Description
John sees a murderous prostitute, drunk with the blood of the saints, riding a ten-headed beast. This great mystery points to Saudi Arabia as the great prostitute, and Antichrist's end-time Islamic Empire as the beast which she attempts to control.
Commentary
Revelation 17
The mysteries of 'Babylon the great', sometimes translated 'Mystery Babylon" in Revelation 17-18, and of the two beasts introduced in Revelation 13, are the greatest and most complex pieces of the end time puzzle. How you interpret these two great mysteries dramatically affects your end time worldview and expectations of end time events. For a scholarly and comprehensive overview of the history of Christian interpretation of Revelation 17-18, together with a more detailed explanation as to why Mystery Babylon represents Mecca, Saudi Arabia and Islam, I strongly recommend that you read 'Mystery Babylon' by Joel Richardson. My priority in writing these commentaries is to explain concisely what the text actually means from a biblical perspective. I leave you to read Joel Richardson's excellent book if you wish to gain the broadest perspective, and to understand its associated history.

To interpret these chapters correctly, it is crucial that we allow scripture to interpret each of the metaphors or symbols.

In verses 1 to 2, one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls says to John, "Come…I will show you the condemnation and punishment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed sexual immorality and the earth’s inhabitants got drunk with the wine of her immorality.”

Revelation 17 explains who the prostitute is and why God will condemn her. Revelation 18 prophesies her punishment.


Prostitute metaphor (v1)
The Old Testament presents God as Israel's true husband, much like the New Testament presents Christ as the bridegroom who will return for his betrothed, the Church. In Hosea 2 and in Jeremiah 3, Israel is portrayed as an adulterous wife who prostituted herself to foreign gods, with the result that God divorced her and sent her away because of her adultery. So worship of any god other than Jehovah is seen metaphorically as a kind of sexual immorality, adultery or prostitution. For example, Jeremiah 3:1-3 says, "…But you, Israel, have given yourself as a prostitute to many gods… Look up at the hilltops and consider this. Where have you not been ravished? You waited for those gods like a thief lying in wait in the wilderness. You defiled the land by your wicked prostitution to other gods. That is why the rains have been withheld, and the spring rains have not come. Yet in spite of this you are obstinate as a prostitute. You refuse to be ashamed of what you have done". Israel being metaphorically divorced and sent away represents the exile of the northern kingdom to Assyria in 722 BC, and of the southern kingdom to Babylon in 586 BC. Hosea 2:7 prophesies a time when she would later decide to return to her husband, an allusion to Judah's return from Babylon in about 539 BC. Hosea 2:14-17 then prophesies a later time when God will allure Israel back into the desert, in a kind of end-time exodus. There he will speak tenderly to her, and fully restore her into covenant relationship as his wife.

Similarly Ezekiel 23 very graphically portrays Samaria and Jerusalem as two sisters who become prostitutes. The older one is called Oholah and is said to represent Samaria. As the capital city, Samaria in turn represents the northern kingdom of Israel as a whole. The younger one is called Oholibah and is said to represent Jerusalem. As the capital city, Jerusalem in turn represents the southern kingdom of Judah. The name 'Oholah' means literally 'her tent' and 'Oholibah' means 'my tent is in her'. This reflects the fact that during the time of the judges, the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant were located at Bethel in the northern kingdom (Judges 20:27). Later, during the reign of King David, the ark was moved to Jerusalem in the southern kingdom, where David pitched a tent for it (1 Chronicles 15), and Solomon later built a temple for it. Bethel was distinct from Samaria, but being in general proximity to Samaria it was as though it was part of 'greater Samaria'. In that sense, both Samaria and Jerusalem were both places that housed God's sanctuary, but which later became centres of idolatry (e.g. 1 Kings 12:28, Jeremiah 32:34, Ezekiel 8).

So the 'great prostitute' here in Revelation represents a city and nation that contains the shrine of a great false god. Her identity as a city is stated explicitly in Revelation 17:18.

In 520 BC, Zechariah also had a prophetic vision of Islam as a prostitute. In Zechariah 5:5-11, he saw a woman, said to represent wickedness, being carried in a basket. When Zechariah asked where it was being taken, he was told, "To build a temple for her in the land of Babylonia. When it is finished, she will be placed there in her own residence". This was fulfilled in 630 AD when the Kaaba in Mecca effectively became the temple of Islam. In his book, 'Mystery Babylon' page 216, Joel Richardson points out that the Kaaba is covered in a black cloth like a woman's burka, but in one corner the black stone is exposed. The black stone is set in one corner of the Kaaba, within a silver encasement that resembles a woman's vagina.
Stacks Image 4530
Muslim pilgrims kiss and rub the black stone as part of their hajj rituals. Why is it dressed like a woman with her vagina exposed? To westerners who are not familiar with Middle Eastern culture and who picture how prostitutes dress in western cities, a woman in a burka may not seem like a picture of a prostitute. But prostitutes in the Arab world dress publicly in their burkas like most other Arab women. Western culture is built upon the concept of justice, and a concern for right and wrong. Westerners who lack a concern for God's righteousness tend to sin in an open and brazen manner, unconcerned that God's justice will one day catch up with them. So western prostitutes are recognisable by dressing in an obviously seductive and brazen manner. Middle Eastern culture is more concerned with honour and shame than with justice or right and wrong. Arab prostitutes may shrug off concern for God's righteousness, but nevertheless they are concerned about being shamed. Consequently they try to hide their sin, and operate in a much more hidden manner. This honour-shame characteristic of Middle Eastern culture has not changed in millennia. In the account of how Jacob's son Judah got his daughter-in-law pregnant, Genesis 38:15-19 says, "When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute because she had covered her face. He turned aside to her along the road and said, “Come, please, I want to sleep with you.” (He did not realize it was his daughter-in-law.) She asked, “What will you give me so that you may sleep with me?” He replied, “I’ll send you a young goat from the flock.” She asked, “Will you give me a pledge until you send it?” He said, “What pledge should I give you?” She replied, “Your seal, your cord, and the staff that’s in your hand.” So he gave them to her, then slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. She left immediately, removed her veil, and put on her widow’s clothes". It is clear in this passage that the face veil was part of the normal garb of a prostitute. Now you might assume that it was a normal part of a woman's attire in the Middle East at that time. But if you go back a couple more generations to the time of Judah's grandfather Isaac, it is clear that his wife Rebekah did not wear a face veil, and probably did not cover her hair (Genesis 26:6-11). Concerned that people might kill him in order to take his wife on account of her beauty, Isaac lied and said she was his sister. His father Abraham had done the same in Egypt a generation before because of Sarah's beauty (Genesis 12:11). Why didn't they cover their wives in a burka? Because that was how prostitutes dressed, and they didn't want to be seen walking around with a prostitute! What Islam has done is to make a prostitute's garb the required dress for all women, supposedly in the name of modesty. Any woman who now dresses normally is labelled a prostitute and is considered culpable if raped. Welcome to the twisted religion of Islam!

