Revelation 17

The Fallen City of Jerusalem

Following the account of the pouring out of the Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath, John is given a description of the fallen city of Jerusalem, which will come under the rule Beast (the Antichrist). As in the rest of the Revelation, these chapters never refer to the conquered city by its name of “Jerusalem”. Instead, the fallen city is described using figurative terms, such as the Great Prostitute or Babylon the Great, which identify the city and describe how it will function. An example of this type of language can be seen in an earlier chapter of the Revelation where the murder of the Two Witnesses is said to take place in the great city where their Lord was crucified.

Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egyptwhere also their Lord was crucified. Rev. 11:8

By describing Jerusalem as, “the great city where the Lord was crucified,” the Revelation gives us enough information to identify the city without using its actual name. Obviously, the city where the Lord was crucified is Jerusalem and the title of the great city reflects how it will rule the nations, after it is conquered by the Beast, who will make it the center of his power. Based on our knowledge of the Old Testament, when fallen Jerusalem is further described as Sodom and Egypt, it tells us the the city will become a slave to sin (Egypt) and will eventually be destroyed for her wickedness (Sodom).

The Great Prostitute

As in the above example, in this chapter, Jerusalem is again described using figurative language that both identifies the city and tells us how it will function.

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” Rev. 17:1-2

When Jerusalem is called the Great Prostitute who commits adulteries with the kings of the earth, it corresponds with how the Old Testament often used the image of a prostitute to describe how unfaithful Israel sought after the gods of the nations.

See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her—but now murderers! Is. 1:2

But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord. Is. 3:20

“‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! Ezek. 16:32

By using the familiar symbolism of the prostitute to describe fallen Jerusalem, the Revelation againuses language that can be used to identify the city without mentioning its actual name. The image of the prostitute and adulterer also tells us that under the rule of the Beast, Jerusalem will seek after the gods of the nations and will practice idolatry. After giving us the above information, Jerusalem is further described as Babylon the Great.  

Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: Babylon the great the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth. Rev. 17:3-5

In these passages, we are told that the name of the Great Prostitute is Babylon the Great, which is an Old Testament reference to the ancient city of Babylon where man first organized a collective rebellion against God (Gen. 11:1-9). By comparing fallen Jerusalem with this ancient city, we learn that when Jerusalem comes under the rule of the Beast, she will not only commit adulteries against God, herself, but will become the center of idol worship for the nations who will come to Israel to commit abominations against God. By combining this description with the previous passage where Jerusalem is similarly called Sodom and Egypt, we learn that under the dominion of the beast, Jerusalem will become a slave to sin (Egypt) and will lead the world in rebellion against God (Babylon), before she is destroyed for her wickedness (Sodom). When the woman is described as sitting on the Beast, it is another reference to how the conquered city of Jerusalem will become the center of power of the kingdom of the beast, and as such, will sit atop all other nations while acquiring great wealth.

The Woman

As the seat of power of the beast, the Great Prostitute will also lead the nations in their persecution of Gods people. Thus, the fallen city of Jerusalem is next described as the woman who was drunk with the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.

I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Rev. 17:6

When John was given the above vision, he was greatly astonished, as it was the common belief of the disciples that the coming of the Messiah would bring about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.[1] However, when John saw Jerusalem portrayed as the woman, who was drunk with the blood of God’s people, it meant that Jerusalem would, first, be given over to the Gentiles before being restored to her original purpose. (We will read about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel in later chapters.) John’s astonishment is a further indicator that the woman represents Israel, as it would not have surprised John to see a Gentile city rising to power over the rebellious nations. However, when John saw Jerusalem sitting on top of the beast, he was greatly astonished.

John’s expression of astonishment prompted the angel to explain to him the mystery of the woman, and the beast she rides.

Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. 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, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.” Rev. 17:7-8

As mentioned before, when the word “beast” is used in the Scriptures it can be a reference to either the Antichrist or his kingdom (see Chapter 13). Accordingly, the description of the beast that once was, now is not, and yet will come out of the Abyss can be used to describe both the person of the Beast, who will suffer a fatal wound but who’s wound will be healed, or the kingdom of the Beast, which will arise from the formerly extinct Roman Empire (see Chapter 13). In either case, the Inhabitants of the Earth will be astonished when they see the Beast seemingly rise from the dead.

The Seven Kingdoms that have Ruled over Israel
After being given the above description, John was next given the meaning of the seven heads and ten horns of the Beast.

Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains[2] on which the woman sits, and 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. The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth[3] and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. Rev. 17:9-11 NASB

Earlier, we discovered that when the word mountain is used symbolically in the Scriptures, it represents a kingdom.

“Before your eyes I will repay Babylon and all who live in Babylonia for all the wrong they have done in Zion,” declares the Lord. “I am against you, you destroying mountain, you who destroy the whole earth,” declares the Lord. Jer. 51:24-25

Based on this precedence in the Scriptures, we can say that when John is told that the seven heads of the Beast represent seven mountains, it is a reference to the seven kingdoms that have ruled over Israel and that will precede the kingdom of the Beast. These kingdoms are described as five that have fallen, one which is, and one that has not yet come. The kingdom, which is, refers to the Ancient Roman Empire, which ruled over Jerusalem when John wrote the Revelation, making it the kingdom which is. The five kingdoms that have fallen are the five kingdoms that preceded the Roman Empire; namely, the kingdoms of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The kingdom that will remain a little while is a description of the British Empire, which governed Jerusalem following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World I, but whose rule ended prematurely when it evacuated the troubled city shortly after World
War II. [3] The eighth kingdom is a reference to the kingdom of the beast that is one of the seven, which is to say that the beast and his kingdom will rule over Israel, just as the seven previous kingdoms had.

The Ten Kings that will Hate Israel

Following the description of the seven kingdoms that will precede the kingdom of the beast, John was given more information concerning the then ten nations that will give their power to the Beast. 

“The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” Rev. 17:12-14

When the Revelation describes the ten kings as those who have not yet received a kingdom, it is a reference to the ten nations that will form the future kingdom of the Beast and that will come from the descendants of the Ancient Roman Empire (see Chapter 13). When these nations are described as having one purpose, it is a reference to how the ten kings will combine forces with the Beast (the Antichrist) for the sole purpose of destroying Israel. The lack of loyalty to the Beast himself will lead to the rebellion of three of the kings, who will be subdued by the Beast (This event is described in
Dan. 7:23-25). Accordingly, the kingdom of the Beast will destroy all others but will only be held together by a mutual hatred of God’s people. Next we are given the explanation for the waters where the Great Prostitute sits.

Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.
Rev. 17:15-17

In these verses, John is given the meaning of the waters, which were mentioned earlier in the description of the Great Prostitute, and that represent the peoples, multitudes and nations that sit in proximity to Israel. From these multitudes will come the ten nations that will make up the kingdom of the Beast and that surround the nation of Israel. When we read that the ten kings will hate the prostitute (Israel) and will bring her to her ruin, it is a description of the future Attack on Jerusalem when the Beast will lead an attack on the city and will burn it with fire. (see Chapter 8)

Surprise Attack

From the description of the Ten Nations that will hate the prostitute, we get an idea of how the Attack on Jerusalem will take place. Earlier, we read that the Attack on Jerusalem will come as a complete surprise to the people living in the city who will be forced to flee to the wilderness without gathering any of their possessions.

“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out.” Mk. 13:14-15

The above circumstances seem hard to imagine in the modern era of military satellites etc., which would make a surprise attack on Jerusalem nearly impossible. We must, therefore, assume that the armies that will conduct the attack will already be in proximity to the city based on some other “peaceful” pretext before the sudden attack begins. One such scenario can be inferred from the description of the Ten-Nation Coalition, whose armies will most likely be promoted as a “peace-keeping” force in the region. This development would allow for the armies of the beast to be placed in and around Jerusalem for her “peace” and “safety” without causing any alarm. From this position, the gathered forces will be able to suddenly surround and attack Jerusalem, as described in the Gospel accounts.

