Revelation

17:1-6a

The Reign of Christ, 17:1-22:5

1. The ruin of the harlot, Babylon, 17:1-19:10

i] The great harlot, Babylon

Synopsis

In a new vision, John is shown the punishment about to fall on both the Great Prostitute and the authorities who align with her adulteries. In the vision he sees a woman, dressed in magnificent clothes and adorned with jewelry, sitting on a beast with seven heads. In her hand she holds a bowl filled with her adulteries, and on her forehead she is marked with her name, "Babylon the Great."

 
Teaching

The kingdom of God is at hand; the idolatry of the secular city stands exposed.

 
Issues:

i] Context: See 1:1-8. In the battle with the beasts, 11:19-15:4, we have witnessed the struggle of the Christian community (the offspring of the woman) against the red dragon (Satan) and his associates, the beast from the sea (corrupted political power = Babylon, the secular city - antiChrist), and its philosophical friend the beast from the land (corrupted ideology = the false prophet - antiChrist), along with their associates (those with the mark of the beast who worship the beast). In the judgment of the seven bowls, 15:5-16:21, as with the judgment of the seven seals, 6:1-8:5, and the judgment of the seven trumpets, 8:6-11:18, we have witnessed the horror of the day of judgment, the Great Day of the Lord. John now focuses on a number of particular issues related to the Great Day of the Lord, 17:1-22:5. The fact that it is "one of the seven angels" who reveals the visions to John indicates that these visions are tied to the judgment of the seven bowls, ie., to the day of judgment. Note that the same is so for the vision of the New Jerusalem, 21:9-22:5. Richardson suggests that John seeks now to answer three main questions: What does Babylon the Great represent? What finally happens to the unrepentant? What follows after the battle of Armageddon / the seventh plague?

These issues are resolved in two visionary blocks dealing with the two cities, Babylon, 17:1-19:10, and the city of God, 21:9-22:5. Bauckham proposes this structure, arguing that it is evidenced by linguistic parallels: 17:1-3 parallels 21:9-10, and 19:9-10 parallels 22:6-9. These linguistic markers define the two sections as 17:1-19:10, and 21:9-22:9, and are evident when the book is read aloud. Between these two blocks is a digressio / interlude, 19:11-21:8, dealing, in more detail, with the fall of Babylon and the transition to the New Jerusalem.

1. The ruin of the harlot Babylon, 17:1-19:10;

Interlude The demise of the Beast, 19:11-21:8;

2. The dawning of the City of God, 21:9-22:5.

John's visions focus in on two cities, the harlot of Babylon, 17:1-19:10, and the bride of the Lamb, 21:9-22:5. "Together these two sections form the climax towards which the whole book has aimed: the destruction of Babylon and her replacement by the New Jerusalem", Bauckham. The intervening transitional section, The Interlude, 19:11-21:8, "describes the events which intervene between the fall of Babylon and the descent of the New Jerusalem", Bauckham. Yarbro Collins argues that this section can be divided into 7 visions introduced by kai eidon, but the problem is there are more than seven visions - she leaves out 20:12, 21:2. Anyway, this transitional section is indeed made up of a series of visions introduced by kai eidon, "Then I saw ....."

In the first section, The ruin of the harlot Babylon, 17:1-19:10, John goes into a more detailed account of the day judgment than was revealed in the judgment of the seals, trumpets and bowls, with respect to the Great Babylon. Why was the great prostitute astride the red beast (the Great Babylon, the secular city) judged, 17:1-18, and what are the consequences, 18:1-24? The great harlot is a blasphemous idolater, seductive and immoral, drunk with the blood of the saints and happy to entice the nations to join her evil, but all of it (other than those believers who heed the call to escape the city) is destined for self-destruction. The section concludes with the Hallelujah hymn of praise from the "multitude in heaven" and "the twenty-four elders."

Chapter 17 presents in two parts:

A vision, v1-6a;

The vision explained, v6b-18.

Chapter 18 presents in four parts:

The fall of Babylon is announced, v1-3;

Believers are told to escape, v4-8;

Three laments over the fall of Babylon, v9-19;

Remember and rejoice over her destruction, v20-24.

