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

Revelation chapter 17:1-2

Babylon (Revelation, chapter 17 and 18)

The content of Revelation chapters 17 and 18 is the judgement on Babylon.  Babylon has a long biblical history, commencing in Genesis 10 with Nimrod and in chapter 11 with the tower of Babel.  It becomes the centre of idolatry – this was Israel’s great sin in the land – they left Jehovah and adopted the gods of the nations.  God’s response to this was to send them to the source of idolatry – even to Babylon.

Babylon is viewed as the system of apostate religion, which is now judged by God.  

Babylon appears under the figure of a woman – one of the four women in Revelation

  • two good (Israel in chp 12, the church, the lamb’s wife in chp 19)
  • and two bad (Jezebel in chp 2, the great whore in chp 17).

The judgement of Babylon is described in two parts:

  • In chapter 17 – the judgement of the religious system – under the figure of a woman
  • In chapter 18 – the judgement of the city – the commercial and cultural activity

The summary of chapter 17 is as follows.

The angel’s invitation to John (verses 1-2)

John’s vision (verses 3-6)

The angel’s explanation (verses 7-18)

  1. The angel’s invitation to John (verses 1-2)

Note the angel’s promise, “l will show thee”.  There are four details given by the angel:

  • The subject of the judgement – “the great whore”,
  • The seat of the woman – “that sitteth upon many waters” – the sphere of her influence and power (see v15, for the explanation)
  • The sovereigns with whom she is in illicit union – “The kings of the earth hath committed fornication”.
  • The seduction of the masses – “The inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication”

2. The vision John saw (verses 3-6)

Seven details are noted by John:

  • The woman’s steed – a scarlet coloured beast – seeking to gain political influence with the beast.  The beast using the woman to gain universal influence over men
  • The beast’s names – was full of the names of blasphemy – the character of the beast as anti-God
  • The beast’s heads and horns (chp 13)– the seven heads (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, revived- Roman empire).  The ten horns are ten kings who yield their power to the beast (v12)
  • The woman’s attire (purple, scarlet, gold, precious stones and pearls) – symbols of wealth and regal majesty
  • The woman’s hand (golden cup full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication)
  • The woman’s forehead – her name
    • Mystery” – her illicit union with political powers
    • Babylon the great” – its origin
    • Mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” – the source of idols
  • The woman’s drunkenness
    • drunk with the blood of the saints and
    • the blood of the martyrs of Jesus – she is viewed as responsible for the death of saints and martyrs of Jesus.

3. The angel’s explanation (verses 7-18)

  • The beast (verse 7-8)
  • The heads (verses 9-11)
  • The horns (verses 12-14)
  • The waters (v15) – peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues
  • The horns destroy the woman (verses 16-18)

The judgment of the city – Chapter 18

  • The cry of the angel (verses 1-3)
  • The judgment of Babylon pronounced (verses 4-8)
  • The response of kings (verses 9-10) – political interests
  • The response of merchants (verses 11- 16) – commercial interests
  • The response of shipmasters (verses 17-20) – trading interests
  • The fall of Babylon (verses 21-24)
    • The impact on musicians
    • The impact on craftsmen
    • The impact on the bride and bridegroom

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