But the angel said to me, "Why are you so amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.
-- Revelations 17:7 (NRS)

Dave Hunt, who is an apologist and author, wrote a book called A Woman Rides the Beast. The woman who rides the beast, in his beliefs on scripture, refers mostly to Rome and the revived Roman Empire. But in each chapter, Dave continues to talk about other factors that play into this mysterious woman, including the false perception of Mary, the Vatican's connection to the holocaust, and "the failure of the first pope." The first pope, of course, was Peter but how did he fail as pope? He also wrote that "the gospel was being spread before any church was ever established", an excellent point made against Roman Catholicism.

  • Welcome to Hermeneutics! We're glad you're here, please take the site tour to see how the exchange works. This sounds like a good question, but the self promotion is likely to be deleted. It also seems to polemical which is discouraged.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 19:31
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of What is Babylon refering to in the New Testament?
    – user2910
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 15:56

8 Answers 8


The woman riding the beast - think about her as a rider on a horse - she was directing the beast to do what she wanted it to do, to go where she wanted it to go - was collectively Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin.

Rev. 11:8,

" And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.: (KJV)

Our Lord was crucified in, or just outside of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was "the great city" and was therefore figuratively called "Sodom" and "Egypt" by God.

Rev. 14:8,

“And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.“ (KJV)

The same "great city" of Rev. 11: 8 is the same "great city" of Rev. 14:8 - Jerusalem. So, Jerusalem was called "Sodom", "Egypt" and "Babylon" identifying her with wicked nations whom God had destroyed in previous judgment days.

Rev. 17:5-6,

"5 And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth.

6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration." (KJV)

The name written on her forehead was "Babylon"..."The Mother of Harlots". Go back to Ezek. 23:17-22,

"And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoredom, and she was polluted with them, and her mind was alienated from them.

18 So she discovered her whoredoms, and discovered her nakedness: then my mind was alienated from her, like as my mind was alienated from her sister.

19 Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, in calling to remembrance the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt.

20 For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.

21 Thus thou calledst to remembrance the lewdness of thy youth, in bruising thy teats by the Egyptians for the paps of thy youth.

22 Therefore, O Aholibah, thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will raise up thy lovers against thee, from whom thy mind is alienated, and I will bring them against thee on every side;" (KJV)

Aholibah was named in Ezek. 23:4 as Jerusalem.

The whore, the adultress of Ezek. c. 23 was Jerusalem - the same whore of Babylon which committed adultery against their husband (God) by rejecting Christ and making treaties with other nations who were pagan idolators.

During the 1st century AD Judea was a province of Rome. They were under Roman rule, and they could not execute anyone. The Sanhedrin had to get the Roman proconsul (Pilate) to carry out the crucifixion of Christ, and they had to prod the Roman governors and Caesars into persecuting the saints.

Rome could never be considered the whore as Rome was not in a covenant relationship with God, and was never considered as a wife, or bride of God. The beast of the sea was Rome, and the woman riding / directing the beast was the old covenant church led by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. She was drunk with the blood of the saints (Rev. 17:6).

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.“ (KJV - Matt. 23:37-38)

“And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.” (KJV - Rev. 18:19)

There is much more evidence from scripture that cannot be written here. See more discussion of both the "Whore of Babylon" and "The Beast of Revelation" at my blog ShreddingTheVeil.



Although elements of the explanation unpacked in your question detail are popular amongst certain denominations and schools of thought, I don’t believe this view is supported by the context and structure of the prophecy containing this vision, namely the unsealed scroll prophecy, starting at ch 10. If you will indulge me in a rather long (albeit thorough) answer...

Immediate context of the prostitute vision

The immediate context of this vision is the declarations of the 3 angels found in Revelation 14:

6 Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ 8 A second angel followed and said, ‘“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,” which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.’ 9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.

These announcements form three ‘headings’ in chiastic form (see section on structure of the prophecy, below) which are unpacked in the ensuing narrative:

Angel 1’s message

  • Fear God because the hour of judgement has come.
  • Unpacked in 14:14 – 16:21 (the two angels with the two harvesting sickles, and the 7 plagues)

Angel 2’s message

  • Fallen is Babylon the Great
  • This is our vision of the prostitute and the account of her demise (17:1 – 19:10).

Angel 3’s message

  • Judgement to anyone who worships the beast
  • This is elaborated in 19:11 – 21.

