NKJV - 5 And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
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Based on the reference in Revelation 17:18, I have always understood the term Babylon as used in Revelation to be referring to Rome, particularly with respect to the Roman Empire's persecution of Christians prior to Constantine. However, I would also say that, in a broader sense, it could be understood to pertain to the entire sinful system of "the world" that stands in opposition to God and Christianity.
The original Babylon the Great was the capital of the Babylonian empire. The city was the empire. There was so much evil and wickedness in this place that God said he would destroy it completely and it would never be rebuilt again. In fact, the same evening that the emperor was hosting a great feast to celebrate their safety, the Medo-Persians broke in and conquered the city. Some of the descriptions in Revelation would fit the original Babylon or the city of Rome, as the heart of the Roman Empire. Or it could refer to Constantinople, the heart of the Ottoman Empire which persecuted and martyred many Christians. But other descriptions clearly apply to some future time. For example, the ten kings, who exist at the same time as this prostitute (this future Babylon), will wage war with the Lamb and the Lamb will destroy them (Revelation 17:12-16) This reference to the Lamb clearly refers to Jesus Christ and timing of this event would be his second coming. This future Babylon the Great could also symbolically refer to a worldwide religious, ideological or economic system, that established the culture of this future world, which was totally against God and everything that was holy and good. In my view, if it is a city it doesn’t exist yet for no one city in our world exercises that kind of power and influence. If it is a religious, ideological or economic system, then I don’t think that exists now either, in a way that is pervasive over the whole world and that exercises the power and control described in these two chapters of Revelation. We will just have to wait and watch.
The woman that rides the Beast in Revelation 17 has all the identifying features of Rome. According with Martin Luther, and most of the Reformers, Babylon of Revelation refers to papal Rome. An illustration from the 1545 Luther's Bible depicts the Whore of Babylon wearing the papal crown. In the Bible, a woman represents a church (Jer 6:2; Isaiah 62:5; Hosea 2:19; 2Cor 11:2; Rev 19:7). Many Bible scholars believe that the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) is the only church on Earth that fulfills these identifiers of the woman called Babylon in Revelation 17. The “kings of the earth” (Rev 17:2) represent civil powers - presently 87 nations maintain diplomatic relationships with the Holy See - Vatican is the only Church to assert political powers. In Revelation 17 this religious power is called “The Mother of Harlots.” Being a mother, it is assumed that she has offspring which most likely refers to other Christian denomination that separated from the RCC but kept many of her unbiblical teachings and traditions. Babylon “drunk with the blood of the saints” (Rev 17:6) refers to the papal persecution and killing of over 50 million of faithful Christians during the Dark Ages. French Cardinal Alfred-Henri-Marie Baudrillart wrote: “The Catholic Church has a horror of blood. Nevertheless, when confronted by heresy she has recourse to force, to corporal punishment, to torture. She creates tribunals like the Inquisition. She calls the laws of the state to her aid. Especially did she act thus in the 16th Century with regard to Protestants. In France, under Francis I and Henry II, in England under Mary Tudor, she tortured the heretics.” The Catholic Church, The Renaissance and Protestantism, pp. 182-184. On January 25, 2015, pope Francis officially apologized for the persecution of millions of Protestants: “As the bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I would like to invoke mercy and forgiveness for the non-evangelical behavior of Catholics toward Christians of other churches.” Earlier, on March 12, 2000, from the altar of St Peter's Basilica, John Paul II said: "We are asking pardon for the divisions among Christians, for the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth, and for attitudes of mistrust and hostility assumed towards followers of other religions."
The prostitute of Babylon/secret Babylon is a false religious system that is unfaithful to God and accordingly is portrayed as a prostitute (Rev. 17:1, 15-16). Dr. Warren Wiersbe sees the "Woman" in Rev. 17:3-9 as a symbol of "Babylon." "Prostitute", he says, in the context of Rev. 17:1, 5, 15-16, and Rev. 19;2 symbolizes an "Evil World System." The prophets often depict cities using female imagery such as a bride, wife, or prostitute (e.g., Isa 1:21; 23:17; Ezek 23:2-4). The image of a prostitute is used to illustrate Rome’s spiritual bankruptcy and moral degradation. (Tim said Babylon was Rome, too). My personal view is that it could be the literal city of Babylon, a center of future world religion, a false religion.
There are several views I have encountered in my life on this topic. What I have understood so far is that the beast is Rome, the woman rides the beast and on close examination of the text a distinction between the two are apparent. For example in Rev 17:3 the woman is sitting on a scarlet beast that has blasphemous names and has seven heads and the ten horns. The woman on the other hand wears purple and scarlet, and is dressed with gold and pearls and valuable stones, having on her head a golden cup full of abominations. She also was residing in the wilderness as Rev 17:3 begins. And the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs of Jesus (verse 6). The gold and pearls and valuable stones implies wealth and the purple and scarlet implies royalty. The woman is also called a harlot, a prostitute, and the ten horns on the beast hate the harlot (verse 16). And the woman is the great city (verse 18). And in her was found the blood of the prophets and the saints, and of all who were slain on the earth. Rev 18:24 I have studied that Martin Luther did not think Revelation nor the book of James was the inspired Word of God. Although Martin Luther quoted these details and applied them to the Vatican in his day, he must've done so using the text as a metaphor to condemn the Pope, since he himself did not see the book as Scripture. Plus the Vatican saw the book as Scripture and that would make Luther's argument more stinging, but in turn they applied it to Martin Luther. To this day it is still a common view among many protestant groups. Another view I have encountered is the view that the beast was ancient Rome and that the harlot was Jerusalem before the destruction in 70 a.d. This view was dominant throughout much of church history as it was adopted by St. Augustine who believed that the entire book pertained to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century. This view is still largely held by groups that hold to a preterist interpretation. (Although there are variations, this is a generalization based on my personal encounters). And still another view I have encountered which is dominant in the twentieth century and counting is the idea that it is a revived Roman Empire and that everything in the book is pertaining to future events that have not yet happened. This interpretation is identified with the dispensational groups. In my view all these groups have verses that can fit their view and can make some valid points, but none of them fit the text entirely. So I concluded that the important thing is to grow in the Lord and seek Him and to know Him. When we stand before Him, we will know fully, even as we are fully known. Selah
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