Commentary on Revelation – [Chapter 17]

All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.


Identification of terms:


The Great Harlot / Babylon The Great City –   The world system
Many waters –   The whole world
Seven Heads –   Seven kingdoms. Seventh and eighth are in view
Ten Horns –   World confederacy of nations
Eight King –  Man of sin of 2 Thessalonians 2


Revelation 17
1 And there came one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls, and spake with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the judgment of the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters;




This refers to the judgment (destruction) of this “great harlot” at the return of Christ.


“great harlot”


Many identify this harlot as the apostate Christian Church, with Roman Catholicism leading the way. However, I believe this view is far too limiting. I believe this “great harlot” represents far more than one specific type of religion. I believe this harlot represents the whole world system (kingdom of the world) which is also the “image of the beast.” Central to this world system are all the false religions and philosophies and false gods of the world. Thus this harlot is the whole world system that opposes the truth.  


Many believe that this harlot is the False Prophet of chapter 13 (also Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10), but the way the two are described, they aren’t even remotely alike.


“many waters”


This is the first description that identifies this harlot as the world and its world system. The “many waters” are interpreted for us in verse 15 as “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” This, of course, describes the whole world.


2 with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and they that dwell in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her fornication.


“the wine of her fornication”


(See Jer 51:7; Rev 14:8; 18:3)


The activity of the kings (leaders) and people of the world with this harlot is described as “fornication.” Sex outside of marriage is outside of God’s design for it. Outside of God’s design, sex is impure, unholy, a false form of the true form that God intended for it. Likewise, outside of the truth of Christ, all belief systems are corrupt and “unclean” (vs. 4) and unholy, a false form of the true form. Sex outside of marriage is of Satan. Sex within marriage is of God. Likewise, all false belief systems are of Satan, while the truth of Christ is of God.


Religion is meant to bring one into a particular relationship or union with God. That’s why God referred to unfaithful Israel as adulterers (Jer 3:8-11; 5:7; 9:2; 23:10). By their unfaithfulness, they were committing spiritual adultery. For this reason, many insist that this harlot has to be apostate Christianity, with Roman Catholicism primarily in view. However, this harlot is not referred to as an adulterer, but is clearly identified with fornication, which is not the same thing. For that reason, this interpretation must be rejected. The interpretation of this commentary is more in harmony with the picture that this Greek word presents.


Furthermore, what we have to keep in mind is that Revelation is a book about the kingdom of light against the kingdom of darkness. It’s about the people of Christ’s kingdom against the people of Satan’s kingdom. It’s about the the truth against the false. Revelation is also about the end of all things of this world. Therefore, the idea that this harlot is merely about one form of false religion, fails to see the whole picture.


3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness: and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.




Refers to the world, a world apart from God.


“a woman”


A strong case against this woman (harlot) being the False Prophet, is that in every place where the False Prophet is referred to, it’s as a “he.” This harlot is clearly a “she” (Rev 18:6-8;16,19). Not that either one is a literal man or woman, but how they are referred to is no accident, and is important in determining the correct identity.


“scarlet-colored beast”


The color of “scarlet” is a bright red. I believe this has to be a reference to the blood of the saints, those who are killed for their faith in Christ (vs. 6). The “beast,” which is the kingdom of darkness (see commentary on chapter 13), is set against the truth and those who follow Christ. This beast will become the “eighth king” (vs. 11) prior to the return of Christ, which I believe to be the “man of sin” of 2 Th 2:1-12). We have to constantly keep in mind that the book of Revelation is largely about the persecution of God’s people in a world that hates Christ.


“names of blasphemy”


Everything this beast stands for is in opposition to Christ and the Christian faith, which is the only truth in the world. All the voices of false religion, false gods, anti-Christian philosophies, anti-Christian government, worldly values, sinful pleasures, etc., speak blasphemy against God.


