Commentary on Revelation Chapter 17
I was once asked to explain Revelation 17:16. My response may have more application to today than ever before as we proceed through these end times.
Let’s back up a little so we can understand this passage of which you are inquiring. In Chapter 16:19 we read that not only is Babylon split into three parts, by the earthquake, but the capital cities also of the confederated nations, the allies of the Beast (verse 14:17:13-17) were destroyed. Some say that “Great Babylon” means Rome”; others maintain that it means “Jerusalem”; while others believe what is literally written. Babel or Babylon was the scene of the first apostasy from G-d after the Flood. Always the enemy of G-d’s people, she became in later days, the metropolis of the first great Gentile Empire as seen in in the image and dream number 2 of Nebuchadnezzar. G-d promised to remember His covenant with Israel; when He did so He also promised to remember Babylon in the day of is wrath. Hence, His people cry concerning it, ” Remember, O L-rd.” Ps. 137:98:3:15:8,42.
Babylon is only partly destroyed now in token of its total destruction soon to follow. One tenth of the city (nation), will have fallen as we are told in 11:12,13. Chapters 17 and 18 are going to tell us of the causes, of the manner, and the consequences of that judgment.
In 17:4 the woman identified as the great city (verse18) was arrayed in purple (Judg. 8:26. Est. 1:6), and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and precious stone and pearls, having a golden cup (Jer. 51:7) in her hand full of abominations and having unclean things of her fornication. Again, we must present the vision of this verse in terms of the interpretation: 4. And that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth (v. 18), was beautified with purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stone, and pearls, having a wondrous and attractive idolatrous system full of abominations, and having unclean provisions for her idolatrous practices.
That great city is described as having all luxuries, combined with her idolatrous worship. The word “Abomination” is used of an idol (see 2 Kings 23:13; Is. 44;19); and in the plural, of idolatry (see Deut. 18:9; 29:17;32:16. 1 Kings 14:24; 2 Kings 16:3;21:2;23 Ezek. 8:6,9,13,15,17:11:18;14:6;16:2;20:7,8). Doubtless, the idols and idolatry were so called, because of the uncleanliness practiced in their worship. Can we doubt that when we meet with the word here in rev. 17:4,5, that we have the same idolatrous uncleanliness referred to?
And upon her forehead a name written- a secret sign.” By printing (on its own authority) the word “mystery” in large capital letters, the AV has made it appear as part of the name. The Revisers have followed this example, printing the name in small capital letters instead of large. But they have, in the margin, said “or, a mystery, BABYLON THE GREAT,” as though the word “mystery” did not form part of the title. We believe this to be the case, and we further believe that what follows the word “great” does not form any part of this “name,” but is the Divine meaning and description of it. So, we read it, that she had a name written on her forehead- a secret symbol- “BABYLON THE GREAT,” the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth. Written on the woman’s forehead, it was s secret sign or symbol. It does not mean that she or any woman could be so described. But that, as the explanation of what the woman represented is deferred until the very last verse of the chapter, the meaning of the name was a secret, until it was then and there revealed that it referred to “that great city.” (verse 18), and not to an individual woman or to any human. The word (musterion) simply means “a secret.” It occurs in the Septuagint (280 B.C.E) only 9 times, of the king’s secret which had gone from him (Dan. 2:18,19,27,28,29,30,47 (twice), and iv.9).
In Revelation 1:20, the seven starts are used as a “secret sign” for something which they signified (See Eph. 5:32). So in 17:5,6, the woman’s name is a “secret sign”that refers to something much deeper than the name itself could convey. The name was the name, not of a woman, but of a city, “that great city,” even Babylon. But it signified not only the material city as such, but the vast system of idolatry connected with it. That is why the explanation of the secret sign follows “the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” Not merely of Rome, or even Babylon (as a city), but “of the earth.” i.e., the mother, or fountain-head of all the systems of idolatry which have since flooded “the earth” from that one great source; and of which Romanism is only a part. This is the secret of “mystery of iniquity” referred to in 2 Thess. 2:7. Babylon (Iraq and Bagdad) was the fountain-head of all idolatry (where Nimrod originated).
