[Rev. 17:1] ¶ Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke to me. “Come,” he said, “I will show you the condemnation and punishment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters, [Rev. 17:2] with whom the kings of the earth committed sexual immorality and the earth’s inhabitants got drunk with the wine of her immorality.” [Rev. 17:3] So he carried me away in the Spirit to a wilderness, and there I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. [Rev. 17:4] Now the woman was dressed in purple and scarlet clothing, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held in her hand a golden cup filled with detestable things and unclean things from her sexual immorality.[Rev. 17:5] On her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the Great, the Mother of prostitutes and of the detestable things of the earth.” [Rev. 17:6] I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of those who testified to Jesus. I was greatly astounded when I saw her. [Rev. 17:7] But the angel said to me, “Why are you astounded? I will interpret for you the mystery of the woman and of the beast with the seven heads and ten horns that carries her. [Rev. 17:8] The beast you saw was, and is not, but is about to come up from the abyss and then go to destruction. The inhabitants of the earth—all those whose names have not been written in the book of life since the foundation of the world—will be astounded when they see that the beast was, and is not, but is to come. [Rev. 17:9] (This requires a mind that has wisdom.) The seven heads are seven mountains the woman sits on. They are also seven kings: [Rev. 17:10] five have fallen; one is, and the other has not yet come, but whenever he does come, he must remain for only a brief time. [Rev. 17:11] The beast that was, and is not, is himself an eighth king and yet is one of the seven, and is going to destruction. [Rev. 17:12] The ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but will receive ruling authority as kings with the beast for one hour. [Rev. 17:13] These kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. [Rev. 17:14] They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful.” [Rev. 17:15] ¶ Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw (where the prostitute is seated) are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages. [Rev. 17:16] The ten horns that you saw, and the beast—these will hate the prostitute and make her desolate and naked. They will consume her flesh and burn her up with fire. [Rev. 17:17] For God has put into their minds to carry out his purpose by making a decision to give their royal power to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled. [Rev. 17:18] As for the woman you saw, she is the great city that has sovereignty over the kings of the earth.”
What is the worst sin? Outright rejection of God? Apparently not. Apparently it is unfaithfulness – that is, when those who have entered into a covenant with God are unfaithful to God by worshiping idols. When Covenant-People pretend to be faithful while committing idolatry, they were charged with “prostitution” (Isaiah 1:21; Jer. 2:20). Because marriage is a divine picture of being in covenant with God, marital unfaithfulness is considered the worst sexual sin. If you are married, treasure your spouse and do not take them for granted.
Scholars have noted that the Prostitute of Revelation 17 is dressed in the garb of High Priest with some notable differences. Where the Old Testament High Priest had “Holy unto the Lord” (Exo. 28:36-38) across the band of his turban, this character has “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”
John reveals that this character was committing (spiritual) prostitution with surrounding nations and in particular the nation that ruled the world whose kings were ruling them. And while the Great Prostitute had been waging a war against the Lamb and His servants, this foreign king would soon join in fighting against the Lamb and His Church. He would be the sixth in a line of kings. He would only carry out his war for 42 months which is half of 7 years. Perhaps, there is a message here for John’s original audience. Seven speaks of complete. Three and half, whether stated in days or months, or even as “a time, times and half a time”, may well indicate incomplete. If so, then John is revealing that the persecution they were facing their political masters would not wipe them out – it would be incomplete.
This is why Revelation 17:14 must have been far more than a quaint wall plaque for these mid-first century believers! While the beleaguered Church would have to endure a relatively short time of persecution and tribulation from two fronts, one religious and one political, John reveals that these enemies would suddenly become enemies of each other with the political persecutor brutally winning out. But the consoling revelation in this passage is that the Lamb will ultimately win out. It should still console Christ-followers today.