Dr. Richard L. Strauss
May 6, 1979
The subject of Revelation 17 is a great harlot. The name written on her forehead is, "Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth." By comparing Scripture with Scripture, we have discovered that the great harlot of this chapter represents a huge false religious system. This system found its beginning in the city of Babel in Genesis 11. It has continued through the centuries in one form or another, and will find its culmination in a monstrous apostate world church in the last days. The appearance of that great world church is described for us in the first six verses of this chapter, and in that description we learned that she was seated upon a scarlet-colored beast.
Her position upon the beast indicates two things: first, that he is supporting her; second, that she is controlling him. That beast is none other than the first beast of Revelation 13, whom we know as the Antichrist. The great world church of the last days and Satan's own world political ruler will be associated with one another. He becomes the primary subject of the next nine verses, and so we turn to the associate of this great world church.
1. The Associate of the Great World Church
"But the angel said to me, 'Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns'" (Revelation 17:7).
The verses that follow are difficult to understand because they are written in symbolic language. They have been the source of much difference of opinion among Bible scholars, and demand our careful investigation. I'm going to do my best to share with you what I think they mean. If you agree with me, fine. If you don't, that's perfectly alright as well.
"The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition" (Revelation 17:8).
The beast was, and then he was not. And then he ascends out of the bottomless pit. This seems to indicate that Satan's world ruler will be a person who exists, then dies, then is raised from the dead. We got that same impression from Revelation 13:3 when we read about a deadly wound that was healed. So this terrible beast, who represents a man, is going to be killed and will rise from the dead, and that will gain him the sympathy and allegiance of the world.
His ascent from the bottomless pit associates him with Satan (Revelation 20:1-3). And right here as his power approaches its zenith, we are reminded that his end will be perdition, or literally, destruction--a reference to eternal condemnation. But as his star begins to rise, the people of earth will be awed by him; those whose names are not written in the Lamb's book of life shall wonder before him. According to Revelation 13:4 they shall say, "Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with Him?" They are amazed by his power and they are overwhelmed by him.
And now his identity is revealed to us. "Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits" (Revelation 17:9).
The beast has seven heads. The man doesn't have seven heads, but the beast that pictures him has seven heads. We're going to learn something about him from those seven heads. The seven heads are seven mountains and the woman sits on them. She's sitting on the beast (the Antichrist--see Revelation 17:3) and the beast is seven mountains. Remember, the beast represents a king and a kingdom.
Bible teachers for many years have insisted that verse 9 is a clear reference to Rome, which has often been called the city of seven hills. I cannot say a dogmatic "no" to this interpretation. This may have been a secondary implication of what the Lord here reveals to John, but I don't think it is the primary emphasis. The seven heads represent a great king, who rules over a powerful kingdom. The point of this passage is not that this woman controls a city, but that she controls a king and his kingdom.
If you will skip down to verse 18 you will learn that the woman herself is a city that reigns over the kings of the earth. She is not at one time the city, and that which rules over the city. Furthermore, hills and mountains are different in the Scripture. Rome is the city of seven hills, not seven mountains--no one could mistake that whatsoever. And mountains are used in the Scripture to represent kingdoms. Look at Jeremiah 51:24-25:
"'And I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all the evil they have done in Zion in your sight,' says the Lord. 'Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, who destroys all the earth,' says the Lord. 'And I will stretch out My hand against you, roll you down from the rocks, and make you a burnt mountain.'"
The kingdom of Babylon is likened to a mountain. Now, turn over to the book of Daniel.
"You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34-35). A great mountain.
Now drop down to verse 44.
"And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold--the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this" (Daniel 2:44-45).
You see, that stone, which grew into a great mountain, was the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Mountains in Scripture often picture kingdoms.
Now go back to Revelation chapter 17, verse 9. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. That these seven heads represent seven kingdoms is reinforced by the next verse. It would be more accurately translated, "And they are seven kings." You see, the seven heads represent seven kings and their kingdoms.
These seven kingdoms are further broken down for us in verse 10. "Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time" (Revelation 2:10).
Seven kingdoms. Five are past. They're all gone. One of the them is in existence right now. One of them is going to come into existence in a future day. And when it does, it's only going to exist for a short time.
The angel says, "and one is." If we determine what kind of political power was in control of the world in John's time, then we know what kind of political power these heads refer to. As you well know, it was the Roman Empire then in control, the Roman imperial authority and power.
If you will leaf back through your ancient history textbooks, you will find that there were exactly five world imperial powers that preceded the Roman Empire. No more, no less. Moving backwards from Rome they were Greece, Persia, Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt.
Here then are six world imperial powers. And every one of them was dominated by the great harlot: Satanic false religion. Study their cultures in your history books, and see in each of them the evidences of the first organized religious system of Satanic falsehood initiated at Babel in Genesis 11.
