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We continue our examination of the Book of Revelation, most of which is absent from the standard three-year Lectionary.  Few pastors wish to preach or teach about it, from Christ’s warning to the seven early churches to the end of the world.  Yet, Revelation 1:3 tells us:

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

Therefore, the Book of Revelation is part of the ongoing Churchmouse Campanologist series, Forbidden Bible Verses, which are equally essential to our understanding of the Bible.

Today’s reading comes from the King James Version.  Exegetical sources can be found at the end of the post.

Revelation 17

1And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:

2With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.

3So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

4And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:


6And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

7And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.

8The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

9And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.

10And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.

11And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

12And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.

13These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.

14These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.

15And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.

16And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.

17For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.

18And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.


In Revelation 16 we read of the plagues — judgments — of the seven angels and their seven vials upon the unbelievers of the earth.  Yet, like Pharaoh, they cursed God instead of repenting of their sins.

With the other two series of seven judgments — the seals (Revelation 6, 7) and the trumpets (Revelation 10, 11) — we had an interval before the final judgment in each.  These intervals were necessary in order for St John to understand the next part of the prophecy.   However, all the vials were poured out without an intervening explanatory revelation.

Revelation 17 and 18 reveal how Satan and his minions will be judged at the end of the world. This is to show the saints (and us) that Christ will indeed avenge their blood, as they have requested (Revelation 6:9-11).

One of the seven angels who poured out his vial explains to St John what will happen to the ‘great whore’ (verse 1). She symbolises churches, kingdoms and civil governments that turn from God.  Her ways are seductive, for they appeal to pleasure and power (verse 2).  In St John’s time, she would have been linked with the Roman Empire.  By Matthew Henry’s day (1662-1714), she would have symbolised a corrupt Roman Catholic Church.  Today, we might find her anywhere in the world.

In verse 3, the angel calls John to an in-depth view of this whore.  The beast on which she sits is the first beast described in Revelation 13:1, Satan’s blasphemous mimic of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The whore is dressed in Satan’s scarlet and looks gaudy (verse 4), which appeals to many people.  Think of the seductive arrays of red worn today, accompanied by bling.  The whore would fit in perfectly with our world.  All the more reason to pay attention to this chapter and avoid her wiles.  She represents the seduction that lures us away from God — spiritual, sexual, materialistic, power-driven.

The Revd Thomas C Messer, of Peace Lutheran Church in Alma, Michigan, who has studied the Book of Revelation and given his congregation a series of lectures on it, adds:

The best way to understand the Prostitute of Babylon is to contrast her with the Bride of Christ (the church). She represents all unbelief, just as the church represents all belief. All unbelievers are wed to the Prostitute, while all believers are wed to Christ. Her name, “Babylon the Great,” is contrasted with the New Jerusalem (Satan’s followers vs. the Church, made up of Christ’s followers).

Lately, I have run across online speculation on the identity of ‘Mystery Babylon’ (verse 5).  We can waste a lot of valuable time on such matters, which God will reveal at the appropriate time.  Until then, anyone advocating and practicing unbiblical activities (e.g. ‘don’t eat meat’, health ‘interventions’, nudging, eugenics, religious persecution, denying food to the hungry in the developing world or through European fish dumping, exalting immorality of any kind) is in thrall to Babylon.

In verse 6, St John receives a vision of the ‘woman’ — this same ‘whore’ — who has derived perverse thrills from the blood of Christ’s saints.  Matthew Henry observes:

she was satiated, but never satisfied.

And such is the way of all sin.

