Are Revelation 17 and 18 dealing with two different aspects of Babylon?
Babylon is mentioned twice (14:8; 16:19) before chapter 17. Both mentions relate to the judgment of Babylon. Some translations omit “city” in chapter 14: “‘Great Babylon has fallen, has fallen, which of the wine of the fury of her fornication has made all nations drink’” (14:8, JND). In the second reference, the context (16:19) emphasizes the city: “the great city” (Jerusalem), “the cities of the nations,” and “great Babylon,” referring to the literal city. This is parallel to the references of chapter 17 and 18. Chapter 17 highlights her “abominations” (vv. 4, 5) and her opposition to the saints and martyrs (v 6). Chapter 17 likewise unfolds a mystery, truth uniquely revealed by God. God declares Babylon to be the mother of harlots and of abominations – the source of all spiritual impurity. This corresponds to the emphasis in chapter 14. Five times in chapter 18, Babylon is noted as a “great city” (vv. 10, 16, 18, 19, 21), the same emphasis as in chapter 16, verse 19.
The two initial references to Babylon refer to judgments at two different times. Chapter 14 refers to a judgment before the instigation of the “mark of the beast” (14:11, see 13:17) in the middle of the 7 year period. The second reference is the climax of the “vial judgments,” bringing us to the end of the seven years. This likewise corresponds to the judgments in chapters 17 and 18. The Harlot is destroyed by the 10 kings at the time when they give their kingdom to the beast (vv 16, 17). The word “for” at the beginning of verse 17 connects the actions of the two verses. This is the “middle of the week,” when the Beast reaches the summit of his power. From the connection of chapter 18 with the beginning of chapter 19 (see vv 1-3), the destruction of the city (chapter 18) is just before the return of Christ to the earth. Further, the judgment in chapter 17 is at the hands of the 10 kings and the beast (v 16), while “the kings of the earth” (including at least the 10 kings) bewail the destruction of the city (18:9) by a direct intervention of God (18:20, 21).
Chapter 17 interprets the Harlot as a symbol: “The woman . . . is the great city.” Noted as sitting on many waters (v 1, interpreted as peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues, v 15), the beast (v 3), and seven mountains (v 9), the woman exerts influence thus described demographically, politically, and historically respectively. The Harlot, therefore, pictures the spiritual institution which characterizes the city. Chapter 18 presents the commercial enterprise of the city.
The spiritually abominable institution of unholy worship will be destroyed to open the way for the worship of the Beast, which marks the beginning of “the great tribulation” (Mat 24:21; Rev 7:14). The commercial character of the proud and morally corrupt city will continue until the Lord judges the city, removing every vestige of the Harlot and preparing for the introduction of the Bride.
Does Revelation 17:5 describe the Roman Catholic Church?
The history of Babylon with its religious implications goes back to Nimrod (Gen 10:8-10; 11:1-9). Old Testament references to Tammuz (Eze 8:14), the queen of heaven (Jer 7:18; 44:17-19, 25) and Baal point to the abominations of Babylon’s confusion. Zechariah (ch 5:5-11) sees a woman who embodies all wickedness and whose house is built in Shinar (Babylon, see Gen 10:10). The influence of “the mother of harlots and abominations” preceded Christendom. Her influence is obvious in the greatest institution in Christendom with its use of the title “Pontifex Maximus,” with the worship of the mother and child, and with the proliferation of idols for “worship.” When, however, Babylon is seen in her most complete manifestation, why ignore her pre-Christian roots and limit her to an “institution of Christendom”? She has corrupted all forms of false worship and will likely embrace them all in her “greatest hour.” Although she will unite all worship that rivals the true God, she will be eclipsed by the “abomination that makes desolate” (see Dan 9:27; Mat 24:15), a man claiming worship as God (2Th 2:4).
What is behind the present aim to bring all the groups in Christendom back to the “mother church”?
Looking at events in light of what will exist in the seven years of tribulation, we cannot help attaching significance to the way the “mother church” is accommodating herself to so many groups in Christendom. Her strange alliance with “evangelicals” opposing abortion is one way of finding common ground. Other twists of theological language serve the same end. The World Council of Churches also contributes to this.
The end result of all false worship is embodied in “Great Babylon, the mother of harlots . . .” (Rev 17:5). She will be the amalgamation of all non-biblical faiths.
We cannot, however, assume the role of prophets. To us, the path from what we see at present and what we see in the prophetic future is a straight line. We do not know if that is the case. The means by which it will all work out have not been revealed to us. We can identify trends that are moving in the direction of revealed prophecies, but we cannot say that those events are fulfilling those prophecies.
Where do the eastern religions fit into “mystery Babylon”?
Current events may cause us to broaden our thinking about the ways in which God will fulfill His Word. We must be cautious, however, not to read prophecy through the lens of current events. Prophecy is interpreted by consistent, biblical principles.
Because Babylon’s roots are so ancient and reach beyond Christian times and regions, it seems to be a reasonable conclusion that “Great Babylon” will embrace forms of belief beyond Christendom. What that will mean and how it will be accomplished arouses our curiosity. Venturing into what has not been revealed is outside the realm of biblical interpretation. We can be certain that “Great Babylon” will exert her influence and control over “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Rev 17:15), which appears to embrace all the Gentile nations. God has not revealed the specifics of what “faiths” that will include during that future seven-year period.