The Kaaba being 'dressed' like a prostitute with her genitals on display also points prophetically to the fulfilment of Isaiah 47. This describes the fall of the Daughter of Babylon, with verses 1 to 3 saying, "Indeed, you will no longer be called delicate and pampered. Pick up millstones and grind flour! Remove your veil, strip off your skirt, expose your legs, cross the streams! Let your private parts be exposed! Your genitals will be on display!"


Waters metaphor (v1)
In verse 1, the prostitute sits on many 'waters'. Verse 15 interprets this saying, "The waters you saw (where the prostitute is seated) are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages". In other words, the waters represent the peoples of many nations and languages who worship the false god associated with this city.

Verse 2 says that the kings of the earth commit sexual immorality with her. This means that the earth's rulers worship her false god, or are seduced and corrupted by her. In chapter 21 of 'Mystery Babylon', Joel Richardson details how Saudi Arabia has funded several US presidents, including Jimmy Carter, George Bush senior and George W. Bush, as well as Hillary Clinton in her presidential campaign. Saudi Arabia and Islam seeks the submission of the world's rulers. If it cannot attain this submission by their conversion to Islam, Saudi Arabia attempts to buy it instead.

Wine and Cup metaphors (v2-4)
Verse 2 also says, "the earth’s inhabitants got drunk with the wine of her immorality". Similarly Revelation 14:8 says, "She made all the nations drink of the wine of her immoral passion". This depicts the manner in which Saudi Arabia has sought to evangelise the world with its version of Islam, known as Wahhabism or Salafism. Wahhabism is an Islamic reform movement, not in the sense of modernist reform, but in the sense that it attempts to restore Islam to how it was during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed. Evangelism is called 'dawah' in Islam, meaning 'to invite'. In the last few decades, Saudi Arabia has spent tens of billions of dollars building mosques, Islamic cultural centres and madrasas, and distributing free Qurans and Islamic literature around the world. The wine primarily represents the message of Islam which she invites people to embrace.

Jumping ahead slightly, verse 4 says, "…She held in her hand a golden cup filled with detestable things and unclean things from her sexual immorality". 'Her sexual immorality' means 'her worship of Allah'. The 'detestable and unclean things' refer again to the wine that fills her cup, and depict the teachings and practices contained within the message of Islam.

The cup and wine metaphors also have a basis in Psalm 75:8, Isaiah 51:16-23, Jeremiah 25:15-38, Obadiah 1:16, Habakkuk 2:15-17, Zechariah 2:12, and Revelation 14:10. Jeremiah 25:15-38 is a prophecy about end times in which God gives Jeremiah a cup filled with the wine of his anger and tells him to make all the kings of the nations drink it. First of all the leaders of Judah are made to drink it, then the leaders of Egypt, the Palestinians, Jordan, Lebanon, Arabia, Iran, then of all the nations, and finally the king of 'Sheshach 'is made to drink it. As they each drink the cup, God sends wars sweeping through their lands. I will explain the meaning and significance of 'Sheshach' in my commentary on verse 5 below.

The cup of wine in the prostitute's hand is in a sense Satan's counterfeit of the cup of the wine of God's anger. In recent years, as Saudi Arabia has used its oil wealth to export the message of Wahhabist Islam, nations like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Lybia have embraced it and then been overwhelmed by war. Many claim that 'Islam' means 'peace' and is a religion of peace. In reality, 'Islam' means 'submission', and although that submission to Allah and his Sharia is sometimes achieved through peaceful invitation and persuasion, it is and always has been largely achieved through jihad warfare. Islam is in reality a religion of war, but masquerades as a religion of peace. It divides the world into the 'House of Islam' and the 'House of War', and incites Muslims to wage jihad until all the whole world is ruled under sharia law and there is no religion other than Islam. For example, Quran 9:5 says, "Then, when the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way; Allah is All-forgiving, All-compassionate". And Quran 8:39 says, "Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s entirely". If you are still not convinced that this is truly what Islam teaches, please read Robert Spencer's excellent book, 'A History of Jihad from Muhammad to ISIS'. Quoting primarily from Islamic sources, it documents how Muslims have practiced what the Quran preaches through 1,400 years of jihad warfare.

