Unveiling the Symbolism in Revelation

Chapter 17

By Ernie and Mary Kroeger

The natural mind has knowledge but it does not have unlimited knowledge; neither does it always have the wisdom to apply this knowledge correctly. This is true especially of spiritual knowledge! God knew our dilemma, so he gave us Christ, and He has now become our wisdom! (1 Cor. 1:30) To correctly interpret this vision we have to see it with the eyes of Christ. We need to receive His wisdom!

"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. And when I saw her, I wondered greatly." (vv.1-6)

In the midst of this vision, one of the seven angels appeared to John and invited him to participate in the drama. He was told that he would be shown the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters. Who is this harlot? How can she sit on many waters? Who are the kings with whom she has committed acts of immorality? Our mind is filled with so many questions!

God has given us pictures in the material realm to show us what is taking place within us. In order to identify this woman, a name was written on her forehead. The writing on the forehead signifies the thinking that takes place within this woman. She is Babylon, the mother of harlots. The waters she sits on "are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues." (v.15)

In order to discover what this woman represents, we need to first look at the origin of the historical Babylon. For this information and insights we will consider some ancient historical records as well as biblical accounts. In Genesis 10:8-10 we find that Nimrod established Babylon as the beginning of an empire that stretched into Nineveh and beyond. He was head of an authoritarian government, and he became famous for having provided a safe place for the people to live.

Ancient history tells us that he had a wife named Semiramus who was unusually beautiful. Externally she was exceedingly beautiful but internally she was full of deceit, and a harlot of the first order. After Nimrod's death she wanted his political power. She used an unwanted pregnancy, caused by prostitution, to her advantage by claiming that she had become pregnant without any human agency. When her son was born she claimed that he was Nimrod reborn. The promise of a coming Messiah in Gen. 3:15 was still fresh in the minds of the people, so they easily believed her brazen lie that claimed her son was the promised seed of the woman. She called him Tammuz and said he was the Messiah of the people. This made her the mother of God  and the expression "mother of God" came into being. Now she was deified together with Nimrod, because Nimrod had come back to earth via her womb.

To further glorify herself she had many statues erected of herself with her child on her breast, and these were distributed all over Babylon. That symbol has gone throughout the world. Nimrod faded into insignificance, and Semiramis emerged into the foreground and became the original - the mother of God. Semiramis is also known by many other names. The name of Venus is familiar to all of us. In Jeremiah's time she was worshiped as the queen of heaven. In Paul's time she was worshiped as Diana of the Ephesians.

Furthermore, she claimed that this birth had taken place on December 24th, so December 25th was instituted as Child Day. The celebration of this day goes back to at least 2000 BC. Shocking, isn't it, to find that the origin of our December 25th Christmas celebration dates back to this pagan custom! Although some names have changed, the celebration still feeds our selfish nature.

This is the historical setting of Babylon, and it shows us the origin and spread of a counterfeit or harlot religion. We may smugly reason that this part of the vision does not apply to us. But God's purpose for this vision is for everyone throughout the ages. This external counterfeit religion shows us what takes place in our natural thinking. We may not want to admit it, but within every natural man and woman lurks this desire to satisfy one's own lusting  the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. These things form a harlot religion, and need to be judged as such.

John was invited to see the judgment of the great harlot! A harlot is a prostitute; she is not a wife! A wife enjoys an intimate relationship with her husband within a covenant relationship, and she is faithful to him! However, a prostitute is not a wife, for she is engaged in sexual promiscuity, and does not function in a covenant relationship with one man. Her desire for intimacy is based on her greed for money, so any man whom she can lure into paying the right price will do. She makes herself look appealing and enticing to him. Her intimacy with him takes place in the framework of greed instead of relationship.

This harlot sits on our carnal mind and wants us to be faithful to our flesh  to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life. These things are not from the Father, but from this world! Our natural mind is always tempting us to align ourselves with the lust of the flesh instead of being faithful to our husband, Christ Jesus.

