, the opening verse of the section that structurally parallels this one, John is similarly invited to "Come up hither."

"The judgment of the great whore"

A woman in prophecy symbolizes a church or religious organization. A harlot would symbolize a corrupt religion.

This section of the book (17:1 - 19:8) provides a preview of God's judgments against the world's counterfeit religious system.

This woman, "the great whore," is also symbolized as "that great city" in verse 18, and is given the name "Babylon the Great" in verse 5. Mystical Babylon is the name Revelation uses for the false religious system introduced originally at ancient Babel (Genesis 10:10; 11:9). See Babylon, Ancient and Apocalyptic.

"That sitteth upon many waters"

Here she sits upon many waters; in verse 3 she sits upon a beast; and in verse 9 she sits upon seven mountains. These descriptions are not contradictory. The waters are identified in verse 17 as "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." Mountains in prophecy symbolize kingdoms; and the scarlet beast is a composite of earthly powers that support Babylon's mysteries.

Clearly this is not a minority religion being described. The words here indicate that we are discussing a religious union that enjoys the greatest popular support internationally.

Compare Jeremiah 51:13.

Verse 2

With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.

"With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication"

Here is described an illicit union of popular religion and government. It is this "fornication," this unlawful relationship, that to a large extent explains her designation as a whore. When government and religion unite to where churches become politically focused and the government enforces religious duties, spiritual "fornication" occurs. With a state-enforced religion, individual freedom of conscience is forgotten, and the oppression of minority faiths inevitably results.

Such was the case in medieval times when Catholicism was the official religion of the state. And according to Revelation 13:12-17 similar conditions will exist again when the image of the beast is formed. This time it will be Evangelicalism that courts the favor of the government.

Contrary to popular assumption, the church is healthier without legislative enforcement of her faith. The principles of true godliness cannot be enforced by law; they are matters of the heart. Government is not capable of transforming hearts. Religious coersion only creates hypocrisy, intolerance, and persecution.

"The wine of her fornication"

Just as John "ate" the little book in Revelation 10:10, symbolizing the reception of its message, so the inhabitants of the earth have "drunk" this wine. They have received it, and in this case its effect was intoxicating. The drinking of this wine represents the acceptance of the Babylonian system of worship, with its doctrines and practices.

In discussing Revelation 16:13 we mentioned a line of doctrinal influence which has extended from the days of ancient paganism down to the present time. Essential pagan doctrines were absorbed into Catholicism, and not completely weeded out by the 16th century Protestant Reformation. These teachings become the common points upon which the "whole world" will "gather" or unite (Revelation 16:14). They comprise the concentrate for Babylon's wine of which all nations drink.

"The nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad." Jeremiah 51:7.

Verse 3

So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

"I saw"

This chapter contains two distinct sections:
1. In this first section (verses 3-6) John is shown visually the abominations of Babylon.
2. In the second section (verses 8-18) John is told audibly an explanation of the vision.

"A woman"

This is the whore mentioned in verse one.

"Sit upon"

The woman is in a position of superiority over the beast, and the beast provides the woman with necessary support.

"A scarlet coloured beast"

This is not a new beast. Its color and features are the same as those of the dragon in chapter 12. In fact, with the exception of the four living creatures ("beasts" in the KJV) introduced in chapter 4, all the "beasts" mentioned in Revelation are conceptualized in this one beast with seven heads and ten horns. Beasts in prophecy symbolize major national governments. So this beast stands for the leading political governments that uphold Babylon's mysteries as their established religion. The seven heads of the beast indicate seven dominant nations with world-wide influence and supremacy that, one after another, have epitomized this beast throughout history.

"Full of names of blasphemy"

This description indicates the character of the beast. The nations represented by this beast stand in opposition to God.

"Seven heads"

For an explanation of these, see verses 9 and 10.

"Ten horns"

See verses 12-14.

Verse 4

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:

"Arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls"

This is the very same description given to Babylon in Revelation 18:16. Here she is symbolized as a woman; in chapter 18 she is symbolized as a city. Both symbols mean the same thing: the religion of Babylon.

In Revelation 18:7 she says, "I sit a queen." Her dress and adornment reflect royalty, wealth, prostitution, and sin. The female symbol that Revelation uses to designate false religion is that of a pagan goddess, all of which were based on the story of Semiramis, the co-founder of paganism.