So is the wine the message of Islam, or is it God's judgment? In a sense it is both. At the beginning of the Great Tribulation, God will allow Antichrist to sweep through Israel and other Middle Eastern nations and conquer them. In so doing, these nations will drink the wine of the great prostitute, but also in a sense they will drink the wine of God's anger. Just as Nebuchadnezzar of old, king of ancient Babylon, acted in a sense as God's 'servant' when he invaded Israel and the surrounding nations (Jeremiah 25:9), Antichrist will in a sense be acting as God's servant and agent of judgment. At the end of the Great Tribulation, after Jesus returns upon the clouds, the cup will be placed in Antichrist's hand and he and all his followers will have to drink the wine of God's wrath (Jeremiah 25:26). Isaiah 51:22-23 also prophesies this when he says to Zion, "This is what your Sovereign Lord, even your God who judges his people says: “Look, I have removed from your hand the cup of intoxicating wine, the goblet full of my anger. You will no longer have to drink it. I will put it into the hand of your tormentors who said to you, ‘Lie down, so we can walk over you.’”

Jesus also drank the wine of God's wrath when he hung on the cross at Calvary. The night before, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, "My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Matthew 26:39). Jesus drank it so that all who believe in him escape having to drink it.

As we will see in Revelation 18, Mystery Babylon is not just the city of a great false religion, but in the end times it is also a great economic city. The kings and merchants of the earth are seen to commit immoral acts economically. In this sense, it is also reasonable to see a further dimension to the wine in her cup. Saudi Arabia seduces the nations economically by offering them her oil. Because of their interest in her oil exports, and in her imports of their own goods, the nations overlook the oppressive nature of the Saudi regime and its many abuses of human rights. Since Saudi Arabia became involved in the Yemen war in 2015, Saudi has become the world's largest importer of arms, with the USA and the UK being its main suppliers. Despite the fact that the Saudis have used these weapons to commit numerous war crimes against innocent civilians in Yemen, and the clear risk that they will continue to do so, western governments continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. Although they deny it, these governments are arguably violating international law by doing so.


In a Desert (v3)
Verse 3 says, "So he carried me away in the Spirit to a wilderness, and there I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns". This identifies the prostitute as being located in a desert. This fits with the prostitute representing Mecca and Saudi Arabia, but not with alternative theories such as it representing Rome, Catholicism, New York and so on.

Although an aside to the main point here, John is seen here as an example of a prophet who, spiritually speaking, was enabled by God to travel in both time and space. In the spirit he is carried to the location of the prostitute and shown what she looks like in the end times. Ezekiel is another example of such a prophet. While living in ancient Babylon, he was transported to Jerusalem, once to Jerusalem in his own time (Ezekiel 8:3), and on another occasion to millennial Jerusalem (Ezekiel 40:1-2). Isaiah frequently travelled through time, as it were, enabling him to look back at yet future events and describe them from an end-time perspective (e.g. Isaiah 53). Philip the Evangelist was carried literally and bodily from one geographic location to another (Acts 8:39-40). The Apostle Paul was carried into heaven, but was not sure whether it was in the body or just in the spirit (2 Corinthians 12:2). In John's case, it is apparent from verses 6 and 7 that John was transported spiritually, but not literally, for what he saw was a vision of the mysterious prostitute, and this vision needed to be interpreted. He didn't see the literal city, but only its representation as a prostitute.


Scarlet metaphor (v3)
This beast in verse 3 is the same as the beast out of the sea in Revelation 13:1. It represents the end-time Antichrist and his restored Islamic Empire. Its scarlet colour represents its sinfulness, as in Isaiah 1:18, 'though your sins are like scarlet...'.


Sitting on the beast (v3)
The woman sitting on the beast depicts Saudi Arabia trying to ride and control Antichrist and his Islamic Empire. I explained the meaning of the seven heads and ten horns in my commentary on Revelation 13, and look at them below in my commentary on verses 9 to 14.


Names on foreheads (v3-5)
The blasphemous names on the heads of the beast remind me of some reality TV shows like Britain's 'Made in Chelsea'. Names often appear on the screen to tell you who the people are that you are watching. As John watches the beast with its seven heads, it is as though names appear on the screen to show him what these heads are that he is looking at. Blasphemous names imply names of false gods, or counterfeits or denials of biblical truth. In Revelation 13:16-18, Antichrist's followers have a mark on their foreheads or right arm that contains the name of Allah (see my commentary on Revelation 13). In Revelation 14:1, the 144,000 have the names of the Father and Son on their foreheads, in other words the name of Jehovah, the trinitarian God of the Bible. So throughout Revelation, names are continually 'popping up' on foreheads to show John what he is looking at.


Purple metaphor (v4)
Verse 4 says, "Now the woman was dressed in purple and scarlet clothing, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held in her hand a golden cup…". I have also noted above that the colour scarlet represents sinfulness, and this is applied here to the prostitute just as it is to the beast in verse 3. The colour purple denotes royalty, implying that the prostitute represents a kingdom with a royal monarchy. Her adornment with gold, precious stones and pearls emphasises this fact, her wealth, and her royal luxury. The description of her golden cup within this context portrays her using her great wealth to offer the nations her wine, the message of Islam.

Speaking about the end-time fall of Edom, which according to Ezekiel 25:13 stretched at least as far as Dedan in what is today Saudi Arabia, Isaiah 34:12 says, "Her nobles will have nothing left to call a kingdom, all her princes will disappear". Saudi Arabia is known for its huge royal family, with roughly 15,000 princes and princesses, owing to the polygamy of its rulers. Its founder, Ibn Saud, had about 100 children, and one of his sons, Saud, has 115 children. Isaiah tells us all her princes will disappear.

Mystery Babylon (v5)
Verse 5 says, "On her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the Great, the Mother of prostitutes and of the detestable things of the earth.”

The NET Bible notes say about this translation, "Some translations consider the word μυστήριον (mustērion, “mystery”) a part of the name written (“Mystery Babylon the Great,” so KJV, NIV), but the gender of both ὄνομα (onoma, “name”) and μυστήριον are neuter, while the gender of “Babylon” is feminine. This strongly suggests that μυστήριον should be understood as an appositive to ὄνομα (“a name, i.e., a mystery”). This is actually an important point. Although we might talk about 'Mystery Babylon', the bible actually gives the prostitute a 'mystery name' which is 'Babylon the Great, the Mother of prostitutes and of the detestable things of the earth'.