We have two things going on here. First, the reality, which is that “great city,” which will be seen by the uninitiated; and second, the woman, which is the “secret sign” of what it means. The picture of the woman, as described, may be regarded as the “drop-curtain.” But the initiated are those who will be admitted behind it, and learn the “depths of Satan:” and, behind the scenes in his own great theatre, will learn what Satan’s religion means as they “worship the Dragon.” The uninitiated will only see the curtain- the wonderful city. Compare Prov. 9:13-18, where both are shown and may well be applied to this passage. Idolatry was no mere sin into which people gradually sunk. It was the creation, by satanic wisdom, of a mighty system, which he intended to us, and to lead up to his own worship. Nimrod was used as the great founder of this marvelous scheme of Satan. Babylon was his city (Gen. 10:10). Would not Kain’s city before the flood answer to the people of that day, the same end as Babylon did afterwards (Gen 4:17)? Each would be the capital of their respective idolatrous systems. The words “Kayin (Kain) went out from the presence of the L-rd, are very significant. So is the name of Kayin’s city. He called it “Enoch,” which means “initiated”The corruption of mankind spoken of in Gen. 6 must have led to abnormal forms, which would account for the half-human, or super-human beings which became the Nephilim, the Rephaim, and Anakim of Scripture; the Titans of the Greeks. It would account for the worship of Ishtar, Isis, Ashtaroth, and all the abominations of spiritual harlotry.
So, we see how “that great city,” Babylon, founded by Nimrod, was the source of all idolatry. This is not true of Rome. Pagan Rome itself was only one system; one of the polluted streams from that corrupt source. Papal Rome is only another single stream. It is not possible that one of many streams can be the fountain-head of all streams or the “headwater.” Rome was not the mother of the worship of Moloch and Remphan; Ashtoreth, the abomination idol of the Zidonains, and Chemosh, the abomination of the Moabites; Milcom, the abomination of the children of Ammon, which were introduced by Solomon (1 Kings 11:5; 2 Kings 23:11) The description goes back to the origin of all the abominations of heathen idolatry. Rome’s place in history makes this an impossibility. We must go back to the beginning. We find it in Genesis 10:8-10 and 11:9. There we find it in the land of Shinar. Under Nimrod, Satan began in the spirit of the Anti-Messiah; his objective to build a city and make a name for his people so that they may not be scattered. Babylon was founded in rebellion against G-d. Nimrod was “a mighty one on the earth” (Gen. 10:8). He called his city Bab-El. Some take this to mean “the court or gate of G-d” for he, like his antitype, would thus exalt himself (2 Thess. 2:4).
In any case, we are taken back to the fountain-head and shown the source of all idolatry. Nimrod is called a mighty hunter. It is equally impossible to interpret the words of Rome- and to say that this woman made “the inhabitants of the earth drunk with the wine of her fornication,” i.e., made the whole earth partake of her idolatrous system. Neither of Rome, papal or pagan, can this be said. They both drank of her cup, but it is a perversion of all known history to say that either of them was the tutor of all the nations and an insult to common sense to apply this to “the inhabitants of the earth for more than 3,000 years before Rome was dreamt of.” As Dr. Seiss states, “this wine was already bottled and labeled before the first dispersion” (Gen 11). Today we find it in all regions of the earth, affecting, if not controlling their thinking, their politics, faith, and worship. No less than two-thirds of the earth’s population are Pagan idolaters, driveling under the same intoxication which came forth from Nimrod and Babylon; whilst the great body of the other third is Mohammedan, Catholic, Jewish (other than Messianic), Infidel, or adherents of some tainted faith and worship. Nor in their a kingdom or government on the face of the earth at this hour that which does not embody and exhibit more of the spirit of Nimrod than of the spirit, commandments, and inculcations of G-d. All the kings of the earth and all the governments under heaven have more or less joined in the uncleanliness of the same old Babylonian Harlot who had defiled every spot in the inhabited world, notwithstanding that G-ds set His seal of wrath upon it from the beginning. Jews who maintain that the Oral Torah is above the Written and Living Torah of G-d, Papal, Mohammedan whoredoms, and those of all perverted Christian religionists, though not entirely letting go the confession of only one G-d, remain in essence, the same old harlotry which was first found place and embodiment on the banks of the Euphrates. It is the same old Babylon, and her harlot daughters, bearing rule or kingdom upon the dominions of the earth, and intoxicating the inhabitants thereof out of the wine of her fornication,”
Some of the content for this message was taken from Dr. Seiss’ “Lectures on the Apocalypse” 3, pp. 121-2.
Other material was taken from Revelation series by Rabbi Phil Davis
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart