The Harlot Babylon
The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth
Revelation 17:5, 18
The great harlot of Revelation 17 is a point of conjecture and debate by students of Eschatology. Despite its strong symbolism and ties to the city of Rome, being the most notable “city on seven hills” of its day, many have attempted to lay claim that it refers instead to either Jerusalem, or, a some-day-to-be-rebuilt Babylon. Yet, as we study out this passage, it becomes apparent that this part of the vision of John is about Rome, but not just the city, but about something else.
When we refer to “Rome”, we may in fact be referencing more than one thing, and it is necessary to identify to what this name can refer to. First of all, Rome was a world-ruling empire that dominated the entire “known-world”. Second, Rome was a city, which was the capitol of the empire with the same name. Additionally, however, Rome was ALSO the name of the the goddess that personified the city, Rome, or Roma. This third entity called Rome, or Roma, it is said, “…has been seen as a goddess, a whore, … and as the symbol of civilization itself”.
Now, when John saw the harlot, he was astonished. The harlot was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who hold to Jesus.
Now, we are told at the end of the interpretation that thealie harlot is a city (v18, above). While this is clear, it should not rule out the identification of the harlot as the “goddess Roma”, as she is said to have personified the city of Rome, and the entire Roman state. That is, when one is dealing with the “goddess Roma”, it would be correct to say that “she is the great city”, as this is what she was.
We must realize that what John was looking at was not simply some make-believe story of a fictional “goddess”. The Romans did not simply make up their gods, but like civilizations of the past, they named the spiritual forces of wickedness, worshipped demons, and served the principalities of darkness. The same is true of “Roma”.
Thus, it was the principality, or ruling and governing spirit, called “dea Roma” by the Romans, that was what John saw. While “dea Roma” is called “that great city”, it is only because she personifies both it and the Roman state. It is the demonic entity, the unseen, invisible force over the city (such as those talked about by Paul in passages such as Ephesians 6:12) that John is witnessing in this chapter (similar to seeing the dragon, or satan).
Further, John was told that the beast, the Roman ruler, would hate the harlot. Consider this. When temples were erected to deify the emperor, quite often, they also honored this diety as well. What would make an already incessed, insane male Roman emperor intent on dominating the entire world hate something? That this entity, this “female” entity (bringing out the sexism of that age and those rulers), would be given equal or sometimes greater honor than himself.
But, further, we must look at what this “diety” really is, and who she really is. You see, the Romans didn’t invent or discover these things, but put new names on what once was. Roma is Minerva, who is Diana, Ishtar, Isis, or a host of other names. Ultimately, for the best Biblical example, we can trace her roots right back to here:
It came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him.
1 Kings 16:31
That’s right. Right back to the original Biblical slaughterer of the prophets, Jezebel herself. Whether Jezebel herself, as the person, was the start of this principality or not is not the issue at hand, but the intent of all the various names of this female “diety” throughout history all point to the same spiritual entity, namely, her.
What this means is, that Rome, because according to Daniel 2 was Babylon from head to foot, was simply worshipping the “queen of heaven”, as they called it. What started in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon was simply continuing to that day, under a different name, a different form, but the same basic operation. Jezebel ruled the state, and it made the emperor and the various kings hate her. God used the Roman empire to destroy Roma, the principality, apparently out of rivalry, hatred, and personal ambition/envy, much like the enemy strives to bring the same into the body of Christ (James 3:16).
Rome, the city, had diefied Jezebel, and she was the ruling spirit over the capitol city, and hence, the empire. She was the Mother of all harlots, and of all the abominations of the Earth. She is rightly attributed as a whore, a demonic power, and it is interesting she sometimes represents “civilization herself”, as so often, as in the case of Rome, what modern historians consider to be “civilization”, God, in His Word in places such as Daniel 7, called a “beast”. When Rome fell completely in the fourth or fifth century, depending on when you mark it, it signified the first time in almost a thousand years that one of those beasts the Daniel saw now longer ruled over the entire Earth, and they called it the “dark ages” in reference to the “light of Rome” (the beast).
In reference as to how the principality associated with Jezebel and Israel could possibly be construed as to be connected with Rome, perhaps the best answer to that is simply found in the Scriptures as well.
Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what is appearing.”
I asked, “What is it?”
He replied, “It is a basket.” And he added, “This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.”
Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! He said, “This is wickedness,” and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed its lead cover down on it.
Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.
“Where are they taking the basket?” I asked the angel who was speaking to me.
He replied, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When the house is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.”
So, we see the transference of a female demonic entity, one involved with the sins of the people of Israel (who often fell into Baal worship), escorted by winged creatures (whether they were holy or fallen is not made clear, except that they had the wings like that of a stork, an unclean bird), and transferred specifically to Babylon. It is important to note, as well, that after Israel had their second temple, built in the time of Zechariah’s prophecy, Israel did not again fall into this particular sin, the worship of Baal, but Babylon, through its many forms, did. The is significant, especially as the passage in Zechariah seems to indicate that the iniquity of the land, the “bent-ness” as it were, was carried away.
What we know is, that while Israel still did not repent of her sins at the heart level, the sins of the past were carried away in some measure, as the passage in Zechariah describes. From there, John’s description of this power appears to fit quite well, and the Biblical record could be understood as describing this exact transfer, leaving Jezebel the head over Rome. Only this interpretation of the whore seems to fits the text exactly, since the whore rides the beast, sits upon seven heads, is over many waters (Jerusalem was not over many ‘nations’), and, in honesty, Rome the city itself was not hated by the emperor, while the diety Roma certainly would have been by any king wanting absolute domination.
Hence, while there could be many other finer points brought out in the text, such as the house in Babylon, the timing of the vision of Zechariah (within 100 years of Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream in Babylon), the specifics of the basket, and many other parts, the basic understanding of the text seems that it would fit the Jezbellian influence over Rome in John’s day, and the coming years after the church was birthed.
As an addendum, we can also note that God continues to speak current truths out of scriptures. Many today liken the false religious movements in the West, especially America, with the Harlot Babylon system. The reason is simple. It is NOT necessarily that this current context is the original intended fulfillment of the text, but rather, look at what we have. With abortion, the pornographic, and various other sinful institutions that have come to press hard against the American system, it is none other than same power at work, Jezebel.
However you want to name or identify it, it is the man-hatred, dominating, witchcraft, seducing, and rebellion of Jezebel, all over again. The same patterns and whoredoms seen in Ahab’s day are run wholesale over the American landscape through media, arts, entertainment, and in more and more places in the Earth. Internet pornography, addictions, man-hatred, and all the like have been rising. The hatred and spirit of murder against the true prophetic spirit, which would either attempt to seduce it to defile, or intimidate it into silence and quitting, stand at the forefront, just has they did in the days of Elijah. More to the point, the church has been in bed with her, has drunk of the “deep secrets of satan”, in the ways of idolizing Eastern meditation, yoga, ungodly martial arts, things of “zen”, even incorporating things such as “bhuddism” and japanese and chinese influence. Things that have been flowing into the American culture are seeping, even sometimes pouring, into the church. And, the foundations are attempting to be washed away.
These are all under the influence of the same Jezebel power, and the worship of false spirits. For this reason, many see the nation of America as depicted in the passages of Revelation 17, becuase it is the same system. Whether or not, or how the passage may or may not predict things about what is coming to America is yet to be seen, but as for the original of the passage, it seems clear that it originally intended the same power as then.
However, the same Spirit that broke it’s power in the first place, in Rome, is in us today. And the same blood that cleansed us is more powerful to stay. We need not fear, just be aware. The the Lord Jesus will soon crush satan under our feet.