Add parallel Print Page Options

V. The Punishment of Babylon and the Destruction of Pagan Nations

Chapter 17

Babylon the Great. [a]Then one of the seven angels who were holding the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come here. I will show you the judgment on the great harlot[b] who lives near the many waters.(A) [c]The kings of the earth have had intercourse with her,(B) and the inhabitants of the earth became drunk on the wine of her harlotry.” Then he carried me away in spirit to a deserted place where I saw a woman seated on a scarlet beast[d] that was covered with blasphemous names, with seven heads and ten horns.(C) The woman was wearing purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls.(D) She held in her hand a gold cup that was filled with the abominable and sordid deeds of her harlotry. On her forehead was written a name, which is a mystery, “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” [e]I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the holy ones and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.

Meaning of the Beast and Harlot.[f] When I saw her I was greatly amazed. The angel said to me, “Why are you amazed? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, the beast with the seven heads and the ten horns. [g](E)The beast that you saw existed once but now exists no longer. It will come up from the abyss and is headed for destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world shall be amazed when they see the beast, because it existed once but exists no longer, and yet it will come again. Here is a clue[h] for one who has wisdom. The seven heads represent seven hills upon which the woman sits. They also represent seven kings:(F) 10 five have already fallen, one still lives, and the last has not yet come,[i] and when he comes he must remain only a short while. 11 The beast[j] that existed once but exists no longer is an eighth king, but really belongs to the seven and is headed for destruction. 12 The ten horns that you saw represent ten kings who have not yet been crowned;[k] they will receive royal authority along with the beast for one hour.(G) 13 They are of one mind and will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will fight with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and king of kings, and those with him are called, chosen, and faithful.”(H)

15 Then he said to me, “The waters that you saw where the harlot lives represent large numbers of peoples, nations, and tongues. 16 The ten horns[l] that you saw and the beast will hate the harlot; they will leave her desolate and naked; they will eat her flesh and consume her with fire.(I) 17 For God has put it into their minds to carry out his purpose and to make them come to an agreement to give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God are accomplished. 18 The woman whom you saw represents the great city that has sovereignty over the kings of the earth.”

Chapter 18

The Fall of Babylon.[m] After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth became illumined by his splendor.(J) [n]He cried out in a mighty voice:

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.(K)
    She has become a haunt for demons.
She is a cage for every unclean spirit,
    a cage for every unclean bird,
    [a cage for every unclean] and disgusting [beast].
For all the nations have drunk[o]
    the wine of her licentious passion.
The kings of the earth had intercourse with her,
    and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her drive for luxury.”(L)

Then I heard another voice from heaven say:

“Depart from her,[p] my people,
    so as not to take part in her sins
    and receive a share in her plagues,(M)
for her sins are piled up to the sky,
    and God remembers her crimes.(N)
Pay her back as she has paid others.
    Pay her back double for her deeds.
    Into her cup pour double what she poured.(O)
To the measure of her boasting and wantonness
    repay her in torment and grief;
for she said to herself,
    ‘I sit enthroned as queen;
    I am no widow,
    and I will never know grief.’(P)
Therefore, her plagues will come in one day,
    pestilence, grief, and famine;
    she will be consumed by fire.
For mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”

The kings of the earth who had intercourse with her in their wantonness will weep and mourn over her when they see the smoke of her pyre. 10 They will keep their distance for fear of the torment inflicted on her, and they will say:

“Alas, alas, great city,
    Babylon, mighty city.
    In one hour your judgment has come.”

11 The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn for her, because there will be no more markets[q] for their cargo: 12 their cargo of gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls; fine linen, purple silk, and scarlet cloth; fragrant wood of every kind, all articles of ivory and all articles of the most expensive wood, bronze, iron, and marble; 13 cinnamon, spice,[r] incense, myrrh, and frankincense; wine, olive oil, fine flour, and wheat; cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human beings.

14 “The fruit you craved
    has left you.
All your luxury and splendor are gone,
    never again will one find them.”(Q)

15 The merchants who deal in these goods, who grew rich from her, will keep their distance for fear of the torment inflicted on her. Weeping and mourning, 16 they cry out:

“Alas, alas, great city,
    wearing fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    adorned [in] gold, precious stones, and pearls.(R)
17 In one hour this great wealth has been ruined.”