Greater context of the prostitute vision

The greater context of these announcements is the vision of the second scroll, which begins at ch 10. It is worth noting various features of this second prophecy (10:11), the first being the sealed scroll of ch 5 ff.

The bones of the passage where the scroll is given to John (Rev ch 10):

10 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven… 2 He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand... When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. 4 And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.’ 5 Then the angel … said, ‘There will be no more delay! 7 But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.’

This vision is given on an open scroll, signifying the present outworking of its prophecy: “There will be no more delay!” (v 6). However, the “seven thunders” are still sealed, indicating that they are still some time off. The "seven thunders" is the collective singular portent of coming judgement, inserted into Revelation as a kind of refrain. Collective singulars are frequent in Revelation, e.g. the 7 spirits (1:4), the 7 lampstands (1:12), the 7 stars (1:16), etc.):

Rev 4:5a

From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder.

Rev 8:5b

…and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

See Rev 11:19b, 16:18a and 19:6a for the other refrains.

Note the connection between sealing/unsealing a scroll and the implications for its contents:

Rev 22:10

Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near.

Dan 12:4

But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end.

(The "thunder" in ch 6 is more 'thunder-like': "... in a voice like thunder..." (6:1). The 'quartad' of judgements in this chapter is already opened, i.e. occurring in the here and now. There are a couple of other occurrences of the word ‘thunder’, but they do not have the same refrain-like quality in context, e.g. Rev 14:2.)

Overall message of the second (open scroll) prophecy, containing the prostitute vision

Rev 10:7

But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.

This mystery is revealed at the sounding of the seventh trumpet:

Rev 11:15

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.’

The use of "loud voices" highlights this section of the narrative.

Overall structure of the open scroll prophecy

Formally, this prophecy is chiastic. For the sake of brevity, I won’t substantiate in cases where my chiasm headings have involved a measure of interpretation:

A: The measuring (i.e. the admiring of measurements and ratios) of the temple (the seat of God’s glory and the heart of Jerusalem) but excluding the outer courts (and, by implication, the rest of the city)

B: The defeat of God’s prophets by the beast from the abyss and the gloating of those who are pro-beast; prophets lie dead in Jerusalem but are then resurrected and called up to God.

C: The 7th trumpet; the mystery of God announced

D: Three character pairs
a: The woman & her child(ren)
b: The dragon & his beasts
: The Lamb & his 144 000

: Three messages of judgement
a: Judgement has come
b: Fallen is Babylon
: Judgement of those pro-beast

: The 7 bowls of wrath, introduced by the two angels harvesting the earth, following which Dʹ plays out

: The seizing of the dragon (note the dragon/beast interchangeability in the narrative, alla the Lion/Lamb of ch 5) and locking away in the abyss; the defeating of the beast, dragon and those pro-beast

: The measuring and admiring of the New Jerusalem, which now has cubic dimensions like the inner temple in A would have had, looks a lot like a priestly breastplate but including the names of the tribes of Israel and the apostles, and extends to include the whole city.

Looking at this structure, we can note that the vision is not linear in its timeline at all, but is focused on showing the hearer the ways in which the kingdom of the world gets turned on its head (or rather reverted to its rightful position) through the final judgement of God, highlighted by the structural interjection of the 7 bowls, inserted between the announcement and effecting of the 3 angels’ decrees.

The vision of the prostitute

So where does this all leave us in determining the meaning of the prostitute vision?

From the vision itself (ch 17), we can see that the prostitute embodies:

  • Materialism (17:4)
  • Excessive luxury at the cost of human lives (17:4; 18:13)
  • Sexual immorality (17:4b)
  • The pursuit and persecution of God’s people (17:6)
  • An attitude of complete rebellion against God (17:3b [by extension/association])
  • The celebration of everything evil (18:2)

In addition:

  • She is associated with many nations (17:1,2 & 15)
  • She sexually corrupts king and subject alike (17:2)
  • She is supported by a beast (17:3b)
  • Her name, "Babylon the Great" (17:5) is mysterious in nature and references the ancient culture of the same name that epitomised an evil society in opposition to God. Babylon is "great" and "a mystery" because unlike the original Babylon, it represents many nations geographically (17:15) and through time (17:10,11)
  • She is a representation of the evil culture of the current ruling authority, Rome (17:18). Bear in mind, though, that the beast she rides (from which she derives her political authority: the kings and crowns all emanate from the beast) is currently 'offline' from John and his audiences’ perspective, so this is by no means her ultimate political manifestation (see below).