Chapter 19:1-10 - Vindication.

 

ii] Background: See 1:1-8.

 

iii] Structure: The great harlot, Babylon:

The vision of the harlot, v1-18:

Introduction, v1-2;

she is astride the waters

The vision described, v3-6a;

she is astride the beast

The vision explained, v6b-18;

 

iv] Interpretation:

John's focus is again on the secular city, Babylon the Great, here described as a harlot who sits beside "many waters." We are told that she is in an adulterous relationship with the kings of the earth - the authority structures of the earth give homage to the ideology and power of the secular city. The water image is somewhat unclear. The preposition epi + gen. usually means "on, upon" in the Revelation, so the dominion of the harlot is probably in mind. It is worth noting that "ancient art pictured the goddess of Rome sitting beside the Tiber River with an empire encompassing the Mediterranean Sea", Koester. For John, there was no better picture of the secular city than Rome.

In a second vision, commencing at verse 3, John gets to see another aspect of the harlot. Here she sits astride a scarlet beast with seven heads (Satan + the beasts). Interestingly, she is in the wilderness, the place where the woman and her offspring (the Christian community) found a place of safety from the red dragon (Satan). So, in a sense, she is like the Christian community, but a secular version; she is corrupted human society. Her corruption ("the filth of her adulteries") is understandable, given that her foundation is a seven headed, ten horned, monster. Obviously Satan is an integral element in this image of the secular city - it is a "composite truth", Wilcock. She may look the part, robed in royal purple (the color of civic authority in Rome), dripping with jewels, but if you look at what she has in her bowl you will know that she is not what she seems.

The who and what of the Harlot is to be found in the name marked on her forehead, v5. A person's name tells us something about them, but her name, BABYLON THE GREAT, is somewhat of a mystery - a person can be easily fooled by such a wonderful title. Divine revelation is required to reveal a mystery and so John will go on to explain what it means, but even so, he gives us a clue: she is the whore of all whores, the earth's abomination; she is the secular city, the archetype of all evil.

In a third vision, v6a, John notes one of the main aspects of this evil woman; she is constantly carried away ("drunk") in her pursuit of those who witness to Jesus.

 

v] Homoletics:

Those of us who live in liberal Western democracies are fortunate to benefit from the work of the brothers and sisters who strove to ground Western civilization on the teachings of Christ. More than half the population of the World lives under the hand of totalitarian authority, or worse, the anarchy of a failed State. Sadly, as we watch the West abandon Christ's teachings, the civilizing foundation of our society, we get a glimpse of the rise of the Whore of Babylon, and so we begin to wonder "How long, O Lord?"

 
Text - 17:1

The great harlot, Babylon, v1-6a: i] She sits astride the waters, v1-2. In the first two verses John alludes to the dominion of the "great prostitute"; see Interpretation above. When it comes to describing her in v3, she is presented as a courtesan, rather than a slave, or destitute girl, locked in a foul brothel; she is a woman of means who has chosen to be a companion for hire. City states were often given feminine titles and some even referred to as prostitutes, eg., Tyre and Sidon with their soft allegiances, cf., Isa.23:16-17, Nah.3:4. The prophets often denounced Israel's flirtation with other Gods by using the image of adultery, Hos.4:11-12. Of course, not far from John's thinking is Rome itself, exemplifying the great prostitute. So, John is pointing us to the secular city, Babylon; he wants us to beware of the beast.

kai aor. "-" - and [came]. Indicating a step in the narrative, serving instead of de; "Then one of the seven angels ....", ESV.

ek + gen. "[one] of [the seven angels having the seven bowls]" - The preposition serves in the place of a partitive genitive.

twn econtwn (ecw) gen. pres. part. "who had [the seven bowls]" - having. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "angels".

met (meta) + gen. "[said] to [me]" - [and spoke] with [me]. Expressing association.

legwn (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the action of the verb "to speak"; redundant, but see legwn in 1:17 for John's use of this participle to introduce direct speech.

