What does Revelation 17:1-5 mean to us now?

 

Got Apostasy in your life and church? Did you know that the term “antichrist” means anyone or anything that hides or hinders Christ, and/or prevents people from knowing and worshiping Him, even by Christians? This can be from a misplaced word that attacks someone so deeply they leave and never return to a church, to full-blown apostasy. Read 1 John! 

Another question we need to ask is what are we loyal too? Fades, trends, ideas, or the precepts of Scripture and the glorification of Christ? Why are Christians so interested in chasing fads? Did you know every theory and prediction of Christ’s return and the patterns of the day leading to His return have all been wrong? Another fad we tend to chase is trends on how to lead and manage His Church. Most of these are like chasing the harlot while ignoring the beckoning of Christ and His Way. We seek to water down His Holy Word to attract people—just as the devil manipulates people to trick them to his ways while we are called to disciple, teach, and worship Christ as Lord…His Way. 

Being a harlot means we are engaged in and promoting apostasy! What about factions, gossip, and pride? These are the things that God hates the most and cause the greatest destruction to any given church, something even Satan himself could never do. Point? WE are the real enemy of enmity, our sin building and conniving and converging upon one another, while we ignore Christ and His supremacy, precepts, and call! 

God is calling you and me—those who lead and pastor churches, who influence people in the church, who sit on committees, teach, or like to flee from manipulating and gossiping behind the scenes—to wake up and SEEK HIM, not ourselves or ideas or plans or trends! 

Questions to Ponder: 

  1. How does chasing trends affect how a pastor or church leader may lead and mange “His Church?” How can one discern between good trends and bad?
  1. Have you ever considered that most of them are like chasing the harlot while ignoring the beckoning of Christ and His Way?
  1. Who has command of you and your church? Is it pride, trends, and agendas, or is it God and His preeminence?
  1. What about factions, gossip, and pride? What are you going to do about it? What does Christ want you and your church to do?

 © 2007 R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries http://www.intothyword.org

The Four Main Views of Revelation 17:1-5

 

The Preterist view: They see this passage as referring to first century Rome; the harlot is Rome, representing its sin, and the consequences of its sin leading to its judgment and downfall. This passage gives greater details that have taken place in chapter 16. They see the scarlet beast as the same beast of the sea in Chapter 13, namely Rome. The scarlet is the blood that was spilt by the devastation upon Jerusalem. A few in this camp see this as Jerusalem, and the giving of the events when Rome destroyed it in 70 A.D. Of all the key words in this passage that allude to Rome, one is also used for Jerusalem, the “great city.” Thus, others in this camp see Rome depicted as destroying and not being the one judged. Also, harlot is sometimes used for apostasy of the priests and kings of Israel (Is. 1:21; 57:8; Jer. 2:20).The usage of terms in this chapter is a good argument for this position in general.

The Futurist view: They see this passage as the Catholic Church or the rise of an “antichrist” figure causing apostasy in the Church. Many see that Babylon will be rebuilt or the Roman Empire rising up again, the sacrificial system restored, and the need for the “red heifer” to atone for peoples sins. All this is happening at the close of the tribulation as the wicked rise up for one last volley against God, setting up the world for Christ’s return. Because Revelation is not necessarily in a chronological order, many in this camp have a hard time with this passage. Most say it is describing events prior to the judgment Bowls, and many see the seventh bowl as Christ’s second coming. There is a lot of discussion of at what point in the tribulation this all takes place. Most see Babylon as The Roman Catholic Church, a new Roman empire rising up, or a new, corrupt, religious system. Some see this as the reprising of the Vatican or it becoming more corrupted then ever before, mostly due to the description of dress of the harlot seen as priestly garments. Some have said the harlot could be apostate Christians who say they are serving Christ but are really serving other gods, or the decay of society as people “pimp” themselves to immorality and false gods. Others say that this harlot is the sum total of the pagan influences upon the world that the “antichrist” uses or develops for his purposes. The beast is seen the same as in chapter thirteen, but now showing her support, or else the political power behind the “antichrist.” Drunk is seen as the cruelty and bloodshed from the “antichrist.” 

