Along the way of pursuing God and studying truth we will also have plenty of opportunities of encounter deception and false religions. Some Christians spend lots of time chasing false religions and turning over every rock in search of that which is false. But what I have experienced is that as we reach for Christ and live a life that honors Him, we will inevitably comes across deception. But there is also a place where studying what the Bible has to say related to deception is important. It has been an essential topic (deception) throughout Church history but will take on its greatest importance at the end of this age as both the tares (sin) and the wheat (righteousness) will grow together (Matt 13:24-30,36-43).
The Bible brings this deception to its pinnacle in Revelation 17-18 as it speaks to something that’s not new to the Bible and human history. These chapters speak of something called “Mystery Babylon” or the “Harlot Babylon (Rev. 17:5).” The subject of Babylon makes us the longest unfulfilled prophecy in the New Testament and it revolves around a yet future, emerging, political, economic and religious system that will be in direct partnership with the Antichrist (Rev. 17:3).
This future Babylonian system will be a revived evil anti-christian system that’s unbowed to God and unrepentant in brash evil, and persecution of Jews (Naturally Jewish non-believers), Christians (Jew and Gentile believers) and all those that speak out against it. The Bible has much to say about Babylon as it appears in 18 of the 66 books of the Bible and it also makes us the longest prophecy from the Old Testament (Jeremiah 50-51) which is centered around Babylon both past and future.
Through rightly seeing Revelation 17-18 and the Harlot Babylon system as a whole we are given great clarity into why the judgments of God are so severe through Revelation 15-16 (the 7 bowls). Many want to be a whistleblower on God related to His activity at the end of this age, but we must keep in the context of His judgment the evil, antichristian, wicked and full maturity of sin in the earth. We can only make sense of His judgments if we rightly see what’s also taking place on the earth. It’s not only that righteousness has come to maturity, but sin also has reached its height.
John’s Vision Of The Great Harlot Babylon (Revelation 17:1-6)
John opens Revelation 17 with a powerful encounter he has with an angel as He is transported in the Spirit. He says in Revelation 17:1-2 “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
What we see firstly is that Babylon is no cheap lady of the night. In fact, it’s here that we see she is described as a high class harlot by referring to her as “The Great Harlot…who sits on many waters.” Through John’s vision in the Holy Spirit we are given much information about some of the various qualities that make up this Great harlot. Some of the things that are clear is that she is the originator and progenitor of false religion (Rev. 17). She intoxicates the nations (Rev. 17:2b). She is empowered by and actually paves the way for the antichrist (Rev. 17:3). She becomes obsessed/drunk with persecuting God’s saints (Rev. 17:6). She is enthroned upon the nations (Rev. 17:15). She is the center of global commerce (Rev. 18:3b). She is the ultimate symbol of human rebellion against God (Rev. 18:7). Her destruction comes quickly and completely (Rev. 18:10). This is only a partial list of the many things that this counterfeit bride will both represent and offer to the nations.
The Bible refers to Babylon as a harlot, because just like a prostitute, Babylon will do whatever is morally incorrect for the right price. But it’s not some low class harlot, this is a serious operation that not just affecting a few people or one person, but the entire global, as she is exerting her strength and deception around the world. John also sees that the kings of the earth, which are the heads of countries and states, are entering into partnership with her to share in her wealth. But in sharing with the wealth of Babylon, they will also share in her vices. Just as Paul said in 1st Corinthians 6:12-20 that in sexual immorality you actually become one with that person. Which means those who trade with Babylon and open themselves up to her (the system of this world) they will also be sharing in her vices and immorality.
It’s important that we understand beyond all the various things that she is known to sell and trade throughout the nations which are listed in Revelation 18:11-13, the primary fornication that she is responsible for is calling the earth to worship the beast. Though she thinks that she is in a joint partnership with the beast, he will be using her to move people into a relationship with himself that at the middle of the 3 ½ year mark of the tribulation he will unveil as we will see later on in this chapter.
The harlot’s twofold drunkenness and her call to others to come join her is a mixture of both alcohol and indulgent lifestyles with life in this age. In the same way that physical/literal wine clouds the mind and impairs judgment so also does indulgent lifestyles that are filling themselves with life in this age. It’s very intoxicating and partnership with the systems of this age will dull our senses. Paul said in Ephesians 5:15-18 “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be (being) filled with the Spirit.” Paul’s exhortation to the Church of Ephesus is very fitting for us today and those in the future as we reject the wine of this age, and chose rather to be being filled with the Spirit of God. This being filled with the Spirit of God isn’t a moment or an event, but a lifestyle that’s countercultural to life in this age.
