1. And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
2. With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
3. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: And I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
4. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
5. And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
6. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
Chapters 17 and 18 of the book of Revelation present us with a description of the great harlot and of her fall. It is of the utmost significance that we obtain as clear a conception of this picture, of the appearance and the essential character of this harlot, as possible. In the first place, this is necessary for the clear and definite understanding of the rest of the book of Revelation. But, in the second place, this clear conception of Babylon and her essential significance is also necessary for a practical reason. The voice comes to the people of God in the eighteenth chapter, “Come forth, my people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye’ receive not of her plagues,” a voice which ultimately may signify an irresistible, effectual call into everlasting glory, the final deliverance of the church of Christ, when the days shall be shortened, but which undoubtedly bears the practical significance that the people of God may never have fellowship with this Babylon in the world. And in order to go out of her and refuse to have fellowship with her we must be able to discern her also among the many movements of our own day. And the clear understanding of the character and manifestation of Babylon, the great harlot, is of extreme practical importance. At the same time, however, we may as well confess that this is one of the most difficult passages of the entire book of Revelation to under stand, a passage which for that very reason has found many interpreters and has been favored with as many different interpretations. By far the most efficient method would be that of treating the entire portion in just one chapter, so that you might immediately have a clear conception of the whole. But because of the abundance of material, this is a practical impossibility. We cannot treat chapters 17 and 18 in one chapter. And therefore we shall have to divide our material, and gradually explain these two chapters, carefully reviewing what we had before, in the former exposition of this book, so that finally we may obtain a clear conception of the whole. And therefore we start with verses 1 to 6 of chapter 17.
By way of introduction, I must still caution you against the possibility of introducing an imaginary and false time element into these two chapters that speak of the fall of Babylon. We are so naturally and easily inclined to picture to our mind the events that are recorded and the realization of the various prophecies in this book as occurring in the same order in which they are revealed in the book of Revelation. More than once we have warned you against such a conception of the book which we are discussing. But the same caution is called for again in this particular connection. You must not picture the course of events thus, that what is revealed in chapters 17 and 18 chronologically follows the events pictured in chapter 16 for this is evidently not the case. As we have remarked in the previous chapter, after chapter 16 there is no history any more. All has been finished. The seven vials have been poured out. Antichrist has been at battle with Gog and Magog on Armageddon. And they have been in the winepress of the wrath of God. And therefore, history has come to an end. There is no Babylon any more. For also of its destruction we read in connection with the seven vials. Nor shall she ever receive a chance to develop herself anew. And for this very evident reason, which must be plain to us all, it is an impossibility to conceive of the events pictured in the two chapters we must now discuss as chronologically following those pictured in chapter 16. There is but one possibility, and that is to conceive of these two chapters as presenting a more detailed picture of something that we have already been told in broad outline before. In fact, it presents us with a detailed portraiture of Babylon and her fall, of the battle of Armageddon, and of the last attempt of. Satan to deceive the nations that are called Gog and Magog in Scripture and that live at the four corners of the earth, and, finally, a description of the beautiful new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from God Almighty.
Of Babylon and her destruction we have read before. Essentially we have met her in chapter 11, where she still appears as the outward holy city, but where her very name is designated as being identical with that of Sodom and Gomorrah, where the Lord was crucified. Jerusalem no doubt appears in that chapter as the city that essentially is Babylonian in character and persecutes the witnesses of Jesus. Again, we read of her destruction already in chapter 14, verse 8, where it is announced by the angel as imminent, when he cries, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, that hath made all the nations to drink of the wine of her fornication.” And in our previous discourse, in connection with the pouring out of the seventh vial, we also met with her destruction, For there it was said: “And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.” It is, of course, that same Babylon of which we meet a description rather in detail in the words of the present chapter and of the passage we are discussing now.
In the second place, it may be interesting to review some of the interpretations that have been presented of this great harlot. In doing so we shall find that interpreters generally have struggled to overcome the difficulty that this Babylon is pictured both as a woman and as a City, but have but ill succeeded in interpreting it. There are interpretations which have it that this Babylon is nothing else than the city of Rome as it existed at the time of John—the mighty capital of the powerful Roman Empire at that time, the city that indeed became guilty of the blood of many of the children of God that held the testimony of Jesus. This interpretation they base on verse 9, where we read that the seven heads of the beast on which the harlot sitteth are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth. The city of Rome is famous for its being built on seven hills. And these are indicated in the verse that we just cited. There are others who claim that in this woman we must see the power of the papacy as finding its center in the papal see, and therefore, again in the city of Rome. The Romish Church through the papacy especially rules over the kings of the earth. She spoke words of blasphemy indeed, and made kings and nations drunk with the wine of her spiritual fornications. She persecuted the church and the saints of Christ Jesus, and her hands are red with the blood of the saints. In all these respects she surely answers the description given of her in the text. And therefore, we must surely think of the Roman Catholic Church of all ages, according to these interpretations. Still others find in this Babylon nothing but a picture of the false church as she has apostatized from Jesus Christ and from the truth of the Word of God and become a servant of Satan and Antichrist, the counterfeit church, or counterfeit Christianity in general. And there are even those that find in Babylon the picture of the world-city as we know it today, so that London and Paris and New York and Chicago and many other large towns are individual examples of this general picture that is called Babylon in our passage. These world-cities, so they say, are the great centers of religion and philosophy, of science and art, of commerce and industry. And they have their influence for evil felt all over the known world. Thus they present the picture of the harlot that commits fornication with all the nations of the earth.