This mystery associated with the name Babylon has its origins in the Old Testament. As noted above, in Jeremiah 25 after various Middle Eastern nations have been made to drink the wine of God's wrath, verse 26 says, "After all of them have drunk the wine of the Lord’s wrath, the king of Sheshach must drink it'. The NET Bible actually translates this as 'the king of Babylon', but its translation notes say:
"Hebrew “the king of Sheshach.” “Sheshach” is a code name for Babylon formed on the principle of substituting the last letter of the alphabet for the first, the next to the last for the second, and so on. On this principle Hebrew שׁ (shin) is substituted for Hebrew ב (bet) and Hebrew כ (kaf) is substituted for Hebrew ל (lamed). On the same principle "Leb Kamai" in Je 51:1 is a code name for Chasdim or Chaldeans which is Jeremiah's term for the Babylonians. No explanation is given for why the code names are used. The name "Sheshach" for Babylon also occurs in Je 51:41 where the term Babylon is found in parallelism with it.


Why did Jeremiah encrypt the words 'Babylon' and 'Chaldea' with this code? It is not as though the code wasn't obvious, or was difficult to decipher. And in verse 12 of the same chapter, where it is clear that he was talking about Nebuchadnezzar and Babylonia in the 6th century BC, he says, "But when the seventy years are over, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation for their sins. I will make the land of Chaldea an everlasting ruin". He uses no code in this verse because he was talking about literal King Nebuchadnezzar and literal ancient Babylonia. Fourteen verses later, he encrypts the word 'Babylon' as 'Sheshach' to imply that he is talking about the end-time king of 'Mystery Babylon', who we generally call the Antichrist.

Similarly, in chapters 51 to 52, Jeremiah gives a long and detailed prophecy against 'Babylon'. But he introduces it in verse 1, saying, "The Lord says, “I will cause a destructive wind to blow against Babylon and the people who inhabit Leb Kamai". Instead of saying Chaldea, he encrypts it as 'Leb Kamai' using the same encryption as in chapter 25. Again in Jeremiah 51:41, he says, "How is Sheshach taken! and how is the praise of the whole earth surprised! How is Babylon become an astonishment among the nations!" (KJV). Using both the encrypted word 'Sheshach' and the plain text 'Babylon' in the same verse, it is clear he is not simply talking about ancient Babylon and trying to obscure the fact, like you might do in military communications. Although his long prophecy had a relevance and application to ancient Babylon, Jeremiah is telling us that it would ultimately be fulfilled in the fall of 'Mystery Babylon' and 'Mystery Chaldea'. Just as Babylon was the great city, and Chaldea the nation, 'Sheshach' is the mystery city, and 'Leb Kamai' is the mystery nation that it is in.

As the Holy Spirit revealed these prophecies to Jeremiah, did he have any clue what 'Mystery Babylon' was pointing to? I believe he probably did. For about a hundred years earlier, Isaiah had given a prophetic oracle declaring "Babylon has fallen, fallen!" (Isaiah 21:9). But the prophecy is introduced in verse 1 saying, "This is an oracle about the desert by the Sea". The 'desert by the Sea' is a reference to the Arabian Peninsula, which is surrounded by sea on three sides, namely the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea. It is not a description of ancient Chaldea (Babylonia), which was located in Mesopotamia, the land between two rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris. In the detail of the oracle, it gives information not about Mesopotamia, but about Edom and Arabia. It describes an Arabian refugee crisis caused by an invasion of the Medes and Elamites (parts of modern-day Iran). The Arabs are prophesied to flee northwards from Dedan to the region of Tema in north-western Saudi Arabia, which was considered to be part of Edom according to Ezekiel 25:13. After one calendar year, the crisis ends with the final destruction of Kedar. Kedar is the Hebrew word commonly used for Arabia, reflecting the descent of many Arabs from Ishmael's second son Kedar (Genesis 25:13). The Kedarites were characterised as the Bedouin of the desert, living in dark tents made of goats hair (Psalm 120:5, Song of Solomon 1:5). Most Muslims identify the Prophet Mohammed as a descendant of Kedar, and associate Kedar with Mohammed's birthplace of Mecca. Isaiah 21:16-17 says, "For this is what the Lord has told me: “Within exactly one year all the splendor of Kedar will come to an end. Just a handful of archers, the warriors of Kedar, will be left.” Indeed, the Lord God of Israel has spoken".

This suggests that what Jeremiah calls 'Sheshach' refers to Mecca, and 'Leb Kamai' refers to Saudi Arabia. Here in Revelation when John describes 'Babylon the Great', it is reasonable to understand this in the sense of 'Greater Mecca' and Saudi Arabia. The map below shows Saudi Arabia together with place names mentioned in Isaiah 21. It also shows Edom, which extended as far as Dedan according to Ezekiel 25:13. Jabal Al-Lawz, the biblical Mount Sinai, is also shown.
Stacks Image p4520_n3
Mother of Prostitutes (v5)
Verse 5 also calls Babylon the Great 'the Mother of prostitutes and of the detestable things of the earth'. As discussed above, the prostitute metaphor refers to Babylon as a centre of false religion. 'Mother of Prostitutes' implies the superlative. She represents the 'Big Mamma' of false religions and detestable things. In other words, she is the biggest and most detestable false religion that has ever existed.


