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A Bible Study:

The Revelation to John

May 30, 2006

A Study of the Revelation to John

A Study of the Revelation to John

By Bernie Parsons - May 30, 2006

A Study of Revelation Chapter 17:1-18



Revelation 17:1: And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:

2: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.


Recall from Revelation 14:8: “And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”


As I mentioned before, some think that this Babylon is Jerusalem. They do so because they say that God accused Jerusalem of “playing the whore”—which He did. However, in the 14th chapter, we read that it was “that great city”. Rome was the great city of the time, and the one that ruled the kingdoms of the earth, making it an empire after the same order of the original Babylon.


The first Babylon promoted the thing that God really hated, and that was the worship of the false gods, known as Baalim, or in the singular, Baal. This last Babylon, Rome, promoted the worship of all manner of false gods.


By taking this false religion out into the world at large, and promoting it, Rome caused all the nations to “drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication”. It was with Rome that all nations of the earth committed spiritual fornication, by embracing her false gods.


Some argue that only Jerusalem could commit spiritual fornication, because only Jerusalem were, as it were, “married to God”, as some put it. Ezekiel 23, and other places in the Old Testament, describe the whoredoms of Israel and Judah. However, to say that no other city was considered a harlot, or whore, is not true.


Nahum 3:1: “Woe to the bloody city!  it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not;

2: The noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the pransing horses, and of the jumping chariots.

3: The horseman lifteth up both the bright sword and the glittering spear: and there is a multitude of slain, and a great number of carcases; and there is none end of their corpses; they stumble upon their corpses:

4: Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts.

5: Behold, I am against thee, saith the LORD of hosts; and I will discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will shew the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame.

6: And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazingstock.

7: And it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her?  whence shall I seek comforters for thee?”


In Nahum chapter 3, the city of Nineveh is called a harlot, who commits whoredoms, and who “selleth the nations through her whoredoms”.


Isaiah 23:15: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king: after the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot.

16: Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.

17: And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the LORD will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.


The city of Tyre is called a harlot, and one who “shall commit fornication with all the kingds of the world upon the face of the earth”.


Rome was also a harlot, committing whoredoms, because she promoted the worship of false gods, the work of men’s hands, shaping what their imaginations had produced. God is God of all the earth, and God is the creator of all men and the giver of all power. Any city, or nation, that goes after false gods denies God, and commits spiritual whoredom.



Revelation 17:3: So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

4: And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:




The clues to the identity of this adulterous woman, this great city, are many in these verses. She sat upon a beast. We have already seen that the beasts are empires, both in the book of Daniel, and in this book of the Revelation. What was the empire of the time? It was the Roman Empire! The beast is scarlet colored. This gives us a clue, and may actually be twofold. Scarlet was a color worn by the nobles of Rome. Scarlet is also used to denote blood. The Roman Empire was a bloody empire.


It is full of names of blasphemy. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary on the Internet, here are the meanings of the world blasphemy: 1 a : the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God b : the act of claiming the attributes of deity  2 : irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable


The Roman Emperors and other nobles were guilty of blasphemy in every sense of the word. They showed contempt for the one true God, and were irreverent toward Him. The Roman Emperors claimed to be gods. The Romans destroyed the city of God, Jerusalem; the nation of God, Judah; and the temple in Jerusalem, which Titus burned to the ground.


Not only was the beast scarlet, but the woman who rode the back of the beast was dressed in purple and scarlet, the colors worn by the emperor and the nobles of Rome. She was decorated in gold, jewels, and pearls—Rome was rich with these items, because she conquered other lands and demanded taxes from them. She carried a golden cup filled with the excesses of her fornications. We have already discussed the abominable practice of Rome in spreading idol-worship throughout all the lands that they conquered.




In order to understand the identity of Mystery Babylon, we must recall some facts about the original Babylon. Babylon was the first great empire described in the book of Daniel, the first of four such empires. Babylon conquered Judah, as God’s punishment upon that land and her people, because Judah worshiped idol gods. Judah was destroyed, as was Jerusalem, and the temple, after which the inhabitants were carried away, captive.


Rome was the fourth of the four great empires described in the book of Daniel. Rome conquered Judah, as God’s punishment upon that land and her people, because Judah worshiped idol gods. Judah was destroyed, as was Jerusalem, and the temple, after which the inhabitants were carried away, captive.


As was Babylon, so is Mystery, Babylon! These facts would not be lost upon those who knew the story of the original Babylon, and its relationship to Judah, Jerusalem, and the temple. History repeated under the Roman rule.



Revelation 17:6: And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.



Some say that Jerusalem was drunken with the blood of saints, because they had murdered prophets throughout the ages, even to the time of Christ and the apostles. Let us not forget that Rome was also responsible for the blood of the saints. It was a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who allowed Jesus to be crucified. It was Roman soldiers who nailed our Lord to the cross. While Jews were complicit in the death of our Lord, the brutal Romans scourged Him, and crucified Him.


They did not stop with the murder of our Lord. Historians record the persecutions of Christians at the hands of Nero, and Domitian. The Romans, Vespasian, and Titus, destroyed Judah, Jerusalem, and the temple. It is told that Christians were used as entertainment by putting them into arenas to fight wild animals, and that they were crucified, covered in oil, and set aflame by the hundreds.