Our mind is very deceitful! This deceitful mind is present in every person in every nation! It has no respect for color and language. It gives us a false sense of security. It attacks the very things it tells us to trust. It is very unreliable, for its choices are influenced by our emotions, situations, pain, pride, desire for comfort, honor, power, etc.

This is the mind that is in subjection to this woman. Among her many lies is the well-known doctrine that we have a free will. What is a free will? It is a will that cannot be influenced in its decision-making process. If this were true - if we indeed had a free will - then we could not be influenced by anyone or anything in our decision-making process. However, we know that we are influenced! So do the businesses that pay for their daily advertisements! There are innumerable factors that influence our decisions, such as goals, situations, fear, pain, torment, greed for money, honor and power, worry, threats, etc. Therefore we know that we do not have a free will. We dare not believe Babylon's lie! This harlot sits on peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues.

"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." We see this historically and internally. Historically, Semiramis is the mother and the originator of every idolatrous religion in the world. She corrupted kings and nations, for she appealed to their fleshly appetites. She instituted a substitute religion  an alternative religion to the worship of the true God. We see this in every nation throughout the world! It appeals to the lust of the flesh. Feasting, power, greed for money, sex with its many perversions, all appeal to the fleshly desires! "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die," is a well-known slogan! History reveals that this lusting for the gratification of fleshly desires is present in every religion.

How do we apply this vision internally? Who are the internal kings of the earth? They are the strongholds, the strong desires of the flesh that rule our thought life; they act as kings, and rule our thoughts. They try to keep us from being faithful to our husband, our Lord Jesus Christ, for they give us a false image of Him. This blocks a true intimacy with Him. As long as we are under the bondage of legalism, thinking we have to make ourselves better to be accepted by Him, we will be robbed of intimacy. True intimacy comes out of the knowledge that we are loved and are pleasing to our husband! Love opens the door and motivates the wife to be even more pleasing to him.

Legalism is a very strong rule, and very hard to overcome. It specializes in blame and condemnation. As long as we believe the messages that come from the wrong source, unfaithfulness will be the natural outcome. We need to see that our legalistic thoughts cannot provide the basis for intimacy and faithfulness. We need a loving relationship that builds intimacy! Once we see this, the harlot is exposed, and we can repent. This rids us of her rule and power over us!

Our harlotry takes place with images and idols. Instead of worshiping the one true God, the Christendom that lives on earth (in the natural concepts of spiritual realities) worships the image of God it has created in its own mind. We can only receive a true image of God by revelation, for our God is invisible to the natural eye. Without revelation, the mind gets busy and imagines a God that is like itself - having the same passions that are resident in fallen humanity. It has created many grotesque images of God - images that say God will burn most of humanity in hell for all eternity, that He is out to punish us, that His grace is tied to our last breath and that He only loves us when we please Him - are just a few of them. Paul told us that all imaginations have to be cast down. Since we cannot see the invisible God, He has to reveal Himself to us. Those who have not received revelation from God will worship their own images, and indulge the flesh. Thus they commit their harlotries.

They "were made drunk with the wine of her immorality." An intoxicated person cannot think properly, and he loses his inhibitions. He does things he would not do when sober. Immorality comes easily! The earth dwellers rejoice in soulish exhibitions in their worship of their own ideas of God. God wants us to worship His true essence; everything else is immorality. Worshiping the false earthy ideas of who He is, is immorality. We need to leave our earthy ideas, and let the mind of Christ teach us who He is. Living according to His thoughts takes us out of the earthy realm. This is how we ascend into the heavenlies to be seated with Christ.

"And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast." In chapter 1 we noticed that John was in the Spirit when he received this vision. But here we see that he is carried away in the Spirit while he is in the Spirit. This is the first time that this occurs. He is taken into the wilderness to see a woman sitting on a scarlet beast. The second time he is carried away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain. There he is shown the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. (21:10) These are the only two times that John is carried away in the Spirit. In one case he is taken into the wilderness and shown a harlot; in the other he is carried to a high mountain, and shown the New Jerusalem. In the deadness and dryness of the wilderness he sees the harlot, the mother of false religions; in the glory of the high mountain, he sees the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ. In both cases he was carried away in the Spirit.

