The Woman and the Beast

Revelation 17:7–18

The woman sitting on the scarlet-colored beast was a spectacle to behold. John marveled at her ostentatious dress, idolatrous practices, murder of defenseless saints, and alliance with pagan Rome. Understanding John’s great wonderment, the angel rhetorically asked, “Why didst thou wonder?” (v. 7). He then proceeded to reveal the mystery of both the woman and the beast—a revelation that exposes much more about the beast than about the woman it is carrying.

Monster of Wickedness
The angel continued, “The beast that thou sawest was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition” (v. 8). Commentators hold different interpretations on the beast’s identity. This is understandable because previous chapters identify Satan, the Antichrist, and the revived Roman Empire as beasts.

Some scholars believe that the angel is speaking of the Antichrist who had a near-death experience, was raised back to full health (13:3), and became possessed by a great demon from the bottomless pit. Others teach that the phrase “yet is” (v. 8) refers to one who will be resurrected from the bottomless pit and become ruler of the revived Roman Empire. They mention Judas Iscariot, Nero, and Adolf Hitler as possible candidates. This is highly unlikely. Satan was never given power to raise anyone from the dead. Further, the wicked will not be resurrected until the Great White Throne Judgment (20:11–15). Still others believe this describes the revived Roman Empire. Rome was an imperial world power; today it is not; but in the future Tribulation it will be satanically controlled by a great demon from the pit. This interpretation fits the context. All three beasts, along with their followers, are destined for “perdition” (v. 8), eternal destruction, and damnation in the lake of fire (cp. Mt. 25:41; Rev. 19:20).

During the Tribulation, even the unsaved on earth, “whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world,” shall wonder “when they behold the beast” (v. 8). (Note that the unsaved never did have their names written in the book of life.) The unsaved will marvel at the swift establishment of the revived Roman Empire as its charismatic leader conquers vast areas once held by ancient Rome.

The beast is further described as having “seven heads [that] are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” (v. 9). This verse has been interpreted in various ways and requires a “mind which hath wisdom,” or special insight from God, to be properly understood.

Some scholars teach that the seven mountains refer to the city of Rome. Throughout its history, Rome has been called the “city of seven hills.” There are three problems with this interpretation: Rome encompasses more than seven hills; the city sits on hills, not mountains; and the text identifies the “seven mountains” as “seven kings” (v. 10).

Others believe that the mountains refer to seven kings or rulers of ancient Rome: Julius Cæsar, Tiberias, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Domitian (the one who is), and the Antichrist (who is yet to come). This interpretation is also limited. It “does not connect well with the prophecies of Daniel which imply that world empires or extensive kingdoms are being suggested, rather than individual leaders…The beast with seven heads represents world government throughout human history and should not be relegated to the time of the apostle John.”*

A similar view says that the seven kings are various forms of Roman government: kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs, military tribunes, and emperors. The sixth—the “one is” (v. 10)—refers to the imperial form of government, which was destroyed and will reappear under Satan’s control. The same objections apply to this position as to the last view.

Still others hold a double prophetic significance: The seven mountains (v. 9) represent Rome, and the seven kings (v. 10) symbolize world empires. The same objections apply to this position as to the first view. It is preferable to hold that the “seven mountains” (v. 9) and “seven kings” (v. 10) represent seven great world empires (kingdoms) throughout history. Up to John’s day, “five are fallen [Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece], and one is [Rome], and the other is not yet come [revived Roman Empire]; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space” (v. 10). In Daniel’s prophetic description of Gentile world rule, he used the terms beast, king, and kingdom interchangeably (Dan. 7:1–28). These seven empires cover the history of Gentile world rule until its destruction by Christ at His Second Coming. Then Christ’s Kingdom, described as a mountain, will fill the whole earth (Dan. 2:34–35).

When the Antichrist takes over the ten-nation confederacy, he will manifest complete dictatorial power.

Further revelation is given about an eighth head: “And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition” (v. 11). Thus, the seventh kingdom is the revised Roman Empire (a ten-nation confederacy) out of which the eighth king (Antichrist) will rise, along with his kingdom. When the Antichrist takes over the ten-nation confederacy, he will manifest complete dictatorial power, which will introduce the eighth or final form of Gentile world rule. His destiny is “perdition” (v. 11). Both the eighth king and his kingdom will be destroyed by Christ at His Second Coming and will be cast into the “lake of fire” (19:20).

