Babylon the Great

Chatswood Baptist Church

Revelation 17 & 18

  1. Cities of influence

It is estimated that more than 50% of the world’s population now live in cities. A few centuries ago only something like 3% of people lived in cities and at the start of the last century it was around 14%. Now just over a century later that figure has more than quadrupled. The movement to the cities has come about because cities are seen to be places where people believe they can find prosperity and security. In cities jobs can be found and wealth created and where goods and services are found in abundance. Cities bring together people and through the creativity and collaboration of the many they can be powerful engines for growth. Cities can be powerful influences not only the lives of those in them but also on the lives of those who live outside of them.

Cities influence things and some cities hold more power and influence than others. I’ve read that New York alone has an economy that is bigger than that of the whole of Canada. The biggest economy of any metropolitan city is Tokyo which even outstrips New York. Some cities are really economic giants on the world stage and what goes on them will influence and will change what goes on around the world. For instance, when New York stock* exchange crashed in 1929 it sent shock waves right around the world. It didn’t just have a profound effect on the US, it sparked or lit the fire of what became a global depression right across the Western world. Some cities can have a profound influence on our lives and our world. What happens on the New York or the London or the Tokyo stock exchange for instance has a big impact throughout all the world.

Today we begin a series of talks looking at chapters 17 to 22 of the book of Revelation. In these final chapters of the revelation that was given to the apostle John we see the fate of the two great cities of this world that have always been in opposition to one another and to which all of us belong.  In chapters 17 to 19 we see the doom and destruction of Babylon the Great, and in chapters 21 to 22 John’s vision of the Holy City, the new Jerusalem that city comes out of heaven and fills the earth. These two cities are personified as two women in these last chapters of the book, one a harlot or a prostitute dressed to seduce the world and the other a woman prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. Today we are going to focus on Babylon the Great, the city that is described as the great harlot, the mother of all prostitutes.

  1. Babylon the Great

Babylon the Great has been mentioned at least twice in the earlier chapters of Revelation. The fall of Babylon the Great was foretold in chapter 14:8 and John saw its destruction when the angel of the Lord poured out one the earth the last bowl of God’s wrath the end of chapter 16. In chapter 17 and 18 what happens is that one of the seven angels came and gave John a better understanding of Babylon and the influence it has on our world and its ultimate ruin and destruction. There are several things that John is shown that we also need to understand and appreciate about this city.

2.1 It isn’t the ancient city of Babylon

The first thing that I need to point out is that this city isn’t just the ancient city or kingdom of Babylon to which the kingdom of Judah was taken into captivity. This city eventually was defeated by the Persians and then was later abandoned and became desolate as it had been foretold by Jeremiah the prophet (see Jer.50:13). By the first century AD it was nothing more than a pile of ruins. Although, the ancient city of Babylon could be said to have sat on many waters because of its many canals and the Euphrates river which passed through it, this description isn’t taken literally but symbolically for the angel explains that the waters over which the city sits now are not waters but many nations.

2.2 It is the ungodly world system that seduces the inhabitants of the earth

Babylon the great therefore seems to be more of a symbol for this world and what we build for ourselves. When King Nebuchadnezzar was on the roof of his palace in Babylon he congratulated himself and said, “Is not this this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my power and for the glory of my majesty”. That’s what Babylon the great is. It is the home, the city that we build for ourselves in this world for our own glory and majesty. It’s Babel again. It’s the city or the society that we build to reflect our own power and express our independence from God that we want to draw all people into it. The spirit of Babylon lives on in our world and in its great cities. In John’s day it was Rome that was the reincarnation of Babylon the Great for it was the city sitting on many waters that wanted to shape the world in her own image. Down through the ages other cities have taken up the mantle, Istanbul of the Ottoman Empire, London and the British empire, Moscow and the Soviet Union. What all these cities of power and influence have had in common is that they want to shape the world in their own image and in one way or another seduce the inhabitants of the earth. In them can be seen the spirit of Babylon the Great. In these chapters John not only wants us to understand what becomes of Babylon the great but also wants us to see what she really is.

Revelation 17:1-2

17 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 on many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”[1]

  • She is the great prostitute

Firstly, he says that she really is the great prostitute or harlot that seduces the world. John is told the he will see the punishment of the great prostitute and he carried away into the desert and what he saw was a woman sitting on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns, covered with blasphemous names. The woman is identified for she has a title written on her forehead. She is the mystery which is Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes. Like a prostitute she is dressed to seduce and make herself desirable to the inhabitants of the earth. She is dressed in purple and scarlet which were expensive colours that only the rich and powerful could afford.  She also glittered with gold and precious stones and pearls which were the trappings of wealth and luxury.

