Revelation 17-18 • The Dual Nature of Babylon


One of the most pervasive themes throughout Scripture is that of Babylon. The original, literal Babylon foreshadowed spiritual versions repeated throughout history until a final fulfillment in the Last Days as part of the book of Revelation. In the Last Days Babylon is the last, great world system before the return of Christ and has two major components: in chapter 17 the emphasis is on the religious aspect of the system while in chapter 18 the commercial aspect is stressed. Religious Babylon will be overtaken by the Beast while commercial Babylon will be destroyed by God. Perhaps one of the most important things to keep in mind about Babylon is that it is a system so perverse and corrupt that it cannot be saved…

We applied healing to Babylon, but she was not healed;

Forsake her and let us each go to his own country,

For her judgment has reached to heaven

And towers up to the very skies.

— Jeremiah 51:9

When something takes on the nature and character of Babylon it cannot be reformed or saved from within, but inevitably leads to the wrath of God’s final judgment.

Read 17:1-2

Q: Who are the four prominent women in Revelation?

Q: What is the final disposition of Babylon? What ultimately happens to her?

A: According to Rev. 16:17-21 she is judged to destruction by the wrath of God as part of the pouring out of the seventh bowl.

Point: John is invited as a kind of sidebar to the effect of the seven bowls of judgment to see “the great harlot”, the apostate world-system in terms of both its effects and why it got what it deserved.

Q: What is the primary sin associated with Babylon?

A: “Immorality”. In Biblical terms, literal sexual immorality is always equated with being given over to idolatry, to be drawn away from a spiritually faithful relationship with God to an adulterous one with other gods or substitutes.

Application: The biblical metaphor “drunk with wine” always refers to spiritual seduction, something that describes the complete opposite of being filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the chief character of Babylon the religious system.

Read 17:3-18

Observation: The symbols used in this passage appear to be accompanied by explanations of exactly what they are. If we accept the plain interpretation of God’s Word, it’s far less likely we will experience trouble understanding what is going on and what is truly meant.

Q: What is the meaning of the symbol of the woman?

A: In v.18 it’s made very clear that she is a city and that in John’s day, as well as the Last Days to come, she reigns over the kings of the earth who make alliances with and subject themselves to her. Furthermore, the seven heads of v.3 are identified as seven mountains in v.9. The city which fits this description in both cases is Rome. Christians of John’s time recognized that the mystery religions of Babylon, the very spiritual character which makes Babylon the force of spiritual adultery that it is, had migrated from the literal Babylon to literal Rome.

She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.

— 1 Peter 5:13

Q: What is the meaning of the symbol of the beast?

A: This is the same Beast introduced in chapter 13, the Antichrist. In v.8 it’s indicated that this world ruler will “come up out of the abyss”. This could refer to a physical rising from the dead, but most certainly refers to someone whose spiritual origin is hell. He is further identified with Satan because, like other descriptions of Satan, he has seven heads and ten horns, referring to kingdoms controlled and given over to Satan. In other words, the Beast resembles the kingdom of Antichrist as well as his own, literal person.

Q: What is the meaning of the seven heads?

A: We’ve already noted they represent seven mountains (v.9) and seven kingdoms. (v.10) The five kingdoms which had fallen were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece; the kingdom “that is” would be Rome in John’s day; the one yet to come – the seventh – will be the kingdom of the Beast. If we compare the heads to seven specific kings, then the five fallen Roman rulers were Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero; the “one that is” during John’s day would be Domitian; the one yet to come would be the Beast, the king of the revived Roman Empire.

Q: What is the meaning of the ten horns?

A: These are ten more kings as explained in v.12 and parallel the ten toes of Daniel’s image in Dan. 2:36-45, what we have come to call the revived Roman Empire. In John’s day the kings had not yet received their power. It’s important to note that they willingly give support to the Beast in the battle against Christ and the saints and that, with the help of the Beast, turn on and destroy the great harlot – the final revived Roman Empire.

Q: What is the meaning of the waters?

A: According to v.15 they represent the peoples of the world. Great waters or the sea is a recurring symbol used throughout Scripture to describe the Gentile nations of the world. The fact that the harlot is seated in this manner is an indication of the extent of her vast influence over the whole world politically, economically, and most of all religiously.

Application: The “woman” is a city, the “seven heads are seven mountains or kingdoms, the “ten horns” are ten kings, and the “waters” are the nations of the world. Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture.

Overall Application

It’s important to note that even today there is only one “city” which is recognized as equal in power to nations and to whom nearly every nation on earth sends ambassadors and negotiates with: the Vatican in Rome.

The name “Babylon” takes us back to Gen. 10:1-11 and 11:1-9 where the first organized rebellion against God took place. “Babel” means “confusion” and so stands for the apostate religion born out of it. All anti-Christian sects, even those calling themselves “Christian”, who have at one time or another killed God’s servants are a shadow of the final Babylon to come.

