Who Is the Great Prostitute In Revelation 17-18?
How Understanding the Symbols In Revelation Can Help You AVOID DECEPTION Here and Now
The Great Prostitute featured in the Book of Revelation is one of the most confounding characters in all of Scripture. She appears near the end of the Book, in chapter 17, and is seen riding on a beast with seven heads and ten horns. She is drunk on the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus, and continually consumes the cup of her own impurities and immorality.
What’s more? On her forehead is written a name: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”
Sounds crazy, right?
As crazy as it sounds, what if I were to tell you that this figure had a very specific meaning for the people to whom the Book of Revelation was originally written? And by understanding what that meaning is, we can not only identify who the Great Prostitute was intended to represent, but we can also learn exactly how this and other symbols in the Book of Revelation are meant to inform the faith of Christians living today.
The Description of the Great Prostitute
The Great Prostitute in the Book of Revelation has many attributes. She is clothed in very expensive, costly clothing and is adorned with jewels, gold, and pearls. She drinks from a golden cup which is said to contain abominations and impurities (Revelation 17:1-6).
She is also, as mentioned before, seated on a scarlet beast. This creature should remind readers of the same beast found in Revelation 13; they are the same. The beast she is riding has seven heads, also said to be seven kings and seven mountains (17:9-10; more on this below). The Harlot and the Beast, we are told, are “seated on many waters” (17:1).
So, what would first-century Christians living in Asia Minor, the people to whom this book was originally written, have thought about the Great Prostitute?
There is no doubt that the woman in this story, to the first-century reader of this book, would have represented the Roman Empire.
How Rome Stands Behind the Symbol of the Great Prostitute
During the first two centuries of Christian History, The Roman Empire was a brutal and ruthless persecutor of the Christian Church. The emperors of Rome intoxicated themselves on the blood of Christian martyrs. The capital of the empire, the city of Rome, was also referred to as “the city on seven hills,” and it was from this capital city that Rome wielded its total and complete authority over the empire.
What do we make of the Woman and the Beast being “seated on many waters”? We’re told later in the chapter precisely what this represents:
Revelation 17:15 – The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.
In other words, these creatures are “seated” upon the peoples and nations of the world, meaning that their influence encompasses nearly every tribe, nation, and group in the known world.
So, who is the figure behind the Beast that the Great Prostitute is seated on? As in chapter 13, the Beast is a symbol of the antichrist, the same individual we met all the way back in chapter 6. There he came as the rider on a white horse, but not the same rider who comes at the end of the book. THAT rider is the conquering King Jesus (Revelation 19:11-16), but the first rider, who is also the Beast, is the one who will attempt to counterfeit the dominion and power of Jesus.
Later in chapters 17 and 18, the Great Prostitute is thrown down by the Beast and his minions, meaning she can no longer rule the world via her captivating temptations and offerings of sin, immorality, and idolatry. The only thing worse than an evil empire (the Harlot) is one that comes under the complete control of a single individual (the Beast). That is the picture we see in these chapters as the Great Harlot is thrown down by her former ally, the Beast.
So then, who is Mystery Babylon? That is a question many people are asking themselves today, and one of the most straightforward questions to answer straight from the text. Mystery Babylon is the Great Harlot. That is the name written on her forehead and the name by which she is identified in heaven’s great record book. They are one and the same.
Revelation 17:5 – And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.’
How the Symbols Can Be Applied Today
The question is: if the Great Harlot and Mystery Babylon were both meant to represent the Roman Empire, does that mean that everything in Revelation 17-18 has already taken place? That these symbols have no relevant meaning whatsoever for Christians living today?
Not by a long shot.
The biggest mistake people make when studying the Book of Revelation is trying to fit its vast array of symbols and typology – really, the entire book – into single categories. Some say that Revelation applies only to the past, and all the events within it have already occurred. Others claim that it is only about the future, and that every symbol in this book is intended to represent something that has not yet been seen or experienced by the people of the world.
Both of these exclusionary views are in error. While the symbols contained in the Book of Revelation had precise meanings for the people to whom the book was initially addressed, they also have just as much significance for the saints living today.
While first-century Christians living in Asia Minor would have certainly seen the Great Prostitute as a symbol for Rome and the Beast as a symbol for Nero or one of the other sadistic emperors, that does not mean that these symbols are limited to the past.
How do these symbols apply to us? How are they being expressed in the world today? And how will they manifest themselves again in the future?
The question you must ask yourself is this: Is there a world power like the one that existed in the first century that is on the scene today? Are there dictators who demand absolute loyalty from their subjects? Are there nations that force their people to place the heads of state in an almost God-like category? That causes their subjects to serve and obey them with absolute fealty?
By answering these questions, you will be able to see for yourself whether or not there currently exists a world power that fits the description of the prostitute that we’ve just outlined.
But remember, if history teaches us anything, it’s that it’s not only nations and dictators that take on the characteristics of the Prostitute and the Beast. It is any leader, ruler, organization, or group, whether civil, secular, or religious, that demands our absolute loyalty.
What the Great Prostitute, the Beast, and Mystery Babylon Ultimately Represent
After all, what the Great Prostitute and the Beast ultimately represent is something that we see repeated over and over again throughout the Book of Revelation: The deification of secular power.
More than anything, the message of Revelation teaches us the danger of putting our hope, trust, or confidence in anything other than the Lamb, the Rider on a White Horse who comes at the end of the book, the One whose name is Faithful and True.
While these symbols will almost certainly have an end times fulfillment, and there will undoubtedly arise an all-powerful empire and leader who will act as the full and final iteration of the Harlot and the Beast, we must remember that these characters have been on the world scene since the very fall of man.
1 John 2:18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.
That is why it is essential for followers of Jesus to keep their eye on the prize – on the one who died and rose for them. If you are a follower of Jesus, do not let the witness of your life be marked by anything outside of Jesus and His love for the people of the world!
After all, if Revelation teaches us anything, it’s that we all must choose: Who, ultimately, has our loyalty?
A nation? A ruler? A government? An organization? A denomination?
Or the Lamb himself?
While it might seem appealing to some to want to follow and serve the Beast, and the Great Prostitute and her seductions might be attractive to the natural mind, the ramifications of this choice have eternal consequences. One choice leads to death, and the other to everlasting life.
May we all choose wisely.
Who Is the Great Prostitute In Revelation 17-18?
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