Revelation 17-18: Who IS That Woman?

"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 marvelled with great astonishment." Revelation 17:6

Opening prayer: Father, this is a difficult subject. Give us an open heart and mind to hear the message of Your Holy Spirit we pray.

This is a continuation of our series on the Revelation of Jesus the Messiah. If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to study our previous lessons in this series:
Rev. 1: The Revelation of Jesus
Rev. 2-3: I Know You!
Rev. 4-5: Preview of Heaven
Rev. Study: Prophecies of Daniel
Rev. Study: Raptures and Resurrections
Rev. 6: Overview of the Tribulation
Rev. 7: Some Special People
Rev. 8-9: Danger! Rough Road Ahead!
Rev. 10-11: Seven Thunders; Two Witnesses
Rev. 12: The Woman and The Dragon
Rev. 13: The Last-Days Dictator
Rev. 14: The Last Train for Glory
Rev. 15-16: The Last Plagues

Personal opinion: I despise religion.

Let me explain. Religions are man-made attempts to come to God on man's own terms.

God hates religion, too. He didn't establish any of them. Instead, God sent His Son to pay a terrible price for your salvation and mine. Now you and I can receive salvation as a free gift, through faith. If this concept catches you by surprise, please spend a few minutes reading the lessons in our Transformed Life series. Otherwise you won't understand a word of the rest of this lesson. You MUST understand the difference between religion and Christianity.

Isn't Christianity a religion?

Not at all. But there are a lot of religions that call themselves "Christian." Today's lesson describes what religion is really like, and how God feels about religion.

We begin with Revelation 17 verses 1-3:

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

Let's see what we can learn from this passage:

Now let's read verses 4-6:

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. 5 And upon her forehead [was] a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 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 marvelled with great astonishment.

Let's itemize what these three verses tell us, beginning with verse 4:

Verse 5 tells us that upon her head is written: "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." This sentence is so profound that we need to break it up into pieces:

Verse 6 introduces another element into the description of this religious harlot. John, the recipient of this vision, knew all about evil pagan religions and their temple prostitutes, but he was astonished by this whore. The logical person asks, "Why is he astonished?" Here are a few possible reasons:

The key take-away point is that John was astonished by the flagrant evil of the harlot, worse than anything he had ever experienced.

Have you had enough of the woman for awhile? Good. Let's see what the angel says about the beast in verses 7-14:

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. 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. 9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 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. 11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. 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. 13 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. 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.

We covered these verses in great detail in our lesson on the Last-Days Dictator. But to review:

But teacher, what does this passage tell us about the woman?

For starters, it shows the type of company she keeps. She rides the back of a beast that is empowered by seven demonic creatures and aligned with ten very stupid kings. Would you trust your future to someone like that? Neither would I. One final detail: the woman and the wilderness are both associated with the geographic territory of the last-days' beast.

OK, back to the woman, with verses 15-18:

And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. 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. 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. 18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.

These verses tell us a great deal about the woman, and enable us to speak with greater authority.

What "great city" does the angel mean in verse 18?

At this point, we haven't seen enough Scripture to positively identify the city. But there are some significant clues in the context:

Taken all together, we see that the "great whore" is the "great city" which is "great Babylon." As we get further into this lesson, we will have enough Scripture citations to clarify the identity of the harlot city, Babylon, and her religious system.

So before we come to any conclusions, let's see what Revelation chapter 18 says on this subject.

Chapter 18, verses 1-3:

And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. 2 And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. 3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.

In chapter 17, we saw the ten stupid kings destroy religious Babylon and burn her with fire. Now God makes it clear that He will supernaturally ensure the complete destruction of "Babylon the great." The angel making the announcement is so powerful and so happy that the entire earth "was lightened with his glory." This mighty angel again declares that Babylon has made all nations drunken and confused by all her religious seductions. Kings of the earth have pretended to seek her favor. Notice a new element: the merchants of the earth have become rich by catering to her. More on this subject later.

Now notice a peculiar plea in verses 4-5:

And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. 5 For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

Whatever or wherever "Babylon the great" might be, God has a few souls there that He calls "My people," even this late in the Great Tribulation period. Are these the God-fearing Catholics in Rome? Are these American soldiers or Jewish people living in Iraq near the physical city of Babylon? Are they the multi-national workforce in Saudia Arabia? I don't know.