“seven heads and ten horns”


(see verses 7-13)


4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stone and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations, even the unclean things of her fornication,


The description here leads many to believe that this has to be the Roman Catholic Church. Admittedly, this does describe the appearance of the leaders of that religion. However, even if the Roman Church is in view, it’s only representative of the larger picture. Catholicism is a major, worldwide religion, with great influence, and with a history of persecuting Christians. So it’s understandable that this church would serve to represent the whole of false religion (as a type of). However, to limit this “woman” to that one false religion, is inconsistent with what this chapter reveals, and what this book reveals overall.


“abominations”  (Gr. Bdelugma – 946)


The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, this word means:


  1. a foul thing, a detestable thing
              a. of idols and things pertaining to idolatry


I think the definition of this word for “abominations” is a key to identifying this woman (harlot) as false belief systems. “Of idols and things pertaining to idolatry,” obviously refers to false religion and the worship of false gods. Furthermore, the next verse removes all doubt that this harlot is not just the Roman Catholic Church, but all the false belief systems of the world: THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.






Better understood as:  “A mystery: Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.”


Why is this woman a “mystery,” and why is she associated with “Babylon?” We need to consider the references to the Old Testament phrase: “Fallen, fallen, is Babylon” (Is 21:9; Jer 51:6-9):


NET – 21:9 Look what’s coming! A charioteer, a team of horses.” When questioned, he replies, “Babylon has fallen, fallen! All the idols of her gods lie shattered on the ground!” (Is 21:9)


NIV –6 Flee from Babylon! Run for your lives! Do not be destroyed because of her sins. It is time for the Lord’s vengeance; he will repay her what she deserves. 7 Babylon was a gold cup in the Lord’s hand; she made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore they have now gone mad. 8 Babylon will suddenly fall and be broken. Wail over her! Get balm for her pain; perhaps she can be healed. 9 “‘We would have healed Babylon, but she cannot be healed; let us leave her and each go to our own land, for her judgment reaches to the skies, it rises as high as the heavens.”  (Jer 51:6-9)


Babylon, as a world empire at one time, should be viewed as a type of the world and its governing authorities. “All the idols of her gods” should be viewed as a type of all the false religions and gods of the world – the whole world system.




Calling this woman the “mother of the harlots,” means that all the false belief systems of the world are rooted in her. In other words, she represents all false religions and philosophies and all false gods of the world – the whole world system.




Again, this settles the question of whether this harlot represents one form of false religion or all the false belief systems of the world (vs. 4). The answer is obviously ALL. Both of these descriptions (mother of harlots and abominations of the earth) make it clear.




The “mystery” is: Why is this harlot compared to Old Testament Babylon? The OT references and the commentary for this verse answers that question.


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 a great wonder.


Since this woman “sits upon” the beast, and since this woman is a major part and focus of the kingdom of darkness (the beast), both her and the beast are responsible for the “blood of the saints…..” Certain religions are well known for their persecution and killing of Christians. Islam and Roman Catholicism (the inquisition) would be the first to come to mind. But we can include others like Hinduism and Communism — North Korea, for example.


As it relates to Islam, it’s as much a government as it is a religion. Thus in many of the Islamic countries, Christians are heavily persecuted by both the government and by individuals. I will talk more about this when we get to the “eighth king.”


“when I saw her, I wondered with a great wonder”
Why did John “wonder with a great wonder?” We can only speculate. Some see this as a verification that John was seeing a segment of Christianity going into apostasy — namely, Roman Catholicism, which would cause him to wonder how they could be responsible for the persecution and death of Christians. But again, that is total speculation. It proves nothing.  


In my opinion, if you were given a glimpse of all the millions and millions upon millions of Christians killed throughout Church history, at the hands of the false religions and unbelieving authorities of the world, would that not make you wonder too? It would be a dreadful and overwhelming sight to behold.


Since I already went into detail of verses 7-13 in chapter 13 (vs. 1), I will just briefly state the meaning here. If you have not read the commentary on chapter 13, I encourage you to do so.  Here’s the link:



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


“seven heads”


The first five kings (better understood as world empires or kingdoms) were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. The sixth kingdom was the Roman Empire, which was in power in John’s day.


The sixth kingdom is one of two kingdoms during the Church age. Once the Roman Empire fell, the kingdom of darkness began its rule as the seventh kingdom — being the total focus (see commentary on chapter 13 for full explanation of the seventh kingdom).


