What does Revelation 17 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
At this point in Revelation, the bowl judgments have been described, and all that remains of the tribulation is the second coming of Christ. Before this is explained, John is shown a vision which symbolizes two additional judgments which are spread out over the tribulation. Chapter 17 focuses on the ruin of "religious Babylon," an ungodly spiritual system which is at first supported, then ruined by the efforts of the beast. Chapter 18 will describe the fall of Babylon in a political or economic sense.

This chapter begins with one of the angels who poured out a judgment bowl calling John to see a "great prostitute." This figure is another of the commonly-known symbols of Revelation, often referred to as the "Whore of Babylon." What follows is a vision—specifically meant to be symbolic, and not literal (Revelation 17:1–2).

John's vision takes him to a wilderness, where he sees the image of a woman sitting on a strange beast. The beast and the woman are described in careful terms, to be explained later by the angel who brought John. In Scripture, sexual immorality is often used as a parallel for idolatry. Both are gratifying and temporary, but result in shame and ruin. This immoral woman is richly clothed, symbolizing her support and adoration by the world. She is also said to be "drunk with the blood" of believers. Wine and blood are often interchanged in biblical imagery—this woman is responsible for untold bloodshed among Christians. As explained later, this woman seems to represent an ungodly religious view, either something new or a corruption of the truth, which spreads worldwide at the time of the tribulation. This striking image causes John to respond in shock and amazement (Revelation 17:3–6).

In response to John's awe, the angel promises to explain the meaning of these visions. The beast is described using a peculiar phrasing, suggesting that it used to exist, does not now exist, but will exist in the future. Its heads are explained as both a series of mountains and as a group of kings. Many interpreters believe this is an additional reference to the Revived Roman Empire: a government once powerful, then extinct, and finally restored in the end times. The leaders described in this passage will make war on God, and experience sound defeat (Revelation 17:7–14).

The prostitute John saw is prophesied to be destroyed by the beast and the ten leaders. The woman symbolizes some form of apostate religion, and the beast and kings some form of government. This leads to the likelihood that this blended or ecumenical or universal world religion will rapidly go from beloved to reviled by the world, and be destroyed as a result. In the end times, Satan will not be content with any vestiges of religion other than that which worships him (Revelation 13:11–12). The religious symbol of Babylon will lose her wealth and status and be torn apart by those who once supported her (Revelation 17:15–18).
Verse Context:
Revelation 17:1–7 depicts a system of corrupt religion from which God calls upon His people to withdraw (Revelation 18:4; 2 Corinthians 6:14–18). This religious system is referred to using the name Babylon; the following chapter will use similar names and symbols to describe a ''political Babylon.'' This religion is state-sponsored, like the Baal worship imported from Phoenicia by Jezebel, King Ahab's wife (1 Kings 16:29–33). Just as Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4), so religious Babylon will murder many tribulation believers. In a literal sense, this suggests the one-world religion of the Antichrist and the False Prophet, but it also has implications for worldly and false religious teachings of our present time.
Revelation 17:7–14 explains the meaning of the visions John saw in the prior verses. The angel speaking with John explains the symbols of the beast, seven mountains, and ten horns. In the passage to follow, the angel will explain the downfall of the ''great prostitute,'' who symbolizes an ungodly religion. Other passages in the Bible speak to this vision in Revelation 17. e For example, Daniel 7 prophesies a ''fourth empire'' to produce ten kings and another king. The final king will speak blasphemous words against God and will wear out God's saints for three and a half years. However, the Most High will destroy him and establish God's everlasting kingdom. Daniel 9:24–27 and Revelation 13 also describe this defiant, powerful king. Revelation 19:11–21 reveals his end.
Revelation 17:15–18 continues the angel's explanation of John's symbolic vision, seen in verses 1 through 6. This section focuses on religious Babylon—pictured as a sexually immoral woman—and her judgment. Other Scriptures proclaim the judgment that God eventually brings on apostate religion. A few are Psalm 9:17; 73:27; Isaiah 1:25; 3:11; 34:1–10; Jeremiah 23:9–40; Zechariah 11:17; Luke 12:1–5 Jude; and Revelation 18:1–8.
Chapter Summary:
Revelation 17 zeroes in on God's judgment of Babylon as the center of religious corruption in the tribulation. The target of this wrath seems to be an eclectic form of all apostate religions. This might be a concrete, single religion. Or, it might be a near-religious blending or equalizing of all spiritual beliefs. God views religious Babylon as ''the great prostitute'' that has support from heads of state. This system is both extremely rich and murderous, guilty of martyring saints. It has a past and a renewed existence as a religious-political system. Together, the political heads of state and religious Babylon battle Jesus, the Lamb, but He defeats them. The end of religious Babylon comes when the ten kings turn against her and ruin her. They destroy religious Babylon because God puts it in the hearts to do so.
Chapter Context:
Chapter 16 resumed explaining God's pattern of end times wrath, this time describing the seven bowl judgments. As the last bowl is poured out, John is called to see a vision, which seems to incorporate events occurring throughout the tribulation. This chapter focuses on the fall of religious Babylon. Revelation 14:8 and 16:19 mention Babylon's collapse under the wrath of God in the tribulation. Babylon's ultimate fall may actually occur before the bowl judgments, anytime during the second half of the tribulation. Isaiah 13 and Jeremiah 50 and 51 predict the fall of Babylon. Revelation 18 also speaks of the ruin of Babylon, but from a political and economic perspective.
Book Summary:
The word ''revelation'' means ''an unveiling or disclosure.'' This writing unveils future events such as the rapture, three series of judgments that will fall on the earth during the tribulation, the emergence of the Antichrist, the persecution of Israel and her amazing revival, as well as Jesus' second coming with His saints to the earth, the judgment of Satan and his followers, and finally, the eternal state. This content, combined with the original Greek term apokalypsis, is why we now refer to an end-of-the-world scenario as ''an apocalypse.''
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