Says Alexander Hislop, “The Chaldean Mysteries can be traced up to the days of Semiramis, who lived only a few centuries after the flood, and who is known to have impressed upon them the image of her own depraved and polluted mind. That beautiful but abandoned queen of Babylon was not only herself a paragon of unbridled lust and licentiousness, but in the Mysteries which she had a chief hand in forming, she was worshipped as Rhea, the great ‘mother’ of the gods, with such atrocious rites as identified her with Venus, the mother of all impurity.” --The Two Babylons, p. 5.

The purple and scarlet attire of the woman, and her great wealth as indicated by the gold and precious stones and pearls, are particularly descriptive of the Church of Rome.

"A golden cup in her hand"

This cup, "full of abominations and filthiness," ties all religious corruption to its original source, the Babylonian mysteries.

  "To drink of 'mysterious beverages,' says Salverte, was indispensable on the part of all who sought initiation in these Mysteries. These 'mysterious beverages' were composed of 'wine, honey, water, and flour.' From the ingredients avowedly used, and from the nature of others not avowed, but certainly used, there can be no doubt that they were of an intoxicating nature; and till the aspirants had come under their power, till their understandings had been dimmed, and their passions excited by the medicated draught, they were not duly prepared for what they were either to hear or to see.” --The Two Babylons, p. 4, 5

This cup is still deluding the inhabtants of the earth. "Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord's hand, that made all the earth drunken." Jeremiah 51:7.

"The Roman Church has actually taken this very symbol as her own chosen emblem. In 1825, on occasion of the jubilee, Pope Leo XII struck a medal, bearing on the one side his own image, and on the other, that of the Church of Rome symbolised as a 'Woman,' holding in her left hand a cross, and in her right a CUP, with the legend around her, 'Sedet super universum,' 'The whole world is her seat.'" --The Two Babylons, p. 6

Verse 5



The Greek word here is musterion. It is related to mustes, meaning "one initiated," and mueo, "to initiate." Among the pagans, musteria were secrets to be made known only to those who had been specially initiated.

"This word is connected with the mystery religions of Hellenistic times. These religions, very popular in the world of the first Christian century, consisted of secret rites and celebrations, which were only known to or practiced by those who had been initiated. There were many of them, the most famous being that of Eleusis, near Athens, associated with the worship of Demeter and her daughter Persephone. Other famous mysteries originated in Egypt.... Great symbolism characterized their secret ritual, climaxing in the initiation into the full secret of the cult." --Pictorial Bible Dictionary, The Southwestern Company, 1968, p. 567.

"The grand distinguishing feature of the ancient Babylonian system was the Chaldean 'MYSTERIES,' that formed so essential a part of that system." --The Two Babylons, p. 4.

Why initiation was necessary

The apostle Paul wrote that in his day the "mystery of iniquity" was already at work (2 Thessalonians 2:7). And the fact that the book of Revelation makes reference to these "mysteries" in an end-time context indicates that Babylon's system of religion still continues today.


This woman's name reveals that she represents the very religion instituted at Babel thousands of years ago.


"As is the mother, so is her daughter." Ezekiel 16:44. Spiritual harlotry passes from one generation to the next. From the original apostasy have descended all false religious organizations.

Coming here soon will be a description of how the principles of Mystical Babylon have been passed down through the various forms of popular religion.

Verse 6

And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

"The blood of the martyrs of Jesus"

A fundamental controversy existed between the principles of the Roman government and the principles of Christianity. This resulted in the persecution of the church prior to the time of Constantine. But our passage here is talking about the work of the woman, not the beast. It speaks of the followers of Christ being put to death by the will of the apostate religious power. It is no secret that during the long dark ages of its supremacy the papacy exterminated untold millions of people whose faith conflicted with the Church of Rome. This is because the Roman Church operates on the same principles as did the ancient Roman government.

