In the 17th chapter of Revelation, John records his vision of another hideous and distorted creature. "I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns" (Rev. 17:3). The woman has a name on her forehead: "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH" (Rev. 17:5). She is pictured as being drunk with the blood of the saints. That is, she persecutes and martyrs the people of God. Chapters 17 and 18 portray the judgment of God upon this great madam — the mother of harlots — and the "scarlet beast" she rides or controls. In Old Testament prophecy, the image of a harlot is commonly used as a metaphor for godless religious worship (Isaiah 1:21; Ezekiel 16:15). Isaiah mocks Babylon by calling her "virgin daughter" (Isaiah 47:1).
The "Scarlet Beast"
What is this strange "scarlet beast" with seven heads and 10 horns, carrying the harlot woman? This beast ridden by the woman exists through time right to the second coming of Christ. The 10 horns of the beast arise in the last days. They represent 10 rulers who receive political power at the very end of this world's civilization and just before the Messiah's intervention. The Apocalypse tells us these horns fight the returning Christ. John writes: "The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.... These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them" (Rev. 17:12-14, italics added). To what, then, do the "seven heads" refer (Rev. 17:3)? John tells us in verse nine: "The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits." These heads correspond to seven successive kings, controlling powerful empires (verse 10). These, in turn, are "ridden" or manipulated by the "woman." The final "head," king or empire has not yet appeared. "When he comes, he must continue a short time" (verse 10). The 10 horns or kings pool their power to form one empire under a super-dictator, the final or seventh head of "the beast." They "have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast" (Rev. 17:12). That is, the seventh head is also called "the beast" just as the whole system is like a beast.
A Different Beast
We must be careful not to confuse the seven heads and 10 horns of the beast in Revelation 17 with another beast having the same number of heads and horns. It is described in Revelation 13. The beast in Revelation 13 is depicted in the following terms: "[It] was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion" (Rev. 13:2). Notice the animals mentioned — a leopard, a bear and a lion. Daniel, the seventh chapter, also describes this same beast. The prophet Daniel saw a vision of four beasts rising from the sea. "The first was like a lion... a second, like a bear." Then, he said, "After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard.... The beast also had four heads." Still later, Daniel said, "I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast.... It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns" (Daniel 7:4-7, italics added). The reader should note that the four beasts in Daniel 7 had seven heads because the leopard alone had four heads. Daniel tells us these four successive powers would govern from his time down to the coming of the ruling Messiah (Daniel 2:37-44). According to Daniel the fourth beast or kingdom would have 10 successive "horns," "kings" or kingdoms. Daniel wrote, "The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth.... The 10 horns are 10 kings who shall arise from this kingdom" (Daniel 1:23-24). These 10 horns of the fourth Beast of Daniel 7 coincide with the 10 horns of the fourth beast in Revelation1 3:1-10. Three of these are subdued by a "little horn" (Daniel 7:20-25). The remaining seven horns are pictured as the seven heads in Revelation 17, over which the woman sat. By reading the verses in Daniel 7, it's clear that the prophet is also talking about a religious authority who "shall persecute the saints of the Most High" (verse 25). This is none other than the "woman" of Revelation 17. The returning Christ destroys this woman's power along with that of the final "horn" or revival (Daniel 7:23, 26-27). This "woman" is identified as "that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth" (Rev. 17:18). Revelation refers to her as a harlot who sits in control of "peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues" (Rev. 17:15). She has authority to coerce and compel.
"Babylon's" Worldwide Influence
The harlot woman is the force behind the throne. The "beast," of course, wields the real power. It represents the political — military presence. But the woman rides the beast. She directs its activities, molds and shapes its ruling philosophy and ideals. Thus, she stands for false religious ideology and philosophical dogma. What John is depicting, then, is a powerful organization that promulgates and enforces certain religious, social and political laws. It is the moving spirit behind human society. But it is, as Revelation has shown us, a depraved system. For this reason, the Messiah comes to crush it. John hears an angel shout: "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit" (Rev. 18:2). The city called "Babylon" stands as the symbol for this anti-God system that has swayed and oppressed the human race. To the citizens of the world. however. the system does not appear evil at all. On the contrary, it seems to offer mankind that which it has always sought. For example, it brings great economic prosperity to the nations of the world. Most of chapter 18 is taken up with this theme. "Babylon the great" is seen as an economic market of great breadth and power. That is the source of its wealth, a prerequisite for world domination. Political and military power, of course, is dependent on economic power. Without money, it's not possible to buy guns or wield influence.
An Economic Superpower
Revelation shows us that Babylon is fabulously wealthy. The list of imports and exports that this power controls is impressive (Rev. 18:11-15). The merchandise index here is similar to the one found in Ezekiel 27:12-24. There the Phoenician city of Tyre is the metaphor for a power that controls world trade. Babylon makes businessmen rich and ushers in general prosperity. John writes: "The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore" (Rev. 18:11). They cry, "Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing" (Rev. 18:16-17). The traders throw dust on their heads, crying out, "Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth!" (Rev. 18:19). That is one reason the nations will be tricked into fighting the returning Christ. They will have been deceived into thinking they had a good thing going. Babylon the great had brought international trade and prosperity, perhaps a false sense of peace. However, God judges the system and destroys it. "For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication" (Rev. 19:2). After John sees Babylon destroyed in vision, he hears an angel announcing a royal victory celebration hosted by the Lamb. It solemnizes God's establishment of his universal reign on earth (Rev. 19:6). Revelation paints the festival as a great wedding party in which Christ (the Lamb) and his faithful followers (the Bride) consecrate their union (Rev. 19:7-9). The symbol — the bride of Christ — represents God's Church. The apostle Paul explained that in the spiritual realm the union between husband and wife illustrates the relationship of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:23-24, 31-32). The angel calls the animal world and birds of prey to a separate supper feast (Rev. 19:17). The beasts are to dine on the bodies of all those who opposed the returning Christ (Rev. 19:18). This feast stands in grim contrast to the joyous marriage banquet of the Lamb.
The Event of the Ages
The book of Revelation now describes one of the most important events of human history. It is the coming of the Messiah or Christ to reinstate God's government on this earth and to reward God's faithful people. Revelation announced this singular event earlier: "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Rev. 11:15). Once again, the second coming is proclaimed in a vision and recorded in Revelation 19. In this vision, John sees the returning Christ in sharp focus. He is symbolically riding on a white horse, and making war against Satan's political and religious system. John writes, "I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army" (Rev. 19:19). Christ destroys the armies and captures "the beast" and the false prophet alive. Both of them are thrown into a "lake of fire" and quickly burned up (Rev. 19:20). (See II Thessalonians 1:7-10 which shows Jesus as coming from heaven in flaming fire to obliterate the wicked.)
Satan Bound For 1,000 Years
One final act must be carried out before Christ officially becomes "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev. 19:16) over the remaining inhabitants of the earth. In vision. John sees an angel having a key to the "bottomless pit." He is carrying a massive chain. John writes, "He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit" so that Satan "should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished" (Rev. 20:1-3). At last, God has removed the destructive spirit of Satan from the affairs of man. The government of God — bringing peace, prosperity and spiritual health — comes to the human race. Now the wonderful world tomorrow can begin.