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.”
17:8 shall ascend. This identification is enigmatic, but it seems to refer both to the beast as a man (Revelation 11:7) and the beast as a kingdom (Revelation 13:3,12). As a kingdom, the restoration of Babylon fits the description; as a man, an apparent resurrection of the man known as the son of perdition could be engineered by Satan through deep hypnosis, suspended animation and induced pseudo-memory. Only Christ could actually raise the dead, since only He is the Creator of life and only He has the keys of death (Revelation 1:18).
17:9 seven mountains. Many commentators have alleged the “seven heads” to be the “seven-hilled city” of Rome, hence deducing the great harlot to be the Roman Catholic Church. Such identification is impossible, however. Many cities have seven hills, and Rome actually has more. Besides, the Catholic Church does not sit on the hills of Rome, for its churches are all over the world and its headquarters are in Vatican City. Furthermore, a “hill” (Greek bounos) is not a “mountain” (Greek oros). The seven “mountains” are quite clearly expounded in the next verse as seven kings and/or kingdoms.
17:10 not yet come. Since one of the kings “is,” the five fallen kings must refer to earlier history before John’s time. Rome, as the world’s greatest kingdom during the apostolic period, was in existence during John’s life as well as throughout the Gentile church age. Though Rome did not continue as the greatest empire, she continued to exist in Italy, with a paramount influence on the cultural, legal and religious realms of all the western nations. Thus the five earlier “heads” on the beast must be Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia and Greece. Sumeria, or Babel, the first head on the dragon (see on Revelation 13:2) has apparently been taken from that position, possibly because the spirit and influence of that first Babel live on in the great whore herself, now riding on the beast and all its seven heads. The one “not yet come” must be the ten-kingdom federation represented by the ten horns on the beast (see notes on Revelation 13:1). This kingdom will continue only “a short space,” possibly the first 3½ year period of the tribulation, before they cede all their kingdoms to the beast (Revelation 17:12-13) for the last 3½ years.
17:11 the eighth. The “eighth” kingdom can only be that of the beast himself. It encompasses all the evil characteristics of the seven before it, but especially of the founder of all seven, the first Babel, whose very physical existence itself the beast will finish restoring and then designate it as capital of his world empire.
17:14 Lamb shall overcome them. This is surely a key verse of Scripture. All the armies of the world, following all the hosts of Satan, are on their way to Armageddon to “make war with the Lamb,” but He shall defeat them merely “with the Spirit of His mouth” (II Thessalonians 2:8).
17:14 King of kings. Note I Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16. How incredibly presumptuous it is for Satan or any man or all the creatures of the earth to think they can vanquish their Creator.
17:16 shall hate the whore. The great whore is Mystery Babylon, the erstwhile ally of political Babylon. She has incorporated all the anti-Christian and pseudo-Christian religions under her control, and probably all educational and cultural and sociological systems as well, in a vast syncretistic pseudo-religion designed to promote worship of the beast and Satan as the god of this world. Once that is accomplished, however, the political powers will have no further use for her and will appropriate all her vast holdings for themselves, destroying everything they cannot use.