soi dat. pro. "[I will show] you" - [come, i will show the judgment of the prostitute ........] to you. Dative of indirect object.

thV pornhV (h) gen. "of the [great] prostitute" - [the judgment] of the prostitute [the great]. The genitive is usually classified as adjectival, verbal, objective, although the Semitic mind may conceive it as attributive, idiomatic, "the judgment which will soon fall on the great harlot." The sense is the same.

thV kaqhmenhV (kaqhmai gen. pres. mid. part. "who sits" - the one sitting. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "harlot".

epi + gen. "by [many waters]" - on [waters many]. With the genitive, John's favorite spacial preposition means "on, upon", and that is the likely sense here, so expressing dominion; see above.

 
v2

Organized human society has entered into a liaison with an evil "that has all the trappings of a drunken orgy", Boring.

meq (meta) + gen. "with [her]" - with [whom]. Expressing accompaniment / association. The relative pronoun "whom" refers back to the prostitute.

thV ghV (h) gen. "[kings] of the earth" - [the kings] of the earth [committed sexual immorality]. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / subordination; "the kings who rule over the earth." If we take the "The Great Prostitute" to represent the secular city (ie., corrupted secular society, both in power [the beast from the sea] and ideology [the beast from the land]) then "the kings of the earth" represent those authorities who have yielded their allegiance to its power and ideology, although Smalley suggests that the allegiance is "to Satan and his followers" - probably the same thing!

oiJ katoikounteV (katoikew) pres. part. "the inhabitants of [the earth]" - [and] the ones dwelling on [the earth]. The participle serves as a substantive; "people the world over", Smalley.

ek + gen. "with [the wine]" - [became intoxicated] from [the wine]. Expressing a means consisting of a source, so instrumental; "intoxicated by the wine of her fornication."

thV porneiaV (a) gen. "of [her] adulteries" - of the fornication, adulteries, sexual immorality [of her]. The genitive is adjectival, probably epexegetic, "which is her adultery", Smalley.

 
v3

ii] The vision described - she sits astride the beast, v3-6a. John's description of the woman astride the beast reflect Daniel 7; "the heads and the horns represent the fullness of power held by evil kingdoms who persecute God's people", Beale. The red color of the beast aligns it/him with the red dragon, Satan. So, here we see the secular city / Babylon, in all it's glory and evil, intoxicated with the persecution of God's people.

en + dat. "in [the Spirit]" - [and he carried me away into the wilderness] in [the spirit]. Probably adverbial, modal, expressing manner; "he carried me away spiritually into the wilderness", ie., "the angel spirits John away", Blount - John is undergoing a spiritual experience entailing divine revelation. Some translations take pneuma, as the "Spirit", the Holy Spirit, so NIV ("spirit", NRSV, ...). Osborne opts for "Spirit" and argues that "carried away en pneumati" is instrumental, expressing means, "by the Spirit", whereas en pneumati in 1:10 and 4:2 expresses result. Beale argues that en here expresses means and sphere.

kai eidon "There I saw" - and i saw. A key phrase indicating a new vision.

kaqhmenhn (kaqhmai) pres. mid. part. "[a woman] sitting" - [a woman] sitting [on/upon a scarlet beast]. Although anarthrous (without an article), the participle is probably adjectival, attributive, limiting "woman"; "a woman who is astride a scarlet beast." Mathewson suggests it aligns with "the woman h\n peribelhmenhn in purple", "was dressed", ie., a periphrastic construction, but we would have to assume the verb to-be. John does sometimes use a participle as if a finite verb (ie., a periphrastic construction with an assumed verb to-be); "and I saw a woman seated on a scarlet beast."

epi + acc. "on [a scarlet beast]" - over [a scarlet beast]. John's favorite spacial preposition, but here again we would expect a genitive to follow when the sense is "on, upon." Is the woman straddling the beast?

