The Scarlet Harlot in Revelation

We have seen the bowls of wrath being poured out as Christ gave His life on Calvary. By now, you realize that most of what we’ve been handed as “end times” events is far-fetched. It’s hard to believe because it does not make sense. The Revelation of Christ is much more straight forward and simple to grasp. After Christ’s crucifixion, one of the angels who held one of the bowls being poured out upon Him speaks to John in John’s vision:

Revelation 17:1-18

17.1 Καὶ ἦλθεν εἷς ἐκ τῶν ἑπτὰ ἀγγέλων τῶν ἐχόντων τὰς ἑπτὰ φιάλας, καὶ ἐλάλησεν μετʼ ἐμοῦ λέγων· Δεῦρο, δείξω σοι τὸ κρίμα τῆς πόρνης τῆς μεγάλης τῆς καθημένης ἐπὶ ὑδάτων πολλῶν,  2 μεθʼ ἧς ἐπόρνευσαν οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς, καὶ ἐμεθύσθησαν οἱ κατοικοῦντες τὴν γῆν ἐκ τοῦ οἴνου τῆς πορνείας αὐτῆς.  3 καὶ ἀπήνεγκέν με εἰς ἔρημον ἐν πνεύματι. καὶ εἶδον γυναῖκα καθημένην ἐπὶ θηρίον κόκκινον, γέμοντα ὀνόματα βλασφημίας, ἔχων κεφαλὰς ἑπτὰ καὶ κέρατα δέκα.  4 καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἦν περιβεβλημένη πορφυροῦν καὶ κόκκινον, καὶ κεχρυσωμένη χρυσίῳ καὶ λίθῳ τιμίῳ καὶ μαργαρίταις, ἔχουσα ποτήριον χρυσοῦν ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτῆς γέμον βδελυγμάτων καὶ τὰ ἀκάθαρτα τῆς πορνείας αὐτῆς,  5 καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ μέτωπον αὐτῆς ὄνομα γεγραμμένον, μυστήριον, Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη, ἡ μήτηρ τῶν πορνῶν καὶ τῶν βδελυγμάτων τῆς γῆς.  6 καὶ εἶδον τὴν γυναῖκα μεθύουσαν ἐκ τοῦ αἵματος τῶν ἁγίων καὶ ἐκ τοῦ αἵματος τῶν μαρτύρων Ἰησοῦ. 

Καὶ ἐθαύμασα ἰδὼν αὐτὴν θαῦμα μέγα·  7 καὶ εἶπέν μοι ὁ ἄγγελος· Διὰ τί ἐθαύμασας; ἐγὼ ἐρῶ σοι τὸ μυστήριον τῆς γυναικὸς καὶ τοῦ θηρίου τοῦ βαστάζοντος αὐτήν, τοῦ ἔχοντος τὰς ἑπτὰ κεφαλὰς καὶ τὰ δέκα κέρατα·  8 τὸ θηρίον ὃ εἶδες ἦν καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν, καὶ μέλλει ἀναβαίνειν ἐκ τῆς ἀβύσσου, καὶ εἰς ἀπώλειαν ὑπάγει· καὶ θαυμασθήσονται οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, ὧν οὐ γέγραπται τὸ ὄνομα ἐπὶ τὸ βιβλίον τῆς ζωῆς ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, βλεπόντων τὸ θηρίον ὅτι ἦν καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν καὶ παρέσται.  

