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All the Women of the Bible – The Mother of Harlots
The Mother of Harlots


Revelation 17:1-24

Chapters 17 through 20 are highly dramatic. In this section Christ, as the Conqueror, moves swiftly in the subjugation of all His foes. What fast moving action these chapters present! How majestic is the scene of the Omnipotent Lord taking unto Himself His power and reigning supreme! Once He rises to deal with all antagonistic elements, none can withstand His might. With a rod of iron, He breaks the strongest. Proud, arrogant rulers, both hellish and human, are dashed to pieces as a potter’s vessel. Whether it be systems, cities, or citizens, everything and everyone contrary to His will and rule fall before His withering look and lash.

In this fascinating yet fearful portion we have the following sevenfold doom:

The Doom of Mystical Babylon—Chapter 17

The Doom of Material Babylon—Chapter 18-19:19

The Doom of the Beast—Chapter 19:20

The Doom of the False Prophet—Chapter 19:20

The Doom of the Nations—Chapter 19:2120:9

The Doom of Satan—Chapter 20:1-3, 10

The Doom of the Lost—Chapter 20:11-15

An introductory word on the close relationship existing between chapters 17 and 18 is necessary, seeing that both deal with Babylon, withal from different angles. Scant notices of Babylon’s destruction are given in 14:8 and 16:19. What we have in Chapters 17 to 19 fills in all the details on God’s judgment upon a guilty system. It is essential to take all these passages together, and read them as one, since they synchronize.

In Chapter 17 we have:In Chapter 18 we have:
Mystical BabylonMaterial Babylon
A Corrupt SystemA Doomed City
Judgment on PapacyJudgment on Paganism
Apostate ChristendomGodless Commercialism
The Whore and BeastGod and Babylon
Religious PretensionWorldly Pride
Delight of the kings of the earth over the drunken harlot, mystery Babylon.Rulers of the earth will wail and lament over the destruction of actual Babylon.

Other opposites can be traced by comparing these two chapters.

The twofold development of the chapter before us is clearly evident:

The Great Whore Dominates the Beast (Revelation 17:1-6)

The Beast Destroys the Great Whore (Revelation 17:7-18)

I. The Great Whore Dominates the Beast (Revelation 17:1-6)

As a woman and a city are both used as symbols of the church (1 Corinthians 11:12; Revelation 21:9, 10), so both figures are before us in this descriptive portion of apostate Christendom. In Revelation 17:18 the woman is identified as the city: “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”

The scarlet woman, one of the profound marvels of Scripture, is Satan’s masterpiece of counterfeiting. What a travesty the mother of harlots is of the true church! The dream of some religious leaders, presently laboring for church unity, will be realized in the coming universal church controlled by the Papacy.

Believing as we do, that the chapter before us sets forth Romanism in its most powerful and pernicious form, the dominant force in apostate Christendom, let us seek to classify our material under convenient sections.

Her Domination

Pictured as “sitting,” we note the woman’s seat. She “sitteth upon many waters” (17:1); “I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast” (verse 3); “Seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” (verse 9). “Sitting upon many waters” receives the following exposition by John in verse 15: “And he saith unto me, ‘The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.’” The “many waters” therefore typify the vast multitudes of the human race over whom the woman had cast her spell. Ancient Babylon got its wealth by means of the Euphrates and its numerous canals for irrigation. And the Roman Church fattens on the nations she governs. “Sitting upon the waters” (Jeremiah 51:13), indicates that the great whore rules and dominates the nations religiously, just as the Beast does politically. Representing a vast religious system, the woman’s following is a universal one. And that the Roman Catholic Church is on the road to world-wide supremacy is a fact that none can at present gainsay.

“Sitting upon the beast” means that the harlot sits astride the Beast. She not only exercises religious dominion over the multitudes, but is also able to manage and guide the Beast. All vassal kings and human rulers, especially within the revived Roman Empire, are under her sway. Civil and political power are subservient to her rule and supremacy. And such thorough and complete subjugation over the vast imperial and apostate power headed up in the Beast is already in the making. Two distinct ideas are represented by the woman and the Beast. We can express the opposites thus—

The woman personifies corruption of truth,

The Beast personifies open defiance of God;

The woman embodies all that is licentious,

The Beast embodies all that is cruel and ruthless.