"And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns." In the Spirit John was taken into a barren place. The domain of this woman does not have life. It is a dry, unfertile place! Only God's life is fruitful! Religiosity cannot bring life. It is like a corpse, dressed up and made up to look beautiful and alive, but it is void of life.

There was nothing in the wilderness to distract John from focusing on the woman. She was sitting on a scarlet beast. In Isaiah 1:18 we come across the word scarlet. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow." Scarlet is the color of our sinful nature. This woman is riding on the back of humanity's sinful nature. The beast is the same beast that we met in chapter 13:1, and he is identified with the dragon in 12:3. The seven heads, ten horns and the blasphemous names link them together, and show that they are one and the same being in different forms.

"The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls." Purple symbolizes royalty and wealth, while scarlet symbolizes sin. She is not wearing white robes of righteousness. Instead, she is clothed as the queen of sin! She is adorned with gold (divinity) and precious stones and pearls (salvation). Notice that this is not who she actually is; she merely makes herself look as though she is divine and bringing salvation. It is her adornment, not her nature. She wants us to think she is something she is not. Her intention is to mislead us.

"Having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality." The hand represents her works. A gold cup full of abominations, idolatry and immorality tells us that she tries to camouflage her abominations, and make them appear good. They are done in the name of the Lord. Jesus told the Pharisees that they cleaned the outside of their cup, but the inside was full of robbery and self-indulgence. They were like whitewashed tombs, outwardly righteous, but inwardly full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Religiosity looks very attractive on the outside, but it has no life. Its outward show comes out of death, and death cannot beget life.

We cannot divorce ourselves from the spirit of the Pharisees. Unless the Lord has done a deep cleansing within us, we too have filled our golden cups with self-effort  and that is an abomination to our God. Our natural mind is not any better than that of the worst criminal; though we may not have done the same deeds, it is only the grace of God that has kept us. Our corruption was hidden in a gold-plated cup - in our religiosity. We need to repent of our wrong thinking, and receive the thinking of Christ as revealed in the scriptures by the Holy Spirit.

"And on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, `BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH'." The forehead symbolizes the mind. It belongs to the soul - and our soul is our sense of being. In the symbolism of the scriptures the name always reflects the nature of the person. The carnal mind has a mysterious nature. The word mystery comes from the Greek MYSTERION, meaning to close the eyes, or to withhold knowledge. It is something that is unexplained, unknown, or kept secret. In a mystery religion only the initiated could receive this mysterious knowledge in a step by step process. No one could ever know it all. There were always more mysteries to be discovered.

This woman is the mother of harlots and abominations. A woman is not a mother until she has birthed an offspring. Every type of harlotry and every kind of abomination is birthed out of this harlot! Who is she? She is the soul of humanity, and out of her these false mystery religions are birthed!

False religions take on many different forms, but all cater to the lusts of the flesh. Some contain hideous perversions of sex, and these are usually accompanied by the celebration of great feasts, while others are very subtle in their false worship. However, all are greedy for money! The ornate temples, the statues, the pictures, the priestly robes, etc., are evidence of the unbelievable wealth and affluence of apostate religion! Kings and rulers attached themselves to it because it brought them riches and power. This greed for money comes from within - from the selfishness and confusion that is in the human soul.

The acceptance by the masses of an alternative religion to true Christianity is in evidence everywhere. Humanity wants to indulge itself in its desires rather than submit its desires to truth. Just as Semiramis rode on the back of political Nimrod, so churches and religions ride on the backs of their own political systems. In 1 John 2:16 we read, "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world." These lusts dwell in the soul of humanity. We need the word of God, the double-edged sword of the Spirit to bring a separation between the soul and the spirit. Only then can the soul become subject to the Spirit of God.