Drunk on Blood (v6)
Verse 6 says, "I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of those who testified to Jesus. I was greatly astounded when I saw her". Those who testify to Jesus are clearly Christians. It is possible this is a descriptive phrase to further describe 'the saints'. Alternatively, 'the saints' may refer to the Jews as a distinct group. Jews and Christians together are called 'the People of the Book' in Islam. Quran 9:29 says, "Fight those who believe not in Allah and the Last Day and do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, and do not practice the religion of truth, even if they are of the People of the Book — until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued". Despite calling Jews and Christians 'the People of the Book', Mohammed considered them to be unbelievers in Allah and idolaters because of the Christian belief in God as Trinity. Quran 47:4 says, "When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then, when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds; then set them free, either by grace or ransom, till the war lays down its loads". In saying this, Mohammed was inciting his followers to behead non-Muslims, and to ransom some as hostages. He practiced what he preached when he personally beheaded 600 Jewish prisoners from the Qurayza tribe after he besieged them and they surrendered. It is clear that this Islamic practice of beheading Christians will become much more common and widespread during the Great Tribulation. Revelation 20:4, says "…I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand".

As Muslims are driven into a drunken religious fervour, beheading Christians and spilling their blood, Saudi Arabia is seen to be drunk with their blood. She is ultimately responsible, and she revels in it. Not only is she the Mother of Prostitutes, she is also a murderer and 'the mother of the detestable things of the earth'.


Why is John Astounded? (v6-7)
In verse 6 when John sees the prostitute drunk with the blood of the saints, he says "I was greatly astounded when I saw her", or literally "I marvelled a great marvel". In other words, the vision of the prostitute was a great mystery to John, and beyond his comprehension. In verse 7, the angel asks him, "Why are you astounded?", but without giving him time to answer then proceeds to explain it to him. Even with the angel's explanation, Christians have spent the last two thousand years pondering this great mystery, trying to make sense of it in relation to the rest of scripture, and in relation to world events. Just as the weather forecast for any given day becomes clearer and more accurate the closer you get to it, so this great mystery is much clearer to us today than it was to Christians in times past, or even a generation ago. But it is no wonder that it was a great wonder to John when he first saw it. My guess is that John was left still wondering, even after receiving the angel's interpretation. Like Daniel (Daniel 12:8), there was much about the visions he received that he did not understand.

In verse 7, the angel tells John, "I will interpret for you the mystery of the woman and of the beast with the seven heads and ten horns that carries her". So actually the angel promises to interpret two mysteries, that of the woman, and that of the beast. Because the woman rides the beast, these two mysteries are so interlinked that you cannot understand one without understanding the other.


Interpretation of the Beast (v8-17)
Although John seemed to marvel most at the vision of the prostitute, the angel focusses mainly on the interpretation of the beast. This implies that to understand the prostitute, you first have to understand the beast. Please also see my commentaries on Daniel 7 and on Revelation 13, for background to the beast metaphor. The beast here in Revelation 17 is the 'beast out of the sea' in Revelation 13. Primarily it represents the end-time Islamic Empire, but also its king who personifies it, the Antichrist.

For a still broader and more detailed explanation, I recommend that you also read 'The Islamic Antichrist' by Joel Richardson. Briefly however:


Up from the Abyss (v8)
Verse 8 says, "The beast you saw was, and is not, but is about to come up from the abyss and then go to destruction". 'Abyss' is a translation of the Greek word 'abussos' which is another word for 'Tartarus'. It refers to the deepest part of the world of the dead, and the place where demons could also be imprisoned (Luke 8:31, 2 Peter 2:4, Revelation 9:1-11). It is the deepest darkest depths of 'hell', or what Isaiah calls 'Sheol, the remote slopes of the Pit' (Isaiah 14:15). Coming 'up from the abyss' means that this beast is a wicked empire from the past that is 'resurrected from the dead' in the end times. Today, as the Great Tribulation rapidly approaches, this empire was, and is not, but is about to be restored. In Revelation 13:3, the historic 'death' of this empire is represented metaphorically as a fatal head-wound. Its future 'resurrection' is represented by this head-wound being healed.

Also, in Ezekiel 38, the Antichrist is called Gog after Gyges. Gyges was a 7th century king of Lydia in western Turkey. But further back in Greek mythology, Gyges was one of the three hecatoncheires whom Zeus released from the Abyss to help him defeat the Titans. I believe that Antichrist is called Gog for both of these reasons. He will arise as a ruler of Turkey (Ezekiel 38:3). But figuratively, he is Satan's man from the Abyss, through whom Satan hopes to overthrow God (Isaiah 14:11-15).


Seven Heads as Seven Mountains and Seven Kings (v9)
Verse 9b says, "The seven heads are seven mountains the woman sits on". This statement, and those that follow, are introduced in verse 9a with the statement which says literally, "Here is the mind that has wisdom". In other words, the explanation needs to be understood metaphorically, requiring wisdom. It is therefore a mistake to try to interpret the explanation literally. The seven heads are not literal heads, but represent mountains and kings (v9). Kings in turn represent their kingdoms or empires, just as in Daniel 2:38-39 the head of gold represented King Nebuchadnezzar, who in turn represented the Babylonian Empire.

It is also reasonable to argue that mountains here are not intended to be taken literally, but as a metaphor within a metaphor, they also represent kingdoms. For example, Isaiah 2:2 says, "In the future the mountain of the Lord’s temple will endure as the most important of mountains, and will be the most prominent of hills". Metaphorically speaking, this is a way of saying that Christ's kingdom will be superior to every other kingdom. (Admittedly, Zechariah 14:10 does suggest there may also be a literal raising up of Jerusalem). In Isaiah 55:12, God says to the people of Israel, "you will be led along in peace; the mountains and hills will give a joyful shout before you, and all the trees in the field will clap their hands". The mountains here metaphorically represent kingdoms and their people who will applaud redeemed Israel. According to Obadiah 1:19-21, after the day of the Lord the Jews will take possession of 'Esau's mountain' and rule over it. In other words, they will rule over the kingdom of Edom. Also Matthew 4:8, in the account of Christ's temptations, says "the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur". Whichever mountain he went up, there is no way that Jesus could literally have looked down on all the kingdoms of the world. Instead, when he looked down at mountain peaks beneath him, it was as though he was looking down on earthly kingdoms.