“ten horns”


(see verse 12)


8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and is about to come up out of the abyss, and to go into perdition. And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, they whose name hath not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast, how that he was, and is not, and shall come.


“is about to come up out of the abyss, and to go into perdition.”


This actually refers to both the seventh and eighth king or kingdom. The eighth is “of the seven” (explained in vs. 11).


In regard to this “abyss”:


Rev 9:11 – They have over them as king the angel of the abyss: his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek tongue he hath the name Apollyon.


Rev 11:7 – And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them.


In my commentary on 9:11, we identified this “king of the abyss,” as Satan. In my commentary on 11:7, we identified “the beast” out of the “abyss,” as the “eighth king,” whom I believe to be the “man of sin” of 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2. There is not a discrepancy here, for as I explained in chapter 13, I believe that Satan will completely indwell this “eighth king,” this “man of sin.”  I believe that these verses (9:11; 11:7; 17:8,11) confirm this interpretation beyond any reasonable doubt.

9 Here is the mind that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth:
10 and they are seven kings; the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a little while.
11 And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven; and he goeth into perdition.


“An eighth”


In regard to this “eighth king,” for your convenience, I’m going to quote what I said about this in chapter 13:


As we’ve seen, once Rome fell, the beast took on an entirely different look during the Church age — the kingdom of darkness itself became the beast of chapter 13. However, shortly before the return of Christ, the beast again takes on a different look and becomes an “eighth king” (see commentary on Rev 11:7), whom I believe to be the “man of sin” of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. I believe he will be the final world ruler.


This “man of sin,” this “eighth king,” is “of the seven” because he becomes the full embodiment of those kings. The beast becomes the final king because the “man of sin” will embody and epitomize evil or the kingdom of darkness. To be more precise, I believe Satan will completely indwell this man personally. He will rule the world only for a brief period of time before Jesus returns, and he will demand the worship of all people (2 Thes 2:4). That’s when he and the confederation of “ten kings” (Rev 17:16) will turn against all the religions of the world, which is the “great harlot” (Rev 17:1), which is also “Babylon the great,” the whole world system. In order for this man to become the sole object of worship, he must claim and deceive people to believe that he is God himself. All people of all religions – except Christianity – will believe his deception and give their allegiance to him. He is the true Antichrist of Revelation, not the beast of chapter 13.


Thus Satan himself becomes the final “eighth beast,” through this “man of sin.” Since this man of sin plays such an important role in end time events, and is, thus, a central figure in this chapter, I think we should examine 2 Thessalonians 2, where Paul goes into detail about this evil man. Since we already did that in chapter nine (vs. 2), I’ll just give you the link to that:



12 And the ten horns that thou sawest are ten kings, who have received no kingdom as yet; but they receive authority as kings, with the beast, for one hour.
13 These have one mind, and they give their power and authority unto the beast.


“ten horns/kings”


These represent a confederation of ten kingdoms that will arise just before the return of Christ. These do not figure into the beast of chapter 13 (the seventh kingdom), but is associated with the “eighth king” (vs. 11). Thus the beast of this verse refers to this eighth king.  From this point forward in this chapter, it’s this eighth king that is in view.


Considering the symbolic role the number ten has in this book (order and completion), I don’t believe this number should be taken as a literal ten kingdoms. I think that it’s likely symbolic of a worldwide alliance of nations that give their support to the “man of sin,” the eighth king.


for one hour”


Symbolic for the short duration of this eighth king’s reign.


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


(Parallel passages: Rev 11:7-19; 14:6-20; 16:12-21; 19:11-21; 20:7-10)


“These shall war against the Lamb”


As chapter 11 indicates (read commentary), there will be a worldwide, all-out assault against the followers of Christ by the beast, this “man of sin,” along with this confederacy of nations. That’s what’s being referred to by the statement, “these shall war against the Lamb.” This is a worldwide effort to exterminate Christians, and a significant number will be “overcome”physically (Rev 11:7). This is the “war of Armageddon” (see commentary on Rev 16:12-16).


