Revelation 17:1

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, Revelation 17:1

With the pouring out of the seven bowls of God’s wrath complete, the first verse of Chapter 17 now begins two chapters concerning the destruction of Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots. The fall of Babylon has already been mentioned twice already. The first time was in chapter 14 when the three angels made their proclamations. The second time was in the preceding chapter at the time of the great earthquake.

The big question regarding these references to Babylon for scholars of Revelation – almost as big as what the number of the beast signifies – is, “Who is this great harlot.” There are several views, and the debate is both heated and often bitter. One view is that it is a worldwide system of all the false religions on earth. Some who hold to this view include politics as a part of the system – a political/religious system that is in opposition to God.

A second view is that this is a religious system centered specifically in Rome. A subview of this is that it is the Roman Catholic Church, both in past history and leading up to and through the tribulation period. A third view is that the location is actually Babylon in Iraq which has been rebuilt and from which spiritual leadership is exercised. And a fourth suggestion is that it is a system centered in Jerusalem rather than Rome or physical Babylon.

Of course, there are many other views – it is America, it is the EU, it is this or that… It is hard to be dogmatic about much of what is presented, but each verse will be analyzed, and the most probable location and concept will be identified as we progress.

For now, it should be noted that it is one of the seven angels with the seven bowls who speaks to John. As this opening verse says, “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me.”

Which of the seven angels this is remains unstated. Therefore, the angel’s identity in regard to the pouring out of the seven bowls is irrelevant to the narrative. In other words, it could be the sixth saying to John, “Here comes the seventh bowl. Watch what happens to Babylon with this!” Or, it could be the seventh, saying, “Watch what I will now do to Babylon!” This is intentionally left out, and so the speculation that many devolve into over the identity of the angel is pointless. What matters is what this angel presents to John. He says, “Come.”

The Greek word is deuro. It does not necessarily signify motion, although it could. Jesus used it when calling forth Lazarus from the tomb. But Paul uses it in the sense of “the present time” when he said in Romans 1:13, “but was hindered until now.” Being an adverb, the thought now might be, “Presently, I will show…”

With this call, the angel then says, “I will show you.” It indicates that everything to be presented is a description of what will occur during the bowl judgment. What is seen then explains more fully what was said in Chapter 16 with the words, “And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.”

This is the same in idea as that of the sixth day of Genesis 1 being explained more fully in Genesis 2. The Bible introduces a subject, and then details are later filled in. The book of Ruth is an insert into the time of the Judges, which is the book that precedes Ruth. John saw the bowl poured out, and now he will see that presented in a more detailed manner. The angel next says it is “the judgment.”

In other words, what follows is a careful explanation of the wrath of God being poured out upon the object of what the contents of the bowl are directed to, which is the judgment “of the great harlot.”

The symbolism here is taken from elsewhere in Scripture. A city is identified by its conduct. In this case, the conduct of the city is that of harlotry. This was stated of Jerusalem –

“How the faithful city has become a harlot!
It was full of justice;
Righteousness lodged in it,
But now murderers.” Isaiah 1:21

As a city is a representation of its people, the same thought is extended to the people of the city directly at times –

“Moreover he made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit harlotry, and led Judah astray.” 2 Chronicles 21:11

Such terminology is not limited to Jerusalem, but is used to refer to Samaria as well in Ezekiel 23. It is further used when referring to Tyre in Isaiah 23. The idea is that of spiritual harlotry against the Lord. Of this harlot in Revelation 17, the angel identifies her as one “who sits on many waters.”

This is an Old Testament reference to Babylon –

“O you who dwell by many waters,
Abundant in treasures,
Your end has come,
The measure of your covetousness.” Jeremiah 51:13

However, what was presented of Babylon was only a physical location anticipating a spiritual Babylon. Ancient Babylon was by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and was surrounded by the various lakes and wetlands adjoined to them. This reference to “many waters” now in Revelation is explicitly defined in verse 17:15 –

“Then he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.’”

What ancient Babylon was in a physical sense was only a type of what the Babylon of Revelation is in a spiritual sense.

With this description now provided, it should be noted and compared with the introduction of another female figure coming later in Revelation –

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.’” Revelation 17:1

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’” Revelation 21:9

By noting the different introductions of these two, one can see that they are being set in opposition to one another. The theme is being developed for the reader to show the contrast between the two.

Life application: Throughout the Bible, a harlot is used to refer to religion that is defiled, or outright false religion. There is One Maker, and He deserves pure and undefiled religion. When worship of Him is mixed with falsities, or when it is rejected entirely, that worshiper, congregation, or people group is in a state of prostitution, and the mode of worship is considered harlotry.

The Lord expects His people to honor Him. Being called as His people, and then allowing false religion into their lives, brought great trouble and destruction upon the people of Israel. The seven letters to the seven churches show that those who identify with Him are not immune to this. Our worship of the Lord is to be pure and untainted. We follow a great God and a glorious Savior. We follow JESUS!

Lord God, You have shown us what pure and undefiled religion consists of. You have sent Your Son to cleanse us from our past religious failures and to lead us into true worship. And You have given us Your Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and lead us into all righteousness. Help us to properly worship You and never mix error into our fellowship with You. Amen.