Next, the angel identified the beast’s “ten horns” (v. 7) as “ten kings, who have received no kingdom as yet, but receive power as kings one hour with the beast” (v. 12). These kings will be appointed to rule over the kingdom of the Antichrist, which will be divided into ten administrative districts. There is no way these kings can be literally or symbolically applied to any nation in the past because they will not receive a kingdom until Daniel’s 70th week. They will not reign successively but simultaneously during the Tribulation. The beast will give them power for a very brief period of time—less than 42 months (13:5). These nations will not rule independently but will be of “one mind” with the beast and yield their “power and strength [authority] unto the beast” (v. 13). Their power will extend to the end of the Tribulation, when they will “make war with the Lamb [Christ], and the Lamb shall overcome them” (v. 14). He will accomplish the victory with ease at Armageddon (19:15) because “he is Lord of lords, and King of kings” (v. 14). Along with the Lord will be an army of Old Testament believers, the church, and Tribulation saints, properly identified as “called, and chosen, and faithful” (v. 14). These faithful believers will share in Christ’s victorious conquest.

Murder of the Woman
The harlot’s diabolical religious system (17:1–6) will have influence over the whole world by the midpoint of the Tribulation. Those whom she will impact are described as “waters,” symbolic of “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (v. 15). The world’s population will have become submissive to her seductive lure, being made drunk with the wine of her heathenish religious teaching and worship (17:2).

An abrupt turnabout will be made by the “ten horns” (v. 16) who follow the beast in uncompromising obedience. They will awaken from their drunken stupor with the woman, whose charm and seduction will have lost their lure. Love for the woman will turn to “hate” (v. 16) as the ten kings, along with the beast, destroy her just before the midpoint of the Tribulation. They will make “her desolate” (v. 16), or divest her of all the wealth she has confiscated throughout the world They will make her “naked” (v. 16), or strip away her personal support, position, power, and prestige, and expose her moral corruption. They “shall eat her flesh” (v. 16) like wild dogs devoured the corpse of Jezebel (cp. 1 Ki. 21:23; 2 Ki. 9:30–37). They will “burn her with fire” (v. 16), or totally eliminate any identity of the woman’s false religious system. Israel’s law required that those who committed extreme acts of sin be burned with fire after their deaths to remove any symbol of their remembrance (Lev. 20:14; 21:9; Josh. 7:15, 25).*

This hostile action will be initiated by God: “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will” (v. 17); that is, to rid the world of this pseudo-religious system. At times, Satan is allowed to manifest his will through nations to accomplish God’s purposes. This is seen in the previous chapter, where demons go forth to gather all nations to Israel for the battle of Armageddon (16:13–14). The kings mentioned above will believe that they are carrying out their own program for conquest, but actually they will accomplish God’s providential program.

Having destroyed the woman, the Antichrist will unite the world’s religious and political systems under his control. The ten nations will agree to “give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled” (v. 17). God’s prophetic program will reach its intended goal as He sovereignly allows the kingdoms of this world to come under the beast’s control until the end of the Tribulation.* At that time, the cup of wickedness will be full, and Christ will destroy the entire system at His coming.

The angel concluded his revelation by identifying the woman simply as “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (v. 18). To what city is the angel referring in this verse? The early church believed the verse was speaking of Rome. Those living in the Middle Ages believed the verse was a reference to the ecclesiastical system of Rome. Many scholars today identify the city with Rome because of her dress (v. 4), reference to the “seven mountains” (v. 9), and belief that Rome will be the religious center of the world during the Tribulation. Still others believe that John was anticipating the woman’s fall and the religious emphasis shifting from the woman to the beast. Thus, this great anti-God system will continue, both as power (political) and cult (religion), united in one figure—the Antichrist.* Some teach that the verse is not referring to the woman as a religious system but as the literal city of Babylon yet to be built on the Euphrates River. This city will become the center for a religious system that opposes true Christianity. The system will gain tremendous commercial and political influence during the Tribulation, until the beast and the ten kings determine that it is no longer useful to their worldwide rule and destroy it.*

A more plausible interpretation teaches that the woman is identified with the “great city” Babylon in its religious, not historical, significance.

A more plausible interpretation teaches that the woman is identified with the “great city” Babylon in its religious, not historical, significance. According to verse 5, “BABYLON THE GREAT” is not referring to the literal city of ancient Babylon but to its diabolical religious system. As Babylon conquered cities politically, its religion dominated political states. Thus, the meaning cannot be confined to a city in the past or future, such as Rome or Babylon.* This verse refers to a trans-historical system of satanic evil, which is an extension of ancient Babylon, forming the one-world religious system during the Tribulation. After the destruction of the woman, this religious system will reside in the Antichrist, who will manifest all of its satanic evils.*

Seeds of this diabolical system are beginning to sprout in Europe. A move is underway to forge nations into a European Economic Community. This could well be the foreshadowing of the satanically orchestrated religious and political system mentioned in Revelation 17. Christians must be alert and warn others of these ominous events. In the midst of this bad news, however, there is good news: The Lord will take His church to glory before it happens.

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