REVELATION 17:1-2 – Parenthetical: The Destruction of Apostate Christendom (“The Great Harlot”)

        Revelation Alive © 1992 by Stephen W. Griffith – revised 2007 – All quotes refer to this commentary, are indented and used extensively.

Chapter 17 seems to fit chronologically into the first 3 ½ years of the Tribulation (the Antichrist seen as riding a white horse promising peace to a world in chaos; see Rev. 6:2) up to the midpoint of the seven year period when Antichrist declares himself to be God (2 Thess. 2:4) and he and the false prophet demand that the entire world worship him (Rev. 13). He and the false prophet "use" apostate Christendom to unite the world through this false religious system (which began with Nimrod in Genesis 10-11 – Babylon) to rally the world around him and then later destroy the "harlot" (Rev.17:16-17). Different translations use "harlot, prostitute or whore" to refer to this false religious system where people worship idols (creation) versus the Creator – God. (See Rom. 1:18-25) It is referred to as "falling away" (2 Thess 2:3) from the true faith – apostasy. It is also necessary to understand how the word "Babylon" is used here and in chapter 18. This chapter addresses the false religious system and includes all false religions, cults and apostate (unsaved "Christians" – apostate Christendom) which Antichrist destroys (by God's will) while chapter 18 refers to the political and economic kingdom of Antichrist (and an actual city) which God destroys in "one hour" (Rev. 18:17). The city of Babylon is being rebuilt even now and the ecumenical "church" (unions of all faiths) is growing rapidly.

            "In Chapters 12 and 13 of Revelation, John has described (parentheti­cally) (1) the efforts of Satan to thwart God's purposes at the first and second ad­vents of Christ and (2) the rise and reign of the Antichrist and the False Prophet.  Now, in Chapters 17 and 18, he describes (also parenthetically) the two major insti­tutions of the Tribulation:  Apostate Christendom ("the Great Harlot") and the Anti­christ's Godless Empire ("Babylon the Great").  More­over, not only does John reveal the hypocrisy, worldli­ness, and evil within Apostate Christendom and the Antichrist's Empire, but he also pictures the destruction of both."

            "The Invitation to See Apostate Christendom's Demise –  17:1-2 – One of the seven angels who poured out the Bowl judgments upon man­kind visits John in the vision and invites him to see God's judgment of Apostate Chris­tendom ("Come.  I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters").  A "harlot" is an unprincipled woman who, if married, eventually becomes unfaithful to her husband and prostitutes herself to oth­ers.  The an­gel visiting John thus chooses to describe Apostate Christendom as "the great harlot" be­cause Apostate Christendom has been unfaithful to her "hus­band"-Jesus Christ-and instead has prostituted herself (and her relationship with Christ, the Gospel message, and true Biblical Christianity) to the Antichrist's Empire ("Babylon the Great") in exchange for secular influence and political power (Rev. 17:3-5)."

            "In the New Testa­ment, believers in Christ are called "the Bride" of Christ.  At the moment of salvation, born-again be­lievers are united with Christ-He in the believer and the believer in Him (Col. 1:27; Eph. 1:3-14).  Here, however, John is introduced to a body of people-"the Great Har­lot"-who call themselves "Chris­tian" and who claim to belong to Christ, but who have not put their faith in the fin­ished work of Jesus Christ.  Christ calls these persons "tares" (i.e., counter­feits) in His par­able of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13:24-30; 36-43).  These "Christians" have never been born again-i.e., they have never had the supernatu­ral salvation transaction from God, a transac­tion which is based on faith in Christ's finished work at Calvary's Cross.  The Great Harlot is that part of Christen­dom which remains on earth to face the Tribula­tion judg­ments-and eventual destruction-after born-again Chris­tendom (the "wheat") has vanished from the earth at the Rapture.

            "The spiritual blindness of Apostate Christendom involves two funda­men­tal errors:  (1) rejection of God's grace (grace made available to all through the finished work of Jesus Christ) in favor of a system of "good works" and human merit, or (2) indifference toward God's grace.  We see pictured here the end-times offspring of the Sardis and Laodicea (and I, Len, would add Thyatira) churches of the first century.  The for­mer sought to find fa­vor with God through its good works, while the latter remained indifferent toward God because it thought itself "to be rich and in need of noth­ing" not realizing that, in God's eyes, it was wretched, miserable, blind, and na­ked (Rev. 3:17).  The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Ortho­dox Church are the modern-day Sardis (and Thyatira) church.  The Liberal Protestant Church is the mod­ern-day Laodicean church.  In short, the great harlot consists of all persons within Christendom who profess to be Christians but who have never ac­cepted Jesus Christ as their per­sonal Savior.  Christ, however, makes the issue of the new birth uncompromisingly clear when He says:  "Truly, truly, I say to you. Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." (See John 3:3,6-8 and Eph. 2:8-9)"            

            "John now learns from the angel that the great harlot sits on many waters-thus indicating that Apos­tate Christendom will be widespread in scope and will be embraced by many nations and many people, particularly by those in the Antichrist's Empire. (Also see Rev. 17:15 for a clear interpretation of sits on many waters). In 95 A.D., when John recorded these visions from Christ, Christendom had already (in just sixty-five years) expanded throughout a good portion of the Mediterra­nean area.  Today, nearly 2,000 years after Christ's resurrection, Christianity (be it Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant) has spread throughout much of the earth and is the predominant religion in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, Great Britain, North America, Central America, South Amer­ica, Australia, and New Zealand."

