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Revelation 17

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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The Great Harlot and the BeastThe Scarlet Woman and Scarlet BeastThe Fall of BabylonThe Famous ProstituteThe Great Prostitute
Revelation 17:1-6aRevelation 17:1-6Revelation 17:1-6aRevelation 17:1-2Revelation 17:1-7
The Meaning of The Woman and the BeastRevelation 17:3-6a
Revelation 17:6-14Revelation 17:6-8Revelation 17:6-8
Revelation 17:7-18The Symbolism of the Beast and the Prostitute
Revelation 17:8
Revelation 17:9-14Revelation 17:9-11Revelation 17:9-11
Revelation 17:12-14Revelation 17:12-14
Revelation 17:15-18Revelation 17:15-18Revelation 17:15-17Revelation 17:15-18
Revelation 17:18
The Fall of BabylonThe Fall of Babylon the GreatDirge Over the Fallen CityThe Fall of BabylonAn Angel Announces the Fall of Babylon
Revelation 18:1-3Revelation 18:1-8Revelation 18:1-3Revelation 18:1-3Revelation 18:1-3
The People of God Summoned to Flee
Revelation 18:4-8The World Mourns Babylon's FallRevelation 18:4-8Revelation 18:4-8Revelation 18:4-8
Revelation 18:9-10Revelation 18:9-20Revelation 18:9-10Revelation 18:9-10Revelation 18:9-13
Revelation 18:11-20Revelation 18:11-20Revelation 18:11-17a
Revelation 18:14
Revelation 18:15-17a
Revelation 18:17-19Revelation 18:17-20
Finality of Babylon's FallRevelation 18:20
Revelation 18:21-4Revelation 18:21-24Revelation 18:21-24Revelation 18:21-23Revelation 18:21-24
Revelation 18:24-4

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. These two chapters describe in detail the destruction of Babylon whose fall was mentioned earlier in Revelation 14:8 and Revelation 16:19, as well as Revelation 18:2, Revelation 18:21. Each of these occurs in a separate literary unit (12-14), (15-16), and (17-19). This could be another example of parallelism or recapitulation.

B. The Old Testament background of these two chapters is found in the funeral dirges written to applaud the fall of ancient godless cities:

1. Babylon (cf. Isaiah 13:14, Isaiah 13:21 and Jer. 50-51)

2. Tyre (cf. Isaiah 23:0 and Ezekiel 26-28)

3. Nineveh (cf. Nahum)

4. wicked Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 1:1-26; Ezekiel 16:51-52)

C. This concept of a fallen world system that is antagonistic to God is presented in Psalms 2:0, Daniel 2:0; Daniel 7:0; Daniel 9:24-27; Matthew 24:0: Mark 13:0; Luke 21:0; and 1 John 2:15-20.

D. Revelation uses OT funeral dirges to describe the fall of Rome, the anti-God world empire of Johns' day. However, this same independent, arrogant, materialistic, anti-God world system is present in every age (cf. 1 John 2:18). It will also ultimately manifest itself as an end-time ruler and world empire (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:0). The details that will help John's last generation readers identify the end-time Antichrist may reappear in the last days. The problem has been that every generation of believers has tried to force Revelation into its day!

This book has first-century relevance, every-century relevance, and last-century relevance. It is best not to push the details. They had meaning (first hearers); they will have meaning again (the last generation). But for the great majority of the generations of believers, they are mysteries. It is much better to assert the central truths of the seven literary units. These are eternally relevant! If the details become strictly literal for the last generations of persecuted believers they will not need a commentator to tell them!

E. William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, asserts the parallelism of all seven sections of Revelation (see note C. p. 10). In so doing he asserts the parallel of the fall of believers' enemies (Satan; two beasts; and Babylon, anti-God, anti-Christ world system). Although their destruction is dealt with separately (Satan, Revelation 20:7-10; the two beasts, Revelation 19:17-21; and Babylon, Revelation 18:1-4), they are really simultaneous, just like the seals, trumpets, and bowls.

In many ways this is an attractive interpretive structure that extends the obvious parallelism of the seals (Rev. 4-7), trumpets (Rev. 8-11), and bowls (Rev. 15-16) to Rev. 17-19 and Rev. 20-22.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Are Revelation 17:0 and 18 a literary unit? If so, why?

2. Why is it so difficult to interpret when Babylon fell?

3. Who does Babylon, the great whore, refer to in John's day? In our day? In the end-time?

4. What is the immorality and wine referred to in Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:2; Revelation 18:3 in connection with this world system?

5. Please explain your interpretation of Revelation 17:10-11.

6. From what OT book are most of John's allusions taken?

Verses 1-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 17:1-7 1Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality." 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. 4The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, 5and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, "BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." 6And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly. 7And the angel said to me, "Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.

