The Great Harlot of the Apocalypse

13 Feb
Harlot - Revelation 17

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John describes the great harlot of Revelation 17:1 as one who “sits upon many waters.” She is immediately introduced after the Lord’s judgment upon the great city, Babylon, in the previous chapter (Revelation 16:19; cp. 14:8), so the two seem to be the same. Whoever the great city, Babylon, is, that one is also the great whore or great harlot of Revelation 17. The contextual references of the use of the name, Babylon, in the Apocalypse, thus far, seem to point to Jerusalem.[1]

Speaking of Babylon, Jeremiah claimed she “who dwelt upon many waters” has come to her end, because the Lord had set himself against her (Jeremiah 51:12-13). A little later in the text, the Lord tells his people to leave her, come out of her, if they wished to deliver themselves from the Lord’s wrath (Jeremiah 51:45). In other words, they had a choice: stay and receive the same judgment that he planned to execute upon Babylon, or leave and save themselves from that judgment, because the Lord intended to break down the walls of Babylon and burn her gates. Anything the Lord’s people, or anyone else for that matter, might do to prevent such a thing would end in failure (Jeremiah 51:58).

If the Jews, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken captive to Babylon, are meant in Jeremiah’s prophecy, how could they simply leave their captors? Moreover, even after Babylon was conquered cir. fifty years later, neither were the Lord’s people in a position to leave at their own discretion at that time. No one was able to leave before the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-2). Therefore, this prophecy seems to be directed to those who dwelt in the midst of Mystery Babylon (Revelation 17:5). Jeremiah wrote his prophecy in the fourth year of the reign of Zedekiah, King of Judah. This was the same year that the king and all the people were carried off to Babylon (Jeremiah 51:59), so leaving Babylon (Jeremiah 51:45) was not an option at that time.

Therefore, Jeremiah was prophesying about a future event, when the Lord would judge (Mystery) Babylon. Moreover, Jeremiah told Seraiah, the quiet prince, to read this, Jeremiah’s prophecy, when he had come to Babylon, saying the Lord is against this place, and he would make it desolate (Jeremiah 51:60-62). Once Seraiah completed his task, he was to bind up the book with a stone and cast the prophecy into the Euphrates, saying: “Thus shall Babylon sink and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her…” (Jeremiah 51:63-64). The same is spoken against this Babylon, Mystery Babylon, the great harlot (Revelation 17:1, 5; 18:21), and the waters upon which this Mystery Babylon sits (Revelation 17:1; Jeremiah 51:13), are the “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” over whom she rules—i.e. the Jews in Palestine and the Jews of the Diaspora.

We are told in Revelation 17:2 that the kings of the earth have committed fornication with the great harlot, but what does this mean? While he was speaking with the Jews,[2] Jesus claimed that the Scriptures said “ye (i.e. those in authority) are gods!” (John 10:34). Jesus was quoting from Psalm 82. The context of the Psalm shows that the gods (the Jewish rulers) were accepting bribes and ruling against the cause of the poor. The point is that although they are men, they are called gods.

If we apply this understanding to Revelation 17:2, we are able to conclude that the great harlot looked to foreign gods (gentile rulers) for protection. Since the Mosaic Covenant put the Jews in the hands of the Lord, they were to look to him for their protection and livelihood. Nevertheless, instead of doing this, the rulers of the Jews broke covenant with God and placed themselves under the protection of gentile rulers. In other words, they placed another god before the one true God, and in doing so, they committed spiritual fornication with the gentile rulers (Revelation 17:2).

Native rulers play an important role in a nation, even if that country is ruled or heavily influenced by a foreign power. The text says: “…the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” Wine causes one’s behavior to change, it causes one to stumble, if too much wine is drunk. The word is used in Revelation 17:2 to indicate that the Jewish rulers’ doctrine or reasons for depending upon the foreign powers had so affected the Jewish people that their own behavior changed and they stumbled in their covenantal walk with the Lord. The rulers were the responsible party here. The people followed their lead, and this was only the beginning of the consequences of breaking covenant with the Lord.


[1] This interpretation will be discussed in greater detail and its truth shown more clearly in a future study, concerning matters that come later in this chapter.

[2] John’s use of the word Jews refers to the Jewish authorities. He wasn’t referring to the common Jew who was subject to the higher authorities. For example, both John the Baptist and his disciples were of Jewish descent, yet the Gospel writer says there arose a dispute between them and the Jews. John and his disciples were certainly not disputing among themselves, so the term Jews in the Gospel of John very often refers to the Jewish authorities. If one compares John 19:7 with Matthew 26:63-66, one would see that the term Jews in John often refers to the Jewish authorities: the priest, scribes and elders, These were often Sadducees, but they could also be Pharisees (see also Matthew 27:41-43).

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Posted by on February 13, 2020 in Apocalypse, Book of Revelation


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