But we've only dealt with six heads. What about the seventh? The world of John's day had not yet seen the seventh world imperial power. And you can search your history books from the time of the Roman empire until the present, and you will not find it. Oh, there were some who aspired to create it. Napoleon tried. Hitler thought he might do it. But it hasn't been established yet.
What was true in John's day, is likewise true today, the seventh "is yet to come." And when it does come, according to verse 10, it will only continue for a short time.
Students of the prophetic Scriptures are looking for a new imperial power. There are several indications in Scripture that it will be composed of 10 lesser powers who combine their efforts together. It will be a confederated kingdom of separate states. For instance, look down at verse 12, "The ten horns which you saw"--presumably on the seventh head--"are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet." You see, that seventh imperial power which is yet to come is composed of 10 kings.
Daniel predicted the very same thing. In Daniel 2, he revealed the secret of King Nebuchanezzar's dream, describing a great image of four parts, each part representing a different imperial power. Daniel only saw four, rather than the seven of Revelation 17, because he was looking ahead from his own time, and so he begins with Babylon (omitting Egypt and Assyria). Furthermore, he sees the fifth empire as an outgrowth or extension of the fourth. Look at it in verse 40, and notice the ten toes.
"And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others. Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay. And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile" (Daniel 2:40-42).
This is a revived Roman Empire composed of 10 confederated states. The same truth is revealed in Daniel 7:23-24. Daniel himself sees a vision in chapter 7, and its similar to what King Nebuchadnezzar saw. In this vision there are beasts. The fourth beast of that vision has ten horns, and they are ten kings that shall arise, the very same ten kings as depicted in Revelation 17.
"The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; he shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings (Daniel 7:23-24).
First there is a strong Roman Empire, and then there is a weak Roman empire. So what we seem to be looking for is a revival of an imperial world power covering--generally speaking--the same geographical area as the ancient Roman Empire, composed of ten different states aligning themselves with one another. That's what Daniel taught us, and that's what John reveals in Revelation.
Now of course, we look with interest at the European common market, which may be a forerunner of this very revived Roman Empire, or confederated states of Europe. Or, it may not be. I don't know. But it certainly is of interest. If you believe the Bible and are interested in what it teaches about the future, then I'd keep an eye on the European common market. It has possibilities. Their goal is to have ten nations involved and they are nations around the Mediterranean.
Now when this seventh world imperial power of confederated states of Europe is established, it isn't going to last very long. In Daniel 7:24, it doesn't say how long, but immediately after the note of its establishment in verse 24 we read, "and another shall rise after them; he shall be different from the first."
Revelation 17 is even more specific.
"The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast" (Revelation 17:10-13).
Let's see whether we can get this picture before us. This beast has seven heads; they represent the successive imperial powers that have ruled the earth. The seventh of these imperial powers will be a confederation of ten nations, which shall last only a very short time. And immediately after them shall arise the eighth world imperial power, and this one is the beast himself. He comes out of the seven, that is, he is the product of the world's imperial powers. And he shall come into his own when the ten confederated kings of the seventh kingdom voluntarily give their power to him. Verse 13 says they give their power and strength to the beast, and so become sort of vice-regents with him.
It is this eighth empire, the kingdom of the Antichrist, that shall make its power felt over the whole earth, according to Revelation 13:8, 12, 14-17. He does not have that world-wide authority yet, when the events of chapter 17 unfold. But he is the one who will be supporting the great world church when it arrives on the scene, and he is the one whom the great world church will be directing to enhance her own image and increase her own power.
While the event of verse 14 will not occur until at least 3-1/2 years after the events described in this chapter, the Lord adds verse 14 here just so we can be certain as to whom this is the great world church has aligned herself with.
"These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful" (Revelation 17:14).
It is none other than the one who shall make war with the Son of God at His return. But he cannot win. He is fighting the King of kings, and armies of heaven: called, and chosen and faithful.
I want you to look at this very same thing back in Daniel 7. Begin in verse 25, talking about the one horn that arises after the seven--the Antichrist.
"He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time"--that's a year and two years and a half a year: 3-1/2 years--"'But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever. Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him'" (Daniel 7:25-27).
Here is a clear outline of prophetic events from the book of Daniel, including the Great Tribulation of 3-1/2 years, the persecution of Tribulation saints, the destruction of the Antichrist at the coming of the Lord, and the establishment of the Millennium on earth.
You see, the Bible is coherent. It's internally consistent; it teaches the same things all the way through. That great Hebrew prophet Daniel revealed to us thousands of years ago what John revealed when he was on that isle of Patmos--revealing to us these great future events.
