Great Prostitute
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63. Great Prostitute
Revelation 17.1-5

"One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, 'Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her, the earth's kings committed adultery, and the earth's inhabitants became intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.' Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet and was glittering with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery. 'BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.'" (Revelation 17.1-5)✞

Deserved Punishment

Roman BannerThe "great prostitute" is called by John of Patmos, the "Whore of Babylon" or "Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth." These names disguise a direct reference to the immoral Roman Empire. Jews and Christians would have known what John means. The Roman government is punished as "the great prostitute" because she is "a temptation to godlessness and wickedness." Her sin is that she sins herself and that she deliberately persuades others into sin. "The great prostitute" deserves punishment because of her many gods and the blood of Christian martyrs. She produces a seductive governmental system that uses immoral means to gain pleasure and prosperity.

Extravagant Luxury

Scarlet DressThe Roman prostitute is said in Revelation 18.11-12a to be clothed in purple silk cloth and decked with all kinds of ornaments. Rome's extravagant luxury refers to the rare, expensive, beautiful red and purple clothing, the decorations of gold and silver, and the lustful way the prostitutes use them. It is a picture of a wealthy female prostitute, decked out in all her expensive finery, determined to seduce men.

Babylon Woman

Golden CupThe scarlet Babylon woman covered with blasphemous names is dressed in purple and scarlet and is sitting on a beast with seven heads and ten horns. She holds a Golden Cup full of abominations. This description is similar to another picture of a golden cup taken from the prophet Jeremiah. He writes in Jeremiah 51.7, "Babylon was a gold cup in the Lord's hand; she made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore, they have now gone mad." Rome is the Whore of Babylon's hidden identity and is said to hold this cup full of abominations, which she spreads over all the earth, meaning the whole of the Roman Empire.

Forehead Name

FrontletThe prostitute "Whore of Babylon" is said according to Revelation 17.5 to have "the name written on her forehead." In Rome, prostitutes in the public brothels wore plate ornaments or frontlets hanging upon their foreheads, giving their names. This vivid detail pictures Rome as a tremendous corrupting influence and the Scarlet Babylon Woman among the nations.

Great Prostitute

Seven Hills of RomeThe great Babylon prostitute holds a golden cup filled with terrible things, and on her forehead is a mysterious name. The great Babylon prostitute is said in Revelation 17.1 "to sit upon many waters." The waters stand for either oceans or seas or even worldwide commerce or a well-provisioned mighty city. It is possibly a reference to the city of Rome itself with its seven hills. John of Patmos is incorporating many of the prophets' ideas about ancient Babylon. He addresses them in Jeremiah 51.13 as, "You who live by many waters and are rich in treasures, your end has come, the time for your destruction." The River Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically significant rivers of Western Asia. It runs through the ancient city of Babylon in what is now Iraq. It is also the center of a system of irrigation canals through Turkey, Syria, and Iraq to the Persian Gulf, with lakes spreading out in every direction. Rome is often addressed as "Babylon," maybe to conceal Rome's true identity from the readers, and is also a picture of Rome's significant corrupting influence on the nations.

Martyr's Blood

MartyrsLater, John of Patmos in Revelation 17.15 gives the waters a symbolic interpretation. He writes, "The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages." The waters are the many nations and peoples and tongues over whom Rome rules and influences for evil. In contrast to the prostitute, the Bride of Christ, the Church, is pure and obedient. The prostitute bears all the abominations that the Lord hates. Proverbs 6.16-19 lists them, "six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:

1. haughty eyes,
2. a lying tongue,
3. hands that shed innocent blood,
4. a heart that devises wicked schemes,
5. feet that are quick to rush into evil,
6. a false witness who pours out lies
7. and a person who stirs up conflict in the community."

These abominations are still readily seen in society today! Throughout history, people have died for their faith at the hands of oppressive governments. The prostitute's drunkenness shows her pleasure in evil accomplishments and her feelings of triumph over Christians. But every martyr who falls before her sword only serves to strengthen the faith of the Church. As the Church Father Tertullian (c155-c240 AD), a prominent theologian in North Africa, writes, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." (Apologeticus, Chapter 50.) That seed takes root and grows beyond all expectations!

Scarlet Beast Names

Seven Headed BeastThe scarlet beast names are the blasphemous names of this seven-headed beast with ten horns, which refer, in a veiled manner, to ten Roman Emperors and the imperial city of Rome. Like the earlier beast, a scarlet beast comes from the sea in Revelation 11.7 and appears as the great prostitute's accomplice. When they finish their testimony, the monster that comes up from the Abyss attacks them, overpowers and kills them. Blasphemous names cover the woman sitting on the creature. If the woman is Rome, the beast is the Roman Empire, full of blasphemy, a reference to the Roman Empire's many gods. Every scarlet beast name is an insult to Almighty God, for they are all infringements on God's supreme and unique authority. No one has the right to be called God, save only the one true deity.

Blasphemous Names

AugustusThe beast's blasphemous names may also be a reference to the many titles claimed by the emperors. One emperor was called Augustus, which means "reverenced," but reverence belongs to God alone. Another emperor was named "theios," which in Greek means "divine." God alone deserves divine worship. Some emperors called themselves "soter" or "savior," a unique title for Jesus Christ. Most common of all, an emperor was often named in Latin "dominus" or Greek "kurios," meaning "Lord," which is the very name for God himself.

Seven-Headed Beast

Marble StatueA woman sits on a seven-headed beast identified with the ancient seven hills of Rome. The monster in Revelation 17 is scarlet and has "seven heads and ten horns," and repeats the beast's description in Revelation 13.1-2 called the Roman Empire Beast, a creature coming out of the sea. It has ten crowns on its horns and a blasphemous name on each head. The beast resembles a leopard, with a bear's feet and a lion's mouth. One of the beast's heads seems to have had a healed fatal wound. The whole world is filled with wonder and follows the creature. People worship the dragon because he has given authority to the beast, and they also worship the beast and ask, 'Who is like the beast?

Forty-Two Months

Who can wage war against it?' "The beast's mouth utters proud words and blasphemies and exercises its authority for forty-two months," says Revelation 13.6-8. We note this reference to three and a half years being the number of incompleteness that this authority is just for a while. Then the Beast "opened its mouth to blaspheme God and slander his name and dwelling place and those who live in heaven. It is given the power to wage war against God's holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast - all whose names are not written in the Lamb's book of life, the slain Lamb from the world creation of the." Revelation 17.8 tells us also, "The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction." This reference to the beast's past, present, and future hints of the "Nero Redivivus legend," or the resurrection of Nero, which is never far from the mind of John of Patmos. It also contains a strange reference in imitation of the Trinitarian name of God as "I have been, I am, and I will be." In Revelation 17.11, we read, "The beast who once was, and now is not, is the eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction." The idea of Nero resurrected connects to the Antichrist.


In this passage, the scarlet beast stands for the Antichrist. According to Revelation 17.9, the "seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits." Here we have a hint of the seven hills of ancient Rome, which once again identifies it in a veiled manner as the seven-headed beast.

"Great Prostitute"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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