9 Ὧδε ὁ νοῦς ὁ ἔχων σοφίαν. αἱ ἑπτὰ κεφαλαὶ ἑπτὰ ὄρη εἰσίν, ὅπου ἡ γυνὴ κάθηται ἐπʼ αὐτῶν. καὶ βασιλεῖς ἑπτά εἰσιν·  10 οἱ πέντε ἔπεσαν, ὁ εἷς ἔστιν, ὁ ἄλλος οὔπω ἦλθεν, καὶ ὅταν ἔλθῃ ὀλίγον αὐτὸν δεῖ μεῖναι,  11 καὶ τὸ θηρίον ὃ ἦν καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν. καὶ αὐτὸς ὄγδοός ἐστιν καὶ ἐκ τῶν ἑπτά ἐστιν, καὶ εἰς ἀπώλειαν ὑπάγει.  12 καὶ τὰ δέκα κέρατα ἃ εἶδες δέκα βασιλεῖς εἰσιν, οἵτινες βασιλείαν οὔπω ἔλαβον, ἀλλὰ ἐξουσίαν ὡς βασιλεῖς μίαν ὥραν λαμβάνουσιν μετὰ τοῦ θηρίου.  13 οὗτοι μίαν γνώμην ἔχουσιν, καὶ τὴν δύναμιν καὶ ἐξουσίαν αὐτῶν τῷ θηρίῳ διδόασιν.  14 οὗτοι μετὰ τοῦ ἀρνίου πολεμήσουσιν, καὶ τὸ ἀρνίον νικήσει αὐτούς, ὅτι κύριος κυρίων ἐστὶν καὶ βασιλεὺς βασιλέων, καὶ οἱ μετʼ αὐτοῦ κλητοὶ καὶ ἐκλεκτοὶ καὶ πιστοί.  

15 Καὶ λέγει μοι· Τὰ ὕδατα ἃ εἶδες, οὗ ἡ πόρνη κάθηται, λαοὶ καὶ ὄχλοι εἰσὶν καὶ ἔθνη καὶ γλῶσσαι.  16 καὶ τὰ δέκα κέρατα ἃ εἶδες καὶ τὸ θηρίον, οὗτοι μισήσουσι τὴν πόρνην, καὶ ἠρημωμένην ποιήσουσιν αὐτὴν καὶ γυμνήν, καὶ τὰς σάρκας αὐτῆς φάγονται, καὶ αὐτὴν κατακαύσουσιν ἐν πυρί·  17 ὁ γὰρ θεὸς ἔδωκεν εἰς τὰς καρδίας αὐτῶν ποιῆσαι τὴν γνώμην αὐτοῦ, καὶ ποιῆσαι μίαν γνώμην καὶ δοῦναι τὴν βασιλείαν αὐτῶν τῷ θηρίῳ, ἄχρι τελεσθήσονται οἱ λόγοι τοῦ θεοῦ.  18 καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἣν εἶδες ἔστιν ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη ἡ ἔχουσα βασιλείαν ἐπὶ τῶν βασιλέων τῆς γῆς.  

The scarlet harlot (v. 1-7)

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly. And the angel said to me, “Why do you wonder? 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.

John is shown a scarlet harlot riding a beast. She is drunk with her own immorality and the blood of the Old Testament saints and the New Testament church. The harlot is Babylon and represents the kingdoms of the world. As we have seen, the kingdoms of this world perpetually entice people into materialism, economic concern, self-interest, and welfare rather than the worship of Christ and recognition of His providence. The kingdoms of the world revel in the destruction of Christ’s true church. Any worldly kingdom or organization, then, that celebrates the downfall or death of the true church is represented by the scarlet harlot and draws people away from Christ to pursue religiosity, wealth, luxuries, comfort, preferences, and deny sincere repentance in response to Christ’s Gospel. Sadly, many organizations that call themselves local churches are more like the scarlet harlot than Christ.

John is placing the presence of this scarlet harlot at Christ’s crucifixion, as we have seen. She is not “the antichrist” or some one-world government—especially since the only one-world government we ever see in Scripture is Christ’s. Notice, now after the crucifixion when the bowls of coronation were poured upon Christ, that those who dwell upon the earth were made drunk with the wine of the scarlet harlot’s immorality—that’s past tense. Something happened in the crucifixion that sucked all the influence from the scarlet harlot. No longer can people simply get drunk on her immorality. There is judgment now—the judgment of Christ at the moment all federal authority in heaven and on earth was given to Him (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). John describes the harlot in symbolic imagery, and will explain what he means explicitly in the following verses.

The new bend of history (v. 8-18)

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and ego to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. Victory for the Lamb These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”

John explains the meaning of the symbol he described in verses 1-7. The beast is the one who was, is not, and will come and go to destruction. In Revelation 13, there were two beasts representing worldly nations and religions—particularly Rome. John has been encouraging those who are loyal to Jesus Christ even though worldly governments and religions persecute them in the current tribulation (cf. 1:9). As opposed to the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who was, is, and will be forever, worldly governments and religions were, are not, and will go to destruction. John’s statement is not some statement indicating the resurrection of “the” anti-Christ; to interpret the text as such, we must add words and change John’s argument. Unlike Jesus, the nations and religions of the world are mortal. They die. They will be raised up in order to be cast into eternal destruction.