Revelation 17:1 "one of the seven angels" Another angel is described in the same way in Revelation 21:9. The chronological relationship between Revelation 17:0 and 18 and the pouring out of the bowls in Revelation 16:0

1. may predate the pouring out of the bowls

2. it may be a further description of the result of the bowls

"will show you the judgment of the great harlot" This spiritual seductress is described in Revelation 17:5 as "mighty Babylon, the mother of harlots," and in Revelation 18:10 as "the great city, Babylon." According to earlier chapters these designations refer to a fallen world system epitomized in:

1. Daniel's Babylon

2. Daniel's interbiblical Antiochus IV

3. John's Roman Emperor claiming deity.

In chapter 17 the seductive power of luxury and greed is matched with the commercial power of chapter 18. In the OT three cities are called whores.

1. Tyre (Phoenicia) in Isaiah 23:15-16

2. Nineveh (Assyria) in Nahum 3:4

3. Jerusalem (fruitless Judah) in Isaiah 1:21; Ezekiel 16:31, Ezekiel 16:35; Ezekiel 23:0.

"who sits on many waters" The OT allusion is Jeremiah 51:11-14, which refers to the ancient city of Babylon, which was located on the Euphrates (as Nineveh was located on the Tigris River) and had an extensive system of manmade irrigation and transportation canals. However, in light of Revelation 17:15, this phrase is interpreted as an international kingdom (cf. Daniel 7:2, Daniel 7:3).

Revelation 17:2

NASB"with whom the kings of the earth committed acts ofimmorality" NKJV, NRSV"with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication" TEV"the kings of the earth practiced sexual immorality" NJB"with whom all the kings of the earth have prostituted themselves"

This prostitution has two primary aspects:

1. commercial alliances (cf. Tyre, Isaiah 23:13-18; and Nineveh, Nahum 3:4)

2. political alliances which involved the contractual worship of the gods of the nations in the ratification ceremonies (cf. Jerusalem also called a harlot in Isaiah 1:21 and Jeremiah 3:0)

3. the worship of the Roman Emperor as divine

"those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality" This is an allusion to Jeremiah 51:7. It is also introduced in Revelation 14:8. The phrase "those who dwell on the earth" is a recurrent theme in Revelation denoting unregenerate, fallen mankind apart from God (cf. Revelation 3:10; Revelation 6:10; Revelation 8:13; Revelation 11:10; Revelation 13:8, Revelation 13:14; Revelation 17:8).

"Drink" is an OT metaphor for judgment (cf. Psalms 75:6-8).

Revelation 17:3 "And he carried me away in the Spirit" This phrase is used to introduce John's visions (cf. Revelation 1:10; Revelation 4:2; Revelation 17:3; Revelation 21:10). Many commentators base their understanding of the structure of Revelation on these visions. Remember, apocalyptic literature is a highly structured genre. The structure becomes a key in interpretation.

"into a wilderness" This may be

1. a metaphor of a place of safety (cf. Revelation 12:6, Revelation 12:14, where it is an allusion to the wilderness wandering period of Israel)

2. a place where evil and the demonic live (i.e., Leviticus 16:8; Leviticus 17:7)

3. an allusion to the ancient city of Babylon found in Isaiah 21:1-10, where it is a metaphor of judgment

John's imagery is very fluid. In Revelation 17:1 the woman sits on many waters (the Euphrates River) and in Revelation 17:3 she sits on a scarlet beast in the wilderness.

"and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast" The term "scarlet" could refer to

1. murder, cf. Revelation 17:6-7

2. luxury, cf. Revelation 18:12-16

3. Satan as a red dragon, cf. Revelation 12:3

The beast is described in detail in Revelation 13:1-10. It refers to the end-time Antichrist (cf. Daniel 7:9-14; Daniel 9:24-27; Daniel 11:36-45; 2 Thessalonians 2:0; 1 John 2:18).

"full of blasphemous names" This is similar to Revelation 13:1, Revelation 13:5-6. These titles are related historically to the Roman Emperor's self-deification. They claimed titles for themselves such as "divine," "savior," "lord." The beast's ultimate goal is not world political power, but religious worship (cf. Daniel 7:8, Daniel 7:20; Daniel 8:11, Daniel 8:25; 9:36,37) as a representative or incarnation of Satan (possibly represented in Isaiah 14:13-14 and Ezekiel 28:16-17).

"having seven heads and ten horns" This description is similar to that of the red dragon (cf. Revelation 12:3) and the sea beast (cf. Revelation 13:1). The similarity is intended to show the unity of these different anti-God persons.