Thus corruption and violence, which brought about the Flood (Genesis 6:11), are to reach their climax in the woman and the Beast. Seated on the back of the Beast, is a prophecy that the apostate church will be carried and supported by the nations, and will rule and reign with temporal power. As we shall see more fully when we come to the portion on “Romanism,” as a religious and political dictator, Rome’s influence will extend far and wide. Already Rome is working for that hour, when once more seated on the back of human government, she will seek to rule the earth.

“Seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.” This third aspect of the woman’s posture is capable of a twofold interpretation, which “the mind which hath wisdom” will recognize.

First of all, the seven heads represent seven mountains or hills. Both Christian and pagan refer to literal Rome as the “seven-hilled city.” It is this fact that identifies the city and the woman as Rome. “The woman which thou sawest is that great city” (Revelation 17:18). Rome alone was the ruling power in John’s day. Therefore, the present tense “hath a kingdom” must signify Rome. Rome is fast becoming the seat and center of universal authority and influence, as is evidenced by the visit of the pope to the UNO, and by the fraternal meetings between the pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury which envisages a united church with the pope as its head.

In the next place, the seven mountains are the seven kings or successive forms of political government. Of seven Roman emperors, five “fell,” which can mean death by violent means, before John’s day. The five are listed as Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. The sixth, who reigned as John wrote the Revelation, was blasphemous Domitian, who also was assassinated. He can be looked upon as the “one is.” The other, who had not yet come in John’s day, will be the seventh Roman head. The Beast will be the eighth, out of the seventh. While the Beast is distinctive in character and work, yet he continues the form of autocratic rule of the seventh head. And it is the woman who dominates this last sovereign expression of every anti-Christian movement and sect then in evidence, consolidated and controlled by Satan. The following contrasts might prove helpful:

The True ChurchThe Mother of Harlots
Chaste VirginGreat Whore
Subject to ChristSubject to Satan
Out of HeavenOut of the Earth
God adorned (19:8)Satan adorned (17:4)
Preserved by ChristDestroyed by the Beast
Eternal glory aheadEternal ruin
True BrideCounterfeit Church
Has heavenly callingCovets earthly possessions
Christ’s MasterpieceSatan’s masterpiece
Indwelt by Holy SpiritPossessed by evil spirit
Mystery hid from agesMystery of Iniquity
Caught up in the airCast down to perdition
Exercises spiritual powerSeeks secular power
Exhibits glory of ChristGlories in sensuous things
Comes out of the CrossBows before a Crucifix
Believes in direct accessStresses human priesthood
A called-out bodyApostate Christendom

As “the great whore,” Romanism represents a frightful system, hypocrisy and lust over the souls and bodies of men. It is also a term unfolding the licentious character of the apostate church in her last days.


Such a word implies a spiritual fact hitherto hidden and incapable of discovery by mere reason, but now revealed. The union between Christ and His church is a mystery. Likewise the union between the apostate church and the world will be the mystery of iniquity.

“Babylon the Great”

This appellation of the woman suggests a widespread system of spiritual evil, which represents the culmination of all evils operating against the true church while it was on the earth. What we have before us in this seventeenth chapter is mystic Babylon. The next chapter presents us with commercial Babylon. In the seventeenth chapter the word “Babylon” is used for “Rome,” while in the eighteenth chapter we have actual Babylon. And that there is nothing forced or unusual in such a transfer of names is evident from Revelation 11:9 where Sodom and Egypt are given as equivalents for Jerusalem.

“The Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth”

The harlot’s name on her forehead is another sample of Satan’s mimicry. Rome is the mother of harlotry and of the world’s idolatries. The offspring of this mother of harlots will be numerous. Apostate Christendom will be the parent of all kinds of religions, idolatries and arts used by Satan to turn men from God. Under the figure of the mother of harlots we have religion at its worst and the source of all that is morally loathesome.

Her Fornication

Two phrases describe the abominable nature of “the great whore,” namely “the wine of her fornication,” and “the filthiness of her fornication” (Revelation 17:2, 4). Fornication is illicit intercourse, and spiritual fornication is tantamount to idolatry. “With their idols have they committed adultery” (Ezekiel 23:37).

