REVELATION 17 – 18
Bible Study Notes Rev. Betsy Perkins
Babylon the Great: The Prostitute
God remembers Babylon the Great and gives her the cup of His wrath (16:19). Chapters 17 and 18 describe this great prostitute of the world, along with her punishment and fall. John’s use of a prostitute as a metaphor is rooted in the Judeo-Christian understanding of God as our loving Creator and the Creator of human relationships that are to mimic the loyal and faithful commitment, and exclusive, loving union, which is to exist between the Creator and His faithful people. The main point of Babylon is that she has strayed from the singular worship of her Creator, going after idols and false gods to worship them, with much of this idol worship also including sexual sin.
It is important not to equate every person involved in prostitution, either today or back in John’s day, with this Great Prostitute as so many are victims trafficked and trapped in this practice by evil individuals and the systemic evil of poverty.
Babylon the Great (17:1-18): The beast and the great prostitute
Many waters (17:1) = the actual city of Babylon was constructed on the Euphrates River with a network of canals running through it, though John is also using this symbolically (17:15).
Scarlet beast = the beast described in 13:1-10; the beast “who was, is not now, and will come” is a parody of God’s name and a parody of the Lamb’s death and resurrection, yet he will “go to his destruction”(17:8).
Purple, Scarlet, Gold, Gems and Pearls = trapping of wealth and luxury; purple was associated with royalty, scarlet was associated with magnificence. Prostitutes in Rome in John’s time commonly had their names on a headband.
Seven hills (17:9) = the actual city of Rome is built on a grouping of 7 hills; hills also represent places of power.
Seven Kings, Ten Kings = these may represent actual kings or Roman emperors, or they may represent the kings of the East (16:12), or they may symbolize a series of world leaders.
Compare the Women of ch.12 and ch.17.
Location 12:1, 14 17:3
Clothing 12:1 17:4
Offspring 12:5, 17 17:5
Who loves them 12:6, 16 17:2-3
Who hates them 12:13, 17 17:16-17
Fate 12:14 17:16
o Do you find beautiful possessions, fine food, fine clothes and jewelry to be seductive temptations? Do you perceive the prostitute to be attractive, or repulsive, or both?
o Where does the woman’s power and wealth come from? Is she someone to be respected, feared, loved, ignored?
o Why is John astonished? Why will the inhabitants of the earth be astonished?
o Why does the Beast, who supports the prostitute, later attack and destroys her? What is the significance of this? See Lev.21:9, Is.47:1-3.
o What do we learn about the Lamb and about God in 17:14 and 17:17? What do we learn about the Lamb’s followers?
The Fall of Babylon (18:1-24):
o What are the sins that Babylon is accused of?
o How do the kings of the earth respond to the city’s fall (18:9-10)?
o How do the merchants of the earth respond to the city’s fall (18:11-17a)?
o How do the sea captains and travelers respond to the city’s fall (18:17b-19)?
o How should God’s people respond to the city’s fall (18:20)?
o What warning does Babylon’s fate provide for us today? What should we be doing to heed this warning? Read 18:4.
“It isn’t merely enough to topple tyrants. The difficulty is that God does not want anarchy either. Human rulers are there because that is how God wants to run the world; structures of authority are part of the good creation (Col.1:15-16). The problem comes when those structures arrogate to themselves powers beyond those of being humble servants of God’s good purposes for his world and his image-bearing creatures. The part of God’s faithful people has always been to discern the point at which the one passes into the other, and to have no hesitation, when that happens, in leaving, either physically or spiritually.”
“The angel who shouts out that Babylon has fallen is bringing the news that human arrogance and oppression, and the wanton luxury and vice to which they lead, will not have the last word. God will have the last word, and creation itself will hear this word as a word of freedom, a sigh of relief, a flood of glorious light let in upon a darkened dungeon.”
What one truth from this passage stands out as something to “take to heart” this week?
Are there steps you will take, by God’s grace, to more fully apply it to your life?
Resources: Navpress, A life-changing encounter with God’s Word from the book of Revelation, 2011
N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 2011