By Brannon S. Howse
Some scholars believe that Revelation 17 is a religious Babylon based in Rome while Revelation 18 is a commercial Babylon based in the Iraqi city of Babylon, but the Scriptures do not describe this at all. The descriptions of Babylon in Revelation 17 match those used in Revelation 18. Compare the two:
Revelation 17:5—“Babylon the great”; 18:2—“Babylon the great.”
Revelation 17:18—“the woman whom you saw is that great city”;
18:10—“that great city Babylon.”
The deception and seduction described in Revelation 17 is also described in Revelation 18:
Revelation 17:2—“with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication”; 18:3—“For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury”; 18: 9—“The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning.”
In Revelation 17 and 18, Babylon is described as being adorned in the same colors and wealth; 17:4— “The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication”; 18:16 reads—“Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls!”
In Revelation 17:3-6, the woman is the city of Babylon riding the beast, and in Revelation 17 and 18, the city is described as persecuting the saints. Revelation 17:6— “I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement”; 18:24—“And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.”
The description of Babylon in Revelation 17 is the same as in Revelation 18.
In Revelation 17:7 the angel tells John that is he is going to explain to him how the religious ecumenical harlot of Revelation 17:1-2 and the economic and political woman of Babylon can all work together as one to accomplish a global religious Reich. It takes all of Revelation 17 explain.
Revelation 17, 18, and 19 describe one system made up of three parts: religion, economics, and politics. The common misunderstanding that there are two Babylons derives from Revelation 17:16, which reads: “And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.” In Revelation 17:16 the harlot is murdered, yet in Revelation 18 the description of a harlot looks like the harlot of Revelation 17. Then in Revelation 19:2, Babylon is called the “great harlot.” So how can you have a harlot in Revelation 18 and 19 if she has been killed off in Revelation 17?
After hours of studying Revelation 17, I finally saw the key to understanding this apparent contradiction of a murdered harlot in Revelation 17 reappearing in Revelation 18 and 19. The solution is that Revelation 17 describes a woman and a great harlot who are different characters. Revelation 17:1 discusses a “great harlot,” and Revelation 19:2 discusses a “great harlot”—two different harlots. There are not two Babylons, but there are two harlots. I asked numerous prophecy experts and Bible scholars if they were aware that there are two harlots in Revelation 17, and they were not. Yet after I explained my discovery, they agreeed that this was a crucial insight into understanding Revelation 17, 18, and 19.
Before I further explain the two harlots theory, let me explain how some people describe a murdered harlot in Revelation 17:16 reappearing in Revelation 18. Some argue that Revelation 17 and 18 describe the same events. Yet as we will see, the fire in Revelation 17:16 is not the same smoke from the burning in Revelation 18:9 and 18. Thus, the events of Revelation 17 and 18 are not the same. Both chapters detail facts about the city of Babylon, but if you look closely, you’ll see that they are not the exact same facts, and the chapters appear to be describing facts in chronological order.
The other way to get around the problem that occurs when the harlot is killed off in Revelation 17:16 is to say that there are two Babylons and two harlots. In this scenario, Revelation 17 is the religious Babylon and harlot in Rome while Revelation 18 refers to a commercial Babylon and harlot in Babylon, but this does not hold up as I have already explained by comparing the descriptions in Revelation 17 and 18.
In addition, why would some say Babylon is actually the city of Babylon when mentioned in Genesis 10 and 11 where the Tower of Babel is built, as well as the many other times Babylon is mentioned in the Old Testament, yet when folks get to Revelation 17 they suddenly want to spiritualize Babylon? This approach also requires that Babylon be taken literally again in the very next chapter, Revelation 18.
In his exegetical commentary on Revelation, Robert L. Thomas further reveals that Revelation 17 and 18 are not discussing two different Babylons but are simply giving information about one:
[quote] The section 17:1-19:10 is a unit, with introductory and concluding formulas (17:1-3a; 19:9-10). Whether referred to as an appendix or as an extended footnote, it is an expansion and explanation of the seventh bowl judgement. An angel proclaimed Babylon’s doom as early as 14:8, and the introductory overview of the seventh bowl has told of the city’s drinking of “the cup of the wine of the anger of God’s wrath” (16:17). Yet the account has given no information about the city’s religious and commercial outreach and about what events have led up to her final spiritual and material devastation. Chapters 17-18 fill this void. [end quote]
Dr. Thomas also writes: “John’s angel-guide quite clearly alludes repeatedly to Babylon on the Euphrates throughout chapters 17-18.”