In the Last Days a one-world church will be formed which is so spiritually corrupt it is here seen for what it truly is: a harlot. With the help of the Beast it will become a great, centralized power. In today’s vernacular, this is called “Ecumenism”, the movement afoot by both the Catholic church and a great many denominations and religions to merge under a single authority.

The Beast will get support from the ten kings to first help establish the harlot, and later to destroy her. Most likely the rising to power of the one-world system is something that occurs in the first half of the Tribulfinal seven years ation and its destruction something that happens in the second half. Satan will get rid of her because she represents worship of God if even in an apostate way, and a time will come when he desires exclusive worship of himself alone. (Ever notice that the mark of the beast is not just buying and selling but the willing worship of the Beast?)

The difference between Satan's woman and Christ's:

Rev. 17:17 is very important to note because just as God used nations such as the literal Babylon to execute His will and judgment, so everything that is coming about in Revelation is “put in their hearts to execute His purpose…until the words of God will be fulfilled.”

Read 18:1-3

Observation: Whereas chapter 17 focuses on Babylon the religious system, this chapter focuses on Babylon the economic system.

Q: Why do you supposed “fallen” is repeated twice?

A: It most likely reflects the dual judgment, first coming upon religious Babylon and then economic Babylon.

Q: What is the final result of making others to drink “of the wine of passion of her immorality”?

A: It’s complete spiritual corruption and depravity to the point where she’s “become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit”.

Q: What is significant about identifying Babylon as “a prison of every unclean, hateful bird”?

A: The list of “unclean” birds in the Old Testament is comprised mostly of carrion eaters – birds such as vultures which prey upon carcasses and are therefore a danger to human consumption. It’s a spiritual reference that Babylon’s spiritual condition is perpetual – it was corrupt in life, corrupt in the course of its destruction, and perpetually corrupt even in its death, a haven for spiritual vultures.

Q: What is key in this passage to understanding why so many allowed themselves to be deceived?

A: According to v.3 it’s because the deceived have “become rich by the wealth of her sensuality”. Spiritual greed goes hand-in-hand with material greed. Religious Babylon cannot be separated from economic Babylon.

Application: The first voice heard is the voice of judgment. Babylon is also the core of the economic system in the kingdom of the Antichrist.

Read 18:4-8

Q: Why does God want His people to come out of Babylon?

Application: What are all the similarities here to Sodom and Gomorrah?

Q: What has been God’s repeated call to His people throughout the Bible, whether they were in Egypt or any other spiritually bad place?

A: “Come out”. Salvation always means separation from the world exclusively unto the Lord.

14Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,

I will dwell in them and walk among them;

And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

17“Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.

And do not touch what is unclean;

And I will welcome you.

18And I will be a father to you,

And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”

Says the Lord Almighty.

— 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

Application: The second voice heard is the voice of final separation of those who do not participate in Babylon’s sins from those left behind who do.

Read 18:9-19

Q: Who are the two groups lamenting the fall of Babylon?

A: The kings of the earth (v.9-10) and the merchants of the earth (v.11-19).

Q: What do they both have in common with Babylon?

A: They both “committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her”. (v.9)

Point: They rejected the One True God by pursuing other idols, in particular the idol of money. They sold their souls for wealth.

Q: Does Babylon’s judgment come about gradually?

A: No, according to v.8 it comes about “in one day” and in v.10 and 19 “in one hour”.

Q: Why would catastrophic financial loss be so devastating to these groups?

A: Because they came to trust in wealth rather than God. It’s as much a spiritual disaster as it is economic. What they had come to depend upon to care for them, protect them, and satisfy them has ultimately failed them.

Application: The third voice heard is the voice of mourning over Babylon’s final judgment.

Read 18:20-24

Q: What do we know about the viewpoint of “those who dwell on the earth” as opposed to God’s people?

A: They never have the same viewpoint of what is happening.

Point: When Satan was cast out of heaven, heaven rejoiced but the earth mourned. (Rev. 12:10-12) Now that Babylon has been destroyed, heaven rejoices but the earth laments.

Q: What is the main reason for heaven’s rejoicing?

A: God has avenged the blood of the martyrs. The prayer of the souls under the altar (Rev. 6:9-11) has been answered.

Point: The Babylonian system and all its shadowy forerunners have been satanic from the very beginning and responsible for killing God’s faithful. If you want to know what it will be like when the Catholic church rises to power through Babylon in the End Times, all you have to do is look at what it did during its 1,300 years of prominence when it killed more Christians than anyone else in history.

Application: The fourth voice heard is the voice of rejoicing by God’s people for His judgment carried out on Babylon.

Overall Application

Conclude by reading Jeremiah 51 and noting all the parallels to Revelation 17-18.