Although the Attack on Jerusalem will occur at a pre-determined day and hour that no one knows but the Father,the people living in Jerusalem have been given the signs to watch for that will warn them before this attack takes place. The Lord has forewarned His people that when they see the Abomination that Causes Desolation standing at the Temple and Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, they are to flee to the mountains.

“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Matt. 24:15-16

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. Lk. 20:20-21

As we read in previous chapters, those who head the Lord’s instructions will escape from the sudden attack and will be kept safe in the wilderness out of Satan’s reach (see Chapter 12). The escape of the Remnant from the Jerusalem will fill Satan with fury, and he will conduct a war (the Great Tribulation) from the conquered city against those who hold to their testimony of Jesus

The Woman is the Great City

This chapter ends with the following verse, which concludes the angel’s explanation of the woman and the beast she rides.

The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” Rev. 17:18

In this verse, John is told that the woman, who is the Great Prostitute named Babylon the Great, is the great city. When the woman is called the great city, it positively identifies her as the city of Jerusalem, which was earlier described as the great city where the Lord was crucified. When the woman is said to rule over the kings of the earth, it is another description of how the fallen city of Jerusalem will rise to power under the rule of the beast, who will govern his kingdom from the conquered city.

The New Jerusalem

In contrast to the figurative language that is used to describe the fallen city of Jerusalem, whenever the Revelation mentions the New Jerusalem that will come down from heaven, the city is identified by its proper name, as seen in the following verse.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. Rev. 21:2

By describing Fallen Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem in two different ways, the Revelation makes a distinction between the city that will be governed by the Antichrist, and the future Jerusalem that will be governed by Jesus Christ. (We will read more about the New Jerusalem in later chapters.)

Order of Events of the Last Days

Wars, Rumors of Wars, Earthquakes, and Famines (Seals 1-4)
The Martyrs Pray for Judgment and Revenge (5th. Seal)
– 1/3 of earth is burned up in world-wide drought ( 1st.Trumpet)
     – 1/3 of sea turns to blood, Satan’s kingdom defeated (2nd. Trumpet)
     – 1/3 of waters are poisoned, Satan cast out (3rd. Trumpet)
     – 1/3 of Israel is struck, the Attack on Jerusalem (4th. Trumpet)
The Great Tribulation
The Wrath of God is Poured Out (6th. Seal)
 – The Plague of Locusts (5th. Trumpet)
     – The Plague of Fire, Smoke, and Sulfur (6th. Trumpet)
             – The Plague of Festering Sores (1st. Bowl)
             – The Plague of Blood on the Sea (2nd. Bowl)
             – The Plague of Blood on the Rivers and Springs of Water (3rd. Bowl)
             – The Plague of the Scorching Sun (4th. Bowl)
             – The Plague of Darkness (5th. Bowl)
             – The Plague of Armies (6th. Bowl)
             – The Plague of the Great Earthquake and Severe Hailstorm (7th. Bowl)
     – The Great Earthquake and Severe Hailstorm (7th. Trumpet)
Silence in Heaven (7th. Seal)


[1] Following His resurrection, the disciples asked the Lord if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel at that time (Acts 1:6).
[2] The NIV® translates this word as hill, but in all other instances, in which this same original Greek word is used, the NIV® translates it as mountain. For example, See Rev. 8:8 where this same Greek word (oros SEC 3735) is translated as a huge mountain that will be hurled into the sea.
[3] The passing over of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled over Judea in the centuries before the British Empire, is consistent with how the Revelation is written, which describes the events of John’s lifetime and then skips over history to the final events of the Last Days. It should also be noted that during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, Israel did not exist as a nation as their population was forcibly exiled from their land by the Romans in events known as the diaspora.

Revelation Chapter 16
Revelation Chapter 18

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