. . . But Two Harlots
While Revelation 17 does deal more with the religious aspect of Babylon, and Revelation 18 deals more with the economic aspects of the city, both chapters are discussing Babylon. There is not a harlot, spiritual Babylon in Rome in Revelation 17, and a harlot, commercial Babylon in literal Babylon in Revelation 18. All of Revelation 17 and 18 takes place in literal Babylon, as I have explained. Yet there are two harlots—two “great harlots,” in fact. The key is that only one can be great at a time. Look at Revelation 17:12:
[quote] Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” (emphasis mine) [end quote]
The “great harlot” sits on many waters, the nations of the world, as I said earlier. People throughout the world have been seduced into idolatry and spiritual fornication with this “great harlot.” This is harlot number one.
Notice that Revelation 17:3 reads, “So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” The setting changes when John is taken away in the Spirit into the wilderness. The focus also changes from the “great harlot” to a woman, and this woman is not sitting on “many waters.” In verse three, she is “sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” Revelation 17:1-2 describes a “great harlot” sitting on “many waters” and spiritually deceiving the world, whereas Revelation 17:3-6 describes “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast.” These are two different women, yet both are harlots—one called “the great harlot” and the other “the mother of harlots.” One “sits on many waters,” and the other is “sitting on a scarlet beast.”
Babylon is “the mother of harlots” because most of the false world religions that have united to create “the great harlot” of Revelation 17:1 are now headquartered in Babylon. It’s the same place these false religions were birthed at the Tower of Babel.
I will explain in great detail later why Babylon is “the mother of harlots.” For now, though, understand that “the great harlot” is a world religious system or what I call the ecumenical harlot. The woman “sitting on a scarlet beast” is the actual city of Babylon aligned with “the great harlot,” the Antichrist, and his ten world assistants. So Babylon is a religious, political, and economic harlot in Revelation 17, but she is not yet the chapter 18 “great harlot.” “The great harlot” at this point is the ecumenical, one-world religious system. Babylon will eventually be “the great harlot” once the Antichrist and his ten world assistants devour the ecumenical harlot, as described in Revelation 17:16. We know Babylon becomes “the great harlot” because Revelation 19:2 tells us so:
"For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her."
“The great harlot” of Revelation 19:2 is not described as one that “sits on many waters” because this is great harlot number two. Number one is destroyed by the Antichrist and his ten world assistants, so Babylon becomes the second great harlot.
Once the first harlot is destroyed in 17:15, she is never mentioned again. Her role was to help the Antichrist build his world empire.
As I explained in Chapter 1, religion is the key to globalization and the achievement of a world government and economic system. Revelation 17 shows how the Antichrist simply takes this great harlot and uses her to accomplish his goal of building an economic and governmental Reich that he can control exclusively. And isn’t that just like a politician to use religion to accomplish his or her own egotistical goals? Once the great ecumenical harlot has served her purpose, Antichrist and his ten cronies turn on her as described in Revelation 17:15-17:
"Then he said to me, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled."
The Antichrist wants to get her out of the way so he can be the sole object of worship throughout the world. He also desires her wealth.
Notice that verse 16 says they burned the harlot with fire. This prompts some to teach that the fire of Revelation 17 and the burning and smoke of Revelation 18:9 and 18 are part of the same event. But this is not possible for several reasons. One is that Revelation 18:18 describes God’s judgment on Babylon, but in Revelation 17:16 Babylon is not being judged or destroyed. It is the ecumenical harlot who is being destroyed—and that not directly by God. Secondly, the burning and smoke of Revelation 18:9 and 18 is real and is seen by witnesses. That fire and destruction cause Babylon to never exist again.
The fire in Revelation 17:16 is not literal. One reason we know this is that the verse says the Antichrist and his ten world assistants make the harlot naked, eat of her flesh, and “burn her with fire.” So if the fire is literal, then the eating of flesh is literal. Are we to believe that the Antichrist and his ten world assistants are cannibals? No, because the entire description is figurative. Antichrist and his ten helpers devour her by stripping her of all power, influence, respect, status, financial resources, and prominence.
