A Summary of Harlot Babylon of Revelation 17-18

From: http://planetpreterist.com/news-2817.html

by Duncan McKenzie
This article is a summary of harlot Babylon found in Revelation 17-18. It summarizes about 70 pages from my book (The Antichrist and the Second Coming). The good news is you don't have to read 70 pages. The bad news is you will have to pay closer attention to the scriptural references to better connect the dots.

Summary of Harlot Babylon

By Duncan McKenzie, Ph.D.

The motif of harlot (with only two minor exceptions) is used in the O.T. to represent God’s old covenant people going after the gods and ways of other nations (cf. Ezek. 16). When Revelation was written (c. AD 65) the other nation (the beast the harlot is riding on) was Rome. God’s covenant with Israel was liked to a covenant of marriage (Ezek 16:32), thus God’s old covenant people going after other gods is likened to an unfaithful or harlot wife (cf. Hosea 1-2). When God established the Mosaic covenant, He told Moses the following.

“Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured… Deut. 31:16-17

Revelation 17-18 is showing this prophesied destruction of harlot Israel, God’s unfaithful old covenant people.

The book of Revelation is structured on the covenant curses that were to come on God’s unfaithful old covenant people when they broke the covenant, something they did in the ultimate sense when they had Jesus killed (cf. Matt. 21:33-45). God said He would bring four sets of sevenfold punishment on Israel for breaking the covenant (Lev. 26:18, 21, 24, 28). These covenant judgments form the basis of the four sets of sevenfold punishment of Revelation (the seven seals, Rev. 6:1-17; 8:1; the seven trumpets, Rev. 8:2-10:7; the seven thunders, Rev. 10:3-4; and the seven bowls, Rev. 16:1-21). Revelation is showing God’s anger being poured out harlot Israel (the dwellers on the Land) as she is devoured at the end of the old covenant age (cf. Dan. 12:7 Rev. 11:17-18). God had said He would punish His unfaithful old covenant people at this time by bringing back on them the plagues of Egypt (Deut. 28:58-61); this is why a number of the punishments in Revelation are patterned after the plagues of Egypt (7 of the 10 plagues are represented, Rev. 9:1-3; 16:1-4, 8, 10, 13, 21). This background of the covenant curses forms the context in which one finds the judgment and destruction of harlot Babylon. The destruction of Babylon in Revelation 17-18 forms the climax of these covenant curses that were coming on the unfaithful dwellers on the Land (cf. Rev. 11:16-18).

Harlot Babylon was not simply first century Jerusalem but was symbolic of all of unfaithful old covenant Israel. The harlot “city” is associated with elements taken from the Temple and priesthood (she is dressed in the garments of the high priest, Rev. 17:4-5; her merchandise is that of the Temple, Rev. 18:11-13). Like the New Jerusalem bride, harlot Babylon is not a literal city but is a symbol of a community of people. She is symbolic of all of unfaithful Israel (just as Uncle Sam is not simply Washington DC but a symbol of all of America). The harlot of Revelation is the mother (the first, the original) of all harlots (Rev. 17:5).

Revelation is a book about two women/cities that are two wives (the bride is a betrothed wife, Rev. 19:7; the harlot is a widowed wife, Rev. 18:7). The unfaithful widowed wife (who became a widow when she had her Husband, Jesus, killed, cf. Matt. 21:5) is destroyed while the betrothed wife becomes married (Rev. 19:1-11). The subject of Revelation is the same as that of Galatians 4:21-31. In Galatians 4 we are also shown two women/cities that are two wives; like Revelation, one is cast out and the other receives her inheritance. In Galatians the two women cities are the heavenly Jerusalem and earthly Jerusalem. We are told that these “things are symbolic, for these are the two covenants” and those who were part of them (Gal. 4:24). It is exactly the same in Revelation. We are being shown two women/cities, the heavenly Jerusalem and Babylon, which are symbolic of the new and old covenant communities. It is obvious (or should be) that heavenly Jerusalem of Galatians corresponds to the New Jerusalem of Revelation (which comes down out of heaven, Rev. 21:2). Given the context of the covenant curses of Revelation and the Temple/priestly elements associated with Babylon, it should be equally as obvious that she corresponds to the earthly Jerusalem of Galatians 4:24-25 (which, again, is being used as a symbol of those who were under the old covenant).

Revelation is showing the exact same thing that Galatians is, the contrast between the new covenant (which would be fully established at the AD 70 coming of God’s kingdom, cf. Mark 8:38-9:1) and the demise of the old covenant (which would go up in flames with the burning of the Temple in AD 70, Rev. 17:16). This is why the marriage of the bride happens right after the destruction of the harlot (Rev. 19:11). God destroys His unfaithful old covenant wife and then marries His new covenant bride. This was the time that the kingdom of God was taken from God’s old covenant people and given to His new covenant people, the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 21:33-45).

