top of page

This free study is part of a 23 part series called "Book of Revelation".

To view more free studies in this series, click here.

18. Mystery, Babylon the Great

Revelation 17:1-18

All humanity is in the midst of a war that is going on all around us. It is not a war of guns and bullets and bombs, although that is a manifestation of the war. The battle is for men's minds, i.e., the souls of all those who dwell on the earth. There are two forces that wage war against one another: the Creator of the universe and Satan, a fallen angel. For centuries, Satan has kept man bound up in fear of evil spiritual forces. Man has tried to pacify these unseen demonic spirits by worshiping them as idols and sacrificing innocent babies and animals (Deuteronomy 32:16-17). Paul the Apostle wrote, “the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20). The dark satanic forces must be exposed, and humanity's spiritual warfare made clear and plain before Jesus comes at the end of the age. Do the Scriptures teach that, you may ask? Remember the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds? The weeds looked like wheat to those who worked in the fields, until the time before the harvest. It was as the weeds started to develop their seeds that they were exposed as frauds and were proved to be poisonous weeds or tares (Matthew 13:24-30). As we get closer to the end time, the time of harvest, God wants all men to see clearly as to whom they will serve: God or Satan, the arch deceiver. Thank God for the Book of Revelation that opens the eyes of the spiritually blind.

In our previous study, 17. The Righteous Judgment, an exposition of Revelation chapters fifteen and sixteen, we read about the pouring out of God's wrath upon the beast's kingdom:


The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath (Revelation 16:19).

In Revelation chapter seventeen and eighteen, we have a supplement, a close-up look at the religious and political forces that oppose the people of God: the beast and his kingdom. The religious forces' goal is to manipulate men's minds to deceive the world into believing that Satan is the true God and to worship him. The false messiah will be presented to the world as the savior of all humanity's problems. Writing two thousand years ago, John wrote in symbolic language, leaving it to us in the twenty-first century to put on our thinking caps and piece together the jigsaw puzzle of the world in which we live.

The Woman on the Beast

1Then one of the seven angels with the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. 2The kings of the earth were immoral with her, and those who dwell on the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her immorality.” 3And the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, where I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls. She held in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5And on her forehead, a mysterious name was written: 





John writes that one of the seven angels came to give him more light on the symbolic picture language he saw. Later, John writes about the pure bride dressed in white: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9), but until then, he sees an abomination of a woman, a prostitute, and yet not just a prostitute, but the mother of prostitutes (v. 5), a seasoned teacher of prostitution to her daughters. This prostitute sits on many waters (v. 1), indicative of her allurements being proffered (proposed or put forward) all over the world.


In symbolic language, what is meant by a prostitute or harlot? Think first of what a prostitute does, and then think about what the picture of a prostitute suggests in spiritual terms.


In the Old Testament, we have many examples of Jerusalem and Israel turning from their relationship to God as a husband to serve Satan in the worship of idols. Isaiah the prophet wrote, “See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her-- but now murderers!” (Isaiah 1:21). Jeremiah the prophet spoke of Jerusalem and her “adulteries and lustful neighings, your shameless prostitution! I have seen your detestable acts on the hills and in the fields” (Jeremiah 13:27). So that we don’t think that spiritual prostitution was committed just by the nation of Israel, God also spoke of other cities in the same way, for instance, the city of Nineveh located near the modern-day city of Mosul in northern Iraq: “the wanton lust of a prostitute, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft” (Nahum 3:4), or the city of Tyre (from where we get the word tyranny), in what is present-day Lebanon, that was singing like a harlot (Isaiah 23:15).


So, to what city is our attention being drawn in Revelation 17? Is it a city, a country, or is it a manifestation of evil or a world system that permeates the world at the time of the end? The prostitute is not clothed in white like the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:8); instead, she is dressed in scarlet and purple. Both of these colors were very rare and difficult to find in New Testament times, and only the rich and elites of the world could afford them (Luke 16:19). Satan offers temporary luxuries and prosperity to allure those who desire to walk with integrity, honesty, and godliness. Wealth and success are likened to a ladder against the wall that men climb, only to find later in life that the ladder is against the wrong wall, that they have given up their lives for success and riches, and that their hearts have grown cold, stiff and lifeless (Proverbs 7).