In numerical symbolism (1) the seven heads relate to "perfect" knowledge or the ultimate end-time world leader, while (2) the ten horns relate to complete power or worldly authority (cf. Revelation 17:7, Revelation 17:9, Revelation 17:12, Revelation 17:16).

Revelation 17:4 "The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet" These colors can refer to royalty (purple) and immorality (scarlet) or simply a metaphor for luxury, wealth, and opulence (cf. Revelation 18:12, Revelation 18:16).

"adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls" This is a symbol of earthly and spiritual power and position (used by Ezekiel as an Edenic metaphor for the pride of the King of Tyre cf. Ezekiel 28:13).

"a gold cup" This is an allusion to the city of Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 51:7).

Revelation 17:5 "on her forehead a name was written" Seneca's Controversies Revelation 1:2 and Juvenal's Satires 6:122-123, record that Roman whores wore a band with either their own name or the name of their owner on their foreheads. This may be a historical allusion to John's day or in the context of Revelation; it may be a reference to the marking of the forehead of unbelievers (cf. Revelation 13:16-17; Revelation 14:9, Revelation 14:11; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 16:2; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:4) which mimics God's sealing of believers (cf. Revelation 7:2; Revelation 9:4).

NASB"a mystery, 'Babylon the Great'" NKJV"Mystery, Babylon the Great" NRSV"mystery: 'Babylon the great'" TEV"a secret meaning: 'Great Babylon'" NJB"a name, a cryptic name: 'Babylon the Great'"

There is some disagreement as to whether the term "mystery" should be a part of the title or a way of referring to the symbolic nature of the title (cf. Revelation 17:7). Babylon has its origin in the first civilization, started by Nimrod (Babel), which rebelled against God and was dispersed in Genesis 11:0. From this usage and from the fact that Babylon took the people of God (Judah) into exile, it became a synonym for an evil, imperial world power. In John's day, this power was Rome (cf. 1 Peter 5:13).

Revelation 17:6 This verse speaks of the persecution and martyrdom of believers (cf. Revelation 11:7; Revelation 13:7; Daniel 7:21).

"I wondered greatly" The KJV translates this as "with great admiration" but the NKJV has "I marveled with great amazement." John was not admiring her, but he was utterly astonished at her actions. She was allowed to persecute and kill God's people (cf. Revelation 13:5, Revelation 13:7, Revelation 13:15; Revelation 11:7).

Verses 8-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 17:8-14 8"The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. 9Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. 11The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. 12The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. 14These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful."

Revelation 17:8 "the beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up" This chronological description has caused great consternation among commentators.

1. Some of them see it in a historical sense which applies particularly to the legend of Nero's return.

2. Others as a progression of world empires relating to Daniel 2:0, culminating in an anti-God end-time world system.

3. Others see it as related to the end-time activity of the beast described in Revelation 13:3, Revelation 13:12, Revelation 13:14, which relates to its mimicking or parodying the ministry of Christ.

4. It may relate to 1 John's concept of a spirit of antichrist in every age, which culminates in the Antichrist of the last day (cf. 1 John 2:18, 1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7).

It is also another parody on YHWH's name (cf. Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:8).

"the abyss" This is the Greek term for "depth" with the alpha privative. It is first mentioned in Revelation 17:1 and 11:7. It is the figurative abode of evil and the demonic. See note at Revelation 9:1.

"the book of life" See notes at Revelation 17:1 and 13:8.

"from the foundation of the world" See note at Revelation 17:5 and 13:8.

Revelation 17:9

NASB, NKJV"Here is the mind which has wisdom" NRSV"This calls for a mind that has wisdom" TEV"This calls for wisdom and understanding" NJB"This calls for shrewdness"

This phrase is similar to Revelation 13:18, which deals with the number of the name of the beast. This little Scripture teaser has caused everyone to put forth his/her own theory! However, the very fact that there is such a multiplicity of interpretations shows that there are not too many wise among us! (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31). To me, it is just another way for John to assert the mysterious, symbolic, cryptic nature of his writing (cf. Frank Stagg, New Testament Theology, p. 317).

"the seven heads of the seven mountains on which the woman sits" This is an allusion to Rome. Rome, like Jerusalem, was built on seven hills. This phrase appears in many ancient writings to describe the city of Rome. Therefore, it is incumbent on interpreters to at least see this in light of the Roman Empire, although obviously the whole allusion of chapters 17 and 18 is an anti-God world system that will be in place at the end-time and in reality is in place in every age.