Maybe God is calling to people who were born Muslim but who don't approve of the behavior of the harlot. Maybe all the above. But please note the tenderness and mercy of the God we serve. Even though He has stored up wrath for 4,500 years against Babylon, He is willing that none should perish but that all should come to eternal life. Even this late in the Great Tribulation, He is holding back His judgment and still offering mercy. Amazing. How could anyone prefer the harlot to Him?

This offer of graciousness is not unique to the Book of Revelation. A similar plea is recorded in an Old Testament passage relating to the destruction of Babylon. This plea is recorded in Jeremiah chapter 50.

Jeremiah 50, verses 6-7:

“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray; they have turned them away on the mountains. They have gone from mountain to hill; they have forgotten their resting place. All who found them have devoured them; and their adversaries said, ‘We have not offended, Because they have sinned against the Lord, the habitation of justice, the Lord, the hope of their fathers.’ 7 “Move from the midst of Babylon, go out of the land of the Chaldeans; and be like the rams before the flocks. For behold, I will raise and cause to come up against Babylon an assembly of great nations from the north country, and they shall array themselves against her...

Since you are an alert reader, you surely noticed the references to "Babylon" and "the land of the Chaldeans." These are geographic clues that point a modern reader to present-day Iraq. But remember that in Jeremiah's day, the Chaldeans ruled virtually the entire Middle East, including Arabia. The point is that God is warning His people (and those who wish to become His people) to move away from the epicenter of His wrath. That epicenter will be obvious by the end of the Great Tribulation period.

Verses 6-8 of Revelation tell us more about the harlot's future:

Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double. 7 How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. 8 Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.

Now we have another new element to consider: her destruction will come about in a single day. And she shall be utterly burned with fire. As she has tormented the saints of God, so shall she receive double torment.

Verses 9-14 begin a very peculiar lament:

And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, 10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. 11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more: 12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, 13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. 14 And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.

According to verse 9, the ten stupid kings are not symbolic of all earthly rulers during the last days. Other kings will miss the whore -- especially the way she manipulated her subjects in ways that were helpful to the kings.

Verse 10 shows the kings "standing afar off for the fear of her torment." Are they afraid of radiation poisoning? Maybe. That might be how the ten stupid kings carry out God's judgment. But God doesn't need help from man-made weapons. God could easily divert a fiery swarm of meteorites that would keep the city smoking hot for several days afterward. Still, nuclear weapons are very likely to be involved here.

Verse 11 shows the merchants weeping, mourning and reciting a long, detailed description of the types of merchandise that they sold to the harlot. Why is this list so long? Because God is making it clear that the merchants really sold these physical things to the harlot and her organization. This is not poetic foolishness.

Just as the kings stood afar off in verse 10, the merchants and shipmasters do likewise in verses 15-19:

The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, 16 And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! 17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off, 18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city! 19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.

In these verses, God twice repeats the themes of sudden destruction ("in one hour" -- verses 17 and 19) and mourners standing at a safe distance "for the fear of her torment" -- verses 15 and 17. As a faithful student of the Bible, you have surely noticed that God helps us understand what is important by repeating it multiple times. Therefore these must be important hints --especially for those slow-learning folks who are still on earth, reading these verses at the time they happen. Our gracious Lord wants them (you?) to understand that the Bible is true and that His promises are faithful. Whoever reads these verses must still have time to make a quality decision to trust in Jesus and reject the false messiah.

In contrast to the weeping of the merchants, please note the reaction in heaven as described in verses 20-24:

Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her. 21 And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all. 22 And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee; 23 And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.

Can we identify the harlot woman yet?

By now, you could start making educated guesses about the identity of the city and the harlot woman. But first, a little bit of history and insight. The devil is not omniscient and doesn't KNOW exactly when Jesus will return. So the devil has always had his religious systems and false messiahs on hand. So who might the candidates have been over the past 20 centuries?

So which theory do you support, teacher?

Let's begin with the process of elimination. The most-common theory taught in Protestant churches is that the religion is Catholicism and the city is Rome. For a variety of reasons, it has become nearly impossible to support Rome as the "great city" in this passage.

What about the physical city of Babylon?

You can be 100% sure that God will destroy the physical city of Babylon during the Great Tribulation period, because there are multiple unfulfilled prophecies regarding Babylon. God has something unpleasant waiting for the physical city of Babylon, but does Revelation 17-18 exclusively describe that destruction?