The Idealist view: They see this passage as the evils of the world, its corruption, and its consequential influences upon the Church. Babylon is anything that causes people to seek sin, be seduced by evil, or fight against God. Ancient Babylon is seen as the template for evil governments, their wickedness, and their oppression. Adultery is seen as the ruins of Roman providences, seeking the favor of Rome by evil acts. Others see it as the vices of Rome that led to its downfall. Wilderness is seen as the “detachment” of Christianity from civilization such as the monastic movements, or the lack of Christian influence in the governments. The scarlet beast, as the same beast of the sea in Chapter 13, is seen as Satan. The dressed in purple is the prostitution of Rome and how it led the men to further wickedness and apathy. The harlot is Rome and its depravity that led to its self destruction. Others see it as anything that distracts one from God—the lust of the world. Drunk is seen as the indulgences of Rome and/or how they persecuted the Church, and the blood that was on their hands because of it, such as Nero.

The Historicist view: They see this passage as the fall of the Catholic Church and the corrupt papal system, as the true Church gains victory. They see this chapter as giving extra insights of the events of chapter 16 and of the Turks and Muslim invaders too. Each of these key words is seen as descriptions of the Roman Catholic Church. Wilderness is seen as “Campagna,” the desert area that surrounds the city of Rome where the Vatican is. Ten horn and beast are the persecutions to the faithful by the papacy. Scarlet refers to the priests—their vestments and their pompousness. The Mother Harlot is seen as Pope Benedict the 13th. Others see this as the apostate churches that have spouted since the Reformation, such as liberalism. Cup and forehead refer to the papal indulgences prior to the Reformation, and causing the faithful to worship what is false or hidden from their sight, and languages, as the Mass was behind a veil in being spoken in Latin. Drunk is seen as bloody persecutions of the Medieval Period and the martyrs who tried to reform the Church, such as Wycliffe. (Some accounts have reported the slaughter of millions—up to 50 million faithful Christians by the papacy during the period of the fall of Rome and the Reformation.)

Exegetical look into Revelation 17:3-5

 

  • Carried me away/in the spirit. Usually means “spiritual ecstasy,” that is, to be caught up in a vision (not necessarily teleportation, although it can be). The term is not referring to the Holy Spirit, but can mean being influenced by Him (Ezek. 8:3; 11:1-24; Rev. 1:10; 4:2; 21:10).
  • Desert/wilderness refers to the Exodus, but this time, a new exodus. This can also mean demonic—what is evil and foreboding or barren and desolate (Rev. 12:14).
  • Scarlet. Perhaps referring to blood that was spilt from the killing—the martyrs of God’s people. This can also be a retort on the seduction of the shrine prostitutes and their wealth and impiety, and also sinful conduct. (This is the passage for the theme of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic work, “The Scarlet Letter” of 1850!) This has nothing to do with a “red heifer” (holy cow) or a ‘scapegoat.” Such a view shows the necessity to read the Bible and not the daily newspaper or depend on our presumptions for our views on eschatology. Because Christ’s sacrifice is complete, we can add nothing to it now or in the future (Num. 19; Lev. 16; Jer. 4:30; Matt. 27:28; Heb. 9:19; Rev.13:1; 18:12).
  • Beast is probably the same beast mentioned in chapter 13, a possible reference to the Roman goddess “Roma” and the legend of the “she-wolf.” Also, it could be an image for Rome and its corruption. Ironically, in Rome’s quest and lust for luxury, they ended up destroying themselves into the dark ages of extreme poverty (Dan. 8).
  • Blasphemous names infers that God’s name is not worthy; whereas, in reality, He is worthy. (See Revelation 13:1-4 study.)
  • Seven heads refers to supernatural manipulation or the appearance of it, as in tricking people (Rev. 13:1).
  • Dressed in purple and scarlet refers to the “royal colors” of priests; here, it is perverted and used for idolatry. This also refers to the excess and “over the top” luxury at the expense of others. Such colors and clothing dyes were very rare and expensive. It may also refer to Jezebel and her wickedness and idolatry as adultery. Martin Luther was convinced this referred to the papacy he called “popery.” Thus, a contrast of goodness and evil (Ex. 20:1-3; Rev. 12:1; 18:7).
  • Glittering with gold… a symbol of contempt, slander, and/or a disrespect for authority, as pious women had head covering and prostitutes adorned their hair (1 Cor. 11:3-16).
  • Cup refers to indulgences and what one dishes out, promotes, and uses.
  • Forehead refers to being unashamed of sin!
  • Mystery means a “secret symbol” used in Gnosticism and the false religions at that time that demanded its people go through ridiculous rituals and initiation rites. This is what is referred to as apostasy (2 Thess. 2:3-7). 
  • Babylon the Great. Here it refers to great confusion when associated with the key words in verse 1, waters and mystery. Babylon was also an early church code word for Rome and also for false worship and oppression which will be addressed in the next two chapters of Revelation (Jer. 51:12-13; Psalm 137:1; Rev. 14:8; 17:15).
  • The mother of prostitutes/the great whore. A Jewish saying meaning “abomination,” ‘terrible,” and “confusion rests on the people.” This is an image of extreme evils, oppression, sexual exploitations, and the seductions of the world, referring to the evils of paganism and immorality and rationalizing it as OK (Lev 18:23; Jer. 3:3; Ezek-. 27; Hos. 2:2; Rev. 2:23; 7:3; 13:6).

