Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”
One of the seven angels responsible for the bowl judgments told John to come with him so that he could show him the judgment of the great city Babylon (see also Revelation 14:8), described here as the great harlot, likely the capital or chief city of the antichrist’s world empire. Given that the antichrist’s empire is said to come out of the region of the old Roman empire (Daniel 7:23-24), the city is probably somewhere in that vicinity as well. The waters that the great harlot sits on do not signify a geographical area, but they refer to the peoples, tribes, and tongues that fall in line with her immorality (v. 15). Given that the economy of this evil city required the antichrist and his image to be worshipped and his mark or number in order to buy and sell, it is clear that this city caused immorality and idolatry to spread throughout the entire world. The kings of the earth gave their allegiance to the beast (v. 12-13), and they gorged themselves on immorality and became drunk with corruption. They and their nations, except for the few who would turn to Christ during the tribulation, sold themselves out to satanic worship for the sake of a prosperous economy and out of fear. They foolishly chose to worship Satan rather than to trust God and be a victor eternally with Him (Revelation 15:2).
3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, 5 and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”
John was then carried away in the Spirit to a wilderness as the vision continued. There he saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names. This woman is the great harlot from verses 1-2, and she derived her prosperity from the satanic practices of the beast, the antichrist himself. She made her mark on the world through the mark of the beast and by the rampant blasphemy of God. The beast she sat upon had ten horns, signifying the ten kings who will give their allegiance to the beast (v. 12-13). The seven heads are representative of seven evil world empires that operated in the antichrist’s region before him. He is the seventh major evil empire of the region (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, future Babylon) (see notes on verses 9-13). The scarlet color indicates sin, particularly idolatry and harlotry, and it may also point to the blood of the saints which the beast is responsible for shedding. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, signifying power and earthly royalty along with evil and immorality. Her economic prosperity during the last days is signified by her adornment with gold, precious stones, and pearls. Her wealth will be gained through immorality (Revelation 18:3), for in her hand was a gold cup full of abominable, sinful, and immoral acts. On her forehead her name was written. She was Babylon the great, the capital and breeding ground of all the antichrist-inspired immorality and satanic worship that would spread throughout the world. All that is in the world even now that promotes Satan and blasphemes God is a type of that which is to come. The Babylon of the past was wicked and pagan, and a coming Babylon, likely in a very similar geographical location, will be even worse. It seems likely that it near a major water port given the many sea travelling merchants that are seen doing business there (Revelation 18:11). It would probably be in the same region (not exact location but region) as where the antichrist sets up his royal pavilion. Daniel 11:45 says, “He will pitch the tents of his royal pavilion between the seas and the beautiful Holy Mountain; yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.” Perhaps this is why Jerusalem is referred to as Sodom in Revelation 11:8, for the region will have been overtaken by immorality and idolatry. But when Christ returns, He will see to it that evil is crushed and that His ways are put into place in His holy city (Isaiah 2:2-3). It is also noteworthy that this particular location where the antichrist makes his royal home is likely in the same region where the final battle will be fought (see notes on Revelation 16:16) just to the east and north of Jerusalem. This will likely contribute to his end coming quickly with no one to help him.
6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly. 7 And the angel said to me, “Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.
The antichrist will persecute the saints severely, and in the boundaries of his kingdom great atrocities will be committed against those who testify to Jesus Christ and His gospel. John wondered when he saw the woman and the beast, but the angel explained what he was seeing.
8 “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.
The beast will come up out of the abyss under Satan’s watch (Luke 8:31, Revelation 9:11, 11:7), he will be allowed to rule for a short time on the earth, and then he will be killed by Jesus Himself. His time of dominance on the earth will be short-lived, but his eternity in the lake of fire will be forever (Revelation 19:20). His destruction is assured. However, as he comes to power, he will seize the world by intrigue with an apparent death and resurrection. People who see this apparent power over the grave, which only Jesus truly has, will believe that he is a god worth worshipping. That they fall for this demonstrates that their names are not in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 3:5, 20:15, 21:27). Those who do come to saving faith during the tribulation do have their names in the book of life as members of the redeemed, though they will face severe hardship and almost certain death (Revelation 13:15, 20:4) during the tribulation at the hand of the antichrist and false prophet. However, Jesus will raise them again to eternal life, for He does hold the power over the grave. The antichrist will be powerless to defeat death and eternal judgment when Christ comes to take His throne on earth.
9 Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10 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. 11 The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. 12 The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast.
Wisdom understands who the beast is, and those who read John’s words should be able to recognize the veracity of the prophecy and hopefully repent as a result of what they read. The woman represents the evil world system, Satan’s rule and domain on the earth throughout history, and specifically the antichrist’s coming empire. Satan is the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), and he holds sinners captive (2 Timothy 2:26). The seven mountains on which the woman sits represents the evil that pagan world empires have accomplished throughout the history of the world. Daniel points out several of these including Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome (Daniel 2, 7). The two dominant world powers before Babylon were Egypt and then Assyria. The first five empires had come and gone, and Rome was the world power as John wrote this. The seventh king would come later, and he, the antichrist, would rule for a short time. The beast is the seventh and also the eighth in the sense that he supposedly rules twice given his apparent resurrection from the dead. That will come to a very quick end. The ten horns are ten kings which will be on the earth at the same time as the antichrist, and they will give their authority to him. He will also subdue three kings and conquer many nations (Daniel 7:24, 11:40-45). The ten kings will serve and advance his satanic cause. The beast’s rule is short-lived for a mere seven years (Daniel 9:27), and then he will be destroyed.
14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”
The beast and his armies will wage war against Jesus Himself, and Jesus will win (Revelation 19). He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, after all, and those who are bought with His blood will rule with Him (Revelation 20:4, 6). They are those who have responded to the call of the gospel and followed Him on earth. They will be rewarded in heaven.
15 And he *said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. 18 The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”
The waters where the harlot sits are not actual waters but representative of the tribes, nations, tongues, and peoples which she has led astray by the multitude. The beast and his ten subservient kings will be instrumental in their own capital city being destroyed. The harlot’s prosperity was largely economically driven because of the fact that the whole world was forced to trade through the beast’s kingdom and with his mark. There was much money to be made on the business of sensuality (Revelation 18:3) and human trafficking (Revelation 18:13) as well as the selling of various cargoes (Revelation 18:11-14). But when the antichrist breaks his covenant with the many and reveals himself as a madman set on war and destruction, the economic prosperity of Babylon will be compromised. It will fall to violence (Revelation 18:21). Ultimately, Babylon’s fall will be a result of God’s judgment and the plagues, famine, and pestilence that are sent upon the whole earth, including the beast’s major city. When the earth succumbs to the judgments and plagues of God, a prospering economy will be impossible because people will just be trying to survive. God will ultimately bring Babylon low (Revelation 18:4-8), but it is the beast’s immorality and blasphemy as well as war-mongering and persecution of the saints that incites God’s wrath. In that sense, he and his minions destroy themselves and their own engine of economic prosperity. They will have prospered by commercializing sin and Satan worship, but sin always ends in death and destruction, destroying the very thing that they had built. As wisdom says of itself in Proverbs 8:36, “But he who sins against me injures himself; All those who hate me love death.”