Revelation chapters 14 and 18 both speak of the "fall" of Babylon, which would include the harlot daughters mentioned here. This refers to the corruption of popular religion in the last days. A marked manifestation of this fall is Protestantism's predicted abandonment of the very principle of Christianity that made it unacceptable to the Roman government--belief in the freedom of the individual conscience in matters of religious worship. The Roman government opposed this principle because freedom of conscience places the state under, not above, God. When the churches of today advocate the restriction of religious liberty for the individual, and support the enforcement of prescribed worship as predicted in texts such as Revelation 13:15, they by that fact abandon the fundamental principle of true Christianity that has ever made it intolerable to Babylon. Martyrs' blood will then flow again.

Verse 7

And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.

"I will tell thee the mystery"

Here begins the explanation portion of the chapter. We are not left to guess about the meaning of the vision. As with the visions given to Daniel, the angel gives an explanation. This shows God's desire to reveal light and truth to those who genuinely seek it.

"That carrieth her"

These words clarify the relationship between the woman and the beast.

Verse 8

The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

"Was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit"

The beast experiences two periods of prominent activity separated by a time of apparent non-existence. The period of dormancy in the middle seems to correlate best with the era of the deadly wound of Revelation 13:3. During that time there is no enforcement of religion by the leading political power. Therefore the beast "is not."

"They that dwell on the earth shall wonder"

After the deadly wound is healed, all the world wonders after the beast (Revelation 13:3).

"When they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is."

The tense of the "is not" is consistent with the description in the first part of this verse. The seemingly conflicting tense of the "yet is" applies to the time "when they behold" the revived beast.

Verse 9

And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.

"Seven mountains"

These mountains are often applied to the famous "seven hills" of Rome. It's quite a stretch, because the text calls for "mountains," not "hills." But even if the angel had said "hills," it wouldn't help much, because Rome's "seven hills" are actually more folklore than reality. At one time, seven discernable hills are said to have existed. But if you were to visit the city today you would have a hard time counting them. At the highest point in the city, barely 200 feet above sea level, you could hardly discern that you were on a hill. There's definitely no mountain. Misreading "seven mountains" as "seven hills", people often try to apply this verse to the Vatican. But the Vatican is not even situated on any of the legendary seven. In fact, it lies on the other side of the Tiber River, completely outside the original city limits.

Since the "woman" in the prophecy is symbolic, it seems most logical that the "mountains" on which she sits would also be symbolic. "Mountains" often represent nations or kingdoms in prophetic symbolism (See Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 17:3; 31:23; 51:24, 25; Ezekiel 17:22, 23; Daniel 2:35, 44). So probably the best interpretation of this verse is, "The seven heads are seven kingdoms on which the Babylonian system sits."

Verse 10

And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.

"And there are seven kings"

These kings are not in addition to the seven heads. Several versions correctly translate this: "And they are seven kings." Verse 10 explains the symbols in verse 9. The seven "heads" or "mountains" are seven kings or kingdoms. The same Greek word here translated "there are" is in 16:14 translated "they are."

"Five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come"

Considering this 5+1+1 equation, it seems that the number "seven" in this case must be a literal, rather than a symbolic, figure, making it also likely that the seven kingdoms might be identifiable. It is also clear that these kingdoms are successive, rather than concurrent.

In identifying them, we are looking for the leading world powers that have officially endorsed the mysteries of Babylon as their state religion. They "carry" her (verse 7). And they should be significant forces in Revelation's great controversy affecting God's people.

What are these kingdoms? That depends on what time perspective the chapter is set in. We'll look at three possibilities:

Let's begin by locating the vision at the commencement of the pre-advent judgment. See Option #1.

A second option places the vision during the supremacy of the medieval papacy. See Option #2

A final possibility allows the angel to be referring to events from the perspective of John's day. See Option #3

"And when he cometh, he must continue a short space"

This seventh period of the beast's career is brief, compared to the duration of any of the six earlier heads. When America becomes so bold as to make laws that defy the law of God (See Revelation 13:11-18), the nation's ruin will swiftly follow.

Verse 11

And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

"The eighth"

The eighth head is the beast itself, the power behind the seven heads. Equating this beast with the dragon of chapter 12, we recognize the great mastermind behind it all to be Satan himself (Revelation 12:9). Referred to here as an eighth head, Satan himself will finally appear as "an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14) to accomplish his crowning act of deception. Pretending to be Christ he will attract the worship of people all over the world.

"Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall decieve the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Matthew 24:23-27

Verse 12

And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.

"The ten horns"

Unlike the description in Revelation 13:1, these horns have no crowns. These are powers that have received no kingdom as yet, so their present identity is not that of kings. They will, however, soon be given power "as" kings for one hour with the beast.

These ten horns are not regular political heads of state. Rather, they are the leading Evangelical churches, which will for a short time enjoy king-like power. They will help to form the image of the beast, replicating the authority exercised by the papacy during the dark ages.

The fact that the horns' power ends so quickly suggests that what they do during that time constitutes an act of defiance against God that steps beyond the limit of God's forbearance, bringing on the seven last plagues and the destruction of "Babylon."

"One hour"

This is not a prophetic day-for-a-year time period. There are no prophecies based on time after 1844 when the 2300-day prophecy ended. The announcement of "time no longer" in Revelation 10:6 signals an end to the use of prophetic time periods at that point. The word for "hour" here is the same word used in Revelation 14:7 where it says, "the hour of his judgment is come." Jesus used the word in John 2:4 when He said, "Mine hour is not yet come." It simply means a brief but unspecified period of time.

Verse 13

These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.

"These have one mind"

It has become increasingly popular for churches to ignore doctrinal differences and focus on common beliefs. In fact, denominationalism is now considered outdated as Christians flock to non-denominational worship centers. The "unity of the body of Christ" is the all-important concern.

Charles Beecher, speaking of "the evangelical Protestant denominations" in a sermon given at Fort Wayne, Indiana, Feb. 22, 1846, said, "Was not this the way things went with Rome? Are we not living her life over again? And what do we see just ahead? Another general council! A world's convention! Evangelical alliance, and universal creed!"

"When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result." The Great Controversy, p. 445.

"And shall give their power and strength unto the beast"

As the image of the beast is formed in the seventh head, it is the leading Evangelical churches that use their influence to support and advance its objectives. So, just as the first beast of Revelation 13 received its power only by the cooperation and support of the horns in Daniel 7, so the image of the beast receives its power through the cooperation and support of the 10 horns of Revelation 17. As the barbarians changed the nature of the Roman Empire, so the Evangelicals change the nature of America.

Verse 14

These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.

"These shall make war with the Lamb"

It doesn't seem to them that they are warring against Christ. But when the Evangelical churches abandon the principles of Protestantism to the extent that they seek the aid of the civil power for the enforcement of their dogmas, when they push for legislation that would ulimately compel people to violate the commandment of God, they are making war with the Lamb. These things are predicted in Revelation 13:16, 17.

"And the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings"

These words should bring encouragement to those whose loyalty to God places them at odds with earthly rulers. The consolidated powers of earth are overcome by the devastating plagues of chapter 16.

Verse 15

And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.

"The waters"

This verse reveals the meaning of "water" in symbolic Bible prophecy.

Verse 16

And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.

"These shall hate the whore"

When the vials of God's wrath are poured out upon those who have rejected God's commandments in order to keep the laws of man, it will finally be seen that the great religious union was all a counterfeit. The true character of the symbolic "woman" will be unmasked. Those who supported her will turn from her in disgust, pouring out their contempt upon her.

Verse 17

For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.

"For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will"

God's purposes will be fulfilled.

"And to agree"

That is, among themselves.

"There has been for years, in churches of the Protestant faith, a strong and growing sentiment in favor of a union based upon common points of doctrine. To secure such a union, the discussion of subjects upon which all were not agreed--however important they might be from a Bible standpoint--must necessarily be waived." The Great Controversy, p. 444.

"And give their kingdom unto the beast"

"What is it that gives its kingdom to this power? Protestantism." EGW Letter 232, 1899 (SDABC, Vol. 7, p. 983).

"Until the words of God shall be fulfilled"

The "words of God" would include the words of Revelation 17 that predicted these events.

Verse 18

And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.

"The woman which thou sawest is that great city"

"That great city" is Babylon. The phrase is used six times in Revelation for Babylon and once (21:10) for the new Jerusalem.

The woman's name is also Babylon (17:5). It is not a literal woman, nor is it a literal city. These two symbols, the "woman" and the "city," both designate Babylon's religion, which "reigneth over the kings of the earth."