 

Exegetical look into Revelation 17:1-2

 

  • One of the seven angels, meaning a “tour guide.” This is a common image in apocalyptic writing—someone who guides the seer or reader to what these events mean (Rev. 1:4, 10; 14:8; 16:19; see Revelation 1:9-20 Study).
  • Prostitute/harlot/whore is from the Greek word, “porne,” from whence comes the English word “pornography.” It means promoting and/or partaking in the grievous sin of fornication that hurts, steals, and destroys. This is an image used in the Old Testament to mean the abandonment of one’s covenant to God or the unfaithfulness and faithlessness of Israel. Also, this means the seductions of the world and that we have to be on guard as Christians. It is people being allured into sin, yet knowing it is sin and being able to resist—as people seeking to disobey God and/or to serve evil. To choose sin is a deliberate choice, one that God hates passionately. This was also a term used by the early church for Rome (Lev. 17:7; Is. 1:21; 26:16-18;  57:3; Jer. 3:1-14; Ezek. Chaps 16 & 23; Hos. 4:15).
  • Who sits on many waters means confusion; this was also an early church “code word” for Rome, as Rome was a vast, Mediterranean empire mostly on the coast or near many bodies of water (Psalm 65:7; 137:1; Jer. 51:13).
  • Kings of the earth. This was an early church term that referred to the various states of Rome, such as Syria; each one had their own king, like Herod, who was over the Judea-Jerusalem province. This word also refers to “mortal men” and was a derogatory term for fornication and idolatry; it did not refer to angels or demons.
  • Committed adultery/sexual immorality means betraying God by committing acts of immorality. These people had no reservations or protests to following an evil empire and being used by them. Their belief was that one has a license to sin; thus, one does not need to be obedient to God, His precepts, civil law, or any moral standards, nor have a need to bear fruit. God says this is evil as it portrays evil as being good. This can also be a reference to the “Emperor cult” and the governors practicing and promoting it, using it as an excuse for extreme immorality and wickedness (Judges 17:6; Jer. 2:31-37; Rom. 6:1-2; 14-15; 13:8, 10; Gal. 5:14; 6:2; Gal. 5:22-25; James 2: 14-26; Jude 4; Rev. 2:20).   
  • Were intoxicated with the wine/Babylon’s wine refers to the evils of sin and how it corrupts and destroys, even for the people who use them thinking they are tools to get what they want (Jer. 51:7).

Revelation 17:1-5: What are the Contexts?

 

The prostitute/harlot represents evil and the manipulations of forcing and tricking people to compromise—forsaking faith to embrace the devil. Such groups in the early church and throughout history sought to hide God and prevent people from knowing about true salvation. It is paganism, godlessness, false religions, and manipulating religion for personal gain and false teachings which are all extreme corruption and hiding of the real God in the shadow of man’s pride and corruption. Governments will seek this harlot so they can manipulate and dominate their people, such as totalitarian regimes and corruption. Corruption destroys everything as it prevents goodness, cooperation, and growth. It tears down rather than build up. People try to use it as an easy way to their goals, but it never works; rather, it causes breakdowns of self and society whereas Christ cleanses us with His blood and equips us with His Word to help build up the world. Thus, “building” is a primary theme of Christianity that creates community and cooperation with the goal of faith and the building of the Church. The devil destroys and tricks people to think that self destruction, the poverty of personal faith, and the breakdown of societal development are good things!           

