Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 35 - Harlot, Beast and Ten Kings (ch. 17)

The harlot is variously described as sitting on many waters (17:1), on the Beast (v. 3), on seven mountains (v. 9), and as being in the wilderness (v. 3). These are all symbolic. The only item (the third) which one might be disposed to read literally is carefully picked out for interpretation: “and they are seven kings” represented by the seven heads of the Beast. “Sitting upon many waters” is probably to be taken as a Hebraism for “dwelling beside many waters” - as the original Babylon did, in a literal sense (Jeremiah 51:13; cp. Nahum 3:8, 2:8). These waters, so verse 15 interprets, represent many “peoples and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” with which the harlot is closely associated. The form of the Greek text suggests that these four terms be taken as two pairs with a distinction of reference.


The “fornication” of the harlot and the kings of the earth is almost universally taken to mean the allurement of spiritual apostasy (though why specially with kings?). It is true that in Ezekiel and Hosea Israel’s apostasy is described as fornication, but (as already explained) this figure was inevitable because of the literal fornication and promiscuity, which was associated with the crude fertility cults Israel, took up. On the other hand the same vigorous language is used about Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire (Nahum 3: 4), and also with reference to Tyre in a time of restoration to serve the Lord!: “she shall return to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world. And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord”!!! (Isaiah 23:15-18). A clear-cut example such as this demonstrates that the language of Revelation may be economic in its emphasis rather than religious. That such a slant should perhaps be given to the interpretation is supported by the long series of allusions to ancient Tyre and ancient Babylon, listed in Chapter 34. It is noteworthy that in all the anti-Babylon prophecies in the Old Testament there is only one allusion to its false religion,[65] and that is a detail which appears to have little relevance to papal perversions: “Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth” (Isaiah 46:1). Even the worship of the golden image (Daniel 3) was essentially an acknowledgement of Nebuchadnezzar as supreme lord of the empire. There is a corresponding lack of religious emphasis in Revelation 17, 18. In fact, the real picture of anti-Christ religion is in Revelation 13 - reverence given to the Beast. And accordingly many expositions apply the details there to the papacy. But this approach runs into serious trouble in ch. 17, where the Beast and his ten kings ravage Babylon, the mother of harlots. Papacy versus papacy? Dog does not eat dog!


What would seem to be a clear identification comes in the words: “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” Here the present tense “reigneth” (literally: “hath a kingdom”) requires reference to some dominant city familiar to John’s readers. The obvious answer seems to be Rome. But then those interpreters enthusiastic about a papal reference of this prophecy run into difficulties. For Roman authority was not spiritual, but based on military might. Also, the word “earth” or “Land” is rather odd, for the usual word to describe Roman civilization is the Greek oikoumene.

In A.D. 66, the well-supported early date for the writing of Revelation, Jerusalem also was a city which “had a kingdom over the kings of the Land.” Indeed, not only was Jerusalem a city with special authority over the various tetrarchies adjoining Judaea, but also the temple had an amazing degree of authority over Jewish communities in all parts of the Roman Empire. The details of verse 15 present no problem here. The two phrases: “people-and multitudes,” and “nations-and-tongues” (as indicated by the Greek text) refer to the inhabitants of Palestine with close allegiance to Jerusalem, and the Jews of the dispersion (perhaps including also Gentile sympathizers).

Again, “the seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth”. Since everyone knows that Rome was built on seven hills, this is usually taken as the clearest possible indication that the harlot is to be equated with Rome. Yet a little reflection casts some doubt on this identification. Are the hills of Rome - the highest of them only 150 feet! - Such bold drastic geographical features as to warrant the description: “mountains”? Reference to a city like Jerusalem would be much more appropriate. “Mountains” is the only word to describe that city and its surroundings.


A more important consideration is that Revelation itself gives the seven mountains a symbolic reference: “and they are (i.e. represent) seven kings: five are fallen, one is (at the time when John wrote), and one is not yet come.” With reference to Rome these details are a serious headache. One explanation would refer these heads to the various forms of government tried by Rome throughout its history, but then one is left wondering what these had to do with the theme of Revelation, and why Rome should be identified in this peculiar way. Another explanation, with a better attempt at reality, refers to the sequence of emperors. But this runs into serious numerical difficulties. Those who adopt the late date of Revelation find that Domitian was the tenth (or perhaps twelfth) Caesar. The early date gives less trouble. Nero was the sixth in the sequence. But he was not the sixth out of seven, for the complete list of emperors is nearer seventy than seven.

