17:1-19:5 details the judgement of Babylon the Great/Rome. It can be considered as an expansion of the bowl judgements. 17:1-3a introduces the whole section of 17:1-19:5 as the actual judgement of the city doesn’t occur until chapter 18. We will break chapter 17 into two parts: 1-6a and 6b-18.
1 And one of1 the seven angels who have the seven bowls came and spoke with me saying, “Come! I will show you the judgement of the great prostitute who is sitting on the many waters2, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed sexual immorality and the ones who dwell on the earth were drunk from the wine of her sexual immorality3 .” 3 And he took me into the wilderness4 in the Spirit5.
And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast6, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns7. 4 And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet8, and adorned with gold9, precious stones10, and pearls11. She had a golden cup in her hand full of abominations12 and13 the filth14 of her sexual immorality. 5 And a title15 was written on her forehead,
BABYLON THE GREAT
THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES
6 And I saw the woman drunk from the blood of the saints, namely18 from the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.
1 ἐκ (of)
2 Osborne*** (Pg. 609) brings out that to sit on something (nations here) shows that it has been conquered and it is being controlled.
The woman is depicted as sitting on the many waters and a beast. This may point us to the idea that the beast embodies that which rises from a heart in opposition to God, out of the turbulent waters of rebellion. Such a heart is given over to desire and will find its end in destruction.
3 The OT imagery of committing sexual acts with a prostitute as a metaphor for engaging in idolatry is clearly seen here. The push by Rome to worship the Roman/Greek gods in the individual messages to the seven churches of chapters 2-3 have come to a head. The unbelievers are so caught up in idolatry, they are pictured as being drunk. The great prostitute not only engages in prostitution/idolatry, but leads others into it as well. Osborne*** agrees (Pg. 608).
4 εἰς ἔρημον (into the wilderness)
or “into the desert”. Both translations would be good.
It is in the wilderness that beasts and wild animals can be found. Into this wilderness, the domain of the dragon, Jesus came to redeem and free those who would listen. His desire is that we all pass through this place and reach the promised land. Many will perish on the way, lost in the journey.
5 Beale* states that the “into the desert” is an allusion to Isaiah 21:1-2, where a vision is revealed to Isaiah “coming from the desert”. He goes on to state that the allusion is not coincidental as 21:1-10 also deals with judgements against Babylon (Pg. 851). We have already seen a glimpse of Isaiah 21:9 in 14:8.
6 Osborne*** suggests one possible background image of this woman imagery. In 71 A.D., Vespasian, Domitian’s father, had coins minted in Asia that depicted the Roman goddess Roma as sitting on the seven hills of Rome. (Pg. 608).
This image provides a contrast to the woman with stars about her head. It is interesting to note that the first woman is hidden in the wilderness to flee the dragon. Perhaps a little heavenly leaven, so to speak, mixed in the dough of creation, part of the recipe of God’s purpose.
7 An allusion to Daniel 7:3-7, 20, 24.
The numbers may infer the false nature of this beast the woman rides. Seven is described* as the number of spiritual perfection. Ten has been described as the number of Divine order. The beast is clothed in the guise of the Divine, but worships the idol of self instead of God.
* E.W. Bullinger, “Number In Scripture”.
8 Purple and scarlet shows both the royalty and wealth of the woman. The dyes used to make purple and scarlet clothing were incredibly expensive. Purple was so expensive that it normally was reserved for royalty. Beale* says that the woman’s attire shows the prosperity of economic commerce. He goes on to point out that “the destruction of Rome would mean the ruin of commerce in the world of the latter first century” (Pg. 854).
9 κεχρυσωμένη χρυσίῳ (adorned with gold)
Greek: “having been covered with gold with gold” Some translations see the intensity and translate this as “glittered with gold”. The picture here is to really bring out just how wealthy the woman was.
No matter how something or someone glitters, it pales before the light of the world.
10 λίθῳ τιμίῳ (precious stones)
Greek: “precious stone”. It is actually in the singular.
11 In Jeremiah 4:30, it is Israel that is the prostitute who dresses in scarlet adorns herself in gold.
12 βδελυγμάτων (abominations)
Something utterly detestable.
13 καὶ (and) could be used to describe what the abominations are as in: “full of abominations, namely the filth of her sexual immorality.”
14 τὰ ἀκάθαρτα (the filth)
Greek: “unclean things”.
15 ὄνομα (a title)
Greek: “a name”. The context of the passage suggests a title.
16 μυστήριον (MYSTERY)
μυστήριον is defined as a something that is secret, but will be revealed later. There is some debate among scholars if μυστήριον should be included in the title, or should it be seen as modifying ὄνομα (name). If it modifies ὄνομα, then it can be translated “a mysterious name” or “a mysterious title”. Since it is actually a noun, I’ve translated it as part of the title. Osborne*** and Mounce** (Pg. 310) say it should be modifying ὄνομα (name). I think either way, the use of μυστήριον here alerts the 1st century reader that the title is a secret that will be revealed. Thus, the clarifying statement in verse 9. Beale* agrees. (Pg. 859).
We might reflect here that the gospel can be considered mystery as well. It appears as foolishness to the world as they are unable to understand spirit words without the Holy Spirit. It was Paul’s privilege to proclaim the mystery of the gospel and ours to receive its good news.
17 Osborne*** points out that to be the mother of something is to reproduce it (Pg. 613). She produces the idolatry that God so detests!
18 καὶ (namely)
or “and”. καὶ here can either the used to describe two separate groups of people, or to describe the ones being spoken about. I chose the latter due to the belief that a “saint” and a “witness” are one in the same.
It is in His name that one is saved, called out to be separate and God’s own.
NT = New Testament
OT = Old Testament
ESV = English Standard Version
NASB = New American Standard Bible
NIV = New International Version
KJV = King James Version
TR = Textus Receptus (A late Byzantine Greek text of the NT. A
predecessor of the TR was used in the translation of the KJV)
LXX = Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT)
The Greek New Testament with Greek-English Dictionary B. Aland (Editor), K. Aland (Editor), J. Karavidopoulos (Editor), B. M. Metzger (Editor), C. M. Martini (Editor)
(BDAG) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition Walter Bauer (Author), Frederick William Danker (Editor)
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament Bruce M. Metzger
(Kittel) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (VOLUMES 1-10) Gerhard Kittel (Editor), Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Translator)
*The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.).) G. K. Beale
**The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) Robert H. Mounce
***Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) Grant R. Osborne
+Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics Daniel B. Wallace
++An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek C. F. D. Moule
+++Biblical Greek (Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici) Maximilian Zerwick
A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament Max Zerwick (Author), Mary Grosvenor (Author)