Thursday, 20 May 2021
So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. Revelation 17:3
John is now given a new direction in his vision which explains who is the “great harlot” that verses 1 and 2 referred to. In this, it says, “So he (meaning the angel of verse 1) carried me away in the Spirit.” This is thus an explanatory vision. It is what occurred with Ezekiel several times. One such time was –
“And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. 2 Then I looked, and there was a likeness, like the appearance of fire—from the appearance of His waist and downward, fire; and from His waist and upward, like the appearance of brightness, like the color of amber. 3 He stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my hair; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the image of jealousy was, which provokes to jealousy. 4 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the plain.” Ezekiel 8:1-4
As can be seen, Ezekiel was among others. His physical body remained, but he was taken in a vision to see events selected by the Lord for him to then relay. This is the same now with John. In his vision, John is taken “into the wilderness.”
The wilderness in Scripture is a place of trial and testing. It can also be a place of closeness to God or separation from God, depending on the subject. For example, Charles Ellicott notes –
“The woman clothed with the sun (Revelation 12:1), persecuted by the dragon, finds a home in the wilderness into which she is driven. She is persecuted, but not forsaken; she can joy in tribulation. The scarlet-clad woman, amid all her dazzling surroundings, is still in a wilderness.”
What John next sees is a rather remarkable thing. He says, “And I saw a woman.” The angel has already called this woman “the great harlot who sits on many waters.” He also has said of her that it is she “with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (17:2).
At the end of the chapter, the angel will explicitly say that this woman, “is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (17:18). Of this woman, it says she is “sitting on a scarlet beast.” Due to the description that follows, it can be inferred that this is the same as the “beast out of the sea” of Chapter 13.
Taking the symbolism from the Old Testament, scarlet, or red, in the Bible pictures and symbolizes war, blood, and/or judgment. Thus, it can be inferred that this beast is an entity that is warring, bloody, subject to judgment, or delivering judgment (see vv. 13:4 & 13:7). Further, this beast is “full of names of blasphemy.”
This corresponds to verse 13:1, which described the beast as having, “seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.” The names of blasphemy are recorded there, but so also are the continued parts of the description now being given, which says, “having seven heads.”
Later in this chapter, the seven heads are said to be “seven mountains” (17:9) and also seven kings (17:10). The word for “mountains” can simply mean “hills.” Either is an acceptable translation. The word can also be taken literally, or it can be taken as a metaphor for a government entity. Finally, the verse ends with, “and ten horns.”
The ten horns are specifically said to be ten kings in verse 7:12. The description is now given, and it will be built upon in the verses to come.
Life application: The things John is seeing in his vision are identifiable as to what the things mean – scarlet, a beast, horns, and so on. The meaning is generally clear from such things already found in Scripture. However, the actual identification of them is not explicitly stated. Further, whether some are literal or are metaphors (such as the mountains) is unknown. Therefore, what is presented can be turned into countless points of conjecture.
Being dogmatic about a single interpretation is not the wise path to follow. And yet, an analysis must be made with one’s best interpretive guesses. In the end, time will meet up with the prophetic utterances, and the two will come together, revealing the truth of all of the symbolism. When it happens, the truth of Scripture will be seen.
For now, let us consider the words of Revelation as God’s inspired word. It is showing us, in advance, that He already knows what is coming and how it will all pan out. Because of this, we can be absolutely confident that what it says about the victory ahead is certain. In the end, there is victory, because at the end there is JESUS.
Heavenly Father, You have revealed future events to us in Your word because You want us to study them and stretch our minds as we think them through. Help us to see clearly into what You intend for us to see and help us to not fight over the things which are yet hidden from our view. May our studies of Your word be edifying to us and bring glory to You. Amen.