If now attention can be coaxed away from Rome, to Jerusalem, in accordance with the remarkable details listed in Chapter 34, and in harmony with the general theme of the book, there is no problem. The seven mountains represent seven kings (i.e. kingdoms, as in Daniel 7:17). “Five are fallen” - Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece in turn all held dominion over Israel. “One is” - this is Rome at the time of the writing of the prophecy. “The other is not yet come” - the final despoiler of the Last Days. He continues only “a short space.”[66]


If this seventh enemy be Russia, then who is the eighth, which the prophecy now speaks of? He is to be equated with the Beast himself: “The beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven.” This would appear to mean that he is like the preceding seven in character, being a hater and oppressor of God’s people. Yet in some essential respect he is not like them, or he would surely be included in the symbolism as an eighth head comparable with the rest. The seven are all world powers, supreme in the civilization of their time. This suggests perhaps an enemy of limited power, and yet supported by the resources of ten kings who “give their power and strength to the beast.”

A movement like in character to that of the Palestinians, supported by the ten Arab states, might answer to the description tolerably well, though at the time of writing there seems small likelihood of that lawless organization developing sufficient power and influence.

The easier identification with Russia has this difficulty, that ever since Russia’s pro-Arab policy was inaugurated, its “power and strength” has been given to “the ten kings” - and this is hardly what the prophecy says.

Some look to the European Common Market for a solution to this difficulty. But the prospect of the iron curtain being replaced by an entente cordiale is feasible only to the infatuated. Nor will it do to have the EEC suddenly obsessed with enthusiasm for the Catholic Church. “These shall hate the whore,” says the prophecy. And in all these guesses it should not be forgotten that Bible prophecy centres on Israel, not on European politics.


These ten kings “have received no kingdom as yet.” In other words, in John’s day they were not identifiable. Nor are they identifiable, so the prophecy implies, until the exciting events of the Last Days are already in train, for “they receive power as kings one hour with the beast.” To attempt to turn this “one-hour” into a significant time period is to manufacture difficulties.[67] The fairly obvious intention behind the expression is to emphasize that this build-up of hostility to “Babylon” is the divinely decreed counterpart to the hour of shame and suffering which Jesus suffered there. A glance at the concordance shews how impressively this expression is used over and over again, especially in John’s gospel, for the shame and tribulation of Christ. Its fourfold use about the downfall of Babylon adds one more to the long list of correspondences between Christ and anti-Christ.

At the time of writing it is easy enough to see how Arab hatred and resentment against Israel could bring ten Arab states together so that “they have one mind, and give their power and strength to the beast”. But, by contrast, there is a serious lack of reality about the interpretation so popular with many, which has all the nations of Europe suddenly consumed with eagerness to dedicate all their political, economic and military power to the service of the Pope.


These ten kings are matched by the list of ten Arab powers given in Psalm 83:6-8. In that prophecy they reduce Israel to desperation and helplessness, so that - at last - there is frantic appeal to the God of the Fathers for help (v. 1 4, 13-18). The counterpart to this, in Revelation, could well be the attack on the harlot: “these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire”-the picture is vividly described in Revelation 18. These details are precisely what is written of God’s judgements on harlot Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s terrific prophecy against the faithlessness of Israel: “they shall strip thee of thy clothes ... and leave thee naked and bare ... and they shall burn thine houses with fire” (16:39, 41).

All this because of the common natural hatred that is in these enemies against the harlot in their midst. “These have one mind (or, purpose)” - but it is really God’s purpose: “God hath put in their heart to do his mind and to come to one mind (the most astonishing thing in the world, that the quarrelsome Arabs shall all agree!), and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled”. Thus the anti-Christ Beast becomes a king of kings - but only for a very short time.


The final picture, although it is mentioned before the destruction of the harlot, is one of war by the Beast and ten kings against the Lamb. This clearly presupposes the Second Coming (described in ch. 14) and the deliverance of the wrecked city of Jerusalem from the hands of the enemy. Its people, battered and helpless, have turned to God in their desperation.[68] The widow of Israel, pleading for help to One who has seemed hitherto to be an unjust Judge, is now given vengeance on her adversaries. The cry: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” has its immediate response in a heavenly rescue operation.

The war waged against the Lamb by the Beast and his confederates appears to be foreshadowed in Daniel 8. There, the early part of the prophecy (v. 9-12) has details about the little horn, which seem to require reference to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem - what might be called the primary fulfilment of Revelation 17. The later explanation of this vision given to Daniel by the angel would appear to require a fulfilment in the Last Days. The parallel with Revelation 17 is quite striking: “And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance and understanding dark sentences (diplomatic dissimulation?), shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power (the kings giving power and strength to the Beast): and he shall destroy (or, corrupt) wonderfully and shall prosper, and practise, and destroy the mighty ones and the holy people (Israel; literally: the people of the saints) ... he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes (the Messiah?), but he shall be broken without hand (i.e. by divine power; see Daniel 2:34).” This is what Revelation 17 says also, almost laconically: “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them”.