Her Ornamentation

In the description John gives us of the luxurious attire of the harlot, Dr. A. T. Robertson says that the Apostle applies the finery of the temple prostitutes in Asia Minor. As the distinctive color of the woman is scarlet, it is not hard to identify the Roman Catholic Church whose official and distinguishing color is scarlet. Scarlet is everywhere in this scarlet-colored church—scarlet bands, scarlet cardinal hats, scarlet robes for pontiff and priests. Altogether Rome has five different articles of dress of scarlet colors.

Her Persecution

A bloody as well as a morally licentious system is indicated by the phrase, “I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs (or witnesses) of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6). What caused John to wonder was not the Beast’s cruelty (13:7), but that the woman inspired such diabolical persecution. That papal Rome has far exceeded pagan Rome in bloodshed and the killing of saints is a fact that cannot be disputed. It was secular power in the hands of the Romish Church that devised the unspeakable, hellish cruelties of the Middle Ages.

II. The Beast Destroys the Great Whore (Revelation 17:7-18)

The “I will show thee” now passes to “I will tell thee” (verses 1, 7). Explanation is now offered of the Revelation. John is given the divine interpretation of the mystery of the woman and of the Beast carrying her. The Apostle had wondered with the amazement of a horrible surprise. Now the earth is to wonder and admire outpoured judgment upon the woman and the Beast (verse 8).

A double mystery is revealed:

The Mystery of the Beast (Revelation 17:7-14)

The Mystery of the Whore (Revelation 17:15-18)

a travesty of the New Testament mystery “concerning Christ and the Church.”

The Mystery of the Beast (Revelation 17:7-14)

The woman and the Beast are treated separately, seeing they are distinct, although companions in wickedness and apostasy. With the woman we have ecclesiastical power. The Beast personifies civil power. Four phases of the Beast’s history are explained to John. In four, brief, crisp sentences John learns of the course and consummation of the greatest empire of the world:


“Is not”

“Out of the abyss”

“Go into perdition”

The Mystery of the Whore (Revelation 17:15-18)

In the waters on which the whore sitteth there may be an impious parody of Jehovah sitting upon the flood. The waters which the Seer saw (verse 1) are explained as typifying “peoples and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” Here we have the immense moral influence of Romanism over vast masses of mankind.

“These shall hate the whore.” What abject desolation awaits the Romish Church! Determined to rid himself and his empire of the subtle and impoverishing influences of the harlot, the Beast turns and dismounts her from her exalted seat. The rulers of the federated empire strip the harlot of all her seductive, gaudy ornaments. The combined nations with their masterful head combine in hatred of the whore. The downfall of the great whore comes because of a sudden change in subject peoples. “Rome’s greatest danger lay in the multitudes which were under her sway.” And as it was when Rome fell, so will it be when Rome is revived! Not only is there loathing and disquiet for the harlot, and plunder of all her wealth and finery, but also her flesh is eaten. Flesh here is in the plural, and signifies masses of flesh, earthly possessions, the fullness of carnality. But the Beast and the ten kings, once the harlot’s admirers and slaves, are now her bitterest foes, and gorge themselves on her gathered possessions.

Further, she is burned with fire. In this step of graduated punishment there may be a reference to the legal punishment of abominable fornication. Harlots were sometimes burned.

Who or what the woman is, is revealed in the last verse of this chapter. The unfolding of the mystery of the great whore is given to John: “The woman which thou sawest is that great city which hath a kingdom over the kings of the earth” (RV).

Within recent years the Vatican and its area have been proclaimed a kingdom, and the pope is a ruler as well as the titular head of a religious system. Like surrounding kingdoms, Rome has her court to which nations send their ambassadors and envoys. Papacy and Rome cannot be separated. Rome will ever remain the seat and center of the scarlet woman’s authority. Strange, is it not, that in those days of terrible destruction from the air, during World War II, sacred shrines in many national centers were destroyed? St. Paul’s in London was bombed and partially destroyed, but all during the late war, the Vatican in Rome was carefully preserved. But Rome’s day will come, and such a delegate of Satan in religious corruption (16:19), will be forced to endure the hatred of God and man. Thus, the mystic Babylon of chapter 17 is Rome. And that Rome is before us is proved by the mention of the scarlet, color of imperial and papal Rome—by the topographical situation of the seven hills—by the reference to a golden cup, which is traced on medals with the self-condemning inscription—Sedet super universum—[He sits above the universe.]—by the fact that when John wrote, Rome was the mistress of the world—by the fact that the false and corrupt system of Romanism has its capital in Rome.