Ecclesiastical Babylon (17:1-18)
In Revelation chapter 17 John is taken by one of the angels that had the vial judgments into the wilderness and there was shown a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 17:3). The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls, and in her hand was "a golden cup" that was "full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication" (Rev. 17:4). Written on her forehead was the name "Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth" (Rev. 17:5).
Most writers interpret Revelation chapter 17 as being ecclesiastical Babylon and chapter 18 as commercial Babylon. The harlot of chapter 17 is identified as the corrupt religious system of the first-half of the Tribulation period. After the true church is taken out at the Rapture, the professing Christians left behind will compose the apostate church of Revelation 17. It will be an amalgamtion of both Protestant and Catholic, atheist, and all those involved in various cults and "isms" who have not had a true experience of regeneration. The beast will support the harlot in the beginning, yet when he has no further need, he will destroy her (Rev. 17:16-17). The false prophet will then institute an idolatrous and satanic system of worship of the first beast (Rev. 13:12).
The woman is pictured as sitting on "many waters" (Rev. 17:1), which is described as "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues" (Rev. 17:15). This portrays the intoxicating influence the harlot will possess over the peoples of the world. She is guilty of "fornication" (NIV, adultery) with the kings of the earth as well as the inhabitants with her wine of fornication. Ladd states that "the idea here is not one of spiritual faithlessness, but of the prostitution of everything to commercial gain." She has in her hand a "golden cup" which is "full of abominations and fifthiness of her fornication" (Rev. 17:4).
The mystery of Babylon has to do with its origin. To understand fully "Babylon The Great" we must start with its beginning. Nimrod (meaning "rebel"), was a descendent of Cush and grandson of Ham. He is described as "a mighty hunter before the Lord" (Gen. 10:9). As the Antichrist of the Tribulation period will seek to destroy God's people, Nimrod sought to destroy the Godly line of Shem (see Jer. 16:16; Ps. 5:6). Four times the word "mighty" is used in connection with Nimrod (Gen. 10:8, 9; 1 Chr. 1:10). In Genesis 10:10 it describes the beginning of his kingdom and the city of Babel (Babylon) located in the land of Shinar ("Babylonia"- NIV).
Nimrod was the world's first dictator and a forerunner of the "man of sin" (2 Thess. 2:3) as he sought to build an empire in defiance of God. This defiance led to the building of a "city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven" (Gen. 11:4). This was in opposition to God's command to "be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Gen. 1:28). God saw their rebellion and then confused their languages and scattered them over the face of the earth. Here in antiquity we Satan's attempt to establish a universal ruler and empire in defiance of God.
According to extrabiblical sources Nimrod and his wife Semiramis initiated the idolatrous Babylonian mysteries. This included the worship of the mother and child; the child being Tammuz, who was clearly identified with Nimrod. The worship of the mother and child spread throughout the world's religions. Several instances in the Word of God relate to the child ("Tammuz"- Ezek. 8:14) and the mother as the "queen of heaven" (Jer. 7:18; 44:17-19, 25).
After the fall of Babylon to Cyrus and the death of Belshazzar, the Babylonian priesthood settled in Pergamos, there being "Satan's seat" (Rev. 2:13) and idolatrous worship of Aesculapius the serpent, the god of healing. The kingdom of Pergamum was eventually, upon the death of Attalus III in 133 B.C. absorbed into the Roman empire.
Much similarity exists in the emblems and dress of Romanism with the Babylonian model. The attire of the Babylonian chief priests included the mitre of Dagon (a crown in the shape of the head of a fish), the keys of Janus and Cybele, the crosier of Nimrod, with flowing robes of scarlet. On the crown was displayed the title "Keeper of the Bridge," which represented the bridge between Satan and man. This was analogous to the Roman title, Pontifex Maximus, which was later embraced by the bishop of Rome.
In keeping with Satan's principle of imitation, the false religious system of Babylon has been a source of confusion throughout history. The false ecclesiastical systems personified by the harlot of Revelation 17 is seen in its final stage before its destruction 3-1/2 years prior to the return of Christ.
Next the Apostle John is astonished to discover the woman drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus (Rev. 17:6). Walvoord observes that "the history of the church has demonstrated that apostate Christendom is unsparing in its persecution of those who attempt to maintain a true faith in Jesus Christ."