Although Babylon was the geographic birthplace of apostate religion, nothing of Biblical significance happens there today. Saddam Hussein began an expensive process of building a three-quarters-scale replica of the city atop the original ruins, intending Babylon to again become a religious and cultural center. There is a high probability that the beast will establish some type of political headquarters (the new United Nations building?) in Babylon. But the physical city of Babylon hasn't been the center of religious harlotry for a very long time.

Key factor: The judgment upon the great harlot will be the result of centuries of religious harlotry, which will be at their peak when the Last Days' Dictator rises to power. The physical city of Babylon had faded from prominence long before the Book of Revelation was written. To qualify as the harlot, some religious system must already be engaging in a bloodthirsty rampage against Israel, Jews and Christians.

Key concept: It is possible that God intends a multiple fulfillment of Revelation 17-18. The harlot woman clearly is a religious system with a physical city as its headquarters. The harlot woman clearly is the culmination of centuries of blasphemous religious concepts that began in Babylon. If the harlot is headquartered elsewhere than the physical city of Babylon, then both Babylon and the harlot's city must be literally destroyed. .

So is Islam the harlot woman and Mecca the city?

In my opinion, yes. If the events of Revelation 17-18 start happening in the next 10 years, there would be no other logical candidate. If these events take place 300 years from now, the religious landscape could be different, as mentioned above.

What other Scriptures can I research to compare to this lesson?

As usual, I recommend that you cross-reference this study with parallel Old Testament passages describing the destruction of Babylon. What the alert reader should note is how the destruction depicted in these chapters is not necessarily the same destruction for the same reasons as Revelation 17-18. Because of the length of these passages, however, I will merely name them and point out some key details:

Now do you understand why God hates religion?

All religions were started by Lucifer and his pride. As Isaiah 14 describes it:

13 For you have said in your heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north. 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High."

Religion is man trying to reach God or become God by his (man's) own efforts. By contrast, Christianity is God opening the door for us to enter heaven by means of the costly sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, on the cross.

God has always sought to have a loving relationship with you and me. God wants us to trust Him and walk according to His perfect plan for our lives. But from the very first, we humans have continually second guessed God. Adam and Eve wanted to do things their way, even though there was only one rule to follow. After they sinned, they invented their own religion (fig leaves) to cover their shame. God rejected the fig leaf religion and introduced the concept of sacrificial offerings as the proper way to cover our shame.

You and I are no better than Adam and Eve. We always second guess God and want things our way. We always come short of His standards and His will for our lives (Romans 3:23).

Fortunately we have Jesus as our Passover Lamb. Those of us who trust in the saving power of His sacrifice have applied His shed blood to the doors of our hearts. We still come short of God's standards, but now the price for our salvation has been paid (Romans 3:24).

By contrast, the mother of all religions is gathering its blasphemous forces in one last futile attempt to obliterate Christians, Jews and Israel from the face of the earth. Hopefully this lesson has helped you to understand the evil forces at work.

Above all, remember that Jesus loves you, personally and passionately. His love and power are the best protection you have against the forces of darkness that will soon rise to power here on earth. His truth will make you immune to the seductive lies of the beast and the False Prophet and the harlot. My prayer is that you and I will have opportunities to share the love of Jesus Christ with our Muslim friends and neighbors.

My hope is that you yourself have already come to a saving knowledge of Jesus, the true Messiah of Israel. If you aren't sure of your relationship with Jesus, please click the "mail-to" link below to send us an e-mail. Explain your concerns and we'll respond as quickly as we can.

If you disagree with some (or all) of my conclusions -- GOOD! I'm pleased that you have the intellectual fortitude to think for yourself. Just be sure your arguments are based on Scriptural analysis that YOU have performed, not doctrinal positions that you have been taught. If you pray for wisdom and diligently study Scriptures (not commentaries) for yourself, the Holy Spirit will guide you in all understanding. Again, please do click the email link below to ask questions or to begin a friendly dialog.

Closing Prayer: Lord, there are so many pressures to compromise our principles for the sake of political correctness or our church traditions. Help us to stand up for the truth in sincerity and humility of heart. Help us to flee from religion and cling to the feet of our Risen Savior, we pray. Amen.

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