Setting

In 14:8 and 16:19, we saw the pronouncement of the fall of Babylon in connection to God’s acts of judgment and vindication. Now in chapters 17 and 18, the vision focuses on the iniquities and destruction of Babylon, the mother of harlots. God’s final judgments on the world is also a judgment on the great city Babylon. Just as she was drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs, now God will make her drink the wine of His fierce wrath.

Key Verse

(17:14; 18:4; 18:8)

Did You Know...?

1. Seven mountains (17:9): “It is perhaps significant that Rome began as a network of seven hill settlements on the left bank of the Tiber. Her designation as the city on seven hills is commonplace among Roman writers (e.g., Virgil, Martial, Cicero).” [ref]
2. Purple (18:12): “An expensive dye since it must be extracted a drop at a time from the murex shellfish.” [ref]
3. Citron wood (18:12): “An expensive dark wood from north Africa—used for inlay work in costly furniture.” [ref]
4. Cinnamon (18:13): “The tree grows about 9 m. (30 ft.) high with clusters of yellow and white flowers. Its very fragrant bark yields a golden yellow oil, which was used as one ingredient of the anointing oil (Ex. 30:23) and as perfume (Prov. 7:17).” [ref]
5. Incense (18:13): “from the latin ‘to burn,’ ‘a mixture of gums or spices and the like, used for the purpose of producing a perfume when burned;’ or the perfume itself of the spices, etc., burned in worship.” [ref]
6. Frankincense (18:13): “…a large, pink-flowering tree, producing a white gum that hardens quickly and is very aromatic when burned. This was used in ceremonial offerings (Ex. 30:34; Lev. 2:1), as an article of luxury (Song 3:6), and as a gift for the Christ child (Matt. 2:11).” [ref]
7. Bodies and souls of men (18:13): “Slavery as well as any other exploitation of persons.” [ref]
8. Throw dust on their heads (18:19): “An act of sorrow and dismay (see Eze 27:30).” [ref]

Outline

  • Judgment of the Great Harlot
    (17:1-18)
  • Vision of the woman on the beast
    (17:1-6)
  • Explanation of the mystery of the beast and the woman
    (17:7-18)
  • “Babylon is Fallen”
    (18:1-24)
  • The angel’s pronouncement of Babylon’s fall and sins
    (18:1-3)
  • Voice from heaven pronouncing her sins and plagues
    (18:4-8)
  • Weeping and lament of kings
    (18:9-10)
  • Weeping and wailing of merchants
    (18:11-16)
  • Weeping and wailing of all who are on the sea
    (18:17-20)
  • Babylon’s violent end
    (18:21-24)

General Analysis

  • 1.

    Which verses in chapter 17 indicate that the woman who sits on the beast is the great city Babylon of chapter 18?

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    1) Verses 1, 2 and 5 tell us that the woman is the mother of harlots with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication; likewise, 18:3,9 also speak of Babylon as a woman of fornication.
    2) 17:5 spells out the name of the harlot as Babylon the Great, the central figure of chapter 18.
    3) 17:6 tells us that the harlot was drunk with the blood of the saints and of the martyrs of Jesus; Likewise, according to 18:20,24, Babylon was guilty of the blood of the apostles and prophets.

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Segment Analysis

  • 17:1-6

    1.

    Describe the woman in terms of the following: a. Her adornment b. Her influence c. Her wickedness

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    a. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls (4).
    b. She sat on many waters (1); she committed fornication with the kings of the earth and made the earth’s inhabitants drunk with the wine of her fornication (2). She also sat on the scarlet beast (3). In other words, with her charm she controlled the whole world.
    c. She filled the earth with her fornication and abomination (2,4,5); she sat on the scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy (3)—this means that she was defiant of God’s authority; She was responsible for the killing of the saints and martyrs (6).

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  • 2.

    What does it mean that the woman sits on many waters (1)?

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    She exercised control over peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues (cf. 15). Her influence was worldwide.

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  • 17:7-18

    3.

    How is the woman related to the beast?

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    She also controls the beast (3,7).

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  • 4a.

    What are the origin, history, and future of the beast?

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    It comes from the bottomless pit (8), meaning that it is an instrument of Satan. Its work is interrupted for a time (“was, and is not”), it will rise up again in the end time before its final destruction.

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  • 4b.

    Is the scarlet beast the same as the sea beast of chapter 13?

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    Yes. It has seven heads and ten horns, and is marked by blasphemy (17:3; 13:1,5). It is an enemy of the Lamb (17:14; 13:8). It came from the bottomless pit (17:8; 11:7)

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  • 4c.

    Who will marvel at the beast? Why?

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    Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world will marvel. The unsaved will follow the beast, since they are all under the control of the evil one (1Jn 5:19). According to 13:3 and 17:8, the reason for their marvel is the miraculous healing of the beast.

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  • 4d.

    What type of entity is the beast, according to the angel’s explanation?

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    The seven heads and ten horns of the beast, which represent seven and ten kings (10,12), suggest that the beast is a symbol of political entities or alliance of many nations. 13:10 further suggests that these political powers are cruel and possibly armed with great military force. Another interpretation is that the seven head and ten horns refer to the principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts of the wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). They are completely evil and defiant (symbolized by the numbers 7 and 10).

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  • 4e.

    Explain the phrase “that was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit” (8) by comparing it with 12:7-12 and Jn 12:31,32.