  • She seduces the world with wealth and luxury

What Babylon the Great seems to offer the inhabitants of the world is wealth and the security and luxury that comes with it. The adulteries that the nations committed with her seem to have more to do with sharing in her luxuries and wealth than they do with sexual immorality although the later can’t be ruled out. What she seems to offer and entice the inhabitants of the world with is the promise of prosperity and economic security presenting herself as the answer to our needs.

  • She intoxicates the inhabitants of the earth

We are also told that the inhabitants of the earth are intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries. Being intoxicated impairs their reasoning and judgment so that they don’t see their true deplorable condition. What the inhabitants of the earth need wasn’t Babylon and the wine of her adulteries but to belong to the bride of Christ, the city of God. But she blinds them to what they really need with her charms and promise of having more and more here and now.

  • She is mourned by those who prospered by her

The fact that it is wealth and riches that she seduces the inhabitants of the earth with is seen most clearly in chapter 18 when John saw and heard another angel coming down from heaven who announced her downfall and doom. In chapter 18 we see the kings of the earth, the merchants all the sailors mourn her when they see the smoke of her burning.


9 “When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:

“ ‘Woe! Woe, O great city,

O Babylon, city of power!

In one hour your doom has come!’

11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no-one buys their cargoes any more— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men.


What the kings of the earth and merchants mourn and even the sailor mourn is that they won’t be able to share in her luxury and riches any more. They had all grown rich through the powerful city and its wealth and luxury. The kings will no longer be able to share in her luxuries, the merchants will have no one to buy their cargoes and the captains and sailors and their ships won’t be needed to haul their cargoes. What Babylon the Great offers some is prosperity and wealth. But that isn’t true for all. She has dark side, an evil side for she is also drunk on the blood of the saints.

2.3 She is drunk on the blood of the saints

This in the third thing to note about Babylon the great. She is drunk on the blood of the saints.

Revelation 17:5-6

5 This title was written on her forehead:





6 I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.


Why is she drunk on the blood of the saints?

It is because the saints are those belong to Jesus and refuse to drink from her cup and there is no place in Babylon the Great for those who refuse to drink from her cup and share in her adulteries. While she welcomes all who want to drink from her cup, she persecutes the saints, who refuse to do so. Babylon, the city of this world, persecutes all those who don’t go in with her and join her in her adulteries. She persecutes those who don’t want to glory in her and put this trust in her. This why although the inhabitants of the earth mourn her downfall, it is the saints who are called to rejoice over her ruin.

Revelation 18:20

20 Rejoice over her, O heaven!

Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets!

God has judged her for the way she treated you.’ ”


2.4 She sits on the beast with seven heads and ten horns

What she uses to mistreat the saints is the beast that she rides upon. The beast is the source of her power. The beast that she sits upon is described as a scarlet beast that is covered with blasphemous names and had seven head and ten horns. It is no wonder that John was greatly astonished, that he marvelled at what he saw. At first sight it probably wasn’t clear even to John what exactly what he was looking at and what this beast and the woman represented for the angel had to explain to John in verses 8 to 18 the mystery of the woman and of the beast that she rides. The identity of the woman is given in the last verse of the chapter – she is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth. It’s the beast that the angel dealt with first and the identity of the beast is perhaps the hardest thing for us to get our minds around. One writer says of “the meaning of the beast doesn’t stay steady” for it isn’t” one uniform thing” but a series of interconnected meanings[2]. The angel said to John that what it calls for is a mind of wisdom (v9).

  • The seven heads are kings

This beast sounds like it could be the same beast that we met in chapter 12 that was given power and authority by the dragon. It too had seven heads and ten horns. But in this chapter this beast is described as one which once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to destruction. What we are told is the inhabitants of the earth, the ones who names have not been written in the book of life will be astonished when they see the beast because he once was, now is not, and yet will come (v8).

Exactly what John is referring to here is hard to pin down. There are some that think that it is a parody on the way that God is sometimes described. But for me there seems to be more to it than this. Maybe there is a clue in verse 11. John is told that beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king and that this king belongs to seven and is going to destruction. What maybe being referred to here is the ability of the beast to come and go through the reign of different kings or emperors or world rulers throughout history. Seven might just be a number that represents the full number of kings from the beginning to the end of the beast’s reign on earth. When John is told that five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, John perhaps is being told that although the end is near there is still more to happen yet to come in this current manifestation of the beast.