Regarding the beast that underpins her:

  • It sports seven heads and ten horns (17:3), just like the beast of ch 13 – but also just like the dragon of ch 10.
  • It comes up out of the abyss (17:8) – the same place where Satan is bound and from whence he will emerge at the end (20:7).
  • It was, is not (at time of John's writing), but will come up out of the abyss and go to its destruction at the end (17:8).
  • Its 7 horns represent 5 past kings, one present ruler (at time of writing), and one future ruler (17:10).
  • The beast itself (currently ‘offline’ at time of writing) is an eighth ruler who will rule with the final 10 kings for a short time (“one hour”; 17:12) before its destruction (17:11).
  • The ten 11th hour kings will yield to the beast-king and together will kill the prostitute, an allusion to a final time marked by everything that she stands against: global peace; equality; morality; fair distribution of resources; an apparent acknowledgement of God and of good; and an apparent rejection of everything evil. (17:16; Compare this killing of the prostitute to the “powerful delusion” sent to mislead people in 2 Thess 2, notably vs 11.)

Regarding the immediate context of the vision:

  • Her destruction happens quickly (18:8, 10, 17 & 19).
  • There appears to be an ideological/cultural destruction of her values, pictured symbolically by the kings' burning of her and eating of her flesh (17:16) as well as a material destruction of her cities through God’s plagues (18:8).
  • However, the emphasis is on her physical destruction (the second angel’s message in ch 14 is sandwiched between announcements of judgement).

Regarding the greater context (the unsealed scroll vision):

  • Her physical destruction, and the ending of all the anti-God ideals for which she stands, is central to the judgement from God on the world which results in the turnaround from ‘kingdom of this world’ to ‘kingdom of our Lord’ (see chiastic structure above).


The prostitute, therefore, rather than representing the Pope or Catholicism in general, stands for the materialistic, hedonistic, immoral, excessive, persecuting ideologies and accompanying cultures that have infiltrated and consumed nations across the ages, bringing destruction and suffering to so many, including the worshippers of the Lamb. Her destruction, both culturally and materially, are key to the renewal and transformation of the world from being a place belonging to the earthly powers that underpin worldly societies, fueled by Satan, to a place that manifests the kingdom of God and shines with his glory, peace and love.


In addition to the answer given by Ylzm Ma, allow me to present a few insights I have gleaned from the 1998 publication ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ’ by John Metcalfe.

The adversaries and enemies of God and His Anointed are revealed and unmasked in the previous parallel openings, although Babylon has only the briefest of mentions. The sixth opening begins in Revelation chapter 17 where the harlot Babylon is portrayed. The first judgment is on the whore, Babylon, although chapter 17 is mainly about the allegorical beast upon which the whore sits.

The whore sits upon many waters (Revelation 17:1), which waters are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues (Revelation 17:15).

“The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18). The mystical woman is a city, and the figurative city is a woman. The whore says in her heart ‘I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow’ (Revelation 18:7).

Both beasts, the whore and the city Babylon are not figures of actual beings, but of idealogical conceptions or powers of the dragon. Neither Satan nor the two beasts assume any material form, meaning, or appeal to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life... All the appeal to mankind is manifested through Babylon the woman and Babylon the city. The dragon and his powers, though invisible, become exposed by the revelation (page 454).

She is arrayed in purple and scarlet, decked with gold, precious stones and pearls, holding a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. On her head are the words ‘Mystery, Babylon the Great’ who is drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs of Jesus (Revelation 17:3-5). Since the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, God’s enemies have persecuted his church. From 27 B.C. to 96 A.D. there were eight Roman Emperors, many of whom persecuted the first Christians. This persecution has continued unabated throughout the centuries.

Revelation 17:3 draws our attention to the colour scarlet, a colour reserved for the beast and the whore. Derived from ‘cochineal’ the colour of this expensive apparel was the prerogative of the rich and noble, if not of royalty itself.

Purple is the colour of the robe which the soldiers put upon Jesus. Lydia was a seller of purple (Acts 16:14). The woman’s appearance is resplendent in royalty and the richest refinements reserved for the honourable and noble women of the earth. To suppose bawdiness or the attire of a common harlot altogether misses the point. The very opposite is the truth of her raiment (page 460).

The angel of judgment carried John away in the spirit into the wilderness, to a place of total separation, the very antithesis of the city. Remember, this is highly allegorical and uses figurative language. The wilderness is the place of separation from all that is of the world and it is here that the true nature of the woman is revealed through a spiritual lense.