Mystery Babylon is not Rome
Taking mountains in a literal sense, the statement that the woman sits on seven mountains is one of several reasons that Mystery Babylon is most often interpreted as Rome. Rome is certainly often known as the city of seven hills, and Roman coins have been found that depict it as such. But if you look at Wikipedia's list of cities claimed to be built on seven hills, you find that there are many. And Mecca is one of them! However, I personally think it is better to understand mountains metaphorically as representing kingdoms or empires.

Verses 9b to 11 say, "They are also seven kings: five have fallen; one is, and the other has not yet come, but whenever he does come, he must remain for only a brief time. The beast that was, and is not, is himself an eighth king and yet is one of the seven, and is going to destruction".

In other words, the beast represents Satan's kingdom throughout biblical history, and the seven heads represent seven manifestations of that as historic earthly empires. Although there have certainly been more than seven empires throughout world history, these are seven that have ruled Israel, since the bible is always Israel-centric. From John's perspective in the 1st century AD, five of these had fallen, one was (the Roman Empire), and another was yet to come (the Islamic Empire). He also envisaged an eighth king, or kingdom, which would be a restoration of the seventh. These kingdoms are as follows:
1st head - Egyptian Empire - fallen
2nd head - Assyrian Empire - fallen
3rd head - Babylonian Empire - fallen
4th head - Medo-Persian Empire / Achaemenid Empire - fallen
5th head - Greek Empire - fallen
6th head - Roman Empire - still present when John wrote Revelation
7th head - Islamic Empire (historic) / Antichrist's empire after resurrection from the Abyss
-still a future head from John's perspective
8th king - Antichrist - ruler of the seventh kingdom in its revived end-time state
What this effectively means is that each successive empire became the 'Babylon' of its day. This is why in 1 Peter 5:13, Peter refers cryptically to the underground church in Rome as 'she who is in Babylon'. Rome was the 'Babylon' of the 1st century AD. But it was only the sixth head, with the Islamic head still to come as the seventh. The end-time Babylon is a restoration of the seventh head, so it is not Rome.

Since the time of the Protestant Reformation, it has been common for Protestant Christians to identify Mystery Babylon as Roman Catholicism, and the Antichrist as the Pope. Given that the Roman Catholic church was spilling the blood of Protestant Christians at the time, this was not an unreasonable assumption in its day.

In 1704, Sir Isaac Newton, the great scientist who explained the laws of gravity, made a prediction that the second coming would take place some time after 2060. Although this prediction is not widely known, I think it is interesting and worth noting. As a devout Christian, Newton wrote more about theology than about science, and had a particular interest in eschatology. His 2060 prediction was based upon an interpretation of the 1,260 days of the Great Tribulation (e.g. Revelation 12:6) as representing 1,260 years. Starting with 800 AD when Charlemagne became the first Holy Roman Emperor, he added 1,260 years, arriving at the year 2060. However, he was somewhat unsure about 800 AD, and wondered whether to start with the Donation of Pepin to the Papacy in 756 AD. So he offered the year 2016 as another possibility!

Another common reason Christians often identify Mystery Babylon as Rome is because of Reverend Alexander Hislop's pamphlet, 'The Two Babylons', published in 1853. This promoted the theory that Roman Catholicism is an evolved form of religion started by Nimrod at the Tower of Babel, based on various supposed connections that Hislop identified between the two. In recent years, Hislop's theory has been exposed as a fraud, but his influence continues. For more details about this, please read chapter 5 of 'Mystery Babylon' by Joel Richardson.

Finally, Mystery Babylon as Rome has been a core assumption of most dispensationalists. When a particular interpretation is part of a 'bundle' along with other popular interpretations, it is often harder for people to discard it and to move on when evidence suggests it is time to do so. Dispensationalism was introduced by John Darby in the 1830's and popularised after the 1909 publication of the Scofield Reference Bible, which included Darby's notes. Another key assumption associated with dispensationalism is that of a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church (which conflicts with 2 Thessalonians 2). Dispensationalism was further popularised by the restoration of the State of Israel in 1948, which was seen as a fulfilment of dispensationalist expectations. This was something they got right, but it was then seen as a confirmation of Dispensationalism generally. As a framework for understanding end times, Dispensationalism is still popular today.


Going to Destruction (v11)
The statement in verse 11 that the beast 'is going to destruction' anticipates the destruction by Jesus of Antichrist and his empire (Revelation 19:11-21).


Ten horns (v12-14)
Verses 12 to 14 say, " The ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but will receive ruling authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful".

The ten horns as ten kings refers back to Daniel 7:7-27. In Daniel's vision of the end-time empire it arises as a coalition of ten kings, but later the Antichrist arises over it as an eleventh king. Daniel 7:24 says, "The ten horns mean that ten kings will arise from that kingdom. Another king will arise after them, but he will be different from the earlier ones. He will humiliate three kings".

Here in Revelation 17, because the prostitute rides the beast, I expect the end-time empire to arise as a coalition of ten Sunni Arab nations led and controlled by Saudi Arabia. The Antichrist then arises out of Turkey (Ezekiel 38:2). Being a Turk and not an Arab, he is 'different from the earlier ones' (Daniel 7:24). The 'kings have a single intent' (Revelation 17:13) in the sense that Salafist Muslims like Al-Qaeda and ISIS have a commonly expressed intent of restoring the Islamic Caliphate and the Ottoman Empire. It is likely that the ten nation coalition willingly submits to Antichrist's takeover. However, in Daniel 2:41-43, this restored Islamic Empire is pictured as feet of iron mixed with clay, representing a weak and brittle unity that holds the empire together. So although Antichrist's takeover may initially be a peaceful one, problems quickly arise and he overthrows three of its kings.