  • The ten horns are ten kings

The ten horns are also said to be kings but they are not described as hills and they don’t seem to function quite the same as the seven kings. The seven kings seem to be the embodiment of the beast but these kings seem to dependent on the beast and their one purpose seems to give authority and power to the beast. In the case of the ancient Roman empire these kings might have been given authority by the Emperor to be client kings or governs who were to govern parts of the Empire on the condition that they were expected to support and be loyal to the Emperor and to serve Rome.

The beast seems to be the military and political might of the state expressed throughout history in different empires and kingdoms and personified in those who ruled them. In the first century such rule was expressed through the might of Rome of which the Emperor was the head who was to be worshipped. Throughout the empire it was the local governors and client kings that enforced this worship and as a result were at war with Lamb and his faithful followers who refused to be seduced by Rome.

  • The beast and the ten horns will bring the prostitute to ruin

But the strange thing is that the same system that keeps and maintains Babylon in all its excesses and luxury will also be the means of its demise and ruin.

Revelation 17:16-18

16 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled.

The beast and the ten horns will ultimately serve God’s purpose and bring the prostitute to ruin. No power on earth will last. The seeds of ruin are almost always planted from within any organisation. We see that even things like the investigations into the AMP and the banks. Their trouble isn’t caused be external circumstances but what went on inside. It is the same with any human society that tries to play God. There will be no city of power that will ultimately stand for long and God’s people are to rejoice for one day “the great city of Babylon will be thrown down never to be found again” (18:21).

  1. Come out of her

But while wait for that day the warning for us who live in Babylon is not be seduced by her and what she promises us. What she promises those who will drink from her cup is advantage and prosperity and economic security. She calls you to put your trust in her and go along with her and to love what she loves and do what she does. The message for John and the seven churches that of Asia Minor that he was writing to was that they were to come of her.

Revelation 18:4-5

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say:

“Come out of her, my people,

so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; 5 for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.


When the angel announced that the people of God were to come out from her I don’t think he was calling them to leave and flee the cities of Asia Minor. Where were they to go? It is true that this had been the message to exiles of Israel when God announced his judgment coming on the ancient city of Babylon but here it is more a call for us to not comprise who we are as God’s people. We aren’t to allow ourselves to be compromised by Babylon the Great. We are not to give into her charms and become intoxicated by the life that she wants to offer us here. We are to refuse to drink from her cup even when she threatens to take everything away from us even life itself.

This is warning for us today just as it was for John and the churches of Asia Minor. Babylon the Great is still operating behind the scenes of our own world wanting us to find our hope and our meaning for life in the riches and luxury and security of this world, rather than the new Jerusalem. We have all felt that pressure to drink from her cup – to lay up treasure here, to build our lives in this world, to hope and trust in what we can do rather than what God has done, to live as though this all there is and building our homes is all that really matters and as though it’s what we have in the bank that make us secure rather our security being found in Christ and his new Jerusalem. We need to be careful that we are seduced by what we see here and what the great harlot is offering everyone around us. We need to be different to those around us and not put our hope in what have here but in the city of God. We need to be in the world but not of the world. We don’t belong to Babylon. We don’t belong to Sydney. Like Israel of old was in Babylon of old, we are strangers and exiles here waiting for the marriage feast of the Lamb, the day when the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven and fill the earth.

We need to be careful. We need to see things in this world are really are. Babylon wants you to drink deeply from her cup and she’ll do either of two things to get your attention. She will either firstly dress herself to “the nines” to make herself look as attractive as possible to you so that you might join in with her. It will all seem so reasonable as she makes wickedness look attractive. On the other hand, if you refuse she’ll threaten and persecute you. Don’t be fooled her doom is certain. We are to remember who we are. We are people of God and we to remain faithful to Jesus and wait for the new Jerusalem. We are not put our hopes in this world. We aren’t to adopt this world’s ways or values even when everybody else around us thinks that they are so reasonable and so normal. We are not to live for what those around us often live for –  wealth and financial security and for the lifestyle of just wanting more where we spend everything on ourselves and our luxuries. We aren’t to be fearful when those around us ridicule us or even persecute us for not joining in with them. We are to stand firm knowing that Babylon will fall and it’s those who stand firm until the end who part of the city of God, the new Jerusalem.


[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are taken from The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

[2] William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Volume 2, page 179