Tuesday, 1 June 2021
Then he said to me, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. Revelation 17:15
The angel who has been speaking to John has been describing the beast in verses 17:7-14. He will now refer to something already described by John, but not yet explained, saying, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits.” Mentioning these waters now takes the reader back to verse 17:1 –
“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.”
The great harlot is the woman sitting on the beast that was described by John in verses 17:3-6. This woman, the harlot, is a city (as will be noted in verse 17:18). In the vision, she sits on many waters, and those waters – according to the angel – “are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.”
What this means is that the scope and influence of this religious body (see commentary on verses 17:4-6) which is found in a city reaches out in many directions. The waters are peoples, but there are many, many of them. They also are found in many nations and speaking many tongues.
So, the question is, “Is there such a religious city that has adherents that span the globe?” There might be adherents of it in Guatemala and in China. There might be adherents in Australia and in Canada. It may have adherents in Hawaii and in Malta. It is a harlot (a religion based on works and filled with idolatry) that reaches out in such a manner.
As this woman sits on the beast, and as this is probably a beast that has been around in one form or another for eons (see comments on 17:10), then it means that this woman’s religious expression derives its customs, idols, and traditions from various empires going back to antiquity. The comments in 17:10 noted that one explanation for the beast is that it comprises Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
In other words, if this harlot (this city) rides on a beast where one head symbolizes Egypt, one would expect Egyptian influence or idolatry to be seen in it, perhaps an obelisk. Likewise, religious icons, traditions, or idols from the other beasts would be found in her. Is there such a city on earth today? The answer, of course, is “Yes.”
Life application: The harlot is sitting on the beast, and the harlot “sits” on many waters. The harlot is the false religious system that is supported by the beast. It is a system of ungodly government which has great rule and authority. The harlot however is dependent upon something else – people. It is the description that shows the extent of them – “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.”
This concept goes all the way back to the Tower of Babel in chapter 11 of Genesis. At that time, the whole world had one language and one speech, and they attempted to establish themselves as a united power in contradiction to the ordinances of God. At that time, God confused their languages and dispersed them around the world. This has been the state of the world ever since, but now it is getting smaller once again.
There are universal translators on our mobile devices and there is a uniting of the world’s religions through institutions like the UN. The inane bumper sticker that is found on the cars of religious pluralists everywhere reads COEXIST – as if all religions are equal in merit, meaning, purpose, and intent. However, the God of the Bible has made exclusive claims which take away the possibility of this being true. Its claims are absolute and unchangeable.
God has revealed Himself in one unique way – through the Person and work of Jesus Christ. This concept however is rejected by the beast and the harlot, and they have the support and adulation of the masses. Confusion of thought and morality is again the ruler of the human mind, just as it was at the time of Babel. The words of the Bible ring true –
“That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9.
The repetitious cycle of improper conduct of religious leaders, government officials, and the peoples of the earth will only be brought to an end when Christ sets up His eternal kingdom. It is a kingdom that will bring God all the everlasting glory He is due. It is a kingdom that is founded on what God has done through the giving of His Son, JESUS.
Lord, since the very beginning You have shown us what is right and the proper path to follow. And yet, time and time again, we have strayed from Your precepts to improper avenues of our own perverse thinking. Help us to think clearly, worship properly, and act responsibly as people. Without Your guidance, we will surely take the wrong path every time. Amen.