The beast of verse 8 that "was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition" is interpreted by some as the resurrected empire of the beast and others as an individual, such as Judas Iscariot or Nero. This parousia seems to be a second coming of the beast in imitation of Christ. Beginning with Genesis 3:15 ("the seed of the serpent"), the evidence seems to mount in favor of such an individual. The majority of scholars, though, interpret the beast in verse 8 as the resurrected Roman empire or either its imperial form of government.
Many identify the woman in Revelation 17:9 with the city of Rome ("seven mountains") and the political capital of the beast. Some believe that ancient Babylon will be rebuilt (Isa. 13:6, 9-11, 19-22) and become the beast's economic capital during the Tribulation period. In the beginning of the beast's rise to power Rome will function as his headquarters, but after Russia's demise, he will set up his base of operations in Jerusalem, which will be his religious headquarters. After his deadly head wound is healed, the world will wonder after the beast, "saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?" (Rev. 13:4).
Verses 10-11 have been debated over the years, with no clear concensus of interpretation. Some view the "kings" as literal emperors, of which five are past (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero) with the sixth being Domitian who was reigning in John's day. Others view these kings as empires in which five are past (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece) with the sixth being the Roman empire which existed during John's writing. Some see them as forms of government (kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs, military tribunes, and emperors). Most agree that the "eighth" is the Antichrist or beast who will hold full sway over the world the last 3-l/2 years ("a short space") of the tribulaiton period.
The "ten horns" compare to the "toes" of Nebuchadnezzar's image (Dan. 2:41-43) and the "ten horns" of Daniel's fourth beast (Dan. 7:7, 20, 24; also Rev. 13:1; 17:3, 7, 12). They represent ten kingdoms that will come together in the last days to form a federation of Western European nations who will unite under the headship of the political genius of the Antichrist. They will share with the beast their hatred of Christ (Rev. 17:14) and oppose His return. But before their demise they will destroy the harlot who has competed for the world's prestige and power. Compare Jezebel's destruction in the OT (2 Kg. 9:36) with the whore ("shall eat her flesh"). See also 2:20-23 concerning the prophetess Jezebel and her doom.
Commercial Babylon (Revelation 18:1-24)
Chapter 18 concerns commercial Babylon which represents the economic capital of the beast. Some view commercial Babylon as a world system rather than a rebuilt city on the Euphrates. Merrill F. Unger relates that "the Babylon of ch. 18 is the Satanic world system in its godless commercial and economic aspects. This system honeycombs all phases of the life of unregenerate mankind organized as a system under Satan." This system or city will be destroyed at the return of Christ; whereas, the "harlot" of Revelation 17 is destroyed in the middle of the Tribulation period. Commercial Babylon is destroyed by God Himself, while religious Babylon is destroyed by the beast and his ten nation federation.
In the fifth chapter of Zechariah, the Hebrew prophet described his encounter with a woman in his seventh vision of the measuring basket. In this vision a basket appeared (Heb. - ephah) covered with a talent of lead. When the lead talent was removed he saw a woman sitting inside the basket. Zechariah was told that the woman represented wickedness. She was pushed back inside and the lead covering was placed back over the mouth of the basket. Then two women appeared with wings like a stork, took the basket, and flew away with it. Zechariah asked the angel where the women were taking the basket and was told, "To build it an house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base" (Zech. 5:11).
What does the vision of the ephah and woman represent? The ephah and talent of lead are commercial symbols that represent godless commercialism and foreshadow commercial Babylon of chapter 18. Concerning the woman that was in the basket Unger writes: "The woman symbolizes ecclesiastical Babylon (the religious aspects of the Satanic world system), i.e., religionism settled down in and nurtured by ungodly commercialism (cf. the harlot of Rev 17, which represents her in a more developed stage of iniquity)."
Hal Lindsey, in his book, There's A New World Coming, asks the question, "'How can the woman sit contentedly in the middle of this economic and commercial system (the ephah) and yet want to escape from it so badly that she has to be restrained?'" Lindsey believes that the woman represents ecclesiastical Babylon (the harlot of Rev., 17) and the ephah pictures the revived Roman Empire and its capital Rome. Somewhere near the middle of the Tribulation period, with her admiration deteriorating, the harlot relocates to the place of her origin, Babylon. There she is destroyed by the Antichrist and his ten nation federation. Then the capital of the beast, which is Rome (Chapter 18), is destroyed by God Himself at the end of the Tribulation period. Both ecclesiastical and commercial Babylon are part of Satan's world system which will be ultimately destroyed upon the Lord's return.