The Woman on the Beast, 1-18

Rev 17:1 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters.

The great harlot – She is represented in two ways – as an immoral woman, and as a wicked city. Her pride, her flashy appearance, her opposition to the saints, her alliance with the beast, and her destined fate all tend to distinguish her as the embodiment of worldliness. See 1 Jn 2:16.

Rev 17:2 With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

Rev 17:3 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.

A scarlet beast – the colour of luxury and of sin (Isa 1:18).

Rev 17:4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.

She offers so much from her golden cup – popularity, wealth, ease, and power – but there is no lasting satisfaction to be had from her.

‘We may react to the glamour of 17:4 with a shudder—‘How cheap, how tawdry!’—because that is what we think is expected of us. But in practice, in daily life, the pearls and the purple and the golden cup have an awful fascination. The world is powerful, its message is attractive, and we know what it is to be like the bird held by the glittering eye of the snake.’ (Wilcock)


Babylon – The city of Babylon was founded by Nimrod (Gen 10:8-11).  The building of its famous tower (Gen 11:1-9) was ‘an idolatrous attempt to defy God’ (Wiersbe), and led to the scattering of the nations and the multiplication of their languages.  Later, Babylon became a great empire, before finally falling to the Medo-Persians.  So prevalent is the influence of Babylon in the OT that in the NT (and here in Rev 17-18 especially) it stands for godless worldy power: she is not only a prostitute, but the mother of prostitutes.

‘Already in the OT (cf. Is 13:1–22, esp. the ultimacy of the language in Is 13:9–13; 14:3–23) and certainly in the NT (e.g., 1 Pet 5:13; cf. 1:1; 2:11), Babylon stands not for a specific power but more generally for world power in opposition to God-the empire where God’s people live in exile. This is particularly clear in Revelation, which draws heavily on OT imagery in portraying the end times. Here stands Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes. She is the harlot, drunk on the blood of the martyrs, making others drunk with the wine of fornication (Rev 17:1–6), forced by God to drink a double draught of judgment in her own cup (Rev 18:3–6). She is the arrogant and secure queen of the whole earth, now smitten suddenly and decisively with pestilence, mourning and famine (Rev 17:15–18, 18:7–8); desolate, naked and destroyed (Rev 17:16); deprived of all her previous luxuries (Rev 18:11–19). She is the ruin inhabited by demons and birds (Rev 18:2). The force of the imagery is the more strongly felt in Revelation because of the deliberate contrast drawn toward the end of the book between Babylon and the new Jerusalem, which is presented as the Bride of Christ (Rev 19:6–9; 21:1–27).’ (DBI)

Rev 17:6 I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished.

Rev 17:7 Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns.

Rev 17:8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.

Rev 17:9 “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.

Rev 17:10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while.

This verse may contain an indication of an early date of Revelation. If these kings are Roman Emporers, then the fifth is Nero, and so the book was written shortly after his death. See Rev 13:18.

Rev 17:11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

This verse appears to refer to a ‘Nero redivivus’ myth – the idea that Nero, although dead, would appear again on this earth.

Rev 17:12 “The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast.

Rev 17:13 They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast.

Rev 17:14 They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings–and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

“Called, chosen and faithful” – The hymn ‘Who is on the Lord’s Side’ (Frances Ridley Havergal) alludes to this description, but with a slightly different word order: ‘Chosen, called and faithful’.

“Called, chosen” – ‘The general call of the gospel is like the sheet lightning we sometimes see on a summer evening – beautiful, grand – but who ever heard of anything being struck by it? But the special call is the forked flash from heaven; it strikes somewhere.’ (Spurgeon)

Rev 17:15 Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.

Rev 17:16 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.

Note the fragility of the prostitute-city.

Rev 17:17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled.

Rev 17:18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”