Chapter 17 of Revelation: Babylon

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the carved images of her gods
he has shattered to the ground (Isa 21:9).

What do you get when you cross a false trinity and a pornographic goddess? The answer is clearly Revelation 17.

The woman named here is explicitly associated with a great city, Babylon (v 18), yet the images are of Rome. For example, a well-known coin of this period pictures the Emperor Vespasian (AD 69 to 79) on the front and the goddess Roma on the back straddling the seven hills of Rome. Adding the beast from Daniel 7 completes our demonic image.

The message here is to picture graphically the unholy alliance between politics and religion in opposition to God. The image of an unholy city as a prostitute doing business with the world brings to mind a prophecy against the city of Tyre (Isaiah 23:17). The religious corruption of Israel by a woman of Sidon (a port city closely associated with Tyre) brings to mind Queen Jezebel—the prophet Elijah’s nemesis (1 Kgs 16:31).

Babylon is a city with a reputation. In Genesis 10:8-10, we read about the first empire builder, Nimrod, whose capital city is Babel. Genesis 11:1-11 records the story of Babel where the people wanted to make name for themselves and started building a tower to heaven setting themselves in opposition to God. Babel latter became known as Babylon.

Picturing Rome as the new Babylon brings to mind the story of Babel and its opposition to God which is explicitly stated in verse 14: They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful (Rev 17:14). The religious focus of this opposition is suggested in the cup image (an anti-Eucharist image), in the phrase—it was and is not and is to come—(an anti-Alpha and Omega allusion; Rev 17:8; 1.8), and in the image of a prostitute used by the prophet Hosea to picture a disobedient Israel (Hos 9:1).

John’s prophetic imagery pictures a society obsessed with sex and money allied with secular religion. Sex: marriages were breaking down; a defective love dominated—Roma spelled backwards is amor! Money: Rome was unparalleled in its wealth as it policed and colonized the known world. Religion: the Emperor cult tolerated any religion that did not challenge the power of the Emperor. Rome persecuted Christians because they claimed to worship a jealous (exclusive) God who refused to admit competitors (Exod 20:3-5).

Sound familiar?


1. What does the angel invite the apostle John to see? (vv 1-2)
2. Where does the spirit carry him? (v 3)
3. How is the woman dressed? (vv 4-5)
a. What is on her head?
b. What does this remind you of? (e.g. Rev 13:17).
4. Why does John Marvel? (v 6)
5. What is the story told by the angel? (vv 8-17)
6. What city is in view? (v 18)

Chapter 17 of Revelation: Babylon

Also see:

Chapter 16 of Revelations: Seven Bowls and Armageddon 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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