Thirdly, the ten assistants who devour the ecumenical harlot are not the same kings described in Revelation 18:9 who mourn the burning of the city of Babylon at the time of God’s judgment. Robert L. Thomas describes it this way:
"The inclusion of the kings in the lament has occasioned an accusation of inconsistency against John in light of the kings that joined in causing Babylon’s destruction. Yet these are not the same kings as in 17:17. Whoever these are, they make no effort to save the city. They keep their distance, perhaps because of political expediency. They realize that Babylon’s doom is inevitable. Just as the kings are always in company with the beast, these kings are always in the company of Babylon until her destruction."
Revelation 17:17 says the ten assistants are of “one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” So Revelation 17:15-17 is not the final judgment that comes in Revelation 18:18. We know this because verse 17 says “until the words of God are fulfilled.” There is more to come, and that is partly what we see in verse 18: “and the woman you saw is the great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” Then we go into chapter 18, which reveals how this woman, or great city of Babylon, continues her reign over the kings of the earth.
Notice that Revelation 17:18 says, “the woman you saw is that great city.” She is the same woman of Revelation 17:3-6 which, as I showed earlier, is Babylon. Revelation 17:1 tells us “the great harlot” is the oneiworld, ecumenical system made up of most of the world’s religions. Yet, the city of Babylon is described as the creator, source, or mother of “the great harlot” in Revelation 17:5 because her children of false religions were birthed at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 10 and 11. Thus Babylon is and always has been a harlot, but she was not “the great harlot” until this point in the Revelation story.
With the destruction of the ecumenical harlot in Revelation 17:15, Babylon is not just a harlot but becomes “the great harlot” described in Revelation 19:2. This is when she assumes all control, power, and influence. Babylon no longer shares anything with the ecumenical harlot, for now Babylon is “the great harlot,” and religion is now focused solely on the worship of Antichrist.
Look again with me at Revelation 17:18, which reads: “And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” Babylon is now “the great harlot” by default since it consumed the ecumenical harlot in Revelation 17:16.
All the way through Revelation 18, we see the references to the world and world leaders under her control and committing spiritual and economic fornication with her. Prior to the destruction of the ecumenical harlot, Satan was being worshipped, as he was wrapped and hidden within the false church like the great Oz behind a curtain but was heard from as he was pulling the strings, turning the knobs, controlling the events, and speaking forth his lies. However, after Revelation 17:16, the ecumenical harlot is gone, and there is no denying that the Antichrist is in full control politically, economically, and politically. By this time, I believe the Antichrist went from being demon-possessed to Satan-possessed. Through the use of the ecumenical harlot, economics, environmentalism, education, political leaders, and the possession of the Antichrist, Satan now has his religious Reich and sits as king of his kingdom.
This sounds very much like the goal of Satan described in Isaiah 14:12-15:
How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
“I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.”
Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit.
The end of Satan and his Antichrist will be the pit of hell. This religious Reich will not last but will be crushed by God’s Kingdom, as described in Daniel 2:44.
With the destruction of the ecumenical harlot in Revelation 17:16, the Antichrist is in full control. He is now the king of the world and king of Babylon, just as Nimrod was the original king of Babylon in Genesis 10 and 11. Satan no longer hides behind a false church but is out front and center in the very person of the Antichrist that he possesses. Babylon is now the Jerusalem of Satan, and thus Babylon is now the great harlot as it is called in Revelation 19:2.
Understanding the two harlots of Revelation 17 through 19 is vital to understanding the book of Revelation. Revelation is the only book in the Bible that comes with the promise of a blessing for those who seek to read and understand it and obey its instructions. Revelation 1:3 reads: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
Hopefully, this analysis of the Revelation harlots highlights the importance of not being led solely by your favorite teacher, author, talk show host, pastor, or commentary. One of my favorite commentaries teaches it the wrong way, so when studying the Bible, if a question arises, dig in and seek the answer on your own as you use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Do not be intimidated by contrary teaching in commentaries and other Bible study tools. You should not assume they are 100 percent correct. If you see what appears to be a faulty analysis, then keep studying until you find an accurate and consistent interpretation. If I had been intimated by the “experts” and their commentaries, I would have never discovered what appears to be the correct understanding of Revelation 17 and 18 and the understanding of the two harlots.
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