Various interpretations have been offered for the images of Revelation 17. We must remember that the imagery is apocalyptic and apocalyptic images are brilliant and vague. To try and be too specific about what images mean involves reading into the text. The harlot is usually a person who has lost their way. In the Old Testament a harlot was the image given to either false systems that lured God’s people away, or God’s people when they were led astray. It is easy to see that economic, political and religious systems lead people away today and ever have done. The harlot could be any of these rising out of the general chaos that works against God’s ordered Creation. The Beasts of the Old Testament are Empires or world systems. In Revelation it seems that a system will be wrapped up in one world leader who will manipulate it. However, the system that is wrapped up in the Beast and the system that is portrayed by the harlot will be at odds with each other. After seemingly working with each other the Beast will destroy the harlot. The Beast will do God’s work for Him. God is in control.
1 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. 2With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”
3 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. 5The name written on her forehead was a mystery:
BABYLON THE GREAT
THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
6I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.
When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. 7 Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. 8The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.
9 “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.
12 “The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. 13 They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. 14They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”
15 Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. 16 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. 18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
- What economic, political and religious systems rule people’s lives today?
- How do such systmes distract from the deeper questions of life?
- What is particularly seductive and pleasurable to today’s youth and could lead them astray?
- How are you distracted from true faith?
- How does the ultimate victory of God through evil systems encourage or confuse you?