John writes of the kings of the earth being immoral with the Babylonian prostitute (v. 2). We should not just think of royal kings but also those in positions of power corrupted by the allure of influence and sensuality that go with a position in this world. In chapter eighteen, John calls them merchants of the earth: “kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries” (Revelation 18:3). The Greek word translated as "merchant" is the word emporos. It refers to a person that is a commercial marketer. It typifies the wealthy industrialists of our age who have made money on the backs of others. Many among the circles of power are bought in at an early age in the nations' elite schools in our world today. They are seduced into hedonism, occultism, and influential power and are drunk with thoughts of being one of the world's elites. Incremental stages bring about power and corruption levels until initiates are compromised and manipulated by dark forces. John typifies it as being “intoxicated with the wine of her immorality” (v. 2).


John is then taken by an angel of God into the wilderness so that he may see clearly. The desert or wilderness typifies a place or condition where everything that kept our minds focused on the things of this world (think in terms of television and media) is stripped away, and the only interaction we have is with God. In that desert place, John sees a woman, a prostitute, riding on a scarlet beast. I interpret (and I could be wrong) the scarlet beast to be the One World Government's political system at the time of the end, i.e., the same political system of ten power blocs of nations we read about in Revelation 13:1-10, study 14. The woman riding the beast is the same religious system led by the False Prophet in Revelation 13, viz., the one who initiates the setting up of the idol in the temple of God and the Mark of the Beast, where no one can buy or sell unless they have the mark.


The woman has a golden cup of sensual delights in her hand that can intoxicate men to walk with her and follow her ways into evil. In the English NIV translation that I am using, it says,  5 “And on her forehead a mysterious name was written: BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” In the King James Version and New King James, the word Mystery is translated with a comma after it: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, perhaps suggesting that we should not look at the city of Babylon itself, but for what the city of Babylon was known from early times, i.e., that of the mysteries or mystery religions.[1] The Greek word (mystērion) that is translated into English as “mystery” is translated in another place as secrets: “To you it has been given to know the secrets (mystērion) of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11 Emphasis mine). What am I saying? It’s possible that the Holy Spirit is giving us a big hint by calling the prostitute riding the beast as “Mystery Babylon.” The thought is that that the secret mystery religions are guiding and riding on the political beast.


In verse 6, when John saw the woman, he was utterly amazed. What do you think it was that shocked or surprised him?


The city of Babylon was the birthplace of the occultic mystery religions that focused man on striving for sensual pleasure and worldly wealth. When Israel was deported to Babylon in 586 B.C., many Jews were introduced to the occultic mystery religions. They returned to Israel's land under Ezra, bringing the oral traditions that became the Babylonian Talmud and the Kabbalah. We get the word cabal from the Kabbalah.[2] The Kabbalah promotes a false mystical hidden understanding of the text of the Bible. The word Kabbalah means "reception" or "acceptance" and changed the Bible's message into a hidden mystery instead of the clear teaching of the Scriptures. This false religion is what Jesus fought against when He came into the world.[3] Christ didn't fight against Jews that held to the Scriptures; His struggle was with the alternative religion that many Jews had at that time, and the time we live today. You may want to watch this interview with President George Bush and John Kerry about the secret society they were both a part of:


Jesus said to the Pharisees who held to the Babylonian Talmud, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desires” (John 8:44). In another place, Jesus spoke about a gathering of ethnic Jews that were deceived into thinking they were of God, when in fact they belonged to Satan: “I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9). It is a possibility that what John was shocked about was that Jews were a part of this seductive mystery cabal that had infiltrated the world. Again and again, through the four Gospels, it was the enemy's spirit residing in the Jewish hierarchy that fought against the Gospel of Christ.