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    While Satan ruled the world with power (was), he lost his place in heaven because of the victory of the Lamb (is not). But before his final destruction, he will make his last attempt to challenge God’s rule by persecuting the believers and deceiving the whole world.

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  • 5.

    What traits characterize the followers of the Lamb? Do these traits describe your relationship to the Lamb?

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    They are called, chosen, and faithful (17:14). True believers respond to their calling by remaining faithful to Christ and His words (cf. Eph 4:1).

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  • 6.

    How will God bring about the woman’s end?

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    He will cause the beast to hate her, make her desolate and naked, and eat her flesh and burn her with fire. The forces that were once under the control of the woman will turn against her and destroy her.

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  • 7.

    From your study so far, what do you think the woman might represent in history and in today’s world? How will she be destroyed?

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    The woman is symbolic of the sinful, materialistic, and godless world system, which will eventually come to ruin by its own doing. Her control of the world powers will be the cause of her destruction. Go on to chapter 18 for further understanding of what the woman, also called Babylon, represents.

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  • 18:1-8

    8.

    Describe the great city of Babylon in terms of the following: a. Her wealth b. Her power c. Her arrogance

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    a. She lived in abundant luxury (3,7); she bought merchandise of every kind (11-13); she had all the things that were rich and splendid (14); she was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls (16).
    b. The nations were drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication (3); she was a great and mighty city (10,18,19); she killed and shed blood (24).
    c. She says in her heart, “I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow” (7).

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  • 9.

    Why will God judge her?

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    She committed fornication with the kings of the earth (by leading them away from God into idolatry and indulgence); her sins have reached heaven; she glorified herself and lived luxuriously; she was guilty of the blood of the people of the earth as well as that of prophets and saints.

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  • 10a.

    Which verses suggest that the Babylon here is most likely not referring to a particular city or nation?

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    The destruction of a city or nation would not result in the condition depicted in 11 (“no one buys their merchandise anymore”). A city or nation could not be guilty of the blood of all who were slain on the earth (cf. 24).

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  • 10b.

    From your study of the chapter so far, what do you think is the meaning of Babylon? Compare this chapter with OT prophecies about the fall of Babylon in Isa ch. 13, 47 and Jer ch. 51. How does the historical Babylon help us understand the spiritual Babylon in Revelation?

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    Just as Jerusalem represents the community of believers, Babylon represents the community of sinners. Babylon here refers to the culture, ideology, and institutions of the world that promote godless values and sinful lifestyles.
    The language used in Revelation echoes God’s judgments on the sinful cities in the OT such as Babylon (Isa 13:19-22; 47:7-9; Jer ch. 50-51) and Tyre (Ezek ch. 26-27). The spiritual Babylon encompasses all the sins of the world manifested in wicked cities and nations throughout history. The world is guilty of the bloodshed of all the saints and prophets because in its beliefs and institutions, it has constantly acted as God’s enemy.

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  • 10c.

    What is the “fornication” that she commits with the kings of the earth?

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    In a spiritual sense, fornication may refer to 1) idolatry and 2) indulgent living, and the whole world has committed both offenses. Through their evil inclinations, people throughout history have established religions and philosophies that lead to false beliefs or false worship. In their pursuit of luxury and material comfort, people have sought for excessive wealth and enjoyment, which result in arrogance, godless living, lust, bloodshed, and other sinful acts.

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  • 10d.

    Looking at the world today, do you see the sinfulness that resembles the iniquity of Babylon?

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  • 11.

    What does it mean that Babylon “has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird”? (cf. Isa 13:19-22; 34:11; Jer 50:39).

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    In a similar language as the curse pronounced on the ancient city of Babylon, this verse is a figure of speech that refers to the desolation of the sinful world. This image presents a sharp contrast to Babylon’s former luxury and power.

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  • 12.

    How should we “come out of” Babylon (4)?

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    Whether in our thinking or actions, we must not take part in the sinful desires of the world. Rather than follow the materialistic trends and pursuits of the world, we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds and walk according to God’s will (Rom 12:1,2; cf. Jas 4:4; 1Jn 2:15-17).

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  • 18:9-24

    13.

    What expressions are used to depict the swiftness of Babylon’s destruction?

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    In one day (8); in one hour (10,17,19).

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  • 14a.

    Who are the three groups of people that will mourn for Babylon?

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    1) The kings of the earth (9-10); 2) the merchants of the earth (11-16); 3) every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea (17-19).

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  • 14b.

    Why does Babylon’s fall cause such bitter weeping and lament? What will be the consequence for those today who have become rich because of Babylon?

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    The people of the world, deceived by the charm of fleeting splendor and luxury of wealth (cf. 23), have now lost what they cherished the most. All their pursuit has come to nothing.

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  • 14c.

    In what ways do the people of today “purchase merchandise” from Babylon? Are you also part of this merchant trading?

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  • 15.

    What is the repeated phrase in 21-23 that indicates the tragic end of Babylon?

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    “no…be found anymore,” “shall not anymore.”

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  • 16a.

    How does the phrase, “by your sorcery all the nations were deceived” tell us about the dreams that the people of the world pursue?

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  • 16b.

    Have you ever lost something in your life that you valued highly? What lessons did you learn from the loss?

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  • 17.

    What do verses 20 and 24 tell us about what Babylon has done to God’s people?

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    Because of the violence and enmity against God’s people that results from the world’s indulgence in sin, believers become the victims of the wicked and adulterous world (cf Mt 23:34-36).

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