            This passage is also referring to how the Emperor-worship cults were strangling the Church, tricking Christians away from Christ to its evils, saying it was OK and compatible with compromise, and not taking real, effectual faith seriously (1 Cor. 6:12-20; 1 Pet. 2:12; 4:3-4).

 

Revelation 17:1-5

Introduction 

The Great Prostitute 

Then, one of the seven angels goes to John and shows him some more details of these judgments, particularly the great prostitute whose evils have influenced so many. Many rulers and governments have succumbed to evil manipulations and refused to heed godly ways. They have sought immorality rather than Christ, and have given themselves to the prostitute of evil as one would do to a regular prostitute while being drunk—a total disregard for responsibility or morality. The result is that godly people are being tricked and prevented from knowing the One True God—Christ as Savior and Lord.  

Then, the angel takes John to the wilderness to see all this in action—the ways of evil being seductive, attracting, and ever so alluring to so many people. This great harlot blasphemes God and puts her trust in materialism and immorality and leads others to do so, too. And, in so doing, she is not ashamed, but rather boisterous and proud of sin. 

How do the evils of sin corrupt and destroy? How do they destroy the people who use them, thinking they are a tool to get what one wants?

The Four Main Views of Revelation 13:1-4

 

The Preterist view: They see the dragon in this passage as an invading power looking for allies in its evil quest. That power is Rome as it invades Israel. Some in this camp see this as the looming judgment against Rome for its slaughter of the righteous and invasion of Jerusalem. Others see this as Satan’s role influencing Rome. The sea is seen as the Gentile world or the pagan empires of Daniel. Most see this as the characteristics of an individual antichrist figure such as Nero or Rome. The healed wound is seen as the Nero resurrection myth being mocked, or the various emperors; others see this as the results of Rome’s violent wars and insurrections, and attempts of civil war. Some even speculate that Rome was wounded by the spread of Christianity and its assault on evil and its oppressive ways and/or the victory of Christ on the cross (Phil. 4:22). The worship of the beast and dragon is seen as Satanism, emperor worship, and the false gods of Rome. 

The Futurist view: They see this passage as a parallel to Daniel chapter seven, and an amalgamation of Daniel’s four beasts, meaning the Gentile nations and their collaboration and future attack on Israel.  The sea is seen as confusion and/or the great masses of humanity. Others see this as a European or Mediterranean power. The beast is the antichrist and he revives the Roman Empire. The characteristics are seen as the false charm and charisma of the antichrist as he deceives the masses. In addition the lion, bear, etc. describe the various empires coming together and their influence and hedonism. Most see these events as happening after the Tribulation. 

The Idealist view: They see this passage as a collection of the succession of political and social evils coming together for evil purposes in various times and places. The characteristics, such as the lion and bear, are seen as the activity of Satan and legislative actions of evil, persecutions, oppressions, or the rise of Satan against the world and the Church; some see this as corruption in the Church, or false religions, or both. The sea is seen as the Gentile world, corruption and paganism versus faithfulness and God (Is. 17:12; 60:5). The wound is seen as Rome and other evils recovering from the backlash of faithfulness and the rise of the Church, and/or the death of Nero. “Who is able to make war with him” is seen as the recovery and resilience of evil in Rome by the rise of Domitian. 

The Historicist view: They see this passage as an allegory involving the four beasts of Daniel, chapter seven, who blaspheme holiness and those who are faithful. The beast is seen as Roman paganism and the priests who propagated it. Others have seen this as the Catholic Papacy and/or oppressive ecclesiastical power, or perhaps the emperors of Rome. The sea is seen as the Gothic invasions; others as the various kingdoms of Rome. The seven heads are seen as the saying that Rome was built on seven hills.  The wound is seen as the hurts from paganism or the wounds to the Church because of apostasy, and the death of the beast, seen later, is the last of these pagan emperors, Julian, when he was killed.