2. The Annihilation of the Great World Church
After what seems to be a very amiable and mutually profitable relationship between the Antichrist and the great world church, we suddenly read, "And the ten horns which you saw on the beast"--the best readings say "and the beast," not "on the beast"--"these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire" (Revelation 17:16).
Very strange. Up until now, they've been the best of friends. She's been controlling and influencing them; they have been supporting her. Why should these political rulers, who courted the favor of this apostate church, suddenly turn on her with violent hatred and destroy her? I think there are a number of reasons for this.
The first and most obvious reason is that this apostate religion has nothing more to offer them. Their primary goals are power and prosperity. They allow religion to influence them until their political power is felt around the whole globe. When the masses of people who were duped into blind enslavement by this false religious system are now in their control, then they have no more need for the system. They never did love it. They paid lip service to it, but lip service is not love. Deep down in their hearts they were probably fully aware that this system was empty, cold, lifeless, dead, that it had nothing vital to meet their needs, nor the needs of masses of people in the world. It is a debased and prostituted religion, and it has no useful service to render. A decadent religion is despised even by its adherents, who often become the cause of its own undoing.
Russian communistic atheism was preceded by an era of spiritual poverty in the churches in imperial Russia. The churches had no relevance to the spiritual needs of the people. And so it is today. We have humanistic religion, materialistic religion. If it doesn't meet people's spiritual needs it will be overthrown. And maybe today we see this great world church beginning to form. It takes on more and more the appearance of a political rather than a religious entity. It becomes colder and colder toward the Lord, further and further from a virile faith that transforms lives. And while it becomes bigger and bigger it has less and less power to meet needs and satisfy longing hearts. It has just what the Apostle Paul said it would have: "a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (2 Timothy 3:5). And so while the success of the ecumenical movement seems to increase with each passing day, the further it departs from Biblical truth the more assured its ultimate demise becomes. And that demise is assured by the infallible Word of God (Revelation 17:16).
I think a second obvious reason for the kings of the earth turning against the false religious system they once courted lies in the aims of the Antichrist himself. When they see in him the only hope for their world, and voluntarily give to him their power and strength, he demands more and more from them. According to Daniel 11:36, he shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god. According to 2 Thessalonians 2:4, he shall take his place in the temple of God and claim that he himself is God. According to Revelation 13:15, he shall demand the worship of every person on earth, with the threat of death to everyone who disobeys. There is no alternative but to destroy the great harlot, apostate Christendom, the great world church. The Antichrist will share his glory with no one, true or false.
But there is yet a third reason for the annihilation of the great world church. Read it in verse 17. This is incredible. "For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled" (Revelation 17:17).
You see, while all this is the work of Satan and Satanically inspired men, God is using them to bring the world to readiness of the return of His Son, and the establishment of His kingdom of righteousness and peace. God often used heathen nations in the Old Testament to chasten His people. Then He would turn around and punish those wicked nations. God was not being unfair. Those nations were acting in accord with their own will. They conquered Israel because they wanted to. But behind their will was a sovereign God, working all things together for absolute and unequivocal good. That is exactly what He is doing here.
Satan is building his empire. First he uses degenerate and apostate Christendom. Then he destroys that and establishes his man as the only object of worship. It is his doing. He will do it because he wants to do it. It is part of his plan. But above and beyond him is a sovereign God. It's all part of God's plan. Satan thinks it's his plan but God is behind it all, controlling the events of human history, working out His purposes. And when the cup of iniquity is full, God will destroy it.
There is a tremendous application for us in all of this. We see progressive deterioration in our society, creeping godlessness, immorality, and iniquity of every kind. We see progressive deterioration in professing Christendom, churches aligning themselves with the philosophy of the world, denying the great doctrines of the Scriptures. I don't like to see that; that grieves me. I'm sorry about what I see on the religious scene of our day.
God wants us to do everything we can to hold back this raging tide of iniquity--and certainly to protect our own children from its influences. God wants us to do what we can. But the point, dear friends, is there is no point in worrying about it. There's no sense in fretting and getting disturbed and upset and irritated, and developing bleeding ulcers over the situation in the world today. God says, "Be anxious for nothing" (Philippians 4:6).
God said this is what was going to happen. He said in the latter days men would depart from the faith and give heed to seducing spirits and the doctrines of demons. He said there would come a day when men would claim Godliness but there would be no spiritual life nor reality nor power involved in what they do. That shouldn't surprise us. We do what we can to hold back the tide of iniquity but we understand that God is allowing it all to happen. Ultimately, He's in control of everything. We can thank Him for it because it reinforces the truthfulness of His Word. We can trust the Scripture; we see even today the beginnings of what God predicts will happen in the last days. It only convinces us that the rapture is near. So we do what we can and then we rejoice. For the coming of the Lord draws near. Are you ready?
Continue to RV-12B: Babylon Is Fallen