John continues in Revelation 17:3 with his experience of the harlot by saying “So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a women sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” Here, for the third time in the Revelation John states to his readers that he was in the Spirit when he was looking at the Harlot (Rev. 1:10;4:2). Through John’s Holy Spirit vantage point of the Harlot he sees that she is going to emerge from obscurity into a place of prominence on the world stage seemingly overnight. This emergence will take place through a partnership between the Beast and Babylon. We know there’s a partnership because Babylon is being carried on the back of a scarlet beast (Revelation 13).
We need to understand that Babylon is both a city and a system when it comes to location and function. As a religious system Babylon will be used as a pawn in the beasts hand to move humanity away from traditional values and personal/family religious roots systems. Babylon is an apostate Church that is working to steal from Jesus His beautiful bride. She is the precursor of the antichrists reign which follows shortly after her. But Babylon is also a city. This city will be the beasts capital from which he will establish a political, social and economic system that will touch the ends of the earth and make way for the worship of the beast.
John further describes the Harlot here in Revelation 17:4-5 when he says “The women was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” As I mentioned in the opening of this chapter, understanding deception empowers Christians in that we aren’t and won’t be taken by surprise. It’s been rightly said to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
Both Babylon and the bride of Christ are personifications of a two-fold reality. Babylon on the one hand is a counterfeit religious system with a physical capital city (Iraq) of an earthly king (the Antichrist) that impacts life in every sphere. And the Bride of Christ on the other hand is the true Church of Jesus Christ which also has a physical capital city of a heavenly king (Jesus Christ) that impacts every sphere of society during this age in part, and in fullness in the age to come. The contrast of these two cities and their kings gives us great revelation about what the people of God will face at the end of this age as these two armies (Christians and beast followers) face off, against two cities (Babylon and Jerusalem) and their kings (antichrist and Jesus Christ).
Babylon will be an earthly “New Jerusalem” built with great splendor and opulence appealing to the sinful eye of humanity. It will be everything that glitters and is golden (Revelation 18). In Babylon you will be able to participate today in that which you can see, and not have to wait for the New Jerusalem which you can’t see. And Babylon’s foundation will be built upon deceptive materials, which are counterfeit materials that God has called His Church to build their lives upon. We see Babylon’s foundation in Revelation 17:4;18:16 where it’s said “The women was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with precious gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup…and saying, alas, alas that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls.”
And we can see the brides foundation in 1st Corinthians 3:11-12; Revelation 21:18-21 where it’s said “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones…” God has called His people to build on that which will last, while the devil, who is deceptive in nature, only mimics what God designed and uses a counterfeit to trap un-regenerated humanity.
Here is a further list of the contrasts between Jerusalem and Babylon, God’s city and the devils city. Jerusalem is the chaste bride, the wife of the Lamb (Revelation 21:2,9) and Babylon is the harlot with whom the kings of the earth fornicate (Revelation 17:2). Jerusalem’s splendor is the glory of God (Revelation 21:11-12) while Babylon’s splendor comes from the exploiting of her empire (Revelation 17:4). In the New Jerusalem the nations walk be her light, which is the glory of God (Revelation 21:24) and Babylon corrupts and deceives the nations (Revelation 17:2).
In the New Jerusalem the kings of the earth bring their glory into her (Revelation 21:24) but Babylon rules over the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:18). In the New Jerusalem uncleanness, abominations and impurities are excluded (Revelation 21:27) but in Babylon uncleanness, abominations and impurities are included (Revelation 17:4,5:18:23). In the New Jerusalem the water of life and the leaves of the trees heal the nations (Revelation 21:6) but in Babylon, the wine makes the nation drunk (Revelation 14:8;17:2; 18:3). In the New Jerusalem there is life and healing (Revelation 22:1-2) and in Babylon there is only the blood of slaughter (Revelation 17:6; 18:24). And lastly, in the New Jerusalem the people of God are called into her (Revelation 22:14) and in Babylon the people of God are called out of her (Revelation 18:4). This is by no means an exhaustive list of contrasts between the Heavenly City (New Jerusalem) and the Earthly City (Babylon) but it should be enough for you to see even today there is an emerging city that will challenge and rival the City of the Great King, Jerusalem.