The harlot is arrayed in the colors and materials of the Temple and the priesthood (Rev. 17:4; 18:6; cf. Ex. 26:1; 28:3-39). Anybody who knew anything about the Temple could not miss the allusion to the giant {approximately 82 ft. high and 24 ft. wide) “Babylonian tapestry embroidered with blue, scarlet and purple and fine linen” that covered the entrance to the sanctuary (Josephus, The Jewish War, 5,5,4). The merchandise of Babylon (Rev. 18:11-13) is the merchandise used in the building and ceremonies of the Temple (cf. Ezek 16:9-19). Babylon is accused of the same commercialism that the Temple was (Rev. 18:7-11; cf. Matt. 21:12-13). Like the leaders of Israel, harlot Babylon is guilty of the blood of God’s true people (Rev. 17:6; 18:24; cf. Matt 23:29-38; 1 Thess. 2:14-16). Just as the Temple was the gathering place for worldwide Jewry (Acts 2:5-11), so harlot Babylon is associated with diverse nationalities of the world (Rev. 17:15). Just as Jesus had warned would happen to the generation that rejected him (Matt. 12:43-45), so harlot Babylon had become the dwelling place of demons (Rev. 18:2). The destruction of Babylon being symbolized by the throwing away of a great stone (Rev. 18:21) is a picture of the foundation stone (the most sacred spot in the old covenant Temple system) being cast away from God’s Presence at the AD 70 end of the old covenant age (cf. Dan. 12:7).

Understanding the seven mountains that the harlot is seated on requires wisdom (Rev. 17:9). They are not seven literal mountains and are not the seven hills of Rome (a solution that does not require much wisdom). The seven mountains that the harlot is seated on are symbolic of God’s holy mountain, the location of the Temple. This is the same symbolic use of the number seven that is found in Revelation 1:4 where the seven spirits of God are not seven literal spirits but are symbolic of God’s Holy Spirit. This symbolic use of the number seven is also found in Revelation 5:6 where the seven horns and eyes of the Lamb are not to be taken literally, but are symbolic of the Lamb possessing God’s knowledge (the seven eyes) and power (the seven horns).

To say the harlot is Jewish should not be seen as a novel interpretive approach. If one takes into account the overwhelming OT evidence in its favor, the proposition that the harlot represents God’s unfaithful old covenant people should be the starting point of any investigation of Revelation's Babylon. Why commentators don’t seem to get this and continue writing about Rome, the world system and even the rebuilding of literal Babylon is beyond me.

Finally, the beast that the harlot had been whoring with (Rome) ends up throwing her off and burning her with fire, which was the prescribed punishment for a harlot of priestly descent (Lev. 21:9). Harlot Babylon is destroyed by the Roman beast (Rev. 17:16-17). This is the same event that is prophesied in Daniel, where Jerusalem and the Temple were to be destroyed by the Romans (Dan. 9:26-27). I am not going into detail on the beast here; I do that in the book, but let me leave you with a few thoughts, and a conundrum.

While the beast is of Revelation is Roman (not Jewish) it is not simply the Roman Empire. The beast is both a confederation of eight kings and the eighth of these kings (Rev. 17:9-11). The beast of Revelation is the same as the fourth beast of Daniel 7. The fourth beast of Daniel 7 starts off with 10 rulers, then an 11th is added and 3 are taken away (Dan. 7:7-8). This leaves 8 rulers (10+1-3=8) which equate with the 8 rulers of the beast in Revelation. Both the fourth beast of Daniel and the beast of Revelation are destroyed by the AD 70 coming of God (Dan. 7:19-22; Rev. 19:11-21).[for more on the parallels between the 2 beasts see my article on the similarities between the little horn of Daniel 7 and the beast of Revelation]

Now the conundrum. Obviously the Roman Empire was not destroyed in AD 70. The Roman Empire also had many more rulers than just eight; how can the beast of Revelation and its eight kings simply be the Roman Empire? I bring this up because I don’t think many preterists are aware of this problem. One can’t just say that the fourth beast of Daniel and the beast of Revelation are the Roman Empire; it wasn’t destroyed at the AD 70 coming of God. Even if one says the destruction of the beast is talking about the eventual destruction of the Roman Empire centuries later, the Roman Empire had many more rulers than just eight by that time. Some who are aware of this problem suggest that the beast is Jewish (that is usually about as far as they get, however). This is not the answer; the beast is Roman, the harlot motif speaks of Israel going after the ways of a foreign power. The harlot is whoring with Rome, not with herself. While the beast is Roman, it is representing something more than just the Roman Empire. Just thought I would leave you with something to chew on.



Duncan McKenzie is a columnist for PlanetPreterist.com. Duncan has Masters and Ph.D degrees in Psychology and currently lives in Los Angeles, California.