Religions come under different brand names, but they all come out of humanity, and at the very heart of each one is the woman called Babylon. They feed the ego and a worship of self; they build a reliance on their own good works and a trust in their own doctrines. This is the religiosity that is resident in the natural mind. Those who are captivated by religiosity are very sure that they are right; if anyone dares to speak otherwise, he will be called by whatever derogatory words are in their vocabulary.

The woman was drunk with the blood of saints and of the witnesses of Jesus. Wherever this woman went, a trail of blood followed. Under whatever name she happened to be operating, she destroyed the true followers of Jesus. Other religions don't have to be destroyed, for they are all her offspring. But the witnesses of Jesus do not belong to her family, so she wants them out of her way. If she cannot openly get them out of her way, she tries to do it through corruption. She corrupted the Israel of the Old Testament, but she cannot corrupt the true Israel, the witnesses of Jesus, for they are kept by the power of God! The Son of God has freed us from the harlot's power. The woman is enraged by her lack of power over the true church; she thinks death will eliminate the saints, for she doesn't know that they cannot be eliminated. The testimony of each triumphant death births more saints!

"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.'" (v.7) This beast is identified with the dragon in chapter 12:3 and the beast in chapter 13:1. He has seven heads and ten horns. This beast is the religiosity that resides in the human soul.

"The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go 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." (v.8)

The beast that John saw represents religiosity. It "is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction." Our religiosity is imbedded in our old nature. We all had religiosity before we became a new creation in Christ, but it was taken away when we received our new nature. When Christ becomes our life, religiosity is forced out of the abyss of our carnal thinking to its destruction! Every thought is taken captive to the obedience of Christ. We begin to see the sovereignty of Christ our Lord! We trust God to see us through our difficulties. Instead of blaming the devil for all our problems, we understand that we need difficulties in order to grow spiritually!

This will surprise those who live in their earthly or natural idea of spiritual realities. They cannot understand Christians who do not blame the devil for all the evil in their lives, and who do not rely on their good works for their salvation. However, they do feel relaxed in the company of Christians who are not judgmental toward others. Religiosity trusts in self; Christianity trusts in Christ.

"Whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world." The word foundation has been translated from the Greek KATABOLE, and it means to cast down. When Adam and Eve sinned they cast down the command God had given them - they cast down God's government in their lives. The book of life is not like the books we see in our present-day libraries. Paul informed us that we are the epistles - the books upon which God writes. Those who accept God's government in their lives have their names written in the book of life.

"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." (vv.9-10)

This woman is not a physical woman, for no physical woman could sit on seven heads (these heads are seven mountains) and on many waters. This is a picture that has to be interpreted symbolically. This woman sits on seven heads or kingdoms  and we know that the number seven symbolizes completeness; it encompasses the complete worldly thinking of humanity. She also sits on many waters, and these waters "are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues." Thus it includes all of humanity.

"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." (v.10) We're not sure that we have a complete understanding of this verse. But we believe that Jesus taught on this concept when He spoke to the Samaritan woman and said, "You have had five husbands and the husband you now have is not your husband." While this Samaritan woman was talking to the true bridegroom, He was still a total stranger to her. In symbolism we see that without Christ we are married to all kinds of doctrines, but none of them are our true husband. They lead us astray and do not give us true fulfillment. All our human concepts have to go!

"The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction." How intriguing! What is the Spirit telling us? The beast, our human nature with all its religiosity, was and is no longer. Christ takes away all our religiosity! This is the good news of the gospel! The number eight symbolizes a new beginning. We have seven days in a week, and the eighth day is the beginning of a new week. In Christ we have a new beginning - a new humanity; the old humanity goes to destruction. Christ is the firstborn of a new humanity, and we are the first fruit of this new humanity.

"And 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." (vv.12-13)

Horns grow on the heads of animals for the purpose of protecting their self-interests and establishing their rule and authority over others. So here is a description of powerful images that rule the mind. These images seem very real even though they are not. If they were real, their power and authority would not be limited to one hour. These images are created by the imagination, and rule the mind as kings. Their power and authority are rooted in the law (the number ten symbolizing the complete law).