It’s clear that the splendor of the external cup of Babylon will serve to the nations will actually blind the partakers from the demonic deception that’s alive internally leading them into a drunken stupor (Genesis 27:20-27; Revelation 13:11). The reason her name is on her forehead is because she is brash, bold, aggressive and unashamed in her sinful delusion. She’s a boldfaced harlot who’s not ashamed about her immorality and her harlotry. In Revelation 17:6 John moves away from her description to her actions as he says “I saw the women, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.” This verse is a terrifying verse for people of specifically and for those on the earth that will resist her. It’s not that we as Christians are to be afraid but that we should approach this verse and this content of martyrdom with sobriety, seriousness and it’s weightiness.
The idea of being drunk with blood is an ancient idiom for the sword to be overtaken in the death of many (Isaiah 34:5;49:26). In this verse John sees that both saints and the martyrs of Jesus are mentioned. The reason why the Holy Spirit shows John saints is because these ones belong to God. That word saint is translated the same throughout all the word of God specifically throughout the New Testament referring to the people of God, not primarily Jews. And the reason they are called the martyrs of Jesus is because these ones have shed their blood for Christ. It’s not just that they are dying for God, but for the Godman Jesus Christ.
Many people have questioned why John marvels at the Great Harlot and whether or not this is a good thing. It’s my understanding that John is not marveling at her because he is captured by her or even intrigued with her but rather because she has a powerful, and very influential with the beast. Earlier John seen that this Great Harlot is being carried on the back of a scarlet beast, which is clearly the Antichrist. This is why I believe that John is marveling. It’s stunning to him that these two, who are both pulling for different things, are yet working together! My reason for assuming this is because of what the following verse states about why John was marveling.
The Partnership Between Babylon And The Beast (Revelation 17:7-14)
In Revelation 17:7-14 the angel who is giving John this tour in the Spirit, gives him understanding about what he is looking at. The angel says to John “But the angel said to me, why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the women (Babylon) and of the beast that carries her, which has seven heads and ten horns. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel whose names are not written in the book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” It’s here that the angel lets us know that John is marveling because of the partnership between Babylon and the beast. It’s not really what you would call beauty and the beast, because both realities are disgusting and will trouble both the people of God and the nations in general in terrible ways.
For John to marvel at this demonic partnership clues us into the gravity of what he and others throughout the Bible have viewed related to the extremity of the situation. Other Prophets, like Daniel became totally faint after view the specific facets of this yet future beast kingdom. John has witnessed his fare share of deception during the course of his life, but this is inconceivable, to image the most vile and wicked governmental system (Babylon) in partnership with this man (the Antichrist) whom he addressed many times in his Epistles.
When John further describes the beast he says that it had seven horns and ten horns. Those seven heads that carry Babylon in partnership with the beast are 7 historic kingdoms that include; Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, ancient Rome and a still future revived Roman Kingdom (Dan. 2:41-42; 7:7,22,24; Revelation 12:3;17:3-16). It’s clear that John isn’t the only one that marvels, but in fact it’s the whole earth. It’s not that every person on the earth marvels, but the reason it specifically says that “those whose names aren’t written in the Book of Life” is primarily because the deadly wound on the beast has been totally healed, which I believe to be a physical resurrection, done in public through demonic power. This is a counterfeit resurrection which is something noteworthy to cause the nations to get engaged with him by marveling.
The angel says to John that the beast that was, that is not and that is speaks of three primary facets of the beast kingdom. Firstly (The Beast That Was) speaks of the Antichrist who is a full manifestation of the spirit of the antichrist which has been at work in the earth for 1,000’s of years (1st john 2:18). Secondly (The Beast That Is Not) is talking about the Antichrist staging a counterfeit resurrection where he will physically die, causing him to not be. And thirdly (The Beast That Is) tells us that the Antichrist will be seen physically resurrected from the dead giving him the status “that he is.”
John doesn’t stop receiving information about this yet coming beast kingdom. The angel continues speaking and says to him in Revelation 17:9-13 “Here is the mind which has wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the women sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings, who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.”
It’s my opinion that Revelation 12 and 17 are among the most difficult chapters in the Revelation to interpret because of the heavy symbolism. Mike Bickle has done a good job by stating what others have said throughout Church history. Mike says “This passage speaks of a ten-nation confederation of ten kings who will each enthusiastically come under the Antichrists authority (Daniel 2:39-42; 7:7,20,24: 11:36-45; Revelation 12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 7,12,16).” I personally have not come to a conclusion on this matter, but Mike has simply stated in a different fashion what many other theologian’s have said.