Every captain of a ship, every traveler at sea, sailors, and seafaring merchants stood at a distance 18 and cried out when they saw the smoke of her pyre, “What city could compare with the great city?” 19 (S)They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and mourning:

“Alas, alas, great city,
    in which all who had ships at sea
    grew rich from her wealth.
In one hour she has been ruined.
20 Rejoice over her, heaven,
    you holy ones, apostles, and prophets.
For God has judged your case against her.”(T)

21 A mighty angel picked up a stone like a huge millstone and threw it into the sea and said:

“With such force will Babylon the great city be thrown down,
    and will never be found again.(U)
22 No melodies of harpists and musicians,
    flutists and trumpeters,
    will ever be heard in you again.
No craftsmen in any trade
    will ever be found in you again.
No sound of the millstone
    will ever be heard in you again.(V)
23 No light from a lamp
    will ever be seen in you again.
No voices of bride and groom
    will ever be heard in you again.
Because your merchants were the great ones of the world,
    all nations were led astray by your magic potion.(W)
24 In her was found the blood of prophets and holy ones
    and all who have been slain on the earth.”(X)

Chapter 19

After this I heard what sounded like the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying:

Salvation, glory, and might belong to our God,
    for true and just are his judgments.
He has condemned the great harlot
    who corrupted the earth with her harlotry.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”(Y)

They said a second time:

“Alleluia! Smoke will rise from her forever and ever.”(Z)

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, “Amen. Alleluia.”

The Victory Song.[t]


  1. 17:1–19:10 The punishment of Babylon is now described as a past event and, metaphorically, under the image of the great harlot who leads people astray into idolatry.
  2. 17:1–6 Babylon, the symbolic name (Rev 17:5) of Rome, is graphically described as “the great harlot.”
  3. 17:2 Intercourse…harlotry: see note on Rev 14:4. The pagan kings subject to Rome adopted the cult of the emperor.
  4. 17:3 Scarlet beast: see note on Rev 13:1–10. Blasphemous names: divine titles assumed by the Roman emperors; see note on Rev 13:5–6.
  5. 17:6 Reference to the great wealth and idolatrous cults of Rome.
  6. 17:6b–18 An interpretation of the vision is here given.
  7. 17:8 Allusion to the belief that the dead Nero would return to power (Rev 17:11); see note on Rev 13:3.
  8. 17:9 Here is a clue: literally, “Here a mind that has wisdom.” Seven hills: of Rome.
  9. 17:10 There is little agreement as to the identity of the Roman emperors alluded to here. The number seven (Rev 17:9) suggests that all the emperors are meant; see note on Rev 1:4.
  10. 17:11 The beast: Nero; see note on Rev 17:8.
  11. 17:12–13 Ten kings who have not yet been crowned: perhaps Parthian satraps who are to accompany the revived Nero (the beast) in his march on Rome to regain power; see note on Rev 13:3. In Rev 19:11–21, the Lamb and his companions will conquer them.
  12. 17:16–18 The ten horns: the ten pagan kings (Rev 17:12) who unwittingly fulfill God’s will against harlot Rome, the great city; cf. Ez 16:37.
  13. 18:1–19:4 A stirring dirge over the fall of Babylon-Rome. The perspective is prophetic, as if the fall of Rome had already taken place. The imagery here, as elsewhere in this book, is not to be taken literally. The vindictiveness of some of the language, borrowed from the scathing Old Testament prophecies against Babylon, Tyre, and Nineveh (Is 23; 24; 27; Jer 50–51; Ez 26–27), is meant to portray symbolically the inexorable demands of God’s holiness and justice; cf. Introduction. The section concludes with a joyous canticle on the future glory of heaven.
  14. 18:2 Many Greek manuscripts and versions omit a cage for every unclean…beast.
  15. 18:3–24 Rome is condemned for her immorality, symbol of idolatry (see note on Rev 14:4), and for persecuting the church; cf. Rev 19:2.
  16. 18:4 Depart from her: not evacuation of the city but separation from sinners, as always in apocalyptic literature.
  17. 18:11 Ironically, the merchants weep not so much for Babylon-Rome, but for their lost markets; cf. Ez 27:36.
  18. 18:13 Spice: an unidentified spice plant called in Greek amōmon.
  19. 19:1, 3, 4, 6 Alleluia: found only here in the New Testament, this frequent exclamation of praise in the Hebrew psalms was important in Jewish liturgy.
  20. 19:5–10 A victory song follows, sung by the entire church, celebrating the marriage of the Lamb, the union of the Messiah with the community of the elect.