gemonta (gemw) pres. part. "that was covered with [blasphemous names]" - being full of [names of blasphemy]. Variants give us either gemon onomata, or gemonta onomata, or gemon ta onomata, prompting issues of concord. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "beast". The verb "full of" usually takes a genitive direct object, but here "names" is accusative. The verb with its ta ending is plural when taken as neuter in agreement with "beast" (although "beast" is singular). As it stands, it is masculine, and as noted by Mathewson, John does often treat a neuter like "beast" as a person, here obviously Satan, ie., constructio ad sensum, a construction according to sense.

blasfhmiaV (a) gen. "blasphemous" - The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "names", although Smalley classifies it as a genitive of definition.

ecwn (ecw) pres. part. "had [seven heads]" - having [seven heads and ten horns]. Here again we have a classic example of John's flexible use of participles, especially "having", cf., 1:16. John is clearly referring to the "beast", but the participle is nominative masculine, not accusative neuter, as "beast". He probably intends it as a finite verb (so classified as a periphrastic construction with an assumed verb to-be), "It had seven heads and ten horns", the the masculine person again indicating that the beast is not really an "it", but a "he", namely Satan, so "He had seven heads ......" See Beale who suggests that Daniel 7:7 may have contributed to the irregular qhrion ..... ecwn construction.

 
v4

"John is consistent in his presentation of the woman / city as a destructive, gluttonous force", Boring - she presents with "incredible luxury and ... moral corruption", Osborne.

h\n peribablhmenh (periballw) perf. mid./pas. part. "[the woman] was dressed in" - [the woman] was having been clothed around [purple (high status) and scarlet (luxury) and was having been gilded with gold and precious stones and pearls]. As with "having been gilded" = "adorned, decked out", Zerwick, the participle with the imperf. verb to-be forms a periphrastic pluperfect construction; "As for the woman, she was clothed in purple and scarlet. She was adorned with gold ....", Cassirer. Although note Wallace who suggests it takes on the role of a predicate adjective. Note the verb crusow, "to guild, adorn / cover with gold", here pleonastically adds (en) crusiw/, "with gold", an instrumental dative. "And she wore jewelry made of gold, precious stones, and pearls", CEV.

ecousa (ecw) pres. part. "She held [a golden cup]" - having [a golden cup in the hand of her]. The ESV treats the participle as adverbial, modal, expressing manner, but given John's handling of this participle it is more likely serving as a finite verb, as NIV; see ecwn above.

gemon (gemw) pres. part. "filled with" - being filled with. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "cup". "In her hand she held a golden cup which was full of the offenses and impurities of her fornication."

bdelugmatwn (a atoV) gen. "abominable things" - abominations, detestable things. Genitive of direct object after the verb "to be full of."

kai "and" - and [the impurities, obscenities]. Osborne suggests that the conjunction here is epexegetic, "namely, the impurities of her immorality." Such would explain the accusative, rather than an expected genitive after the verb "to be full of", although both Smalley and Aune suggest that it is a Semitic construction, cf., Aune 909.

thV porneiaV (a) gen. "of [her] adulteries" - of the fornication [of her]. Source seems to be the idea conveyed by this genitive, so it may be classified as ablative, source / origin, or adjectival, attributive / idiomatic, "the filth which flows from her adulteries." From a Biblical perspective the adulteries allude to the idolatry of the woman / city, Deut.7:25, 29:16, 1King.11:5, Jer.13:27. The revelation tends to link adultery with idolatry, cf., 2:14, 20.

 
v5

It is possible that the name / title is a secret and so John deciphers it to mean "Babylon the Great", but it is more likely that the mysterious / cryptic name tattooed on the woman's head is actually "BABYLON THE GREAT", so Koester. In chapters 17-18 John will reveal the mystery of this title. Babylon destroyed the temple in 587BC. By acting beyond God's will she damned herself in the process. Rome, "the Great City", destroyed the restored temple in 70AD, and has similarly damed herself in the process. Both Babylon and Rome well depict corrupt political power determined to oppose God and the people of God. Note how Peter conflates the two, 1Pet.5:13. John is not trying to tell us that Babylon is Rome (or Jerusalem, the Roman church, the American government, ......., as some have argued), just that Babylon is a type for Rome, as it is for many other political entities - she is the secular city, the harlot, an abomination, cf., Dan.4:30. The woman robed with the sun gives birth to Jesus and those who follow him / the offspring (ch.12), but the harlot of Babylon, on the other hand, gives birth to the children of idolatry.