In the sight of God she is the utmost of revolting filth, but the world does not think so. Men are captivated by all that she represents in the world. To men, nothing is more desirable than that which she symbolises. Even John, when he saw her, “was greatly astonished” (Revelation 17:6)

Only with spiritual separation from the world, the apostasy and false religion, can the vantage of the wilderness reveal all things in their true light. This comes not by reading, or by knowledge: it comes by divine initiative; by the footsteps of faith; by spiritual revelation, and by interior experience (pages 459-460).

Chapters 17 and 18 come together to show the judgment of the great whore and the unfolding of the mystery, culminating in the triumph of God and His Anointed over the dragon, the beasts, Babylon the whore and the city – indeed, all the powers of darkness and evil who prevail against God and his anointed and His church.

Just as the whore of Revelation chapter 17 is disguised in scarlet and purple, gold and precious jewels, and blinds the eyes of people to the poison in her gold cup, so too the inhabitants of the earth are intoxicated by the things of this world. The kings, rulers and governments of this world commit spiritual fornication with the whore, “and the merchants of the earth grow rich from her excessive luxuries” (Revelation 18:3). When she falls

The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast (Revelation 17:8)

They are spiritually blind and dead. They refuse to repent and worship God but continue to curse God (Revelation 16:9. 11, 21). When the allegorical city Babylon falls, they will likewise partake of the wrath of God (Revelation chapter 18).

That is why God's people are commanded to get out of her - out of worldly enticements and apostasy.


The Bride of Christ who whored herself as prophesised in Hosea. It is foreshadowed in ancient Israel, and in the Holocaust. And it will come to the churches who fall short, shortly.

The key to her identification in the world is the following:

Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute was seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. And the ten horns and the beast that you saw will hate the prostitute. They will leave her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to carry out His purpose by uniting to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” [Rev 17:15-18]

Elsewhere she is also called Babylon.

There are several symbols to unpack to arrive at an understanding and to be able to map what's prophesised with what is happening in the world yesterday, today and tomorrow.

But there is no visible authority to establish what is the correct interpretation except for the Holy Spirit, even as Jesus interpreted the parables to his disciples in private when he walked the earth then. And apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit today neither would I believe any claimed authority to this or that interpretation.

However we can glean a few things uncontroversially from what the angel said, namely:

  1. The waters. This is symbol for the "people, multitudes, nations and tongues", i.e. the whole world. Also clearly the rest of the imagery are all symbolic and not literal, so you won't actually try to find a creature with seven heads, or to identify a real woman in the flesh, such as Mary or whatever.

  2. The Beast with the seven head and ten horns. This has been interpreted to the death. Pick one you like, or affirm it with the Holy Spirit and be certain it is Jesus interpreting it for you. I won't do it here.

  3. The Woman, the prostitute, also the Great City, Babylon. She "rules over the kings of the earth", and she rides the Beast. So who or what today in this world, as was in the past, was there a power that "rules over the kings of the earth"? What we see with the eyes are sovereign nations, each with some influence and power over some other nations, to greater and lesser extent, such as the USA, China, but we do not see a power comprehensively running all the nations, do we? And here is where you have conspiracy theories like the Illuminati, or some have identified the UN and so on. Again I leave it to you and the Holy Spirit to open your eyes. I can suggest consider Joseph and Daniel. In the former, Pharaoh was king but Joseph ruled, and so too Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel. And Esther too. So is that a pattern of power, albeit unseen, in the world? And is that the underlying reason for antisemitism in Germany prior to WWII?

  4. The peoples, the waters, will unite, as moved by God, "to give their kingdom to the Beast". Not unlike the German people voting Hitler to destroy the Jews or the Americans voting Trump, and will vote again, to destroy Christianity?

I need to make clear here the principle of foreshadowing of prophecies, or at least that is what I understand how prophecies are to be interpreted, for every matter must be established by one or two witnesses, and the witness to prophecy is itself, its foreshadowing, before the eventual fulfillment.

And thus I see Revelation repeating in cycles, in cycles of cycles, with each foreshadowing shining a little more light for a more fuller and complete interpretation, so that it is seen when it is finally fulfilled, even as Anna and Simon recognised the baby Messiah when all the teachers and scribes did not, so too when the anti Christ arrives.

Not all will see.


