New Defender's Study Bible Notes
17:1 great whore. The “great whore” is obviously a symbolic woman, since she is riding on a symbolic “beast” (Revelation 17:3), who in turn is said to be sitting on “many waters,” which are then explained as “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (Revelation 17:15). Thus both the waters and the beast represent the nations of the world, upon which the whore rides into prominence and influence.
The word “whore” is the Greek porne (also rendered “harlot” in Revelation 17:5), and is closely related to porneia (fornication) and pornos (“fornicator” or “whoremonger”). It actually refers to anyone involved in sex outside of normal marriage. Often it is used in a symbolic sense to refer to anyone who worships and serves other “gods” than the true God and Creator. The latter is the primary theme here, although the two—that is physical fornication and spiritual fornication—commonly go together.
17:3 in the spirit. John had been carried “in the Spirit” forward in time and upward in space to the heavenly throne as it will be set after the future rapture of believers (Revelation 1:10; 4:2). Now once again, he is translated “in the Spirit” far backward in time to the immediate post-Flood world, when the whole world was still a barren “wilderness,” devastated by the flood waters. He is also translated in space to a region where the first post-Flood city, Babel, was being erected in the wilderness, under the direction of Nimrod, the “mighty hunter [in the face of] the LORD” (Genesis 10:8-10). The wilderness itself had emerged literally out of many waters, but these soon became nations, of whom Babel was the “mother,” for she had founded all the earliest nations (Accad, Nineveh, Sumer, etc.), which eventually became the mighty Assyro-Babylonian empire.
17:3 scarlet colored beast. The “scarlet colored beast” on which the great whore is riding seems, as John watches, to become merged with the beast of Revelation 13:1, who will become the great world ruler of the last days, culminating the succession of the seven great kingdoms of history and embodying the ten kingdoms of the end times (see Revelation 12:3; 13:1-3).
17:5 BABYLON THE GREAT. Babylon is referred to several times in Revelation as an actual city (Revelation 14:8; 17:18; 18:10, 20), and there is no reason to call it “Rome” or “Catholicism” or something else, as many have done. Babylon was still a fairly important city at the time John wrote, and would remain so for several more centuries, so why would he call it Babylon if it wasn’t Babylon? If he meant Rome, he would certainly have called it Rome (Paul did so, frequently, and so did Luke). Babylon eventually fell mostly into ruins, though never entirely abandoned, and it will eventually be rebuilt to rival its former glory (see notes on Zechariah 5:5-11). The city is now in Iraq, and the Iraqi government has, indeed, been working on its restoration for many years, with ambitions to make it a capital of Islam and a center of world influence. Eventually the Beast will probably take over the whole region and make Babylon his own capital. It is ideally situated to be the global center of government, religion, commerce and communication, since it is very near to the actual geographical center of the world’s land areas.
17:5 ABOMINATIONS. The Babel of Nimrod, not the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar, is actually the “mother of harlots and abominations.” The word “abominations” is commonly used for “idols.” It was Nimrod, later deified as “Merodach” or “Marduk” (whose worship was revived by Nebuchadnezzar) who really introduced false religion into the post-Flood world, probably under the illumination and instigation of Satan himself. When the people were scattered from Babel by God (Genesis 11:9), they all had different tongues but the same basic religion, as taught to them by Nimrod. This is why all the world’s non-monotheistic religions—whether ancient (e.g., Egyptian, Greek, Roman) or modern (e.g., Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism)—are all pantheistic, polytheistic, idolatrous, spiritistic, humanistic and evolutionistic. None of them permit belief in a transcendent Creator God. Even modern scientific evolutionism is essentially a somewhat sophisticated variation of the ancient Babel religion. The same is even more true of modern New Age evolutionism, with its plethora of movements. Thus, the first Babel was literally “the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.” However, it is only in this verse that she is called “Mystery, Babylon.” Even though she is clearly the great city of Babylon, evidently revived and restored as the great world capital, “Mystery Babylon” is more than that. She is nothing less than the great syncretistic religious system of the whole world, comprising in essence the evolutionistic faith originated by Satan in lieu of believing God (note Revelation 12:9), which he taught Nimrod to enable the latter to justify his rebellion. This false faith was then scattered around the whole world at the time of the dispersion, and continues in one form or another as the religion of the God-rejecting world, right up to the time of the end.
17:6 martyrs of Jesus. Note Jeremiah 51:7 and Isaiah 47:5. Like many Old Testament prophecies, there had both near and far fulfillments. They applied directly to the Babylon of their own day, and its conquest by Persia and Greece, then ultimately to this end-time Babylon, which will finally see the ancient prophecies completely fulfilled (e.g., Jeremiah 51:63,64).
17:6 admiration. “Admiration” should be understood in the sense of “amazement” rather than “approval.”