CHAPTER 17: UNFAITHFULNESS IS A BIG DEAL
Verses 1-2: In Nahum 3:4, Nineveh is called prostitute, as is Tyre (see Isaiah 23:17). Israel when unfaithful (Hosea) is called harlot or whore because she is likened to an unfaithful wife. All such idolatrous behavior is called ‘whoring,’ but there is a relational distention of Israel to the other nations. Israel not only lustfully chases after other gods, but breaks her covenant bonds (equated to marriage) with God. The other nations have no such covenant bond with God (He is not their God). In any case, the other nations are selling or yielding themselves for gain/riches, but it is not as His covenant wife.
“She who sits on many waters” is a direct word from Jeremiah 51:13 prophesying from God to ancient Babylon. That prophecy has been fulfilled and becomes symbolic for the world and similar behavior patterns. This symbol is for the world and not the remnant of Israel or the Church. Such an institution, regardless of what they call themselves, are not of God or as 1 John 2:15 puts it, “the love of Father (God) is not in them.” Old covenant Israel can be called an unfaithful wife. New covenant Israel can act the same, but to live unfaithfully under the new covenant is to “deny Christ.”
We should note that those who cling to the old covenant at this future point in history (not accepting Jesus Christ) will be lumped in by God with the other unfaithful nations. We see this symbolically in the fact that she (the Prostitute) is seated on the Beast and called to account for killing God’s prophets and saints which does link apostate old covenant Israel with sinful Babylon. That is to say, God will not suffer her idolatrous behavior anymore because, of course, He has given His Son as the Way. In Matthew 23:35, Jesus Christ states that just such a destruction would come upon the generation of His day… old covenant Israel is fixed to the Beast and both will come to the same end.
Verses 3-4: The “wilderness” is likely an allusion to the rebellion of Israel from going into the promised land to fight (see Deuteronomy 1:28 and Hebrews 3:8). Israel is the desert on the Beast’s back aligning herself with the Beast (Rome). We see this in Jesus’ day in that the High Priest, elders, and all of Israel saw to it that Jesus was crucified. In Matthew 27:25, all the people foolishly answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
Verses 5-6: Note on Babylon: These people/nations are called ‘Babylon’ because of how they behave. Thus, “Mystery Babylon” is made up of both Israelite and Gentiles that deny Christ. She on the back of the Beast is drunk with blood of saints and martyrs of Jesus. This “mystery” is in contrast with the Mystery of God which is the new in Christ.
Verses 7-10: In context, the Beast is likely Nero since he is 5th Caesar and preceding Caesar only ruled a little while (months). This would also mean that Nero was present at the time Revelation was written and near his death (suicide).
Verses 11-14: The eighth king is himself the Beast and his system. There is a contrast between the two raised witnesses of God and of a Beast that appears wounded and dying, but he rises healed to carry on the Devil inspired system of governing power. In John’s day, this was Roman system that stood in opposition to Christ’s rule. Such opposition continues until judgment day. The opposition has different authority in that Christ’s Kingdom is established and is superior in Heaven. Christ’s established Kingdom is revealed by the passing away of the old covenant system and temple in Jerusalem in 70AD. This was a sign that a new order is in effect though not yet come into fullness.
NOTE: This has been fulfilled by the destruction of the temple and Jewish nation in 70AD, but there is also a continuing pattern of conduct as the Gospel is proclaimed and opposed by the powers that be.
Verses 15-18: “The waters” are multitudes of nations, people, and languages. The prostitute sits on them in control and we are told what she takes part in (sits on) hates her because of her own vile behavior.
Furthermore, in verse 18, “the city” is said to be a woman with sovereignty. This means cities ruled by a system not-of-God and share in the system can all be called symbolically Babylon. They are or have become like those who seek to make a name for themselves rather than reflect God’s name (Genesis). Verse 18 tells us in this case the woman is apostate Israel who is said to be a prostitute in earlier verses, but is now called both a woman and the city. They are one in the same Babylon.
For contrast and to help with this symbolic impression, later in chapter 21 we are told of a Bride and New Jerusalem that are one in the same.
COMMENTS TO HELP YOU STUDY
Referring to sinfulness in terms of prostitution (Hosea) and in terms of Babylon (1 Peter) because of its role in Biblical history (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah) is a common occurrence in the Scriptures. Unfaithfulness or trading God in for another is a big deal. In 17, we have a repetition of 14-16 under a new theme and reveals more fully what happens.
Keep in Mind: “Remnant” thoughts and themes
Keep in Mind: Not all Israel are of True Israel
Keep in Mind: At the time of writing (pre-70AD), the Temple still stood and has not been trampled
Keep in Mind: The visions in Revelation repeat with some progression
Keep in Mind: Babylon began in Genesis in opposition to God and has continued
Keep in Mind: Matthew 24’s timeline progression