When the verse says that St John — the ‘I’ — ‘wondered with great admiration’, it wasn’t a positive sentiment but more akin to incredulity.  The angel picks up on this in verse 7, essentially saying, ‘Don’t find this surprising’.  The angel will explain, yet verse 8 appears puzzling.  Pr Messer interprets it for us (emphases mine):

Here is a reference to the “little season” Satan will have when he is unleashed before the End. The beast “was” – Before Christ came, Satan was allowed to stop the Gospel from going forth and to enter the heavenly throne room to accuse God’s children. We see the success he had throughout the OT Era as the Gospel was kept pretty much to the Israelites, and, even more, to the remnant within the Israelite nation which believed. The beast “is not” – When Christ died on the cross, He crushed the serpent’s (Satan’s) head, and when He rose from the tomb, He destroyed death and Hell forever. Satan was thus bound and no longer able to stop the Gospel and no longer had access to the heavenly throne room. Throughout the NT Era, the Gospel will be allowed to go throughout the world and Satan is powerless to stop it. We have seen the result of this, as there are Christians all over the globe … Satan will be unleashed for a short time before the End to “deceive the nations” once again (cf. Rev. 20). During this “little season,” Satan’s war against the Church will be intensified. He will infiltrate the Church with many false teachers and turn the multitudes away from the truth of the Gospel. But, all of this will be for naught, as the End is already written in stone. Satan and his entire kingdom will be defeated and will “go to destruction” in the End. The angel reveals all of this to St. John, and thus, to us, to warn us against that time to come, that we may remain steadfast in the Word and inherit the Kingdom prepared for us.

Therefore, we are not to despair but to recall these verses and know that God and His Son will vanquish evil and sin forever.  The angel declares a similar admonition in verse 9: ‘And here is the mind that hath wisdom’.  We are called to be discerning and level-headed.

In the second half of the verse and in verse 10, the angel appears to describe ancient Rome to St John, the Empire of his day.  The ‘seven mountains’ — or hills — of that city indicate this.  Matthew Henry explains the historical significance:

1.) Seven mountains-the seven hills on which Rome stands; and (2.) Seven kings-seven sorts of government. Rome was governed by kings, consuls, tribunes, decemviri, dictators, emperors who were pagan, and emperors who were Christian. Five of these were extinct when this prophecy was written; one was then in being, that is, the pagan emperor; and the other, that is, the Christian emperor, was yet to come, v. 10.

Yet, Pr Messer sees a contemporary interpretation of verses 10 – 13:

While this could have some historical reference, the deeper meaning here is figurative and refers to Satan’s activities through rulers in the world throughout history, not just specific Roman Emperors. The parallel between the beast who “was, is not, and will rise” cannot be overlooked. The “king” who “has not yet come” thus signifies the End-Time Antichrist through which Satan will “deceive the nations.” This is clear given the statement that this last “king must remain only a little while.” This is yet another reference to Satan’s “little season” before the End. Likewise, the “ten horns” refer to “ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.” Again, this is a symbolic reference to Satan’s “little season” when the rulers of the world will unite with him to make war with Christ’s Church. The numbers “seven” and “ten” here indicate that Satan’s “little season” will be “perfect” and “complete,” i.e., just as God has planned, so that He will be vindicated in the End and no one will be able to call Him unjust on Judgment Day.

Whilst it is disheartening to find that all these factions and nations will be aligning themselves with the beast, thereby opposing Christ and His Church, the Lamb of God will come in judgment to overcome them all (verse 14).  The world looks increasingly dark and foreboding to many of us, understandably, but this is all the more reason to turn to prayer, Scripture and, where we can find it, worship that pleases God.

Unbelievers are under the impression that Christ has died — the Resurrection, incidentally, gets little explanation in British religious education courses.  So, as far as most people are concerned, it’s history.  They will be surprised, to say the least.  However, the faithful — ‘they that are with him’ — will be not only saved but exalted to live with Him for eternity. As verse 14 states, He is not only the Lamb but also Lord of Lords, King of Kings.

In the last four verses (15 – 18), we see that the whore extends her seduction around the world.  Many will be deceived.  Then, infighting will occur and the same followers of the beast will turn on her, bringing about her destruction.  All this will happen because God shall direct it.  Just as he used oppressors in Old Testament (e.g. Pharaoh) to unwittingly accomplish His plan, so He will confound the evil of Satan and his followers.

So, do not fear. Be of good cheer, today and always.

Next week: Revelation 18

Further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

‘Revelation – Chapter 17 Notes’ – The Revd Thomas C Messer (LCMS)

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