Revelation 17:7: And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.



This sight perplexed John. He did not immediately understand the meaning of the whore, named Mystery, Babylon, dressed in royal colors and queenly riches, riding on the back of the scarlet beast. The angel tells John to wonder no more, as he is about to receive the answer to this mystery.



Revelation 17:8: The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

9: And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.



Looking at verse 9 first, note that the seven heads are seven mountains, on which the city sits. Rome sits on seven hills. Some have argued that Jerusalem does as well. However, the beast is an empire. Jerusalem did not ride atop the Roman Empire, but Rome did. The beast was, is not, shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and shall go into perdition—or utter destruction.


The empire was, is not, but shall ascend. We have discussed this already in our study of the beast in chapter 13. The Roman Empire was strong under the rule of the Claudians, appeared doomed under the three short-term rulers of AD 69, and would regain its control under the Flavians. Yet, the Flavian line would quickly pass, and Rome itself would buckle in another 250 years, or thereabouts.


The worshippers of idol gods, the non-Christians, would be amazed at the recovery of the empire, after that it had seemed surely to be doomed.



Revelation 17:10: And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.



There is a lot of confusion about the numbering of the kings, or emperors. Many try to include Julius Caesar, and some try to include Otho, Galba, and Vitellius in AD 69. However, Julius Caesar functioned under the auspices of the Roman Senate, and should not actually be counted as the first Emperor. Most do not count Otho, Galba, and Vitellius, because they were neither of the Claudian nor Flavian dynasties, and their rule was short-lived. All three came and went in less than a year.


An important thing to remember is that lesser kings and emperors are often not even mentioned in prophecy, because their roles are unimportant to the event under discussion.


Thus, counting from Claudius Caesar, here is how it looks:



Augustus (Octavian)

27 BC-14 AD

Jesus was born




Jesus died


Gaius ("Caligula")










Persecuted Christians
















Attacked Judaea




Destroyed Judaea




Persecuted Christians


According to my understanding, the Revelation to John was written early during the reign of Vespasian, because “five are fallen, and one is”. I say early, because Jerusalem had obviously not fallen at the time of the writing. This would also parallel the statement that the beast “was not, yet is”. The Claudians had gone away, and the Flavians were rising to power.


“One is, and the other is not yet come” signifies that Vespasian, who had attacked Jerusalem, was in power, but his son, Titus, who would finish off the city and burn the temple, had not yet risen to be emperor of Rome. When he did, he only lasted about three years—hence, he continued only for a short space, unlike his father, who was emperor for about ten years, and his brother, Domitian, who would be emperor for about fifteen years.



Revelation 17:11: And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.



Domitian, son of Vespasian, brother of Titus, and the last of the Flavian line, was the eighth. He is of the Roman beast after its resurrection by the Flavians. He persecuted the Christians much as had Nero in his time. Yet, the Flavian line ended with him. Thus, the second incarnation of the Roman Empire met its demise, and vanished into oblivion.



Revelation 17:12: And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.

13: These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.

14: These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.



Much is made of the ten kings by the television, radio, and print prophets-for-profits. Other, more sincere, students have tried to label ten kingdoms in the time of the Roman Empire, to equal frustration. There is not widespread agreement as to what the ten kingdoms were, yet it is almost universally accepted that this is a reference to the nations ruled by Rome. Although there were kings and other appointed rulers, they all were under the power of the Roman Emperor. In other words, they owed their very existence to Rome, and therefore they supported Rome.


These nations under Roman rule would persecute Jesus, and His followers, but Jesus would overcome. The local kings recognized the Emperor as the king of kings. Yet, Jesus is the true King of kings.



Revelation 17:15: And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.



Rome ruled over various countries with their different cultures and languages. In the vision, the whorish city of Rome sits astride the various nations. In other words, Rome exported the worship of false gods and goddesses to those whom they had conquered.



Revelation 17:16: And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.

17: For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.



Eventually, just as the image described in Daniel, this final of the four great empires would crumble and fall. This did not happen with the first three: the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, and the Grecian.


Daniel 2:31: “Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image.  This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.

32: This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass,

33: His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.

34: Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.

35: Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.

36: This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king.

37: Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.

38: And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all.  Thou art this head of gold.

39: And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.

40: And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.

41: And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay.

42: And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.

43: And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.

44: And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

45: Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.”


The Roman Empire was the empire of iron—bigger and stronger than the first three, yet inferior because of its brutality and crude ways. With the first three empires, the conquered nations absorbed the culture of the invading empire. Not so with the Romans. In fact, the Romans adopted the Greek ways, instead of the other way around. The Romans were not able to absorb the conquered nations, so they were like iron mixed with clay—they were weak, and the empire crumbled. The Romans were brutish and brutal, and the nations that they conquered hated them. So, while they pretended to support Rome, they actually despised the heavy-handed rule of the Romans.


Of course, we are told that the real cause of Rome’s fall was the kingdom of stone not cut with hands—the Kingdom of God—which destroyed the Roman Empire, and thereby, the remnants of the three empires before it.



Revelation 17:18: And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.



Verse 18 clinches the identity of the whore—it was Rome, the great city that reigned over the kings of the earth!

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