Now, we aren’t to think that they literally rule for just one hour because it’s speaking about a short season that they will receive power, and it’s not even for themselves but rather for the beast and his involuntary worship system. John continues in Revelation 17:14 by saying “These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with him are called, chosen, and faithful.” This wicked ruler that the Bible calls the beast, who is the Antichrist will be telling powerful lies about Christ that will actually be attested to by lying signs and wonders. The reason he is doing this is to deceive the nations into thinking their earthly champion, the Antichrist can actually fight and win against the Heavenly Champion, Jesus Christ.
This will be the greatest hour of deception that has ever been on the earth. This will be a time unequaled and unparalleled to any other time in human history as the devil is pulling out all the stop and unveil the best plan that he could possibly come up with. All things throughout history have been leading up to this moment and though he will be ultimately destroyed and cut off, his plan will work to ensnare many along the way to his destruction. The people of God will have to be strong in ways that are greatly uncommon to us now in order to stand in that yet, coming day of trouble and crisis.
The Beast Burns Babylon (Revelation 17:15-18)
The story takes a very interesting turn here at the end of Revelation 17. If you have spent some time in other books like Daniel, Matthew and 2nd Thessalonians than it would suffice to say that you have a little bit of clarity about what’s going on. Before we get into the specifics, let take a look at what the angel actually say to John. In Revelation 17:15-18 he says to John “Then he said to me, the waters which you saw, where the harlots sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For Go has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words are fulfilled.”
This time was referred to by Daniel the prophet as the abomination of desolation, or the abomination that leads to desolation (Daniel 9:27;11:31-33). Jesus also quoted Daniel in Matthew 24:15 and Paul in 2nd Thessalonians 2:3-4 speaking to this very situation that we see taking place in Revelation 17:15-18, where the Antichrist breaks his agreement with the Harlot Babylon. Now it’s clear through this passage that the waters the harlot sits upon speak of her global influence as she impacts peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues (Revelation 17:15).
This event, the abomination of desolation will take so many throughout the earth by total surprise, but it will come as no shock to the watching and praying body of Christ. The reason why it will be the great shocker to the majority of the earth is because as we have seen in Revelation 17:3, the harlot is being carried on the back of the beast which speaks of their seemingly great partnership. But as we see in this above passage, there is coming a time, at the 3 ½ year mark, of what is called the Great Tribulation, that the antichrist and his 10 nation confederation will break his agreement with the harlot and totally burn her, consuming her and leaving her for dead. He will ride her long enough to gather the masses, then burn the chariot (The Great Harlot Babylon) he used to gain him access to the world stage. This will stun the nations. This partnership, which looks so iron clad will suddenly collapse leaving the earth gasping as this beast begins to rule the earth with an involuntary religion of worship to him and him alone at the penalty of death.
The reason why the beast (antichrist) is breaking his agreement with The Great Harlot (Revelation 17:16-18) is because just like Jesus, he doesn’t and will not share his earthly, sensual and demonic glory with anyone but himself. Even this harlot Babylon religion must be burned, because he wants to be the primary object of affection from the human race. The Babylonian worship system must be burned, and totally broken, leaving in place only the structure by which the antichrist will export this abomination throughout the nations, which is spoken of in Revelation 18, not as the Harlot religion, but as the harlot city, Babylon. Now it’s hard to separate this religion from this city, but the Bible clearly speaks of both realties function in tandem. The Harlot religion will be a religion of tolerance and the beast religion will be a religion of intolerance, as he will kill anyone, through state law that refuses to worship him, his image and the number of his name.
At the close of Revelation 17, in Revelation 17:18 John gives us some much needed clarification to who specifically this women is. He says “And the women whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” I see Revelation 17:18 as a beautiful bridge into Revelation 18 which speaks not so much of the Harlot religion, but of the Harlot city, Babylon. Some have falsely assumed that because the words “The Great City” appear there, that it’s speaking of Jerusalem, but that’s not the case at all. It’s the city of Babylon, filled with filth, pomp, darkness, deception and immorality as the capital city of the beast empire. It’s important that we don’t underestimate the power of this yet future, even emerging city and cultural system Babylon.
This city will have unprecedented influence, power and opulence whom the Holy Spirit says of her that “she reigns over the kings of the earth.” It’s my personal belief that to the watching, praying and waiting Church throughout the nations we will have power, grace and confidence to speak out against this city and her ideals, even as she is emerging throughout the nations. Just like God has forerunners that will work in a John the Baptist reality, so also will the antichrist and her name is the Harlot Babylon. Don’t be deceived, and caught off guard as this religious system emerges in the earth, but be one of those like Daniel, who had understanding and partnered with God to inform people of the trouble that’s just ahead of the human race. Time is short and the hour is urgent.