            "The angel also describes two startling manifestations of Apostate Chris­tendom's harlotry:  First, the great harlot is said to be one with whom the kings of the earth have practiced fornication, indicating that the scope of her harlotry involves interaction, intrigue, and compromise with world lead­ers ("the kings of the earth").  By the Middle Ages, for example, the Ro­man Catholic Church-a formidable hierarchical institution at this point-was at the center of much of the political dialogue in Western Europe.  In­deed, the Catho­lic Church's interaction with the secular leaders of Europe during the Middle Ages clearly foreshadows John's Revelation 17 picture of the Great Harlot (Apostate Christendom) riding atop the Beast (the Anti­christ's Empire) during the Tribulation period. {Christian historian, Bruce L. Shelley, describes the "Harlot" at both the height of her arrogance and the height of her power over Europe's kings during the latter Middle Ages: In the hands of a strong leader, the papacy could overshadow all secular monarchs.  Such a leader was Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), a new type of administrator-pope.  Unlike Gregory VII and other earlier reform popes, who were monks, Innocent and other great popes of the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries were trained as canon lawyers, ex­perts in church government.  Innocent was like Gregory VII, however, in holding an exalted view of his office.  "The successor of Peter," he announced, "is the Vicar of Christ: he has been established as a media­tor between God and man, below God but beyond man; less than God but more than man; who shall judge all and be judged by no one." Innocent III told the princes of Europe that the papacy was like the sun, while kings were like the moon.  As the moon received its light from the sun, so kings derived their powers from the pope.  The pa­pacy's chief weapons in support of this authority were spiritual penal­ties.  Almost everyone believed in heaven and hell and in the pope's management of the grace to get one and avoid the other. So suc­cessful was the pontiff in asserting his temporal as well as spiritual su­premacy that many states, both large and small, formally acknowledged the pope as their feudal lord."}   During the Tribulation period the Apostate Church will once again attempt to assert its "supremacy" over the Antichrist (Rev. 17:3-6).  No won­der the Anti­christ (and the ten heads-of-state) "will hate the Harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire" (Rev. 17:16)-i.e., will slaughter her (most likely immedi­ately after he desecrates the Jerusalem temple and declares himself to be God)."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          "Second, the great harlot is said to be one with whom those who dwell upon the earth have been made drunk from the wine of her immor­ality.  This description indicates that the scope of her harlotry and seduction will em­brace the ordinary man as well-leading the latter into moral and spiri­tual com­promise.  This compromise grows out of a false sense of "per­sonal salva­tion" (regard­less of what one does) based on the supposed efficacy of such things as infant baptism, church member­ship, good works, confession to priests, indul­gences, sacraments, rituals, and/or universal­ism.  Also in view here are the well-documented (in European history) immor­alities and murders committed by the leadership of the Harlot over the centu­ries-immoralities which have caused many who dwell upon the earth to in­dulge in the same type of ac­tivities with little sense of guilt or personal accountability."

There have been more Christians martyred in the last century (appx. 150,000 a year and that number is increasing) than the first 19 centuries combined. We are now seeing in America anti-Christian legislation from government along with growing apostasy within the church. The cost of following Christ is going to go up and we should see this as a blessing rather than a problem. True faith grows through trials and persecutions, not through easy believeism and cheap grace. Compare China to America both in growth and in depth of faith. Recall what the apostle John said in Rev. 1:9: "I, John, your brother and companion (we're in this together with John and all believers so stay connected) in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance (suffering and endurance are normal for believers who are swimming upstream in a world that's rushing downstream – "any dead fish can float downstream") that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos (why was John exiled and punished?) because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus."


 1) Where has "apostate Christendom" occurred, even within the true church, in the past and is now occurring today? How can we avoid being misled by these lies and how should we respond to these lies? Do you fear persecution for your faith here in America?

2) From vv.1-2, how do you think the great harlot (i.e., apostate Christianity) practiced "fornication" with the kings of the earth?   And how do you think the great harlot caused those who dwell upon the earth (ordinary but worldly people) to become drunk with the wine of her immorality?                                                               

3) What is your main take away from today's message and table discussion and how can you apply it to your life this week?

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