gegrammenon (grafw) perf. mid./pas. part. "[the name] written" - [and on the forehead of her was a name] having been written. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "name", as NIV, or even predicative, "and on her forehead was written a name", ESV, so Moffatt, Berkeley, ...; The title on her forehead was a mystery ...."

musthrion "a mystery" - It may stand in apposition to "name", but it is unclear whether "mystery" stands by itself, and is then further explained by the appositional phrase "Babylon the Great", which is again further explained by the appositional phrase "the mother of ....", or stands with "Babylon the Great" to give "Mystery Babylon the Great." It seems likely that John is saying that the title of the woman inscribed on her forehead is a mystery, it is "secret and mystical, rather than literal ..... (and) needs to be explained", Smalley. So, we may be better off taking the participle as adjectival, attributive, limiting "name"; "she had a cryptic title inscribed on her head", Cassirer. John explains that the title indicates that she is "Babylon the Great", ie., the secular city; she "represents satanic institutions throughout history which have espoused corrupt religious, moral and economic values", Smalley.

twn pornwn (h) gen. "[the mother] of prostitutes" - The genitive is adjectival, relational, although "mother of", as with "son of" is an idiomatic phrase. "Son of" = characterized by; Jesus is the son of righteousness = he is characterized by righteousness. Babylon is characterized by prostitution, which in the Revelation means that she whores with other gods, she is idolatrous, and worse than that she spawns other entities into idolatry. This description of "Babylon the Great" may not be part of the title on the woman's forehead, but rather John's shorthand description of her. "The cryptic name on her forehead was BABYLON THE GREAT, the whore of all whores, the earth's abomination."

kai "and" - Again, the conjunction is possibly epexegetic; "She is the mother of prostitutes, namely, the abominations of the earth." The "abominations" are, of course, idolatry, cf., Jer.13:27, 32:35, 44:22.

thV ghV gen. "[the abominations] of the earth" - The genitive is adjectival, possibly idiomatic / local, "which are located on" = "of all abominations on the earth", Moffatt; "every obscenity on the earth", REB; "every filthy thing on earth", CEV. Osborne suggests possessive; "the abominations that belong to the earthly scene."

 
v6a

kai eidon (oJraw) "I saw" - and i saw. Usually indicating a step in the narrative; a new vision indicating something else John notices about the woman.

mequousan (mequw) pres. part. "was drunk" - [the woman] being drunk. The participle serves as the complement of the object "woman"; "I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints", ESV.

ek + gen. "with [the blood]" - from [the blood of the saints and] from. Expressing a means consisting of a source, so instrumental; "intoxicated by the blood of", and thus, drunk as a result of her evil; "intoxicated by the wine of her murdered opponents." The genitives "of the saints", and "of the witnesses / martyrs", is possessive; it is their blood that is spilt.

kai "-" - and [from the blood of the witnesses]. Smalley suggests that the conjunction here is epexegetic, "intoxicated by the blood of the saints, namely the blood of the witnesses." The "saints" are the "witnesses", reminding us of what believers do. For Osborne, this is no mere title, such that during the tribulation the saints are not hiding in caves and remote places, but "engage in fearless witness throughout this period", although why does Jesus tell is disciples to flee to the mountains in the face of the abomination of desolation, Mk.13:14? Anyway, there is no doubt that the prime function of a disciple is to bear testimony to Jesus, such that "saints" are "witnesses", and that this function will cause a negative reaction in the secular city, so we are well advised to be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect", 1Pet.3:15.

Ihsou (oV) "to Jesus" - of jesus. The NIV has taken the genitive as adjectival, verbal, objective - giving testimony to Jesus - but it could be classified possessive, "the blood of Jesus' witnesses", or even attributive / idiomatic, "the witnesses who testify about Jesus." Osborne argues that the objective sense is uppermost, "for it stresses the martyrdom of the saint as an outgrowth of their witness."

 

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