The 7 heads are 7 kings of the worldly nations. Futurists and historicists often identify these kings as the nations from Daniel 2:37-45, but John identifies his own imagery as referring to kings and not nations. He uses the imagery from Daniel’s apocalypse to describe the same kind of thing Daniel described, but the symbol is his own. Preterists often identify the kings as Roman emperors, but John does not define his own symbol that precisely. We recall that Revelation is a picture, not a puzzle. Doubtless John had either Nero, Domitian, or both in mind. In apocalyptic literature, 7 is the number of completion or perfection; 6 is the number of incompletion or imperfection; 8 is the number of resurrection. The 6th king’s reign symbolizes the fact that worldly kings have not yet completed their part in God’s plan. There will be a day when the kings of the earth finish their blasphemous work. When the nations of the world are raised to destruction, so will her kings be raised to destruction.

The 10 horns are worldly representatives, kings without the power to rule, who wage war against Jesus and draw people to worship the nations and religions of the world. 10 is not a literal number but an apocalyptic number meaning “fullness.” As a reminder, John identified his own description as a sign, not a literal number (15:1). The Lamb, Jesus Christ, and His chosen people will overcome the world and her kings. So, there is no narrative present about things getting worse and worse for Christians until a final, secret rapture. Quite literally, John states very clearly that the Lamb will overcome the worldly nations because He is, present tense, King of kings and Lord or lords. Unfortunately, the consequence of dispensational theology is a christ who does not reign in the present tense and has no power over the nations—though most dispensationals I know would not make this admission (I certainly wouldn’t when I was a dispensational). John believes Christ is King and Lord and is claiming victory over worldly nations and renewing His earth, bringing His kingdom to bear on the world because of His crucifixion—when all His work was finished. Those who are with Christ, His church in the present age (as John writes, cf. 1:9), are the called, chosen, and faithful—they are the elect from among the nations. 

And he said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”

The harlot was previously identified as Babylon (v. 5) and is now identified as the great city, or Jerusalem. Look at the wording of the text. The beast, previously described as Rome (Chapter 13), and all the other kingdoms governed by Rome hate the harlot—now being identified as Jerusalem. John is here either predicting or recounting the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Rome does make Jerusalem desolate and naked. Rome does symbolically eat her flesh and literally burns her up with fire. God has put it in Rome’s hearts to execute His purpose—judgment upon Israel who prostituted herself instead of believing in her Messiah. God brings the heathen nations under Rome together in order to execute His own purpose. He is in charge. John, here, claims that God brought the nations together under the beast, Rome during the Roman conquests, in order to fulfill His own words, prophecies concerning Israel. He does so in AD 70. Jerusalem will no longer rule, religiously or any other way, over the kings of the earth. She is being judged and destroyed. God is tearing down the temple. There is no longer need for a temple. Christ has finished His work (cf. 21:22). If we read the Bible this way instead of trying to force s futuristic narrative to work, we don’t have to invent future events like the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. The fact that Muslims control the Temple mount makes sense when compared with the Bible. We don’t have to look for those signs to try to predict Christ’s return. He will return when He wants, at the best time. The prophecies concerning the Temple are already fulfilled. There won’t necessarily be an earth-shaking event, a dramatic installation of a one-world leader, or any of it. God is good, not malicious.

The narrative being presented in the Revelation is one of encouragement. It is not a difficult-to-grasp narrative. It is not bizarre, like the religious, futuristic legends we often hear in certain settings that encourage our disbelief because the tales are so out there. Christ came to establish His kingdom. All authority in heaven and on earth was given to Him. He is taking over the world. The unjust and unbelieving are being judged. Take courage. Be comforted in this tribulation leading up to Christ’s return.

Local churches, I want to make a plea with you. Please begin teaching the biblical narrative instead of the one people have invented and misappropriated Scripture to defend. We want to come up with so many reasons why younger generations have and are leaving the church. It ultimately comes down to what we preach and teach. There is power in the correct teaching of God’s word. God has no obligation to honor our made-up narratives.

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