Revelation 17:4

Friday, 21 May 2021

The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. Revelation 17:4

The great harlot named in verse 17:1, meaning the city being described in the vision, is described further in this verse. Of her, John says, “The woman.” This is repeated from the previous verse where he said, “And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast.” As noted then, this term is used to describe a city. That will be stated explicitly in verse 17:18 –

“And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.”

Therefore, the imagery given here is metaphor and needs to be evaluated from that perspective. Of this woman, John says she “was arrayed in purple and scarlet.” The two words have a close enough appearance that both are used to describe the robe placed upon Christ. First is porphurous, or purple. That is seen only in John’s gospel (twice) and here in Revelation (twice). One instance from John says –

“And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe.” John 19:2

The other word, kokkinos, or purple, is found in Matthew when referring to the robe placed upon the Lord –

“And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” Matthew 27:28, 29

Whether this is the same robe in both accounts, as some assume, or whether it is a different robe placed upon Jesus (one by Herod as is seen in Luke 23:11, and the other by the soldiers of Pilate), the point of using both words in Revelation is probably to show that this woman identifies with Christ. Both the scarlet color (war, blood, and judgment) and the purple (nobility/royalty) were used to describe that which was placed upon Him. This woman is an entity that appears to be emulating Him by being arrayed in both colors.

John next continues with, “and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls.” The word translated as “adorned” signifies to be gilded with. Gold speaks of purity, holiness, royalty, and divinity. Next, the Greek says, “stone precious.” The singular stands for the plural. The same idea was presented by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 –

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.” 1 Corinthians 3:11-13

Obviously, Paul is using the term to refer to works worthy of reward. The margarités, or “pearl,” is used in parables by Jesus to refer to the precious teachings (spiritual truths) of the gospel. That is seen, for example, in Matthew 7:6 and 13:45 –

“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” (7:6)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (13:45, 46)

One can see that this city is supposedly identified with Christ. It is adorned with robes as He was, it is a city basing its splendor on works and upon the wisdom found in the gospel. However, it is a harlot – meaning it has prostituted itself – betraying its calling and scorning the One she is identified with. Only in pretense is she aligned with the things of God. However, in reality (as John continues), she is “having in her hand a golden cup.”

This takes the reader back to the description of Babylon from Jeremiah 51 –

“Flee from the midst of Babylon,
And every one save his life!
Do not be cut off in her iniquity,
For this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance;
He shall recompense her.
Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand,
That made all the earth drunk.
The nations drank her wine;
Therefore the nations are deranged.
Babylon has suddenly fallen and been destroyed.
Wail for her!
Take balm for her pain;
Perhaps she may be healed.
We would have healed Babylon,
But she is not healed.
Forsake her, and let us go everyone to his own country;
For her judgment reaches to heaven and is lifted up to the skies.” Jeremiah 51:6-9

The harlot of Revelation is not unlike Babylon of old. She has a golden cup in her hand, signifying wrath and judgment, and this will be brought down upon her as well. Of this cup, John says it is “full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.”

The Greek word bdelugma, translated as “abomination,” signifies an accursed thing. It is that which emits a foul odor. Thus, figuratively, it is a moral horror. It is something that is a stench to God. It reflects those who refuse to listen to and obey His voice.

The word translated as “filthiness” signifies something that is not pure because it is mixed. Morally, it is that which is tainted by sin.

Finally, the word “fornication” means sexual impurity and that which is idolatrous. There is a selling off, or surrendering, of purity.

The question to consider concerning this woman is, “Is there a city that fits the description of this harlot in the world today? One that identifies with Christ, bases itself on good works and the pomp and majesty of the Christian faith, and yet which is filled with abominations and idolatry?”

Life application: This great harlot bears little resemblance to the woman depicted in verse 12:1, 2 – “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.”

Whereas the woman in chapter 12 is clothed with the sun – something created by God and without change by man – the great harlot is arrayed in purple and scarlet. These are materials that require forming and shaping by man’s hands, and then they have dyes applied to them. Rather than bearing the radiance and glory of the Creator, they reflect the things that are lusted after by the world.

These garments and their colors indicate wealth, status, and royalty. The great harlot is also “adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls.” The adornment of the woman in chapter 12 is “a garland of 12 stars.” Again, the stars are created by God; the adornments of the harlot are materials that are cut, melted, set, and/or shaped by the hands of men. They are external refinements that hide the true state of who she is.

Remember, this harlot is symbolic of something else and not actually a person. This entity has all the appearance of finery, status, and majesty; and yet it is an abomination to God. The idea of fornication is used throughout the Bible when speaking of the intermingling of false religion with the truth, or false religion completely substituting the truth in God’s people. This harlot is a religious entity that has completely compromised itself to filth, abominable practices, and apostasy. It has taken the truth of the gospel and changed it. This is something Paul calls “anathema” in Galatians chapter 1.

What city is there today that fits this description? Be advised that the gospel is not based on works, but on faith in Jesus Christ. Acceptable works are derived from faith in Christ. Let us remember that God alone has done all that is necessary for man to be saved. It is only faith in what He has done that this comes about. The gospel is about God’s provision as is found in the giving of JESUS.

Lord, here we are – given the beauty of Your truth in the pages of Your word. And yet, we change it and pervert it. We mix in falsity with it and then pass that on to others instead of simply trusting that what You have given us is right, proper, and sufficient. Turn our hearts to Your word alone and let us rest in that. Amen.