Exegetical look into Revelation 13:1-4

 

  • Dragon stood…shore of the sea coming out of: Meaning a vicious, killing monster and refers to the attempt of Satan to mock God by attempting to create His creation. This is also an image of summoning a powerful demon. Satan brings his representation out of the chaos of the sea counter to God’s creation out of the chaos of nothing. It is interesting to note that Satan cannot create matter or bring something from nothing; he can only recruit, manipulate, and deceivingly use what God has already made, turning it into bad (Gen. 1; Col. 1:15-17; Rev. 11:7, 12:9,17; 13:15).
  • Beast coming out of the sea: This is meant to represent a messianic figure. Sea is a Jewish metaphor for what is frightful and terrible; it was also a colloquialism (saying) for a dwelling for monsters and things inexplicable and/or hostile (Job 7:12; 41:1; Psalms 74:13; 89:9-10; Is. 27:1).
  • Beast was a maxim meaning a persecuting power and/or a people who are demonic and evil. This term does not denote a singular person being an antichrist although the theme as John uses in 1 John does apply as opposing Christ. These two metaphors, beast and sea put together in this literature type refer to the tenacity, fierceness, and repulsiveness of this beast. In John’s time this also represented the Romans or any secular, pagan authority because Rome was birthed near the sea in its Mediterranean location as compared to the inland Asia Minor churches. Also, a symbol of Rome was an eagle with 12 wings and three heads coming out of the sea (Dan. 7:3; Rev. 11:7; apocryphal book 4 Ezra 11).
  • Ten horns … seven heads … ten crowns: Each of these is a metaphoric parallel to the nature of Christ. For example, horns means leadership, power, and authority; head is wisdom and position as well as domination; ten crowns is counter to Christ’s many crowns (Ex. 6:14; Num. 1:16; 27:2; Jos. 6:4; 1 Kings 1:49-51; Rev. 19:12). The beast is acting like the counterfeit of Christ—who is the image of God; the beast is as an image of Satan in his character seeking to trick people into believing that the real God is obtuse, when in fact the devil is. Seven heads was also a saying that Rome is a city built on seven hills (Psalm 2:7; Col. 1:15-18; Heb. 1:3).
  • Blasphemous name: Infers that his name is not worthy, whereas in contrast, Christ is worthy. Roman emperors had a tendency to take the  titles of deities for their title, such as Domitian, who took it to an extreme (perhaps a contemporary of John, if a late date is in view of his penning of Revelation), was addressed as Dominus et Deus noster meaning “Our Lord and God” (John 1:14; Phil 2:9-11; Col. 2:9; Rev. 19:12).
  • Leopard…bearlion: John is drawing images and characteristics from Daniel’s four beasts. Leopard also meant “being swift” and “military conquest;” bear meant “ferocious strength” and “stability;” and a lion meant “power” and “dominion” (Dan. 7:2-7; Rev. 12:3; 17:8-11).
  • Dragon gave the beast his power: Satan empowers the beast whereas in contrast God empowers and is Christ, who empowers us (John 5:21-23; Rev. 3:21; 5:12-13; 12:10).
  • Fatal wound…been healed: A counterfeit theme to the Resurrection of Christ that is the proof and means for evangelism, but Satan can’t duplicate it so some how it is imitated or faked. Some see this as the recovery power of the beast. This is also of the theme of Nero.
  • Was astonished: Somehow, this is the means that the beast uses (trickery) so people become amazed with and are attracted to be followers, going away from God and goodness (Rev. 17:8).
  • Men worshiped: This is also a counterfeit to true worship whereas, in contrast, people worshiped what is wrong and evil. People are attracted to the conniving and scheming of evil rather than to the centrality of Christ (John 5:23).
  • Who is like the beast: A counterfeit of praise, taking praise that is meant for God, twisting and perverting it (Ex. 15:11; apocryphal book Judith 6).
  • Who can make war against him? This may be an expression of the tenacity, persistence, recovery, and resilience of evil, as we say now, “you can’t fight city hall.”

Revelation 13:1-4: What are the Contexts?