Ii is perhaps desirable to conclude this study, with its somewhat unconventional conclusions, with a reminder of the point, which has been made repeatedly in the earlier part of this exposition. The Book of Revelation shares the main characteristic of practically all other Bible prophecy about the Last Days. So the student needs to be constantly on the alert for signs of an earlier fulfilment. If the identification of “Babylon” with apostate Jerusalem is accepted as Biblically feasible, then it is not difficult to see how the early church would find in such vigorous visions as Revelation 17 prophecies which had a fulfilment in their own time. Then it was the Roman army? With copious support from various tributary kings in the Middle East,[69] which ravaged the adulterous city. And it was Rome, which, about the same time, made war with the Lamb in a cruel persecution of the Christian believers (compare the force of “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”). Indeed, Revelation 17 mentions the war against the Lamb before the destruction of the disloyal city! The Nero persecution came before the Jewish war.


It is this primary reference of the prophecy which helps to explain some of the details whicl1 otherwise would be quite baffling: “Rejoice over her ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her” - in A.D. 70 this apostrophe to apostles and Spirit-guided prophets was not mere rhetoric, for quite a number of them were still alive. “In her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain in the Land” is language hardly appropriate to the Twentieth-Century Jerusalem, but it was bitterly relevant in the apostle John’s day. Similarly, the mention of “harpers, musicians, pipers, trumpeters” seems slightly pointless with regard to modern Jerusalem (or modern Rome either, for that matter), but its appropriateness to the temple, soon to be destroyed, is so manifest as to need no underlining. Another very clear example is this: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins”[70] (18:4). It is hard to give point to these words in any Twentieth-Century application, for there are no saints (to present knowledge) in modern Jerusalem,[71] and certainly not in the modern papacy. And if “Babylon” were taken to mean present corrupt civilization, it is well nigh impossible for the saints to make their escape. But the A.D. 70 force of these words is immediately obvious-they are the apocalyptic equivalent of: “when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies ... let them which be in Judea flee to the mountains, and let them which are in the midst of her (Jerusalem) depart out” (Luke 21:20, 21).

A point of a different character may occasion difficulty and perhaps needs to be tidied up. The prophecy goes on to say that “her smoke rose up for ever and ever” (19:3). How is this to be reconciled with the indisputable assurances of a Jerusalem that is to be glorified for all eternity?

The explanation is not difficult. It is the old wayward, rebellious, unspiritual Jerusalem, which was and is to be judged and which will vanish forever. Its place will be taken by a new Jerusalem which in every respect reflects God’s glory and manifests His praise. Time and again, “Babylon” is “that great city.” In its place there is to be “the holy city coming down from God out of heaven.”


[65] Plus three passing mentions of “graven images.”
[66] As in the Olivet prophecy and the visions of Daniel, the interim period between A.D. 70 and the Last Days is left as a gap without commentary (Chapter 27 - The Woman and The Dragon (ch. 12)).
[67] The equivalent phrase in Revelation 18:18 is: “In one day.”
[68] See “The Last Days” ch. 7 and “The Time of the End” ch. 2, 3, 5, 6.
[69] Many of them sent contingents to reinforce the army of Vespasian and Titus. The prospect of loot unlimited was, no doubt, something of an encouragement.
[70] A palpable Hebraism for “the punishment of her sins.”
[71] But apparently New Testament reading and “Jews for Jesus” are both making some headway in Israel.


From heaven.
Out of the abyss.

With 7 horns and 7 eyes.
With 7 heads, 10 horns.

King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Crowns on his horns.

His name is called The Word of God.
Full of names of blasphemy.

The Lamb associated with Four Cherubim.
Composite Beast: leopard, bear, lion, dragon.

The Father’s power committed to the Son.
The Dragon gave him authority.

“A Lamb as it had been slain.”
Wounded to death.

“I am he that liveth and was dead.”
Deadly wound healed.

“He opened his mouth and taught them saying...”
Opened his mouth in blasphemy.

Michael: Who is like God? “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord?”
Who is like unto the Beast?

Reigns 1000 years.
Power 42 months.

With righteousness he doth judge and make war.
Makes war with the saints.

Redeemed out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation.
Power over all kindreds, tongues, nations

Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth worship the Lamb.
All that dwell on the earth worship him.

His Father’s name in their foreheads
The mark of the Beast in right hand or forehead.

The number of Jesus: 888.
The number of Man: 666.

Great multitude which no man could number
The number of his army as the sand of the sea.

Which is, and was, and is to come.
A Beast which was, and is not, and yet is, and goes into perdition.

Armies in heaven upon white horses.
The Beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies.

A pure river of water of life.
Cast into the lake of fire.

The marriage supper of the Lamb.
All the fowls of heaven called to eat the flesh of captains and kings.

The cherubim rest not day and night, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy.
They rest not day nor night, who worship the Beast.

Has the keys of Death and Hell.
The Dragon shut up, chained, in abyss.

The true Elijah prophet as forerunner.
The False Prophet.

Fire out of heaven devoured them.
Fire from heaven in the sight of men.
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