When we read of Mystery, Babylon the Great, and the mother of prostitutes, this writer believes that the occult mystery religions were exported to Israel, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and other cities. Babylon was the mother, and other cities were her children. Nowadays, we view them as Freemasonry, Skull and Bones, the Illuminati, as well as other secret societies that has been birthed by the city of Babylon..

The Mystery Explained


6I could see that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and witnesses for Jesus. And I was utterly amazed at the sight of her. 7“Why are you so amazed?” said the angel. “I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and ten horns. 8The beast that you saw—it was, and now is no more, but is about to come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. And those who dwell on the earth whose names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world will marvel when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet will be (Revelation 17:6-8).

The spirit of occult false religion is at war with the Spirit of Christ and His Church. Jesus said that there were only two kingdoms in operation on the world scene, i.e., “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). Some may think there are many ways to God, but this is a deception of the enemy. The false religion deceives all religions of the world into believing that one can buy one's way into heaven by good works. There is only one way, and that is the way of Christ, Who alone has made the way to heaven by His substitutionary death in our place. This deception of the enemy is seen in how the world accommodates all religions but the Christian faith. There is never any blasphemy of other religious teachers, only the enemy of all satanic falsehood—the Lord Jesus—whose name is forever blessed. Those who hold to faith in Christ are persecuted, and the mystery occultic religions are drunk with the blood of the saints and the witnesses for Jesus (v. 6).


When John the Apostle saw this woman riding on the beast, he was utterly amazed. The angel is surprised by the shock he saw in John's eyes and responds with an explanation. The beast is a picture of the One World government with ten power blocs at the time of the end, something that many elitists want to bring about in our time.

9This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. 10There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11The beast that was, and now is not, is an eighth king, who belongs to the other seven and is going into destruction. 12The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but will receive one hour of authority as kings, along with the beast. 13These kings have one purpose: to yield their power and authority to the beast (Revelation 17:9-13).

The angel explains to those with spiritual insight (wisdom) that the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. This passage could indicate that the last days' occultic religion will be centered in Rome, for it is built on seven hills (v. 9). Still, in this writer's mind, if we believe this to be Roman Catholicism, we will be limited in our perception. In this Scripture, we see something older than Roman Catholicism, which predates it to the Babylonian mystery religions that used coercive power through religion and the occult.

We read of seven kings (v. 10). Scholars that I highly respect explain these kings as those that have had power and control over the land of Israel, the nations of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The sixth king is believed to be the Roman Empire at the time of the Book of Revelation writing, with the one to come being the One World Empire led by the Antichrist.

The Victory of the Lamb

14They will make war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will triumph over them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and He will be accompanied by His called and chosen and faithful ones.” 15Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute was seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. 16And the ten horns and the beast that you saw will hate the prostitute. They will leave her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17For God has put it into their hearts to carry out His purpose by uniting to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18And the woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:14-18).

Verse 16 says that the beast will hate the prostitute, make her desolate and naked, and burn her with fire. What could this mean in a political sense? About what are we reading?


As we have read before in Revelation 13, the dark spirit at work in this world will make war against the Lamb (v. 14). Is this referring to the war against the saints in the Great Tribulation, or could it be reminding us of the Lord Jesus seen with 144,000 on Mount Zion in Revelation 14:1-5)? In our previous study, we read of the last battle of the age fought against Jerusalem. It could be that the war against the Lamb is to be fought over the hill of Zion. 


If the war referred to in verse 14 is about the war on the saints (Revelation 13:7), then we know that, for a time, the Antichrist will have the power to put some of God’s people to death. However,  even in death, the saints will overcome by refusing to take the Mark of the Beast and worship his image. The Antichrist will have power only for a short time. Verse twelve says that it will only be for an hour—not a chronological hour, but a short period of time that is not stipulated, but it is likely referring to the second half of the seven-year period, i.e., the period known as the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21). The chapter closes, leaving us wondering what is meant by the "great city" that rules over the kings of the earth. We'll look at that in our next study.


Keith Thomas




Looking for something slightly different?
Click here to discover all of the available series that group Bible Study offers free of charge!

bottom of page