During this time in history, Nero died (in 68 A.D.) by either suicide or murder, and a rumor was instituted that he would come back in vengeance on the aristocracy to destroy them and all those who doubted or came against him. Many Romans were in fear of his expected return. Then, during Domitian’s reign (81-96 AD), a cult leader, claiming he was Nero, rose in power in Asia Minor where these seven churches were, so this imagery was already in people’s minds through literature and circumstances. This person also made an allegiance with the Parthians, making himself the perfect antichrist figure. He was hunted down and executed. The Jews wrote oracles predicting that Nero would return to terrorize the Christians and prevent Jewish conversions just as some Christian groups used Hitler, Russia, and other groups to make their point and create fear. The early Christians greatly feared Nero, who had thousands of Christians put to death, and the prospect that he might come back was terrifying (called the Nero redivivus myth, Latin for “renewed or “living again”). 

In fact, Nero’s name was used as a term for the antichrist, which we will see later in this chapter. This image was so terrifying that for hundreds of years, most all of the great early scholars, including Augustine, Jerome, and many modern scholars too like Barclay and F.F. Bruce, believed that Nero was to whom John was referring and was the antichrist. Perhaps, John is borrowing from the news of his day or popular myths and this form of apocalyptic literature to make his point and show us how Satan works so we do not buy into his game. By the way, antichrist means anyone who opposes Christ, as a term it is found in First and Second John but nowhere else including in Revelation, although it can be argued that the theme of antichrist is found here. This is why we are to look at what the symbolisms refer to or are pointing to and not the meaning in English or what symbols themselves may mean in our day, else we get caught in vain speculation and miss the point that Christ has for us. 

Even though this passage is about the contrasts of Satan, many commentators have seen this figure of the beast as the person of the antichrist. However, there are some severe interpretive problems with this view. For one, the passage does not say it is the antichrist; nowhere in Revelation is there an antichrist personality other than representations of those who oppose Christ and fight His people. This points us to an antichrist in purpose but not a specific personality. (The Greek word for antichrist means “opponent to the Messiah;” in Scripture, it means anyone who opposes Christ, not necessarily a specific person – 1 John 2:18-22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7. In 2 Thess 2:3, “man of lawlessness” refers to rebellion, but again, not to a specific person. What some commentators have done is take several passages out of their context and string them together to create their position). In this way, anyone who opposes Christ is an antichrist as it is defined elsewhere in Scripture and by John. Thus, many read into the passage their views rather than seeing what this actually says in the original language and what would be understood by John’s readers in this type of literature and images.

Revelation 13:1-4

Introduction 

The First Beast 

This passage is about the contrasts of Satan versus the distinctions of Christ. Satan seeks to counterfeit and mock God. This is about the forgery of making what is evil and hideous seem attractive. The beast demands our worship and declares war upon the faithful! This passage is cut from its verse references to its context, as it really starts at the close of chapter 12, where Jesus asks us to trust Him as the dragon stands on the shore of the sea. John now sees another vision—a beast rising out of the depths of the sea. This beast had seven heads, ten horns, and ten crowns on each of its horns. There were blasphemous names written on it. This beast looked like a leopard with the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion. This beast gets its power from the Dragon. One of the heads was wounded but then was healed. The world marvels and worships this beast, deceived by its power and presence. 

John draws from Daniel’s four beasts (Dan. 7: 3-7) which represented four succeeding empires. Most scholars assume they are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon/ Persia and Alexandrian Greek/Roman, while others give them other orders, meanings and speculations. These refer to idolatrous kingdoms that persecute the faithful. In John’s time, they were in the age of Rome, the fourth period. Thus, it is a composite of domineering evil that also means worldly oppression, so that John’s readers could know what was evil and what was not of the character of God. We see this as an invading force whose wickedness and debauchery is unprecedented as the world is duped into worshiping Satan and or his evil ways; however, ignorance is no excuse. 

  1. How would you contrast the character of Satan versus the distinctions of Christ? How and why does Satan seek to counterfeit and mock God? How have you seen this done?
  1. Why did the people worship this beast while at the same time, be callous and uncaring of the real, Holy God? How do we do this in the church today?