Part of their single intent and dream of a revived Ottoman Empire is that Islam will dominate the world, leaving no religion except Islam, as per Quran 8:39 which says, “Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s entirely". Consequently, as verse 14 says, "They will make war with the Lamb". This is their attempt to destroy Christianity, along with every other religion, so that only Islam survives.


For One Hour (v12)
The coalition of ten kings receive authority along with the Antichrist for 'one hour'. There are times when biblical time-periods should be taken literally. An example is the 1,260 day duration of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 11:3, 12:6). Its literal meaning is indicated by it being confirmed as 42 months (Revelation 11:2, 13:5), and as three and a half years (Daniel 7:25, 12:7, Revelation 12:14). However, there are also cases where biblical time-periods should be taken figuratively. For example, in Luke 4:19, Jesus announced the 'year of the Lord's favour' in accordance with Isaiah 61:2a. It represents a long period of time that we are still in today, when God offers an amnesty to sinners who choose to repent. Isaiah 61:2b also describes the 'day of vengeance of our God' which represents a shorter time period and equates with the Great Tribulation period of three and a half literal years. I understand the 'one hour' here in verse 12 in this non-literal sense. 'One hour' represents a short period of time. The Islamic Empire is restored as a coalition of ten kings, but it is very quickly taken over by the Antichrist.


The Lamb will conquer (v14)
Fortunately, things don't go to plan for the end-time Islamic Empire. Verse 14 says, "but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful".

Obviously, it is Jesus who is the Lamb (e.g. John 1:29, Revelation 5:6), the Lord of lords and King of kings (1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 19:16). Jesus will be victorious and defeat Antichrist's empire at the battle of Armageddon.


Jesus accompanied by an army (v14)
It is also worth noting that Jesus will be accompanied at Armageddon by his 'called, chosen and faithful followers'. After Jesus returns at the seventh trumpet, he first of all fights alone in his Edom campaign (Isaiah 63:1-6), during which he rescues the Jewish refugees from their 'Bozrah sheepfold'. He leads them out from there, advancing ahead of them as their king (Micah 2:12-13). In the intervening period between then and Armageddon, it appears from various scriptures that he musters a considerable army to accompany him for the final battle. This army appears to include resurrected and raptured believers (Psalm 50:4, Isaiah 13:3-5, 33:4, Joel 2:1-11, 3:11, Revelation 19:14), those identified as godly, holy, or as God's chosen people (Psalm 110:3, Psalm 118:10-27, Zechariah 14:5, Revelation 17:14), and redeemed exiles from Judah and Israel (Psalm 149:5-9, Isaiah 11:10-14, Ezekiel 25:14, Zechariah 9:13, 10:6-9, 12:6). Jewish resistance fighters from within occupied Jerusalem are also seen to play a role (Micah 4:13, Zechariah 12:5, 8). It is also possible that his army includes angels. In his parables in Matthew 13, Jesus spoke about the role of angels in separating the wicked from the righteous in his kingdom. And in Matthew 16:27 he says, "For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done". So angels come with Jesus and are involved in dealing out judgments and rewards. And they will be involved behind the scenes in spiritual warfare surrounding end-time events (.e.g. Zechariah's vision of four horses, and of four chariots in chapters 1 and 6). But it is not clear whether angels also fight and kill people in the physical earthly realm of Jesus' end-time battles.


Waters metaphor (v15)
As already noted, in verse 1 the prostitute sits on many 'waters'. Verse 15 interprets this saying, "The waters you saw (where the prostitute is seated) are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages". In other words, the waters represent the peoples of many nations and languages who worship the false god associated Mystery Babylon. These are the Muslim peoples of the world who worship Allah.


The Beast Hates the Prostitute (v16-17)
Verses 16 to 17 say, "The ten horns that you saw, and the beast – these will hate the prostitute and make her desolate and naked. They will consume her flesh and burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put into their minds to carry out his purpose by making a decision to give their royal power to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled".

This might seem surprising, but it is another consequence of the fragile unity holding Antichrist's empire together. As noted, his empire is portrayed in Daniel 2 as feet of iron mixed with clay. Although it may appear strong, in reality it is inherently weak. Initially the prostitute (Saudi Arabia) rides and controls the beast, and I think it is reasonable to assume that it is Saudi Arabia that will bring about the united coalition in the first place. But deep down, this coalition (the ten horns) and the beast (the Antichrist) hate Saudi Arabia. Although many Muslims adopt Saudi Arabia's Wahhabist ideology of Islam, many of them despise Saudi Arabia. Reasons include:

1) They are jealous of Saudi Arabia's wealth and excessive luxuries

2) They despise Saudi Arabia's for its well-known corruption

3) They despise it for its close relationship with the West and especially for its close reliance upon America.

4) It is also helpful to know a bit of recent history. After Russia occupied Afghanistan in 1979, Saudi religious clerics called for a jihad in support of the Afghan Mujahideen. Thousands of foreign jihadists responded and went, funded and supported by Saudi Arabia and the United States. This included about 20,000 Saudi nationals, including Osama Bin Laden. The subsequent Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 was widely seen by the Muslim world as a great victory for the Mujahideen. However in 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and became a threat to Saudi Arabia. Instead of calling another jihad and relying upon the Mujahideen, Saudi Arabia turned to America and the West for support. This left many veteran jihadists like Osama Bin Laden highly disillusioned with the Saudi regime. Not only did they feel sidelined, but they felt great disgust at the thought of 'infidel American boots' on the holy ground of Saudi Arabian soil. This kind of disillusionment led to the formation of Al-Qaeda as a jihadist rebel group, intent on overthrowing the Saudi government and attacking the 'infidel West'. Today, various Islamist groups exist that give allegiance to Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Ironically they have grown out of the Saudi ideology of Wahhabist Islam, and yet they hate the Saudi regime.