“and the Lamb shall overcome them”
“they also shall overcome that are with him”


However, the defeat and death of Christians will only be temporary, because they (we) shall be brought back to life via the resurrection. Those believers who are still alive, will be caught up with them (Rev 11:8-12; 1 Th 4:13-18; 1 Cor 15:50-54). Thus in the end, we as followers of Christ will “overcome” with Him.  


“called and chosen and faithful”


Those who respond to the message of Christ in faith are the “called.” God “chooses” to save anyone who comes to Him via faith in His Son. Those who are genuinely saved will see the fruit of salvation in their lives, and they are the “faithful.” True faith in Christ is characterized by faithfulness. Those who profess Christ, but not living a life of faithfulness to Christ, reveal a false salvation. During the time of the worldwide war against Christians prior to the return of Christ, false believers will be revealed for who they really are — likewise, true believers.
15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the harlot sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.


The “waters” where the “harlot sits,” clearly refers to the entire world. The system of false belief is global.


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


One cannot say for sure, but at this point in history (current times), it appears that the eighth king –  the “man of sin” –  may turn out to be the 12th Imam of Islam (or Mahdi), the Islamic “savior” who is to appear on the world stage near the end of the world. The goal of Islam is world dominance. We see an aggressive push toward that end even now in our day.


The confederacy of nations (ten horns/kingdoms) could very well end up being a united Islamic state that rules the world, under the leadership of the 12th Imam — the “man of sin” or the eighth king. But again, I cannot be dogmatic about it. Right now, it’s just an educated guess.


While it’s very difficult to determine the details of how the world events leading up to the return of Christ will come to pass, it could be that this 12th Imam will make his appearance as the eighth king, and leads his people to world dominance. It seems clear that much of this world Islamic dominance will already be obtained before the 12th Imam even shows up. But when he does, the “ten horns,” the confederacy of nations, will give their allegiance to him (vs. 17). At that point, they begin an all-out effort to destroy Christians worldwide — the “war of Armageddon.”


What makes the details difficult to figure out, is that the “man of sin” and his confederacy of nations will also turn against the harlot – the whole world system [Babylon the Great]: “make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her utterly with fire.” I believe this is what we see chapters 16 and 18. Satan, through the man of sin, will demand the worship of all people, claiming to be God himself (2 Thes 2:4). The order of these events, and how they will come about, are difficult to figure out. I believe there will be a lot of surprises.


17 For God did put in their hearts to do his mind, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God should be accomplished.


“God did put in their hearts to do his mind”


By way of judgment against the harlot (the world system), it appears God uses this confederacy of nations to carry it out — just as God used Assyria and Babylon against Israel and Judah, and as He used the Roman army against Jerusalem in 70 AD. It does make sense.


The big question is, in what way does the “man of sin” and his confederacy of nations “make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her utterly with fire” (vs. 16)? In other words, in what way is this judgment carried out against her? What is the form of it? Are we to take this burning literally or figuratively?  


As I indicated in verse 16, I believe the “burning with fire” here is literal. What I believe is actually in view here, is the judgment and destruction of the entire world (Babylon, as described in chapter 18) via the release of nuclear weapons. I go into detail about this in Rev 16. I believe that’s what the seven bowl judgments of that chapter is about.  
“until the words of God should be accomplished”


I believe this refers to the whole plan of God for the world up to the return of Christ.


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


(See Rev 11:8; 16:17-19; 18:10,16,18,19,21)


In John’s day, the “great city” that reigned over the “kings of the earth,” was Rome. The religion of Rome was, and is, Roman Catholicism. It symbolizes all the false religions and idols and philosophies of the world, with Roman Catholicism spearheading it all — because of its history and its extensive influence.


Thus this “great city” (Babylon the Great – Rev 17:5; 18:2,10) is symbolic for both the governing authorities and the false belief systems of the world — everything outside of Christianity (see commentary Rev 11:8).  In other words, the whole world system.


So to be clear, Rome was a type of the world, and its religion was a type of all false belief systems of the world.  


All of this is referred to as “Babylon the Great,” the whole world system. The destruction of the physical aspect of this world system, is detailed in the next chapter (18).