Revelation 17:10-11 Some commentators see this as a series of Roman Emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero as "the five who have fallen." Vespasian is "the one who is current" and Titus is "the one who will come for a little while" (cf. F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p. 141). This interpretation is rather arbitrary; the three relatively minor Emperors (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) who vied for the throne in A.D. 68-69 have been omitted. However, even with its problems, this seems to be the focus of Revelation 17:10 and 11, with an emphasis on the myth of Nero's resuscitation and return with the Parthian hordes to attack Rome (this may explain Revelation 17:16, cf. The Sibyllian Oracles, 5:361-368).

Others see this prophecy as being fulfilled in the persecutions of Domitian. There are some major hindrances to this interpretation:

1. it would require Revelation to have been written during the reign of Vespasian, which is at variance with the ancient church tradition that John wrote during the reign of Domitian

2. the symbolic use of numbers throughout the book

Why make this historically literal? Again, this may have been something that John did intentionally to show the symbolic nature of his visions, which were not meant to be totally locked into any historical period.

Another possible interpretation is that this refers to the series of OT empires who were enemies of God's people: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece ("five have fallen"), Rome ("one is"), end-time anti-God empire ("the other has not yet come"). This interpretation fits into the overall pattern of a series of anti-God world empires from Daniel 2:1-8 (cf. George Ladd, Revelation, pp. 227-231).

Still another ancient interpretation is the symbolic nature of all of the numbers and details of Revelation, which would simply turn this chapter into another example of the ultimate conflict between God and the evil one (cf. Alan Johnson's Revelation, pp. 152-153, 157-161).

This is a good example of my inner conflicts as an interpreter. There are so many different interpretations by godly scholars whom I trust. The first theory is by my favorite writer, F. F. Bruce. The next two are by my favorite commentators on Revelation, George Ladd and Alan Johnson. They all disagree! The crucial issue is whether the text is an allusion to first century Rome (F. F. Bruce), the OT (George Ladd), or apocalyptic imagery (Alan Johnson). At this point in my personal study I think Johnson's view is best.

Revelation 17:12 "the ten horns which you saw are ten kings" This is an allusion to Daniel 7:7, Daniel 7:23-24. Daniel 7:0 is a description of the end-time Antichrist. Some see this as being related historically to ten vassal kings of Rome, while others see it as the demonic hordes of Revelation 9:0. To many, the symbolic nature of the numbers in the book of the Revelation simply makes Revelation 17:12 refer to end-time world leaders, but without a specificity.

Many elaborate, literal interpretations of the book of the Revelation are based on the specific details of Revelation 17:10-12. These prophecies are very specific, which tends to imply a literal fulfillment at the end-time. However, the nature of the literary genre points toward a symbolic interpretation of these numbers and details (at least for those of us who are not the last generation of persecuted believers).

Revelation 17:13 This verse shows the unity of evil, while Revelation 17:15-16 shows the disunity of evil. Evil will ultimately be turned against itself as in Revelation 16:12.

Revelation 17:14 "these will wage war against the Lamb" The Lamb is identified with His people (cf. Matthew 25:35-40; Acts 9:4).

"but the Lamb will overcome. . .and those who are with Him" Notice the close identification between the victory of Christ and the victory of His people.

"He is Lord of lords, and King of kings" This same title is mentioned in Revelation 19:16 as a characterization of the returning Messiah. Its origins are found in (1) a description of YHWH from Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalms 136:2-3 or (2) a Babylonian title used for Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:37, Daniel 2:47. The number value of this phrase equals 777 in Aramaic, although this is not mentioned in the text.

"the called and chosen and faithful" Notice the allusion to predestination found in the terms "chosen" and "called," but also notice they are called to perseverance linked to "faithfulness." We are His by call and faith (both initial and continuing). See Special Topic on Perseverance at Revelation 2:2.

Verses 15-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 17:15-18 15And he said to me, "The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. 16And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. 17For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. 18The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth."

Revelation 17:15 This verse shows the universal reign of the end-time anti-God leader and his empire. See note at Revelation 10:11.

Revelation 17:16 This is an allusion to Ezekiel 16:39-40; Ezekiel 23:25-27; Ezekiel 28:18. It seems to refer to internal strife among the forces of evil, as in Revelation 16:12. This infighting was a strategy of God (cf. Revelation 17:17).

Revelation 17:17 "hearts" See Special Topic at Revelation 2:23.

Revelation 17:18 This great city is mentioned in Revelation 11:8 and Revelation 16:19 with allusions either to Jerusalem (dispensationalists) or Rome (preterists). The context of the literary unit suggests an anti-God power structure symbolized as a city. Which city is not the issue; the point is the existence of a governmental system totally apart from God, humans attempting to meet all of their own needs (atheistic humanism).

Revelation 18:0

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Revelation 17". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/revelation-17.html. 2021.
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