As pointed out in a comment to you, below your question, there is another very similar question that has received very many answers. Combined with the three accepted answers so far, this only serves to show the futility of asking such a question, good though it is, important though it is! The problem is that people give their personal interpretations of the verses in question, but hermeneutics is not for doing that. Examination of the verses in question is required, and sticking to what the text states, to see if the text itself provides any answers.

And, yes, it does! So, instead of me giving my personal opinion (based of any preferred interpretation I agree with) I will flag up the clues in the text, and leave it at that.

Top priority is the fact that this is apocalyptic literature; it must not be taken to be literal. It is full of symbolism and signs from heaven to alert God's people to spiritual but unseen realities. It is about a vision the apostle John received, to prepare God's people (the ecclesia) for what lay ahead. Logically, this means that the warning given to get out of this Babylon the Great means that it cannot be the Church itself. But it could be a religious entity. Just not the Church Jesus said he would build, which the gates of Hades could never overcome (Mat. 16:18). But what about a pseudo-church masquerading as the genuine article? The N.T. has many warnings about that being a reality.

In passing, this deals with your secondary question, "how did [Peter] fail as pope?" Whether anybody calls Peter "the first pope", or sticks to the N.T. title of "Apostle", it is clear from Mat. 16:1-19 that, despite Peter's failure to be identified with Christ on the night of his betrayal, Peter did not fail as a pillar of Christ's first century Church.

Babylon the Great is first mentioned in Rev. 14:8 - "the great city" which has fallen. Further, this symbolic city is also called a symbolic "woman" who has prostituted herself with kings, resulting in "the nations drinking of the wine of her fornication". This unclean entity is not mentioned again until chapter 17, through two whole chapters.

It is therefore unreasonable to ask for a hermeneutical explanation of one verse in chapter 17. Babylon the Great is mentioned six times in the whole of the book of the Revelation. All of that must be put together. This means that the question you ask would be better placed in the Christianity section, scoping the question for the attention of those who either agree, or disagree, with Hunt's interpretation.

All that remains to be said is what further clues ch.17 vs.7 provide. An angel says he will tell John the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carries her (the one with seven heads and ten horns). Several beasts are detailed in the Revelation, so it becomes very necessary to work out what that particular beast represents. After the angel does all his descriptive explaining, he concludes that the woman depicted "is that great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth" (17:18).

So, the hermeneutic 'clues' in the text now need to to be put together, with much careful consideration of all the six times Babylon the Great is mentioned in Revelation.

Finally, your two tags (contradiction & hebrew bible) are quite inappropriate. This is not a biblical contradiction under examination; it deals with clashes of interpretations. And it is the Christian Greek scriptures that you ask about, not the Hebrew scriptures. Please don't be discouraged by this; just have another go, and hone your question so that it will find an appropriate place in Stack Hub.

  • @Ashley Roberts Good of you to say so, and to make that request. However, I cannot do that on here; only by private e-mail contact. I do recommend you get the book "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" by John Metcalfe, published 1998, ISBN 1 870039 77 7, available via Amazon. Be advised - it's 618 pages long but it's so good, I'm on my 5th reading of it!
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 16:11

Babylon the Great is symbolic of the world empire of false religion. The beast she is riding represents the United Nations which receives its power from the governments of the world long enough to destroy all false religion. Which is the thought that comes from God. The only religion that will survive this attack is true religion. It is when the governments decide to eliminate this last vestige of religion, their attack will trigger Armageddon. After that war between God and men is over then Christ will extend his kingdom reign to the Earth.

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    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
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    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 13:06

The following answer is a condensed extract (from my own book).

V1 “Then one of the angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me ‘Come, I will show you the judgement of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters.’” The angel tells us later (v15) that the waters are “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues”.

V3 “I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.” This is the Beast from the sea. In the fifth chapter, John heard about a lion, and saw the same lion pictured as a lamb. In this chapter, he’s told to expect a woman sitting on many waters, If these are equivalent seats, then the Beast must also represent “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues”. This confirms the Beast as “Rome, the Empire”, and implies that the Harlot must be “Rome, the city”, necessarily resting on the support of the wider institution. Their location is “in the wilderness”. In other words, they are “outsiders”, not part of the land that was given to Israel.