It is so difficult to get the law out of our system and to let truth and grace rule instead of lies and legalism, for they foster unforgiveness, penalty and revenge! We want "fairness" and forget that we would be way beyond our depth in the red if God would deal with us according to what we deserve, instead of in mercy and grace! How thankful we can be that God has a plan, and according to His plan He will remove in us every trace of legalism, for it seeks power and authority by instilling fear. All that carnality has to go! God's rule is one of truth and righteousness!

"They have one purpose." Their purpose is to overcome the Lamb. How can this be accomplished? They recognize that separately they are too weak to accomplish the job, but if they work in unity they think they can be victorious. Everything that is of the flesh and the law is against the Spirit. Because the flesh wants to remain in the driver's seat, it unites with the law for the purpose of overcoming the Lamb.

Our rights are very important to us, especially when we think we have been wronged. It isn't difficult to find reasons to assure us that we have a right to be angry - even angry with God! A temper tantrum within us takes place, and we hear ourselves screaming, "This isn't fair." The law and the flesh produce many uprisings within us!

"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." (v.14) What an encouraging word! The Lord in us will win. Though He has already overcome the world, we have not yet appropriated His victory in every area of our lives!

Notice the interaction between the Lord and His chosen ones. Since He is Lord, His chosen ones will remain faithful to Him. They actually want to be freed from their bondage to the flesh and the law, but their bondage to self-activity is like strong glue that binds them together. Step by step the Lord brings His chosen ones to see that Christ has done it all! We can rest from all self-activity as we put our trust in Christ and what He has accomplished for us! To be overcomers we have to be in agreement with Christ! Our agreement with Christ makes us overcomers!

"And he said to me, `The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. (v.15) The harlot is sitting on or in all humanity.

"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." (v.16) The power and the authority of the human nature will hate the confusion that religiosity brings with it, and they will expose the deceptions (make her desolate and naked). To "eat her flesh" is not meant to be taken literally. It means that they will not comply with her demands upon them and destroy (burn) them.

"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." (vv.17-18)

Isn't it amazing how God puts ideas into the hearts of non-Christians to do His will? We hear preachers say that God can't lead us unless we give him our consent, for God is such a gentleman! Is God trying to impress us with His politeness or with His truthfulness, rightness and power? God got wicked Pharaoh to fulfill His will, and He never asked his permission! God surprised Paul when he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians there, and He didn't ask Paul's permission either! Yet when Paul was mercilessly persecuting the Christians, who would have guessed that he was a vessel set apart for the Lord even from his mother's womb? God has the power and ability to put ideas into the minds of the disobedient as well as the obedient to perform His will! However, this does not give Christians an excuse for being disobedient.

The common purpose of the ten kings is to give their kingdom to the beast. A kingdom denotes the dominion of a king over his subjects. The kings may think this will be a permanent arrangement, but God has ordained that it will only be temporary, and He has a specific reason for it. That kingdom can only survive until the words of God are fulfilled! God's purpose for that united kingdom is to bring about its downfall!

By now we know that the beast is the carnal mind. The ten kings symbolize the law; the law is our stronghold! Our self-righteous indignation is supported by the law, and refuses to let grace enter into the picture. How we hate to give up or relinquish our legal rights when called upon or forced to do so! Only the work of the Holy Spirit within us can convict us of our pride and lack of acknowledging God's sovereignty and His ability to provide for us! Agreement with the Holy Spirit brings peace and joy!

The beast nature rules in us until the words of God are fulfilled in us. The decline of the beastly rule is made evident by the peace of God that floods our hearts. Christ in us brings about the downfall of the beast nature! The beast nature includes the rule of the kings of the earth and the ten horns (our legalism) and whatever else is of this earth (our carnal nature)! Christ brings us into the heavenly realm!

The woman, Babylon, can only reign over the kings of the earth. She has no jurisdiction over those who are seated with Christ in heavenly places!

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