It is interesting to say the least how far off the track most of our modern interpretation of the harlot in Revelation 17 is. One can see what the prevailing beliefs are by simply doing a web search for “mystery Babylon the great.” While one could use the Scripture as a warning to the church today, it has nothing to do with a church or false church system. The Bible itself tells us who the harlot was. The real problem with such more modern interpretations is that they take our eyes off Jesus and what he said. The interpretations do for us today exactly what wrong doctrine did for the Jews of the 1st century CE. False doctrines concerning prophecy take our eyes off the truth wherein we are drawn toward God and place our eyes on men and what they say about the future. Instead of looking for the return of Christ, men who believe such falsehood would tend to look for a future ‘strong man’ to become influential in the Middles East, and many other similar things that exalt men and their ideas over the truth of God.
Consider for a moment: what if all these prophecies concerned the 1st century CE. I know this is difficult to agree to, since we all have been bombarded from our earliest experiences with Christianity that we should be looking for a future “strong man” who will invade the Middle East and seek to bring the world under his control. Yet some of what is contained in these prophecies are contradictory, but consider for a moment: what if they aren’t so at all. What if all that John said or at least 90 % of it had to do with the 1st century CE? Wouldn’t giving our attention to what these men say be taking our eyes off the truth of God? In fact, the more time we spend investigating lies that are past on as truth, would be wasted and would have been spent away from God when all the time we wanted to be drawing near to him, seeking to understand his word. Wouldn’t that be a tragedy?
Consider for a moment what the Scriptures say about the harlot. First of all, we see that the woman sits upon the scarlet colored beast that has 7 heads and 10 horns (Revelation 17:3). Secondly, we see that the woman is decked in purple and scarlet, gold and many precious stones (verse-4). Next, we are told she is drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus (verse-6). It is interesting that John at this point felt great admiration for the harlot. Why is that so? Why would he even be tempted to admire such a sight, unless her wickedness is hidden from view? The angel with John then revealed the mystery of the harlot. The first mystery unfolded was that of the Beast. His seven heads are seven mountains or kingdoms, which have seven kings. Five had fallen, one was presently reigning and the seventh was yet to come. I have already discussed the identity of the Beast in The Seven Headed Beast of Revelation. There I also discuss the ten horns which are 10 kings who reign over and hate the harlot.
In Revelation 17:18 the angel tells us that the woman (the harlot) is “that great city” that reigns over the kings of the earth. First, let me say that the Greek word epi which is translated “over” can be translated as such, but it can also be translated “before” as it often is in the New Testament. The idea is, I believe, that she reigns with the permission of the Beast. I don’t think she reigns over the Beast, although she has had great influence with the Beast. I think this would be better understood as the harlot reigns before or “in the presence of” and “in agreement with” the Beast.
If we consider that the woman is “that great city,” what we need to do is look elsewhere in God’s word to find what “great city” the angel means. If we consider only the New Testament, we will find the “great city” referred to ten times, all of them in the book of Revelation. So, if we can identify her here, we should be convinced of its meaning by the context of the book itself.
Actually, the angel refers to two cities by the term “great city” and identifies them both in the book’s first and last references. All the other references (Revelation 14:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18–19, 21) reveal that the “great city” has come under the judgment or the wrath of God. The first mention of that “great city” is in Revelation 11:8 where, speaking of the two witnesses, the Scripture says:
Revelation 11:8 KJV And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
Where was Jesus crucified? Wasn’t he crucified in Jerusalem? Perhaps now we can understand why John wondered with great admiration. The Apostles were always impressed with Jerusalem and the Temple. The final mention of “that great city” is in Revelation 21:10, and it refers to the new Jerusalem coming out of heaven from God.
It was Jerusalem that received the fierceness of the wrath of God in 70 CE when it and its Temple were destroyed. Notice that the woman was decked in purple and scarlet, gold and precious stones (Revelation 17:4). This was how the Tabernacle was originally decked out according to Exodus 25:1-9, and later the Temple in 1Chronicles 29:1-3. These are also the items used to clothe Aaron and his sons as it pertained to his high priestly robes and the ephod which he wore. In the 1st century the High Priest was the governor of Jerusalem and the Temple.
Finally, according to Jesus Jerusalem was responsible for the blood of all the prophets and those that he would send to her later (Matthew 23:34-39). Then and there he proclaimed that her house (the Temple) would be left desolate. Can God’s word be clearer than this, that the harlot, “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth” is really Jerusalem of the 1st century CE? We need to fix our eyes upon the truth and stop believing lies, accusing one another of matters we know little of. Let God be God, and let him judge as he sees fit. Let us be about our Father’s business of letting the world know about Jesus and point to him rather than the lies of men’s false doctrines that will never come to pass.