V4 “The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls.” This is one of the complications. The Harlot appears to be Rome, but she is also the woman described in the diatribe against Jerusalem which provides the model for this scene; “And you, O desolate one, what do you mean that you dress in scarlet, that you deck yourself with ornaments of gold, that you enlarge your eyes with paint? In vain you beautify yourself, your lovers despise you, they seek your life.” (Jeremiah ch4 v30). So she also appears to represent the unfaithfulness of God’s people. The church of John’s time would probably apply this to the Jews, because of their refusal to accept the authority of Christ. Perhaps we should say “the Jews of the city of Rome”, looking for a way to reconcile the two interpretations.

V5 “On her forehead was written a name of mystery; ‘Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth’s abominations’.” Here is another complication. What was the significance of the word “Babylon” before the association with “harlot” became familiar? Old Testament history knew Babylon as the kingdom that destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem. The power of religious oppression, then. Old Testament prophecy (e.g. Isaiah ch46) also knew Babylon as the location of many idols, which is the meaning of the word “abomination” (e.g. Deuteronomy ch27 v15). So that is temptation to idolatry.

The Harlot appears to be an amalgam of three elements. These are unfaithfulness, represented by the Jews of Rome; religious oppression, represented by the political establishment of Rome; and the seductiveness of idolatry, represented by the religious establishment of Rome.

V6 “And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” This is the real essence of the Harlot, the reason why the Harlot matters. All three elements in the amalgam will be contributing to this bloodthirstiness. The religious establishment are demanding conformity from the Christians. The Jews of Rome have the opportunity to be informers. The political establishment will enforce the penalties incurred by the recalcitrant.

V9 “The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated.” The standard, and probably valid, assumption is that sitting on seven mountains confirms the identity of the Harlot as “Rome, the city”. There was an ancient celebration, the SEPTIMONTIUM (“Seven-hills-festival”) which came down from an earlier phase in the city’s history.

V16 “They and the beast will hate the harlot; they will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.” This was predicted in Jeremiah’s diatribe against the Harlot; “Your lovers despise you, they seek your life.” If the Harlot is the city and the Beast is the Empire, then the implication is that the city is destroyed by the rebellion of the outlying provinces. That is indeed a good description of what happened to Imperial Rome. The eastern provinces transferred their loyalty to the new capital in Constantinople, while the western provinces were invaded by barbarians and detached themselves. Rome was devastated and devoured and burned with fire by the Vandals, who sacked the city in 455 A.D. On my theory, that is the last historical event foreseen in the first message of Revelation.

V18 “And the woman you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of earth.” This great city is obviously Rome, in John’s time, but only in John’s time. The equivalent city would have been Paris in the eighteenth century, London in the nineteenth century, Washington in the twentieth century, and perhaps Peking in the twenty-second century. Anyone who wants to identify the Harlot of a future tribulation should not be fixing their minds on the geographical location or the name of Rome.

Rome itself was not literally Babylon, but only the equivalent of Babylon in a combination of political dominance and religious oppression. In exactly the same way, a future “great city” would not be literally Rome, but would be the equivalent of Rome in a combination of political dominance and religious oppression. The best way to identify that Harlot is to look for the symptoms and recognise them when they appear.


In the bible, the symbol of a woman most often refers to a church. For example, the true church of God is referred to as the bride of Christ. Ergo, a whore is the symbol of a false church. The whore in Revelation is the Great False Church.

The harlot daughters represent false churches which, while they left (came out of) the whore, are for the most part just as false.

The fact that the whore is riding a beast means 'she' is is controlling ("fornicating with") world governments. The meaning of 'She is drunk with the blood of the saints" is obvious.

There is only one church in modern history which matches those criteria - the Church of Rome (the Catholic Church). The Vatican is actually a sovereign state, which carries on the same doctrines, holidays, weekly sabbath, teachings, and practices as the pagan Roman religion of sun worship, and has exercised massive power and influence over all European nations since even before the fall of the Roman Empire.

As far as goes the mainstream Protestant churches (harlots) which left Catholicism over or another difference, their teachings and practices are most similar to the dogmas of the Vatican; so much so that one Pope said, "No matter by what name you call yourselves, if you observe a Sunday sabbath, you are Catholic. Most Protestant church practitioners today even call a Catholic priest "Father".

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    @Bob-"Ergo" "obvious" aren't words appropriate for the most symbolic, apocalyptic book in the Bible. This genre of literature doesn't permit such certainty. The "historical interpretation" of Revelation is just one of many different templates applied to this symbolic Book. And the reason there are differing ones is for this same reason: ambiguity of symbols. Broaden your research, and keep studying the Bible; it's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 0:36

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