5) The Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran. After the discovery of Saudi Arabian oil in the 1930's, Saudi Arabia rapidly emerged as the wealthiest and most powerful Middle Eastern nation, overtaking Egypt. It has effectively been 'top dog' in the Middle East for the last fifty years or more. However, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, a cold war has developed between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran has funded Shia minorities all over the Middle East, seeking to increase its power and influence at the expense of Saudi Arabia. In turn, Saudi has funded Sunni rebel groups, trying to undermine Shiite governments in places like Iraq and Syria. Although the Middle East has become polarised over the Sunni-Shia divide, not all Sunni nations are as anti-Iran as Saudi Arabia would like them to be. For example, relations recently soured between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, partly because of Qatar's alleged ties with Iran.

In Isaiah 21, the main Old Testament passage which identifies 'Babylon' with Arabia, verse 2 tells us, "The deceiver deceives, the destroyer destroys. Attack, you Elamites! Lay siege, you Medes! I will put an end to all the groaning!" The Elamites and Medes were ancient Iranian peoples. In its end-time context, the deceiver is the Antichrist, of whom Daniel 8:25 says, "By his treachery he will succeed through deceit. He will have an arrogant attitude, and he will destroy many who are unaware of his schemes." Ezekiel 38 tells us that Gog (another name for the Antichrist) is 'the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal', indicating that he is a ruler of modern-day Turkey. It also identifies Persia (Iran) as one of his allies. Psalm 120 also describes his deceitfulness, and makes a connection between Meshech (Turkey) and Kedar (Arabia). It seems likely that Saudi Arabia will willingly form an alliance with Turkey, but Turkey will deceive Saudi and make its own alliance with Iran. Saudi trusts Turkey, but Turkey betrays her to her arch-enemy and gives Iran the green light to attack. The outcome is expressed in Isaiah 21:9, "Babylon has fallen, fallen! All the idols of her gods lie shattered on the ground!"

Here in Revelation 17, this same outcome is expressed in verses 16b to 17, "They will consume her flesh and burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put into their minds to carry out his purpose by making a decision to give their royal power to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled". It is also quoted in Revelation 18:2, "Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great!" It is certainly reasonable to speculate that the statement 'They will consume her flesh and burn her up with fire' points to Saudi Arabia being nuked by Iran.


Prostitute as a Great City (v18)
Verse 18 says, "As for the woman you saw, she is the great city that has sovereignty over the kings of the earth".

Just as Ezekiel 23 portrayed the ancient cities of Samaria and Jerusalem as prostitutes, so Revelation confirms that the Great Prostitute represents a great city. A city in turn represents its nation as a whole. Mecca is seen to rule spiritually over the kings of the earth through its export of Islam. In chapter 18, it is also seen to have great economic power over the kings and merchants of the earth. It is reasonable to attribute this to its export of oil, its other kind of 'wine', and through its import of so many goods from the nations of the world. Both her exports and imports breed international dependency upon Saudi Arabia.

Given that this great city in Revelation 17-18 has both religious and economic dimensions, it is likely that the 'city' refers to more than just Mecca. It likely includes the nearby coastal city of Jeddah, and possibly the new King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) which has been built about 100 km north of Jeddah as a rival to Dubai. These three cities are all in the Mecca Province of Saudi Arabia, and could be understood collectively as parts of 'Greater Mecca'. KAEC was only conceived in 2005, with completion estimated in 2020. It is likely to become a great economic powerhouse during the next decade.
Tags
Places: Mystery Babylon, Saudi Arabia, Mecca, Jeddah, King Abdullah Economic City, Rome, Samaria, Jerusalem, Desert by the Sea
Symbols: Prostitute, Mother of prostitutes, Beast out of the Abyss, Beasts as empires, Waters, Cup of intoxicating wine of judgment, Wine as the message of Islam, Wine as oil, Heads as kings or kingdoms, Horns as kings, Scarlet, Purple, Mountains as kingdoms
Tags: Islam, Kaaba, Cup of intoxicating wine of judgment, Names on foreheads, Greek mythology, Abyss, Dispensationalism, Restored Islamic Empire, Jesus musters an army, Antichrist hates the prostitute, Fall of Babylon, Persecution of Christians, Martyrdom, Mystery Babylon
The Great Prostitute and the Beast
17 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke to me. “Come,” he said, “I will show you the condemnation and punishment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters,
2 with whom the kings of the earth committed sexual immorality and the earth’s inhabitants got drunk with the wine of her immorality.”
3 So he carried me away in the Spirit to a wilderness, and there I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.
4 Now the woman was dressed in purple and scarlet clothing, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held in her hand a golden cup filled with detestable things and unclean things from her sexual immorality.
5 On her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the Great, the Mother of prostitutes and of the detestable things of the earth.”
6 I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of those who testified to Jesus. I was greatly astounded when I saw her.
7 But the angel said to me, “Why are you astounded? I will interpret for you the mystery of the woman and of the beast with the seven heads and ten horns that carries her.
8 The beast you saw was, and is not, but is about to come up from the abyss and then go to destruction. The inhabitants of the earth – all those whose names have not been written in the book of life since the foundation of the world – will be astounded when they see that the beast was, and is not, but is to come.
9 (This requires a mind that has wisdom.) The seven heads are seven mountains the woman sits on. They are also seven kings:
10 five have fallen; one is, and the other has not yet come, but whenever he does come, he must remain for only a brief time.
11 The beast that was, and is not, is himself an eighth king and yet is one of the seven, and is going to destruction.
12 The ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but will receive ruling authority as kings with the beast for one hour.
13 These kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.
14 They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful.”
15 Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw (where the prostitute is seated) are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages.
16 The ten horns that you saw, and the beast – these will hate the prostitute and make her desolate and naked. They will consume her flesh and burn her up with fire.
17 For God has put into their minds to carry out his purpose by making a decision to give their royal power to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled.
18 As for the woman you saw, she is the great city that has sovereignty over the kings of the earth.”
(NET)